Ah, Disney. There are so many things to make fun of. From the princess stereotype that you helped to engrave on the public consciousness. The formula for the ‘perfect’ kid’s film that you created, and you and your copycats appear content to inflict upon us until the end of time itself. The fact that source material is clearly something you glance through once, then lose down the back of the sofa. And yet, you own most of our childhoods, and therefore own our very souls.
There is a lot I can rip into Disney for, but none of that will ever abate my love for them. Disney is one of the most well-known and long-running animation studios in history. They are pioneers of the animation medium. They have had a huge influence on not only cinema, but on popular culture too. When you think of snow white, or the little mermaid, its Disney’s version you think of first, isn’t it? More than that though, Disney was my introduction to animation. They are masters of the art form, and there are so many times watching their films when all of a sudden I’m that little kid again, sat on the carpet in front of the TV, utterly captivated by the dancing images in front of me.
In celebration of Disney’s continued presence in my life, the Infallible Fish (which is I) present my Top 10 Favourite Disney Films. Now, a few rules. First, I’m picking these ten films from the Disney canon, the approved list of Disney’s best animated features (wait, why is Black Cauldron in here? I thought Disney agreed no one was ever allowed to mention that pile of pig’s manure ever again? Hold on, Dinosaur is in here too? You know I’m beginning to think this is less an approved list and more a marketing gimmick. Nah, that doesn’t sound like Disney at all). Second, this is a list of my FAVOURITE Disney films. This is not a ‘Best of’ list, it’s a list of the films I enjoy watching the most. My heart rules here, not my head. Anyway, enough stalling, on with the list!
- Sleeping Beauty
I would argue that this is one of the most beautiful Disney films in existence. It breaks from the usual Disney house style and instead goes for a style similar to the concept art of Mary Blair. The backgrounds are some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen. This film is art. Yes, our two leads are as boring as cardboard, but this was back in the old days of Disney when the leads were the least important characters. The villain and the comedy sidekicks are clearly more worthy of attention, and my god those characters are glorious. The three good fairies are brilliant in every single scene, both good natured and hilarious. Then there’s our villain, Maleficent, the greatest of all the Disney villains (I don’t care what kind of propaganda film you’ve seen, she’s pure evil and that’s that). The scene where she gloats to the Prince while showing him what his future holds is a stunningly twisted scene that just oozes evil.
Ok, I have to be honest here. I do love Mulan (the film), but not so much Mulan (the character). Don’t get me wrong, she’s a good character, and a great progressive female lead for Disney, but she wasn’t that interesting for me. She’s kind of, well… bland. I think this is mostly because her personality is kind of generic, and she generally plays the straight man (you know what I mean) to everyone else. Luckily she makes up for any flaws by being a total badass. And I do love everybody else in the film. The guys in the army are hilarious and I could happily spend 90 minutes in their company. The action scenes are great, especially in the finale. I adore Mulan’s fight with Shan Yu. I also like the little touch of how the smoke curls like it does in Chinese paintings. Then there’s Shan Yu. I know he’s not the greatest villain. He’s not the gleefully evil villain we’re used to. He’s doesn’t have the charm of the best villains. But this guy is a threat, he is a wall for Mulan to climb, and as that he is perfect. Every time he’s on screen you feel like it’ll take a bazooka to just slow him down (and it kind of does).
Who says Disney can’t do dark films? This film is utterly terrifying. Not only does this film have more villains than therapy sessions you’ll need after watching it, but none of them ever get any comeuppance. Evil people doing evil things, and getting away with it? Now that’s scary. This film is also a marvel of animation, from Geppetto’s workshop to the sea floor, each frame is crammed full of detail and movement. And it’s a very mature story, about a boy learning to choose between right and wrong, and not in the usual fluffy Disney way we’ve come to expect. Pinocchio isn’t a goody two-shoes. He makes mistakes, gets seduced by the lure of an easy life, you know, like an actual kid would! Disney writing a child character like he’s a normal, fallible person? What black magic is this?
- The Jungle Book
The nostalgia is strong with this one. The memories are a bit hazy, but it’s either this or Bambi that was the first Disney film I ever saw (And I’ll tell you now that Bambi ain’t on this list so you can guess which one had the biggest impact on me). I love this film. I regard the characters as old friends who occasionally pop in on me. I can still hum all the songs when the mood takes me (it is an agreement with my neighbours that if I try to ‘sing’ again, they will shoot me). Yeah the story isn’t the most action-packed. Yeah the animation is a little scratchy, and not the prettiest. But this film is just so funny, and charming, that it carries me away every time. I should probably comment on the fact that some people think the monkeys are racist. Honestly, I don’t see it, and never have. Not once in all the times I’ve watched this film have I ever thought the monkeys were a representation of, well, anyone. They were just funny monkeys who knew how to really ‘swing’ (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
This was the film that brought me back to Disney. I left somewhere around about Treasure Planet, Disney had lost its steam and I was under the mistaken impression that Disney wasn’t cool (I can only claim that I was a misguided youth at the time and throw myself upon the mercy of our mouse-eared overlord). Tangled won be back though. I’d heard some good reviews, and when I saw it staring at me from a shelf in HMV, I thought to myself “Eh, we’ll give a go”. 90 minutes later and I was in love. Firstly, this is a gorgeous film, the textures, the colours. I’d say, in terms of CGI animation, this is just as good as any Pixar film (Yes, you heard me!). The side-characters are hilarious. The villain is creepy and manipulative. The leads are full of personality, managing to run the full range from funny to sympathetic. I even like the songs and will happily sing along to them (as long as I’ve checked my neighbours our out first). I know this isn’t the greatest film, or ground-breaking in any way, but I adore this film. It’s just a brilliant ride from beginning to end.
- Lilo and Stitch
Oh God. The tears. They just won’t stop. Honestly, there isn’t a Disney film that makes me cry like a baby more than Lilo and Stitch. There are so many scenes that are just heart-breaking. The characters in this film feel like actual living, breathing people. They’re not perfect, they’re a little bit broken, and they have a lot to learn. Our two leads are just fantastic. Lilo is just a bundle of crazy wrapped in insanity. You can see she is severely damaged inside, struggling to cope with the loss of her parents, and honestly I don’t think there’s a better representation of the effects of loss on a child outside of Land Before Time. Then there’s Stitch. He starts off as just a destructive monster, but as he starts to look for more meaning in his life, and realises just what he’s missing, you can’t help but feel sorry for the little guy. That scene where he takes the copy of the Ugly Duckling and goes out to sit in the woods, waiting for his family to show…dammit the tears are back! Honestly the other aliens are the weakest part of this film. They have nice designs and all, but none of them have the depth or heart of our human characters. All in all, if you’ll allow me to borrow from Stitch a little bit, this film is small and broken, but still good. Yeah. Still good.
- Wreck-It Ralph
In all honesty, I’m not much a gamer these days. What with writing, anime, books, and my job (in that order of priority), I’m fairly busy most days. So, yeah, I admit it, games have kind of fallen by the wayside a little bit. Thankfully Wreck-It Ralph isn’t just a great video game film, it’s a great film. Period. I love all of the characters. They are all great, funny and loveable in equal measure, with the perfect voice cast for all of them. Even what are supposed to be the comedy sidekicks feel like they have a little more depth and personality than normal. I really care about all of these guys and want to see them all make it to the finish line happy. Speaking of happy, that brings me to the scene. The scene that made me realise I love this film. It’s the scene where Ralph has to stop Vanelloppe from racing, and so has to smash up the cart they built together. I know, it sounds terribly cliché, but words cannot do it justice, you just have to watch the film to understand it. It feels so emotional, and Sarah Silverman’s performance is so pitch perfect it’s disturbing. It literally made me sit up and take notice. I love Wreck-It Ralph down to its very last pixel.
- Hunchback of Notre Dame
There is no doubt that this was a daring undertaking for Disney, and not all of it pays off. I give Disney credit for having the balls to take this film on, but in its misguided attempts to keep this film ‘kid-friendly’, they created a horrible monster. The Gargoyles (the one time I wish the comic relief had been left out of Disney). And really, they’re the only glaring flaw with this movie. Well there are a couple of little ones, but I don’t mind them. The rest of the film is wonderful. It has so many great characters. Quasimodo, a leading man who doesn’t get the girl, but wins our hearts. Esmeralda, one of (if not the) best female leads in a Disney film. It features some of my favourite songs in ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’ and ‘Hellfire’. Speaking of Hellfire, that brings us to the second best Disney villain of all time, Frollo. He is such a rarity among Disney villains, he’s a complex villain. Disney mostly operates on an evil is evil morality, never really looking into why our villains do what they do outside of basic motives, but with Frollo we actually get a look into his mind. He believes that he is a hero, that what he is doing is right, and will rationalise any evil act away. If it wasn’t for the supreme evil that is Maleficent, then Frollo would be my favourite villain.
Arabian nights, Las Vegas style! All the pop culture references, the celebrity voices, this is DreamWorks before DreamWorks. Yet it still manages to hold on to its heart and make you care about all the characters. Our lead couple are one of the best couples in Disney. You feel the chemistry between them, and they play off of one another wonderfully. Aladdin and Abu are both funny and sweet all at the same time. Jasmine is smart and quick on the uptake, always managing to figure out what Aladdin’s up to and play along. Then there’s Genie. I don’t care how many people try to copy the Genie; they’ll never be as good as the original. Because the late, great Robin Williams wasn’t just there for comedy, he filled the Genie with so much warmth and emotion. You really do want to see him set free at the end, and it’s so satisfying when he is. The Genie is a master class in how to pull off the comedy sidekick. Also, on the character front, how they managed to get so much emotion out of a carpet I’ll never know. This film might have a lot of glitz and glamour to it, and some great animation and songs, but it’s the characters that make it worth watching again and again.
- Lion King
Do I even need to explain this one? You’ve all seen it. You know the characters, the songs. Everything about this is great. I’d go so far as to call it a perfect film. The animation is gorgeous, capturing the wild beauty of Africa. The songs are some of the best Disney has ever released. The characters are so memorable and loveable. I still believe the stampede scene is one of the greatest moments in animation history. The way it builds from Simba noticing the pebbles starting to shake all the way through to Mufasa’s tragic death. It’s exciting, dramatic, hopeful and then tragic all in one go, with some of the best animation and musical backing I have ever witnessed. For those five minutes the stars align and everything is perfect. Even to this day I still get goosebumps watching it. And Mufasa’s death has to be the hardest hitting in all of cinema, by that point in the film we’ve come to love the big guy, and when he passes it feels like a genuine loss. Then things get even worse as Scar digs the emotional knife into Simba and sets the Hyenas on him. Honestly there is not a single frame I would change with this movie. What else can I say? This is the king.