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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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!

Week 28: The Little Mermaid

Disney Was Sick of Swimming and Ready to Stand

Ariel reprise

Originally Released: 1989

The Little Mermaid is the first real movie theater experience I can remember as a child. I can still visualize being at the theater with my older sister and watching the musical story unfold on the screen. I think it is safe to say that as most kids grow up, that first movie theater experience earns a special place in in his or her heart. That was definitely the case for me. Because of this significant event, The Little Mermaid automatically qualifies as a cherished film in my book.

I’m fairly certain, though, that it is cherished by more people than just me. Even setting personal nostalgia aside, The Little Mermaid is a bona-fide classic and stands tall in the Disney hall of fame. The story is great, the characters are beyond memorable, and the music is simply spectacular. After watching in rapid succession the films released during Disney’s so-called “dark ages” and then following that up with The Little Mermaid, it is more clear than ever to me that this one is special.


The way The Little Mermaid came to be was something of a perfect storm, with the right people coming together at the right time. After getting kicked off the studio lot, the animators realized that they needed to really perform or they would likely lose their jobs. Peter Schneider was brought on to head the animation department, and he emphasized collaboration and open communication. Disney also brought on the talents of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to work on the songs and score for The Little Mermaid. Ashman was a Broadway guy and was instrumental in restoring musical storytelling to Disney films. He eventually became involved in the story development of The Little Mermaid as well. Many other people also had positive contributions that added to the wave of creativity.

Under the Sea

The result of this storm of creativity is a product that meshes story, animation, and music in a wonderful manner. Each separate aspect adds to The Little Mermaid in its own way, but they combine together to form something truly great.

Consider the song “Part of Your World.” It is a lovely melody sung by the beautiful voice of Jodi Benson. But these pieces only get so far alone. Similarly, the lyrics alone are not going to inspire anybody. They talk about a girl who wants more gizmos, gadgets, and thingamabobs. The lyrics require the context of the story to make any real sense. But by putting all these elements together, the story moves forward very effectively and we also connect much better with Ariel. Before this piece, we may think of Ariel as just a rebellious teen, but after the song, we can understand her a little better and see her in a different way.


Knowing the story and hearing the music helps a lot, but now add to the scene some truly inspired and gorgeous animation by Glen Keane that portrays Ariel earnestly hungering for her desires. The end result is incredible. Again, each storytelling piece on its own is good. But as a completed whole, it is an amazing thing to see and hear (imagine my surprise when I learned that one man almost cut the whole piece from the film!). In my opinion, “Part of Your World” is a perfect showcase of the animation medium. If you want to see what animation is capable of, there aren’t many better examples than that.


Really, though, The Little Mermaid has many great moments. Ursula is a top Disney villain, Sebastian is an excellent sidekick, and the other characters are fun, too (somehow when I was young my favorite character was Flounder. I wouldn’t pick him today, but for some reason I did back then). As far as music goes, “Under the Sea” is deserving of its academy award and is another example of all elements combining to create an even stronger whole. Also, I love the score. It perfectly matches the tone of the film. And there is great animation and special animation effects littered throughout.

Moonlight Fireworks

In short, I am a pretty big fan of The Little Mermaid. I don’t have much negative to say about it. Of course, I may be a little biased considering it was my first childhood movie experience, but surely nostalgia is not the only thing that will get someone to appreciate this film. It has enough going for it that many people would happily let it be part of their world.


Kiss the girl