Ranking the Disney Animated Canon, Part 4



Part 3 HERE

#21. Cinderella

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The year was 1950. A new decade meant new opportunities for Disney. The package films of the ‘40s made enough money to finance the completion and release of this movie, the first complete story since Bambi in 1942. It was the canon’s most successful since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It brought back the company and paved the way for a successful decade. It was also first film that all nine of the Nine Old Men worked on. It really earned its status as a beloved classic.

The story is familiar and predictable, but it’s still thoroughly enjoyable. The characters are simple, but fill their roles well. It’s easy to feel for Cinderella. She is used as a slave by her abusive stepmother and stepsisters, yet she takes it all in stride and never complains. It’s only after they push her past her breaking point that she despairs, and then gets some outside help. She’s kind to all, even to vermin and her abusers. Lady Tremaine (Eleanor Audley, who would later voice Maleficent) is a great villain. She is cruel, jealous, and abusive for the sake of being cruel, jealous, and abusive. Ditto for her daughters, Anastasia and Drizella. Jaq, Gus (both voiced by Jimmy MacDonald), and the other mice are entertaining and provide decent comic relief. Lucifer provides a great foil for them, and Bruno is likewise a great foil for Lucifer. Fairy Godmother (Disney regular Verna Felton) is helpful, but her power seems to be on the low end of magical Disney beings (more on that later). The King and Grand Duke’s interaction provides some of the funniest moments in the movie.

The animation is beautiful. This is one of the finest examples of old school animation in the canon. The dress transformation sequence is said to be Walt Disney’s favorite piece of animation. The music is Disney Golden Age magic. The songs are classics. “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” is a bit inspirational and allows Ilene Woods to show off her talent. The mice’s “Work Song” is quite catchy. “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” is the best in the movie, and was the first song in the canon to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song since the titular song in Saludos Amigos. It also gave us some of the most obvious name puns in the history of Dragon Ball. “So This is Love” is a decent enough duet.

Now then, there are some story problems that need to be addressed. First is the obvious plot hole: why did the glass slippers not disappear when everything else reverted to normal? I know, “because plot.” I suppose one could argue that the Fairy Godmother allowed her to keep them as a souvenir, but if that’s the case, why not let her keep the dress too? Or why not let the magic last longer? Fairy Godmother really got the short end of the wand when they were passing out magical abilities. Now then, up until now the Disney Princess movies were more recent ones and I didn’t have to address this yet. This is an older one though, and so I have to address the Standard Disney Princess Problem (SDPP).

Elsa marriage

Marrying the first man you have a dance with is a bad idea. She knows nothing about him. This is not a recipe for a lasting marriage. I suppose one could argue that her old life was so bad that anything would be an improvement, but it’s still risky. Despite the minor story problems this really is a classic and you should get it. Be warned though, this one is subject to the Disney Vault. It is scheduled to go back in on April 30, so hurry!

#20. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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Here it is, the movie that started it all! The first film in the canon, and usually considered Walt Disney’s first film ever.[1] Despite an oft-repeated claim, this was not the first full length animated movie ever. Skeptics predicted the movie would be a flop and called it “Disney’s folly.” That folly went to be a massive critical and commercial success. When adjusted for inflation it is the highest-grossing animated film of all time and the tenth highest-grossing overall. No movie has done more to establish animation as a vehicle for storytelling. The historical significance cannot be overstated. It was so notable that Walt Disney was a given a special achievement award at the Oscars, consisting of a regular statuette and seven miniature ones. (It did not, however, win an Oscar.)

Like Cinderella the story is simple but enjoyable. In fact this gave me my first difficulty in ranking the movies. The two are so similar they are virtually tied. I ended up putting this one higher because of its historical significance. The characters are pretty one-dimensional. Grumpy has the most character development of anyone. Snow White is sweet and naïve. She does no wrong to anyone, and she even apologizes to the animals for being scared after her ordeal in the forest. Each of the dwarfs lives up to his name, with Grumpy being the only one that has any conflict or character development. He grows from not liking Snow White to genuinely caring for her. The Evil Queen is a good villain. She’s so consumed with jealousy and her desire to kill Snow White that she loses her sanity. After Snow White bites the apple she triumphantly declares that now she’ll be fairest in land, conveniently forgetting that she turned herself into an ugly witch. I guess it’s possible she had a way to undo it though. She also establishes the long, noble tradition of Disney villains falling to their deaths.

The animation is simply beautiful. Even though it was released in 1937 the animation still holds up as some of the finest ever. The songs are all classics. “Heigh Ho” is my favorite of the movie. “The Silly Song” is pretty fun too. There are some issues with the movie in the story department though. First, prepare to have your childhood ruined. I know I’m not the first person to point this out, and I remember Carlos Mencia pointing this out, but here it goes: the Prince had no way of knowing that a kiss would revive Snow White. Think about that. Yeah, I know, gross. Related to that is the SDPP.

Elsa marriage

It appears she goes off to marry the first man she meets (she met him before the dwarfs at the beginning of the film), who is a possible necrophiliac. This is a disaster waiting to happen. That’s only an issue when you overanalyze though. The whole necrophilia thing never even occurred to me until others pointed out. This is currently out of the Vault and you should definitely pick it up. It is still a good movie with a lot of historical significance.

#19. Sleeping Beauty

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This was released in 1959 after nearly a decade of development. The decade began and ended with a Disney Princess movie. It was the decade that Disney began to branch out into other projects. Live action movies became more common. Television also became an important focus. Disneyland opened in 1955. All of this meant Walt Disney had less time to devote to the animation department. While Cinderella kicked off the decade as a massive success, this movie was initially a disappointment. The movie was a large and expensive project, but it didn’t make enough money at the box office to justify the expenses. This resulted in massive layoffs and downsizing of the animation department, and there wouldn’t be another Disney Princess film until The Little Mermaid 30 years later. Despite its initial disappointment it has since come to be regarded as a beloved classic and is subject to the Disney Vault.

The story is, like the previous Disney Princess movies, completely predictable, but still quite enjoyable. The characters are all pretty enjoyable, with notable exception of Aurora. She’s a fairly dull protagonist, due in large part that despite being the titular character, she doesn’t get much screen time, and has only 18 lines of dialogue. She’s also notable for being one of the few Disney protagonists to have both parents live through the entire film. Prince Phillip is pretty cool. Unlike his predecessors in Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs he actually gets to do something besides show up at the end and be the deus ex machina that allows the female protagonist to live happily ever after. Flora (Disney regular Verna Felton), Fauna, and Merryweather (Barbara Luddy, Lady from Lady and the Tramp and Kanga from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh) are all endearing, and their interaction with each other provides some of the film’s funniest moments. Maleficent (Eleanor Audley, Lady Tremiane from Cinderella) is a fantastic villain. There’s a reason she was chosen to lead the villains in Kingdom Hearts. She is probably the most powerful villain in the canon. She is truly “the mistress of all evil” with “all the powers of hell” at her disposal. The climactic battle where she turns herself into a dragon and battles Phillip is easily one of the best battles in any of the Disney Princess films. Only the battle with Jafar can match it. It’s great that even though this is a Disney Princess movie they threw in plenty of action sequences. That’s why it easily beat Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The animation is just gorgeous. Animators used paper the size of bed sheets for this movie. It is also the last film in the canon made using the old school methods. After this, movies would be made using xerography. The sequence of rocks turning into bubbles was actually made using xerography, meaning this is the first film in the canon to have xerography. There are some curiosities with regard to the animation though. The most notable is that when Aurora is awoken from her slumber she has irises, which she didn’t have before or after. Also, for someone with hair that’s supposedly more golden than the sun, it looks quite pale. Regardless, it’s a fantastic example of old school animation. The music is okay, but it’s not my favorite. That’s one area where Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs do beat it. The score is adapted from the ballet by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, so it’s pretty good, but the original songs leave a bit to be desired. Of course I have to address the SDPP.

Elsa marriage

Like Cinderella she marries the first man she has a dance with. At first she’s devastated because the fairies reveal she has an arranged marriage. As fate would have it, it turns out the stranger she met in the woods is the man she was promised to as a baby! This takes the classic Greek tragedians’ use of fate and turns it on its head. Regardless, marrying the first man you have a dance with is a bad idea. Despite the SDPP, it’s a very good movie and should get it before it goes back into the Vault.

#18. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

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This is one of the most unusual films in the canon. It’s made almost entirely of previously released material, with some new animation to tie the segments together and an original ending. The first segment was completed and released in Walt Disney’s lifetime, while the second was being worked on at the time of his death and earned him a posthumous Oscar. For those reasons it is the last film in the canon to begin with “Walt Disney Presents” and the last to end with “A Walt Disney Production” despite being released a decade after his death. This is the first film in the countdown I would put in the “great” category, and it was one of my favorites as a kid. The Winnie the Pooh franchise is one Disney’s most successful and beloved, and this is the franchise’s first feature length film, so it is historically important. It’s absolutely wonderful; it’s classic Pooh whimsy from start to finish. It doesn’t deserve such a low Cogerson score.

As previously mentioned the bulk of the movie is made up of previously released theatrical shorts: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, originally released in front of The Ugly Dachshund, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, originally in front of The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!, which played before The Island at the Top of the World. The stories are all classics and enjoyable from start to finish. The characters are some of the most beloved in the entire canon. Winnie the Pooh (Sterling Holloway’s most famous role) is a delightful “bear of very little brain.” He’s simple, but lovable. His antics are quite humorous. Piglet (John Fiedler) doesn’t show up until the second segment, but he quickly establishes himself as Pooh’s timid yet lovable best friend. Tigger (Paul Winchell) is my favorite character of the franchise. The other characters are great too and have their unique personality quirks. There isn’t much character development, but they’re still thoroughly enjoyable.

The animation is the weak point of the movie. The shorts and bridging segments were all done with pre-APT xerography, so it has the look I don’t like. There is recycled animation too. Each segment has the same shot of Christopher Robin hopping over the fence, though they flip it and change the seasons. The music is another story though. The songs are Sherman Brothers classics and they are some of the best in the canon. “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers” is my favorite song of the movie. The “Winnie the Pooh” theme, “Rumbly in My Tumbly,” “Heffalumps and Woozles,” and “Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down” are excellent too. The others, while not as great, are still plenty enjoyable. This movie is just wonderful. Do not miss this one!

#17. Lady and the Tramp

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This is another historically important film. It was the first film in the canon to be distributed by Walt Disney’s own distribution company, Buena Vista Pictures, instead of RKO Radio Pictures. It was also made for Cinemascope and is therefore the first widescreen film. If you watch the movies in sequence on a modern TV you’ll notice that the films before this one will be a square in the middle of the screen with vertical bars on the left and right. Starting with this the screen fills up, with horizontal bars across the top and bottom for some films.

It’s pretty good in terms of the story. I enjoyed this one a lot as a kid, but there were things I didn’t pick up on. I never got that Lady was in heat or had a one-night stand with Tramp, nor did I know that as a result she got pregnant and Jock and Trusty were offering to marry her. There are some unfortunate things I didn’t realize as a kid either. I’m speaking of the racism and stereotypes. Si and Am the Siamese cats are Asian stereotypes, much as Joe and Tony are Italian stereotypes. It was 1955 and this was considered normal humor. I must reiterate: I do not want these films edited or banned, but we do need to be aware that such things are offensive. Fortunately the stereotypical portrayals are brief and don’t detract too much from the movie overall.

The characters are well done. Lady (Barbara Luddy) is a sweet and naïve dog, and much of the plot is driven by her learning more about the world. One feels for her during her tribulations such as her feeling rejected when her owners have a baby, her desire to protect her family from the cats and the rat, her terror at being taken to the pound, and her sense of betrayal when she finds out about Tramp’s numerous past flings. Tramp (Larry Roberts) is a lovable rascal. He has some decent character development. He goes from seeing Lady as another notch in his belt to genuinely caring about her, and eventually settles down with her to raise their puppies together. Jock (Bill Thompson) and Trusty (Bill Baucom) are great friends to Lady and their desire to protect her from the womanizing Tramp is admirable, as is their attempt to rescue Tramp after Aunt Sarah (Verna Felton) has the dog catcher take Tramp away, thinking he attacked the baby after he saved it from the rat. The dogs at the pound and animals at the zoo are fun too. Here’s a fun fact: the hyena’s laugh was later used for Ripper Roo in Crash Bandicoot. Aunt Sarah is a decent foil, though she does repent at the end of the movie. Her cats are quite bad too, in addition to being racial stereotypes they cause all kinds of trouble at the house, and manage to get Lady blamed for it. The rat is an intimidating villain. It’s animated very well, and the sense of danger as it goes to the baby’s room feels real. One really roots for Tramp as he saves the baby from it.

The animation is beautiful. It’s another fine example of the old school techniques. The spaghetti scene is one of the most famous in the entire canon. Tramp also changes color depending on the time of day and location, so that attempt at realistic lighting is a nice touch. The music is okay. The score is pretty good. The songs aren’t that great though. “Bella Notte” is probably the best one. The song the cats sing is quite uncomfortable to listen to nowadays, but it is notable for being an early villain song. Despite the disappointing music and racism, it’s still a great movie and you should check it out if you get the chance. It is currently in the Vault though.

#16. One Hundred and One Dalmatians[2]

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A new decade meant a new start. After the disappointment of Sleeping Beauty this revived Disney animation. It was a massive critical and commercial success. It is rightly remembered as one of the greatest films in the canon. It’s historically significant too. It’s the first film in the canon made entirely with xerography. It’s also the first film in the canon to take place in the time it was made. This is one I really enjoyed as a kid.

The story is great. It’s not something that had been done before or since. The one that comes the closest to this plot is probably Home on the Range, but that’s different enough not to be a complete retread. There are romantic plot lines, but they’re gotten out of the way at the beginning of the movie, which is nice. The characters are all really well done. Roger and Anita are a likable couple as are Pongo and Perdita. Nanny is likable too. Cruella De Vil is one of the best villains in the canon. Many consider her to be the most wicked of all Disney villains (I dissent) because wanting to make a coat out of people’s pets is indeed pretty messed up. She is pretty intimidating. Pongo and Perdita have no trouble dispatching her bumbling henchmen, Jasper and Horace, but they do truly fear her. By the end of the movie she has been driven insane by her obsession. Jasper and Horace provide some decent comic relief, especially when Pongo and Perdita rescue the puppies from them at De Vil’s mansion. Overall the conflict is pretty good and the story moves at a nice pace. The plot is relatable too. Anyone who has ever had a pet go missing can sympathize with Anita and Roger.

There is one major plot hole though. The entire ordeal could have been avoided if Nanny had just kept her mouth shut. When Cruella sees that the newborn puppies don’t have spots she’s disgusted, insults them, and no longer wants them. No one wants Cruella to get the puppies, so everything would have been just fine, but Nanny decided the puppies’ honor needed defending and told Cruella that they would get their spots, and Anita chimed in and confirmed that the spots would come in a few weeks. If nobody had said anything Cruella would have ragequit the whole idea and everyone would have been spared a lot of trouble. I know, we wouldn’t have had a plot then, and I understand the desire to defend one’s pets from insults.

The music is pretty good. There are only a few songs though. The “Kanine Krunchies” jingle is catchy and one can easily imagine it being a real jingle in a real commercial. “Dalmatian Plantation” is brief but fun. “Cruella De Vil” isn’t a true villain song, but it is about the villain. It’s the best song in the movie and is really catchy.

This brings us to the movie’s weak point: the animation. As mentioned before, this was the first film in the canon to be done using only xerography. I know it was a major innovation and reduced the time and cost of making animated movies, but I’m just not a fan of xerography’s look. I think the quality suffers. I much prefer the old school and digital animation. If an unverified statement on the movie’s page on the Disney wiki is true, then Walt Disney didn’t like it either, so I guess I’m in good company. Also there is one very important result of this movie that has to be mentioned. This movie is one of the things that inspired Akira Toriyama to get into drawing. In other words, it is partly because of this movie that we have Dragon Ball! Despite its flaws in the animation department this is still a fantastic movie and you should pick it up before it goes back into the Vault.

#15. Pinocchio

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This was initially a disappointment. It was released in early 1940, and the Nazis had begun their conquest of Western Europe. The loss of the European market meant this wouldn’t be the worldwide phenomenon that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was. Despite that, it has since become one of the most beloved films of the canon. It has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is also tied with Fantasia for having the highest critical reception score in the Cogerson system. It also has the fifth highest Cogerson score in the canon. This is another one I loved as a kid.

The story is great. It’s classic Disney magic at its finest. Despite the fact that story progresses in what seem to be unrelated points, it does so seamlessly and doesn’t feel like it jumps all over the place. It’s also fairly dark for a Disney film. The main antagonists are all pretty serious, and none of them ever receive any punishment for their actions. They all get away with their misdeeds. There are only a couple of minor plot points that need to be addressed. First, when the Blue Fairy rescues Pinocchio from Stromboli she says it’s the last time she can help him. Later she sends him a note (via a magic, ethereal dove) that lets him know Geppetto has been swallowed by Monstro, which I think counts as helping. Also, it’s not clear what the rules of transformation on Pleasure Island are. Did Pinocchio stop turning into a donkey because he stopped behaving badly, or because he left the island? It seems like the latter, but it’s never really clear. That’s it though, and both are pretty minor. Another great thing about this movie is that thanks to the lack of any romance it implies true love is agapē, with Pinocchio’s sacrifice on Gepptto’s behalf, which is what allows him to become a real boy.

The characters are great too. Pinocchio (Dickie Jones) is a naïve but likable living puppet. Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) is assigned the role of Pinocchio’s conscience. He’s flawed and fails in his role, but he redeems himself and learns to stick by Pinocchio even during tough times. I didn’t realize it as a kid, but he’s also a bit of a pervert. Geppetto (Christian Rub) is likable enough, as are his pets Cleo and Figaro, who was Walt Disney’s favorite character in the movie and later starred in theatrical shorts with Mickey and crew. Honest John (Walter Catlett) and Gideon are delightful swindlers. Stromboli and the Coachman (both voiced by Charles Judels) are intimidating villains, and, as previously mentioned, are never held accountable for their actions.

The music is great. “When You Wish Upon a Star” is the quintessential Disney song and one of my favorite songs in the entire canon. “Little Wooden Head,” “Give a Little Whistle,” “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee,” and “I’ve Got No Strings” are all fun too. (“I’ve Got No Strings” is also fun when sung by Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron.)

The animation is absolutely beautiful. This may have the very best animation of all the pre-xerography movies, which is saying a lot. It is technically brilliant from start to finish. Jiminy Cricket’s opening of the storybook at the beginning is visually impressive, and that same wonder continues throughout the movie. The underwater effects are mind-blowing. The animation on Monstro is some of the best I’ve ever seen. When everything is added up this movie just wins across the board. Definitely check this one out when you get the chance! Be warned: it’s currently in the Vault.

#14. Tarzan

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This is the last film of the Renaissance. It wasn’t as successful as some of its predecessors, but it was still a hit, especially when compared to the movies in the following decade. It was the first film in the canon since Pocahontas to win an Oscar. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “You’ll Be in My Heart,” and would be last film in the canon to win that award for almost 15 years.

The story is quite good, and it tugs at your heartstrings throughout. Right at the beginning of the movie Kala and Kerchak’s child is killed by Sabor, as are Tarzan’s parents. Tarzan’s struggle to be accepted is quite touching and really makes one feel for him. One really feels Tarzan’s internal conflict as he feels he has to choose between his life with the gorillas or a life with Jane among humans. The dying Kerchak finally accepting Tarzan as his son is one of the most touching scenes in the canon. There aren’t really any plot problems that I can think of. The only thing that comes to mind is that both male and female African elephants have tusks while the female elephants in this film lack tusks, but, per the introduction, that can’t be used against the movie.

The characters are well done. Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn) is a relatable protagonist. His struggles are actually similar to those faced by many people, so it’s easy to sympathize with him. Jane (Minnie Driver) is an enjoyable love interest for Tarzan and provides some comic relief at times. Her father (Nigel Hawthorne) is quite amusing too. Tantor (Wayne Knight) and Terk (Rosie O’Donnell) are fun animal sidekicks. Kala (Glenn Close) is a loving mother and Kerchak (Lance Henriksen) is the stern leader of the gorillas, who loathes Tarzan for not being one. He has some of the best character development in the movie, especially at the end. Sabor (Frank Welker) is a decent villain for the first part of the movie, when the danger still comes from the jungle. Clayton (Brian Blessed) is a great replacement for the fallen leopard. He is one of the great villains of the canon. He is greedy, trigger-happy, and surprisingly intelligent and manipulative. His death is one of the most graphic villain deaths.

The music is pretty good. It breaks the traditional Disney formula, as with the exception of “Trashin’ the Camp” and a few lines of “You’ll Be in My Heart” the songs aren’t sung by the characters. Phil Collins does the songs both in terms of the writing and the singing. Despite its break from tradition the songs still advance the plot, develop the characters, and the lyrics are relevant to what’s happening on screen. “Two Worlds” is a great exposition song, one of the best in the canon. “Son of Man” is one of my favorite songs in the entire canon. “Strangers Like Me” is part love song and part “what I want” song. It’s really good. “You’ll Be in My Heart” may have won the Oscar, but I’m not that impressed with it. “Trahin’ the Camp” is boring and unnecessary.

The animation is absolutely stunning. It is among the best in the Renaissance. The development of the Deep Canvas technique allowed for some of the most visually stunning backgrounds in the canon. The characters are all animated quite well too. The blending of 3D CGI with the traditional 2D animation is amazing. Overall this is a fantastic movie. It is one of the weaker Renaissance films, but it’s still great. Definitely get this one.

#13. Peter Pan

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This is the highest-ranked film of the ‘50s and is a bit of a transitional film. It was the last film in the canon to be distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. It is also the last film in the canon to have the old aspect ratio. It is also the last film worked on by all of the Nine Old Men.

The story is great. It’s a unique one and hasn’t been done before or since. The characters are great too. Peter Pan (Bobby Driscoll) is an energetic, and at times obnoxious, elf? Fairy? Hylian? Well, he’s a boy that never grows up and has pointy ears and can somehow lose his shadow. Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont), John (Paul Collins), and Michael (Tommy Luske) Darling are all likable enough. Mr. Smee (Bill Thompson) is another great, yet bumbling henchman. Captain Hook (Hans Conried, who also voices Mr. Darling, a tradition kept from the play) is one of the great Disney villains. He’s short-tempered, trigger-happy, and like Darth Vader and Ratigan, isn’t afraid to do away with his own underlings if they displease him. Yet he’s also quite comical, especially in the scenes involving his fear of the crocodile. He’s also quite sly. He promises Tinker Bell he won’t lay a finger, or hook, on Peter Pan. So he tries to kill Pan with a bomb. He technically kept his promise. Tinker Bell is fun too. While it might be tempting to write her off as the stereotypical jealous woman of a bygone era, she actually has real depth to her, and that she is willing to sacrifice herself to save Pan calls to mind John 15:13.

The animation is another great example of the old school method. The colors are vibrant and the characters are expressive. The backgrounds are all gorgeous too. One of the best instances of animation in the movie is when Peter Pan is standing over the darling house in the dark and Tinker Bell flies next to him and lights up the lower part of his face. It’s great example of playing with lighting. Other examples include the part of “You Can Fly” when they’re flying over the water. The water effects are all great and the fish trying to eat Tinker Bell are well done. There are some irregularities though. For example, when Mr. Smee accidentally knocks Captain Hook out cold he suddenly has irises.

The music is pretty good too. “The Second Star to the Right” is a pretty good opener with a pleasant melody and lyrics. “You Can Fly,” “A Pirate’s Life,” “Following the Leader,” (except for the racism) and “The Elegant Captain Hook” are all classic Disney fun. “Your Mother and Mine” is quite sweet.

There are some problems with the movie though. Most notable of the problems is the stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans, as shown in the “What Made the Red Man Red?” segment. I didn’t think anything of it as a kid, but now it’s incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Yes, it was 1953 and this was common, but that doesn’t excuse it. Again, I don’t want these films to be edited or banned, but these things can’t just be brushed aside. Also, it’s a good thing I put that rule about comparisons to the real world in the introduction, because “he kissed a maid and start to blush and we’ve all been blushin’ since” promotes Lamarckism, which everyone with even a cursory knowledge of biology knows has been rejected.


Darwin FTW!

Fortunately for the movie, it can’t lose points for that, but it does lose some for the racism. Also fortunately, the instances of racism are brief. Despite the racism it is still a great movie overall. This is a beloved classic and you shouldn’t miss it. It is currently in the Vault though.

#12. Hercules

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Sixth grade me would be furious at me for putting this movie this high. That was the year I got really into classical mythology and, as a result, I hated this movie for its departure from its source material. Then in high school I read Jurassic Park. It was incredibly different from the movie. Yet it’s still one of my favorite movies of all time. The fact that it is different from the book doesn’t make it bad. Likewise I found out that my favorite film in the canon also differs greatly from the source material. But I love that movie, and would be angry with people for saying it was a bad movie for departing from its source material. So I decided from then on to enjoy movies in their own right and not compare them to source material. As a result, I now look on this movie with a nostalgic fondness. Unfortunately, this is one of the weaker Renaissance films. It wasn’t as successful as its predecessors, and it was becoming clear that Disney was starting to lose some of its edge, though it hadn’t reached the downward spiral status of the 2000s yet. It was the only film of the Renaissance to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song and lose.

The story isn’t the best in the canon, but it’s still really good. There is one major plot hole that I can’t overlook though. The Fates know everything. They know the future. So why are they shocked when Hercules becomes a god and they can’t cut his thread? Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the characters. They aren’t the best-written characters ever, but they’re still plenty endearing. Hercules (Tate Donovan) is a relatable protagonist. He’s an outcast trying to find his place the world, much like Tarzan. Phil (Danny DeVito) provides some great comic relief. Megara (Susan Egan) has a nice redemption arc. Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer) are quite funny and earn their place among the pantheon of amusing, inept Disney henchmen. James Woods steals the show with his performance as Hades, and really just makes the whole movie. He seamlessly moves from hothead to cool, calculating sociopath. He’s a great villain, and James Woods makes him so incredibly believable. Paul Shaffer as Hermes is also good, ditto for Rip Torn as Zeus.

Like most of the Renaissance films, the animation is beautiful. The colors are vibrant and eye-popping. The movement is smooth. There are even nice little details, like when Megara and Hercules are on their date in the garden and she backs into the arrow on a statue of Eros. The music is pretty good. The songs are done by Alan Menken with David Zippel on lyrics. It was the last time Alan Menken worked on the music for a canonical film until Home on the Range. It’s not as good as Menken’s work with Howard Ashman or Tim Rice, but it’s still quite good. Of note is that the songs are in the style of gospel music. Let’s a take a moment to appreciate the irony that the music for a movie based on pagan mythology has a strong gospel flavor to it. Have you appreciated the irony? Good, moving on. “The Gospel Truth” and all of its follow-ups are great exposition songs. “Zero to Hero” is a lot of fun. “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” is decent and allows Susan Egan to show off her talent. “One Last Hope” and “A Star is Born” are fun too. My favorite of the movie is “Go the Distance,” which was the one that was nominated for the Oscar. It’s catchy and inspiring. Despite the occasionally awkward writing, it’s still a great movie. Check it out.

#11. Big Hero 6

54 Big Hero 6 1a

Every once in a while a movie comes along that you know is going to be great when you go to see it and you’re still be blown away by how amazing it is. Big Hero 6 is one of those movies. This is the first Disney adaptation of a Marvel franchise, and they did it so well. I am a big fan of both Marvel and Disney so you can imagine how much I enjoy this movie. It was a critical and commercial success. It was the second film in the canon to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It’s also the first superhero film in the canon. It has the sixth highest Cogerson score in the canon.

The story is magnificent. I was on the verge of tears a couple of times when I saw this in the theater. It’s got real heart behind it. Like Brother Bear it deals with the futility of revenge, but does so in much more entertaining and engaging way. It’s very well written and the plot is solid. I’m sure if it weren’t for the fact that I had already seen Frozen I would have indeed been surprised by the whole Yokai-is-Callaghan-not-Krei plot twist. Having already seen Frozen though, I actually predicted and expected that. I just hope they don’t overdo this whole reveal the real villain at the end thing. It more than makes up for that though. In addition to revenge, it also deals with serious topics like depression and the importance of friendship. There’s a bit of a deus ex machina at the end to give the movie a traditional Disney happy ending, but it makes sense in the context of the story.

The characters are fantastic. Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a child genius that loses his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) in a fire that supposedly also kills his teacher, Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell). He’s really believable and has some great character development. Tadashi’s invention Baymax (Scott Adsit) is a wonderful, Olafesque (I don’t care that that’s not a real word) robot designed as a personal health care companion that Hiro outfits into a fighting machine. He’s a robot, he can’t feel, he has no emotions, and he even tells us he “cannot be offended.” And yet he is still the greatest character in the movie. He is so lovable and wonderful. I felt so sad when it appeared he would be lost forever. He is one of my absolute favorite characters in the entire canon. The other four members of the titular team are Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Go Go (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez), and Fred (T.J. Miller). They’re entertaining enough, but they’re mostly there to be Hiro’s moral support and don’t have much depth or character development of their own, which is unfortunate. Fred has the most character development of the four, and he’s also the best of the four. He provides great comic relief, and his dad is a former superhero, voiced by Stan Lee! That’s right, Stan Lee, in a Disney movie! What’s not to love about that? (Okay, the fact that you have to sit through the credits to view the scene is what’s not to love about that.) Yokai is a great villain, especially because we’re lead to believe he’s industrialist Alistair Krei rather than the supposedly deceased Callaghan. Again, I saw it coming (thanks, Frozen), but it’s still a nice plot twist. This movie really shows how thoroughly Pixar’s emphases on character and story telling have transferred over to WDAS.

The CGI is just beautiful. It’s some of the best I have ever seen. This movie marked the first use of the new Hyperion rendering software, so that probably helps. It’s a visual masterpiece from start to finish. Baymax in particular is very well done. Music is the only area where this movie fails. The score isn’t bad, but there is only one song, “Immortals” by Fall Out Boy. It’s weird, they take their band name from The Simpsons, but I can’t stand them. It’s bad, and the lyrics aren’t even relevant to what’s going on onscreen. It’s as if the filmmakers just decided, “Hey let’s have a rock song go over the training montage segment. That’ll be awesome.” It’s not. It sucks. It is a very small part of the film, however, and can’t detract all that much from the magnificent story, endearing characters, or breathtaking animation. This is an instant classic. Do not miss this one.

[1] To promote the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, he released a compilation of some of his Oscar-winning shorts that technically met the Academy’s definition of a feature length film. It’s not considered part of the canon though and in terms the entire Disney library it could possibly be considered movie zero.

[2] While the packaging on every home release reads 101 Dalmatians the title card spells out the numbers. The Disney wiki also spells it out to differentiate this movie from the live action remake and franchise as a whole, and so I have followed suit.

Ranking the Disney Animated Canon, Part 4