Ranking the Disney Animated Canon, Part 3


Part 2 HERE

#32. Bolt

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In 2006 Disney purchased Pixar and placed John Lasseter in charge of both Pixar and its flagship animation studio, which was renamed WDAS. This is the first movie made entirely after that acquisition. It is clear that some of that Pixar quality transferred over, as this was the first bona fide critical and commercial success for the studio since Lilo & Stitch. It was the first movie in the canon to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature since Brother Bear (it lost to WALL•E). There is even some debate as to whether this should be considered the last film in the period between the Renaissance and current Revival, or the first film of the Revival. Since it was released after a corporate overhaul, this is also the first film in the canon to have a “Distributed by Walt Studios Motion Pictures” credit.

The studio had been struggling in the story department after Lilo & Stitch. The major difference between Disney and Pixar before this was that the latter focused on story above all else and worried about the technical aspects later, while Disney would push the envelope in the animation department, but skimp on the story. After the merger the Pixar policy seems to have transferred over because all the movies made since then have been consistently good. This is a delightful movie and the story has real heart behind it. Also, like all the films made since the merger (excluding Winnie the Pooh) it’s longer than most of its predecessors (7th longest in the canon). Yet unlike Atlantis: The Lost Empire or Treasure Planet it’s long because it’s using that time to really tell the story and develop the characters, so it doesn’t even seem as long as it is. It’s one of the few movies in the canon that brought me to the edge of tears.[1]

The characters are great and well developed. John Travolta voices the titular character, a TV dog that thinks all his powers are real and gets separated from his owner and the set, and learns the truth the hard way as he makes his way home. Miley Cyrus voices his owner, Penny. This was back when Miley was known as a popular child star on the Disney Channel instead of an edgy former child star that tries to offend but only inspires pity. Anyone that has ever lost a pet and had said pet miraculously return despite all odds can identify with Penny. Mittens (Susie Essman) provides a humorous to foil to Bolt as she tries to explain to him that he doesn’t actually have any powers. Her backstory is quite sad and really makes one care about her. Rhino (Mark Walton) the hamster watches Bolt on TV all the time and thinks it’s real, so he provides some great laughs. The characters interact with each other quite well and really make the story work.

The CGI is pretty good. It’s not the best in the canon, but it’s pleasant. This is another non-musical. There’s only one song during the movie and it plays over a montage of Bolt and his companions traveling across the country. The lyrics are germane to the screen action and it’s actually quite catchy. This is a real achievement for the studio and what they really needed to get back on top of their game. You should check this one out.

#31. Meet the Robinsons

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This is a nice transition film. It was mostly completed before the purchase of Pixar, but when the purchase occurred, John Lasseter looked it over, and suggested some changes, which were accommodated, and I’m sure the movie is better because of those changes. This was the first movie released under the WDAS name and is the last movie in the canon to have a “Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution” credit. I remember wanting to see this movie when it came out in theaters, but I never got the chance. This is quite an improvement over its immediate predecessors and signaled that good things were ahead. I think it’s underrated.

The story is good, though it can be overly complicated if one thinks too much about the time travel aspects (this is true of any movie with time travel). I have opted not to do that and instead enjoy the movie. It’s predictable; I knew that Bowler Hat Guy would turn out to be Goob and that Lewis would be Wilbur’s father, but it’s still a good story overall. Lewis’ desire to meet his birth mother is touching and actually brought me to the edge of tears. There are plenty of humorous moments throughout the movie. I especially enjoyed the singing frogs in suits and Goob’s using a T. rex as a henchman, only to fail because of its small arms. I think the major problem with the story is that it has an excess of characters. Meeting the entire Robinson family is amusing at first, but so few of them are necessary for the story. I do love that Nicole Sullivan voices Franny and that Tom Selleck voices adult Lewis (or “Cornelius”). The characters are fun and interact well with each other. Again, I just think they went overboard with the number of Robinson family members. The happy ending is well deserved after everything Lewis has been through, so in that sense we’re talking Disney magic at its best (even if in this case the magic is science). Also, the whole “keep moving forward” theme is a positive one. I feel upbeat and optimistic anytime I watch this movie.

The CGI isn’t the canon’s finest, but it’s pretty good overall. The music is okay, but not great. This isn’t exactly a musical movie either. When one watches the movies in sequence this is a marked improvement and a signal of the quality to come. Again, I think this movie is underrated. Definitely check this one out.

#30. The Rescuers

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This is often considered the high point of the period between Walt Disney’s death and the Renaissance. It was a critical and commercial success. “Someone’s Waiting for You” was the last time the studio would be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song until The Little Mermaid. I watched this one quite a bit as a kid, though not nearly as much as others and it was never a favorite, but it is still quite good.

There is one tangent I need to go off on before I start the actual analysis. I wonder if this movie was altered for the most recent DVD release. The Rescue Aid Society has delegates from Latvia and Germany, but at the time the movie was released Latvia was part of the Soviet Union and Germany was divided between East and West. I also noticed that there are delegates from both Austria and Vienna. These things don’t result in demerits (see introduction) but I wanted to address them.

Anyway, the story is quite good, even if it moves a little slowly at first. Like most of the movies, it’s fairly predictable, but it’s also charming and fun. This also has what is perhaps the most frank and realistic instances of child abuse in the entire canon, which is pretty gutsy. As if the kidnapping wasn’t enough, Medusa (Geraldine Page) uses both physical and psychological abuse when forcing Penny (Michelle Stacy) to look for the Devil’s Eye diamond. Medusa refuses to let Penny back up to the surface until she finds the diamond, even as the tide comes in and the risk of drowning is very high. Additionally, when Penny asks if she can be taken back to the orphanage after she finds it so she can be adopted Medusa responds by asking why Penny thinks anyone would to adopt someone as homely as her. Ouch. Oh and she uses a real shotgun throughout the movie and is even willing to target Penny with it.

The characters are well written and really drive the story along nicely. Medusa is a fantastic villain for reasons mentioned above. Penny’s ordeals really make me feel her and as a result I feel her happy ending is well deserved. The movie stars Bob Newhart as Bernard and Eva Gabor makes her Disney return as Miss Bianca. The two work quite well together. The chemistry feels real and Bernard’s triskaidekaphobia provides for a couple of amusing moments. Mr. Snoops (Joe Flynn) fills the role of bumbling henchman quite well. Orville (Jim Jordan in his final role) does his job and is amusing while doing so. Pat Buttram is in this movie too as Luke the muskrat, part of the band of locals that help defeat Medusa. Jeanette Nolan plays Luke’s wife Ellie Mae while her husband John McIntire voices Rufus, John Fiedler voices Deacon Owl, and Jimmy MacDonald does Evinrude. All have great personalities and fit the story well.

The music is pretty good. As mentioned before, “Someone’s Waiting for You” got an Oscar nomination. The other songs fit their respective scenes quite well. They’re not the best in the canon, but they are enjoyable. The movie’s weakness is the animation. It’s another xerography film made in the ‘70s when the studio had its share of budget problems. I think it has the second worst animation in the canon after The Aristocats (they can’t decide if Bernard should have whites in his eyes or not, for example) and like that movie it even looks dirty at times. Despite that, story is what really matters and this one more than makes up for the animation issues. Do not miss this one.

#29. Fantasia 2000

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We have reached the third canonical sequel (in both release order and my ranking). As mentioned in the movie, Walt Disney originally intended Fantasia to rotate segments in and out so that each show would be different from the last. Technical issues prevented that from happening. This movie is an attempt to revive that dream. They kept one segment from the original and added several new ones. The “plot” for this movie is the same as its predecessor: you go to concert and see the music come to life. Is the best framing device? Maybe not, but it does tie the unrelated segments together. I should also note that when I talk about which movie has the best soundtrack in the canon, I’m only including original songs, which means the music for this movie, its predecessor, the Elvis songs in Lilo & Stitch, and few others are excluded. If we did include them, then this movie and its predecessor would win hands down.

The movie opens with an abstract visualization of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. The music is great and the animation matches it well. The weakest segments are Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which is imagined as a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, Finale, which features flamingos playing with yo-yos. The music for both is great and the animation is good, but they’re fairly boring. George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is quite good. The music is great and the animation matches it well. Apparently the ending had so many colors that the CAPS process (the animation system that replaced xerography) had trouble rendering it! The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment from the original returns, and it’s introduced by Penn & Teller! It gets major points for that. I’ll talk more about this when we get to the original Fantasia so for now I’ll just say it’s great.

The Pomp and Circumstance segment retells Noah’s Ark with Donald Duck (the first time in the canon that Disney has done something from the Bible). This segment also marks Daisy Duck’s debut in the canon. The music is great and the animation is beautiful. The animals in this segment are all based on the designs of animals from other Disney movies, so that’s interesting. The real gems of this movie are the Pines of Rome and Firebird Suite segments. The music for both is amazing and the animation is equally fantastic. The Pines of Rome features humpback whales migrating through space and the blend of CGI and traditional animation is absolutely breathtaking. Ditto for the Firebird Suite, which is a stunning life-death-rebirth story.

This movie is a masterpiece. The animation is top quality, and so is the music. There isn’t much of an overall story, but the individual segments are pretty good overall and have enjoyable characters. Definitely check this out, especially if you’re a fan of the original.

#28. Tangled

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This was a major milestone for the studio. As seen in the opening WDAS logo, it is the 50th film in the canon. It was a massive critical and commercial success, the studio’s biggest since The Lion King. What I find odd is that despite its near-universal acclaim it wasn’t nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. No, really, look it up. I think it would have lost to Toy Story 3, but I still think it deserved a nomination. It’s also worth noting that, unadjusted for inflation, this is the most expensive animated film ever made and fifth most expensive overall.

The story is pretty good, and they take their time to tell it right (at 1:40:13 it’s the fifth longest film in the canon), but it does have a few plot holes that bring down its ranking. I’ll discuss those later. I’m going to talk about the characters first. Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is likable enough. She’s the traditional sweet but naïve Disney Princess à la Snow White, but she has some real character development as she learns more about the outside world. She can hold her own and there are moments where she is, frankly, quite awesome. Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) is a pretty good villain. Her abusive relationship with Rapunzel recalls that of Frollo and Quasimodo. She is a true sociopath. She is completely selfish, and yet she can manipulate others into thinking she’s the victim. Flynn Rider Eugene Fitzherbert is Rapunzel’s Aladdinesque[2] love interest. He has some decent character development, especially in how he goes from viewing Rapunzel as an annoyance to genuinely caring about her. In fact, this movie implies true love is agapē (though it’s still buried beneath eros). So it gets points for that. He also gets points for being the first character in the canon to try to get out of singing in a musical number, which I find hilarious. (The fact that he gets forced into it anyway is also quite humorous.) Maximus and Pascal earn their place among Disney’s great animal sidekicks. Pascal is actually my favorite character in the movie. He’s just great. The characters all play off each other quite well. There is real chemistry and character development going on throughout the movie. Also, one of the positives is that this movie doesn’t end with a wedding. The ending narration tells us it was a while before Rapunzel and Eugene decided to get married.

The music is pretty good. Alan Menken does the songs with Glenn Slater on lyrics, and it’s so much better than their work on Home on the Range. It’s not as good as Menken’s work with Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, but it’s still pretty good. The songs aren’t unforgettable, but they are enjoyable. “When Will My Life Begin?” does a great job introducing us to Rapunzel. “Mother Knows Best” is a great villain song, and my favorite in the movie. “I’ve Got a Dream” is delightfully catchy. “I See the Light” is one of the best duets in the canon, and it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. The CGI is really good too (which one would expect given the film’s budget). It’s not the best in the canon, but it’s still visually impressive.

Now then, the aforementioned plot holes. The first problem: If the lanterns are released every year on Rapunzel’s birthday, why would Gothel tell Rapunzel her real birthday, or even tell her about birthdays at all? Did she really think Rapunzel wouldn’t get curious? Second, Eugene’s sacrifice is completely unnecessary. He could have just as easily waited for Rapunzel to heal him and then cut off her hair. It would have had the exact same effect and they would have found themselves in the exact same position. Third, all of a sudden her tears have magical healing powers too? No, suspension of disbelief is one thing, but this has no precedence in the story and comes out of nowhere. This deus ex machina is convenient even for a Disney movie! True, her tears have healing powers in the Brothers Grimm version, but if relation to source material can’t be used to hurt the movies, it can’t be used to help them either. Also, how often does Gothel need Rapunzel’s hair to keep her young? She willing goes on a journey that is supposed to take three days, yet she gets interrupted, fewer than three days pass and she ages and shrivels into dust as soon as Rapunzel’s hair is cut off.

I know I’m probably being excessively harsh and overanalyzing, but given how good this movie is it shouldn’t have such glaringly obvious story problems! I was a bit disappointed in this movie. Several people told me that this was better than Frozen, so I went in with high expectations. Unfortunately it didn’t meet those expectations. It’s really, really good and is certainly worthy of the title “50th Animated Classic,” but it didn’t blow me away. As you can see, there are several films ranked above it. This is another movie that I really want to like more than I do, but I just can’t. And with that we’re halfway done!

#27. The Princess and the Frog

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This is another historically important movie. It is usually considered to be the movie that began the studio’s current Revival (though as mentioned before, some think Bolt deserves that distinction). After Michael Eisner’s departure the aforementioned purchase of Pixar happened, and John Lasster threw out Eisner’s “CGI only” rule. The filmmakers decided to make this film the studio’s first traditionally animated movie since Home on the Range, and in the process redeemed the style. It was the first in the canon to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song since The Emperor’s New Groove, and the first to receive multiple nominations in the category since The Lion King. As of this writing, it’s also the last movie in the canon to have multiple songs nominated. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (it lost to Up). Now, to address the elephant in the room, this is the movie that gave us a black Disney Princess. Though I can’t help but think the historical significance might be dulled a bit by the fact that she spends most of the movie as a frog. This movie was virtually tied with Tangled and I had a hard time deciding which should be placed higher. I ended up picking this one because of its historical significance and Tangled’s story problems.

The story is pretty good and it’s obvious they put real effort into it. John Musker and Ron Clements wrote and directed this, and in doing so have redeemed themselves for Treasure Planet. It follows the traditional Disney Princess formula, so it’s plenty predictable, but it also modernizes it somewhat. There are some good lessons here. The movie is the anti-Pinocchio in the sense that it makes clear that wishing on stars isn’t enough. One has to work hard and put in the effort if one wants one’s dreams to come true. It also emphasizes the difference between wants and needs quite well.

The characters are the most empathetic and likable since Lilo & Stitch. Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is a young girl in New Orleans. Her father, James (Terrence Howard), desires to open his own restaurant one day. After he is killed in World War I (and earns the Distinguished Service Cross) Tiana dedicates herself to opening a restaurant of her own, working multiple jobs in order to do so. That she works so hard and has a dream that isn’t finding someone attractive to sleep with forever makes her, in my view, the most sympathetic of all the Disney Princesses. Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) is a spoiled royal whose parents have cut him off and seeks to marry New Orleans’ richest young lady, Tiana’s best friend Charlotte La Bouff (Jennifer Cody). Keith David (Apollo from Hercules, Goliath from Gargoyles, Sgt. Foley from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and the voice on all the U.S. Navy commercials) voices Dr. Facilier, and he is just a great villain. He turns Naveen into a frog and uses a voodoo talisman to allow Naveen’s attendant, Lawrence (Peter Bartlet) to pose as him. Naveen meets Tiana and, thinking she is a princess, convinces her to kiss him, which only turns her into a frog too. The two meet some fun characters on their quest to become human again including Louis the trumpet-playing alligator (Michael-Leon Wooley) and Ray the firefly (Jim Cummings). These two are a lot of fun, and Ray is actually quite an endearing and important character, which surprised me because the trailers made it seem like he would be nothing except butt jokes. Other characters include Tiana’s mother Eudora, who is voiced by Oprah Winfrey, and Charlotte’s dad Big Daddy La Bouff (John Goodman). The characters play off each other well and there’s real development that goes on.

Anyway, everything does eventually work out. Tiana and Naveen get married and become human again and she gets her restaurant. There’s a bit of a deus ex machina but it makes sense within the plot. There is some great character development, especially between Naveen and Tiana. Their romance does feel a little forced, but not enough to detract from it. It’s also nice that they actually get to know each other and go through things before getting married. The fact that both are willing to put the other’s needs before their own means this is another movie that implies true love is agapē, but again buries it under eros. The movie has several great moments and brought me to the edge of tears. The only complaint I have story wise is that I can’t understand why Charlotte doesn’t turn into a frog when she kisses Naveen like Tiana did. It was after midnight, meaning she wasn’t a princess anymore. We’re told that her kissing him before midnight would reverse the spell, but since it’s after midnight shouldn’t the old rules of the spell go back into effect? Anyway, this is getting too long.

The animation is simply beautiful and redeemed the lost art of 2D animation. Randy Newman does the music, and it’s quite good. It’s not quite as good as the music in Tangled though. “Down in New Orleans” and “Almost There” were both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and “Friends on the Other Side” is a good villain song. The other songs are pretty catchy too. To make a long review short, this is a really good movie and you shouldn’t miss it.

#26. The Fox and the Hound

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This is a transitional movie. The last of the Nine Old Men were retiring. They had a hand in the initial development of this movie, but passed it on to a new generation of animators. This was the first Disney movie that Tim Burton, Brad Bird, and John Lasseter, now animation legends in their own right, worked on. It seems fitting, then, that this is also the last movie to have its credits the old way, with opening credits and no ending credits. It’s quite good, but there is one unfortunate thing about it: it’s the 24th film in the canon. The very next one was The Black Cauldron. This is so much more deserving of that milestone!

The story is just great. It tugs at your heartstrings throughout, and while it has never brought me to the edge of tears, I still feel for the characters. The characters are written quite well and there is real conflict and character development that goes on in this movie. The cast features both big stars and Disney regulars. Adult Copper and Tod are voiced by Kurt Russell and Mickey Rooney, respectively, while their young selves are voiced by Corey Feldman and Keith Coogan. Pearl Bailey (a name you may recognize from the high school on American Dad!) voices Big Mama while Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) voices Amos and Sandy Duncan voices Vixey. Disney regulars include Jeanette Nolan as Widow Tweed, her husband John McIntire as a badger, Pat Buttram as Chief, John Fiedler as a porcupine, and Paul Winchell as Boomer.

Copper and Tod’s roller coaster ride of a friendship is superb. I feel for them at every turn. It actually hurts when they become enemies, and it’s joyous when they work things out. The fact that Copper is willing to die to protect Tod from Amos at the end and that Tod had previously saved him from the bear call to mind John 15:13. Anyone that has a pet can’t help but feel for Tweed’s loss as she drops Tod off in the game preserve. Amos is great because he’s more complex than the average Disney villain. By that I mean most villains are just evil and know it and they try to spread it. Amos is simply a hunter that wants to hunt and he only becomes obsessed with killing Tod because of Chief’s accident.

The animation is actually quite good. It’s xerography, but by this time they worked out some of the issues and made it look better. It’s still not as good as the old school or digital movies, but it’s much better than earlier xerography films. The music is good too. Pearl Bailey really shows off her talent here. This is a really good movie and you really shouldn’t pass this one up.

#25. The Great Mouse Detective

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This one unfortunately gets overlooked a lot of the time, and that’s too bad because it’s really good. It’s also a fairly important one. After the disaster that was The Black Cauldron, this movie proved that Disney animation still had some fight left in it. It wasn’t a massive commercial success (which accounts for it unfairly having the seventh lowest Cogerson score) but it made enough to keep the studio in business. And yes, you read that right, this was the one released after The Black Cauldron, which means this is the 26th film and it just missed out on the milestone title of “25th Animated Classic,” and it deserves that title so much more than The Black Cauldron! Okay, I’m better. This is also directorial debut of John Musker and Ron Clements, though there were two more directors: Burny Mattinson and Dave Michener. Also, from what I’ve been able to find, the fact that Eric Larson was a consultant for this movie means this is the last film in the canon to have involvement from any of the Nine Old Men.

The story is a lot of fun. A simple kidnapping turns out to be part of larger conspiracy by an evil genius to overthrow the British monarchy and place himself at the head of the most powerful empire on the planet (or its mouse equivalent anyway). The characters are all fun too. The interaction and development is really well done. Quirks like Basil’s inability to remember Olivia’s last name (Flaversham!) help establish unique personalities. Dawson does a great job as the straight man foil to Basil’s eccentricity. The conflict between Basil and Ratigan (voiced by horror legend Vincent Price!) is fantastic. Two geniuses locked in a battle wits trying outdo each other is something we haven’t seen before or since in the canon. Ratigan is a fantastic villain; he’s an evil genius bent on world domination, and he nearly succeeds in his plan. When his plan is foiled he goes absolutely crazy and shows he is not only highly intelligent, but also physically formidable. Like Darth Vader, he is more than willing to do away with underlings that displease him. Fidget is another one of Disney’s great, bumbling henchman, yet he’s also fairly intimidating. He is designed to look physically scary and he actually does succeed in kidnapping Olivia and luring Basil and Dawson into a trap, so he’s more successful than most henchmen.

The animation is pretty good. It’s xerography, but it’s ‘80s xerography that had been improved by the animation photo transfer (APT) process, so like The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron it looks better than the previous xerography movies. It also has some impressive CGI in the climax inside Big Ben. It was one of the earliest uses of CGI in the canon, but it wasn’t the very first. (The first movie with CGI was The Black Cauldron, another milestone it doesn’t deserve!) Since its immediate predecessor had no songs and was a massive failure, they brought back music for this movie. “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” is a great villain song and helps establish Ratigan as a serious threat. “Goodbye, So Soon” is meant to be Ratigan’s final taunt to Basil before the former’s Rube Goldberg device kills the latter, and it’s quite catchy. “Let Me be Good to You” is a song sung by the female dancers at the seedy pub Basil and Dawson visit while undercover, and helps establish the joint as a place where ne’er-do-wells gather. When taken all together this movie really is a gem and it’s shame it’s not better known or more highly regarded. It’s a huge improvement over its immediate predecessor (The Black Cauldron) and definitely more enjoyable than its immediate successor (Oliver & Company). If you’ve never seen this one, get on it!

#24. The Rescuers Down Under

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Here’s another unfortunately underrated movie. It tends to get overlooked because it was released between two giants (The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast). It was also the least commercially successful of the Renaissance films and as a result unfairly has the fourth lowest Cogerson score in the canon. It deserves better. Of the four canonical sequels (The Three Caballeros, The Rescuers Down Under, Fantasia 2000, and Winnie the Pooh) this is the highest ranked, and it’s the only sequel ranked higher than its predecessor. It’s also the second lowest ranked of the Renaissance films. Interestingly, it was released on both VHS and DVD before its predecessor.

The basic plot is the same as the last one: Bernard and Bianca have to save a kid from a kidnapper. Despite the basic plot being a retread, the setting and action are different enough that it masks that fact well. It’s more enjoyable than the last for a few reasons. First there is greater character development going on here. In the last movie Bernard and Bianca were just starting off. Here time has passed and Bernard is ready to propose, but keeps getting interrupted each time he tries. This gets complicated further when Jake (Tristan Rogers) shows up. The love triangle subplot is actually pretty good and makes one really feel for Bernard. The danger also feels more real in this movie. When McLeach (George C. Scott) kidnaps Cody (Adam Ryen) he tosses his backpack to the crocodiles so that when the rangers search for him they assume he was eaten and call off the search. That’s pretty ingenious. Also, at the end of the movie when McLeach no longer needs Cody, he actually does try to feed him to the crocodiles, and only Bernard’s quick thinking plunges McLeach and his goanna, Joanna, into the water with the crocodiles, thus drawing their attention away from Cody.

The characters are developed well and the interaction and chemistry is quite good. Orville’s brother, Wilbur (ha! Wright brothers reference) is voiced by John Candy and he’s really fun. His time in the hospital provides some great comic relief. Jake might be helpful with navigation but one can’t help but have a dislike for him due to his constant flirting with Miss Bianca. In the end, Bernard does propose, Bianca accepts, and Jake does step aside, so he does know when to quit. There is one odd thing about this movie though. In the previous movie the rules appeared to be that “good” animals can talk, but “bad” ones and bugs (even if they’re “good”) can’t. In this movie it’s pretty much the same, with the glaring exception of Marahute, the golden eagle. She’s obviously “good,” she’s not a bug, and other birds can talk, so why can’t she? It’s a bit strange.

The animation is beautiful. This movie marks the end of xerography and the beginning of the digital era! This actually the first movie made using 100% digital processes, thanks to the Computer Animation Production System (CAPS) developed by Pixar. This means it far outshines its predecessor in this department. The really isn’t any music though, a first since The Black Cauldron. Wilbur is blasting his stereo and singing along when we first meet him, and McLeach sings a twist on “You Get a Line I’ll Get a Pole” but there aren’t any real musical numbers to be found. The score is pretty good though, especially during Cody’s flight with Marahute. This really is a good movie and it’s a shame that it doesn’t get more attention. I actually like it more now than I did as a kid. Check it out; you’ll be happy you did.

#23. Lilo & Stitch

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Now this is a real gem. It’s a bit like finding buried treasure in the sense that most of the movies that were released closest to it range from mediocre to bad. Had Disney followed this movie’s example the early to mid-2000s might not have been such a disappointment for the studio. This, along with Treasure Planet, was the first film in the canon to be nominated for Academy Award for Best Animated Picture (both lost to Spirited Away). It’s also the last movie in the canon to have any kind of opening credits. After this the movies would have “Walt Disney Pictures Presents” followed by a title card, and nothing else. The exceptions are the most recent films: Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen only have title cards, and Big Hero 6 doesn’t even have its title card until the end of the movie. This is the highest ranked film of its decade. It’s more than just the best film of the post-Renaissance slump though. Saying that is a bit like saying, to quote Jon Stewart, “congratulations on being the skinniest kid at fat camp!” No, this is more than that. It’s a genuinely good movie with heart and real character development.

The story is wonderful. It’s clear they put real effort into the storytelling aspect of the movie. They took a bit of a chance with the plot, but it really paid off. The story is driven by character development and they did a really good job in that department. There is real conflict, both internal and external that drives the characters and causes them to interact they way they do. It works splendidly. After losing their parents Nani (Tia Carrere) is placed in the unfair position of having to be essentially a single mother and provide for both herself and her younger sister Lilo (Daveigh Chase). Lilo’s unique personality and unfortunate situation make her an outcast among her peers, which leads to her getting into fights and therefore big trouble. The stress of the situation causes the sisters to fight and a visit from social worker Cobra Bubbles (Ving Rhames) to go horribly wrong. He gives Nani three days to turn things around and change his mind.

Stitch (co-director Chris Sanders) was created by alien mad scientist Jumba (David Ogden Stiers) to be an instrument of total destruction. En route to his exile, Stitch escapes and crash-lands on the island where Lilo and Nani live. Jumba and Agent Pleakley (Kevin McDonald) are sent to covertly retrieve Stitch. Stitch ends up in a dog pound, where Lilo chooses him as their new puppy. Stitch’s destructive nature causes Nani to lose her job at the worst possible time, and while she searches for employment Lilo tries to work on Stitch’s behavior problems. Things only go from bad to worse and Bubbles informs Nani that he will be taking Lilo to live with a foster family the next morning. It’s quite emotional. After an epic alien battle, everything works out and, in one of the most heart-warming scenes in the movie, Stitch explains about his ‘ohana.

“This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.”

The characters are just done so well. They’re all likable and empathetic and just really make this movie one of Disney’s best.

The animation is great. Interestingly, this movie is the first since Dumbo to have watercolor painted backgrounds. Now then, as for the music, well, normally I would ding it for using preexisting songs. I let this movie get away with it though because part of Lilo’s character is that she’s an Elvis fan (and I like Elvis’ music). “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” is okay and fairly catchy, though it’s definitely not one of the canon’s best. This really is a wonderful movie and if you’ve never seen it you should.

#22. Wreck-It Ralph

52 Wreck-It Ralph 1a

This could be described as the video game Toy Story. Like Meet the Robinsons this is one I actually wanted to see when it came out in theaters, but I never got the chance. I’m going to start off by saying that the best part of the movie is indeed the video game cameos. It was great seeing renowned antagonists like Bowser, M. Bison, and Dr. Ivo Robotnik[3] getting together at an Alcoholics Anonymous for villains. I find it amazing that they managed to feature Kano’s heart rip fatality, which they got away with by not having Kano be Kano and having him do it on an undead zombie. I do find it a bit depressing, however, that this is the best thing Sonic’s been in since Sonic Adventure 2.[4] I also like that the opening WDAS logo is done in the style of a classic video game, and that the post-credits Disney logo glitches. The movie was a major critical and commercial success. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, but lost to Brave. Anyway, let’s move on to the movie itself.

The story has some unique features. Ralph (John C. Reilly) isn’t a bad guy, but he plays one in his video game. He’s unhappy with his job and wants to be a hero. The whole villain wanting to be a hero thing hadn’t been done before, the only thing that comes close is Stitch. It’s original and refreshing. This is another example of a movie that took its time to tell a great story. Clocking in at 1:41:09 it’s the fourth longest film in the canon. It’s character-driven and the interaction between the characters is excellent. There is real character development going on too. It’s so good that this is one of the few movies in the canon to bring me to the edge of tears.

Ralph’s job is to be the bad guy in his game and he is treated as such by the other characters in his game. Ralph isn’t actually evil though and just wants to be accepted by the other characters. After getting into a major argument at the game anniversary party (to which he wasn’t invited), Ralph decides to go to another game and earn a hero’s medal. He does, but while leaving that game he crash lands in another and accidentally infects the new game with Cy-Bugs. Meanwhile, his absence at his own game causes it to have an out of order noticed placed on it, and therefore puts the game in jeopardy of being pulled from the arcade. Felix (Jack McBrayer) goes off to find Ralph and bring him back. He meets up with Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch), who goes to destroy the Cy-Bug. Ralph meets up with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman)[5], who at first proves to be an annoyance. Over the course of the movie they become close friends and it’s really endearing. He helps her build a kart so she can compete in her game’s race. When King Candy (Alan Tudyk) lies to Ralph and says that because she’s a glitch it will wreck the game if she crosses the finish line, Ralph destroys her kart in order to protect her, and one can really feel the hurt and betrayal.

Anyway, things do work out. Ralph finds out the truth, Vanellope does cross the finish line, and in doing so resets and restores her game, though she’s still a glitch. Ralph manages to destroy the Cy-Bugs, and is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to do, thus proving his love for his friends and the arcade as a whole (John 15:13) but is saved by Vanellope. In a surprising plot twist, King Candy is revealed to be a Turbo, a video game character that long ago went crazy and ruined both his game and his competitor’s, causing both to be removed from the arcade. He becomes part Cy-Bug and is destroyed with the rest. Felix and Calhoun end up getting married, and the other characters of his game learn to accept Ralph.

It’s a really great story and the characters play off each other really well. There are a couple of thoughts I have that don’t result in demerits, but I want to address anyway. The other characters in Ralph and Felix’s game have limited frames and movement because they’re 8-bit, which is a nice touch, but Ralph and Felix have a full range of animation. I guess the argument could be made that’s it’s because Ralph and Felix are the main characters so they have more data programmed for them, but I know it’s just so they wouldn’t look out of place for the entire movie and probably would have been hard on the animators. It’s still interesting and a nice touch though. I’m not the only person that’s wondered this, but would Felix’s hammer have fixed Vanellope’s glitch?

Anyway, the CGI is stunning. There is nothing more to say about that. There is only one song in the movie, and that’s its biggest problem. It’s “Shut Up and Drive” by Rihanna. First, I don’t like the song and I’m not a Rihanna fan, so demerits for that. There is a bigger problem though. In Disney movies the songs should be original, and ideally advance the plot and develop the characters. They don’t have to be sung by the characters, but it’s better when they are. If they don’t advance the plot and develop character they should at least be germane to what is happening on screen. This one is so I guess that’s one redeeming thing. Anyway, despite the Rihanna song, this is a wonderful movie and you should check it out.

[1] The others are Meet the Robinsons, The Princess and the Frog, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6. Notice that they’re all more recent films that I didn’t see until I was an adult.

[2] I don’t care that that’s not a real word.

[3] Yes, that’s his real name. I acknowledge that since the new millennium the Japanese name Dr. Eggman has become universal, but I’m a ‘90s kid and to me he’ll always be Dr. Robotnik.

[4] We have neither the time nor space here to get into the sad decline of one of my favorite video game franchises.

[5] Normally I can’t stand her, but I actually don’t mind her in this movie. That should give you an idea of how good this movie is.

Ranking the Disney Animated Canon, Part 3