My Top 10 Favourite Disney Animated Films
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The first CGI Disney Princess movie, I was pretty sceptical at first since it looked like a Dreamworks film and it was marketed as one. Thankfully, it was still a Disney Princess film that is a bit more modern than the traditional outings of what you'd expect from this type of film. While I do love its characters, the comedy, the animation, and the premise, it was slightly lacking in some departments. With the exception of "See the Light", most of the songs are pretty forgettable and don't suit the style of the setting, the dialogue feels way too modern at points, and the rest of the story doesn't quite hold up to its brilliant premise. Nevertheless, it's a solid Disney animated film that, in my opinion, along with The Princess and the Frog, started a new streak of solid Disney animated films in the late 2000's.
I was considering it for the top 10 list but this stays as an honourable mention because I prefer my Disney animated films grand. That sounds pretty unfair and selfish but that's just how I feel. These type of films should be more prevalent. Films like some of the Studio Ghibli films (best example My Neighbour Totoro) and the Winnie the Pooh series, where it doesn't need conflict, it doesn't need a villain, and it doesn't need a plot. These are just films where we enjoy watching them because we love hanging out with the characters and we love visiting their world. The first Winnie the Pooh film still resonates as a whimsical and surprisingly poignant film about childhood. Each wondrous moment that this film offers don't last forever, and it's a powerful thing that it addresses it in the end. It doesn't last long but it's worth cherishing. The characters are one of the most universally timeless in film as they can appeal to anyone of any age. The song selections; incredibly catchy and memorable. Listen to the Heffalump and Woozles songs and it will be likely stuck in your head. This is one of the Disney animated films where the lines look more sketchy and the pallet looked like it was painted with water colour. I wasn't a big fan of this style but for this film, it worked very well with its atmosphere.
This is a film that sparks debate about gender issues, an issue that I will try to downplay because I'm not very good with the subject. I'm not a historian but I'm guessing that it was the norm of that country and that time period, where women have to dress nice to get suitors for the sake of honouring their families. Fa Mulan of course, doesn't like doing that but she doesn't want to disappoint her family. A lot of people argue that she joins the army because it goes with the girl power aspect that this film seems to push. To me, she disguises herself as a guy to join the army because her dad is too weak and old to join, and she's worried for his safety. I don't see her as a character that promotes that women can do what guys do, I see her as a selfless individual who doesn't want a loved one to get hurt, and is one of the factors that I like about this film. Another factor that I like is the army that she joins in as this is where we get the most laugh out of, and it's pretty funny to see Mulan interacting with these underdogs.
Of course, there are some things that makes this film kind of a drag. First, the villain really sucks. He's boring, his motives are uninteresting, and he's just overall forgettable. Second, Eddie Murphy as Mushu gets tiring really quickly for me, and it's not a very interesting character in my opinion. Fortunately, all those faults doesn't really strip away what is good about the film. The animation really captures the style of the Chinese Dynasty quite well while it still manages to look like a Disney film, the songs, with "Reflection" as a stand out, are really good, the action and comedy are pretty strong, and Fa Mulan is a very likeable protagonist. And also has possession of the best make up remover ever.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
In my opinion, one of the most, if not, the most underrated Disney animated film from the studio. I mostly blame its drawbacks because the source material is so dark and controversial, and it is not an easy task to convert it to a kid friendly film. While it does keep some risqué elements from the source material like sexual desire and religious corruption, it's impact is kind of let down by its attempt in comedy, which manifest in the form of one of the worst comedy relief characters I've seen in a Disney film, the three Gargoyles. There's a theory that they are just Quasimodo's imagination, and a symbol of his loneliness but no, you see them participate in the final battle, and they are acknowledged that they are real by other characters. With that said, the rest of the film is really strong, and if the Gargoyles are not in the film, this would be in the top 10 list. Judge Frollo is one of the best Disney villains and he has one of the most powerful and breathtaking villain songs in the category in the form of "Hellfire", the animation was grand and spectacular, and the studio did a good job adapting such a dark source material and masking the controversial themes without separating from what it intends.
Before I get to the top 10, I can't continue without talking about the original Disney animated film that started it all. In today's standards, Snow White feels more like a historical piece as some of its offerings are a tad bit outdated. The story properly defines the basic formula of the Disney Princess film and because it's been shaken up as the years passed, it does get boring at points, and Snow White is not a very interesting character. Nevertheless, it's still a very enjoyable and whimsical film. The animation, which I would imagine that it was mind blowing at the time it came out, still holds up, the atmosphere is meditative and calming, the Dwarfs are entertaining, and it can deliver many different and powerful emotions. Even to this day, the scene where the Dwarfs just starts bawling when Snow White goes into a coma is still a pretty sad scene to watch.
The Top 10
Starting off the list is the film that is considered the last of the Disney renaissance, and yeah, I thought so too since the films after Tarzan where either okay or pretty bland. The most enjoyable thing about this film is just how energetic it is, from it's characters, animation, action scenes, and its songs. Granted, I wished the songs were sang by the characters themselves instead of Phil Collins but they are really well composed songs. Honestly, this film had the best mixture of traditional hand-drawn and CGI out of all the Disney animated films, especially when Tarzan travels through the jungle, swinging on vines and surfing on branches. While Tarzan does his job as being the Gorilla raised human that he was intended to be, I found him kind of okay as a character, with his conflict between being a human and a part of the band of Gorillas prevents him going into the boring section. The villain is unfortunately really boring because it's the same exact villain from Pocahontas, where he wants profit. At least his death is pretty brutal. Other than those problems, the rest of the movie is pretty great. The animation is absolutely fantastic, the side characters are fun, interesting, and memorable, with Jane being one of my favourite Disney heroines, and the action scenes where Tarzan travels through the jungle are just breathtaking.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Sadly, this is likely the last traditionally hand-drawn Disney Princess film the studio will put out for a long while, and it is quite a shame since there is always something special and charming about that style of animation. This film, until Frozen, was the closest to the renaissance in the 90's and was a welcomed return to hand-drawn form after the piece of shit that was Home on the Range. Princess and the Frog is the first film since Beauty and the Beast to follow the traditional fairy tale, with the usual changes to adapt for film, and the only Disney Princess film I could think of that is set in the 20th Century and the USA. If this is going to be the last traditionally hand-drawn Disney Princess film, at least it was a really good last hurrah. While the story is a bit complicated, it captures each aspect that makes a Disney Princess film good very well. Tiana is one of the best Disney Princesses, up there with Belle, Ariel, Elsa, and Anna, the majority of the songs were really catchy and memorable, as well as being consistent with its style and setting in New Orleans, the animation is great as expected from the studio, and the other characters were really fun and likeable. I did wished that this film did better than it did, and I don't know why Disney considers $267 million box office earnings from a $105 million budget a disappointment.
The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi is a scary, sadistic children's book that summarises Collodi's dislike for kids, and what should be done to punish them. I'm impressed that Disney managed to adapt such a dark book into a family friendly film. While it is a pretty tame and whimsical take in comparison to the book, what I like about this film is that it still gets some pretty good messages across, minus the cynical and sadistic approach of the book. Pinocchio, even though he's just a wooden puppet, he's still a kid. He acts like a kid and he makes mistakes just like a kid does, and I thought he was a really good catalyst to get those messages across. Of course, it still has some dark elements from the novel, the most memorable one is Pleasure Island, where boys are promised freedom and fun, they turn into donkeys for labour. Being Disney's second animated outing after Snow White, damn, does this film look great. The animation stands out the most when the giant whale appears as it demonstrates the talent of the team and their ability to make grand statements, as well as when the Blue Fairy appears, where she looks nearly human instead of an animated character.
Personally, I see this film as Disney's apology to the financial failure that is Rescuers Down Under, the forgotten Disney renaissance film that is way too underrated to be looked over. After the success of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin was a mixture of both action-adventure from Rescuers Down Under and the fairy tale romance aspect from Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid. While it is aimed more at the male demographic, being that the central character is a Prince rather than a Princess, I thought it had good balance between the action-adventure comedy, with treasure hunts, chases, and goofy comic relief characters, and the fairy tale, with a female love interest, fantastical elements, and a sweeping romantic sequence.
The Aladdin character is a good character to get behind with on the adventure, Jaffar is a very entertaining villain, and most of the comic relief are really good, an emphasis on the word "most". While Beauty and the Beast did include CGI into its hand-drawn animation in one instance, Aladdin stepped it up by blending it with its action scenes, and damn, it looks very spectacular. The songs are great, as expected from Alan Menken's composition, and Tim Rice and the late Howard Ashman's lyrics, with "Arabian Nights", "Prince Ali", and the ridiculously popular "A Whole New World" being the highlights.
Of course, I do have some problems with it, which keeps it from being higher on the list. I'm not a huge fan of Princess Jasmine. Yes, she has a spunky, snarky personality but I always felt that her motivations were askew. Fortunately, her romantic chemistry with Aladdin is actually quite good. Oh, and remember when I said most of the comic relief characters where good? There's only one that I didn't like and you will probably hate me for this, but that character is Robin Williams as the Genie. I thought he was a giant distraction from the film. Sometimes his jokes work but I got really tired of his antics, particularly his constant pop-culture references. Thankfully, he does have his serious and dramatic moments, which prevents me from outright despising the character.
The Lion King (1994)
AKA Hamlet with Lions. The highest grossing traditional animated film ever, and the film that epitomised Disney's dominance in the renaissance. Yeah, it's really damn good but I always feel that it gets way too much credit. I probably sound too redundant by this point when I talk about the animation and the songs as the list goes on but yes, the animation and songs in this film are fantastic. Tim Rice and Elton John collaborated on the songs and they are well composed and extremely memorable, with "Be Prepared", "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" as the highlights. It also continues to implement CGI as with the previous films, which results in huge scale set pieces like the wildebeest stampede. The characters: one of the best cast in any Disney animated film. Mufasa and Rafiki are great moral messengers, and Timone and Pumba are possibly my favourite comic relieves in a Disney film.
The strongest aspect of this film's story is the relationship between Simba and his father, Mufasa, which is the main reason why Mufasa's death is, in my opinion, the most heartbreaking death scene Disney's ever put out on screen. It's really smart how it makes us spend time with Mufasa, instead of just being acknowledge that there was a parent and they died because they had to, and I personally see it as an ingeniously cruel move by Disney, a company that hates parents.
Now, going back to my statement that it gets too much credit, it has flaws that I always see people overlook. Uncle Scar started out as a very entertaining villain, with a sly, calculating personality, a fantastic villain song, and with straightforward motivation. When he got what he wanted, he became uninteresting, and a slight contrast to what he was at the beginning. Also, Simba's character development at the end was kind of off putting. Rafiki gives him a really good life lesson for him to use to face Scar, which is about letting go of the past. When he gets to Scar, his past completely consumes him, and the life lesson he learned is pretty much non-existent to that point, and it's not the life lesson that helped Simba fight against Scar, and it's Scar's taunts that lead to his own downfall. With that said, it's still a great film, and I hope that Disney would reach the same height as The Lion King did again if they continue their solid streak as of now.
If this was a massive success, I would probably see a lot of other Fantasia films with different pieces of music and animation, since Walt Disney intended it to be a series. Alas, we only have the original and the 2000 sequel. The original's far better so let's talk about that one instead. If you want to get an idea of where Windows Media Player and ITunes get their Visualiser feature from, look no further than Disney's Fantasia, an ambitious experimentation of sound and visuals. Eight segments, each set with famous classical music, is all you get from this film. While it doesn't have much of a story, with the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment being the closest to having one, Fantasia relies more on evoking emotions, and it shows on how the animation feels so free when it synchronises with the music. Each segments are very solid pieces of art, with The Pastoral Symphony, Night on Bald Mountain, and Ave Maria being the stand out segments of the film.
Hell yeah. Regardless of what you might think otherwise, I think Frozen sits very comfortably in my 4th spot. This film was not only Disney's triumphant comeback in terms of their trademark animated musicals, it's also the studio's best film in a long while. Yes, Princess and the Frog, Wreck-it-Ralph, and Tangled were good but it was Frozen where I felt that it embodied the magical aspects of when Disney were at their finest, which was in the late 80's and early 90's. This was an overall very well done animated musical. Great selection of songs, very likeable characters, gorgeous animation, and a cleverly written adaptation of The Snow Queen fairy tale.
The two sisters, Elsa and Anna, are up there with the best Disney Princesses, even though Elsa is technically a Queen. The side characters are also great, with Olaf the Snowman being a surprisingly effective comic relief, a huge contrast to how he is marketed, and I wasn't really looking forward to his appearance at first. While it goes back to the traditional fairy tale pacing that Disney does best, this one is a bit more unorthodox. The film is more about familial love rather than the typical love that you see in Disney films, as the emotional drive of the entire story is the relationship between Elsa and Anna. It's also been a long time since I actually liked every song in a Disney musical. Anna's "Do You Want to Build A Snowman" and "For The First Time in Forever" are not only catchy and very emotional, it actually notified me that Kristen Bell is a damn good singer. Elsa's musical centrepiece "Let It Go" is probably the one of the best Disney Princess songs since "Reflections" from Mulan and I couldn't stop laughing at Olaf's tragically comic "In Summer" performance.
What I love most about this film is that it mocks the Disney Princess formula in a slight way and uses it to twist the story's traditional pacing. A good example of this is where Anna falls in love with a Prince and gets engaged in one night but the other characters are completely baffled and confused by her decision. Also, I can't really do the film justice without mentioning the resolution of the conflict at the end of the film, which is one of my favourite climaxes in a Disney movie, and a moment where it redefines what "true love" is. My only complaint is that the pacing became sluggish in the final act before the amazing climax. It has been such a long time since I felt such utter joy watching a Disney film. I hope that this film is going to be the start of a brand new renaissance for Disney. Just to end the note, I'm glad we finally have a Queen as a main character instead of a villain in a Disney film.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
The film that started the 90's Disney renaissance where for the next ten years, they pumped out mostly quality animated films. The Little Mermaid is one of the most fascinating films in the studio's library because the fairy tale its based on is just sadistically grim and depressing. I thought it was going to follow Pinocchio's routes and have a darker tone, but thankfully, it didn't. The most striking thing about this film, in comparison to the previous Disney Princess films before it, is that it pretty much shook the traditional formula of love at first sight, true love's kiss, and all that sappy stuff that those films were good at. Yes, Ariel falls for Eric at first glance but the romance doesn't start on a whim. After Ariel does the Faustian deal, she loses her voice and she cannot tell who she is to the Eric, and this gives an opportunity to get to know each other. For a Disney Princess film, this was a breath of fresh air. It isn't contrived and it isn't superficial.
Now, onto the film itself. The Little Mermaid is one of my favourite animated musical films, and the one that began Disney's renewed popularity in the 90's and rightfully so, because it pretty much reignited the company's reputation as the best animation company in the world. This is where they return the animation to the smoother lines and more detailed and paint like backgrounds. Ariel is one of my favourite Disney Princesses, and a character that seems to get a lot of mixed responses. The side characters are also pretty good, and it's probably the first Disney fairy tale I could think of where the Prince actually has a personality, albeit a pretty basic one. The songs, composed by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, are obviously great, with "Part of Your World", "Poor Unfortunate Souls", and "Under The Sea" as my favourites. The only problem I could think of from this film is that Ariel's naivety can get quite grating after a couple of watches but it's a very minor problem.
This is personally my favourite Disney animated film from their early days. If there's a Disney animated film that comes closest to the hardships of life, I think of Bambi. While I really adore this film, I have more respect for it than love. This is the first time Disney deviates from the fantasy elements that they have been going for at that point. Bambi is a straightforward coming-of-age film, a film about growing up in a harsh world where danger is always around but the greatest things are there to be enjoyed. It's one of Disney's most atmospheric films, where most of the time, there isn't a hint of dialogue, it just shows you the beautiful details and backgrounds accompanied by the sweeping orchestral music. Of course, we can't really talk about the film in full without mentioning one of the most well known death scenes in films, where Bambi's mother gets killed by "man". Personally, it doesn't really resonate with me the same way that Mufasa's death did but what makes it so effective, and so unflinching, is that you never see how she dies and Bambi's dad just flat out says "your mother's dead, get over it". It is slightly unemotional in my opinion but it's understandable for that world Bambi lives in, as you have to keep going if you want to survive.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
In my opinion, this is the best film Disney has ever made, not just animated but overall, and one of my favourite films of all time. When I was a child, my father bought a VHS copy of this film for me, and from that point on, I became obsessed with it. I watched it every single night and I watched it so many times, I remembered every dialogue, every lyric, and every moment. Of course, there was the age where I outgrew it and I moved on to other things. Watching it now as an adult, it was so much better than I remembered it, and nostalgia didn't need to have a part on it. After Beauty and the Beast, no films by Disney Animated Studios has ever topped it in terms of consistency and quality. It has the best set of songs, it has the most well-adapted story, it has the best romance, and it has the best cast of characters. It's so near flawless in what it is, it's hard not to compare future Disney Princess films and just Disney films in general to what Beauty and the Beast set in standard.
The main character, Belle, is one of the greatest characters Disney has ever made, the best Disney Princess in the line, and one of my favourite characters in not just Disney, but just films in general. It can be argued that she's way too perfect but there's just something so charming and likeable about her. I love how she's designed, I love her optimism, and even though she's perfect, she has her limits, particularly when dealing with Gaston and the Beast. Gaston, while not the most epic villain in a Disney film, is still a really good villain because he's used to getting what he wants but he just can't get the most beautiful girl in town, Belle, so he becomes more desperate. The Beast is also a great character, he has the beastly temper but he's not entirely cruel as he can have his sympathetic moments. The songs, I don't really have much to say other than they're made by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and every single one of them is great. The titular "Beauty and the Beast" ballad, the ecstatically Broadway-like "Be Our Guest", the introductory "Belle (Little Town)", there's is way too many good songs to count.
If I could think of any criticism for it, I do get confused about its exact time frame of the events since it wasn't very specific on how long Belle stayed in the castle. I did hear that she's been there for days. So if she's been there for days, Lefou, who's been waiting at her house in the snow, should have frozen to death. Also, I'm not a big fan of the Beast's human design. If those are my only complaint, then there isn't really a point in digging for more. I love this film to death and it's a film that just gets better after each viewing. Great characters, unforgettable songs, incredible animation, and just an overall wonderful film.
Frozen just came out in the cinema and this is an appropriate time to reminisce childhood and relive the works of probably the most revered studio in the Disney family, Walt Disney Animation Studios. So here are the animated films that I just love. Rules: They must be fully animated, whether traditional or computer generated, and Pixar films do not count, they must be from the actual Disney Animation Studios. Just a little warning, SOME SPOILERS AHOY because I want to talk about these films in a bit of depth. Don't take it too seriously, it's just a personal list.
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