Oh boy it’s a top ten list!
Everyone likes making them, and everyone likes pouring scorn onto them. I gotta get in on that action! ;-)
I didn’t think too hard about my list and my opinion isn’t complete as there are about 8 films I’ve yet to see (although if Oliver & Company is a major omission be sure to let me know!). There are a couple of unofficial entries in there as well just to mix things up. This is all just for a bit of fun – please don’t take it too seriously if I pass on your favourite. I tried to have an even mix between older and more recent films. Declaration of bias towards 2D works!
10- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The original and still one of the best. Snow White was a game-changing film made in a world that didn’t think a feature length animation could hold anyone’s attention. It’s an entertaining fairy tale for all ages, with a scary and melodramatic streak that’s starker than most of Disney’s modern efforts. A classic in the truest sense.
9- The Nightmare Before Christmas
Originally a Touchstone film, but as of 2006 was absorbed and rebranded as a Disney film proper. Nightmare Before Christmas is a wonderful stop-motion animated film. The spooky settings and character designs are great but it is the songs which are the highlight here. It’s a Christmas film that you’d happily watch in July.
8- Sleeping Beauty
For my money Sleeping Beauty was the last classic made during Disney’s lifetime. It is a lesson in good storytelling where plot progression takes precedence over focusing on any individual character, and it absorbs you. Also, bonus points for the amazing backgrounds.
7- The Little Mermaid
Chronologically The Little Mermaid finds itself sat between the tired-looking Oliver & Company and The Rescuers Down Under, and then you start to realise how ground-breaking this film was. A fresher approach to its format and design that essentially laid the groundwork for a generation of quality features. If you look up the ‘Disney Renaissance’, it starts with this one.
Any film that gets me to not rage at Phil Collins songs has to be doing something right. Tarzan has some of the most kinetic action sequences you will see in a Disney film. Brian Blessed’s voice work is the finishing touch.
An indulgence on my part. Most Disney lists will have a favourite from the author’s childhood. This one is mine. Funny, exciting and has excellent songs. You’ve probably all seen this one so I won’t bore you further. Pure entertainment.
4- The Princess and the Frog
It’s a classic fairy tale scenario done with the usual twist, but this time without the expected modern sass or cringe-inducing knowing winks! Preceded by a bunch of so-so films, this film had me thinking ‘oh yeah, Disney is back!’. So of course soon after this Disney stopped making 2D features, so what do I know?
3- The Emperor’s New Groove
Proof that a good script can make use of a flimsy plot. It has appealing and well-developed characters, and is extremely funny. I’ve watched this film too many times that I’ve kind of ruined it for myself. Still highly recommended as it seems to have passed by a lot of people.
A wonderful film that wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s also technically astounding. Next time you watch pay close attention to as many details in the animation as you can. It will feed your creative mind.
In terms of ambition and scope nothing else on this list comes close. Yes there are lapses in certain segments (centaurs and ponies), but terms of its overall execution I don’t see what more Fantasia could have done. Fantasia is serious work that is creatively and technically through the roof, with an attitude towards sound production that changed the history of cinema. Don’t bore your kids with it, wait until they’re a bit older so they can fully enjoy it.
And that’s my list! Please don’t hate me if I missed your favourite. It’s a tricky list to make, and sacrifices had to be made (or I just forgot them).
Honourable mentions.(a.k.a. stuff that almost made it or would be on there any other day):
Victory Through Air Power – A curio from the Second World War that falls outside of Disney’s official numbered films. An engaging insight into some contemporary thoughts from the time.
Wreck-it Ralph – The only Disney CG film I considered to any real extent. It’s original and fun. Why don’t we get more stuff like this?
Saludos Amigos – An animated jam session full of party energy.
Atlantis – It’s a quality adventure film. A little different in tone and feel to other films on this list, and that’s why it’s a good one.
Winnie the Pooh – Currently stands as Disney’s final 2D feature, although Disney’s UK marketing team ignores its status as their 51st film. Made with love, very funny and criminally overlooked.
Dishonourable mentions (a.k.a. stuff people would expect to see in a top ten and why they're not there):
Beauty and the Beast – It’s a very good film, cementing the work that The Little Mermaid started. I chose Aladdin as my token nostalgia entry, and this may very well be the equivalent for many. Omitted due to constraints more than anything else.
Lilo & Stitch – 75% of this film is quite possibly perfect. However the final 20-odd minutes are super-generic and it’s painful and just ugh WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT!?
Lion King – I like a lot of this film. However I find that a lot of the songs are way too happy-go-lucky for the otherwise dark revenge plot. Imagine Macbeth played to ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King’ and maybe you’ll see the kind of thing I mean (I’d still keep Circle of life and Hakuna Matata however).
What would your top ten Disney films be? It might be fun to do more top tens like this so any suggestions would be good.