Top 5 Disney Animated Films

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Robin Hood (1973)

I have very fond memories of watching this film at a friend’s house as a child. Whenever I visited, we watched this movie. I am fairly confident that I watched Robin Hood about 900 times before my fourteenth birthday. What I enjoy about this adaptation is the excellent dialogue and the dream-like quality to the animation. Since this was made in the era of hand-drawn animation, the character movements are not as smooth as the animated characters of today. This was the first feature-length Disney film to begin production after Walt’s death in 1966, meaning it did not benefit from the wizard’s magical touch.

In this lighthearted adaptation, viewers follow the exploits of Robin Hood and his trusted companion Little John.  They seek to outfox the greedy Prince John and save the good people of Nottingham. This is 2nd Disney Animated Feature Film with no human characters; the first was Bambi (1942). The difference being the animals in Robin Hood are Anthropomorphic living like humans, without there being any Non-Anthropomorphic Animals. Robin Hood and Maid Marian are red foxes, Little John is a brown bear, Prince John is a spineless lion, Friar Tuck is a badger, and so forth.

One reason this film has not experienced long lasting popularity is that the visuals do not contain the same level of hand-drawn richness of previous Disney classics. Robin Hood was definitely a low-budget film and it shows in the stilted character movements.  Visual shortcomings aside, it is a colorful and jubilant film. I particularly enjoy the light-hearted flair and the black-and-white depiction of the characters. Robin Hood is a moral tale dealing with issues of greediness, vanity, gullibility, and selfishness. I like the clear delineation between the good and the bad guys. The film is full of whimsy, adventure and heart. To this day, I always visualize Robin Hood as a fox with a sly smile and winking eyes.

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Aladdin (1992)

A whole new world, of animation. My first exposure to the Aladdin story came from reading R.F. Burton’s translation of One Thousand and One Nights; Disney, obviously, sanitized the story for younger audiences. In a classic rags-to-riches narrative a street urchin vies for the love of a beautiful princess and uses a genie’s magic to pretend to be a prince in order to marry her.

The plot revolves around a standard fairy tale narrative. An ageing sultan informs his only daughter that she has three days in to get married to a Prince of her choice or else he will choose a groom for her. Distraught, she flees from the palace and encounters Aladdin. The cheerful street urchin falls in love and enchants her with his cheerful ways. Once the genie joins in, hilarious hijinks occur. However, what really makes this story shine is the excellent vocal manipulations of Robin Williams.

Williams was a force of nature and his humor injects a great vitality into the story. His imagination and antics clearly inspired the animators and every scene with the genie are standouts of creativity. One fun fact, Williams ad-libbed so many of his lines that the script was turned down for a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award nomination. Williams recorded close to sixteen hours of material due to his non-stop improvisation.

Aladdin is my favorite of the “princess” films. Mainly because I loved the original fairy tale and the song A Whole New World. I still have the lyrics memorized and catch myself humming it every now and then. The magic carpet is also funny.

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101 Dalmatians (1961)

Cruella De Vil is the scariest villain in any Disney animated film. I mean, she wants to skin puppies! However, the character is much more calculating and cruel in the book. I remember being creeped out when I read this one passage in the book describing how Cruella put peppercorn on her salad.  Several elements from the book were changed for the movie; for instance, Cruella was married in the book. However, the film is still delightful. The entire story is told from the perspective of the dogs.

Pongo and Perdita have a litter of 15 puppies. Unfortunately, the dastardly Cruella De Vil takes a fancy to the pups, and wants them in order to make herself a dalmatian skin coat. Since Roger and Anita will not sell the puppies, Cruella hires Jasper and Horace to kidnap the puppies and hold them at her mansion. In a desperate race against time, Pongo and Perdita rush off to find their missing puppies before it is too late!

For an animated film the puppies are remarkably lifelike and very cute. Ever since seeing this film I have wanted a Dalmatian puppy. While I have yet to achieve this life goal, I am resolute that it will eventually happen. The live action movie from 1996 is also enjoyable, but the animated film will always be my favorite. Because nostalgia wins every time.

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The Lion King (1994)

I feel like this is everyone’s favorite Disney movie. Do not get me wrong, it is a wonderful movie and I love watching it on a regular basis. Apparently this one is also getting a live-action remake, which should be an interesting spectacle. Of course how live action can it be, the animals will still be animated, just in a much more realistic fashion.

In this classic tale a young lion Prince is cast out of his pride by his scheming uncle, Scar. While Scar rules with an iron will, the prince grows up beyond the Savannah in the care of two off beat friends. When his past comes to haunt him, the young Prince must decide his fate: will he remain an outcast, or face his demons and become a King? Of course the highlight of this film is the music written by Elton John. The Circle of Life and I Just Can’t Wait to Be King are some of my favorite Disney songs. I have them memorized.

The Lion King was the highest grossing film in 1994 and still remains a popular seller. Part of the reason is the universal appeal of the narrative. Out of all the Disney films, this one has the strongest Shakespearean undertones. Father dies, son is exiled, uncle takes control, and the son comes back to reclaim his birthright. It is an inspiring tale about growing up and conquering your fears. Though the numerous sequels released over the years have definitely watered down the emotional heft of the original. 

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Beauty & The Beast (1991)

This movie is incredibly unrealistic, hardly anyone looks good in a yellow dress. Seriously. I have seen exactly three people pull off this look, yellow is such a harsh color. Belle only got away with it because she was animated. Personally, I look like I have jaundice whenever I wear yellow. So I guess I will not get to recreate the iconic dance sequence. Such a shame. Also, where can I meet a dashing stranger with such an impressive library? I am waiting, he can appear at anytime. 

A young, selfish prince is cursed by a mysterious enchantress after refusing to help her. He is forever stuck int he shape of a monstrous beast. His only hope is to learn to love a woman and earn her love in return. Years pass before he is given a chance to break his curse. A young woman named Belle offers to take her ill father’s place as his prisoner. With a lot of interference from the enchanted castle staff, Belle learns to appreciate her captor and eventually falls in love with him. Back in her village, however, an infatuated hunter has his own plans for Belle’s future. 

Fun fact, this is the only animated movie to ever be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. The original French fairy tale was significantly darker and dealt with several serious themes. Of course Disney sanitized the tale in order to make it more uplifting and appealing to a wider audience. One of the biggest changes is that this film depicts Belle as an only child, whereas in the original fairy tale, Belle is the youngest of three daughters. Her sisters  are wicked and selfish who secretly taunt and treat the kind Belle like a servant to them; this was left out of the film as it was deemed too similar to Cinderella. Yellow dress aside, this is one of the few Disney princess films that has equally developed male and female characters. My biggest gripe with the “princess” films is that the prince/hero character is usually not given any real character development and is treated more like a plot device than a character. Beauty and the Beast gives both the “princess” and the “prince” some depth and this makes for a much more compelling narrative. 

 

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2 thoughts on “Top 5 Disney Animated Films

  1. Nice list ! It really proves that the classics can’t be beaten, but for me, my favourite is The Lion King. 🙂

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