Well look at that, I’ve gone and been on the Lambcast again. This week’s episode saw myself, Nick, Kristen, Dylan and, via pre-recordings Pat, discuss the Disney renaissance, the nine films released by Disney from The Little Mermaid to Tarzan. The show ran a little long – two and a half hours in total – but it’s well worth a listen. Anyway, to celebrate, here’s my list of the top 10 animated Disney films. I haven’t included any of the films Disney has made with Pixar, or any of their non-animated efforts, this list is just cartoons.
Of the 52 animated feature films Disney has released, I can remember having seen a total of 22 (and I’ve not really heard of eight of them. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some of the other ones, but I can’t for the life of me recall anything about the likes of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, The Fox and The Hound or even Dinosaur, a film I should justifiably adore because of the subject matter, and one that I’m pretty sure I saw at the cinema. Therefore, there’s a total of twelve films outside of the top 10 that are eligible for the Honourable Mention slot on this list. Of these twelve, I think it’s going to be shared between Pinocchio and The Princess and the Frog. Pinocchio is a classic, the second feature length animation Disney released after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The story is a bit nuts – a toymaker wishes on a star and his latest marionette comes to life, before going on a series of adventures that involve smoke-ring-blowing mammals, boys being turned into donkeys and eventually everyone being eaten by a whale – but the animation is great. The Princess and the Frog may seem an odd choice too, but I liked the idea of a strong, independent heroine who had a dream and intended to work hard to achieve it, and the villain – voiced by Keith David – is one of my favourites from Disney.
Before watching it for the recent Lambcast I’d only seen small sections of Mulan before. I hadn’t been blown away, and therefore didn’t expect too much from it, however I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Clearly Eddie Murphy has been cast as Mushu the dragon in an attempt to recreate the Robin Williams effect from Aladdin (which we’ll get to later), but he doesn’t quite capture the magic. However, this film has some great musical numbers, particularly I’ll Make A Man Out Of You, which of course is set to a training montage, and in spite of a fairly predictable plot (something you need to take with a pinch of salt when it comes to Disney), this is a thoroughly enjoyable little film.
9. The Little Mermaid
Remarkably before watching it for the Lambcast I’d never seen The Little Mermaid before, however I knew all the words to Under The Sea, and happily sang along to them all. Storywise this film is fairly bland – spoilt princess gives up her entire life and everyone she knows to be with a man she’s only met for a few seconds, and a man who enjoys eating her friends for that matter – but Ursula the mermaid/octopus/nightmare is wonderfully evil, the songs are great and the supporting characters very memorable, most notably Sebastien the crab.
8. The Sword in the Stone
You know those films that you are absolutely certain you’ve seen literally dozens of times before, but that you can’t quite remember exactly what they’re about. Well The Sword in the Stone is exactly this kind of film, however I’m also certain that I really like it. A couple of YouTube videos later and I’ve confirmed this theory. The videos in question? The wizard battle in which Merlin and Madam Mim transform themselves into various different animals, including a snake, crab, alligator and huge-ass dragon in a wizarding duel, and some scenes in which Merlin and the young King Arthur are squirrels being hounded by female equivalents. Yes, it’s mental, but it’s also good fun, and I’ll definitely be tracking this one down for a re-watch soon.
7. One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Just like The Little Mermaid, this has earned a place mainly because of the villain, Cruella de Ville, who has become a cinematic icon for cruelty and villainy, and has a theme song almost as recognisable as Darth Vader’s. The film itself has its moments – the dog/owner comparisons, the puppies’ escape – but De Ville is easily the film’s highpoint.
The most recent entry on this list, Tangled is also the only entirely digitally animated entry, and also the one I’ve seen the least/longest ago, as I’ve only seen it once, and at the cinema. When I saw it, however, I really enjoyed the revised take on the Rapunzel story, particularly the bar scene, with the gang of ruffians singing about their loves in life, including small ceramic unicorns. The final scene, involving hundreds of floating lanterns, is also one of the few scenes I think would be actually worthwhile to see in 3D, although I probably never will, because I just hate 3D so very much.
On the surface, this is just another mildly racist run of the mill poor boy meets rich girl and they fall in love anyway story, but when you add in Robin Williams’ wise-cracking Genie, Jafar’s Peter Cushing sucking a lemon face and some innovative uses of magic, plus a tirade of terrible puns during the climax, you get a film elevated above its plot. Which is good, because otherwise I’d still be hung up on things like Jafar owning a hypnotising sceptre, but not using it to hypnotise Princess Jasmine into marrying him. The songs are also great, and I can’t get the tune to Prince Ali out of my head, despite barely knowing any of the words.
4. Robin Hood
This film would have fallen into the same category as The Sword in the Stone in terms of how much I could remember it, if I hadn’t spotted it second hand for a few pound a few weeks ago. Yes, I broke my not buying new DVDs until I’ve watched all the ones I’ve got that I haven’t seen yet rule (which needs a snappier name), but well, this wasn’t exactly the first time I’ve broken that, and it was for a bargain. I watched it a couple of nights ago and found the whole thing flooding back to me, particularly the chase that breaks out after the archery competition, during which a tent-full of rhinos charge around with not just an entire stone castle on top of them, but two elephants inside said turret as well. The villain here is Prince John (voiced by Peter Ustinov), a pathetic mane-less lion with mother issues and a tendency to suck his thumb. In terms of Robin Hood adaptations, this is probably my favourite, unless you count one scene of Time Bandits.
3. The Jungle Book
The Jungle Book is most definitely one of the films from my childhood, as it’s one of the four or five films my family owned on VHS. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it – something it has in common with the remaining films from this list. It could be the sheer (Kahn) volume of viewings that make me love it so much, but on my most recent viewing (a year or two ago) I still really enjoyed it, particularly the banter between Baloo, the laidback bear, and Bagheera, the more uptight panther charged with looking after Mowgli the man-cub as he grows up. Kaa the snake is also brilliant, and King Louie the orangutan who wants to be a human so he can set fire to things, I think.
2. Beauty and the Beast
Ah, Beauty and the Beast. The one film on this list that I really should own, given how much pleasure I get from watching it. From the stained glass window prologue, to the “Bonjour” song, the dancing cutlery, the wood chopping machine, everything. And Gaston is one of my favourite villains of all time. Every thing he says and does is brilliantly, up to and including his song, to which I am slowly learning all of the words. I had some issues with the film – if you think about it too much, the Beast was cursed for not letting a stranger into his house when he was 10 years old, something I don’t hold against him considering his parents are nowhere to be seen either – and the ending is a little too soppy, but these things can be forgiven when everything else is so much fun.
1. The Lion King
This is it – the first film I ever remember seeing, the beginning of my love affair with the movies. Although to be honest, the most memorable part of that first cinema trip was in fact the McDonalds Happy Meal afterwards, which may also have been my first, I don’t know. Anyway, I love The Lion King. I love the soundtrack – I Just Can’t Wait To Be King, Be Prepared, Circle of Life, Hakuna Matata, these are all songs I happily sing along to whilst cycling to work. I love the voice cast – from Rowan Atkinson as fussy hornbill Zazu to James Earl Jones presiding over as King Mufasa, and especially Jeremy Irons hamming it up and taking great pride in his words as the villainous Scar. I love the musical numbers, particularly the ludicrously choreographed I Just Can’t Wait To Be King, which someone organised half the jungle just to leave Zazu stuck under a rhino. I love the animation, especially in the stampede sequence, the moment when Disney finally worked out how to properly integrate digital animation into their films, unlike the awkward carpet ride through the caverns in Aladdin or the overly-glossy ballroom dance in Beauty and the Beast. And Rafiki, I love Rafiki. He isn’t in much of the film, but when he is he’s awesome.
So what do you think? What would make your list? Do you like the more modern work, like Wreck-It Ralph (which I still somehow haven’t seen), or more classic fare like Cinderella or Peter Pan? Or perhaps you prefer the more experimental work, like Fantasia, which I’m not personally that big a fan of, but have recently found I need to give a second chance to. Let me know in the comments.