__Ah, yes. Don’t we all just love Disney? Is there anything in the world more synonymous with childhood? Disney has been around almost since the dawn of cinema, and has enchanted generations of children ever since. Until it became a money-grubbing corporate giant that everyone accused of brainwashing a generation, that is! 🙂
__Of course, it’s pretty easy to figure out the cons of Disney: almost everything they’ve done since the year 2000 is a con. But let’s forget about all that and hearken back to the golden age, Disney’s timeless animated classics.
__In fact, there are so many truly great ones that I just couldn’t keep this to a top ten! So I’m actually going to make it a top twenty list. I won’t get into the direct-to-video sequels, or Disney’s collaborations with Pixar or anything; I’m only going by what Disney considers their official line-up of animated motion pictures.
__So, get ready. These are my top twenty favourite Disney animated features.
#20 = 101 Dalmatians (1961)
It’s the story of a couple of parent dogs on a quest to rescue their puppies. And I think that’s the main reason it draws me in so much: it doesn’t get any more serious than rescuing your children. Especially from Cruella de Vil, every animal lover’s worst nightmare! And as quest stories go, it’s a pretty damn good one. It has long-distance signals, it has military characters, it has a getaway chase – it’s awesome! 🙂 Its only downfall is the animation, which is distractingly cheap and sketchy. But still, it’s a fun adventure. (And don’t even get me started on that pig-shit live-action movie!)
#19 = Alice in Wonderland (1951)
This one really stands out to me as unique in the Disney oeuvre. It’s a dark, twisted psychological journey, in which a very logical girl is thrown into a world that’s the complete opposite of logic. In terms of overall structure, it’s more or less a road trip movie: you see something, you have a brief encounter with it, and then you move on. I haven’t yet read either of the original Lewis Carroll books, but I’ve heard this movie tries to combine the two into one. And in that respect, I think it really works. It’s a solid self-contained piece.
#18 = The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad (1949)
It’s the stories of The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow told back-to-back. Again, I haven’t yet read either of the original books, but each of these adaptations is intelligent and engaging in its own right. But by far my favourite part is the built-up appearance of the Headless Horseman at the end of Sleepy Hollow: that scene perfectly nails the sense of nervous tension, and the Horseman himself has an amazing design. Each of the two vignettes has also been released separately, but here, together in their original format, they make for an excellent package.
#17 = The Little Mermaid (1989)
This movie basically rescued Disney from their dark age, ushering in what’s commonly called the Disney Renaissance. I didn’t grow up with this one, but there’s still more than enough to enjoy as an adult. It succeeds in the same way as Snow White and Cinderella before it: it’s a fairytale without any pretence. The animation is stellar, as is the music. Ursula the devious sea witch is by far one of Disney’s best villains. The climax is a little too brief for me, but it’s still easy to see why people fell in love with this movie. It finally recaptured the classic Disney.
#16 = Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Did you know that this was actually the first full-length animated movie ever made? For a first effort, it’s pretty impressive. 🙂 Of course I liked it a lot as a child, but as an adult, I find it’s only got better with age. It’s a fairytale plain and simple, and it relishes it, and I think that’s what makes so many of the Disney classics so timeless. When it’s funny, it’s really funny. When it’s scary, it’s actually still pretty terrifying. The only major problem is Snow White’s voice, but even that I can get used to after a while.
#15 = Peter Pan (1953)
Disney and Peter Pan – two of the embodiments of childhood – coming together! It sounds like a match made in heaven, and the result doesn’t disappoint! 🙂 This is a movie to watch if you want to feel like a little kid again. The characters seem just like real kids having adventures and fun at the same time. I especially love the Indian party scene: the music alone makes me want to join in the party! 🙂 But of course, what most people remember is Captain Hook, who’s embodied wonderfully here: honourable and cunning, but also side-splittingly funny. It’s all definitely one of Disney’s proudest trademarks.
#14 = The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
From Walt’s death up until The Little Mermaid is a time I like to call the dark age of Disney, and this was perhaps the only true gem to come out of that period. It’s just amazing how well Disney captured the spirit of the original books; with the characters’ childlike innocence and naïveté, they got it spot-on. And the film isn’t limited to a three-act structure, allowing you to wallow in all the wonder that the Hundred Acre Wood has to offer. It’s one of those remarkable movies that I actually love even more as an adult than I did as a child.
#13 = Basil the Great Mouse Detective [AKA just The Great Mouse Detective] (1986)
This may have come out during Disney’s dark age, but it’s easily one of my personal favourites. The idea of Disney doing a detective story, especially with mice, may sound absurd, but somehow it actually worked! 🙂 I just love watching the sharp, super-smart hero cracking clues and figuring out various other things. But a hero can only be as good as his villain, and Ratigan truly is one of the greats. Basil is obviously a rodent version of Sherlock Holmes, and this is a great Sherlock Holmes alternative. It’s surprisingly cool for such a silly concept, and definitely one of Disney’s most entertaining flicks.
#12 = Frozen (2013)
Inspired in part by the Snow Queen fairytale, this is another one that simply recaptured the Disney we all knew and loved. While of course it boasts toe-tapping songs, lovable characters and breathtaking animation, what I especially love about it is how cleverly it satirises some of the conventions associated with Disney, particularly the notion of true love. Its success is all the more remarkable because I clearly remember the trailers woefully misrepresented it, making it look painfully unfunny, so it also stands as a testament to why I always value reviews over trailers. Every time I see Frozen, it gets better and better.
#11 = Zootropolis [AKA Zootopia] (2016)
Yep, this movie isn’t even a year old yet and it’s already on the list! 🙂 Now, at the time I’m writing this, it hasn’t come out on DVD in the UK yet, so I’ve only seen it once. My opinion on it may not be as clearly defined as the other picks, but I do remember it’s a superbly told story of pursuing your dreams and accepting the consequences that come with them – and, obviously, overcoming prejudice. It’s also another detective story in a sense, but this time it’s telling a legitimately good mystery; I’ll admit I didn’t see the final revelation coming.
#10 = The Princess and the Frog (2009)
After a five-year hiatus, Disney finally returned with another 2D animated feature. And the result was surprisingly inspired. This is perhaps the first Disney movie to acknowledge that you have to work in life, you can’t just wish for your dreams to come true. The two ideals are in constant battle in this movie. And on top of that, it’s just funny; it’s bursting with laugh-out-loud humour. The story may be too complicated for some people, but it’s fine with me, because I like complex stories! 🙂 This is another one that just keeps getting better each time I see it.
#9 = Bambi (1942)
Well, I can’t talk about this movie without mentioning Bambi’s mother! 🙂 It’s kind of fitting that such a famous emotionally crippling moment was in a movie that also succeeded in every other respect! 🙂 The animation is simply outstanding: you really feel like you’re in nature for the whole movie. And the way it tells its story is among Disney’s most distinct: it’s just the life of this deer and what he learns along the way. I especially like how Bambi has no personality to speak of, which makes him seem more like the animal he’s supposed to be. It’s by far one of Disney’s finest.
#8 = Pinocchio (1940)
I’ve been told that I couldn’t get enough of this movie as a kid, but I think that’s just because I never actually owned it. To date, I’ve seen it twice since growing up. The first time I saw it, I thought it was very good, and the second time I saw it, I thought it was amazing. The animation is absolutely top-notch, and is there any point in confirming the story’s morals and emotional resonance? And of course, need we forget When You Wish Upon a Star, the song that’s become perhaps Disney’s biggest trademark? It’s definitely one of Disney’s definitive masterpieces.
#7 = Tangled (2010)
This was Disney’s fiftieth animated feature, and they certainly picked a good one to mark the occasion! 🙂 Rapunzel was perhaps the only classic fairytale they didn’t cover in their golden ages. The twists this version puts on the original story are fantastically clever, and it’s amazing how well the movie balances humour, exciting adventure and that timeless fairytale sensibility that we all love from Disney. Its only slight problem is that the characters and dialogue do seem overly modern, though not annoyingly so. Overall, it’s a very entertaining movie that I heartily recommend if you want to watch something that’s fun but not brainless.
#6 = The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Such a famously dark and demented Victor Hugo book might seem like a weird subject for Disney to take on! But for what they did with it, honestly, I really love this one. With the exception of the gargoyles, it doesn’t try to lighten the tone for kids; it tells a dark, adult story just as it is, tackling issues like prejudice, heartbreak, and even lust! The music is awesome, including two of my absolute favourite Disney songs: Out There and Hellfire. It’s definitely one of the most adult of all the Disney movies, and I love it all the more for that.
#5 = Fantasia (1940)
This is a very different kind of movie for Disney. Fantasia doesn’t have a narrative story. It’s just an experiment in applying animated images to classical music, thus creating visual poetry. And I’m one more of the many people who just love it for that. The animation is of course flawless, and I especially love how distinct each of the seven sections are from each other, from Toccata and Fugue to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to Dance of the Hours to the ending with Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria. It all just goes to show the power of music over the mind.
#4 = Aladdin (1992)
This was actually the first movie I ever saw in the cinema, and it was one of the Disney movies I saw most often growing up. But is that the only reason it’s one of my favourites? Of course not. The romance is one of Disney’s best: Aladdin and Jasmine actually do have chemistry. Who can forget Robin Williams as the Genie? The escape from the Cave of Wonders has to be one of the best action scenes ever animated. And its moral about lying is by far one of Disney’s soundest. In short, I love every single second of this movie.
#3 = The Lion King (1994)
Yeah. 🙂 When this movie came out, everyone I knew was crazy about it! The songs are brilliant, the animation is absolutely top-notch (especially in how it captures the spectacular African scenery), both the animation and the story have a truly epic scale, and the moral is right up there with Aladdin as one of Disney’s best: you can’t change the past, but you can deal with it. People have said that it’s basically a kids’ version of Hamlet, combined with King Lear. Well, so much the better! 🙂 Either way, it’s definitely the highest-grossing 2D animated film of all time for a reason.
#2 = Beauty and the Beast (1991)
This movie is just incredible! 🙂 Everything about it is just perfect. The main character is perfect, the villain is perfect, the romance is perfect, the animation is perfect, the music is perfect… I think the movie’s single greatest strength is that it takes itself as seriously as a fairytale can; all the characters seem like real people. Is it any wonder it was the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture? If this list were based on a technical standpoint, this would have to be number one. But my personal favourite is one that’s a little less tangible.
Here it is. #1… The Jungle Book (1967)
I can’t really explain why this is my favourite of the bunch. It’s just the one I have the most fun watching, and the world it sets up is the one I least want to leave. It happens to be the last one to be made while Walt Disney himself was still alive – but sadly he passed away before it was released, so he never got to see it. I haven’t read the original book, though I’ve heard it’s a lot better. But until then, I’ll gladly take this version! 🙂 It’s basically a road trip movie: a series of initially fun encounters, but then there’s a brilliant tonal shift halfway through. All the characters are memorable, and the music is upbeat and jazzy. But like I said, I can’t really explain it otherwise. It doesn’t really matter why The Jungle Book is so cool; it just is.
• Cinderella (1950) does a fantastic job at adapting the story to feature length, with expert build-up to the appearance of the Fairy Godmother.
• Dumbo (1941) isn’t as sublime as Disney’s other works, but still great fun.
• Meet the Robinsons (2007) isn’t perfect, but I’m a sucker for a good time travel story. 🙂
• Mulan (1998) is equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and an intensely vicious war scenario, including a pretty spectacular battle scene.
• The Rescuers Down Under (1990), I already mentioned in my top ten superior sequels list.
• And Sleeping Beauty (1959) boasts a thoroughly enjoyable trio of fairies on one side, and one of the best villains in Disney history on the other.
__And those are my picks. Did your favourite make the list?