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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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(List) The Definitive But Thoroughly Subjective Ranking of the Disney Animated Canon, #74 – #57

Walt Disney Animation Studios is the premiere name in feature animation, and it’s not even close. While DreamWorks gave the House of Mouse a run for its money for a few years, there’s no other animation company that can match Disney’s consistent run of excellence or its longevity. Both Ryan and I are fairly big Disneyheads; some of our all-time favorite films are Disney movies, and being who we are there’s a whole catalogue of furry movies we grew up with. After the AFI Top 100 Films project, we decided that it would be a good idea to go through the entire Disney Animated Canon — from 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to 2016’s Moana. Since they’re pretty much the same company now, we included all 18 movies in the Pixar Animated Canon with the exception of Cars 3, because why would I watch that in theatres?

It took a minute, but the project is done at long last. We’ve seen all 56 official Disney full-length feature films and 17 of 18 Pixar films. Instead of Cars 3, we opted to slot in the controversial live-action/animation hybrid Song of the South to bring the total to 74. In honor of completing the list, I’d like to offer this definitive but highly-subjective ranking of the Disney/Pixar Animated Canon.

Disney Animation

I used a fairly simple criteria to make this list; as with most simple units of measure, this introduces a number of problems. There might be a fairly strong recency bias in this list, where newer movies might be rated significantly higher than objectively better or historically significant older features. That’s fine, it’s my list! I ordered the films by how much I’d rather see one over the other — it’s a straightforward that yielded a surprising set of answers! So, without further ado, here’s the list.

Today we’ll tackle the worst of the worst — my 22 least-favorite Disney films of all time.

74. Chicken Little (2005)
What makes this the worst Disney film ever is the fact that it tries so hard to be something it’s not. In 2005 Disney had its darkest period; the studio decided to move away from traditional animation and play catch-up with CGI, but that’s not the half of it. Chicken Little also tried to copy the self-aware snark that was a hallmark of the rival DreamWorks studio, and it failed miserably. There are small signs of life here — the third-act plot twist is almost bonkers enough to work, but the execution killed its chances utterly. The unforgivable treatment of tomboy Foxy Loxy is what takes this film over the top, though; it strips her agency and perverts her into some kind of feel-good trophy girlfriend for one of Chicken Little’s sidekicks. It pushes the film from merely bad to anger-inducing awfulness.

73. Saludos Amigos (1942)
The first of the six Walt Disney “package films” made in the 1940s, Saludos Amigos also happens to be the weakest. When World War II got into full swing, the animation studio was fine with being a propaganda arm of the United States government as part of its patriotic duty. The package films were largely an attempt to improve relations with South American countries as part of the US “Good Neighbor” policy, and it even went so far as to create a totally original Disney character — Jose Carioca — to get the job done. Jose’s a pretty cool dude, but the four shorts that make up the run-time for Saludos Amigos are…forgettable at best. The introduction to South American culture didn’t age all that well, either.

72. Fun and Fancy Free (1947)
Fun fact: This was the last time Walt Disney himself provided the voice of Mickey Mouse before handing off the responsibility to Jimmy MacDonald! This is package film #4, with just two segments on tap: the little-known Bongo, about a circus bear who runs away to be wild and fall in love; and the classic Mickey and the Beanstalk, which finds the mouse doing battle with Willie the giant. Bongo is OK, but Mickey and the Beanstalk is the stand-out here, especially for its opening scenes. This is as close as we’ll ever come to seeing Donald Duck fulfill his destiny as an axe murderer, and it’s just as amazing as it sounds.

Donald Axe Murder

Coming soon: Disney’s American Psycho

71. The Three Caballeros (1944)
Whoever made the decision to make Donald Duck a giant hornball in Disney’s second package film was hopefully fired, because boy howdy is it uncomfortable to watch. It’s like the ghost of a creepy uncle decided to inhabit Howard the Duck. Donald wolf-whistles his way through South America with his pal Jose Carioca and newcomer Panchito for his birthday (Friday the 13th, natch), though I’m pretty sure he was actually dosed with acid or something. This film is straight-up weird in a way that would be enjoyable if it weren’t for, you know, subjecting Brazilian culture through the Westernized gaze and a beloved Disney character objectifying women for 80 minutes straight. Still, the segments are pretty neat and the whole thing has this fever-dream vibe that I kind of dig.

70. Dinosaur (2000)
Fun fact: In Great Britain, this is not considered an official Disney animated feature; for some reason, it’s swapped out with The Wild instead. That’s fine to me, because in all honesty this just isn’t very good. It was Disney’s first full-length CGI animated feature, and it looks like most of the attention went to the character models; the story just doesn’t work very well, and the characters themselves might as well be made out of cardboard. After the amazing sequence detailing an asteroid impact, Dinosaur settles into a thin “outcast becomes leader” story that the writing just can’t make fresh or interesting. The animation isn’t great, either; once the apocalypse happens, everything’s the same shade of rust-red or slate-grey.

69. The Black Cauldron (1985)
First of all, props to Disney for trying something different! But this didn’t really work; the film is kind of infamous in the canon as being one of the very first animated films with a PG rating, and that was even after it was cut by 12 minutes to remove the most frightening and violent elements. The result is a movie that’s too dark for Disney but too Disneyfied for fans of the The Chronicles of Pyrdain that serve as the source material. I admire it more than I like it, especially since Gurgi — the cute furball that serves as comic relief — is incredibly annoying.

TGD horror

Seriously, this is an actual scene from The Good Dinosaur

68. The Good Dinosaur (2015)
This is the lowest position on the list for a Pixar film, and it genuinely surprises me that The Good Dinosaur is this low. It’s not a bad film by any means — the animation is especially stunning, with backgrounds and natural vistas that feel almost photo-realistic — but the missteps here really sink the film. The curious choice to place such obviously cartoony dinosaurs in such a impressively-rendered setting makes it hard to reconcile the characters with the world, and Arlo especially suffers from that disconnect. The film is sweet in places, randomly weird in others, and just doesn’t come together the way you’d expect in a Pixar film. The Good Dinosaur is a failure, sure, but it’s an interesting one.

67. Cars (2006)
This might have been the first film to take a bit of shine off the Pixar brand, and it’s easy to see why. Cars takes place in a world filled with anthropomorphic vehicles, and champion racer Lightning McQueen is forced to spend some time in bucolic Radiator Springs to work off a speeding ticket. The story is handled with the typical Pixar care, but it’s tough to really get invested in the characters and the world raises so many questions it’s hard to suspend your disbelief for it. How does any of this work? I MUST KNOW.

66. The Aristocats (1970)
How many of you know the plot to The Aristocats? I don’t, and I’ve seen it; I had to look it up. This tells you everything you need to know about the story. Duchess and her three kittens are stranded in the countryside by the English butler of a French opera star after he discovers that all of the singer’s money will be left to the cats. They meet stray cat O’Malley (voiced by Baloo himself, Phil Harris) and have a series of adventures from there. Duchess is a rock star; she’s prim and proper, but game for anything O’Malley throws at her. The kids, though? SO TWEE. Your tolerance for cute kids may vary, but they made me root for the butler.

65. Winnie the Pooh (2011)
This modern update on classic Pooh is gentle and lovingly animated. The colors are bright and crisp, the animation is smooth and fluid, and the humor is an Easy Reader version of the wordplay we’ve gotten accustomed to. This is a movie that skews pretty young, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it introduces Winnie the Pooh to a whole new generation. But if you’re coming for a hit of nostalgia for the original 60s feature film or the excellent 80s Saturday morning series, you might be disappointed.

64. Melody Time (1948)
Towards the end of the 40s, Walt Disney Studios was itching to get back into the full-length feature game — but they had a couple more package films to get through first. Melody Time is one of the better ones, with seven segments set to then-contemporary pop and folk music. Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill, two American folk heroes, get their due here in the best bits, but there’s something really endearing about “Little Toot”, the segment about a tiny tugboat trying to follow in the wake of his dad. Sung by the Andrews Sisters, it’s cheesy but winsome despite that.

63. Make Mine Music (1945)

Disney’s third package film leaves South America behind for a hodgepodge of shorts. Not everything works, but the ones that do are crackling with energy and creativity — like the hilarious and bitter-sweet “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met”. “Peter and the Wolf,” “Casey at the Bat,” and “The Martins and the McCoys” are all really solid segments, too. This is a package film with more hits than misses, and the bits that miss never last too long.

 

62. Peter Pan (1953)
You know what? Maybe I’m just not that into Peter Pan. But for some reason it’s a story people go to again and again, and this treatment from Walt Disney is one of the most enduring. It’s fine for what it is, but almost every time you start to fall under its spell something happens to yank you right out of it. The worst of these is the sudden and shocking racism surrounding the Native Americans in Neverland. That whole sequence is exceedingly cringy, and the film never quite recovers for me. I know, I know, product of its time and all that, but still — there’s not enough else to recommend it beyond the crisp, wonderful animation and those stretches where the magic does start to take hold.

61. Cars 2 (2011)
It’s the Pixar sequel no one asked for! This time, country-bumpkin tow-truck Mater is promoted to a starring role in a bumbling accidental spy plot which actually doesn’t come off too badly. What makes this film so much better than its first is the way it stretches its world-building; the gags are much more inventive, but they raise so many more questions. Your tolerance for Mater and the baffling Cars universe will pretty much determine how much you like this one.

60. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
The storytelling really failed this sci-fi pulp adventure, which is a shame because the characters really deserved better. The crew of the Ulysses is a fascinating international troupe that deserved the TV series and/or sequel Atlantis would have gotten if it did well, but alas — it wasn’t meant to be. The story hits a number of silly action beats with little logic behind them, so there’s never a clear line that allows the audience to orient themselves to what’s going on. And unfortunately, Milo — the big-handed, bespectacled explorer voiced by Michael J. Fox — isn’t interesting enough to power us through that.

59. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
The animation in this movie is awesome. The character designs are iconic, and the sequences are great, and the animators really work hard to capture the slightly-sinister strangeness of Caroll’s original novel. So why doesn’t this work as well as it should? Again, it comes down to the way the narrative falls; Alice is almost inert as a character so while the various scenes are amusing to watch it’s hard to actually connect with what’s happening. It’s fun while it lasts, but as soon as the film’s over the whole thing evaporates like a dream.

fox-and-hound

Don’t let those smiles fool you; they’ll hate each other in a hot minute

58. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
I’ll be completely honest here: this movie is kind of a bummer. It’s a quiet little movie for most of its run, but then a bear attack happens out of nowhere and it’s impressively intense. Before that, though, Tod and Copper (fox and hound, respectively) gradually shift from cubhood friends to bitter enemies, and it’s tough to watch; Tod being left out in the woods by the woman who had raised him was more of a gut-punch than I remembered, too. The message, about navigating the tension between who we’d like to be and who society demands we are, might get lost in the tragedy unfolding on screen. It’s one of those movies that just makes you slightly sad when you remember it.

57. A Bug’s Life (1998)
Pixar’s second film is pretty decent, though a lot of people prefer Antz in the battle of the bugs. I could see why, but A Bug’s Life is worth another look; the animation is likely better than you remember and the characters are well-drawn and nicely vibrant. The miniature world brought to life is wonderfully creative, and the story moves with tight, brisk, sure pacing. And weirdly, the voice talent is a who’s who of 90s sitcom talent, so if you’re into that it’s a huge plus, right?

Tomorrow: the worst film in the Disney Renaissance, my first contrarian ranking, and I talk about SO MANY BEARS.

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2017 in DisneyFest, Movies, Reviews

 

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