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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.

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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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(Movies) Hold On To Each Other or The Krampus Will Pick Us Off One By One

Entertainment 150Christmas-themed horror movies have a really poor track record; except for Gremlins, I can’t think of anything that could even remotely be considered good. Well, until now at least. I’ve already gotten into a few debates about this particular film with other folks, so please understand your mileage may vary. But for me, last year’s “Krampus” — which I only now got around to seeing — blends horror, comedy, and Christmas spirit perfectly. It delivers a cautionary tale that’s endearing and relatable, deeply silly, and actually kind of chilling all at once. The story turns out to be a meditation on what Christmas — and every winter holiday before it — is meant to be for the people who celebrate it, and the horrors that befall us if we forget it.

Tom (Adam Scott) is the patriarch of a typical American family preparing for the chaos of Christmas. Sarah (Toni Collette) is his wife trying to make the perfect holiday; his mother is an old-school German-speaking home-maker, while his daughter Beth is more interested in her boyfriend than her family. Adding to the stress, Sarah’s sister Alison is visiting for the holidays — with her obnoxious alpha-male husband (David Koechner) and four children in tow. To top it off, Sarah’s aunt Dorothy crashes the party to add her particular brand of cynicism, chain-smoking and binge drinking.

Only Tom’s son Max still believes in the Christmas spirit. That changes when his cousins embarrass him at the family dinner table by reading his letter to Santa out loud, exposing true and tender feelings about secrets that might be better left unrevealed. Hurt and angry, Max rips up the letter and tosses it into the wind, inadvertently summoning the shadow of Saint Nicholas. A supernatural blizzard cuts off power to the entire town, and that’s when the bloodletting begins.

Krampus tries to blend a kind of existential horror with demonic set-pieces that feel designed to be crazy enough to force a laugh, and how well it succeeds depends on your tolerance for tonal whiplash. I found it best to just buy into the film’s big request for a suspension of disbelief; once I did, I discovered that there was something surprisingly thoughtful lurking beneath the silliness.

krampus-facebook

— HERE THERE BE SPOILERS —

Beth goes first, heading out into the storm to visit her boyfriend. She finds his home open to the elements, unnaturally frozen and everyone missing. On the way back, she’s chased by a horned figure jumping from rooftop to rooftop until she hides under a truck. Just when she thinks she’s escaped, another monster attacks her from the bushes. Tom and his brother in law are attacked as they go looking for him, and the family barricades themselves in the house. This, of course, doesn’t work — one by one, they’re isolated and abducted. As their numbers dwindle, their relationship to one another changes. Instead of focusing on what they hate about one another, they cling to each other a little tighter. Each terrible, strange disappearance forces them to band together that much more desperately.

This is where the movie starts to feel like it actually has something on its mind. Omi, the German grandmother, tells the story of how the poverty of her village made her lose her Christmas spirit when she was a young girl. Krampus visited, took everyone, and left her alone to serve as a witness. Now that Max and his family realize what is happening, they do their best to escape together; Omi stays behind to confront the demon, and that leads to a series of sacrifices. Tom gives his life to save his family, then Sarah gives hers to save her children. Eventually, Max tries to give up his life to save his cousin.

I might be overthinking this, or it might be the dire times we find ourselves in, but it was fascinating to watch these people realize the importance of unity against an often harsh and unforgiving world. As the home becomes increasingly unsafe and the family is driven into the bitter cold, I’m reminded of people learning to band together in ancient times for warmth and shared resources through the dark chill of winter. The festivity and merrymaking isn’t just because there was nothing else to do; these holidays are meant to deepen the bonds of community and remind us of the importance of our relationships. Gifts aren’t the meaning of Christmas; they only represent it. We give each other offerings to show our loved ones what they mean to us.

The consequences of forgetting how to be part of a community are often invisible and can easily go unnoticed. And by the time we realize that something has gone dreadfully wrong it’s too late. Max’s family struggle against a world that has suddenly turned against them in the worst way, and they display tenacity, ingenuity and bravery in the fight — but it does nothing to stop all of them from dying. Max begs and pleads with the demon to reverse what’s happened; he apologies, he promises to remember his lesson, he even gives Krampus back the coal bell he received as a token of his ordeal. Then he is thrown into a pit, and wake up in his bed.

Downstairs, his family is enjoying Christmas morning. For all of their flaws, they share a common bond that fills the room with warmth. Then, Max opens his gift — Krampus’ coal bell. A chill quiets the room, and everyone looks away from each other as they remember the horrors they’ve experienced.

That image is a chilling one. Instead of reaching for each other to share and relieve their suffering, they retreat into themselves. It strikes me as a particularly nasty version of hell; taking a moment that should connect us and trapping us within it with people who simply cannot do so. Being alone in that room full of people is an exceptionally lonely feeling.

So, this Christmas, I’ll make it a point to be more open about the things that frighten or depress me — and I encourage you to do the same. It’s more important than ever to bring ourselves together, to hold on to one another before it’s too late. We haven’t reached the tipping point yet, but I worry that it’s so close. We have to learn how to band together; we may have our differences, and we might disagree, but what happens if we don’t is terrifying and irreversible.

Hell is a banquet table where everyone has no option but to use forks that are too long to feed ourselves. Heaven is what happens when we decide to feed each other instead.

 

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Robot & Frank (2012)

Robot & Frank (2012)
Starring Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden
Directed by Jake Schreier
Written by Christopher D. Ford
Frank (Langella) is a man who has difficulty with relationships and also his memory. His daughter is travelling the world, helping people in third-world countries. His son is a success, but visits Frank once a week more out of a sense of duty than a deep, familial love. He’s been separated from his wife for quite some time. He lives in a small house a good way out of town, in a fairly rural patch without close neighbors. He spends most of his days alone.

His son, Hunter, sees that the situation is untenable and is faced with two choices — either put him in an assisted-living home or buy him a robot who’ll do the chores and keep Frank on a tight schedule that makes sure he’s keeping himself up. I’m thinking he decides on the robot because it makes him feel less guilty. He’s giving his dad a present instead of admitting defeat and that he wants to visit him a lot less. Prickly Frank doesn’t appreciate the gesture, but it gets the plot going. Amazingly, the robot idea works. Slowly but surely, Frank begins to re-engage with life and he forms an odd, sweet bond with the robot. Of course, that re-engagement brings its own messy set of consequences.

I think that’s about all of the plot I can give without actually giving things away, but I think it is safe to say that Robot & Frank is a welcome addition to the spate of small, smart sci-fi movies that have been produced over the past few years. It uses one, spare element of science fiction to deepen the study of Frank’s character and explore what relationships do for us. Even when those relationships begin in impersonal circumstances, we can’t help but develop personal feelings there. It’s just our natures.

The robot himself never falls into the cliche of being an antagonist. It never tries to kill Frank in his sleep, and it never acts outside the range of its programming. It’s there to be a facilitator to Frank, for better or for worse. It’s that kind of unwavering support that he needs, it turns out, to help him step out of his shell and the tangled soup of his memories, to remember the life he had and who he was before old age started chipping away at him. That’s a fascinating idea to me; even though the robot is essentially an incredibly advanced appliance, it manages to fulfill this basic human need for connection, for interaction. And that does an incredible amount of good.

It also allows us to delve into Frank’s character in a way we wouldn’t otherwise be able to. There’s a reason his relationships have fallen apart that have nothing to do with his failing mind. He’s manipulative, selfish and a bit of a hedonist. He does things that make him feel good without regard of the consequences. That hurts everyone around him, but in ways he either doesn’t consider or doesn’t see. Despite that, he’s actually not a bad guy; he cares about his family and the one friend he has — the librarian he visits frequently in town (Sarandon). But when he tries to do something nice, it comes from this flawed place that, well, warps the gesture quite a bit.

Langella is great here. He imbues Frank with enough complexity to carry the film and make the character breathe beyond it. There are a lot of instances where you’re not sure if he’s making a mistake because his mind has failed him or he’s abusing people’s perception of him to fly under the radar. He’s grumpy, sly, vulnerable and earnest, and endlessly fascinating to watch.

The world that Frank inhabits is billed as a ‘near-future’, but it’s a stylized suggestion of one more than anything. There are touches of neat tech here and there, like the ubiquity of video phones in a believable, off-handed way. Robotics has come a long way, but not too far. And Priuses are just old enough to be considerably beaten jaloppies, which is a nice touch. Still, the world is given just enough weight that the characters feel real living in it, and nothing more. The film’s unwavering, close-up focus on Frank relegates world-building to an afterthought.

And that’s something I don’t mind for the most part. The other characters suffer a bit, though. James Marsters and Liv Tyler aren’t given much to work with as the exasperated children, but that actually works a little since Frank doesn’t really see them as people but as a means to an end for most of the story. It would have been nice to see a little more of the consequences of Frank’s behavior borne out in his son and daughter, but it’s hard to imagine how that could have happened without taking away from the core relationship between man and robot.

All in all, Robot & Frank is a smart, funny movie that I definitely recommend. Chances are you’ll catch it on DVD before anything, and I think that’s just fine. If you like your sci-fi mixed in with indie characterization, you’ll definitely like this.

Rating: 7/10.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Movies

 

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