|The First 50 films of Disney Animation Studios|
NOTE: This only will cover the 52 films before Frozen, as I have not had proper time to let that movie sink in. Additionally, I am only covering the films Disney Animation Studios spearheaded. So Pixar films, DisneyToon's direct-to-video monstrosities, and even films they corroborated on like Mary Poppins will not be ranked.
Also, I allowed a variety of people to give their opinions on the movies they thought were good. Their lists will be used here as well. If you don't agree with my or their opinions, feel free to give your thoughts in the comments.
Well with that all out of the way, let's talk about a topic I'm certain will evoke a reaction from many: the matrix of nostalgia, Disney's Animated Classics!
It's now that I'd like to note that I'll be intertwining other lists in here. Some list strictly canon films and others gave mention to films outside the canon, but in any case, I'm including them all. Thank you to all of you who sent me lists!
All that said, here are some that came close to my top 12.
Why it's mentioned: Probably the pinnacle of early Disney animation worked in with expertly crafted classical music.
Why it's not on the list: It's an anthology of multiple pieces, so characterization takes a backseat. To make this work, all stories have to hit bulls-eyes, but only about half the pieces nail it. Still, even then it almost made the list, so that should tell you how great this movie gets at times.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
Why it's mentioned: Probably the best stable of characters in Disney's possession playing their roles to near-perfection. I also LOVE the fourth-wall jokes they worked in.
Why it's not on the list: Same issue as Fantasia, but more pronounced. These stories weren't meant to connect, so their attempt to make them do so feels forced.
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Why it's mentioned: It has one of my favorite Disney romances and really takes advantage of the dogs' perspective in comparison to humans.
Why it's not on the list: The main characters don't feel totally fleshed out. Even today I'd struggle to put into words what Tramp's character is.
The Rescuers Down Under (1991)
Why it's mentioned: Of all the Disney renaissance films, this one may have provided the absolute pinnacle of voice casting. John Candy, Eva Gabor, Bob Newhart all in prominent roles.
Why it's not on the list: I won't lie, this was about the point where making ranking decisions got REALLY hard. But if I'm going to split hairs to make these rankings, this movie's plot isn't as compelling as the films that surrounded it. That's mostly due to the movie burning its best effect in the first few minutes and the characters coming from one of Disney's most bland theatrical efforts, The Rescuers.
Before the my top 12, I have interspersed other lists in here. Here are two!
These are, in my opinion, the top five best Disney films. This only takes into account films I have personally seen, as I don’t feel as though I can comment on any I haven’t, regardless of their influence or popularity.
4. Tangled - Tangled features great animation, and is surprisingly witty and funny for a Disney princess movie. I love that it feels modern without any pop culture references.
3. The Emperor’s New Groove – This is the least Disney of any Disney movie, and perhaps that’s why I love it so much. It’s just weird. There’s very little plot, but there’s a lot of great action and plenty of laughs. Plus, it somehow feels more realistic than other Disney stories. Not necessarily the turning into a llama part, but who amongst us doesn’t know at least one person who is just so completely full of themselves? Also, possibly the only funny thing David Spade has ever done.
2. Fantasia – I love this Disney classic. When you consider it was released in 1940, the animation in Fantasia is simply breathtaking. The marriage of animation and classical music is beautiful and timeless; and if you don’t like Fantasia, then there is something deeply wrong with you.
1. Wreck-It Ralph – I thought about putting Fantasia as my number one pick, but decided at the last moment to be a cliché. Wreck-It Ralph is a fantastic movie that’s full of gamer culture and plenty of nostalgia. I used to play Donkey Kong all the time; my mom’s friend had the arcade machine! Not only is it a great nostalgia trip, but the film has a really inventive anti-bullying story wrapped in a hyperactive, clever, and funny story.
Song of the South
3) The Little Mermaid
4) The Princess and the Frog
I chose this ranking due to the film's contribution to animation history as well as the movement of the ideals of the time. Each film went with the times of that era and taught its audience a lesson. I know Song of the South is basically banned, but it was a great movie on its own even though the background was brutal. I couldn't ignore the artistry of the film and the impact it had on society.
And now... the Top 12!
Why it's mentioned: This movie did two very human plotlines and executed each about as well as you could hope. Lilo and Nani's family story is totally down-to-earth, believable and written with expert precision. Cobra Bubbles could have been written as a tried-and-true Disney villain, but instead is a good man with a long leash. He understands the tragedy of the family's situation and is very pained when he feels he has to be strict with them.
Likewise, Stitch's realization that he's alone in the universe can resonate with anyone. His arc from a destructive abomination unto nature into a caring adoptive family member is filled with both humor and real tear-jerking emotion.
Why it's not higher: The two plots do not mesh as well as they should. You have a family in Hawaii coping with the loss of their parents and an alien fugitive being chased down by the Space Dukes of Hazzard. When the two stories have to start working into each other in the final act of the movie, it becomes very surreal very quickly. It doesn't kill the movie, but I just am not sure anyone could have made these two stories mesh as well as they would need to in order to be a perfect film.
Why it's mentioned: The first movie of the Disney Renaissance is fondly remembered for a reason. That reason is the music. This movie has without a doubt the best in-film soundtrack of any Disney movie. So many characters are memorable and there is a real atmosphere to the ocean. Additionally, it was a big risk to go a third of the film where the main character didn't talk, and I really respect them for that. This film is loved by many, and deservedly so.
Why it's not higher: The story itself is fairly thin, at least from Ariel's perspective. She really has no character arc. She wants to go on land, wants to get with a guy, she gets what she wants, things go wrong, she gets what she wants anyway. No growth, no lesson learned. This is a story about King Triton learning to let go of his children as they grow up... through the eyes of Ariel's story.
Oh, and Eric is really freaking bland. I'm sorry, but this guy couldn't even react with proper emotion when he realized he was dating a half-human, half-fish. Despite all of this, though, I love the movie and it deserves its ranking.
Why it's mentioned: This is one of the first movies I ever saw, and it still resonates 73 years after it first came out. It features one of the most iconic songs in the history of Disney and it manages to produce one of the most memorable animated protagonists in the film's titular character.
I really respect the movie's decision to go dark with the characters on Pleasure Island. In retrospect, it's really surprising that a film produced in 1940 would actually turn children into donkeys and never restore them. That's a pretty heavy decision and I grant much respect.
The animation, while a little dated, actually holds up pretty well and the voice acting remains well-executed. Overall, it holds up brilliantly.
Why it's not higher: Jiminy Cricket. The character was written with no personality and if it wasn't for the "When you wish..." song sequence, I would probably forget entirely that he existed in the film when he's in about half the movie. I remember the Blue Fairy more than I remember Jiminy. (As I said, these are ultimately nitpicks, but I have to separate the top from the bottom some way.)
Why it's mentioned: This is, to me, the darkest, most somber film in the canon. It talks about how societal roles and misunderstandings can destroy the innocence of childhood and turn the best of friends into bitter enemies.
At the same time, it shows how a simple showing of kindness and kinsmanship can still bring about peace and openness. This film really sticks with me as an adult and serves as one of the main influences on my outlook on the world.
Why it's not higher: The animation isn't as strong as in past movies, a lot of the characters aren't that memorable, and it isn't bright enough in its happy moments. This film does one thing unbelievably well, but outside of that, it's just a solid film.
Why it's mentioned: The music is nearly to the caliber of Little Mermaid and the story is almost on the level of Lion King or Beauty and the Beast (both coming up later on this list). It's probably the best blended of the films and the performances (especially Robin Williams as the Genie) are some of Disney's most memorable. And kudos to it on being one of the only highly regarded Disney Renaissance movies to break from the traditional, Anglo-Saxon characters. There really isn't much to say here that hasn't been said.
Why it's not higher: While much of it is good, nothing it does stands out as the best of its era. Nearly every aspect of the film was done better by one of the other Disney Renaissance movies. And as a whole, it doesn't come across as strongly as most. It still does well, just not as well.
Why it's mentioned: This movie took the formula Lady and the Tramp started and amplified it to a top-flight classic. Pongo and Perdita's voices are as memorable today as ever, as are Roger, Anita, Horace, Jasper, Nanny, Rolly and Lucky. But the biggest reason this movie is great is the villain, Cruella De Vil. I love how absurdly small her plans are and how psychotically she goes to make them work.
Why it's not higher: Unfortunately, the over-the-top nature is what limits the film. Well, that and the animation. It's some of the more choppy work Disney has done. It still works when it has to, but at times it can be distracting.
Why it's mentioned: This is the studio's funniest film by far. I love how this movie is tongue-in-cheek regarding the tropes of Disney films, especially toward the end when Yzma is defeated by random chance rather than a lesson learned earlier. This came at a time when Disney was not known for addressing their own ridiculousness and was a wonderful breath of fresh air. Add in David Spade, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt turning out excellent performances and you've got one hell of a film.
Why it's not higher: At the end of the day, the stakes aren't particularly big from a life-or-death standpoint so the story can feel very "TV level" during some sequences. Also, while this was one of the best road-trip style comedies I've ever seen, it's still a road-trip style comedy that mixes with a turned-to-animal story to create a very odd film. It's done well, but very little can be said about it.
Before the Top 5 are given, here's a few more lists!
|I'm using a picture of the top film not on my list, by the way.|
(I'd note if I expanded my list to 20, Bambi would've made the cut.)
12. Fantasia/Fantasia 2000
10. Beauty and the Beast
9. The Jungle Book
6. Lilo and Stitch
4. 101 Dalmatians
2. Emperor's New Groove
1. Lion King
1) The Lion King: After a long series of fantastic animated films, the Lion King is the ultimate family tale. You laugh, you cry (every time I might add), and you have beloved characters that still resonate in the Disney world.
2) Beauty and the Beast: Everything I said above, minus the crying part. The music and computer generated scenes help set it apart from so many of the classics.
3) Aladdin: It's hard to top the musical elements of this movie....not to mention the character development, comical antics, and storyline. I can still watch this movie over and over again.
4) The Emperor's New Groove: A more adult style of humor. I loved all of the characters and I still laugh out loud at the jokes.
|Again, showing the top movie on the list that isn't |
on mine. (For the record, it makes my upper half.)
6) Tangled: Quirky, fun, and Flynn Rider was a great main character Prince.
7) The Princess and the Frog: The classic animation return for Disney. Great film, wonderful music, and strong "Disney" characters.
8) Alice In Wonderland, 101 Dalmatians, Peter Pan, The Sword in the Stone, Robin Hood, The Fox and the Hound, Oliver & Company: My general favorite disney movies. I enjoyed the "Animal-Like Characters" and the Fantasy elements of these movies. I can watch these anytime.
9) Hercules and Wreck It Ralph: A fun spin on a main character. I enjoy the "Outside the Box" thinking in these movies.
10) Lilo & Stitch and Brother Bear: Stitch and The Moose Characters. Enough Said.
A few notable movies that I still enjoy.
11) The Little Mermaid, The Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, Tarzan.
Why it's mentioned: This took the road trip format of Emperor's New Groove and married it to the traditional Disney Princess story, and it comes across even better, in my opinion. I love that Rapunzel is given a real backstory that makes sense. I love how the wicked mother isn't really played as wicked. Instead, she's a desperate person who is going to extraordinary levels to stay young/alive. It's a real selfishness and craftiness that could be seen by a real person.
Heck, her plan is one of the best I've ever seen in a Disney movie. Had Rapunzel tested Flynn earlier, the plan would've succeeded. I was floored by how good this was when I finally saw it.
Why it's not higher: In the first 20 minutes of the film, the animation doesn't flow perfectly with the voice acting. The lips match, but something about them makes me aware that I'm hearing a voice instead of a character. Also, Rapunzel has Ariel syndrome in that she's not really going through an arc so much as the male supporting character is. Lastly, the final act hinges on the mother of all Deux ex Machinas to fulfill its by-the-numbers ending.
Why it's mentioned: When people say it's Hamlet with lions, they mean it literally. The movie is based on Hamlet and the strength of the plot shows it. Virtually every character is memorable and the growth of Simba over the course of the film is a joy to watch. And the music lives up to the hype as well... except for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," but you can forgive one stinker. The final sequence is expertly done and is one of the most exciting final sequences you'll see in film.
Why it's not higher: As I said, there is a weak song sequence, but there are other problems. Some of the plot points could have used more work, such as why Mufasa is forcing hyenas to starve, how a drought is Scar's fault, etc. Also, Timon and Pumbaa were great for kids and nostalgia purposes, but if you're taking the emotion out of it, geez can they become grating in that second act. They get better in the final act, but until "Can You Feel..." passes, they are shaky at best, irritating at worst.
Why it's mentioned: This one will probably be a little surprising considering it's not widely treated with high regard, but this is quite frankly the best Robin Hood re-telling done in movie form. The music is great the characters are all likable, the villains balance threatening and humorous demeanors perfectly, and the romance between Robin and Marion is done so well. Yes, the animation is ripped from The Jungle Book and other movies, but they alter the roles enough that you don't think about it.
Why it's not higher: That said, it is an incredibly lazy step and once it hits you, it does take a few minute to stop thinking about it. There's not much to complain about in this film, but that (as well as a few pretty bland forest scenes) do keep this film out of the top line on this list.
Why it's mentioned: I know a lot of people would like to throw the classic Disney Princess movies into a dumpster of outdated society, but I am not one of them and Cinderella is an all-time great movie. Why does it succeed so much more than its colleagues (Snow White and Sleeping Beauty) did?
Well, one reason is that it's the most grounded conflict. When it boils down to it, the conflict in Cinderella is a spiteful step-mother trying to verbally abuse and berate her step-daughter. It's messed up, but it's a story that people can connect to. The conflicts in the others involve a queen who is doing things because (I'm not embellishing) Snow White is prettier than her; and a witch who is murderous because she was snubbed at a party.
Another positive is that Cinderella's animation is probably the most timeless style of any of Disney's early works. While it's clearly a 50s work, I could see the animation style working on current TV without looking out of place.
The story itself is simple, but it makes sure to make every moment count. It's truly a classic in every sense of the word.
Why it's not higher: Honestly, it really boils down to the top movie executing itself slightly better. I could nitpick about how the prince is a bore or how the Fairy Godmother is a deux ex machina, but the prince isn't playing epic hero and the story hinges on the godmother, so I can't complain much about either. It's really a matter of the top movie just topping it.
Why I could drop it lower: I'll hit the negatives first: The first 3 minutes. Honestly, if you can make it plausible that an underage prince wasn't already named king because of a lack of parents or that he'd be opening his own door, then you'll be really reaching with anything else.
The other critique: the music, specifically the title song. It's possibly the weakest song Disney used between 1989 and 1994. It's ham-fisted and can become REALLY irritating if you hear it more than twice in a row.
Why it's No. 1: Point-blank best film the studio ever produced in terms of story and character. Gaston is a villain who isn't really a villain (he's more of an arrogant jerk who doesn't listen to anyone) and is just flat-out awesome in all his exchanges. The talking furniture characters are likable, memorable and play their roles beautifully.
But really, the excellence in execution comes from Belle and her relationship with the Beast. There have been some
Outside of the title song, the rest of the music rates from solid to good. The voice acting is on point and the animation is probably Disney's best of the 20th Century. Most importantly, the movie is prudent in making sure everyone's motives are accounted for at all times. No one is saying or doing anything that is out of line with established characteristics. The actions make sense in the world that was created.
This story was apparently planned early in the Disney movie plans, but was shelved for decades. Honestly, I'm glad they did. It allowed animation to catch up for more elaborate movements and
What else can I say? It's No. 1 on so many lists for a reason. Check it out if you haven't already. And for those who are comparing Frozen to it... I haven't seen Frozen yet, but you've set my expectations pretty high.
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