Questioning Everything Disney Little To Much

Archive for August, 2018

18 Disney Movies That Were Never Made

In an alternate universe, instead of being utterly obsessed with Tangled and The Jungle Book, my daughter would be repeatedly watching Louis the Bear and Reynard. Here are the stories behind those two movies and 16 more that didn’t quite make the cut.

If some of them sound intriguing, well, there’s still hope. Other Disney projects that were eventually pulled out of development hell include Wreck-It Ralph (originally Joe Jump) and Frozen, an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.

1. Louis the Bear

For those of us who adored Louis Prima’s role as King Louie in The Jungle Book, here’s something to be sad about: Disney had a whole film planned that would feature Prima’s distinctive voice. Louis would have provided the voice of a bear (pictured above) who escaped from a zoo, aided by a couple of mice. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the concept was later turned into The Rescuers in the years after Walt Disney died and Prima was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

2. Army Ants

In 1988, Disney was considering a movie called Army Ants, the tale of a pacifist worker ant stuck in a militarized colony.

3. Toots and the Upside Down House

Henry Selick directed James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas, so you can see why he’d be interested in directing a stop-motion picture based on the Carol Hughes book Toots and the Upside Down House. Steven Soderbergh would provide the script. Then-Disney-owned Miramax ended up pulling the plug early on in the project.

4. Chanticleer

Based on a tale by Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac, Chanticleer was to be a barnyard tale about how a rooster with a strange name thought his crow caused the sun to rise. Fans of Rock-A-Doodle (you’re out there, right?) recognize this as part of the 1991 movie directed by Don Bluth, who not-so-coincidentally was working for Disney at the time one of the Chanticleer revivals was being discussed.

5. Reynard

There is, perhaps unknown to many of us, an old folk tale about a rascally fox named Reynard. Walt Disney considered making a movie about Reynard since at least 1937, but never could quite come to the terms with the fox’s ugly deeds. Unlike other harmless Disney scoundrels, the victims of Reynard’s pranks often perished. It was more than a little off-brand for Disney, but he kept trying to figure out how to make it work for nearly 40 years. At one point, they even considered merging the tales of Chanticleer and Reynard into one movie. Eventually, the sly fox was used as the inspiration for the title character in Robin Hood.

6. Where the Wild Things Are

In 1983, John Lasseter directed a 30-second film test of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, which Disney then owned the rights to. Universal acquired the rights in 2001, but you can still see part of the John Lasseter test and imagine what could have been:

7. Sonja Henie Fantasy

This proposal was possibly intended to be a short, part of a longer film with many little moving parts to it. The concept got far enough that the Olympic champ-turned-actress was featured in some early drawings with a polar bear. Though the movie was never made, an animated Sonja did make an appearance in a 1939 Disney short called “The Autograph Hound” (see 4:25):

8. Uncle Stiltskin

Remember the cartoon Teacher’s Pet? The husband and wife team behind it, Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, sold Uncle Stiltskin to Disney back in 2003. In it, Uncle Stiltskin tries to get a child by spinning straw into gold. It doesn’t work, and he ends up getting a feral orphan girl who was raised by wolves instead. (You can’t make this up, people.) It was in the works around the same time as The Princess and the Frog and Tangled, so what happened to it is anyone’s guess.

9. Newt

 

In 2008, Disney/Pixar publicly announced Newt, a film about “what happens when the last remaining male and female blue-footed newts on the planet are forced together by science to save the species.” The reason it was abruptly canceled, it would seem, is that Rio—a tale about the last remaining blue Spix Macaws on the planet who are forced together to save the species—was scheduled for release around the same time.

10. Fraidy Cat

“In Fraidy Cat, a chubby housecat with frayed nerves is torn off his comfy couch and dropped smack dab in the middle of a Hitchcockian thriller when he is accused to a crime he didn’t commit,” Disney promotional materials once said. Yeah, I’d watch that. And the general consensus from inside the company is that the movie looked pretty good. Word has it that company execs lost confidence in the project, unsure that it would be commercially appealing. Longtime Disney animators Ron Clements and John Musker actually left the company over the demise of Fraidy Cat, but returned six months later.

11. My Peoples/A Few Good Ghosts

This intriguing story was about a ghost and three kids who bring a pair of star-crossed lovers together. The ghost characters later changed to a team of folk art characters—and as odd as it sounds, I think it would have been kind of awesome. There was a folk art Abe Lincoln made out of an old scrub brush with spoons for ears. Hal Holbrook was signed to provide Lincoln’s voice. Angel, whose voice would be provided by Dolly Parton, was a discarded flour scoop. And Ms. Spinster, to be voiced by Lily Tomlin, had a head made from someone’s old wooden foot. After some change in management and a lot of change to the script, My Peoples got the axe in favor of Chicken Little in November 2003. Worst. Decision. Ever.

12. Yellow Submarine

Look, I love Disney, but I’m also a big Beatles fan, and I find a remake of Yellow Submarine to be completely and utterly unnecessary. I’m therefore thankful that the plug got pulled on the Robert Zemeckis remake of the animated film. We have the colossal failure of Mars Needs Moms to thank for that one—when that movie flopped, eyebrows were raised about budget concerns, and the Sub was sunk.

13. The Gremlins

 

Not the version with Gizmo and Co., but a version based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. Back in the early 1940s, Disney had at least two screenplays written for this project before it was ultimately dropped. What did survive was a promotional book that would have tied in with the movie. Original copies of these—there are fewer than 5000 of them—fetch up to $300 on secondary markets.

14. Musicana

Intended to be a more worldly follow-up to Fantasia, Musicana would have included a mix of jazz, classical music, myths and modern art. Imagine a battle between an Ice God and a Sun Goddess and Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in frog format. It’s said that Musicana was canned so that more money and effort could be funneled to Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

15. The Prince and the Pig

Would you have watched a movie about a little boy and his pet pig and the trials and tribulations they encountered on their journey to … steal the moon?! Disney thought you would, way back in 2003. And then they thought you wouldn’t, so after paying author Rian Johnson a reported sum in the mid-six figures, they scrapped The Prince and the Pig.

16. Hiawatha

You might remember the Silly Symphony “Little Hiawatha,” based on the Longfellow poem. Disney wanted to make a full-length film about adult Hiawatha, with more of an impressionistic feel to it. The closest it got to being made was in the mid-1940s, when concept art was produced and highly praised by the powers that be. They later decided that the movie would end up being another Fantasia—too “highbrow” to be appealing to mass audiences—and stopped production on Hiawatha in 1949 so they could focus on Cinderella and Peter Pan instead.

17. Don Quixote

Back in 1940, the studio was thinking hard about making an artistic version—think Fantasia—of the Cervantes classic. It got pushed back until 1946, when it was briefly revived again as a short that would be part of a larger project. That didn’t work out either, but the Quixote quandary was brought up one more time in 1951. The solution this time was to produce the movie with very simple, flat animation. No dice. But fear not, Cervantes fans (or maybe you should fear): It was just announced in December that Johnny Depp will be producing a modern re-imagining of the tale for Disney.

18. The Rainbow Road to Oz

Though Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful came out earlier this year, they’ve been trying to seal that deal since the 1930s. Prior to the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney tried to acquire the rights to several children’s literature titles. Sometimes he was successful—Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan—and, sometimes, as in the case of The Wizard of Oz, he was not. MGM ended up buying the rights in 1937 for $75,000. After Baum’s widow died in 1953, Disney was able to purchase the rights to 11 of the 14 other books in the Oz series, however. A live-action movie was planned, featuring Annette Funicello as Princess Ozma and the rest of the Mouseketeers in supporting roles. They even went so far as to preview The Rainbow Road to Oz on TV:

We don’t officially know why the project stalled out, but the speculation is that Disney simply found himself preoccupied with Disneyland projects and the upcoming release of Sleeping Beauty.


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Fan Art Tuesday


We Ranked the Animated Shorts That Define Disney’s Success

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Fan Art Tuesday

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The Worst of The Worst: The Top Five Worst Disney Films

*Disclaimer* This article is just my personal opinion. Don’t get offended. Next week you’ll likely have something to say about my favorite movies.



5. Bambi

Beautifully drawn and I love how the score is the sound effects creating rain and fire so effectively. Great voice work but the story is meandering and is basically a year in the life of a baby deer. Not enough to grip me although the death of Bambi’s Mom is traumatic, we haven’t gotten to know her very well and she is quickly replaced by a bland Faline. The movie was depressing and at the same time boring.

4. Pinocchio

I know some will be shocked to have this so low on the list but it is so grim and sad with no sense of retribution or punishment for the wrong doers. I guess the kids just stay as donkeys? Some of the story and design choices don’t make a lot of sense but as a morality play on film it works well and Pinocchio and Geppetto are both likable and the music is classic especially “When You Wish Upon a Star”.

3. Robin Hood

Great dry wit and folksy music save this recycled animation cash grab.  Has some fun action sequences.  It goes on for one act too many and becomes a little repetitive. Great villain.

2. The Great Mouse Detective-

Disney take on Sherlock Holmes. Ratigan is hilarious villain with a over-the-top scheme to take over England. Basil and Dawson are fairly well done. The kidnapping scene at the beginning is pretty scary for young kids and the bat in the toy shop is a scary sequence. The saloon song I could do without.

*Note: I love Sherlock Holmes, but this still ranks low for me.

1. Snow White and The Seven Dwarves

This was the first of Walt Disney’s animation films, and was the first of the Disney Princess Royal Court. It was the pride of the day, and was a technical marvel. But unfortunately, even considering that. This is one of my least favorite Walt Disney movies. I appreciate it for its legacy, but the movie fails to entertain me in the slightest. Animation is beautiful especially in scenes like the transformation of the queen and the haunted forest.  But the character of Snow White is beyond bland, and doesn’t hold my interest. Not a huge fan of the voice work and especially the high pitched singing.  Great villain who isn’t satisfied unless she is the best at everything. And, what’s that Princes name again?

*Note: The Princes Name is either Florian or Ferdinand FYI. I’ve heard and read those two different names. But most call him “Prince Charming” (though this is actually Cinderella’s Princes name…So original Disney) or “Snow White’s Prince”. Though according to some, as I stated in one of my earlier articles, he should really be called something along the lines of “Death” “Grimm Reaper” or “Man Who rides the Pale Horse”.


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Fan Art Tuesday

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The Top 15 Disney Villains Ranked From Bad to Worst

There are so many terrifying Disney villains, and so many of them are women (and mothers at that!) that it was difficult for me to decide which one was worse than the next. So I compiled a list of 20 Disney villains and asked my 7-year-old daughter who she thought was scariest. Together we ranked the top 15 Disney villains for you from just plain awful to downright evil.

Now here they are, the most horrible characters from the best Disney animated movies:

The Top 15 Disney Villains… ranked from bad to worst are…

  • 15. Every Supporting Character from Alice in Wonderland
    The entire movie is like a bad acid trip. Yeah, the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar will give you the willies, the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter are bonkers and the Queen is just obnoxious and cray, but what about the flowers? Remember the bullying flowers? I just can’t with this movie. The bread and butterflies? Stop.
  • 14. Shan Yu and the Huns from Mulan
    As the “Wikedpedia” puts it, “Shan Yu is among the most ruthless, and merciless villains ever seen in the Disney universe. He proves that it is not below him to kill his enemies in cold blood to prove his strength.” Plus he commands a massive army of giants, so yeah.
  • 13. Captain Hook from Peter Pan
    Hook is definitely one of the best known villains in Disney lore, but he’s certainly not the scariest. Ooh, you’ve got a hook, wow, I’m so scared. I CAN FLY, dude.
  • 12. Man/The Hunter from Bambi
    HE KILLED BAMBI’S MOTHER OMGGGGGGG STOP I CAN’T STOP CRYING AHHHHHHH (seriously I watched two seconds of this clip yesterday and was bawling!).
  • 11. The Ringmaster from Dumbo
    According to the Disney Wiki, “The Ringmaster’s not really considered a villain; he’s just a rather strict and arrogant man. The true “villains” of the film could arguably be the female elephants who disown Dumbo and his mother.” However, The Ringmaster is the one who orders Dumbo’s mother to be separated from her son, which results in the SADDEST SONG EVER, “Baby Mine.” OMG don’t even click, you know you can’t handle it……
  • 10. Gaston from Beauty and the Beast
    Gaston is a male narcissist in love with his own sense of virility and obsessed with his desire to conquest Belle, which makes him unique in the world of Disney animated films. We know he’s a jerk because he’s willing to lock Belle’s father up in an asylum, but his truly villainous side doesn’t appear until the rousing anthem “Kill the Beast.”
  • 9. Lady Tremaine from Cinderella
    Better known as Cinderella’s step-mother, Lady Tremaine “doesn’t harm her stepdaughter physically, but seeks to destroy her psychologically, motivated by jealousy of Cinderella’s beauty, as it serves to accentuate the greediness and awkwardness of the stepmother’s own daughters, Anastasia and Drizella. Lady Tremaine is also a socialite, determined to gain higher status by marrying one of her daughters to Prince Charming or some bachelor of noble state,” as noted on the Disney Wiki.
  • 8. The English from Pocahontas and Tarzan
    Governor Ratcliffe wants to kill the natives in Pocahontas in order to steal the gold he thinks they have. In Tarzan, Clayton kills Tarzan’s gorilla father and tries to kill Tarzan. Those crazy colonizers!
  • 7. Cruella De Vil from One Hundred and One Dalmations
    What’s that saying? I’d rather go naked than skin puppies for their fur?
  • 6. Scar from The Lion King
    I mean, Uncle Scar is just the worst and errybody knows it. He’s the kind of cowardly villain who has his minions do most of the dirty work for him, which makes him half-scary/half-pathetic. His song, “Be Prepared,” is fraught with tension, though, and this scene where he’s trying to kill Simba at the end is a real nail-biter. Jeremy Irons’ voice – shudder!
  • 5. Ursula from The Little Mermaid
    She’s awful, yes, and her song “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is creepy and heartless, but there’s something a little bit lovable about Ursula, too, isn’t there? I don’t know if it’s the way she just goes for it with the red lipstick, white hair and wild gown even though she’s a big girl, or if it’s because she’s so darn clever, but somehow we all get how a funny fat girl could turn mean, no?
  • 4. Queen Grimhilde from Snow White
    A little trivia for you, according to Wikipedia: “The Queen is the villain in the 1937 Disney animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This version of the Queen was often referred to as Queen Grimhilde in Disney publications of the 1930s, and was voiced by Lucille La Verne.” Yeah, her shriveled old lady self is terrifying, but let’s not forget that her beautiful, narcissistic self wanted Snow White’s heart in a box. Gulp.
  • 3. Mother Gothel from Tangled
    Anyone who grew up with a crazy/overbearing/manipulative mother knows exactly why Gothel is so scary. Way too realistic, Disney! I had to watch Tangled with my therapist.
  • 2. Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog
    Dr. Facilier’s big voodoo number in The Princess and the Frog is one of the scariest and most intense scenes in the entire Disney canon. Don’t believe me? Click here to watch “Friends on the Other Side,” when Facilier transforms Prince Naveen into a frog.
  • 1. Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
    There is probably no single more frightening scene in a Disney movie than when the evil Maleficent turns into a fire-breathing dragon at the end of Sleeping Beauty and tries to destroy Prince Phillip. (Unless you’re willing to count the transformation of Maleficent’s live-action counterpart Queen Narissa into a dragon at the end of Enchanted.) Overall, though, Maleficient is still the most evil Disney villain, because who puts a death curse on a baby, y’all? The most evil person you can imagine, that’s who!

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Fan Art Tuesday

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Ranking: The Disney Renaissance From Best to Worst

Animated mermaids, lion cubs, and a bell ringer with chronic back problems

On November 17, 1989, 25 years ago today, Walt Disney Pictures’ The Little Mermaid premiered in movie theatres across America, swimming into our hearts and kicking off what is now known as the Disney Renaissance.

After the colossal disappointment of the 1985 feature The Black Cauldron and slightly more profitable efforts like 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective and 1988’s Oliver & Company still getting pummeled at the box office by former Disney animator Don Bluth’s An American Tail and The Land Before Time, respectively, the House of Mouse was in dire need of a transformation. Pivoting back to the music-driven, ornately drawn fairy tales of the studio’s heyday, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, then-CEO Michael Eisner hired lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, known for working together on the successful Off-Broadway production Little Shop of Horrors, to write the songs for an ambitious new film: an animated adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid.

Thankfully, the result was a critical and commercial success, garnering a higher weekend gross than Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven, which opened the same weekend, and eventually breaking The Land Before Time’s record of highest-grossing animated film. The Little Mermaid also won two Academy Awards, for Best Original Score and for Best Original Song (“Under the Sea”), and breathed new life into what had hitherto been a fading empire. After struggling through a string of commercial flops from the early-’70s to the mid-’80s, the Walt Disney Company was finally back on top, with 1989 marking the dawn of the studio’s new golden era.

Disney would go on to release one animated musical a year for the next decade, resulting in 10 motion pictures that are widely recognized as the Disney Renaissance oeuvre. So, get ready for some prime millennial nostalgia as we rank each of the outings from meh to magnificent, and let us know in the comments section which films you still love, which ones you can’t stand, and which VHS tapes you broke from rewinding and playing over and over.

 

10. Pocahontas (1995)

If you prefer your history whitewashed, then you probably won’t be too offended by Pocahontas, the weakest and most vapid entry in the Renaissance Ten. As the first animated Disney film to be based on a historical figure, one would expect our main character, even with the rest of her story bastardized and kid-proofed to death with cuddly animal sidekicks (Meeko the Raccoon and Percy the Pug) and a talking willow tree (Linda Hunt), to be at least somewhat interesting. But no, she and her equally boring lover, John Smith, voiced by famed anti-Semite Mel Gibson, are the Barbie and Ken of the New World, with not much to offer besides dramatic poses and platitudes.

Iconic Disney Moment: Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue-corn moon, or asked the grinning bobcat why he grins? Perhaps you should try jumping off a cliff and letting the colors of the wind carry you down; that looks fun.

 

9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Taking a nearly 500-page novel by Victor Hugo and turning it into a 91-minute, animated extravaganza suitable for children is risky, to be sure. But the main problem with Disney’s version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not in its reach for the dramatic — on the contrary, the grand leaps into gothic spectacle and pathos are the films high points — but in its yielding to the requisite tomfoolery, like the gargoyles dancing and singing (for the kids!), that creates several jarring shifts in tone. Perhaps the studio was reticent to go too dark, considering how The Black Cauldron turned out. But when the villain, Claude Frollo (Tony Jay), is the most electrifying screen presence, and Esmeralda (Demi Moore) and Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline) barely register, well, that presents quite a conundrum. Perhaps if the sidekicks had been less hackneyed and if Quasimodo had been performed with more gusto (Tom Hulce’s voiceover is adequate, but ultimately forgettable), then Hunchback, which isn’t all that bad in retrospect, might have left a more lasting impression.

Iconic Disney Moment: That’s easy: Frollo singing to the shadow of Esmeralda’s naked, dancing body as it erupts into flames. “Destroy Esmeralda, and let her taste the fires of hell, or else let her be mine and mine alone!” he wails, torn apart by the horror of his forbidden lust. Um, holy shit.

 

8. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

And so it began. Thirteen years after the release of The Rescuers, Disney dipped its toes into the sequel pool for the first time with The Rescuers Down Under, another of the earliest entries in the Renaissance era. As a film, it’s an exciting enough adventure flick and one which offers Disney’s characteristic sense of genuine danger, even in a film about cute, anthropological animals who govern their own animal rescue squadron (the Rescue Aid Society). Like The Rescuers, which was primarily built around an anonymous plea for help by a kidnapped orphan, Down Under sees Bernard (Bob Newhart) and Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor, in her final film role) attempting to save Cody, a young boy unwittingly captured and very nearly fed to crocodiles by a maniacal big-game hunter in search of a golden eagle. Down Under is far from the most memorable Disney movie, but it’s absolutely noteworthy for one reason: not only was it Disney’s first sequel but also its first foray into the hybridized hand-drawn/computer-generated animation that would characterize the studio’s next and best phase.

Iconic Disney Moment: The point at which Bernard saves Cody from the aforementioned crocodile trap by furiously riding in on a razorback pig he tamed with an animal-whispering technique. It’s quintessential Disney: beautifully animated, exciting, and with just a dash of reckless child endangerment.

 

7. Tarzan (1999)

For a time, Tarzan was Disney’s most expensive animated production ever. And despite its budget being trumped within a few years by the underrated but still notorious flop Treasure Planet, Tarzan still stands as one of Disney’s most lushly animated, visually memorable films. It’s also a moving one, as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ characters are brought to life in a film that at once pays homage to Burroughs and stages its own powerful arguments about the modern world, about man’s violation of nature and its propensity to act in ways more savage than the animals it forever hopes to tame. It’s the chronicle of Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn), who’s torn between his loyalty to his given family of apes and Jane (Minnie Driver), the gentle scientist who offers Tarzan the opportunity to live among his own kind. While it’s an often simplistic film, and hardly strays from the long-established Tarzan stories of yore, it occasionally offers some surprisingly complex lessons about loyalty and what it is that defines a family, and even briefly returned Phil Collins to top 40 prominence. The renaissance more or less ended here, but it’s an impressive way to go out.

Iconic Disney Moment: Tarzan’s introductory journey, as he pursues game through a thicket of trees by flying effortlessly between them. It’s a truly breathtaking sequence that stands among Disney’s best individual scenes.

 

6. Hercules (1997)

Greek mythology seems like a perfect springboard for a Disney movie, given the amount of them that trade on the basic iconographies of the mythic. But what’s most pleasantly surprising about Hercules isn’t necessary its retelling of Herc’s trials, an aspect of Greek lore that had been done to death for years before Disney ever took aim at it, or even the music, which doesn’t linger well after viewing in the same way as some of the soundtrack cuts from other films on our list. (Well, the refrain of “Herc-u-les” notwithstanding.) It’s how surprisingly quick and fun the film is. Bolstered by a score of studio-best voice performances, from James Woods’ perfectly jaded and sarcastic Hades to Susan Egan’s seen-it-all Megara, Hercules makes up for whatever it may be lacking in the iconic, universal appeal of Disney’s best films of this period with sheer entertainment value. Whether it’s Danny DeVito cracking wise as Hercules’ trainer Phil or Hades callously informing Hercules of Meg’s mortality with a smirk and a couple one-liners, Hercules is Disney animation at its fleet-footed, oddly comical, darkly tinged best.

Iconic Disney Moment: Hercules conquering the Hydra, only after removing several of its heads and trapping it in a landslide. Woods’ running commentary and DeVito’s screaming panic give the scene a perfectly pitched, off-kilter tone.

 

5. The Little Mermaid (1989)

If you’re wondering why The Little Mermaid is placed in the middle of our list, and not closer to the top, the truth is that the story doesn’t hold up as well as it should. Sure, the very best elements retain their magic: the striking animation, the infectious songs, the fabulous villain (“And don’t underestimate the importance of body language!”), the memorable side characters, and the tenacious, likable lead still shine. But the whole girl meets boy, girl gives up her voice to be with boy scenario is harder to swallow as an adult than, say, as an impressionable child dreaming of true love’s first kiss. The biggest problem is that, after literally giving up her voice to be with Prince Eric, Ariel doesn’t change. She gets what she wants in the end and all for a guy she’s known for grand total of three days. King Triton is the only character with a real arc, and, to the movie’s credit, he is the most impressive Disney dad. Also, if you reframe The Little Mermaid as being Triton’s story, of how he learns to love his daughter by letting her go, that makes the film even better in hindsight. Granted, that could just be my inner old person talking.

Iconic Disney Moment: “Part of Your World”. If you are a female-identified child of the ‘90s, chances are good that you have belted this song into your hairbrush or showerhead on more than one occasion.

4. Aladdin (1992)

As animation goes, you can’t get much more fluid or imaginative, at least within the boundaries of the early ‘90s, than what Aladdin had to offer. John Musker and Ron Clements, who already had The Little Mermaid under their belts and would go on to helm Hercules, Treasure Planet, and The Princess and the Frog as well, made use of Disney’s continually growing interest in the potential of computer animation. But never before (and rarely since) had it been used to such stunning effect. From Aladdin’s initial footrace through the streets of Agrabah to the magic carpet ride to the Genie’s cave and right through Jafar reaching his final form late in the film, Aladdin offers one jaw-dropping step forward for animation as a medium after another. That sense of endeavor into the unknown and unconquered, combined with Alan Menken’s bouncing, infectious music, makes for one of Disney’s most lovable and enduring films.

And while it’s easy to come down on the film with respect to most modern metrics (the racially problematic villainy, Jasmine’s relative ineffectuality when compared to most other Disney princesses), Aladdin is still a visual and aural pleasure of substantial caliber. It’s also among Disney’s warmest films, a tale of love and friendship and how one or both of those things can only be truly achieved when you set selfishness aside and look out for those who’ve been good to you. Given the events of the past few months, viewings will never quite be the same again, but in the Genie, Robin Williams left one of his most indelible and timeless characters, and one of the very best in the Disney canon.

Iconic Disney Moment: That flying carpet ride. The maudlin nature of “A Whole New World” has been parodied to death over the years, but it’s still one of the most unabashedly breathtaking and romantic sequences Disney’s ever put together.

 

3. Mulan (1998)

Before Disney’s more recent girl-power epics Brave and Frozen came along, there was Mulan, the story of a woman who disguises herself as a man to defeat the Huns (hwah!). Yes, Mulan is a badass, but she also has nobler aims: to protect her family by taking her elderly father’s place on the battlefield and to prove that she has value above and beyond being married off to the highest bidder. And while the movie gets off to a slow start, the training camp montage is a Renaissance high point, with the budding, gender-bending magnetism between Mulan and her commander, Li Shang, providing some compelling sparks alongside her main focus, which is to find the strength within herself to be brave, follow her heart, and save China.

Plus, most of the main characters, with the obvious exception of Eddie Murphy as the dragon Mushu, are voiced by Asian-American actors. Ming Na-Wen is Mulan’s speaking voice, and Lea Salonga is her singing voice; BD Wong voices Li Shang; Pat Morita is the Emperor of China; George Takei cameos as one of Mulan’s ancestors; and Soon Tek-Oh plays Mulan’s father, Fa Zhou. Okay, Harvey Fierstein also pops up as one of the army dunces, but with such an impressive female lead, enticing story, moving message, and in my opinion, the catchiest song in the Renaissance catalog, “Be a Man”, this one bizarre admission is easily forgivable.

Iconic Disney Moment: “Let’s get down to business / to defeat the Huns!” This song is everything.

 

2. The Lion King (1994)

Yeah, it’s basically Hamlet with lions. But let’s move on from the obvious note, because The Lion King is so much more than a kid-friendly (well, friendly-ish) rendition of Shakespeare. While our top film edges it out by just a hair, The Lion King is the sort of generation-defining masterpiece that Disney does with the best when it’s at its best. Particularly for those who grew up during the film’s salad years, this writer included, it’s hard to start talking about The Lion King without highlighting the power of that stampede sequence and Mufasa’s subsequent death. “Get up, Dad” is not only one of Disney’s most instantly recognizable bits of dialogue, but it was also a bold maneuver. Through that impeccably animated moment, Disney taught a generation of kids about death and mortality and the responsibilities that the living have to the dead they once loved. It’s affecting, troubling stuff even by Disney’s standards.

But this, and the surprisingly bracing showdown that eventually transpires between an adult Simba (Matthew Broderick) and his uncle Scar (a deliciously vampy Jeremy Irons), take The Lion King from a story of a young cub coming of age in a starving kingdom to a transcendent piece of filmmaking, one that treats its ostensibly young audience with a respect and esteem that few family-centric filmmakers typically do. It’s a crash course in moral relativism for kids, offering lessons in forgiveness, redemption, the virtues of Hakuna Matata juxtaposed with the importance of being willing to grow up and take responsibility for the people who depend on you when the time comes. And when Simba tugs on his father’s cheek, begging him to get up, it’s not only heartbreaking, but a reminder that those we love will eventually leave us. Where another film might simply let that tragic life lesson sit on its own, The Lion King is about where Simba goes from there, how it shapes the course of the rest of his life, and how there is indeed life after death, even if it’s not the one you plan on.

That’s to say nothing of the soundtrack, which is one of Disney’s most iconic in a walk. Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” is as touching an approximation of a sex scene as Disney’s ever done, via John’s powerful delivery and no shortage of meaningful glances and feline necking. “Hakuna Matata” taught countless kids the value of taking it easy at a time when the world was becoming more worrisome and high-strung than ever before. And then there’s “Circle of Life”, the background to the film’s classic opening shots of the African savannah and an easy way to teach kids (and their parents) that if death is one of the most inevitable and life-changing parts of the human comedy, the coming of a new life into the world is perhaps the one that most powerfully surpasses it.

Iconic Disney Moment: The entire film is like a gauntlet of one after another, really, but it has to be Mufasa’s death. Not since Bambi’s mother was gunned down had a Disney movie so starkly stared mortality in the face.

 

1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

It makes sense that the top two films on our list, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, also became the two most successful Broadway musicals from Disney’s wheelhouse. Simply put, they are the best; they have the best stories, the best characters, the best settings, and the best songs. But what gives Beauty and the Beast the edge over The Lion King is its groundbreaking importance. While The Little Mermaid was the turning point for Disney’s resurgence and The Lion King a sturdy mid-Renaissance tent pole, Beauty remains the studio’s crown jewel.

First and foremost, it is a truly great film: enthralling, beautiful, dark, humorous, thought-provoking, suspenseful, complex, and grandiose. Belle is a delightfully nerdy heroine who loves to read and doesn’t care what other people think of her. The Beast is also a well-developed and multi-dimensional character, with more emotional complexity in his fingernail than Prince Eric, Hercules, and John Smith combined. And as for the “Stockholm Syndrome” argument, re-watching the film and looking into the finer points all but disproves it. The Beast is angry, yes, because he has been cursed to live in the body of a hideous animal unworthy of love, or so he believes. Of course, he’s not perfect, but he also is the exact opposite of bland, which is more than can be said of many a cookie-cutter Disney prince. The Beast also grows and changes more than any other character of the Renaissance set, in large part because a strong, intelligent, passionate, and independent woman has inspired him to be better.

In the beginning, the Beast yells at Belle and locks her in the castle after allowing her father to go free, but he never lays a hand on her or Maurice, and his bitterness begins to melt fairly early on, as Belle refuses to put up with him until he starts treating her with some respect. He lets his guard down; they take time to get to know each other; he eventually realizes that he can’t force anyone to love him to save himself, and he lets Belle go, resigning himself to misery so that she might find happiness. And, it is important to note, as soon as he says that she can go, she leaves.

When she does return in the film’s climax, it is because Gaston is marching to the castle to kill the Beast, and she realizes that she does love him for who he really is, and he loves her, and she cannot bear to see him sacrifice himself. Although perhaps a bit too on the nose, Belle’s line, “He’s no monster, Gaston, you are!” sums up the prevailing theme quite nicely. It’s what’s on the inside that counts, and while the Beast is ugly on the outside but actually gentle, kind, and thoughtful underneath, Gaston’s evil seeps grotesquely from the inside out, proving that wolves all too often exist in muscle-man clothing. And in the end, the Beast is the one to do a complete 180, realizing that to love is to be completely unselfish, and that only then can his curse be lifted and his love returned.

As the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and perhaps the most critically lauded animated film of the 20th century, Beauty and the Beast is a stunning achievement. The dialogue is well-written, the scenes are gorgeously rendered, and the songs, especially “Belle” and “Be Our Guest”, are sublime. In sum, Beauty is a love story for the ages, “a tale as old as time,” and the ultimate Disney Renaissance classic.

Iconic Disney Moment: Belle and the Beast waltzing to the titular lullaby. Not only is this the most romantic sequence of any Disney animated film, but also, over two decades later, still one of the most visually dazzling and, of course, iconic.