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.
45. Meet the Robinsons (Canon #47)
Of all the Disney films, this is probably the one I have seen the least. As in, I’ve seen it once. Ever.
From what I remember, the story follows an orphan inventor who is visited by a kid from the future who takes him to the future to meet what turns out to be his own family in the future. And there’s a villain with a robotic hat and they’re out to steal the orphan kid’s invention so they can take over the world. Of course…?
See, because I haven’t seen this film as much as I’ve seen the rest in Disney Canon (even my hatred for Aristocats did little to stop me from watching the film a half dozen times throughout my youth), I have little to say about it. I don’t distinctly remember hating it, but I also don’t remember liking it enough to put it anywhere above this spot on the list. It’s not as pointless as the cartoon collection films, and I’m sure there’s enough good stuff here to merit its spot on the list. I should just give it another watch some day.
44. Bolt (#48)
Bolt is very similar to Oliver & Company; it is the film that paved the way to a new age in Disney history.
Bolt is the story of a dog that was genetically engineered to have superpowers so that he could help his preteen owner/secret agent track down and capture a villain who has a thing for cats and has kidnapped her father. Said girl is Penny, and if the whole premise sounds too outlandish to be true, it’s because it is. In reality, Bolt’s entire world is a lie; he’s an actor who doesn’t realize his whole existence is a giant B-list TV show. With fantastic production values. Things go south when Bolt gets accidentally shipped across the country and must find his way back home to Hollywood.
Bolt is by no means a bad film. It does everything I expect from a Disney film without any real weaknesses. It has the staple Disney tropes, such as the comic relief and the straight man (or cat), and the plot follows a pretty predictable path. Bolt learns a life lesson, he teaches a life lesson to his friends, and at the end of the day everything is resolved. But really when I describe it that way it sounds terribly dull. Like there’s nothing to see here, and it’s position is so low on my list that clearly that must be the case.
But the thing is, Bolt feels so safe that it’s hard to get invested. I never think that he won’t make it back to Penny in Hollywood. I never think Mittens the cat will actually betray him and run off. And even when they get sent to a pound, I never fear that’s the end of their adventure. Everything plays out exactly how you think it will play out.
So does that make it a bad film? Not at all. But it also lacks a major component that keeps some of these films on top of others on my list: music. Aside from one insert song, this film is just not a musical. And without the power of song, there’s nothing left for me to be invested in or come back to. But it’s not a bad movie; give it a watch and you’ll see.
43. The Three Caballeros (#7)
Fun fact: this film marks two outings for Donald Duck in Disney Canon. He will eventually bump that number to four by Fantasia 2000 following a third outing in Melody Time.
The Three Caballeros is another collection release during the Golden Age. What sets its apart from the others (and actually puts it closer to Saludos Amigos) is how educational it all feels. The framing device is that it’s Donald’s birthday (vaguely mentioned as simply Friday the 13th) and he receives a giant box of gifts that are our shorts. But it’s not just cartoon shorts included this time. Like Saludos Amigos before it, this was created as a sort of propaganda piece for South America, and as such focuses heavily on such things.
Split into seven segments, I’ll actually talk about each one because they’re all quite interesting in their own right. First is an animated story of a penguin who leaves the South Pole to find a warmer home somewhere off the coast of South America. The following segment is also animated, and tells the story of a little boy who befriends a flying donkey and how they win a race (by cheating, since the donkey could fly). These two segments are about as cohesive as narratives as we get this film.
Following that, we see Jose Carioca again (who made his debut in Saludos Amigos), and he opens with a song describing Bahia, a city in Brazil. From there, he leads Donald into a storybook version of the city, where we get one of the earliest instances of live action mixed with animation. The two cartoon birds partake in a great musical party, featuring Aurora Miranda, a singer of the time. The whole sequence is fantastic and easily my favorite part of the film.
The next couple segments introduce us to Panchito Pistoles, a Mexican red rooster who teaches us about a few cities in Mexico as well as a Christmas story known as Las Posadas. I might very well be butchering what was explained in the film, but this is where the film stops being entertaining in the traditional sense and becomes more of an educational course on aspects of Mexican culture. Not a bad thing in itself, but not exactly what I’d signed up for either.
The final two segments are musical bits featuring Donald and singer Dora Luz, ultimately ending in a bizarre mock bullfight between Donald and Panchito. I get the feeling by now Disney just wanted to wrap up the whole ordeal, because mid-culture sampling the ending bit with the bullfight just came right out of no where. And that pretty much sums up the whole film; a silly culture sampling that ends just as quickly as it started.
But you know what? It’s still a fun experience throughout. Especially the Baia segment. Unlike most other collections from the Golden Age, this one is still remembered fondly by Disney given its use in their Epcot theme park in the Walt Disney World.
42. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (#1)
The one that started it all. As Disney likes to remind us in virtually every marketing piece about this film.
Snow White is an adaptation of the classic fairy tale. She’s a princess who’s treated like dirt by her stepmother the Evil Queen. After being convinced by her Magic Mirror to dispose of Snow White, she orders a woodsman to kill her during a flower picking session. The woodsman can’t go through with it, lets Snow White go, and she stumbles across the home of seven dwarves who accept her into their home. You know the rest; apples and sleep and old ladies falling off cliffs to their deaths.
On top of being the first Disney Canon film, it’s also the first Disney Princess film, and the weakest of the bunch to boot. It’s nothing against Snow White, she is simply a product of her time. Fun fact: she’s also the youngest of the Disney Princesses (she’s 14).
Snow White is fascinating to me because of how different it is from most other films. It opens with a literal storybook and it has a prologue in plain text before the film starts to set up the plot (nowadays would be considered a case of telling, now showing). While other films would use the storybook opening, none of them ever set up with text (well, Sleeping Beauty did but it was sung).
The worst criticism I could lobby against the film is that it feels dated (just listen to the music). But the content here isn’t bad. It’s worth a watch.
41. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (#11)
The last of the segment collection films released (but not last on my list).
On the one hand, we have The Wind in the Willows, a story of Mr. Toad (an eccentric rich toad) who loves to blow large amounts of money on whatever’s trendy. This time it’s motor cars, and his desire for one despite being on the verge of bankruptcy ends up putting Mr. Toad behind bars on charges of theft. The rest of the story follows Mr. Toad and his friends as they work to clear his name.
The second story here is an adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Eccentric schoolteacher Ichabod Crane moves to Sleepy Hollow, where he learns the local legend of the Headless Horseman. He runs into the apparition, and his fate following that is left up to the viewer’s imagination.
While I’m not fond of The Wind in the Willows, I do love The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on account of the musical approach to it. Bing Crosby provides the voice for this whole cartoon, and it’s a feast for the ears if ever there was one. But being only half the length of the film, I can’t put it higher on my list. But it’s a great take on this classic story, so I highly recommend it.