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(Politics) If Respect Is Mandatory, It’s Not Respect

Politics 150Earlier this week I received this response from a person named Kenny Stiles to my post on why I’m boycotting the NFL this season. Kenny thinks that the league should make all players stand for the National Anthem; not doing so is “the wrong way to protest” and a slap in the face for all military servicepeople. He also advises us to wake up, because this is the USA.

I thought about what Kenny had to say and considered my response carefully. In the end, I was inspired to write this. Thanks for encouraging my muse, dude.

Oh, say can you see,

Hello Kenny, I am a black man, aged 37. I work in tech, and I’ve been married to a wonderful man for nearly nine years. I live in California, but I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD — home of the Colts when I was a kid, and now the two-time Super Bowl Champions, the Baltimore Ravens.

By the dawn’s early light,

This is the city where Freddie Gray died in police custody. None of the six police officers responsible for his care were found guilty of the homicide that the medical examiner ruled as the cause of death. Someone killed him, but it wasn’t any of the six police officers — the only people near him when his life ended.

What so proudly we hailed,

I watched the people in this city — my city — tear it apart because they were angry, grieving, frustrated. Back when the Rams were in St. Louis, they had to deal with the same thing after Trayvon Martin. In Chicago, it was Laquan MacDonald; in New York it was Eric Garner; in Minnesota it was Philando Castile; in Cleveland, it was Tamir Rice, just 12 years old. These are just the names I remember, but there are way too many more.

At the twilight’s last gleaming?

Black folk have been trying to get something done about police brutality for years, but we only started getting attention for it a few years ago. I don’t know if it’s Twitter making it easier for folks to spread the word and get organized, or if it’s the fact that we got black boys and girls being assaulted and killed on tape, but we turned a corner on this. We’re not taking it lying down anymore.

Whose broad stripes and bright stars,

Last season, that protest came to the NFL. Colin Kaepernick started kneeling at the National Anthem during a preseason game and pissed off a ton of people. He also promised to donate a million dollars to charityso far he’s given $700,000 to 24 different places — but nobody talks about that. They talked about ratings going down, and politics not belonging in football, and how Kaep couldn’t get a job this season.

Through the perilous fight,

The owners haven’t said much about it — at least not publicly. Coaches and staff haven’t, either. But they don’t have to; we know what happens to people who don’t stand for the anthem. They get heat. They get told they should shut up and play. They don’t get listened to when they say that people who look like them are dying in the streets because the people supposed to protect us can do what they want and not get in trouble. They get cut for “being a distraction”.

O’er the ramparts we watched,

I’ve heard all kinds of criticism from different corners of the country, people saying that they just want to enjoy the game without politics ruining it. But politics ruin shit for me all the time, including right now. I love this game, and I love my team. I love this city. I even love these United States of America. But this game, this team, this city, this country — I can’t pretend any of ’em have been kind to me, showed me any love back.

Were so gallantly streaming.

It’s not just the police. It’s the way it’s harder for black men to get a job. It’s how black kids don’t get a decent education. It’s how it’s harder for black people to get paid. Or for them to get into leadership positions, even in the NFL. It’s the history of racial inequality and violence in this country in all aspects of our culture.

And the rocket’s red glare,

That history makes it so hard to break out of poverty if you don’t get famous doing something — like rapping, or playing a sport, or being a criminal. When we try to build ourselves up, the USA has a habit of knocking us back down. When we get pushed too far and start pushing back, all of a sudden we’re the ones causing the problem.

The bombs bursting in air,

No matter what we do to protest it isn’t the right way. Non-violent protests are ignored. Disruptive action like blocking traffic just makes people mad. Destroying property gets us called thugs. Taking a knee gets us fired. Going to politicians hasn’t done much for us in a minute — right now Republicans all over the country are doing their damnedest to make it harder or impossible for people of color to vote. Any time our voices are used to call out a problem or lodge dissent, people like you do anything you can to dismiss it, invalidate it, ignore it. It’s clear that this mythical ‘right way to protest’ is actually not protesting at all while bearing all kinds of injustices, just so you wouldn’t have to think about what we’re drawing attention to.

Gave proof through the night,

I want to make sure black children grow up in a country that loves them just as much as I love it, but we’re a long way from that. I want to make sure black men and women get paid fairly for the work they do, that when they see a police officer they doesn’t have to worry about getting shot or beaten. I want my country to admit that it’s been racist for a long, long time and start fixing it.

That our flag was still there.

You say it’s not patriotic to stand for the anthem. You say it’s disrespectful to all the soldiers who died defending my freedom. But isn’t it disrespectful not to say anything when we aren’t living up to the values they died for? Isn’t it disrespectful to pretend that nothing’s wrong, to act like you haven’t been making my whole life political since I was born?

Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave,

This is my country, too. I’m an American same as you. And if you cared about respecting this country you would respect the struggle of my people and the history of that struggle. You wouldn’t suggest that the NFL violate the very First Amendment to the Constitution by forcing its players to stand for a country that doesn’t treat them fairly. You do know what it’s called when an organization — government or otherwise — doesn’t allow its members to dissent, don’t you?

For the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Kenny, you need to wake up. This is the USA. The people who sacrifice their bodies and youth every Sunday so you can watch a game with your buddies deserve better than you. You who think that we should be forced to honor the state above all, especially when it doesn’t live up to its own values. You, who cares so little for the free expression that our military protects that you would dare suggest silencing an entire group of people because you don’t want to know what they care about. Our country deserves better than you.

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2017 in Politics, Pop Culture

 

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(Personal) Crescent Shadows

Myth 150Yesterday a rare event grabbed everyone’s attention — a total solar eclipse. While these happen roughly every 18 months or so, they tend to happen in unpopulated areas or on the open sea. What made the 2017 eclipse so special is the fact that the totality line cut a swath across the United States from Oregon down to South Carolina; twelve states were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the totality in all. The next total solar eclipse to hit the US won’t happen until 2024, and even then only states east of Texas will be in the path of the moon’s shadow. The next coast-to-coast eclipse won’t happen until 2045; the last one before this was 1918 — almost a hundred years ago.

It’s really neat to be swept up in an event that the entire nation can talk about, especially if it has nothing to do with the current political situation. On Twitter, my feed was full of pictures of people marveling at the shadows of the leaves in their backyard, videos of countless viewing events around the country, retweets of breathtaking views that could only come from NASA, high-end equipment, or lucky people in an airplane while it was happening. Quite a few friends were in Oregon and Colorado and Missouri for the sights, and one guy lost his mind when he took perfect shots of the moon blocking the sun, an eerie corona peeking out around the edges. People described yesterday as eerie, beautiful, cool as fuck — for a moment, we were entranced by a celestial event that most of us simply don’t get to see.

It was a really lovely day. Around these parts, my husband and I stepped outside of the burrow to watch the quality of the light change around us. Over the 30 minutes or so it took for the moon to pass over the sun, we felt the temperature drop and a persistent chilly breeze whisper through; we noticed that the birds went largely quiet and still; and that the swaying leaves left rippling, crescent-shaped shadows on the sidewalk. It was eerie, to be honest; it made me think of what it must have been like before we understood what was happening, for random people to notice the shadows changing shape and the animals getting really weird about the weather. If you were in the path of a total eclipse and had no idea what was happening, it would be so easy to think the world was ending or that some supernatural thing was stealing the light from the cosmos.

That made me glad for all of the knowledge we’ve gained over hundreds of years. We now know that this isn’t apocalyptic, or even supernatural — it’s simply a very rare thing that happens only when the conditions are just right. Eclipses are something to be celebrated, marveled at, instead of feared. And around the country almost every American got to take a moment to do that — look up at the sky in wonder, reminded of just how fantastic it is to be alive on this planet with the ability to appreciate the beauty and rarity of what we witnessed. These days, with the myriad problems and divisions we face in our daily lives, we almost never get to come together and feel this way — humbled, happy, appreciative — but we did yesterday.

I think, moving forward, while it’s probably not possible to create this kind of feeling across the nation for everyone, it’d be nice to find smaller ways to call it forth in our communities and personal relationships. There is so much beauty in the world still, and so many wonderful things — it’s just as important to take a moment to stop and appreciate them as it is to fight for their preservation. All too often we focus on the things we’re fighting against that we don’t fully absorb all of the things that we’re fighting FOR.

That’s an essential part of resistance to me — holding on to the things that give us joy and hope, that remind us of what the world could be. I know that I don’t let myself feel that kind of honest, earnest joy nearly as much as I used to because everything is so heavy, all the time, and if you allow your heart to feel light for even a moment it’s like you’re not taking things seriously. But that’s not true. I know what’s at stake; moments like yesterday, that happen all too rarely as it is, disappearing entirely from our world.

I guess that’s all I wanted to say. Just take a minute to remember the things that make you truly happy. Allow yourself to feel joy and ecstasy whenever you can. Encourage that feeling in others. Expressing and spreading happiness is vital, and we tend to overlook that.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2017 in Buddhism, mental-health, Self-Reflection

 

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(Personal) Spit and Vinegar into Clear Water

Buddhism 150I think most Buddhists, if we’re really honest with ourselves deep down, flirt with the daydream of what we’d look like enlightened. I know personally I would love to resemble Budai, the eternally-laughing bodhisattva known for his jovial attitude, wisdom, contentment, and the fact that you can rub his belly for good luck. In my daydream, I would move through the world with a wide smile and ready laugh, meeting everyone in my travels with the same abundant good humor whether they were friend or foe. Of course, these daydreams about my enlightenment are ironically a barrier to my enlightenment. They move me away from who I am in the present — an already-enlightened being too distracted to realize it.

This daydream does something a bit more subtly damaging, too. Instead of accepting the parts of myself that are difficult to absorb I excise them to mold myself in the image of this laughing Buddha. Gone is the brief but intense flash of anger; gone too is the persistent static of anxiety and fear that thrums through my veins. Self-doubt, an easily-overwhelmed brain, impulsive and puzzling behavior — all mysteriously absent. As much as I love the idea that I would be Budai, the truth is I would not be; I would simply be myself, as imperfect as always, but mindful of my imperfections in a way that allowed me to express the Dharma in a truly unique way.

It’s important for me to remember this, especially these days. For a very long time I have built my energy around the hope that if I believed hard enough, I would unlock something within myself that loved everyone without reservation. I wanted to be the embodiment of loving-kindness, of compassion in even the most difficult circumstances. This is a not-so-secret of mine: the most beautiful thing in the world to me is a moment of small grace in a hopeless situation, those automatic gestures that speak to the spark within me, that gives me hope that for most people the basic state of humanity if collaboration and love.

One of the reasons this year has been so rough on me is that this dream of mine is dying and I have no idea what to replace it with. Reconnecting with my family and spending time briefly in Baltimore has shown me what life is like for too many people who have lived their entire lives in a hostile and unforgiving world; any sense of compassion and connection is seen as a weakness, and something even as basic as a smile is not to be trusted. Everyone has an angle, not because they’re selfish, but because it has been ingrained in generations of black Americans that there is absolutely no one who will look out for them; they’re on their own, and the more quickly that’s realized the better able they will be to get theirs and keep it.

Some brothers and sisters in the city are so desperate for connection that they’ll see any attempt to give it freely as an opportunity to tap the well dry. While it’s understandable, given their background and experience, it doesn’t make the reality of it any less unpleasant. I find myself pulling back more and more to protect myself from being drained completely, but at the same time I feel intensely selfish for doing so. I left Baltimore, and over a very long time and through painful effort eventually managed to build a decent life for myself. I have a loving husband and amazing friends. I make decent money. How could I not want to go back to the place I came from and help others to do the same thing?

It makes me feel like a bad person to not be generous. Aren’t people with compassion supposed to be? Isn’t that how you prove loving-kindness?

At the same time, I find it increasingly difficult to be compassionate and loving towards those people who have demonstrated time and again that my life, my rights, and my happiness mean less to them than preserving the status quo or taking a hard look at the inherent problems in our society. When I see someone making excuses for fascists, white nationalists, misogynists, bigots and other anti-social people I am filled with a rage that I have worked hard to manage and redirect towards positive action. But this is happening so often that I’m angry all the time; exasperated that there are so many people who are still silent and equivocating even though it’s so obvious that the current administration is filled with incompetent, criminal racists but that this is the result of decades of cultivating distrust of the government, racially-coded dog whistles, and the persistent preservation of institutionalized inequality. I used to believe that you had to be patient with everyone, for they were fighting a battle you could not see. But now we’re in a place where these people mean to do me real harm; I cannot be patient with someone who doesn’t see a problem with a world that thinks my continued existence is a threat to its survival.

So I am taking an increasingly hard stance on politics. I’m ending long friendships with people that I genuinely liked, because they voted for a man who is damaging the ideals of this country beyond repair. I can no longer tolerate people who have a problem with Colin Kaepernick but no problem whatsoever with police who brutalize and kill people of color without even a trial. I can no longer ignore that these people would rather be blind to the real fear and anger I have about my country than think about how they’ve been implicit in the progression of white supremacy and make deeply uncomfortable changes. I just don’t have it in me any more to give these people any quarter. But does that make me a bad Buddhist? Does that mean I simply can’t achieve boundless compassion for all people, for all times?

I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that it does me no good to judge these feelings as bad, or keep trying to run away from them. They are who I am at this moment, and as such they are as much a part of this enlightened and distracted being as the love and equanimity I feel. I cannot sit with something that I refuse to recognize.

So I have to be honest with myself — and with all of you — about how I feel. I’m angry, all the time. I’m very scared that we will not be able to find a way out of this. Even if we impeach Trump and remove him from office, we still have a major political party that was willing to bring us to the brink of fascism to hold on to power — and that party has rigged the system through gerrymandering and voter suppression to make it easier that they keep themselves in state legislatures, governor’s mansions, and Congress. Even if we make sweeping changes to reset that, we still face the existential threat of climate change — the same issue we’ve been talking about for 50 years without meaningful progress or even complete willingness to make progress. There’s the runaway train of capitalism that replaces compassion with competition and will not stop until it is forced to crash, killing most of the people trapped on board. These problems may not be insurmountable, but they will require coordinated and sustained effort to solve. We are nowhere close to that, and we’re running out of time to get there. In this environment, it’s so easy to despair. I struggle against that every day. It takes more and more effort to try; what’s the point of succeeding in a world that seems determined to destroy itself anyway? Why bother being kind in a world where kindness is weakness to be taken advantage of? Why keep shouting into a void that wants nothing more than to render me invisible?

I don’t know. I really don’t. I’m having a tough time with this. I’m hoping that facing it will help me find a way through.

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2017 in Buddhism, mental-health, Self-Reflection

 

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(Politics) Why I’m Boycotting the NFL

Politics 150Exactly one year ago today, Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem in a silent protest against police brutality and the inadequate response by police departments around the country to the demand for more accountability. The NFL never really forgave him for the controversy it ignited; after opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers at the end of the season, he hasn’t been picked up by another team. While his 55.2 QB rating puts him in the bottom third of starters last season, it’s still better than Ryan Tannenhill (MIA), Cam Newton (CAR) and Eli Manning (NYG), all of whom are still members of their respective teams.

Kaepernick has been looked at by a few teams, and the closest he’s come to being signed is extensive interviewing from the Seattle Seahawks and Baltimore Ravens. Both teams passed, ultimately, and it’s widely believed that owners have effectively blackballed him from the league. These are the same owners who have allowed players who committed domestic abuse, aggravated assault, attempted murder, DUI, animal abuse and a lot more into their league. All kinds of this anti-social and illegal behavior is acceptable, but a legal protest against institutional racism is not.

Meanwhile, the link between playing professional football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been built steadily over a decade — the latest study has found that evidence of CTE was present in 99% of the brains of former NFL players they had access to. While this doesn’t say that *every* professional football player will get CTE from playing the game, it does establish a very clear link between the game and this devastating neuro-degenerative disease.

Did you know that players in the NFL are overwhelmingly black? 70 percent of total players in the league are black, with four positions in particular almost entirely populated by black athletes (cornerback, wide receiver, running back and defensive end all above 80% in 2014). Statistics for the 2012-2013 seasons on concussions reveal that these positions had the highest-reported incidents during that time. Meanwhile, there is not a single black American owner in all of the NFL.

This is a sports league where black bodies are routinely sacrificed for the game. Every week, a mostly white audience (77% of viewers) cheer for a team that is mostly black (70% of players) but owned nearly entirely by white people (only the owner for the Jacksonville Jaguars is a person of color). The average NFL career lasts a little less than three years, during which time a major injury is all but certain; afterwards, they face a life of physical disability, directionlessness, and unpreparedness for life after football. After the fun is over, these players often go broke. The viewership, however, moves on to cheer for the latest body to move the ball down the field without a second thought.

The toll of the game has weighed on me for a while, but the reaction to Kaepernick’s protest both from around the league and among people who have never watched a game put things into perspective for me. The NFL, for all its talk about the good it brings the communities surrounding their teams, doesn’t do right by its players. By extension, it doesn’t do right by the black community. Black people take most of the risk for the least reward — we dominate the injury-prone positions on the field but are nearly absent from the coaching staff, front office and owner’s boxes. The league’s sluggish response to the strong evidence about the damage being done for the sake of the game is bad enough, but blacklisting a player for drawing attention to another facet of this institutionalized racism is inexcusable.

It’s for this reason that I simply cannot participate in the culture of the NFL any more. My silence and engagement make me complicit to the destruction of my brothers playing the game, and I can’t allow that. It’s not right what the league is doing to black athletes, and it’s simply immoral what the owners are doing to Kaepernick for exercising his legal, constitutional right to non-violent protest. I won’t be a part of it.

This is not a judgement on anyone who chooses to watch or attend NFL games, buy NFL products, play fantasy football, or root for their favorite team. We each have our own uncrossable lines, and our reasons for why some things carry more weight than others. However, I invite you to take a long, hard look at the league and ask yourself whether or not it’s something you’re proud of. If it isn’t, what are you going to do about that?

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2017 in Politics, Pop Culture

 

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(List) A Definitive But Thoroughly Subjective Ranking of the Disney Animated Canon, #20 – #1

Disney Animation

Over its 93-year history, Walt Disney Animation Studios has produced 56 feature-length animated films. Its partner, Pixar Animation, has produced another 18 for a grand total of 74; that’s a lot of movies! However, out of all those wonderful films only 20 of them can be the 20 greatest films in all of the Disney/Pixar Animated Canon! Which ones are they? Well, let me tell you!

A couple of caveats first. This is a full ranking of all 74 movies released by Disney and Pixar except for Cars 3 and with the addition of the live-action/animation hybrid Song of the South (not considered part of the Canon officially). Also, this is a totally subjective list; these aren’t actually the greatest Disney and Pixar films of all time — they’re just my favorite. Feel free to register your agreement or disapproval in the comments, or tell me which movies are your personal favorites!

If you’d like to know where all of the other movies landed, no worries; I’ve got you covered! The other 54 films are all here:

Day One: #74 – #57
Day Two: #56 – #38
Day Three: #37 – #21

Now, my favorite 20!

#20. Big Hero 6 (2014)
People seem to have cooled on this movie since its premiere a few years ago, and I could see why in the age of Superhero Fatigue. Still, this tale of a boy and his helper robot is one I love quite a bit; it manages to combine an examination of grief and loss with a straightforward superhero team origin story. Baymax is such a wonderful character, a robot unlike any other in all of Hollywood. The best feature of Big Hero 6, however, is its mash-up setting of San Fransokyo. Seeing distinctly San Franciscan neighborhoods infused with Japanese aesthetic is a delight and perfectly reflects Hiro’s own comfortable Asian-American background. The other members of the team are aching to have their stories told, so it’s a good thing we’ll be getting a follow-up series soon.

#19. Ratatouille (2007)
Wait, this movie is ten years old? Where does the time go! Brad Bird’s second feature for Pixar takes a high concept (a rat who wants to be a chef) and fuses it with another (said rat can control a friendly human by pulling his hair) to create something weird and wonderful. Bird’s consistent themes — of frustrated genius, self-discovery, and a hostile, unapproving world — combine here for a beautiful, funny, and ultimately satisfying film. Remy, the rat at the heart of the film, is a little snobbish but his earnest passion makes him a protagonist to root for.

Up

This bird is too ridiculous for this old man

#18. Up (2009)
The second of Pete Docter’s Pixar films is a true wonder — and not just for the eight-minute prologue that the rest of the story tries to live up to. Carl Fredricksen is that perfect blend of lovable and caustic, and Russell — the Wilderness Scout who stows away with him on his one-way trip — is the perfect companion to get him to come back to the world. Kevin, a giant exotic bird, and Dug, the dim but loyal talking dog, round out the troupe as they get way more adventure than they bargain for. Carl’s quest is as much internal as it is globe-trotting, and seeing him learn to re-engage with a world he left behind is heartwarming.

#17. Moana (2016)
Disney’s latest film also happens to be one of its best. The team of Musker and Clements strike gold again with this story based on Pacific Islander folktales through crisp and beautiful animation, a brilliant heroine, and one of the catchiest soundtracks ever. While the studio continues to balance commercial demands with its desire to serve the cultures it mines for its stories, Moana gets a lot more right than it gets wrong — its spirit of adventure and sense of heart make it a truly excellent movie.

#16. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Pete Docter’s first of three films for Pixar is technically brilliant and emotionally stirring, with a perfect sense of comedic timing and cracking dialogue. John Goodman and Billy Crystal star as Sulley (swoon!) and Mike, an all-star monster team that end up turning their world upside-down just by trying to do the right thing. The climactic chase in and out of the closet doors of children’s rooms leaves me breathless, and that final shot of Sulley reuniting with Boo is enough to bring tears to my eyes. Docter is a master of carefully constructing truly emotional moments.

#15. Finding Nemo (2003)
Finding Nemo had a seven-year run as the highest-grossing animated film of all-time, which is just bonkers to think about; but it’s a truly excellent movie that deserves the wild success it received. Marlin is the ultimate helicopter parent, but his quest to get his son back after Nemo is taken by divers teaches him just how capable he is — and how almost everyone in this big, scary world finds a way to not just survive, but thrive despite their own issues. Technically, the movie is astonishing when you think about where Pixar was just eight years prior in Toy Story. The design of a bewildering array of sea life is impressive in its own right, but the aquatic environments are simply masterful. This movie is beautiful, in just about every sense of the word.

#14. Inside Out (2015)
Pete Docter’s latest film is his best; fourteen years after Monsters, Inc., he constructs a meta exploration of our inner lives, the painful process of growing up, and the difficulty of honoring our most difficult emotions. Amy Poelher is an inspired choice to play Joy, especially as the film gradually leads us to an appreciation of Sadness and how the pursuit of happiness above all else can actually stunt out emotional growth. Still, watching Riley’s personality anchors crumble, one by one, is hard to watch — and the representation of depression as it spreads through the central console is truly terrifying. But it’s all in service to a roller-coaster ride that presents a mature and sympathetic look at just how hard it is to deal with change. Not only entertaining, but elevating as well.

Pinocchio Cricket

Hey Jiminy, nice spats!

#13. Pinocchio (1940)
This is Disney’s best film out of his Golden Age, hands down. The animation pushed the boundaries of what people believed possible at the time, and the scene with Monstro the whale is particularly intense and impressive. I think this also established the time-honored Disney tradition of retooling a fairy tale or story to soften the roughest edges and add touches to make it more commercially palatable. It’s hard to argue with the results here — Pinocchio is strange and sublime, a true masterpiece in the craft of storytelling.

#12. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The first animated film to ever be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, Beauty and the Beast deserves its place as a crown jewel in the Canon. The songs of the Disney Renaissance are some of the best in movie history, and the songs here are some of the best in the Renaissance. What I love most about the movie, obviously, is Beast — he’s one of the most crush-worthy animated characters ever made, but his arc is also a revelation and rehabilitation of the fairy tale. Belle serves more as the catalyst for his internal transformation, a beacon that brings him back to the highest of human ideals, love and compassion. Gaston, the selfish and egotistical brute that he is, highlights how self-love can be just as destructive as self-hatred.

#11. Toy Story 3 (2010)
A perfect cap to the trilogy, Toy Story 3 takes Woody, Buzz and the gang through a kind of death and rebirth. I love how the film never shies away from the difficulty of moving through the end of a relationship but also cautions against letting that loss harden your heart. Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear is underrated as one of the most evil villains ever, in my opinion; I think the comeuppance he got didn’t even go far enough. The scene at the junkyard stopped my heart, and when the gang reaches for each other to accept their fate it gets me every time. The payoff of that scene — fourteen years in the making — is one of the most delightful examples of emotional whiplash ever. It’s just too bad they milked the ending a little too hard; it breaks the spell the rest of the story weaved so well.

lilo-stitch

Ohana.

#10. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
I didn’t realize how many of my favorite movies deal with struggling through loss and tragedy, but here’s another one. Lilo & Stitch is one of the absolute best films about the act of emotional kintsukoroi ever made — the titular pair find each other when they need something to help heal them so badly. Another Disney film that’s quietly revolutionary, Lilo & Stitch features native Hawaiians, a broken home, and emotional trauma without feeling exploitative of any of it. The character design is so distinctive and wonderful, and all of the character and comedic beats land with assured precision. Also, Captain Gantu? Whew. WHEW.

#9. Tangled (2010)
Released the same year as Toy Story 3, Tangled gets buried a bit under the avalanche of Frozen. But it’s so much better than the later film; Rapunzel is an exceptional heroine, her spirit irrepressible under the manipulative thumb of Mother Gothel. Gothel is a terrifying villain, not because of any external power, but because of the precise method of emotional control she uses to keep her ward in check. The romantic journey between Rapunzel and Flynn is expertly crafted, with standout song “I See The Light” bringing the plot and personal arcs together in one sublime moment. Also, I’m not sure I’ve seen another film that makes such tremendous use of each and every side character. Maximus the horse is the best Disney horse, and you can fight me on that.

#8. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Quasimodo is one of my favorite Disney heroes ever: I have a true soft spot for people who remain hopeful and upbeat despite difficult circumstances, and the hunchback is one of the purest souls ever. There are so many scenes in this movie that function like emotional body-blows, from the opening song “The Bells of Notre Dame” to Frollo’s shocking “Hellfire” to Esmerelda’s bitter, plaintive “God Help The Outcasts”. The lyrics to the musical numbers of this film are some of the absolute best, and it might be one of Disney’s most nakedly-political movies ever. I understand how fans of Victor Hugo’s novel might dismiss it, but I think this is the most underrated entry in all of the Disney canon.

#7. The Little Mermaid (1989)
The Little Mermaid has the most killer soundtrack of all the Disney Renaissance films, with that tiny little crab Sebastian doing most of the heavy lifting with “Under The Sea” and “Kiss The Girl”. Still, “Le Poisson” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” are genuine five-star classics, and Ursula is a delightfully fierce villain — modeled after Divine, the muse of John Waters. The music is enough to overlook the truly problematic implications of Ariel’s romantic choices, though an argument could be made that she really gave up her voice to be part of a world she had dreamed about for so long.

#6. The Incredibles (2004)
I’m a sucker for superheroes, and this Brad Bird-directed homage to Golden Age capes is just about pitch-perfect. Imagining a world where litigation actually spelled the end of costumed vigilantism, The Incredibles makes a pretty strong case for the idea of people being far more capable than most would give them credit for. The relationship of the Incredible family is the glue that keeps the story so tight, and Helen is an unsung hero for her quick thinking, incredible patience, and wise counsel to her children in life-threatening circumstances. Honestly, I think she steals the show.

Dory Wilderness

Alone with thoughts

#5. Finding Dory (2016)
A lot of people give Pixar flak for its shifting stance on sequels, but if the animation studio can keep producing follow-ups of this quality I’m all for it. Finding Dory is the rare continuation that not only justifies its own existence but elevates what came before it, reinforcing and deepening the themes of Finding Nemo. This might be one of the most insightful and sensitive stories about disability I’ve ever seen, showing us how much even small gestures of support or criticism can be the difference between someone’s success or failure. Hilarious, uplifting, instructive, and thoughtful — all of things that make a Pixar film so special.

Lion King

Best cast ever.

#4. The Lion King (1994)
There are an awful lot of folks who are sick to death of The Lion King, and I kind of get it. Among furries, it’s been lauded so much that even the most die-hard fans are at risk of burnout. But have you seen it recently? Because it is the best movie to come out of the Renaissance period. The animation is just stunning, the songs are great, and each character is just about perfectly cast. The pacing and tone are almost exactly where it needs to be at any given moment. It really is one of those movies where everything comes together. I almost hate to say it, but The Lion King lives up to the hype. It’s the real deal.

toy story 2

The full set!

#3. Toy Story 2 (1999)
This is Pixar’s best sequel — a film that reinforces and deepens the world it created in its first entry. Woody has to choose between his ego, which will see him shipped off to a museum where he’ll be forever separated from anyone close to him, and the difficult but more rewarding prospect of living amongst the toys in Andy’s room. The choice between alienation and appeasement is an interesting one, and what’s best is that the story makes a compelling case for both of them before making its choice. “When She Loved Me”, though, is forever one of those songs that reduces me to a blubbering mess.

zootopia streets

Can I live here for a minute?

#2. Zootopia (2016)
I know that this is really, really high for a relatively brand-new cartoon, but come ON. Judy Hopps is literally my spirit animal, a little grey rabbit whose enthusiasm for making the world a better place knows no bounds. She makes a perfect partner for the street hustler Nick Wilde, a fox who gave up on the world because the world gave up on him. Zootopia is perhaps the best-realized furry universe ever created, with an astonishing variety of wildlife all doing their best to live together harmoniously. There’s no skirting around how difficult that is; even Judy herself makes a mistake with terrible consequences. But ultimately the film asserts that we must continue to try, and that doing our best is always going to be the right thing to do. The character designs are amazing, the world on the screen is unique and immersive, and the social consciousness of its story is perfectly topical and timeless as well. Zootopia is everything I hoped it would be and that much more. I can’t stop gushing about it, but I’ll have to because…

walle

Beauty everywhere you look

#1. WALL-E (2008)
I know, I’m surprised too. But WALL-E is perhaps the most ambitious and beautiful animated film of all time. The first sequence, which establishes the ruined Earth our robotagonist is tasked with fixing, is haunting, melancholy, and almost wistful in the way it gives WALL-E a powerful longing for the culture that designed him. When EVE arrives and they head off to the generation ship Axiom, the disruption is enough to shake humanity out of its helpless torpor. WALL-E can’t help but change everyone he comes into contact with. His interest and willingness to engage and help triggers a cascade effect and brings people back to more immediate engagement. It is such a beautiful thing to watch; WALL-E is such a pure and earnest character, and the way he helps humanity find its way back to its home is incredibly inspiring. I love it, wholeheartedly, unabashedly. This is my absolute favorite Disney/Pixar film, even though the only other animal in it is a cockroach.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2017 in DisneyFest, Furries, Movies, Reviews

 

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(List) The Definitive But Thoroughly Subjective Ranking of the Disney Animated Canon, #37 – #21

Disney Animation

Walt Disney Animation Studios is a venerable institution that still produces amazing feature-length animated films even to this day. It’s amazing that a movie studio can be so dominant for so long — since their first release in 1937, they’ve been the standard bearer for animation. Along with Pixar Animation, they’ve produced 74 traditionally-animated and CGI films, and since I’ve seen just about every single one (excepting for Cars 3, of course) I thought it would be fun to present a definitive and subjective ranking! Welcome to day three!

The criteria for my ranking is fairly simple; which movie would I rather see? I did that with every release until I had the full list of films from most to least watchable. Chicken Little is at the bottom of the list, but what’s at the top? All will be revealed on Friday! For now, here are the movies that are better than average but still just outside of the top 20.

If you’d like to see which movies are ranked in the bottom half of the Canon, follow these links here:

Day One: #74 – #57
Day Two: #56 – #38

Rescuers DU Jake

Hiiiii Jake ❤

#37. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
This is the only animated Disney film set in Australia, and the entire Canon is poorer for it. Jake is just the bee’s knees, all smooth and confident and action-adventury! He makes a great foil for Bernard, who after years of pining after his sophisticated partner Bianca is ready to make a move. The subplot plays out while they’re rescuing a human child and giant eagle from the clutches of an evil poacher, and it ties together rather nicely. Jake doesn’t even mind losing out on Bianca’s affections! What a champ. The production values and character designs are wonderful, and the animators really make the most of the setting. It’s a shame the film underperformed as badly as it did; I think the Rescuers would make a nifty film or TV series.

#36. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
One of the things that I’ve learned through this project is which names to pay attention to in the director’s credits. John Musker and Ron Clements have been consistently excellent, and that’s no exception here. Based on a book series I’m upset I didn’t know about before, The Great Mouse Detective shrinks a Sherlock Holmes story down to mouse size and gives him an outsized foil in Ratigan, a mouse on steroids who hates being called a rat. The film is more actiony than a typical Holmes caper, but that’s all right. The characters are engaging, and the world of murine London is simply entrancing. The climactic battle within the gears of Big Ben is surprisingly intense, especially considering how young the movie skewed up until then.

#35. The Rescuers (1977)
Even though the sequel has Jake, I have to give the edge to the original recipe Rescuers; the world-building is that much more delightful and the peril it places its human child in is that much darker. Penny is a precocious child who ends up in a terrible situation, and it’s impressive that no punches are pulled to get across the dire nature of her predicament. As great as it was to be down under, there’s something about the understated warmth of this version of the hidden world of mice that I love that much more.

#34. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Disney’s first feature with a black Princess is a solid addition to its Canon, though it has a few story problems that are too persistent to ignore. Tiana’s problem — that she focuses on work too much at the expense of forming the relationships to make it worthwhile — is not the issue; it’s the social forces that push her into thinking that way and how they’re ignored. Still, this love letter to the music and culture of New Orleans is pretty great and Doctor Facilier is such a wonderful villain; Mama Odie makes an excellent foil for him, too. And even though he’s dead-stupid, Ray’s ballad to his Evangeline is unexpectedly sweet.

Headless Horseman

Well this is terrifying

#33. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Disney’s last package film is its best — possibly because it’s less a scattershot of shorts and more two great stories not quite long enough to be feature-length. I’m a die-hard fan of The Wind in the Willows, and while it’s slightly disappointing that Disney chose to focus on Mr. Toad instead of, say, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, the adventure of Toad and his motorcar is really fun. The tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman is a standout though; Ichabod is a character I’ll never get tired of watching as he tries to woo ladies and gets lost in the woods. The animation has such spirit and distinctive personality. It really is a joy to watch.

#32. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
Cruella De Vil is an all-time great villain, but there’s so much more about this movie to love. I’m a sucker for “shadow world” stories, magical realities that exist just inside the peripheries of our own, and Disney has a lot of them around this time in their history. One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a bit darker than I expected, with the puppies all spirited away and forced to hike the English countryside in the dead of winter to make their way back home. But the characters take the edge off with sparkling, lively personalities — the trio of Colonel (a sheepdog), Captain (a horse) and Sergeant Tibbs (a housecat) are great helpers. Overall, it’s a really fun movie whose stakes give it an unexpected weight.

#31. Aladdin (1992)
Credit where its due: the animation, character design, and music of Aladdin is all excellent. Jafar and Iago are a dynamite villainous duo, and Jasmine is actually a really great Princess with agency and a distinctive personality. But man, Robin Williams almost single-handedly tanks this film. Every time some genuine emotion is about to sink in, his Genie comes in and chases it away with anachronistic mania. What’s frustrating is that Genie isn’t a bad character — he works well when he’s acting as Aladdin’s big blue Jiminy Cricket. But I really wish he had been reined in a little more. There’s WAY too much pepper in the soup.

#30. Fantasia (1940)
Walt Disney had high ideas for Fantasia, and it’s a shame they were never realized. I really love the idea of releasing a “concert film” every so often that marries beautiful music with boundary-pushing animation. Most of the vignettes are really enjoyable, with standouts being (of course) “Night on Bald Mountain” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. However, the less said about the rather uncomfortable history of “The Pastoral Symphony”, the better.

Robin and John

Just two bros hanging out in the woods with no pants

#29. Robin Hood (1973)
Ooh de lally, what an enjoyable mess this movie is! The fact that this movie is so low doesn’t mean I don’t love it; like most of you, I grew up fascinated with the vulpine Robin of Loxley and his ursine companion Little John. I even have a special place in my heart for those tiny church mice who help Friar Tuck! But there’s denying the thinness of the story and the shoddy animation; while I love the warmth and imperfection in the lines, there are so many mistakes and obviously cut corners that you can’t help but notice them. This isn’t a good movie, but I love it just the same.

#28. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Fun fact: this is the movie I always bring up when trying to relate what psychological triggers really are. Calhoun is tough-as-nails but emotionally traumatized, and the way her small subplot is handled is a slice of perfection. The rest of the movie is great, too, with countless background gags stuffing a wonderful story about carving out your own self-image when the rest of the world refuses to see you for who you really are. The voice talent is so good, the characters are funny, the setting is inventive, and this might be the first real artistic commentary on video games for a mass audience. This is a gem of a film, and I can’t wait for the sequel.

#27. Dumbo (1941)
Timothy Q. Mouse was one of my first crushes, with his smart little uniform and his willingness to help an orphan elephant in dire straits. Dumbo was made to recover from the failure of Fantasia, made on the cheap but with Disney’s trademark emotional punch. The cruelty of the world almost breaks this little guy again and again, but he’s lifted up with support from the most unlikely places — like a tiny mouse and a troupe of jive-talking crows. It’s a heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful story, the perfect mix of bittersweet. My heart feels full every time I think about it.

#26. Tarzan (1999)
This is the film that marked the end of the Disney Renaissance, and I think people sleep on it a little bit for that. But the action scenes are some of the absolute best in all of the Canon, with Tarzan swinging and surfing through a fully-rendered jungle that’s breathtaking to behold. His position between the world of his youth and the world he “belongs to” drives his personal arc, and it’s something I sympathize with a lot. Jane is awesome as his guide back towards human contact, and the ultimate resolution is great. His triumphant trademark yell feels earned right at the end.

#25. Fantasia 2000 (1999)
Sixty years after the original, Roy Disney tried again to fulfill Walt’s vision. Unfortunately, this one was a commercial failure, too. Still, it’s a creative improvement! “Rhapsody in Blue” alone justifies the existence of the sequence, and “Pomp and Circumstance” (which casts Donald Duck as one of Noah’s helpers aboard the ark) takes it over the top. Disney’s animators used a variety of techniques in various sequences, playing around with computer animation to get a better feel for the tech. There’s only one or two vignettes that don’t quite work, but for the most part this concert film is killer.

#24. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
It’s weird to learn that this film didn’t do very well at the box office, pushing the animation studio away from fairy tale adaptations for 30 years — the next one would be 1989’s The Little Mermaid. But the sheer style of this film is awesome in and of itself; the character design is a mixture of early Disney models and touches of Medieval and Renaissance art, encouraged by the distinctive background art of Eyvind Earle. Maleficent is a gorgeous villain, and it’s hard not to appreciate just how goofy and heroic Prince Phillip is.

#23. Toy Story (1995)
Pixar’s first feature holds up well even after twenty years of technological advancement, and that’s all due to the wonderful characters that were created in Toy Story. Woody and Buzz Lightyear are a mismatched buddy duo for the ages, and Andy’s room is populated with a whole gaggle of iconic and engaging characters. What I appreciate more now that I’m older is just how creepy this movie can be — both intentionally and not — and how Sid’s toys influence the sequels both in theme and design. What’s off-putting initially isn’t necessarily bad; it really is worth getting to know people you might find scary or awful at first sometimes.

#22. Mulan (1998)
I have a confession to make: I’m not that big a fan of Eddie Murphy. He’s done good work, though, and his talents are used well in Mulan. The story itself is based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, and I love that Disney took great pains to serve the culture in which it’s based. There are so many things in this movie that are quietly progressive, and I think that Mulan herself tends to be overlooked as a great role model in the Disney canon. Her motivation is at once dutiful and personal, and the fact that the film takes great pains to show the work involved in her success is something I really appreciate. Also, the romantic subplot — if you can even call it that — is such a slow burn that it only becomes a possibility at the end of the film.

Jim_and_Silver

Almost perfect

#21. Treasure Planet (2002)
I cannot tell you how much I love this movie. The world building is truly special, with its mixture of storybook warmth and sci-fi elements that make it unlike almost anything else I’ve seen. Having an old-school schooner as a spaceship makes for an entrancing visual, and the wide range of aliens — with touches of recognizably animal traits — allows even the background characters to be distinctive and engrossing. But it’s the bond formed between young Jim Hawkins and the cyborg Long John Silver that makes this film so special; the montage of Jim learning how to be a sailor, set to “I’m Still Here” by the Goo Goo Dolls, is one of my favorite sequences ever. So…why is this film so low? B.E.N., the ‘zany’ robot played by Martin Short, single-handedly keeps this film out of the top 20. He is THAT annoying, and there is legitimately no reason for him to be included in the story. He serves no purpose beyond making everything worse. It’s so frustrating, because if it weren’t for him, I’m fairly sure Treasure Planet would have made my top five.

Tomorrow: the top 20 Disney movies of all time! The best film of Disney’s Golden Age! The best film of the Renaissance! The best of Pixar!! And the best films in the Disney Revival era! All leading up to my absolute favorite! Woo!!

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2017 in DisneyFest, Furries, Movies, Reviews

 

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(List) The Definitive But Thoroughly Subjective Ranking of the Disney Animated Canon, #56 – #38

Walt Disney Animation Studios has been the premiere name in feature animation since the release of their very first movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s taken me a little bit, but I’ve now seen every single of the 56 entries in their official Canon along with all but one of Pixar’s animated library (Cars 3 will just have to wait). That brings the grand total to 73 movies — with Song of the South, an unofficial entry, making #74. I thought I’d make a thoroughly subjective ranking of every Disney and Pixar movie ever made, just for kicks!

Disney Animation

The criteria for this list is relatively simple — each movie is ranked based on which movies I would rather watch again before that one. So, for example, I’d rather watch A Bug’s Life (#57) over The Fox and the Hound (#58). I’d much rather watch anything else over the lowest film on the list, the atrocious Chicken Little (#74).

Today we’ll move through the rest of the Canon’s bottom half, where the films get better but still aren’t the shining jewels in Disney’s storied history. Keep in mind that this ranking isn’t meant to be a judgement on quality, even though it kind of is. These are just the movies that didn’t quite grab me as much as the more exciting ones!

56. Home On The Range (2004)
This was meant to be the last traditionally-animated film for Walt Disney at its release — thank goodness for The Princess and The Frog coming along later. Home On The Range isn’t as bad as most people think, though; it has a load of awesome supporting characters, and the big villain song is one of the funniest surprises ever in a Disney film. Roseanne Barr as Maggie almost single-handedly manages to sink the whole affair, though. It’s not her voice acting, really — Maggie is just a dud of a main character. The rest of the movie makes a valiant effort to escape her gravity, but just can’t manage.

Brother Bear

Hooray! So many bears!

55. Brother Bear (2003)
I LOVED this movie when it came out, so much that I saw it probably four or five times in theatres. It ticks off a number of boxes for me — a dude transforms into a bear; there’s shamanic mysticism; and the way the story warns us about the way grief can curdle into anger is a potent emotional punch. Seeing it again after all this time reveals too many of the movie’s flaws, though. The humor is toothless and juvenile in too many places, and the action is a bit too episodic for the narrative to have the weight it should. Still, it’s a gorgeous movie, and changing the aspect ratio and color palette to match Kenai’s new view of the world remains one of my favorite cinematic tricks.

54. Song of the South (1946)
It’s no surprise that this live-action/animation hybrid isn’t really a part of the Disney canon, considering its toxic reputation among even the most die-hard fans. I get it, but I don’t share in that anger — I think that Song of the South was a progressive movie for its day and just aged fairly poorly due to the US’ persistent inability to reconcile its past. Uncle Remus is presented as a good, wise, patient teacher at a time when black Americans didn’t have many positive representations anywhere, and my goodness the Br’er Rabbit cartoons are so much fun. The story used as a framing device for the short cartoons is fairly problematic, and it’s a shame that such great animation is bound up in such a racially-charged package.

53. Hercules (1997)
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (fresh off their triumph in Aladdin), Hercules had all the ingredients of a huge Disney success — an interesting story cribbed from mythology, an engagingly different animation style, top-notch voice talent, and music from Alan Menken. The end result, though, is…just fine. Hercules himself is likable enough, and sidekicks Philoctetes, Megara and Pegasus are all pretty cool. But the story just doesn’t connect for me emotionally, and I’m not a huge mark for Greek mythology. Still, James Woods will go down as an all-time heavyweight villain for his rendition of Hades.

52. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
This is another movie I loved at the time of its release, but have since cooled on. The film was so weird and different from what I had expected in a Disney movie that it was easy to fall in love with it, but once the shock of the new wears off there isn’t that much left. Still, the vocal talent is what really sells this movie — David Spade, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt are pitch-perfect in their respective roles. Fun fact: this film was completely retooled during its production, the first movie since Pinocchio to be so drastically overhauled.

"BRAVE"   (Pictured) MERIDA. ©2012 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

In Scotland, bear claw tears YOU

51. Brave (2012)
There’s no denying that Brave is gorgeous; the mythic Scottish countryside is deeply wonderful to travel through, and the castle of King Fergus is a bit more understated but just as awesome. Merida is a great, sympathetic heroine, and the tension in her mother’s relationship with her frustrating and relatable. Also, it’s another movie with bear transformation! Hooray!! But there are too many elements in the movie that don’t quite make sense, and Merida’s story doesn’t scan with the legend of the demon-bear(!!!) Mordu as much as the movie wants us to think it does. It’s especially frustrating since a Pixar story is expected to be nearly perfect; when it doesn’t ring, it’s really noticeable.

50. Meet The Robinsons (2007)
A lot of people sleep on this movie, mostly because it’s the one right after the disastrous Chicken Little. But Meet The Robinsons is a surprisingly sweet and funny movie that deserves a second look. I’ve got personal stake in it, since the protagonist is an awkward and nerdy orphan, but beyond that it’s got an absolutely killer villain and a few cool plot twists that come off well. Lewis is so earnest and brilliant that you can’t help but root for him, but it’s Bowler Hat Guy who just steals every scene he’s in. Imagine a Snidely Whiplash-type with Jim Carrey’s rubber-band body, and you’re nearly there. Seriously, this movie is a treat — though the titular Robinsons are a bit too “manic pixie” for my tastes.

49. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The first feature-length animated film, so it deserves props for single-handedly creating the genre. Beyond that, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is actually a pretty good film. It’s definitely old-fashioned, but Snow herself created the mold from which all future Disney princesses would spring forth; the Dwarfs are iconic characters in their own right; and the animation and production design are simply brilliant for their attention to detail and ability to create a world with weight and shape. The craft on display is what makes this such an amazing movie, even if the story is understandably a bit thin.

48. Bambi (1942)
It feels weird that Bambi ended up so low on this list; it really is an excellent movie and it’s earned its reputation as one of the first traumatic experiences for generations of children. There’s no way you don’t feel horrified by the death of Bambi’s mother, and Man’s reappearance at the end of the film actually manages to top that intensity with a fire that threatens not only the deer’s life, but the lives of all the forest animals we’ve come to know. It’s really impressive, but the movie between those sequences is quite a bit less so. I’ve gotten less fond of twee characters in my old age, so Thumper and Flower are a bit grating. Still, the character design and animation of these animals is a really neat blend of animal and human characteristics. Great work; I just wish it was in service to a more consistent story.

47. Pocahontas (1995)
This is another film I feel gets a bit more scorn than it deserves. Of course the treatment is problematic, but directors Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg really did try to get it right here — and there are moments where everything clicks. Of course Pocahontas and John Smith learning to understand each other through…listening to their heart…is appallingly stupid, but the rest of their cultural exchange is intriguing and kind of endearing. The whole movie has a theatrical feel to it, especially the song “Savages”, which is exactly the kind of well-meaning but tone-deaf story beat that makes this movie so hard to engage with.

46. The Sword in the Stone (1963)
This slightly-skewed telling of the Arthurian legend — which imagines Arthur as a bumbling young teenager nicknamed Wart — is more a loosely-connected series of adventures than a proper story, but that’s OK. Each adventure is engaging and entertaining, elevated by the easy, prickly rapport between Wart, his mentor Merlin, and Merlin’s “assistant”, the owl Archimedes. Wart is transformed into a bird, fish and squirrel in order to learn important lessons that will help him in being king, but really it’s all an excuse to tell some pretty fun stories. Merlin is an all-time great character who frequently gets overlooked, and his magical battle with the mad witch Mim is just awesome.

Jungle Book Baloo

Same, Mowgli.

45. The Jungle Book (1967)
Who wouldn’t want Baloo as a surrogate father? He’s gigantic and cuddly, and knows where to get all of the best grub! This is a (very) loose adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s story, mostly written by Bill Peet with significant input from Walt himself. The two tugged against each other on the tone of the film, with Peet wanting it to be a lot darker. Walt, of course, won and Peet left the studio over it. Fun fact! I think Disney made the right choice here; the film is out-and-out fun, even with the problems it shares with its episodic source material. The cast of characters is top-notch, and the significant impact it had on Disney’s future design of its anthro cast can’t be understated.

44. Cinderella (1950)
Disney’s first film after its package-film period comes across like a mission statement: we can still do feature-length films as well as we always have, and there’s something new we can bring to the table. The animation of Cinderella is simply gorgeous — crisp and smooth, with little flourishes that draw attention to the painstaking detail the artists placed in every scene. Cinderella herself is a classic Disney princess but with more agency than most, and her wicked stepmother is a wonderful villain. The mice and birds who are Relly’s only friends are adorable but have legit personality behind them, too, and the music is seriously underrated. This is an overlooked gem in the Canon; if you haven’t seen it in a while, treat yourself.

43. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
This is a charming love story about a pair of mismatched canines who form an unlikely affair. Everyone remembers the back alley plate of spaghetti that Lady and Tramp share, but the chase scene — where a couple of Tramp’s friends try to break him out of a dog catcher’s wagon — is surprisingly great action. Sudden racism (an unfortunate staple of Disney films in the 1950s) rears its ugly head again, this time in the form of two Siamese “twin” cats who sing a really gross song. Despite that blip, this is a fun — if slight — movie.

42. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
This is technically another package film made up of three previously-released featurettes and one new sequence that brings the movie to a close. There’s not a bad apple in the entire bunch, though, and the songs are absolutely delightful. “I’m Just a Little Black Rain Cloud” is my absolute favorite, and I break down into helpless giggles every time I hear it. This is how American audiences were introduced to the works of A.A. Milne, and the love that Disney and his animators had for Pooh and the gang are evident in every frame.

41. Oliver and Company (1988)
Oliver and Company wasn’t well-received at release, and it was subsequently buried as the last film of Disney’s “Dark Age” before The Little Mermaid ushered in the Renaissance. But I think it’s a lot better than people give it credit for. After a string of more subdued, risk-taking failures, Oliver’s aggressively-modern swagger stamped the template for the studio’s attitude carrying it through its next decade. The cast — with the exception of a baby Joey Lawrence (!) as little orphan Oliver — is populated with native New Yorkers, including a game Billy Joel as Dodger. The music really kicks, too. “Why Should I Worry?” might just get you crushing on a street mutt.

40. Bolt (2008)
The 2000s weren’t a good time for the studio. They put out some pretty good movies that nonetheless bombed critically and commercially for various reasons, and it took them a while to find their way back. Originally Chris Sanders’ (Lilo & Stitch) follow-up project, called American Dog, story problems found him removed from the film (and ultimately the studio) with Chris Williams and Byron Howard taking over. The restructuring worked; Bolt was a surprisingly good film with great performances from John Travolta, Susie Essman and Mark Walton as dog, cat, and over-excited hamster, respectively. The bond they form over the course of their adventure is well-done, organic, and touching. And Bolt himself is one of the cutest animated dogs in a while.

MU Logo

Theory + practice = scary good teamwork.

39. Monsters University (2013)
Another movie that gets more flak than it deserves, Monsters University is actually a really solid follow-up to 2001’s Monsters, Inc. The prequel explores how Mike and Sulley met at the titular institution, starting as enemies before becoming colleagues and eventually friends. The first and third acts are magical, but the middle of the film — primarily concerned with the Scare Games and the pair’s rivalry — kind of drags. Still, what I love about the story is how it demonstrates the winding, unexpected path success often takes, and how the failures we endure along the way teach us the things we need to finally get it right.

38. Frozen (2013)
I’m not sure this will be a popular place for Disney’s latest blockbuster feature, but I just can’t get THAT excited about it. The animation is gorgeous, the songs are neat, and the chemistry among the cast is undeniable — but Frozen just tries so damn hard to be a big huge deal and it’s kind of off-putting. Olaf hits a number of false notes, and there are a few sequences that feel like they were put there just to justify a song that no one wanted to cut. Still, the really nice inversion of our expectations surrounding true love is welcome, and Elsa’s struggle to deal with power she can barely understand or control is a great metaphor for our own emotions and the damage we can deal with them without even trying.

Tomorrow: the only Disney film set in Australia, their best package film, and the depths of my furry trashness becomes evident!

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2017 in DisneyFest, Furries, Movies, Reviews

 

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