Here we are, edition number 12. It is crazy to think that I have been running this series for an entire year. I have learnt so much about people’s movie choices and I have loved receiving feedback and responses. This is easily the most fun series I have done on my blog and I cannot wait to continue doing it for many more years to come.
To tie in with the Disney Animation Marathon I am currently running on my blog, it only seemed fitting to pair the Pixar Ultimate Choice I ran earlier with its animation partner and get bloggers, podcasters and movie fans to share their favourite Disney Animation Studio film out of their 58 strong catalogue. Here are what they all chose.
Everything about this particular film is so beautifully done. What helps me connect with the story is the character of Belle, the Disney princess that I still find the most relatable to myself even after nearly 30 years of her existence. All of the characters are well realised here, even if a large majority of them aren’t human. They still have such great personality and expression to them, even if they have to be done using unique designs and voice acting rather than body movement.
What is truly magic here is the music throughout. I am not just talking about the wonderful songs throughout, with the different tones of “The Mob Song”, “Be Our Guest” and “Tale As Old As Time” all have to be weaved together naturally through the narrative, but also the score that accompanies them. Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman did such a wonderful job using the music to bring the story truly to life, and it is sad to know that Ashman never got to know how beloved this music would be to many people.
The Walt Disney Animation Studio has produced many fantastic films, and there are a number of them that you can argue are the best. However, it is fair to say that I think this tale is truly as old as time and will forever remain my favourite in their catalogue.
Although it is referred to as a “tale as old as time”, Disney brings a fresh flair to the classic fairytale by establishing Belle as a smart and strong protagonist. Unlike any of the prior Princesses, Belle is defined by not only her desire for adventure but also her thirst for knowledge and her need to be accepted for more than the gender norms of her time would allow.
Beauty and the Beast also inverts the expectations of a Disney fairytale by re-defining what makes a hero. Gaston represents the stereotype of a typical Disney Prince. He is handsome, charming, strong, and brave with a desire to defend our Princess from a beast. Yet, in this instance, all of these qualities present him as an egotistical villain. Conversely, the Beast is a non-human intimidating figure that is moody and takes our protagonist as hostage. But ultimately, he is a misunderstood character that experiences the most character growth.
As a classic Disney musical, Beauty and the Beast is a homerun! The title song is one of the most beautiful love songs in the Disney catalogue and pairs perfectly with one of the more romantic scenes in animation. Our side characters also shine with stand-out numbers in “Be Our Guest”, “The Mob Song”, and our delightful opening number “Belle”. Meanwhile, “Gaston” represents one of the most iconic and upbeat villain songs.
Beauty and the Beast remains the only animated film to ever receive a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards when only five nominations were awarded. And for good reason. From the stunning art to the compelling characters and story, this romantic fairytale still stands as my favorite Disney film to date!
The use of Animation offers a range of opportunity into uncharted territory hindered only by the majestic animation of its creators. Animation can create a world of wonder and beauty, whether on land, under the sea, or in the skies; Animation can evoke feelings of love, happiness, pleasure, sadness, loss, it isn’t for nothing that Disney has become synonymous with the crafting of many a childhood over the last century. Whether the rush of love as Beast swings his beloved Beauty around him during their eponymous song, the mournful realisation as Bambi calls for his lost mother in the enveloping snow, or just the wonderous feel of singing along to the sound of Elton John as you survey the African plains, there is very few pleasures in life equal to your first viewing of the magical world of Disney Animation.
For me personally, some of my favourite childhood moments consisted of watching Disney films as I spent a day or two staying with my Grandparents, VHS recordings of classics such as The Jungle Book, or The Lion King, or VHS tapes of Aladdin or Beauty And The Beast. However, one of my undoubted favourites, and one I feel perfectly encapsulates that feeling of comfort, sat with my Grandparents, cheesy crumpets and lemonade before me, the waves of nostalgic flashback, is the underrated The Sword in the Stone. A relatively simplistic movie in comparison to some of its successors, the movie focuses on the mentorship of young orphan page ‘Wart’ by powerful magician Merlin, at a time when England is waiting for a new King to be chosen, detailing the coming-of-age of our protagonist through his adventures alongside his new friend and mentor.
The charming chemistry between ‘Wart’ and Merlin helps to compensate for the relatively modest animation, instead focusing on a joyful atmosphere, jazzy little musical inclusions, and an episodic nature that encompasses lessons for our young protagonist. The first lesson would have ‘Wart’ learning the value of brain over brawn, demonstrated by Merlin transforming the two of them into small fish and being hunted by a giant pike (in a genuinely creepy scene), ‘Wart’ having to survive alone when Merlin gets accidentally trapped elsewhere. The second lesson has Merlin and ‘Wart’ transformed into squirrels, this time both individually chased by lovestruck female squirrels, one of whom ends up saving ‘Wart’ from a vicious forest wolf, before the heart-breaking revelation of ‘Wart’ transforming back to human. This would be the first encounter for ‘Wart’ with the power and heartache of falling in love, a lesson that every person has likely experienced.
The third lesson began with Merlin’s speaking pet owl Archimedes trying to teach a transformed sparrow version of ‘Wart’ how to fly but is quickly curtailed by the introduction of the cruel witch Madame Mim. With Mim threatening to destroy ‘Wart’, we get a wonderfully imaginative wizard’s duel between Mim and Merlin, with our antagonist attacking with dangerous predators and Merlin reacting with smaller but more intelligible choices, with Merlin’s victory demonstrating to ‘Wart’ that “knowledge and wisdom is the real power”. These three lessons are subtly portrayed to a younger generation, but have more reverence for the older generations, especially when ‘Wart’ innocently pulls the eponymous Sword from the stone, becoming King Arthur in the process. Whereas most movies would focus on the crowning of Arthur and his adventures, this movie has it almost as an afterthought, a secondary importance to the making of the boy that becomes a King. The story is that of a simple tale of a boy learning lessons in fun, whimsical scenes, a charming rendition of adventures under the sea, on land and in the air, that mean more in retrospect. But at a time when life feels at its most complicated and overwhelming, when many don’t know what the future entrails, sometimes it’s perfect to retreat back to the genuine comfort of a childhood favourite, one where good wins, friendship endures, and a smile is left on the viewer’s face.
The Emperor’s New Groove tells the simple story of a spoiled emperor who is turned into a llama and goes on a journey to return himself to his natural form, which may learn a lesson or two being learned. A briskly paced affair (thanks to extensive cutting during post-production) there is no real subplot here, with a small roster of characters gaining the majority of the screen time. But what it may lack in sweep or scope it makes up for by being one of the funniest animations ever crafted.
Relying heavily on slapstick and a wonderfully quotable script, this is probably the closest we will ever see the House of Mouse embracing the anarchy of the Looney Tunes. And it is all the more enjoyable for this, with the film packed with creatively silly set pieces. Added to this is a collection of characters that have immediately loveable traits and it all comes together for one of the most fun Disney affairs. There are no Shakespearean parallels here, no villains tormented by their own desires, everything feels focused for viewers to have an enjoyable time and leave with a smile on their face.
The voice acting is all exemplary with the iconic John Goodman and Eartha Kitt sharing the screen with David Spade and Wendie Malick. But it is Patrick Warburton who is the film’s MVP. As the dim-witted henchman Kronk, he is a loveable creation, a squirrel-talking, shoulder-angel confiding, sweet-natured hunk. It’s no wonder that the sequel changed its focus to follow Kronk (don’t watch it though, it is entirely avoidable).
Others may pick some of the more expected Disney classics, but the one for me that I will return to time and time again is The Emperor’s New Groove.
Well, to be honest, it isn’t. In fact, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is my 5th favorite Disney movie. There’s The Lion King, followed by Mulan, then there’s Beauty and the Beast, and Pocahontas before it. But I chose The Hunchback of Notre Dame because it so rarely gets talked about as one of Disney’s darkest and most challenging animated films of all time. First off, the movie is adapted from the 1831 novel written by Victor Hugo.
Hugo’s novel does not have the happy ending that Disney movies traditionally offer so it must have been strange for them to choose this particular story for their adaptation. On top of that, even the animated film has to take on some mature themes such as infanticide, genocide, lust, corruption and sin. Not exactly as rosy-cheeked as Mary Poppins.
Quasimodo is our protagonist. The deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame. Forbidden from leaving the church, he’s begun talking to the gargoyles, two of which are named Victor and Hugo, all pun intended. His desperation for wanting to go out into the world boils over at the Feast of Fools festival where they crown the King of the Fools, who has to be one of the ugliest people because everything is “Topsy-Turvy”. It’s all fun and music until the mob begins to assault and berate him. It is Esmerelda who shows him kindness. Naturally, he falls for her.
There are three things I truly love about this movie. First is the music. Disney has never been a slouch when it comes to the songs they put in their films. This was no exception. This soundtrack soars with uplifting anthems and heart-wrenching ballads. Secondly, the villain. Judge Claude Frollo is monstrous. He has to be the darkest and most morally corrupt villain Disney has ever used. His intentions are cruel, his motivations are driven by selfishness and anger, and his justifications are dismissive at best. He truly is a vile character, and yet, if he wasn’t so contemptible, this wouldn’t be as good of a movie. And third, is how the film chooses to criticize traditional faith. In The Gospel According to Disney, “It is the church that interposes or attempts to interpose itself between the villain and his evil intentions.” Frollo’s first (and last) moments of fear happen before the church. It is the only instrument that can pass judgment on him, but the film also criticizes the church as well. How it fails to defend the poor and the powerless. Especially when being led by a corrupt leader. Hugo gave this same criticism in his novel implying that a church with a corrupt leader is ineffective if not full of vice itself.
In the opening song, when it speaks of Frollo, it says, “he saw corruption everywhere except within”.What also amazes me about this film is how much they retain from the original novel. Obviously, the ending is changed and its more hopeful than Hugo’s story. But they played a lot of the themes pretty close when they didn’t have to. It’s a movie geared towards children, surely there was room to deviate. I’m not sure what made the creative team so adamant to remain faithful to the spirit of the novel, but I’m certainly glad they did.
Disney as we know the company now would never make “Fantasia”- it takes far too many chances in terms of tone and content. (The studio has never made a scarier sequence than “A Night on Bald Mountain,” there are ethnic stereotypes that are hard to imagine being done now in the flower dances of “The Nutcracker,” and no way would the nudity in the “Pastoral” make its way into a Disney film.) Coming off of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, it’s hard to imagine what Walt was thinking in the first place. Of course, originally, he intended to make a single short- “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”- that became a full feature of concert works when the expense of having a live, professional orchestra became too overwhelming to limit to a 9-minute short. The result is one of the most challenging, entertaining and visionary films ever made.
The musician and composer in me will always have a soft spot for Fantasia (along with its sequel). Seeing the way they imagine Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D-minor” as a dreamscape of obscure images, and re-imagine “The Nutcracker Suite” as dances of nature. How they turned “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” into an iconic Mickey Mouse story, and “The Rite of Spring” into a bold interpretation of scientific understanding of how life on Earth started (ending with one of the bleakest images in Disney history). Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony is playful- albeit a bit on the long side- as a mythological fantasy, but “Dance of the Hours” more than makes up for it, revving up to a symphony of good and evil in “A Night on Bald Mountain” and “Ave Maria” that leaves us in a state of awe at the power of cinema, and animation, to convey feelings simply, and poetically, just through the combination of images and music.
Moana is a special message to us all to overcome our (mental and physical) boundaries, especially when it comes to save your loved ones.
What did you make of our choices? What film would you have picked out of the catalogue, and are you now planning on watching any of our recommendations? Let me know in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.