John’s Disney Movie Countdown: Part 3

We come now to the third and final part of John’s Disney Movie Countdown. Previously I counted down from dinosaurs and lemurs at #54 to an awesome superhero squad at #31 in Part 1, while Part 2 took us from #30 to #13, beginning with a mouse tale in The Rescuers and ending with the dogs of Lady and the Tramp.

The final dozen films has plenty of animals, its fair share of beautiful princesses, as well as cuddly friends and some of the most menacing villains ever animated. What we have left are what I believe to be the finest twelve animated feature length films the Disney Canon has to offer. With these twelve films, we are now entering ‘deserted island’ territory.

(Side note: If you read the first two parts of the countdown and wondered if I’ve caught the Hollywood bug of splitting things up unnecessarily – a la Hobbit and Hunger Games – I’m sorry about that. But I figured this piece would be better broken down into more digestible portions, because let’s be honest, in our internet browsing age, after writing or reading a 1000+ word essay, people start to get antsy.)

So here they are: my Top 12 Disney animated classics.

Group #5: The Best of the Best: Ten True Consensus Masterpieces, and a Couple that Should Be Soon

This group was exceedingly difficult to order from 1 through 12. I mean, even 18 films of the previous group were basically 10 out of 10, 4-star efforts. So when you have ten masterpieces (and a couple that should be soon) and are trying to position them against each other, it makes for tough work, especially with #2-#7, which are almost interchangeable rank-wise. But, like I said before in part 1, I believe I pulled it off, and I am satisfied with where everything shakes out. 

12. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

The film (okay, films) that made Pooh Bear popular in the U.S. is as charming as they come. Pooh is an engrained part of our culture now, and I’m convinced that the world is better for it. It is a great film for little ones, yet it has some sharp wit and enough humor for adults to be pleased with repeat viewings as well.

T-I-Doubleguh-er

11. Tarzan (1999)

Alright, if I had things my way, Tarzan would be classified as a true masterpiece as the closing bookend of the Disney Renaissance, and Disney would be giving it a Diamond Edition release and then throwing it in the vault like the other top-tier canon films. Apparently the rest of the world isn’t in agreement with that notion just yet. But I love this film and cannot think of any flaws to mention. I loved it in 1999, and I loved it just as much, if not more, when I watched it during my project. Tarzan has incredible animation, incredible action, excellent characters, and more. I’m hoping it eventually gets this status generally, but that doesn’t stop it from cracking my personal top tier of Disney animation.Tarzan meets Jane

10. Tangled (2010)

Disney’s 50th feature film also claims a spot in the top 10. Unlike with Tarzan, which I can only hope will achieve true “masterpiece” status, I’m pretty sure that in a few more years from now, Tangled will be making the Disney vault/release/vault rounds. Tangled is terrific fun.

Tangled meaningful music

9. Dumbo (1941) 

Dumbo may be a short film, clocking in at only 64 minutes, but it packs one of the strongest emotional punches of any Disney canon film. It also has one of the best Disney mice not named Mickey.

photo(17)

8. The Little Mermaid (1989)

I was a bit surprised when I finalized my list and The Little Mermaid cracked the top ten. But the more I think about it, the more I agree with my placement. The music is fantastic, the animation (in and out of the water) is excellent, and the characters are all great. Additionally, The Little Mermaid stands as a very important film for Disney. It is the one that truly brought Disney back. It brought back the Princess, it brought back the fairy tale, and brought back the magic. It is really a magical piece of work.

Ariel

7. Bambi (1942)

I think I said it best in my original post for Bambi: 

“Bambi offers a little of everything: drama, suspense, character growth, romance, and even a little action. Above all, it is a tale about life, and particularly learning how to deal with the curve balls life can throw at you.”

Bambi is a triumph of storytelling, art, and animation. It expertly teaches one of the most basic and important life’s lessons as well. So much so, that basically, if you tell me you don’t like Bambi, then I will start to question A) whether you have actually seen it, or B) whether you actually have a soul.

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Do not be deceived, there is much, MUCH more to Bambi than cute and cuddly animals.

6. Cinderella (1950)

It’s Cinderella, for crying out loud. Your grandparents loved it, your mother and father loved it, and you most likely love it too. This film began the Silver Age of the 1950’s, helped fund Disneyland, and deserves every bit of praise it has garnered throughout the past three generations. This is an easy top-10 choice.

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5. Pinocchio (1940) 

I’m not sure any other film in the Disney Canon is quite as effective at letting the viewer delve into the mind of three main characters like Pinocchio does. Be it the titular marionette, his conscience  Jiminy Cricket, or Geppetto, we know what they are going through, and we know how they feel.

I also don’t know if there is any other Disney film out there that so effectively teaches good, true morals like Pinocchio does. Pinocchio is a standard-bearer in more ways than one.

Pinocchio and Fairy

4. Fantasia (1940) 

They call it the Golden Age of Disney animation for a reason. Four out of the first five Disney Canon films have a place in my top 10, and the fifth isn’t far behind. Fantasia is my favorite of the bunch, and is one of the most unique viewing experiences a person is going to have. While it does require the viewer to forget about traditional 3-act storytelling that he or she is so used to and to delve a little into more abstract and artistic planes, this small sacrifice is well worth it on the other end. As I said in my original post about Fantasia, it is like having your favorite song and favorite painting blended into one synergistic, triumphant whole.

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3. Sleeping Beauty (1959)

“Number 3? Really? No! It has to be number 2! But number 2 should be number 2, too! But what about Sleeping Beauty?”

That’s kind of what goes on in my head with my #2 and #3 favorite Disney films. The debate rages on, and switches depending on which film I saw most recently. I love the Tchaikovsky music in Sleeping Beauty. I love the color. The stunning detail of the backgrounds. The Fairies. Maleficent. The Dragon fight at the end. The overall feel of the film. It is all incredible.

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2. The Lion King (1994)

Even if The Lion King was just 89 minutes of black screen accompanied by its score and songs, it would still probably be in my top 10. I just get the bonus of having a brilliantly animated, powerful and moving tale of responsibility and redemption as well. And to think this was accomplished by Disney’s “B-team” at the time of its creation! I’d say they earned their paycheck on this one.

Hakuna Matata

1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

I know I’m not alone in saying that Beauty and the Beast is my favorite animated film. I also know I’m not alone in saying that Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite movies, period. This film hits all the right notes and is a supreme accomplishment by the team that created it. It may have been very difficult to order the rest of the top 12, but even though the other 11 come close, making Beauty and the Beast my #1 film was not that hard of a decision at all. Quite simply, it is that good.

Dance

Kiss

Well, that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed reading this countdown as much as I have enjoyed creating it. And, as always, your comments are welcome. I’d love to hear what your top Disney film is, as well. Thanks for reading!

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Week 32: The Lion King

A King of a Film

Simba looks to heaven

Originally Released: 1994

Looking back, I think the three most-watched movies for me growing up were Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. These are three movies that I basically had memorized back then, and today, they are three films that I can go back to at any time and still really enjoy.

Thinking about it, I was really lucky to be a child during the time of this Disney renaissance, and with this trio of films in particular. Each of the three is a masterpiece and can claim to be the best Disney has to offer in some way. While Beauty and the Beast is the most spellbinding, heart-warming and inspiring film, and Aladdin is the funniest escape to a far away place, I find The Lion King to be the most powerful and moving animated film in the entire Disney canon.

I still get goosebumps when this appears on the screen and Lebo M. starts his African chant. It is just an incredible film opening.

I still get goosebumps when this appears on the screen and Lebo M. starts his African chant. It is just an incredible film opening.

I said in my post for Beauty and the Beast that it was my favorite of all the Disney films. I stand by that statement, but to me, The Lion King comes in a close second. A VERY close second. From the very first seconds of the film with the rising sun and the African chant, it becomes clear that The Lion King is something special. As incredible as the opening scene and song are, the film amazingly doesn’t let up after that. We meet a superb cast of characters who tell a deeply moving and emotional tale, all the while being accompanied by a marvelous score, beautiful and bold art, and brilliant animation.

The Lion King is loaded with fun, smart, and memorable characters. This collection of characters is every bit as memorable and strong as the cast I praised in AladdinThe Lion King is a great example of how to make each character important to the story and to the film, regardless of whether they are the protagonist, evil henchman, or comic relief sidekick. It helps that the characters are voiced by what was the most star-studded cast of any Disney feature up to that point. Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Nathan Lane, Cheech Marin, Whoopi Goldberg, and all the others do a fantastic job. Particular mention needs to be given to Jeremy Irons, though. After the string of villains in Ursula, Gaston, and Jafar, Irons had a lot to live up to in his voicing of Scar. But he really delivered and continued the streak of making the villain stand out.

Jeremy Irons (and Andreas Deja and his animation team) knocked this one out of the park. This is another great villain.

Jeremy Irons (and Andreas Deja and his animation team) knocked this one out of the park. This is another great villain.

Speaking of standing out, where do I begin with the music? At the time, the score for The Lion King was unlike anything ever heard in a Disney film. The now-legendary Hans Zimmer, who composed the score, turned in what I believe to be the very best work of his career with his blending of African instruments and choruses with a sweeping cinema style. It is no surprise that it won the Oscar for Best Score in 1995 (that had to be the easiest decision ever for the academy). To me this is easily the best score of any Disney film. It is one of my favorite movie scores of all time, and if Disney ever released the complete score, I would snatch it up in a second. Beyond the score, the songs are also great. The combination of Zimmer, Lebo M., Tim Rice, and Elton John proved to be a winning combination.

Color swap

Another great aspect of the film is the art and color used throughout. The Lion King is beautiful to look at. It has lush green in the plants, brilliant blues in the day and nighttime skies, and many other bright and bold colors (just look at the collection of screenshots to see what I mean). It has some incredible backdrops of fields, cliffs, trees, and other landscapes that are artistically enhanced in a wonderful way. Pride Rock and the jungle home of Timon and Pumbaa are full of life and color, while the Elephant graveyard and Post-Scar Pride Rock serve as effective contrasts and capture the bleakness and dire situation the characters are in at those times and places.

Another Disney film, another groundbreaking implementation of animation technology.

Another Disney film, another groundbreaking implementation of animation technology.

In addition to the art, the animation is also a high mark of the film. Interestingly, when Aladdin was completed, the Animation department broke into two groups: one team would work on Pocahontas and the other would do The Lion KingPocahontas was pitched as the superior film, as an automatic home run. And so everybody wanted to work on it and most of the top talent ended up moving to that project (Andreas Deja was the exception because his dream was to work on an animal picture like The Jungle Book). This left The Lion King to the “B-team,” and it was considered more of the  “B-movie” project, with no one really having high expectations for it. The directors practically had to beg to get people to come work on the project. But this so-called “B-team” rose up to the challenge, and in the process really advanced the craft of animating animals to a whole new level. The movements of the characters on the screen had the most believable mixture of human and real animal ever seen in animation at the time of its release in 1994. And in addition to character animation, the team continued the trend of giving scenes an extra “wow factor” with the help of 3d computer animation.

Mufasa appears

But perhaps the strongest part of The Lion King to me is its emotional story of family and its powerful message of personal responsibility. Somehow, The Lion King manages to go beyond most films that merely entertain, and it penetrates deep down to the soul, both emotionally and spiritually. Despite being about wild animals, this movie addresses some of the most basic and important human issues. Things like loving and honoring family (from both a child and parent perspective), respecting all other life, the importance of embracing responsibilities and doing the right thing, and the possibility of redemption all ring true and loud and clear in this film.

There are some definite "burning bush" inspirations here. And I am really glad this is the case.

There are some definite “burning bush” inspirations here. And I am really glad this is the case.

My favorite scene is when Mufasa’s spirit comes back to remind Simba of himself. It was said that during production, the filmmakers looked to stories like Joseph in Egypt and Moses at the burning bush for inspiration in the movie. No doubt this part of the movie benefits from the stories. The result of this is a scene that is not only key to the film, but a scene with spiritual parallels that really resonate with me. Mufasa tells Simba, “You have forgotten who you are, and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become.” In real life, perhaps we can feel at times that we forget who we are and we lose sight of who we can become. We just need to but remember who we are as a son or daughter of our Father. And like Simba, we may be tempted to say “How can I go back? I’m not who I used to be.” We all make mistakes, but we can walk that path back and make things right – no matter how difficult the path may be – if we remember who we really are and who we come from. It is a strong, strong message, and a brilliantly done scene.

So with all these things, it is no wonder that The Lion King took the world by storm. To date, it is the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time, and if you include 3D animation, the 2nd highest, right behind Toy Story 3. The Lion King firmly cemented animation as a legitimate mainstream form of entertainment, art, and money-making power. Most importantly, though, it completed the triple play of Disney’s amazing renaissance which took kids to an enchanted castle, an Arabian cave of wonders, and a lush African safari. Long live The Lion King.

Circle of Life

Scar and Simba

Hakuna Matata