Ranking the Disney Animated Canon, Part 5




Part 4 HERE

#10. Mulan

36 Mulan 3

This is one of only two movies in the top ten that wasn’t a childhood favorite. I saw it in theaters, but didn’t get it on video. I thought it was okay, but I didn’t love it. It has since grown on me though and I think it’s actually an underrated movie. It’s considered one of the weaker films of the Renaissance. It was still a hit, but not a massive hit like earlier Renaissance films. There are ten films in the Renaissance and nine of them are musicals. This is one of only two not to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It was nominated for Best Original Score though.

The story is where the movie really shines. It was quite a departure from most of the earlier Disney Princess films. Most of its predecessors had their conflict driven far too much by the whole find someone attractive to sleep with forever thing (this was especially true of Aurora and Ariel). Here that doesn’t drive the story at all. There is a romantic subplot, but in the context of the movie as a whole, it’s quite minor. What drives the movie is not eros, but agapē. That is a huge step forward for the genre. It has plenty action too, in fact it may have the highest body count of any Disney movie when one considers the losses for both the Chinese and the Huns. It is sometimes said that this is the first Disney movie to teach girls that they don’t need a man to save them. I don’t think that’s quite true (Pocahontas didn’t need John Smith to save her, and she actually saves him) but it is the first where a female protagonist meets and exceeds the men in physical abilities. It’s a great story that is driven in large part by character development.

The characters all are quite well done. Mulan (Ming-Na Wen, singing by Lea Salonga) is perhaps the greatest protagonist of any Disney Princess movie. It’s interesting, she’s not royalty, nor does she marry into royalty. Yet despite the fact that she is not a Disney princess she is still an official Disney Princess (remember, capitalization matters). She is also one of the few Disney protagonists to have both parents survive the entire movie. Like Hercules and Tarzan, she is an outcast trying to find her place in the world. After her “oddball” ways cause her meeting with the matchmaker (Miriam Margoyles) to become a disaster she begins to have a bit of an identity crisis. That same day though, conscription notices from the Emperor (Pat Morita) are sent out, requiring that one male from every family in China report for war. The only male in Mulan’s family is her elderly father (Soon-Tek Oh), who was injured in the last war. Since she cannot bear to see her father go off to fight and possibly die, that night she cuts her hair, steals her father’s armor and conscription notice, and runs away to take his place in the army. Family. Agapē. John 15:13. This is so refreshing! She soon proves to be a tenacious individual and becomes one of the best soldiers in the company. She single-handedly takes out the Hun horde that would have slaughtered her and the other troops, but she is injured in the process. It is then that her secret is revealed. The rest of the troops abandon her and move onward to the Forbidden City. A few Huns survive though and follow the troops. They manage to assault the city and even have the Emperor in their grasp. Mulan manages to put together a plan that saves the Emperor and defeats the Huns’ leader, Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer). She returns home the savior of China and finally knows who she is. The reunion with her father is one of the most touching in the entire canon:

Mulan: They’re gifts, to bring the Fa family honor.

Fa Zhou: The greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter.


The other characters are good too. When Mulan runs away the First Ancestor (George Takei) has Mushu (Eddie Murphy, I guess this prepared him for his role as Donkey in Shrek) awaken the others for a family meeting. It is decided that they will send the Great Stone Dragon to retrieve Mulan. When Mushu goes to wake the dragon he ends up breaking it. As a result he goes himself, thinking this is his chance to redeem himself and become a family guardian again. Mushu, with the help of his lucky cricket Cri-Kee (Frank Welker), aids Mulan during her adventures. He provides some great comic relief (which makes sense, he is voiced by Eddie Murphy). He has some serious moments and character development too, such as when he admits to Mulan that had been using her to get back in the good graces of the ancestors. Li Shang (B. D. Wong, who was also Dr. Henry Wu in Jurassic Park, singing voice Donny Osmond) is actually a pretty capable military leader. Though he ends up getting saved by Mulan multiple times he was still able to make a bunch of rabble into fairly decent soldiers. One can also feel his pain when he finds his father’s company massacred by the Huns. It’s also nice that, while it’s implied he and Mulan get together at the end of the film, it doesn’t end in a wedding! No SDPP!

Shan Yu is a good villain. He is a ruthless leader and may have the highest body count of any Disney villain considering he wipes out an entire village and company of soldiers. Yao (Harvey Fierstein), Ling (Gedde Watanabe, singing by Matthew Wilder), and Chien Po (Jerry Tondo) are all fun. Chien Po is my favorite; he kind of reminds of Baymax, or rather Baymax reminds of him I guess. He provides some great comic relief, such as when the entire group is struggling to pull Mulan and Shang up while those two are on Khan (Mulan’s horse), and Chien Po comes in and lifts them up with no problem. Chi-Fu (James Hong) is a annoying bureaucrat, and plays the role so well one can’t help but actually like him. Mulan’s grandmother (June Forray, singing by Marni Nixon) is hilarious. The Emperor is both wise and witty. He drops pearls of wisdom (“The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all”) but also simplifies them for those who can’t grasp the profundity (“You don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty!”).

The animation is the same high quality that other Renaissance films are known for. It took five years to make the movie, so they took their time to do it right. The avalanche scene is especially impressive. The music is great. David Zippel is on lyrics again while Matthew Wilder does the songs. “Honor to Us All” is decent and provides a bit of exposition. “Reflection” is heartfelt and a decent character development song. “A Girl Worth Fighting For” is a lot of fun, and it’s notable for being a song that ends abruptly as the soldiers come to the destroyed village. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is my absolute favorite song in the entire canon and I can’t believe it wasn’t nominated for an Oscar! This is an outrage! The movie just wins across the board. This isn’t subject to the Vault and is on Netflix, so you have no reason not to check this one out. Do it; you’ll be glad you did!

#9. The Little Mermaid

28 The Little Mermaid 3a

1989 was a great year. The Soviets left Afghanistan beaten and humiliated, Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) opened, Solidarity kicked the Reds’ butts in the Polish elections, PASOK lost control of the Greek Parliament, the Berlin Wall “fell” and the collapse of communism had been set in motion, the Sega Genesis was released in the U.S., Taylor Swift was born, and this movie came out (it actually came out eight days after the Wall fell). This is the movie that brought Disney back and began the Renaissance. It is the highest-ranked film of the ‘80s. This was one of my favorites as a kid and I watched it all the time. I did like it more as a kid though, and it does have some issues. It’s still a great movie, but it’s not as high as kindergarten me probably would have put it. It was a massive critical and commercial success, the canon’s biggest since The Jungle Book. It was the first movie in the canon since The Rescuers to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It was the first movie in the canon to have multiple songs nominated for that Oscar, and the first to win it since Pinocchio in 1940! It also won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. It was also the first fairy tale and Disney Princess movie since Sleeping Beauty. In terms of its historical significance, it might be second only to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

If one just watches the movie, the story is really good. Unfortunately, when one starts to really think about it, flaws do indeed appear. This film is a glaring example of the SDPP.

Elsa marriage

Out of all the Disney Princess films, this might be the absolute worst when it comes to the whole conflict being driven by trying to find someone attractive to sleep with forever thing.[1] It’s funny, when one watches this as a kid one’s reaction to Ariel’s “I’m 16 years old, I’m not a child” statement is “yeah, you tell him,” but when one watches it as an adult one’s reaction is “yes, you are, listen to your father!” Disobeying her father and making a Faustian bargain with a witch in order to try to marry the first person she finds attractive is just plain stupid. It’s not a recipe for a lasting marriage. Other than that major issue the story is quite enjoyable. There is a bit of a deus ex machina at the end. I’m speaking of when Triton uses his trident to transform Ariel at the end. Since the trident is established as magic, I guess it makes sense since its powers were never explicitly defined. It’s not as plot-related as the ones in Big Hero 6 or The Princess and the Frog, nor is it as insulting to one’s intelligence as Tangled’s, but it’s close. There is one thing I have to address. The fact that Ariel never thought of writing a note after she lost her voice is not a plot hole or story problem. It is entirely possible that she can sign her name and still be illiterate. Yes, she has books in her horde and flips through them, but we have no indication that she can read them. It doesn’t appear that she reads the contract either. Again, it’s absolutely possible to be illiterate and still know how to sign one’s name.

The characters make up for the story problems. Despite everything I said above about her actions being stupid, I still manage to care about Ariel (Jodi Benson). Maybe Ron Clements and John Musker are just really good writers and directors. I actually do feel bad for her when Triton (Kenneth Mars) destroys all her things. Even though I know it’s a terrible idea, I’m still happy that things work out for her. Eric is voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes, who would later go on to voice Spider-Man in the ‘90s animated series on Fox, which remains my favorite incarnation of my favorite superhero. Hang on; I just got a nostalgia overload. Okay, I’m good. Anyway Eric is decent, but he’s also pretty one-dimensional. He’s mostly just there to be the guy Ariel falls in love with and marries. Ursula (Pat Carroll) is a great villain. She traps her clients in contracts that are designed to be to her advantage, so she claims their souls and turns them into polyps. She is cold, calculating, intelligent, and manipulative. She is also one of the few villains that actually cares about her underlings. Triton is a very protective and stern father. I like him more now than I did as a kid, because now I’m on his side. There was real danger in what Ariel was doing, and he was just trying to protect his daughter. He really does care about her, and that’s why he is willing to take her place as a polyp, and why he is willing to turn her human and lose her. He puts her happiness before his. He’s a good father. Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright), Flounder (Jason Marin), and Scuttle (Buddy Hackett) all earn their places among the great Disney animal sidekicks.

The animation is beautiful and it still holds up after all these years. It’s the last xerography movie, but with the help of the APT process, xerography had been improving since The Black Cauldron. With this movie they finally got the look down right only to move to a new process with the next one. Such is life. The CAPS process was first used in this movie during the ending scene. The animation is so good I can’t even tell that it’s xerography. It’s the only xerography film in the canon that can match the quality of the old school and digital movies.

The music is phenomenal. It’s some of the best in the canon. This was Alan Menken’s film debut. He did the score and the songs, with Howard Ashman on lyrics. They hit it out of the park. “Fathoms Below” and “Daughters of King Triton” are short, somewhat expositional songs and they’re okay. “Les Poissons” is both disturbing and amusing. “Part of Your World” is a great character development song, and it almost didn’t make it in to the final movie! That would have been a shame. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is a good villain song. “Kiss the Girl” is pretty good too, and I don’t usually care for the love songs. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. “Under the Sea” is my favorite in the movie and one of my favorite songs in the entire canon. It deserved its Oscar win.

Despite the story problems, I still love this movie. Even the story is pretty good as long as one doesn’t overanalyze it. The characters are endearing. The animation is really high quality. The music is some of the best in the canon. It also gets a crazy amount of nostalgia points. All of that earns it a place in the top ten, even if it is near the bottom of the top ten. This is currently out of the Vault; so pick it up before it goes back in!

#8. Beauty and the Beast

30 Beauty and the Beast 2a

Of course this one has to be in the top ten. It was a massive critical and commercial success. It has the highest Cogerson score in the canon. It was nominated for six Academy Awards (three of which were for Best Original Song), a record for the canon. It was the first animated movie ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (it lost to The Silence of the Lambs). It remains the only traditionally animated film nominated for Best Picture. It is also the only animated film to be nominated before the number of nominees allowed for the category was expanded. There are those that consider it not only the best film in the canon, but also the greatest animated film of all time. My guess is if you polled the public and asked what their favorite film in the canon is, this would be the winner, or a very close second to The Lion King. I obviously don’t think it’s the best, but it is up there. This is another one I used to watch all the time as a kid.

Aside from some minor issues the story is great, and I’m not a fan of love stories. This is the second highest-ranked Disney Princess film. I’m not sure if this has the SDPP or not. The entire movie takes place over a few days, true. But at the same time, Belle and Beast spend a lot of time together and actually get to know each other. She also genuinely falls in love with him as a person and isn’t just marrying the first pretty face she sees, unlike certain other Disney Princesses (looking at you, Ariel!). On the other hand, as everyone on the Internet has pointed out, her falling in love with him could be due in large part to Stockholm syndrome. So I’m not really sure where to come down on this one. There is also the chronology problem. The rose will bloom until Beast’s 21st birthday, which is fast approaching. In “Be Our Guest,” Lumière mentions they’ve been the way they are for ten years. That means the Beast was 11 when he was cursed, which seems kind of unfair. Also Chip is quite young, and many wonder how he could come into being after the curse. My own hypothesis (and that’s all it is) is that Beast continued to age while those that were turned into objects were frozen at the age they were when they were transformed. I suppose it’s also possible Lumière exaggerated. Aside from those issues though, the story is really enjoyable.

The characters are great too. Belle (Paige O’Hara) is a refreshing departure from earlier Disney Princesses. She’s not interested in finding her handsome prince (though she does end up finding him). She’d rather spend her time with a good book than anything else, and as such is perhaps the most intelligent and witty of all the Disney Princesses. She is motivated by genuine love, as shown when she is willing to take her father’s place as Beast’s prisoner, whereas her predecessors were motivated by shallow infatuation. Robby Benson voices Beast (no, Adam is not in any sense an official name). He has real character development throughout, growing from an off-putting tyrant into a sympathetic tortured soul. Gaston (Richard White) is a great villain. He’s vain, selfish, and greedy. While he’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier he does show some intelligence in exploiting people’s fears of the unknown (he’d make a great politician). Lumière (Jerry Orbach), Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), and Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) are all fun and do their part in helping Beast find his humanity and helping Belle see it. Also, the interaction between Cogsworth and Lumière provides some great comic relief. Chip (Bradley Michael Pierce) is fun, and since he rescues Belle and Maurice, allowing Belle to rush back to the castle and help Beast, he is possibly the most important character in the movie. LeFou (Jesse Corti) is another great bumbling Disney henchman. Maurice (Rex Everhart) is a good father and really does care about Belle.

The animation is absolutely beautiful. CAPS had replaced xerography starting with the previous movie (The Rescuers Down Under) so it doesn’t have the visual problems that had been a staple of xerography. The 2D animation is amazing, and they use it very effectively for storytelling. Examples include subtleties like the strand of hair that keeps falling in Belle’s face, or that when we first meet Beast he tends to spend his time on all fours, but as he grows to love Belle and becomes more “human” he starts walking upright. I didn’t notice those things as a kid, but now I really appreciate them. The use of CGI is really good too. Again, as a kid it went over my head, but now I can appreciate the ballroom dance scene as a triumph of animation. The sheer artistry in that scene is incredible enough, but the animation and lyrics combine to give real character development and plot advancement, and they do it without Beast and Belle saying a word. This movie also confronted a long-standing criticism leveled against Disney. Disney had always drawn its good characters to be good-looking while making the villains ugly, and was therefore accused of equating morality with looks. That changed with this movie. Gaston is the best-looking man in the village and every woman wants him. Belle rejects him because he’s a pompous jerk. Yet she does genuinely fall in love with Beast despite his looks. I guess this effect is lessened, though, when the Beast turns in to a prince at the end of the movie. It’s also worth noting the ending waltz was reused from Sleeping Beauty.

The music is amazing. It is some of the best in the canon. This is another Menken-Ashman collaboration, and just like their other work, it’s superb. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. “Belle” is a great exposition song, one of the best in the canon. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It was also parodied in South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. “Gaston” is one of the best villain songs. “Something There” is pretty good and has some great character development. “The Mob Song” is excellent; it’s an even better villain song than “Gaston” and has plenty of action too. It also references Macbeth, my favorite Shakespeare play, so it gets extra points for that. “Beauty and the Beast” won the Oscar for Best Original Song and it’s quite good. Angela Lansbury recorded it one take, so that’s impressive. My favorite is “Be Our Guest.” It’s a lot of fun, one of my favorite songs in the entire canon. It was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Song. It’s worth noting that Howard Ashman’s Oscar was a posthumous one and this movie is dedicated to his memory. He died before the final release and unfortunately never got to see the finished product.

The movie just wins across the board. It has a great story, lovable characters, beautiful animation, and great music. It also gets a great deal of nostalgia points. Definitely check it out. It has earned its status as one of the most beloved movies in the canon. It is currently in the Vault though.

#7. Fantasia

3 Fantasia 1

I don’t care what everyone I know says; this is a fantastic movie! Like Pinocchio it was released in 1940 and was initially a disappointment. It has since become a beloved classic. Its reputation is slightly marred, however, because, like Alice in Wonderland, it gained a reputation as an acid film. It is tied with Pinocchio for having the highest critical reception score in the Cogerson system. It is the highest-ranked film of the ‘40s. It is also the only film in the top ten that was completed and released in Walt Disney’s lifetime. It is interesting to note that this is the only movie in the canon not to have credits of any kind. It shows the title card during intermission, and that’s it. The VHS release did add ending credits, but the 2010 DVD and Blu-Ray release restores the original completely. Also, with a total runtime of 2:04:10 this is the longest film in the entire canon. It’s also the only one with an intermission. This is another one that I watched all the time as a kid (you may be noticing a pattern).

There isn’t much of an overall story. It’s basically a night at the concert, with Deems Taylor as our emcee. As the orchestra plays, the music comes to life in the form of animated segments. Hence, the easiest way to do the review for this one is to do it segment by segment.

The first segment is Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. This is a segment of pure abstraction. The animation has no characters or plot. It’s simply visual artistic expression attempting to capture the mood of the music. It’s probably my least favorite segment, but I like all of them.

Next is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. It begins with the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” featuring, appropriately enough, fairies sprinkling dew on flowers. Then come some mushrooms doing the “Chinese Dance.” Based on the appearance of the mushrooms I’d guess everything I said about the Siamese cats in Lady in the Tramp could apply here too. The “Dance of the Flutes” features dancing flower blossoms, while fish do the “Arab Dance.” The “Russian Dance” is done by anthropomorphic flowers. The “Waltz of the Flowers” brings us full circle with fairies once again messing with plants. It’s a pretty good segment both visually and musically.

This brings us to Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It is the film’s signature segment. It is perhaps Mickey Mouse’s most famous role after Steamboat Willie and has been widely parodied. It’s really good. They tell the story right. The action on screen syncs up with the musically perfectly. A good example is when Mickey is dreaming that he’s summoning big waves, and cymbals clash each time a wave breaks. This segment is notable for being Mickey’s debut in the animated features canon. As previously mentioned, it was the only segment to return for the sequel. After the segment, Mickey is shown shaking hands with and congratulating the film’s conductor, Leopold Stokowski. That means this movie had blending of live action and animation before The Three Caballeros, though it wasn’t nearly to the same extent as in the latter.

Next up is my favorite segment. The segment that is the whole reason this movie is ranked where it is. If the movie contained only this segment, it would still be in this spot. If it didn’t have this segment, it wouldn’t be ranked nearly as high as it is. It’s also the longest segment in the movie. It’s Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. It begins with a depiction of Earth’s formation and early days. Then it depicts the evolution of life on Earth. It starts off with simple, one-celled organisms, and then shows more and more complex sea creatures. Then we get the dinosaurs! I was obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid, which is why this was one of my favorite movies when I was young. Many different genera are featured and they’re animated beautifully. The animation matches the music too. One can really feel the dread and terror when the T. rex shows up. Even though Stegosaurus is my favorite dinosaur and loses the climactic battle, I still love this segment. After the battle a great drought wipes out the dinosaurs. Then there’s an earthquake and flood that wipes away all traces of them. Again, it’s my favorite segment and I just love it.

After that comes an intermission followed by “Meet the Soundtrack” which visualizes sound. Footage from this was reused in The Three Caballeros. Then comes Ludwig Van Beethoven’s The Pastoral Symphony. It begins with the antics of various mythological creatures. Then there is a festival in honor of Bacchus, which gets interrupted by Zeus. This segment has been censored from its original release. The blackface character Sunflower has been cropped out of all her shots. Again, I don’t like censorship and wish Disney would release censored “Family Editions” and uncensored “Collector’s Editions” for those that want the original, uncensored movies. I’m not as upset about this censorship though, because no real time or animation is lost. It’s not like the removing of the tornado sequence in the “Pecos Bill” segment in Melody Time or removing the entire “The Martins and the Coys” segment of Make Mine Music. It’s more like the airbrushing of Goofy’s cigarettes in Saludos Amigos. Again, I wish there were uncensored versions available, but I’m not really mad about this one.

Next is Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours. The opening notes of which are familiar to people for another reason. It features different dancing animals for each hour. First are the ostriches, then hippos, then elephants, and then alligators. For the finale all the animals dance together and destroy the palace where everything took place. It’s probably my least favorite segment after Toccata and Fugue. The finale is a combination of Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain and Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria. As Deems Taylor says in the introduction it showcases the conflict between “the profane and the sacred,” and it works so well. Chernabog[2] is an intimidating villain that summons demons, ghosts, witches, and ghouls and they haunt the mountain and town for the night. At dawn the church bells ring and drive away the forces of darkness as robed figures carrying candles lead a procession through a forest. This is the only segment with lyrics. We see the sunrise, and the movie ends.

The animation is beautiful throughout. It rivals Pinocchio and Bambi for the title of best old school animation. The music is great too. As mentioned in the review for its sequel, these two movies have best music in the canon. It’s a masterpiece, and it’s a shame that because of the length and lack of dialogue and lyrics people find it boring. Definitely check this out when you get the chance. Both it and its sequel are currently in the Vault though.

#6. Robin Hood

21 Robin Hood 3a

Now this is a vastly underrated movie. It certainly doesn’t deserve a lower Rotten Tomatoes score than Home on the Range! (It does have a higher critical reception score in the Cogerson system though.) This is the highest-ranked film of the ‘70s. It got an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. This is another one I watched all the time as a kid. It interesting note that this one of only three movies (the others are Dinosaur and The Lion King) I counted where humans are neither seen nor mentioned (humans aren’t seen in Bambi, but we know they’re there).

The story is really good. In fact, this might be the most libertarian movie in the canon. I think it would be interesting to do a study of people that watched and loved this movie as kids and see if there’s any correlation with their current political beliefs. There’s a lot of action and comedy. It also has a romantic subplot. While King Richard is out crusading, his younger brother Prince John is left to rule in his stead. John is a petty, greedy tyrant that taxes his people into crippling poverty. As a result nobody has any money, and so when they can’t pay their taxes he tosses them in jail. Seeing the injustice of it all, Robin Hood and Little John take matters into their own hands and work to give people back their money. There is one major story problem though, and it results from the whole “let’s use anthropomorphized animals as the characters” thing. If Richard and John are lions, and Maid Marian is their niece, how is she a vixen? What kind of freaky stuff was going on in that family tree? You know what? I don’t want to know. I’m just going to ignore it and enjoy the movie.

The characters are great. Robin Hood (Brian Bedford) is a lovable outlaw that works to give people back their money. His best friend and loyal sidekick, Little John (Phil Harris in the final of his three consecutive Disney roles) accompanies him throughout. He provides a lot of comic relief. Prince John (Peter Ustinov) is one of the greatest of all Disney villains, and also one of the most realistic. He is incompetent and whiny, which provides some comic relief. Yet he also genuinely ruins people’s lives. He uses force to take all the money they have, and when Robin Hood eludes him and continues to foil his plans, he triples the tax rate. Since no ones has any money and can’t pay the outrageous new taxes, he puts them jail, even the children! Sir Hiss (Terry-Thomas) is his sidekick, capable of hypnosis. He has a lot of funny moments too. Friar Tuck (Andy Devine) is great, and even stands up to the Sheriff of Nottingham (Pat Buttram). The Sheriff is another villain that is comedic, yet also causes real misery for people. Maid Marian (Monica Evans) is there primarily to be Robin Hood’s love interest but she’s also fairly good as her own character. Lady Kluck (Carole Shelley) is hilarious and also provides some of the movies great action. She holds her own and defeats several of the royal henchmen. There are more minor characters and they have their charm.

The animation is the weak point of the movie. It’s bad enough that it’s xerography, but on top that it was made during a time when the studio didn’t exactly have a lot of money to devote to animation. As a result the quality suffers. It’s not as bad The Aristocats or The Rescuers though. It also has a fair amount of recycled animation.

The music is okay but not the best in the canon. The biggest problem is the use of actual college fight songs during the tournament scene. I’m not okay with that. “Whistle Stop” is catchy and plays over the opening credits, but it doesn’t really have any lyrics. It was later sped up and became the basis of the “Hamster Dance.” “Oo-De-Lally” is actually quite fun and a pretty good exposition song. “Love” isn’t my favorite, but it’s okay and was nominated for the Oscar. “Not in Nottingham” is pretty good and really drives home their sense of hopelessness and despair. My favorite is “The Phony King of England.” It’s delightfully catchy and has the added bonus of poking fun at the tyrant.

Despite the animation problems and just above average music, it’s still a great movie. The story is solid and the characters are great. It’s a shame this one tends to get overlooked. You should definitely check this one out. It isn’t subject to the Vault and is on Netflix, so there’s no reason for you not to.

#5. The Jungle Book

19 The Jungle Book 3a

This is the movie that was being worked on at the time of Walt Disney’s death. It was completed and released about a year after his death. It was a massive critical and commercial success; it reached a level of success that wouldn’t be seen in the canon again until the release of The Little Mermaid. It is thought that the death of Walt Disney greatly contributed to that. It was the end of an era, not just for Disney, but for the country as a whole. The next year would be perhaps the most difficult the country had seen since the Civil War. The country would see unrest, assassinations, political turmoil, race riots, burning cities, the Long, Hot Summer, anger and dissatisfaction with the Vietnam War, and a bitterly divided and cynical presidential election. It is the highest ranked film of the ‘60s. It is also one of only two movies in the top ten that Walt Disney himself worked on. It was also the first film in the canon since Cinderella to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It’s also the first film since Alice in Wonderland to credit the actors with their roles. This is another one I watched all the time as a kid.

The story is great. It’s full of comedy and action. Aside from Mowgli’s infatuation with the girl at the very end, there is no romance whatsoever. This movie actually does get love right. In fact, after it appears Baloo has been killed trying to save Mowgli from Shere Khan, Bagheera explicitly quotes John 15:13! Some have accused the “I Wanna Be Like You” segment of racism. The idea is that the monkeys are caricatures of African-Americans. While I can see the argument, I think that’s reaching a bit far. There are examples of racism in the canon, especially in earlier films, but I just don’t think this is one of them. It also has a pretty good message. I’m speaking about the theme that if one truly loves someone, one must do what’s best for that person, even if it’s not what one wants. It also demonstrates the difference between want and need quite well.

The characters are great. Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman, son of director Wolfgang) is mostly enjoyable, though sometimes he comes off as excessively whiny. It’s understandable though. He’s young and doesn’t want to leave the only home he’s ever known to live with people he’s never met. It is what’s best for him, and it’s what he needs, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Baloo (Phil Harris, in the first of his three consecutive Disney roles) is one of my favorite characters in the entire canon. He’s pretty funny, but he also has a lot of heart. He genuinely loves Mowgli. As he tells Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot, who also voiced the narrator in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Sir Ector in The Sword in the Stone) he loves Mowgli as if he were his own cub. He goes to great lengths to rescue Mowgli and is willing to die to protect him from Shere Khan (George Sanders). He doesn’t want to give up Mowgli, even at the end of the movie, but he does learn to accept it. I suppose one could argue that Shere Khan was defeated and Mowgli could stay in the jungle, but one could also argue that his defeat means Shere Khan would be angrier than ever and would return to kill Mowgli, and therefore Mowgli still needs to go to the village. Bagheera is likable too. He’s stern, but he still does really care about Mowgli and wants to do what’s best for him, despite Mowgli and Baloo’s attempts to stop him. King Louie (Louis Prima) is a fun obstacle. I’m not sure he can be called an actual villain. He doesn’t want to harm Mowgli, and actually offers to give Mowgli what he wants if he will teach him how to make fire. It’s interesting to note that Louie is an orangutan, which aren’t native to India (per the introduction that’s not a demerit, just an FYI). Shere Khan is a great villain. The danger is real, and he nearly kills Baloo. Mowgli actually does show real courage in standing up to him. Sterling Holloway voices Kaa in his only role as a villain in the entire canon (unless one counts the Cheshire Cat as a villain, and I don’t). Kaa is a good villain with some comedic moments. He actually comes close to eating Mowgli; ironically, it’s Shere Khan’s intervention that saves him. This movie is also Disney regular Verna Felton’s last (she died the day before Walt Disney). She voices Winifred the elephant, wife of Colonel Hathi (J. Pat O’Malley). The elephants are pretty entertaining too.

The music is superb. It’s some of the best in the entire canon. The Sherman Brothers did the songs, except for my favorite, which was done by Terry Gilkyson. “Colonel Hathi’s March” is catchy and fun; it has that classic Sherman Brothers’ charm. “Trust in Me” is an okay villain song. It’s not the best, but it is pretty good, and is notable for being a villain song in an era where they weren’t common (they’re mostly a staple of the Renaissance). “That’s What Friends are For” is great, and is sung by a vulture quartet based on The Beatles. Walt Disney wanted to get the actual Beatles, but John Lennon wasn’t keen on the idea, and there were scheduling conflicts. That’s too bad, because that would have made the film even better. “My Own Home” is okay I guess. “I Wanna Be Like You” is my second favorite song in the movie, and it’s a very close second. It’s so catchy and fun. “The Bare Necessities” is my favorite in the movie, and one of my favorites in the entire canon. It was nominated for the Oscar.

Like Robin Hood, the animation is the weak point. It has the xerography look I don’t like. It also has recycled animation. It’s not the worst xerography, but it’s not the best either. Despite animation problems, it wins in every other category. It has a great story, fun characters, and some of the best music in the entire canon. Definitely get this before it goes back into the Vault!

#4. Aladdin

31 Aladdin 2

Four, three, and two are all so close I wish I could just declare it a tie, but I can’t. This is another Renaissance masterpiece I used to watch all the time as a kid. When I bought the Blu-ray combo pack for this project, it had been years since I had seen the movie. When I watched it I still knew all the lines after all these years! Like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, it was a massive critical and commercial success. It received five Academy Award nominations. It has the third highest Cogerson score in the canon. This is the highest-ranked Disney Princess film. Although, since it’s about Aladdin and not Jasmine, I don’t really consider it a Disney princess film (again, capitalization is important).

The story is pretty good, but it does have some issues. It definitely has the SDPP.

Elsa marriage

Jasmine decides to marry Aladdin, whom she’s known only for a few days. She’s marrying the first bad boy she meets. Aladdin is a thief, and a habitual liar. This is not going to be a lasting marriage. There’s also a bit of a deus ex machina at the end, but it makes sense. The Sultan realizes that, as an absolute monarch, he can change the laws whenever he wants, and therefore dispenses with the requirement that the princess marry a prince. If he had realized he had this power at the beginning of the movie, he wouldn’t have needed to worry about finding a suitor for Jasmine so soon, but then we wouldn’t have had that subplot. The rest of the movie is good though, that such things can easily be overlooked. It has plenty of action and comedy, in addition to the romantic subplot. Also I need to defend this movie. It often gets accused of racism, but I can’t get on board with that. All the characters are Arabesque. Jafar isn’t any darker than the others, and if he is it’s so minor (a shade or two at most) that it can only be noticed if one is looking to be offended. Also, Scott Weinger is white, and Jonathan Freeman is white. While Freeman uses a bit of an accent when voicing Jafar, it’s not an Arabic accent, so again the idea that this movie is trying to imply Arabs are bad and whites are good is quite a stretch. Again, there are real examples of racism in the canon, but I just don’t think this movie is one of them.

The characters are all great. Aladdin (Scott Weinger, singing by Brad Kane) is a likable enough protagonist. He’s a homeless orphan that has to steal to survive and obviously wants to better his life. His major problem is that he has a truth problem. It seems by the end of the movie he has learned the importance of telling the truth, but people don’t exactly change overnight. Jasmine (Linda Larkin, singing by Lea Salonga) is likable enough. Unlike some of her predecessors, she’s in no hurry to get married, which is nice. Her ultimate choice is a bit questionable, but she picks a homeless thief so I guess that’s progressive? Genie (Robin Williams) is one of my favorite characters in the entire canon. He really steals the show. As one would expect from a character played by Robin Williams, he provides the funniest moments in the movie. Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) is one of the best villains in the canon. He is absolutely power-hungry. Even though as the vizier he already runs everything and the Sultan is essentially just a figurehead[3] he wants the title of sultan. His lust for power ultimately proves to be his undoing, which is a great lesson. Abu and Rajah (both Frank Welker) are both among the great Disney animal sidekicks. Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) is a great henchman and animal sidekick. He’s actually one of the most competent henchmen in the canon. He also provides plenty of comic relief. The Sultan (Douglas Seale) is a caring father, though he’s a bit naïve when it comes to picking his cabinet.

The music is amazing. It is some of the best in the canon. Alan Menken is doing the music again. Howard Ashman was originally on lyrics. After his untimely death, Tim Rice was brought on to provide lyrics for the remaining songs. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. “Arabian Nights” is good opener. This song was actually censored. In the original theatrical release the lyric “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face” was controversial. For every home release the line was changed to “where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense.” Again, I wish they would release an uncensored version for collectors, but I don’t expect them to; I don’t want these movies edited or banned but we need to be aware, etc. “One Jump Ahead” is a great exposition song, one of the best in the canon. “A Whole New World” is the best duet in the canon by far. It won the Oscar for Best Original Song. “Prince Ali” is my second favorite in the movie; it’s wonderful, and I can’t believe it didn’t get an Oscar nomination. Its reprise is great and serves as the movie’s villain song. It’s just too bad Jafar didn’t get a “proper” villain song. “Friend Like Me” is my favorite song in the movie, and one of my favorites in the entire canon. It was nominated for the Oscar.

The animation is that same high-quality Renaissance magic. The colors are vibrant. The digital animation is spot on. The CGI was state of the art at the time, and it still holds up. The Cave of Wonders is a visual trip. The tiger head guardian is well done, and the escape scene after Abu grabs the ruby is phenomenal. It’s a combination of pulse-pounding action and eye-popping animation. Jafar’s transformation into a snake and the subsequent battle are great pieces of animation in addition to being some the best action scenes in the movie. As others have pointed out, Genie’s rapid impressions and constant non-sequiturs must have been incredibly difficult on the animators, but they managed to pull it off splendidly. There are some minor animation problems. For example, the Sultan’s ring only appears on his hand when Jafar asks for it. Again, such errors are minor and don’t really subtract from the movie overall.

This movie is just wonderful. The story is great, the characters are all memorable, the music is incredible, and the animation is spectacular. It also gets a huge amount of nostalgia points. It has earned its status as one of the most beloved movies in the canon. This is currently out of the Vault, so make sure to pick it up before it goes back in! You will not regret it!

#3. Frozen

53 Frozen 1b

Yes, I’m putting one this recent this high. Actually, if you know me personally you’re probably shocked that this isn’t number one. This movie is special to me for a variety of reasons. This is the movie that made me love Disney again. This movie is the whole reason this list exists. This was the first film in the canon I had seen in theaters since Brother Bear. Actually, it was the first film in the canon I had seen since Brother Bear period.

Everyone kept saying how great this movie was, and I was skeptical. I went in with low expectations, and I was completely blown away by how absolutely amazing it was. It was pure Disney magic. It made me the feel the way I did when would watch my favorites as a kid. I got the Blu-ray combo pack the day it came out and watched it several times over several days. The last time I was that excited for one of the canon films to come out on a home release and that I would watch over and over again was when number one came out. Though sometimes it feels like it, I know I’m not alone in thinking this is one of the best. It has the fourth highest Cogerson score of any film in the canon. Unadjusted for inflation, it is the highest-grossing animated film of all time, and the ninth highest-grossing film overall. It was the first film in the canon to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. This was the first film in the canon to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song since Tarzan. It is the highest-ranked film of the Revival, highest-ranked film of the 2010s (so far), highest-ranked film of the century (so far), and highest-ranked film of the millennium (so far). It wasn’t just a critical and commercial success, but a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. I haven’t seen a canon movie tap into the zeitgeist like this since The Lion King. I often find things that achieve this level of popularity to be overrated, but I do believe this movie has genuinely earned every bit of goodwill it has received.

The story is Pixar good. I was pleasantly surprised by how good it really is. I was on the edge of tears several times when I saw this movie in the theater.

conceal dont feel

I think a lot of that comes from the fact that they really took the time to tell the story right. At 1:42:13 it is the second-longest movie in the canon. It is the best Disney princess movie because, as John Lasseter said in the making of special on ABC, “it’s the anti-Disney princess movie.” It should be noted, however, that this is not a Disney Princess movie. No, really, neither Anna nor Elsa is an official Disney Princess. Look it up. (Again, capitalization matters.) This movie takes the SDPP, confronts it, and destroys it.

Elsa marriage

I think that more than anything is what sold me on this movie. Towards the film’s climax I was thinking, “okay, she’s going to kiss Hans, and it won’t work. She’ll realize Kristoff is her true love, kiss him and break the spell, and there will be some deus ex machina that solves the winter problem.” Instead what I got was “Oh, Anna, if only there was someone out there who loved you.” I was legitimately shocked. I could really feel Anna’s sense of hurt and betrayal. It was the biggest plot twist I had experienced since it turned out that Myotismon had been manipulating all the events of the second season of Digimon from behind the scenes and everything was done to allow him to return. It only got better from there. After Anna found out that Disney Princess movies had lied and that true love isn’t finding someone attractive to sleep with forever, she admits to Olaf, “I don’t even know what love is.” Fortunately, Olaf is the wisest character in any Disney princess movie, and one of the wisest characters in the canon overall. “That’s okay, I do. Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.” Anna takes what he says to heart because when she is about to be reunited with Kristoff and get her kiss of true love that will break the spell and unfreeze her heart, she notices Hans about to kill Elsa to undo the winter. (There is precedent for this. In Disney movies, defeating a magical being can undo all the damage they caused with their magic, see Ursula and Jafar.) Anna willingly steps between the two just as her heart freezes and she turns to solid ice. She saves Elsa’s life in the process but now appears lost forever. In just few moments though, her heart thaws, she unfreezes, and returns to life. I just have to quote the exchange and add emphasis:

Elsa: You sacrificed yourself for me?!

Anna: I love you.

Olaf: An act of true love will thaw a frozen heart

Now what’s that saying about love and self-sacrifice? Oh, right, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13, NKJV). It was Anna’s own act of self-sacrifice that proves to be an act of true love. This leads one to believe that a kiss wouldn’t have worked. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a deus ex machina, but it’s one derived from the plot, so it’s okay. This is the only Disney princess movie that explores both eros and agapē in depth and resoundingly proclaims that true love is agapē, not eros. Even in other, more “progressive” Princess movies that implied this (Pocahontas, Tangled), the agapē was still buried under eros. Mulan came the closest, but it didn’t spend too much time on eros. There are only a couple of minor story problems. The first is that had Pabbie just explained how Elsa’s powers work in the first place the whole thing could have been avoided, though we wouldn’t have had a plot. I suppose it’s possible he didn’t really understand them either, or just assumed they’d be able to figure it out from what he did say though. The second is that after Kristoff berates Anna for getting engaged to a man the day she meets him because he is friends with love experts, those same love experts want Kristoff to marry Anna even though they just met. As a friend of mine pointed out though, it’s not really a problem. They’re love experts, so they know who is supposed to be with whom immediately on meeting. You may say that’s a cop out, and it is, but it’s one I like, so I’m using it. The rest of the story is so good though, that it easily makes up for those minor issues.

The characters are some of the best in the entire canon, and they have real development. Anna (Kristen Bell) is the adorkable protagonist. One can actually feel for her. After her parents are killed in a shipwreck she only has her sister. Yet for most of their lives she has been shut out and therefore is essentially alone for the three years between her parents’ death and the her sister’s coronation. Given her lifetime of solitude, it’s no surprise she’s willing to marry the first pretty face that shows her attention. It’s still incredibly stupid, but it’s understandable. Through the course of the movie she does become less naïve and there is real character development that goes on.

I found tragic Elsa (Idina Menzel) to be one of the most sympathetic characters in the entire canon. Maybe it’s an introvert thing. After she nearly kills Anna with her powers as a child, she spends the rest of her life trying to learn to control her powers. She also cuts off all contact with others because she is so afraid of hurting someone with her powers. When her powers are inadvertently revealed at her coronation, she flees into the mountains, away from civilization and builds an ice castle where she “can be who I am, without hurting anybody.” Unfortunately, when she fled she accidentally created an eternal winter that ravages her people. Really, the fact that the movie’s conflict is driven by this instead of the whole finding someone attractive to sleep with forever thing really makes it one of the best. Upon seeing her work she lets out a horrified “what have I done?” After Anna’s act of self-sacrifice, she learns that love is the secret to controlling her powers and manages to undue the winter and use her powers in positive ways that benefit her subjects. It’s a bit of a deus ex machina, but it makes sense within the plot. She also gets major points for being the first character in the entire canon to oppose the idea of marrying someone immediately after meeting him.

Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is a likable love interest for Anna. He also gets points for being the second character in the entire canon to oppose the idea of marrying someone immediately after meeting him. His reindeer, Sven, is just wonderful. He’s my second favorite character in the movie and is truly one of the great Disney animal sidekicks. Hans (Santino Fontana) is one of the greatest villains in the entire canon. The whole movie the audience is on his side. He loves Anna, he protects Elsa, he looks after Arendelle, and then it turns out he’s a scheming, manipulative sociopath. He was only using Anna to get to the throne. He was willing to let her die, and then kill Elsa and make himself king. I was completely caught off guard by this, and so I really have to give him major points for being the stealthiest Disney villain in the canon. The Duke of Weaseltown Weselton (Alan Tudyk) is an amusing antagonist. He is greedy and tries to have Elsa killed, but he’s more of a coward than anything else. The trolls, led by Grand Pabbie (Ciarán Hinds), have their part and they play it well.

Olaf (Josh Gad, who played Arnold Cunningham in the original Broadway run of The Book of Mormon) is my absolute favorite character in the entire canon. If someone had told me on my way to see this movie that the talking snowman would end up being my new favorite Disney character, beating the likes of Simba, Genie, and Baloo, I would have laughed. Yet that’s exactly what happened. Every single one of his lines wins, from his humorous non-sequiturs (“I don’t have a skull. Or bones.”) to his aforementioned pearls of wisdom about love. It actually makes perfect sense that he knows more about love than any character in the canon, because he is a creation of pure love. Olaf first appears as an inanimate snowman created by the two sisters when they were still children. He symbolizes the unconditional, self-sacrificial love that the two have for each other. When Elsa flees into her self-imposed exile and allows herself to feel something besides fear and anxiety for the first time in forever[4] she once again taps into that love she and Anna had as children and creates Olaf, but since her powers have become stronger over the years he later comes to life. Think about that. Olaf is literally Elsa’s love for Anna come to life! This is incredibly deep symbolism for a Disney movie. Like Genie he really steals the show and makes the entire movie. He is just the best.

frozen really about

The animation is just amazing. It’s some of the most beautiful CGI I have ever seen. The amount of detail they put into the animation is insane. From each hair on Elsa’s head to the individual snowflakes, everything was animated and rendered with the utmost care and detail. The “Let It Go” segment is especially well done, and the ice palace sequence of it is easily the most visually impressive part of the entire movie. According to the making of special on ABC, that sequence took nine months to animate! Animation is used to tell the story too. There is plenty of symbolism around gloves and doors. There’s Elsa letting her hair down, symbolizing her internal transformation. There’s the chess set as Hans is explaining his plans. As already mentioned, Olaf is living symbolism. It’s technically brilliant from start to finish.

The music is absolutely phenomenal. In terms of the canon’s original soundtracks, I consider it second only to The Lion King. It was robbed; the score should have been nominated for and won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. The Lopezes are doing the songs again, and they are just fantastic. The Saami chanting in “Vuelie” calls to mind the Zulu from “Circle of Life” and Hawaiian from “He Mele No Lilo.” I love it. “Frozen Heart” manages to explain the basic plot of the movie in just a few verses, and is really catchy. It’s really good, and it’s one of the movie’s weaker songs! “For the First Time in Forever” is a great character song for Anna, and its reprise is one of the best duets in the canon. “Love is an Open Door” is a lot of fun, and is the only song in the canon where the protagonist has a romantic duet with the villain. “In Summer” is a good character song too, this time for Olaf. It’s also amusing because it reveals Olaf’s greatest desire is something that will kill him. (I said Olaf was wise; I didn’t say he was a genius.) Even “Reindeers [sic] Are Better Than People” and “Fixer Upper,” the two weakest songs, have their charm. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is my second favorite in the movie and the best exposition song in the entire canon. It’s a scandal that it wasn’t nominated for the Oscar! Most shocking of all is the fact that this song almost didn’t make it into the movie! Fortunately it did. I wonder what they had to replace it, because there’s too much plot development going on to just cut it out and replace it with nothing.

Hakuna Matata 2013 Let It Go” is amazing. It is my third favorite song in the entire canon, and the only Disney song I know in another language. It deserved its Oscar win. (It also turned Idina Menzel from someone well known only among Broadway enthusiasts into a household name.) The song was so good that they rewrote the entire movie around it! Elsa was originally going to be the villain, and this would have been the villain song. After writing it they realized Elsa isn’t evil, just misunderstood. I’m glad this rewrite occurred; I don’t think the movie would have been as good as it is had Elsa been an ice Maleficent. There really isn’t anything negative I have to say about the music. I suppose one could argue the spacing isn’t the best, as the songs tend be clustered toward the beginning of the movie, but that’s so minor and really doesn’t detract from the music or movie at all.

This movie is just so wonderful. It wins across the board. It is a most worthy addition to the canon. Again, I haven’t loved a Disney movie this much since number one came out. If you still haven’t seen it, get on it! I’m sorry this one went on so long, but I felt I really needed to take my time and justify it.

#2. The Lion King

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Hamlet-on-the-Savanna. This was the animated movie of the ‘90s and one the movies that can possibly claim the title of the childhood movie for my generation. It is often considered the pinnacle of the Renaissance. Like Frozen, it wasn’t just a massive critical and commercial success, but a full-fledged cultural phenomenon. I watched it all the time as a kid. This movie was everywhere, everyone was singing the songs, and I’ve logged countless hours on the Sega Genesis game. I remember one time we got to watch part of the Spanish version in my Spanish class. It didn’t help my Spanish at all because I already knew the entire movie in English, so I was just saying the English lines in my head! It got four Academy Award nominations (three were for Best Original Song), winning both Best Original Score and Best Original Song. Unadjusted for inflation it is the highest-grossing traditionally animated film and fourth highest-grossing animated film overall. It has the second highest Cogerson score in the canon. My guess is if you polled people asking what their favorite movie in the canon is this would be either a very close second to Beauty and the Beast or would narrowly beat it. I’ve never met anyone that doesn’t like this movie. This movie is so universally beloved that I almost feel like I don’t have to do an analysis for it.

The story is amazing. It’s one of the darker and more serious movies in the canon. Conspiracy, treason, regicide, fratricide, depression, guilt, and self-actualization are all present. It’s basically Hamlet, which is often considered Shakespeare’s greatest play, so it’s no surprise it’s so good. Mufasa’s death alone was a gutsy move and it really sells the movie. It’s a powerful moment, one that brought many kids to tears.[5] I consider it the second most heartbreaking death of a parent in all of animation after the death of Littlefoot’s mother. In both cases it’s so traumatic that both movies need something to soften the blow. In this one, it’s the “Hakuna Matata” musical number. In The Land Before Time it’s wise old Rooter explaining to Littlefoot the great circle…of…life…Huh. I knew there was a reason I liked this movie! There are a couple of story problems though. Why would Scar’s new regime cause all the vegetation to die and bring on a drought? If anything they should have run out of herbivores and have an abundance of vegetation because no animals would be eating it. There are interesting fan theories about this, but that’s all they are. Warning: this will ruin your childhood! The second is that Scar and Mufasa are the only adult male lions in the pride, so Nala must be the daughter of one of them. Which means Simba is marrying either his half-sister of cousin. Here’s hoping Nala and Sarafina are actually from another pride and something catastrophic happened and so they were accepted into Mufasa’s pride, but nothing has been said about that. Anyway, in addition to the heavy stuff there is plenty of humor and there’s a romantic subplot too. The battle for Pride Rock is one of the best action scenes in the canon. It has something for everyone, both the kids and the adults. It’s also a character-driven story, which is always nice, and there’s real character development that goes on.

The characters are all great. Simba (Matthew Broderick, cub by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Randy from Home Improvement) is a sympathetic protagonist and one of my favorite characters in the canon. He’s a spoiled royal that unfortunately gets what he wished for. He feels guilty about it and is manipulated into fleeing his home. During his exile he has a moment of self-actualization and returns home to make things right. He has great character development and is one of the best-written protagonists in the canon. Nala (Moira Kelly, cub by Niketa Calame) is Simba’s childhood friend and love interest. She does her job of getting Simba to come back quite well. She’s also humorous and wise. Scar (Jeremy Irons) is one of the greatest villains in the entire canon. He is a power-hungry, manipulative sociopath that kills his own brother and tries to kill his own nephew! He is the source of one of the canon’s great mysteries: what was his name before he got that scar, or was he born with it? (No, “Taka” is on the same level as “Adam” for Beast.) Mufasa (James Earl Jones) is the wise and powerful ruler of the Pridelands, who is tragically murdered by Scar. He lives on in spirit and convinces Simba to return and take his place as king. He does so in part by recycling James Earl Jones’ most famous line.

Darth Vader: No, I am your father!

Mufasa: You are my son, and the one true king!

Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) are the comic relief duo and they do their part well. Rafiki (Robert Guilllaume) is a wise shaman that anoints Simba and helps him return to his rightful place. He’s also humorous and a skilled fighter. Zazu (Rowan Atkinson) is the king’s majordomo. He helps in important situations and has some comedic parts too. Banzai (Cheech Marin), Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), and Ed (Jim Cummings) are the hyena trio. They’re decent henchmen and they turn on Scar and kill him after he loses his fight with Simba.

The animation is mind-blowingly beautiful. This is somewhat surprising because a lot of the top animators were working on Pocahontas (which doesn’t look nearly as good this movie) thinking this movie was going to flop and that Pocahontas would be the hit (I told you when I reviewed that one, don’t laugh! Hindsight bias and all that). The visually impressive wildebeest stampede took over two years to animate! Animation is used for story purposes too. When Simba triumphs over Scar rain starts to pour and a skull washes away, symbolizing the washing away of Simba’s guilt about his father’s death (unfortunately, I can’t find the source I got that from to link to it). During the “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” segment the animals are drawn in a less realistic, more cartoonish style, because it’s a more light-hearted part of the movie. The rest of the time the animals are all drawn very realistically. Like Bambi, the animators spent a lot of time observing real animals to get the movements down right. It is interesting to note that the DVD and Blu-ray releases of this movie are not the original theatrical version, but the reissue. This is noticeable in the “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” segment, as the crocodiles have been redrawn. Also, during the credits it has a “Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures” credit instead of a Buena Vista one. It would be nice if the next time this movie comes out of the Vault they have the original, but the differences are minor and I’m not complaining.

The music is phenomenal. This movie has the best original soundtrack in the entire canon. Hans Zimmer’s epic score won the Oscar. Lebo M did the African music and lyrics. Alan Menken was busy with Pocahontas, so they brought in music legend Elton John to do the songs with Tim Rice on lyrics. They’re all great. “Circle of Life” is an epic opener and was nominated for the Oscar. It has been widely parodied. The best part is the Zulu, which is fun to try to sing along to. As a kid, one wonders what epic things they’re saying, then one grows up, the Internet becomes a thing, and one realizes that the Zulu lyrics aren’t actually that deep. “Be Prepared” is a great villain song. Jeremy Irons actually threw out his voice recording this and Jim Cummings sang the rest. I also enjoy the whole Scar-as-Hitler thing going on during it. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is my least favorite in the movie, but it’s still really good, and it won the Oscar. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” is my second favorite in the movie. It’s just so much fun. The Oscar-nominated “Hakuna Matata” is my favorite in the movie and second favorite song in the entire canon. Interestingly it was also my least favorite level in the Genesis game.[6]

The movie wins across the board. Definitely get it when you have the chance. It is currently in the Vault though. As ridiculously good as this movie is though, there is still one that beats it. If you have a list of the movies and have been checking them off as you go and know how the process of elimination works (or if you scrolled through the movies first and read the analyses later) then you already know what it is. But first, let’s recap the entire countdown! Yes, this is just to add more space so you won’t see what number one is when you get to the last paragraph. Start the drumroll.

54. Chicken Little

53. Home on the Range

52. The Black Cauldron

51. Treasure Planet

50. The Three Caballeros

49. Fun and Fancy Free

48. Make Mine Music

47. Melody Time

46. Saludos Amigos

45. Dumbo

44. Bambi

43. Atlantis: The Lost Empire

42. Pocahontas

41. Brother Bear

40. Dinosaur

39. Alice in Wonderland

38. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

37. Oliver & Company

36. Winnie the Pooh

35. The Aristocats

34. The Sword in the Stone

33. The Emperor’s New Groove

32. Bolt

31. Meet the Robinsons

30. The Rescuers

29. Fantasia 2000

28. Tangled

27. The Princess and the Frog

26. The Fox and the Hound

25. The Great Mouse Detective

24. The Rescuers Down Under

23. Lilo & Stitch

22. Wreck-It Ralph

21. Cinderella

20. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

19. Sleeping Beauty

18. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

17. Lady and the Tramp

16. One Hundred and One Dalmatians

15. Pinocchio

14. Tarzan

13. Peter Pan

12. Hercules

11. Big Hero 6

10. Mulan

9. The Little Mermaid

8. Beauty and the Beast

7. Fantasia

6. Robin Hood

5. The Jungle Book

4. Aladdin

3. Frozen

2. The Lion King

#1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

34 The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1

Yes, this is number one. This is a tragically underrated movie. It has the second lowest Cogerson score of any Renaissance film (only The Rescuers Down Under is lower.) It was the first musical of the Renaissance not to get an Academy Award Nomination for Best Original Song. It was nominated for Best Original Score, but didn’t win. Despite doing well at the box office it wasn’t well received by critics. Well the critics were wrong. This is the best movie in the canon. It was my favorite when it came out when I was a kid, and I actually appreciate it even more now as an adult. There is so much I didn’t get as a kid, but I do now and those things really just make the whole movie. This movie could not be made today, or if it could then it certainly wouldn’t get a G rating. It is the most serious and mature of all the movies in the canon, and yet it still manages to be a good kids’ movie. It is the highest-ranked film of the Renaissance, highest-ranked film of the ’90s, highest-ranked film of the last century, and highest-ranked film of the last millennium.

The story is spectacular. What other movie in the canon deals with religion, hypocrisy, bigotry, genocide, government oppression, mob mentality, and physical deformities? None. No other movie in the canon deals with all of those. The story is character-driven, so I’ll discuss more during the character analysis, but first I want to point out just a couple of very minor issues. First, during the “Topsy Turvy” segment we learn that the Feast of Fools takes place on January 6. First, it’s odd that the supposedly pious Frollo would allow such a festival on Epiphany. Second is that it doesn’t look like winter. When the movie opens there is snow and everything, so one would think there would be some in a winter month. The second issue is that Quasimodo’s parents were gypsies.[7] Yet, with his pale skin, blue eyes, and red hair, he doesn’t look like any of the other gypsies in the movie. Then again he is deformed, so maybe that’s why. That’s it though. The rest of the story is solid.

The characters are the most flawed and real, and therefore most human, in the entire canon. Tragic, deformed Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) is perhaps the most sympathetic character in the entire canon. Orphaned as a child, he is reared by the cruel and sadistic Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay). It is an abusive relationship. Frollo keeps him cooped up in the bell tower of Notre Dame de Paris, constantly telling him that he must remain there because he is deformed and ugly, and therefore the world will never accept him. He lies and tells Quasimodo that his mother abandoned him as a baby because he was so hideous. Given this it’s unsurprising that Quasimodo falls madly in love with the first person to show him any kindness. Quasimodo destroys that old Disney criticism about characters’ moral alignments correlating with looks. He has inner beauty. Despite his looks he is a kind, gentle, and compassionate soul, so unlike the monster that brought him up. He is also the victim of the fickleness of mob mentality. When he is crowned King of Fools at the festival he is initially celebrated. Then one of Frollo’s goons throws a tomato at him and the crowd immediately turns on him. He is tied down so the Parisians can pelt him with rotten food and mock him. It is one of the most disgusting acts of abuse in the entire canon. A genuinely good soul is humiliated and assaulted for the crime of looking different. Esmeralda (Demi Moore, singing by Heidi Mollenhauer) frees him, and he falls in love with her. He becomes a true friend and risks everything to help her several times. In the film’s climax he saves her life. After the end of Frollo’s reign the Parisians accept him, having learned who the real monster was.

Esmeralda is the most beautiful woman in the city and all the menfolk love and/or lust her. As a gypsy she is discriminated against, meaning she has few job opportunities. As such she earns her way through what are considered immoral ways such as palm reading and dancing. Her dance during the Feast of Fools is perhaps the most overtly sexual thing in any movie in the canon. It went over my head as a kid but now I understand this exchange:

Frollo: Look at that disgusting display!

Phoebus (with enthusiasm): Yes, sir!

Despite her questionable ways earning a living (again, she doesn’t really have any choice) she is a genuinely good person. She is kind and compassionate. She is the one to stand up to Frollo and stop the abuse of Quasimodo at the festival, freeing him from the ropes that bound him. Also, she is quite the accomplished athlete, easily out-maneuvering Frollo’s henchmen. She joins the likes of Mulan, Rapunzel, and Elsa among Disney heroines that are just plain awesome. She is a true friend. She helps Quasimodo see that he is no monster. She saves both Quasimodo and Phoebus’ (Kevin Kline) lives. She has a strong sense of right and wrong, and constantly stands up for justice, even in the face of powerful enemies. She is one of the most admirable characters in the canon.

Judge Claude Frollo is nothing less than the most evil villain in the entire canon. “What? Scar kills his own brother, and Cruella wants to make puppies into a coat! How can you get worse than that?” Let me try to convince you. Not even five minutes after meeting the guy he kills a woman on the steps of a church and then attempts to drown her baby. Only the sudden intervention of the Archdeacon (David Ogden Stiers) convinces him to stop for the sake of his soul. As penance for killing the woman he is to rear the child as his own. As previously mentioned, he routinely mentally and emotionally abuses the child all his life. When Phoebus is brought in as his new captain of the guard, he explains the gypsy “problem” and makes clear his final solution is to kill them all. That’s called genocide! You know who else was a self-righteous totalitarian that wanted to exterminate the gypsies? Hitler! Frollo also allows his guards to incite the mob against Quasimodo, and allows the abuse in order to teach Quasimodo a lesson for disobeying him and sneaking out to the festival. Whom does he want punished for that incident; the guard that started it? Nope, he wants to punish Esmeralda, the one who stopped the torment. This begins his obsession with her. Frollo is also a self-righteous hypocrite. That’s the worst thing about him. All the evil he commits he does in the name of God. That’s a major violation of the Third Commandment. He fancies himself pious, yet he lusts after Esmeralda, and it drives him insane. This is best shown in the “Hellfire” segment. I will now quote the relevant parts, with translations:

Choir: Confiteor Deo Omnipotenti [I confess to God Almighty]/Beatae Mariae Semper Virgini [to the Blessed, Ever-Virgin Mary]/Beato Michaeli Archangelo [to the Blessed Archangel Michael]/Sanctis Apostolis omnibus Sanctis [to the Holy Apostles, to all the Saints]

Frollo: Beata Maria/you know I am a righteous man/of my virtue I am justly proud.

Pride is a sin!

Choir: Et tibi, Pater [and to you, Father]

Frollo: Beata Maria/you know I’m so much purer than/the common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd

Choir: Quia peccavi nimis [that I have sinned]

Frollo: Then tell me, Maria/why I see her dancing there/why her smoldering eyes still scorch my soul

Choir: Cogitatione [in thought]

Frollo: I feel her; I see her/the sun caught in her raven hair/is blazing in me out of all control

Choir: Verbo et opere [in word and deed]

Frollo: Like fire/hellfire/this fire in my skin/this burning/desire/is turning me to sin/it’s not my fault

Choir: Mea culpa [my fault]

Frollo: I’m not to blame

Choir: Mea culpa

Frollo: It is the gypsy girl/the witch who sent this flame

Choir: Mea maxima culpa [my most grievous fault]

Frollo: It’s not my fault

Choir: Mea culpa

Frollo: If in God’s plan

Choir: Mea culpa

Frollo: He made the devil so much stronger than a man

Oh okay, so it’s not his fault he sins, it’s God’s! Do you even Christianity, bro? Note that he knows full well that his sins are indeed his own fault, as shown in the lyrics of the choir (representing his subconscious). Yet he’s so convinced of his own righteousness and piety that he lies to himself, and he begins his descent into madness. This is the kind of depth and character development I completely missed as a kid, and yet now I greatly appreciate it and can’t believe more people don’t. Oh, but there is one more part of the song that warrants attention.

Frollo: Protect me, Maria/don’t let this siren cast her spell/don’t let her fire sear my flesh and bone/destroy Esmeralda/and let her taste the fires of Hell/or else let her be mine and mine alone.

He’s literally asking the Theotokos to kill a woman if she won’t return his advances! After this song his insanity has set in and he begins oppressing the entire city on his hunt for her. First he offers a reward of ten pieces of silver, and then ups it to twenty (they should have had him start with twenty and then up it to thirty just for the irony). He places the miller and his family under house arrest on suspicion that they have been hiding gypsies. He tells them that if they are innocent, as they claim, then they have nothing to fear. After telling them that he locks them in the house and orders Phoebus to torch it. Phoebus refuses, so Frollo does it himself. When he has captured Esmeralda and prepares to execute her, Quasimodo rescues her and takes her to the bell tower. Frollo is now so insane that he no longer respects even the authority of the church and clergy, the one thing that held him back. He assaults the church and physically attacks the Archdeacon. He then attempts to kill Quasimodo. Meanwhile, the people of Paris have had enough of Frollo’s oppression and revolt against his rule. You know what? This movie might be even more libertarian than Robin Hood. Frollo finally meets a deliciously ironic death. While declaring “He shall smite the wicked and plunge them into the fiery pit!” the beam on which he is standing breaks, and he continues the long, noble tradition of Disney villains falling to their deaths. So, because he is a totalitarian government official, and a self-righteous religious hypocrite that attempted genocide I consider Frollo to be the most evil villain in the entire canon bar none. If we ranked the villains on a scale of zero to ten, with ten being the most evil, I’m guessing Frollo would be, gee, I don’t know

Phoebus is a great character too. He is a soldier, but he recognizes a higher authority than the state. When the mob begins assaulting Quasimodo he immediately asks Frollo, “Sir, permission to stop this cruelty” only to be denied by the wicked judge. When Frollo orders him to burn down the miller’s house with the family inside he responds, “I was not trained to murder the innocent!” Frollo tries again, “But you were trained to follow orders,” at which point Phoebus defiantly puts out the torch in a nearby barrel of water. When Frollo torches the place, Phoebus risks his life and saves the people inside. Frollo’s guards nearly kill him, but Esmeralda saves him. Later he helps lead the revolt against Frollo during the Battle for Notre Dame (one of the best action scenes in the canon by the way) and even saves Quasimodo’s life.

Clopin (Paul Kandel) is a gypsy and he helps tell the story in the framing device at the beginning. He has some other roles too, such as introducing Esmeralda and the King of Fools during the festival, and as the judge and executioner at the mock trial in the Court of Miracles. Victor (Charles Kimbrough), Hugo (Jason Alexander),[8] and Laverne (Mary Wickes until her death, some lines by Jane Withers) are Quasimodo’s three gargoyle friends. It’s not clear if they’re real or if Quasimodo imagines they’re alive just so he won’t be lonely. I think they are actually alive as Djali, Esmeralda’s goat, notices when Hugo makes kissing motions at it. They provide the comic relief, and that comic relief is one of the big criticisms people had about the movie. It’s possible if it weren’t for the gargoyles this would be considered a beloved classic. Anyway, they have their place, and Laverne even drops one of the movie’s best lines:

Take it from an old spectator, life’s not a spectator sport. If all you’re going to do is watch you’ll watch your life go by without you.

There are little things that help the story too. For example “Notre Dame” is pronounced correctly throughout the movie. There is not a single “Note-ur Daym” in the entire film. There’s also the fact that Quasimodo doesn’t end up with Esmeralda. She gets together with Phoebus and Quasimodo accepts this and gives them his blessing. “But he saved her life!” So what? She doesn’t owe him a relationship because of that. They’re good friends, and that’s all they will ever be. And that’s okay, because friendship is a wonderful thing. It’s a very good and realistic message.

The animation is beautiful. The animators spent a great deal of time at the cathedral to get it right. Unadjusted for inflation, this was the first Disney movie to have a $100,000,000 budget. It really paid off. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz are doing the songs again and, unlike Pocahontas, they’re really good. They aren’t as good as Menken’s work with Ashman and Rice, but they are better than anything he’s done since (and he’s done some great work since, Home on the Range excepted). In terms of exposition songs, “The Bells of Notre Dame” is second only to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” “Out There” is great. It’s the male “Part of Your World.” Humorously, the two were combined and parodied in South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. “Topsy Turvy” is a lot of fun. I didn’t care for it as a kid, and it’s still not my favorite, but now I really appreciate “God Help the Outcasts.” It shows a great contrast between genuine prayer and treating God like a genie. “Heaven’s Light” is a great character development song for Quasimodo, though it shows he’s misinterpreting things and is setting himself up to get hurt. Some criticize “A Guy Like You” for being out of place for the moment of the movie, and I understand that criticism, but it still works. It builds up Quasimodo, so it makes the fall that happens after the song that much more painful. “Hellfire” is my favorite song in the movie and the best villain song in the entire canon, for reasons already discussed. The chanting at various parts of the movie is a nice touch and really adds to the atmosphere. Since I’m Orthodox, I can’t help but love hearing “Κύριε, ἐλέησον” interspersed throughout the movie.

In conclusion, with spectacular storytelling, the most serious subject matter, the most human characters, beautiful animation, and great music, I can do no less than to place this movie at the very top. To place it anywhere else would be a great injustice. If I were to assign points in the four categories, music would be the only category in which this movie wouldn’t get a perfect score, and it would get more than enough points in that all-important fifth category to guarantee its place. It’s a small step above all the others. It’s still close to those below it, but’s not as close as some movies are to each other, some of which were virtual ties. It has been my favorite for years and likely always will be. I’m open to the possibility that something else can take its place, but not even Frozen was able to do that (though it came close). If you take my advice on just one movie, please, please, please check this one out. It’s not subject to the Vault and is on Netflix. Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty were disappointments on their initial releases, and are now considered beloved classics. I’m hoping something similar will happen for this movie. I’m sorry this one went on so long, but I felt I really needed to take my time and do it justice because it’s just so underrated.


Well there it is. If you read the entire thing, I thank you. Now then, I’m sure you don’t agree with me and might be angry with me. You know what my response is? Make your own ranking. No, really, you should do it! I had a lot of fun doing this project. If you feel the desire to do one of your own, I say do it! Also, this project is ongoing. Each time a new movie is released, I will see it and update the ranking with a review of the movie. So stay tuned for part 6 when I cover Zootopia!

Special Thanks to:

Walt Disney, who proved that people would indeed love full-length, animated features

The talented folks at WDAS and its previous incarnations for making all these movies

All the key players in the Disney Renaissance films for helping make my childhood wonderful

Amazon and eBay, for providing a way around the Disney Vault

My parents, whose generous birthday and Christmas presents helped me complete the collection quickly

And you, dear reader, for supporting this labor of love

[1] It’s my least favorite thing about Disney Princess movies, but this is one of my favorite Disney Princess movies. Go figure.

[2] In the movie, Deems Taylor refers to him as “Satan,” but all subsequent material calls him “Chernabog,” so that’s the name I will be using.

[3] Which is historically accurate by the way. Per the introduction it can’t hurt or help the movie. It’s just an FYI.

[4] Pun absolutely intended

[5] Not me though. Again, no movie in the canon has made me cry, though Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, The Princess and the Frog, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6 brought me to the edge of tears.

[6] Stupid waterfall!

[7] That’s the word used in the movie so I will be using it in place of the more correct “Roma/Romani.”

[8] Get it? Victor Hugo wrote the original novel.

Ranking the Disney Animated Canon, Part 5