I like Disney. I grew up with the company, and watched every one of their feature films. From canon to direct-to-video, I have seen it all. But the most important ones are the Animated Canon, 55 films that began with Snow White and ends with Zootopia (until Moana releases as film 56).
This is my personal rankings of the films. From the worst to the best. Be warned: you may be rustled.
50. Fantasia 2000 (Canon #38)
This film has the sad reputation of ending the delicious Disney Renaissance of the 90s. Probably because despite being an ode to one of Disney’s dearest projects, fails miserably to capture its spirit.
Like its predecessor from the earliest days of Disney animation, Fantasia is a collection of musical segments set to animation. Sometimes abstract, sometimes with some semblance of a plot. That’s really all there is to it. Back in the days before TVs and whatnot, the idea of seeing visuals accompany classical music was quite new. Nowadays, anyone can turn on a visualizer with their music selection. It’ll lack the gorgeous animation, but you get to see something. Sadly, the idea behind the film(s) is rendered obsolete by time.
But surely that shouldn’t hamper the quality of classic music, right? And set to Disney level animation? A recipe for success! And to some extent, it is. But I have to point out the worst aspect of the entire package: celebrity introduction segments. What I think ruined this film the most was the couple minutes between each animation where a celebrity would introduce the piece and animation beforehand. While not all of them were bad, some were painfully so. If it had simply been familiar faces saying their piece, that would have been one thing. But attempts at humor and gags? No thanks.
That’s what really kills the strength of this film for me. That, and the fact that the selection here wasn’t the best. Standouts include Rhapsody in Blue and The Firebird for me. The return of the classic Sorcerer’s Apprentice was neat, but I’d rather give the credit to the original over this part.
49. Make Mine Music (#8)
Much like Fantasia before it (and a number of films after it), Make Mine Music was a collection of musical cartoons released as a bundle theatrically. From what I can tell, it was done so to bring the company money during the hard war years of the 40s.
Containing nine different segments, it is much like Fantasia before it with one core difference: it uses popular music of the era instead of classical pieces. As such, taste comes into question on its quality overall. Personally, I like music from this time period, though I found later variations of this set up (shorts as a theatrical release) to have better selections.
Of the bunch, my favorites include Two Silhouettes (sung by Dinah Shore) and Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet, sung by The Andrews Sisters.
48. Brother Bear (#44)
Whoever thought the tagline “Nature Calls” was a good idea was probably fired. That wouldn’t fly even during Walt Disney’s heyday.
The film follows a Native American during the era after the Ice Age. After his brother dies (by way of bear interference), the young man Kenai seeks revenge on the hapless animal. Doing so atop a sacred mountain, he gets his due punishment when the spirits of the Earth transform him into a bear. And if that wasn’t enough, it sets Kenai’s other brother Denahi on a path of similar revenge against Kenai in his bear form. The film then follows Kenai as a bear as he travels to find the spirits again and change back into a human.
Brother Bear is as gorgeous to watch as you can imagine for a film set in mostly wilderness. And that’s about it in terms of strength. The plot doesn’t go anywhere, the conflict between Kenai and Koda (a bear cub he befriends) is seen coming a mile away, and the supporting cast of animals don’t do much outside providing weak comic relief. Many have even pointed out the soundtrack (consisting of a number of songs by Phil Collins) as a weak point trying to emulate the success of Disney’s Tarzan (which predates this film by 4 years), but I don’t think that’s fair. The music isn’t bad. It feels a bit off in this film but it’s not bad.
What’s bad is everything but the visuals and music. And that’s a lot in an of itself.
47. Melody Time (#10)
Melody Time is arguably the last of the cartoon packages from the Golden Age (some would also include the film Ichabod and Mr. Toad but I don’t). Like Make Mine Music before it, it’s just a bunch of unrelated cartoons released as a film to earn cash for a starving company.
Like the previous efforts, this one used popular music of the time. With seven segments, you’re sure to enjoy at least one. I have more favorites here than I did with Make Mine Music.
Bumble Boogie features a great jazz variation of a classic song (Flight of the Bumblebee). The Legend of Johnny Appleseed is a more traditional narrative entirely in song. Little Toot is another narrative about a tugboat (sung by The Andrews Sisters). And lastly, Blame It on the Samba, which features the return of Donald Duck and Jose Carioca for another fun romp through abstract visuals and accompanying music.
Not for everyone, but likely you’ll find something great here. I know I did.
46. The Black Cauldron (#25)
Oh, poor maligned Black Cauldron. So much gone wrong where so much could have gone right.
Based on The Chronicles of Prydain, the film follows Taran, a young boy who’s tasked with protecting a magical pig that can point the way to the titular cauldron. The pig is sought by the Horned King, who wishes to find the Black Cauldron himself to resurrect an army of undead to take over the world. So it’s up to Taran and his band of friends he makes along the way to find the cauldron first and stop the Horned King.
Without even falling back on the novels from which the film is based, the premise is strong. It’s high fantasy, a bit crazy (what with the magic pig), and once you start watching the film proper you’re treated to nothing less than the best visuals Disney has put to paper (or film reel) up until that point. One of the first things you’re treated to is the castle of the Horned King, which is awe-inspiring in its design and oppressive once we see its interior. But as the film continues, it only gets worse and worse.
See, despite the impressive visuals and decent premise, the film squanders it almost immediately. There’s no flow to the narrative, moving our cast of characters from one scenic set piece to the next in a terribly mechanical way. We never get a reason for the places we see beyond the castle of the Horned King; it’s just what has to happen next for the film to continue. They have to go here so that they can go there so they can do this so they can get that, etc.
What doesn’t help matters are the poorly fleshed out characters. Taran gets the most screen time, but doesn’t have any real personality or goal outside the one handed to him by his caretaker back home. The Princess Eilonwy joins Taran just because, and sticks with him just because. The same goes for comic relief Fflewddur Fflam, who was saved by the two kids and sticks around just because. And the less said about Gurgi, the better.
It hurts to admit that such a film was wasted effort. The settings presented to us are nothing short of gorgeous, painting a small window into a fantasy world that would delight anyone (and especially fantasy fiction fans). Even a few aspects of the world are great, such as the Horned King himself and the witches of the Marshes of Morva who hold the cauldron in safe-keeping. Even the magic sword Taran finds within the Horned King’s keep seems to exude rich history that is never explored.
I can’t begin to guess what went wrong here. A focus on the weak plot? Not enough time spent on world building? More than a single scene with the awful sidekick reject Gurgi? The sad truth is as much as I want to love this film, it’s just not fun to watch. But if you need to see them all, it’s certainly not a waste of your time. If only for the beautiful backgrounds given to us by a new generation of Disney animators, many of which probably departed after the film’s failure.