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From First to Worst: A Personal View of the Disney Animated Films


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#1 of 128 OFFLINE   Ernest Rister

Ernest Rister

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Posted March 20 2004 - 09:48 PM

FROM FIRST TO WORST
A Personal View of the Disney Animated Films
by
Ernest Rister

***

NOTE: What follows represents my own personal feelings and opinions on the best and worst animated features produced by Walt Disney and the Walt Disney Company. I agree with many critics who feel that "top 100" lists or "top ten lists" are a bit silly, but I also agree that sometimes they are a good way of sparking discussion about film. The intention of this thread is to invite the members of the HTF to speak as honestly and as openly about these films as they so wish. I intend to do the same.

What follows was first written in January, 2001, and has been revised somewhat over the last three years. As I post it up here now in the HTF, I am embellishing some old thoughts with some new ones, and so, like my analysis of A.I., this will take two-to-three days to fully complete. Home on the Range debuts April 2nd, and so this list will be revised yet again when I get a look at it.

Best,

ER3

------------


1. PINOCCHIO

Many focus in like a laser on Pinocchio's considerable technical pedigree, and in the process, forget that the real reason we go to the movies isn't to look at the pretty pictures, we go for the experiences. Few of us will ever actually be in outer space, or visit the wreck of the Titanic, but thanks to the movies, we've been to both of these extreme environs.

Animation has the power to take you anywhere, to show you anything, and with Pinocchio, we are taken on a journey across the rooftops of a sleepy Italian village, over the seas to a nightmarish theme park, and finally down into the depths of a dazzling undersea world. We find ourselves in warm homes, in raucous outdoor theaters, in seedy roadside taverns, and we even go into the belly of a whale. Disney combines the on-screen spectacle and technical virtuosity that is the hallmark of the best of his animation with a third quality that has perhaps gone uinmentioned in the discussion of this film. For decades, if you were to talk Pinocchio with film enthusuasts and animation gurus, you'd unavoidably find yourself talking about the camerawork, the staging, the wonderful character animation. But there's something else, underneath the spit and polish, that is truly compelling. If you dig a bit deeper, you may be surprised to find that PINOCCHIO is a film that gently explores a fairly profound question -- what does it mean to be human?

Pinocchio has always gained high marks from myself because it scores across the board. The quality of the art is of course peerless. The design, the layouts, and the animation are all benchmarks for the medium -- but all of these efforts would be meaningless without the quality of the film's ideas and how these ideas are married to the animated fantasy. Here was a film that attempted through gentle parable to explore some very deep waters -- what does it mean to be human? How do we define the act of becoming a part of the human family? You could ask little more of a soul than to be brave, truthful, and considerate of others, and yet that is precisely what is asked of the little puppet Pinocchio in order to become a "real" human being. To be human, the film suggests, is to conquer fear, to be honest, and to think of others before yourself. When Pinocchio achieves these qualities of character, that's when he earns his human heartbeat.

By extension, because we conscioulsy (or unconsciously) come to see the character of Pinocchio as a metaphor for our own young struggles with morality and ethics, this is the challenge that the film asks of us, as well. I don't care if you are six or sixty, these are concepts that we all struggle with, sometimes on a daily basis, and make no mistake, this is what Pinocchio is ultimately about.

To its great credit, it is never pedantic. Walt Disney and his artists do a beautiful job of illustrating a child's struggles with these concepts without finger wagging or sage pronouncements. The film is at its best when it is simply presenting us the consequences of Pinocchio's actions as visual metaphors. In the film, from Pinocchio's nose growing to Lampwick's devolution into an animal, the farther away you are as a child from the ideal of humanity, the less physically human you become. The less moral a person you are, the more of an animal you are. Its a terrifying, thrilling and powerful thing to watch.

Animation's greatest strength lies in the way it asks you to participate in what is happening on the screen. Because the characters in an animated film are not real, because they are representational and abstract forms to begin with, animation is inherently more personal than live-action. You are asked to put aside your own knowledge that what you are seeing is not real, and you are asked - like a child - to believe. Pinocchio, like the great Japanese animated masterwork Grave of the Fireflies, is a subtle psychological attack playing off your own hidden guilts and fears.

For this reason, Pinocchio has always been one of the more powerful titles in the Disney library, though not necessarily one of the most popular. It is certainly Disney's "darkest" film, and the lead character is more of a symbol of childhood innocence than a fully realized personality, and while there are certainly a few songs along the way, it is really not a musical. For these reasons, it is not a "warm" film, though it certainly is a emotional one.

It is also Disney's best -- a landmark of the animated fantasy, a film of real substance, and a prime example of the best of the Disney animated art.

(Released to DVD as a "Gold Collection" title. Bonus Features inculde Original Trailer. Title currently out of print. Added to Disney's "Platinum Edition" line in 2003)

#2. BAMBI

Animation is a team game, and with Bambi, you'll see Disney's A-string players performing on a level that is humbling even to those few gifted enough to make animation their careers. Richard Williams, the acclaimed animation director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, speaks of seeing Bambi in his late 20's / early 30's, long after he had made animation his profession: "I came out on my knees. I literally came out on my hands and knees. How -- how did they DO that?"

The answer is time, patience, and perserverance. A hand-picked team of artists dedicated themselves for years to bring the Bambi project to the screen, and their pain is on the screen. If you know animation like I do, Bambi is so beautiful, the character animation so extraordinary, it is a film that actually hurts to watch.

The film officially began pre-production in 1935 and took seven years to finally complete. Live-action film director Sydney Franklin (Mrs. Miniver, Goodbye Mr. Chips) held the rights to the film, and Disney persuaded him to collaborate with the Disney Studios on the project. The Franklin/Disney pairing resulted in one of the best - though least talked-about - collaborations between Disney and any other artist.

Franklin was instrumental in re-imagining Bambi as a statement on the cycle of life in the forest. Disney was drawn to the film by the characters and potential for story situations, but it was Franklin who came up with the diea of making Bambi a cycle film, where the ending feeds back into the beginning, just as nature is a series of endings and beginnings (The Lion King would famously put this idea to music, in the "Circle of Life" opening number, and in its own structure as a cycle film).

Feature Animation - like all filmmaking - relies heavily on collaboration, and yet if you study the history of any animated film, you'll quickly learn how important the individual inspiration is to the process of these films. In the case of Bambi, a number of key personnel made vital contributions -- Animator Marc Davis was instrumental in desigining the deer. Ed Plumb trailblazed film composition by using the human voice as a scoring tool. Chinese-American artist Ty Wong brought an ethereal and bold use of colors and backgrounds to the film. Rhetta Scott became the first female Disney character animator by doing outstanding work on a group of hunting dogs. Directing animators like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston did such sincere work, Walt Disney wept at their test footage.

And Walt Disney, of course, nurtured the film for seven years. Disney was a born naturalist, and his respect for nature would show up again and again throughout his career, most famously in his trailblazing "True Life Adventure" nature documentaries. It was a difficult project for all involved, and the written accounts suggest a high level of personal attatchment and commitment to the project.

In 1996, Entertainment Weekly - in reviewing John Lasseter's Toy Story - wrote that the 1996 CGI opus made Bambi look "as archaic as a cave painting". What EW failed to appreciate was the attention to caricature of movement - Bambi will never have the high-tech sheen of a Toy Story or a Tarzan. What it does have are some of the most alive and immediate examples of animated caricature in the entire history of the medium. By attempting to capture a "feeling" of movement as opposed to the "real thing", Disney flew worlds beyond the clinical motion-captured reproductions of Final Fantasy and the rotoscoped tracings of Ralph Bakshi and Don Bluth.

Here is a film that does not ask you to belive in its creations beause the drawings "look like" the creatures being animated. Here is a film that asks you to believe in the drawings because they "move like" the creatures being animated. Bambi actually looks more like a cow than a deer. Why do we call him a deer? Because he moves like a deer.

As for the film? The story hardly needs repeating -- the movie tells a simple tale of a young fawn who is born, makes friends, learns that he and his people are being hunted, loses his mother to a hunter's gun, grows up, falls in love, survives a holocaust of violence by man, waches his forest burn to the ground, and then, he takes his father's place as the new Prince of the Forest, while his newborn children nestle in their mother's warmth. The film is a parable, all right -- a parable on life, death, and re-birth. It also explicitly names Mankind as the greatest enemy of the natural world. How many adults today had their first dose of environmental contemplation walking out of Bambi as a child?

It is worth noting yet again how astonishing Bambi is in its visual beauty, and at times, how unsparing and unflinching it is in its portrayal of a natural world under siege by man. From the death of Bambi's mother, to a frightened quail whose body drops dead into the frame, this is not the romp with bunnies and butterflies the ads lead you to believe. Because of its sorrow, drama, comedy and terror, the film remains one of the most unforgettable experiences in the movies. The death of Bambi's mother has as much impact as the shower scene in Psycho, or the opening attack in Jaws, and I believe the film has unquestionably shaped American attitudes about man's treatment of the natural world.

Because of the failures of Pinocchio and Fantasia at the box office, Bambi was not the elaborate film that was originally planned, and the version finally released sports some minor, but noticeable, technical gaffes. It is saying a lot that despite these, it is still one of the finest American animated films of all time.

(Title currently out of print. Last released in 1997 on VHS and LaserDisc. LaserDisc contains: making of featurette, concept art, and music-only track. Platinum Edition release rumoured for Spring 2005)

3. FANTASIA

Where to begin.

You could start, I guess, with "Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor", the first purely abstract American animated short, and still a bold example of this rare branch of American animation.

Or you could begin with the incredible art direction of "The Nutcracker Suite", with its delicate beauty, or you could focus in on the attention to personality in the Chinese Dance, or you could reference the FX animation in the Arabian Dance, or the powerful statement of Nature in the Waltz of the Flowers...

You could trumpet the prescience of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", which remains one of the most powerful expressions of the central theme of the 20th and 21st Centuries (man's clumsy and dangerous attempts to control nature)...

Or you can embrace the visionary character animation of "The Rite of Spring", which aimed to present itself as an animated documentary about the nature of life on Earth.

You could hang your head in awe at the bad taste on display in the "Pastorale", which, despite spectacular moments of great beauty, ultimately manages to reduce the grandeur of Beethoven to something like a Dionysian Bud Light Commercial.

You can marvel at the comic timing in the "Dance of the Hours", and then grab a hold of your seat as Vladimir Tytla expresses Mussorgsky's roaring "Night on Bald Mountain" with a power and intelligence still state-of-the-art 60 years after its creation. For those in need of reassurance, Disney expresses Shubert's "Ave Maria" with a reverance that has brought audience members to tears.

In short, Fantasia is an absolute cinema marvel, forged out of a risky gamble to make one single short pay off. Having spent so much on the production of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", Disney had no choice but to go ahead and make a "Concert Feature" of similar shorts, all taking their visual inspiration from various works of classical music. Fantasia was a desperate accident, and a unique act of madness, and as the New York Times put it on the occasion if its premiere, "One of the most strange and beautiful things to have happened in the world".

(1940 Road Show Version released on DVD in 2000. DVD features include documentary on the making of the film and Walt Disney commentary. 1990 version released on VHS and LaserDisc in 1991. 1982 Version with new soundtrack conducted by Irwin Kostal remains unavailable).

4. DUMBO

Believe it or not, Dumbo was compared to Citizen Kane upon its release, as a more elaborate film than Welles' faux biopic. Dumbo gains its importance, though, for a number of reasons outside of technical virtuosity.

This was the first animated film made after the box-office failure of Fantasia, and it is very interesting to see the Disney artists using the tools learned on that omnibus film in this film. Whole scenes were conceived through music before being conceived through animation. The magnificent Bill Tytla, who animated the demon Chernobog in "A Night on Bald Mountain", was assigned to the sequence where Dumbo's mother attempts to give the baby elephant a bath, and once again, his humanity set a new standard in character animation. Like Bambi venturing out into snow for the first time, or the the resignation of the demon in "A Night on Bald Mountain", Tytla's bathing scene is one of the greatest moments of all Disney animation.

Dumbo also bears an important distinction as it saved the Disney studios from bankruptcy (and thusly, saved the fledgling art of American feature animation). Walt told Cecil B. DeMille, "If [Dumbo] doesn't go over, I'm through." He was not kidding. Fortunately, the film was a box-office hit, and the profits allowed Disney to finish Bambi, even as he was accepting army contracts from the government to keep his studio alive.

Like Bambi, the story is so well known it requires little synopsis. A baby elephant is born with deformed, oversized ears, and because of misunderstanding, fear, and cruelty, the baby endures tremendous emotional heartbreak, especially when he is separated from his wrongly-imprisoned mother. From a storytelling standpoint, you can trace the roots of Dumbo to earlier Disney shorts, like "The Ugly Duckling", "The Flying Mouse", and "Elmer Elephant", all of which featured characters unhappy with their physical selves, only to realize in the end their features are an asset, not a curse.

I think the greatest compliment that can be extended to Dumbo is that it is an emotionally honest film and does not pull its punches -- again, like the great animated dramas, the impact is deep and psychological. Seeing a child separated from his or her parents triggers a deep response in the human animal. The best movies give us the full range of human emotions and they take us on a full emotional journey. Dumbo is one of those movies. Like Pinocchio, it is a winner in every category you can think of...music, pathos, art direction. It sometimes gets overlooked by modern critics because it is exactly the kind of film you would have expected from Disney given his work in the 30's, and also because it doesn't have the soaring visual ambitions of a Bambi or Fantasia. Despite these, a strong argument can be made that Dumbo is the best of the Golden Age Disney features, and even modern Disney animators like Eric Goldberg cite it as a personal favorite. My own perspective is shaped by my appreciation of the technical achievements and ambition of the films I have named over this, but I do understand where other people are coming from with their praise of Dumbo. It is a wonderful film, one that is going to work as long as moving narrative pictures are projected onto a screen.

(DVD released as 60th Anniversary Title in 2001. Features include remastered audio and video, featurette, trailers, and commentary by NYU Animation Professor John Canemaker)

5. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES

Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein, in discussing what he called the "three geniuses" of filmmaking (namely, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, and Walt Disney), called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the greatest film of all time. It is in the top 50 of the "AFI: 100 Years, 100 Movies" poll. It has been certified as a National Treasure of the United States by the U.S. Congress, and to this day, it remains a beloved and treasured film the world over. In fact, the Disney Studios once argued that, adjusted for ticket sales, not box-office grosses, it is a strong contender for the most-seen film of all time, though because of its children's ticket prices, it may never be accurately known how many people have really seen this film in theatrical release.

Released in 1937, Snow White stands between two realms in animation history - it has one foot in the Hyperion years of the Disney studio of the early 30's in both character design and storytelling, but you can also see glimpses of the second era in Disney animation starting to take root -- that of the late 30's-early 40's Golden Age. Characters were given the space and the time to develop into full individual personalities, showing a range of complex emotions. They achieved a sincerity that no animated character had achieved up unto that time. If "The Three Little Pigs" gave birth to Character Animation, then Snow White shows us character animation passing from adolescence into early adulthood.

To truly appreciate the achievement of Snow White, you have to forget about one of its main strengths -- its wonderful sense of character. Though it may seem a small crime, forget all the characters for once - watch the film again, and instead of paying attention to the comedy of Dopey and the horror of the Witch, stand outside of the film and just watch the story-telling, how these characters are made to relate to one another.

You'll notice something duly impressive about Snow White - this unassuming film sports a breathless narrative economy, while at the same time evidencing a profusion of visual detail, thematic richness, and musical inspiration that is the envy of animated films made sixty years after its premiere. As Disney animation critic Christopher Finch has noted, Snow White is marked by strict efficency and generous elaboration, both co-existing at the same time.

Also, consider for a moment how the film is able to switch emotional gears so effectively -- from warm comedy to abject horror to wistful romance to chilling dread -- all at the apparent drop of a hat, and most importantly, without any of the violations in tone and the forced feelings of manipulation that would come to characterize such later Disney efforts as Pocahontas and Hunchback of Notre Dame. I've spent many hours wondering how Walt managed to pull this off, and the secret, I think, lies in the opening of the film. After the "book opening" prologue, we are first introduced - not to sweet Snow White - but to the Evil of the film. The Wicked Queen learns that her royal beauty has been surpassed, and her evil sets the tone right from the outset. The most prevalent emotion in Snow White is not happiness or romance or mirth -- all three of those are used to offset the one central emotion that the film evokes from the beginning and returns to again and again and again: Fear.

Modern Disney films (with the exception of Hunchback) have avoided the idea of using fear and darkness as the primary emotion of a film. The villains in modern Disney films are used as sources for antagonism, but also as outlets for comedy. Gaston, Scar, Ursula, Hades, Jafar -- their evil is lightened by comedy. The Queen/Witch in Snow White doesn't have a funny bone in her twisted body (her humour is used to horrify, not entertain). To this day, she ranks as one of the most frightening creations ever animated by Disney, and she dominates the movie. The dwarfs represent light and life, while the Witch represents darkness and death. Snow White is merely the mother-figure caught between the two extremes. There is no softening of the two polar opposites in the film, no attempt to tone down the fear, because to do so cheapens the struggle between good and evil.

Because evil and fear are so firmly established from the outset, the romance and the comedy and the happiness play as respites, and they have a certain authenticity. The evil and fear justify the mirth and sentiment. Walt Disney was strongly criticized by people who felt he had gone too far, and that his film was too frightening for children, and yet, the fear is precisely why the film works at all.

Are there flaws in the film? Sure - characters frequently go off-model, the use of obvious rotoscoping for human movement has since become a cardinal sin in character animation, and Snow White herself is really more of a symbol for nurturing than she is a flesh-and-blood individual. The Queen and the Dwarfs are true personalities, Snow White is not. Disney films that followed were able to give all of their characters some degree of individuality and character (with the obivous exception of Sleeping Beauty, which purposefully resisted an attempt at emotional realism within the lead characters).

The popularity of Snow White and the respect for the film's status as the first feature-length American animated narrative film sometimes overshadows the fact that the storytelling in Snow White is so strong, and so smart, that it single-handedly justified the long-form feature format for animation, for all-time. Before Snow White, the film was labeled "Disney's Folly", because who on earth would want to sit and watch 90+ minutes of cartoon skits and gags? After Snow White, no one could argue that an animated feature was incapable of powerful drama and strong storytelling. When Snow White dies, audiences to this day are moved to tears, not because of who she is, but because of the nurturing qualities she represents. Prior to 1937, the idea of people crying at a "cartoon" was a bit unheard of. Today, films like The Plague Dogs and Grave of the Fireflies take audiences beyond tears, to profound grief.

That all started with the storytelling in Snow White. For me, that is the film's greatest achievement.

(DVD released in 2001 as the first of Disney's "Platinum Edition" titles. Bonus features include commentary by Walt Disney, featurette on the production of the film, trailers, interactive still frame gallery, history of Disney studios, more)

TO BE CONTINUED 3/22/04

THE LIST

1. PINOCCHIO
2. BAMBI
3. FANTASIA
4. DUMBO
5. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
6. CINDERELLA
7. THE THREE CABALLEROS
8. SLEEPING BEAUTY
9. TRON*
10. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT*
11. THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER
12. ALADDIN
13. THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH
14. THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
15. TARZAN
16. LADY AND THE TRAMP
17. THE LITTLE MERMAID
18. THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE
19. PETER PAN
20. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
21. ALICE IN WONDERLAND
22. THE LION KING
23. 101 DALMATIANS
24. THE JUNGLE BOOK
25. THE RESCUERS
26. THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR.TOAD
27. FANTASIA/2000
28. HERCULES
29. MELODY TIME
30. LILO AND STITCH
31. THE FOX AND THE HOUND
32. TREASURE PLANET
33. THE RELUCTANT DRAGON*
34. ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE
35. BROTHER BEAR
36. THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE
37. FUN AND FANCY FREE
38. MULAN
39. THE BLACK CAULDRON
40. MAKE MINE MUSIC
41. SALUDOS AMIGOS
42. SONG OF THE SOUTH*
43. POCAHONTAS
44. THE ARISTOCATS
45. THE SWORD IN THE STONE
46. OLIVER AND CO.
47. ROBIN HOOD
48. DINOSAUR

* Technically Not an "Animated Feature", But Displays Significant Use of Animation

Not Included:

Victory Through Air Power (Have Not Yet Seen Film)
Mary Poppins (not enough animation to warrant inclusion)
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (not enough animation to warrant inclusion)
Pete's Dragon (not enough animation to warrant inclusion)
Pixar Titles (distrbuted only)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (funded and distributed only)
A Goofy Movie, DuckTales, Piglet and Tigger Movies, Direct-to-Video Sequels, etc. (created by various Disney Television Animation divisions)

#2 of 128 OFFLINE   MatthewLouwrens

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Posted March 20 2004 - 10:42 PM

Ernest - I have been looking forward to this since you posted the Bambi comments in another thread, and you have not disappointed me. Good points, especially about the use of fear in Snow White (incidentally, I notice you fell into the Tolkien "Dwarves" there for a minute).

I'm interested to learn about te reasoning behind some of your placements - Hunchback seems very high, especially with Beauty and Lion King much lower. And I probably would have put Lilo and Stitch higher. But I'll learn your reasoning when you get to it.

Fantasia was my favourite film for many years - indeed, I first bought it by 'borrowing' money from my parents without them knowing. I wasn't stealing, I was going to repay them when I got the money, I just wanted to buy it when it was on special, and I knew my dad would criticise me as a 15 year old for watching cartoons.

The thing about Fantasia that sets it apart from Fantasia 2000, apart from general quality, is the fact that the music and cartoons are related. Dance Of The Hours really was a ballet scene representing the changes from morning to night - Disney just added animals. Sorcerer's APprentice was just a straight retelling of that story. The thistles and mushrooms really looked Russian and Chinese in the relevant dance. The Rite Of Spring was a prehistoric ballet used to tell prehistory. Bald Mountain was incidental music for a play of devil worship, and the Ave Maria is a prayer.
Contrast this with 2000 - The Pines Of Rome had nothing to do with flying whales, and the Pomp And Circumstance had nothing to do with Noah's Ark, with or without Donald. The only bit in 2000 that I feel actually works is the Rhapsody In Blue - the piece may not have been written to be about anything, but both the action and animation style represent the feel of the period when the piece was written.

Looking forward to the next installment.
Films watched in 2005 / 2006 / 2007 / 2008 / 2009 / 2010 / 2011
AFI Top 100 lists: Movies, Thrills - Completed / Laughs - 23 to go
Passions - 39 to go / Heroes & Villains - 10 to go / Songs - 42 to go

#3 of 128 OFFLINE   Ernest Rister

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Posted March 20 2004 - 11:10 PM

Thanks, Matt - but one thing I'd like to point out about my list...just because I have something ranked at say, 25, that doesn't mean it's exponentially 25 times more problematic than whatever is ranked at #1. It doesn't even mean it is a bad film. I even make an argument as to why my #4 film could be the #1 film in my capsule review.

From where I sit, you have the 1st five Golden Age features, inhabiting a realm of excellence and achievement that may never be matched again by Disney. Then, after that, you have a solid body of work made up of well-crafted films, each with their own merits and debits. The debits don't start dramatically outweighing the credits - for me, anyway - until you get down to #39 The Black Cauldron. Everything from Cauldron on down are films that I consider to have serious issues, but I think that even the worst Disney animated feature has some positive aspect, and I try to be as fair to the creative teams as possible.

#4 of 128 OFFLINE   Pete-D

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Posted March 20 2004 - 11:15 PM

I don't know if I could really agree with TRON being in the top ten.

I guess maybe on technical merit, but the movie itself (having seen in recently) doesn't hold up that well these days.

I'd rate The Lion King and Peter Pan higher.

But everyone's got their favorites I guess Posted Image

#5 of 128 OFFLINE   Sean Campbell

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Posted March 21 2004 - 12:28 AM

I certainly agree with you about the high placings of Pinocchio and Fantasia - two of the finest animated movies ever made ( but neither is my overall favourite, a film I dare not mention in a Disney related thread Posted Image ).
I have never seen Bambi ( thanks to Disney's limited release policy Posted Image ), but it's a problem I intend to rectify as soon as the DVD is released.

I see that Robin Hood is way down at 47. While I know that it's not well respected amongst Disney fans, it's certainly in my top 10 and I find that I enjoy it most of all the post Walt films Posted Image

#6 of 128 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted March 21 2004 - 12:38 AM

At some point I'll have to do my own list. For now, I'll just point out that my only MAJOR disagreements are:

Way Too High:

THE THREE CABALLEROS
TRON*

Too High:

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
TARZAN
THE FOX AND THE HOUND

Too Low:

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT*
ALADDIN
LADY AND THE TRAMP
THE LITTLE MERMAID
THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE
PETER PAN

Way Too Low:

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
THE LION KING
101 DALMATIANS
THE JUNGLE BOOK
LILO AND STITCH
"Movies should be like amusement parks. People should go to them to have fun." - Billy Wilder

"Subtitles good. Hollywood bad." - Tarzan, Sight & Sound 2012 voter.

"My films are not slices of life, they are pieces of cake." - Alfred Hitchcock"My great humility is just one of the many reasons that I...

#7 of 128 OFFLINE   Ernest Rister

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Posted March 21 2004 - 03:40 AM

"Fantasia was my favourite film for many years - indeed, I first bought it by 'borrowing' money from my parents without them knowing. I wasn't stealing, I was going to repay them when I got the money, I just wanted to buy it when it was on special, and I knew my dad would criticise me as a 15 year old for watching cartoons."

I went through the same thing with my old man - who I love with all my heart. When I was 14, I received a book on the history of the Donald Duck cartoons as a Christmas present. I fell asleep reading it, and when my dad came in to wake me up for school, he saw the book and told me that when he came home from work, "that book better not be here". He'd probably laugh about that story now, but back in the 80's, he simply could not grasp how a "cartoon" was worthy of a young man's interest.

And Fantasia is still my favorite film of all time. I never grow tired of watching it, and every time I see it, I find something new.

The DVD with the original interstitials and intermission is fascinating to watch. Disney opens the 1st act with "Toccata and Fugue" (not child-friendly animation) and closes the 1st act with the violent and daring "Rite of Spring". He then gives the 1940 audience an intermission. Fantasia was threatened with a Church boycott because the "Rite of Spring" sequence presented the theory of evolution (Fantasia followed the Scopes Monkey Trial by only 15 years), and to truly appreciate the audacity of the sequence, perhaps you have to imagine yourself a 1940 audience member. Nothing in Walt's entire body of work could have prepared a 1940 audience for the adult, visceral power of "Rite of Spring", and he thought the audience would need a break after watching it. What is even more amusing is seeing how Walt chose to open the 2nd act, with the orchestra performing a jazz improvisation, and a percussionist knocking over some chimes during Deems Taylor's speech. It is clearly an attempt by Walt to say, "I know the last act ended on a pretty heavy note, but don't worry, we're going to have some fun now". Disney then presents the comic intermission, the "Pastorale" with its much criticized moments of bad taste and low comedy, and then knocks one out of the park with "Dance of the Hours". Having won you back, Disney then explores his favorite theme - the clash between good and evil - and unleashes "A Night on Bald Mountain" on the unsuspecting 1940 audience, followed up by what I think is a farily sophisticated attempt to visually express the eternal longing of man to serve God, the "Ave Maria".

I first saw Fantasia in 1984, and it was the first film I ever saw in a THX theater (Austin's long-shuttered Southpark theater). The version I saw in 1984 was the Irwin Kostal version, with the entire soundtrack re-conducted and recorded in digital stereo. Even though it is a heresey among animation buffs (replacing the Stokowski score with a new modern version), I wish that early-80's version had been included somehow on the Fantasia anthology. Kostal's version completely lacks Stokowski's personality, and it doesn't really fit because certain moments of animation were timed specifically to Stokowski's arrangement, but it was my first introduction to the film, and hey, I'm nostalgic.

#8 of 128 OFFLINE   Ernest Rister

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Posted March 21 2004 - 03:44 AM

"Way Too High:
Too High:
Too Low:
Way Too Low:"

That's what this thread is for, to spark discussion of these movies. Every person has their own unique and personal opinion of each of these films, and that's what I'm inviting people to share.

#9 of 128 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted March 21 2004 - 03:54 AM

And I do hope to add some discussion of why I feel that way about the rankings, but that was just a summary of films that you've ranked quite differently than I.
"Movies should be like amusement parks. People should go to them to have fun." - Billy Wilder

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#10 of 128 OFFLINE   andrew markworthy

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Posted March 21 2004 - 05:27 AM

Ernest, I find your arguments very cogent, but I disagree totally! Please don't get me wrong, my friend. What you have argued is rational and all I can offer is prejudice. However, I have got to say that I find early Disney irredeemably vulgar. Technically brilliant, but so dipped in saccharin and lowest common denominator taste that a Rogers-Astaire movie of the same vintage looks like biting social commentary. As I said, a personal reaction. Maybe I was dropped on my head as a baby too many times, but I just can't take to them. Please, I don't mean to thread fart, but it's a democratic board and you wanted reaction!

FWIW, and I don't expect anyone else to defend this:

1. Tron
2. Beauty and the Beast
3. Fantasia 2000 (the flamingos, Rhapsody in Blue and the final sequence, the rest can go to Hell in a handcart)
4. Emperor's New Groove
5. Aladdin

Please just ignore me whilst I go and be curmudgeonly in a corner.

#11 of 128 OFFLINE   BarryRR

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Posted March 21 2004 - 06:17 AM

I would put BEAUTY & THE BEAST in the Top Ten without a blink, and LILO & STITCH at most an #11 !!! Posted Image

#12 of 128 OFFLINE   Adam_S

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Posted March 21 2004 - 10:07 AM

1. Beauty and the Beast
2. Fantasia
3. Sleeping Beauty
4. Lady and the Tramp
5. Cinderella
6. The Lion King
7. Bambi
8. Robin Hood
9. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
10. Pinocchio
11. The Sword in the Stone
12. Aladdin
13. Peter Pan
14. The Three Caballeros
15. The Jungle Book
16. The Little Mermaid
17. Dumbo
18. The Reluctant Dragon
19. Rescuers Down Under
20. The Fox and the Hound
21. Lilo and Stitch
22. Fantasia 2000
23. Tarzan
24. The Great Mouse Detective
25. Oliver and Company
26. 101 Dalmations
27. The Aristocats
28. Alice in Wonderland
29. Mulan
30. The Rescuers
31. Atlantis: the Lost Empire
32. Pocahantas
33. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
34. The Black Cauldron
35. Hercules







Did not Rank (but love to death, t'd be in the top twenty at least)
WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT*




Have not Seen:

TRON
THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE
THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR.TOAD
MELODY TIME
TREASURE PLANET
BROTHER BEAR
FUN AND FANCY FREE
MAKE MINE MUSIC
SALUDOS AMIGOS
SONG OF THE SOUTH*
DINOSAUR

Interesting list Ernest, I'd kind of agree with George and add Robin Hood as way too low. While technically it's perhaps not the best animated feature, it's one of my absolute favorites from childhood. I recently rewatched it and it held up just as well as I remembered. But then I love the Robin Hood story, so I may be a little bit biased. The aspect of the film that gets this ranked so high is the fantastic sequence in the rain of the Not in Nottingham song. I think that's an incredibly powerful moment in Disney film, and I especially love the beautiful moment between Robin and Marian after Robin escapes capture and before the silly puppet show and celebration. There's also a rough quality to the animation that gives it a distinct, almost visceral feel, it may not have been intentional, and it may show a low budget or lack of caring, but it always worked for me.

Beauty and the Beast, in my opinion has yet to be matched. It's just a flawless film in every way. It's been my favorite since I saw it at a sneak preview double feature when I was eight. fantastic film that only improves with time. Lion King I would not have ranked so highly had I not just recently rewatched it on DVD with the stellar home presentation. If I look back at this list in about six months, I wouldn't be surprised to revise lion King down to about Fourteen or so and bring up one of the classics (like Dumbo) which I've not watched in quite a while.

Adam
 

#13 of 128 OFFLINE   Matthew_Millheiser

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Posted March 21 2004 - 10:09 AM

Ya know, Dumbo is my favorite animated film, favorite Disney film, and my #6 favorite film of all time. It's a short, beautiful little gem with no pretension and, save for the "Elephants On Parade" sequence, little in terms of stylistic excess. As you mentioned, the beauty and warmth of its character animation, coupled with a sweet if often heartbreaking story that pulls no punches in favor of emotional honesty, make Dumbo such an amazing gem. I tear up each and every time I hear "Baby Mine", even if I'm not watching the movie... and Allison Krauss does one hell of a cover version as well.

Fantasia would come next as my #2 Disney (and #9 favorite of all time). It's simply an unparalled piece of work, a phenomenally powerful fusion of sound and animation. It is astonishing to believe that this film came only 2 years after Snow White and only a handful of years after the birth of the Silly Symphonies; the evolution of animation techniques employed throughout the film is amazing. I might be laying the platitudes on pretty thick, but I can't help it when it comes to Fantasia. It's a movie that just keeps growing more and more awe-inspiring with each viewing. And to think that I hated it until about five or six years ago...

I very much look forward to reading more of your comments, Ernest!

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#14 of 128 OFFLINE   Andrew Priest

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Posted March 21 2004 - 10:33 AM

Well, it's certainly nice to see the list again. I can't help but notice, to my surprise, that Mary Poppins is off and Tron is on. I'm also a little surprised to see Tron so high and I will eagerly await the review that goes with it.

Otherwise I can't really comment on any films until I have a chance to read their reviews. Ranking on a list doesn't really reveal much on how the movies stack up vis-à-vis each other. Perhaps doing a version of the list - just the list - that actually shows the gaps might be helpful as a visual aid.

I myself would be tempted to put either Bambi or Fantasia first, the former for the sheer effort and the latter for the boldness of the experiment. I also have a fondness for Dumbo which makes the choice even harder, though I do agree that in the end Snow White is the weakest of the 5. Of course, it was also the first and it does show drastic improvement over where Disney had been even a couple years prior to its release, so that's forgivable.

I must admit in the end I am much to undisciplined of mind to lock down even the top 5 into a firm order. Still, since I agree with the top 5 even if it may or may not be the order I'd choose at this moment in time I'm not going to be a good source of debate.

So bring on the rest already! Posted Image
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#15 of 128 OFFLINE   doug zdanivsky

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Posted March 21 2004 - 11:46 AM

I was feeling very positive, nostalgic feelings about Tron, and was looking forward to seeing it on DVD after so long..

Well, let's just say you can never go home again.. Posted Image

My Top 10 list would roughly look like this, not particularly in order:

1. Mulan
2. Lion King
3. Bambi
4. Emporor's New Groove
5. Hercules
6. Tarzan
7. Fantasia
8. Beauty and the Beast
9. Jungle Book
10. Dumbo

Ten Worst:

1. Treasure Planet
2. Fantasia 2000
3. Pocahontas
4. Hunch-back of Notre Dame
5. Tron

(Very cool idea.. But the worst acting/dialogue this side of.. I don't even know what could have been worse..).

6. The Aristocats
7. The Black Hole (same reasons as Tron)
8. Pete's Dragon
9. All of the Herbie the Love Bug Movies
10. Bedknobs and Broomsticks (what the %$@*&#??!!)

#16 of 128 OFFLINE   Joseph Bolus

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Posted March 21 2004 - 01:42 PM

Well, can I play too?

Here's my Top 10:

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Just for the incredible innovation that was displayed in this awesome work of art, it will forever remain for me the number one Disney movie. (In fact, it *defines* Disney in my mind.)

2. Bambi - As stated by Mr.Rister, anybody that knows classic animation is brought to their knees when exposed to this movie.

3. Fantasia - More brilliant innovation and more a work of art than a movie.

4. Pinocchio - Incredible animation. The opening theme raises the hair on the back of my neck every time I hear it. I never did much care for the "boys turning into donkeys" sequences though; that's the main reason it's not number one on my list.

5. The Little Mermaid - Just when we all thought Disney animation was down for the count, out popped this return to the glory days. Not since Snow White was I so moved by an animated feature in the theater.

6. Beauty and the Beast - To this day it's astounding to me that this movie did not become the first animated feature to win "Best Picture of the Year". It had it all: satirizing of the whole fairy tale mythos; tremendous songs and music; a truly reprehensible villain (who was even more vain than the Queen in Snow White!); innocent romance; and classic redemption. And it was all blended together in a highly creative fashion that seemed to make every animated cell of every scene sparkle. A true joy to experience.

7. Lady and the Tramp - One of the few Disney 'scope movies, this movie succeeded in capturing the essence of dogs(!)while simultaneously providing a romance and an adventure that we could all relate to. For me, the scene of Lady and the Tramp sharing their spaghetti dinner in the moonlight is another defining Disney moment.

8. Tarzan - While this may not be on many Top 10 Disney lists, I feel it deserves to be there due to the very innovative "Deep Canvas" process that was utilized on this film. The 3D and 2D blending was seamless and even jaw-dropping in some areas. Roger Ebert said it best in his review of the movie: "It has scenes that move through space with a freedom undreamed of in older animated films, and unattainable by any live-action process."

9. Dumbo - A brisk and confident tour-de-force by the classic Disney animators.

10. The Lion King - While this movie could not be deemed innovative in any way, form, or fashion, it was a great example of doing everything "just right". It mixed many classic Disney animation themes in a manner that seemed fresh due to the excellence of the execution.

My bottom 5:

1. The Black Cauldron
2. Dinosaur (Although I *loved* the visuals.)
3. Robin Hood
4. The Aristocats
5. The Sword in the Stone (Thank goodness Disney decided not to tackle the Lord of the Rings series!!)
Joseph
---------------

#17 of 128 OFFLINE   Ray Chuang

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Posted March 21 2004 - 02:49 PM

In my opinion, we have to divide the best Disney animated features into pre-1989 and post-1989.

For pre-1989 features, my top three would be:

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A major breakthrough for animation, with good storytelling and great songs. It is the first movie that proved a full-length animated movie can be popular.

2. Pinocchio. Not only good storytelling, but its absolutely amazing hand-drawn animation was considered a major breakthrough--especially the whale attack sequence.

3. Bambi. Great storytelling, powerful emotionally, and told its story with a minimum of dialogue.

For post-1989 feature, my top three would be:

1. Beauty and the Beast. Absolutely superb in every aspect, especially in the songs used in the movie. The late Howard Ashman was truly superb in the lyrics for the opening song "Belle," which help us understand why Belle was such an unusual character in her home village.

2. The Lion King. Very good storytelling and great songs by Elton John/Tim Rice.

3. The Little Mermaid. The movie that help revive Disney Feature Animation--it was a breath of fresh air with excellent animation, great songs, and lots of interesting characters. Posted Image
Raymond in Sacramento, CA USA

#18 of 128 OFFLINE   Casey Trowbridg

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Posted March 21 2004 - 02:56 PM

Ernest, I've been looking forward to your doing this since you mentioned it in the Bambie thread in the Software section.

I've not seen a number of these, so I don't feel as compelled to come up with a list just yet, but am I enjoying this? You bet I'm enjoying it.

I'm curious since you said that even something listed at 25 or so is a good film, and even that the good outweighs the bad down to the Black Coldran at just how close we're talking. The differences that slot something at 25 instead of 13 or so. Kind of like for those sports fans, the differences between finishing a game out of first place, and 10 games out of first place. I'll definitely keep reading and hopefully add more to the discussion when it hits films I've got more knowledge of.

#19 of 128 OFFLINE   Yee-Ming

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Posted March 21 2004 - 02:58 PM

Interesting to see that Emperor's New Groove appears to be quite highly regarded. It's one of my favourites, and it always seems to get bashed by critics. Personally, it's one of the few movies where I almost literally split my sides laughing, which is not something that happens much these days.

#20 of 128 OFFLINE   doug zdanivsky

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Posted March 21 2004 - 05:00 PM

I'll second that..

"....More brocolli?"

What's not to like?

Evertime I watch it I laugh at something I missed.. Posted Image