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.
35. Fantasia (Canon #3)
Talking about this film reminds me a lot about the man behind the entire company. I’ll try not to veer off into too much of a tangent, but I just find it all so funny.
This was the original package deal film. It started with the (admittedly fantastic) Mickey Mouse short The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which ran over-budget and so Disney stuck it in a film with other animated shorts set to classical music. Add some big names of the time to make it appear as though it was a “roadshow” production and we have Fantasia. Like Fantasia 2000 which I mentioned before, its value as a film is perhaps entirely up to the viewer. Well, I suppose that applies to any film, really.
Personally, I don’t care for it as much as other people I know. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a great short, but I am more a fan of Night on Bald Mountain for its visuals more than anything. I will say this though: it’s far and away better than Fantasia 2000. Simply because of the lack of celebrities trying to be funny.
34. Cinderella (#12)
Compared to how slow Snow White felt, Cinderella always seems to have something going on. And that’s probably the strongest part of the film.
Everyone should know the tale here; Cinderella is treated worse than the very chickens she’s made to feed by her stepmother and stepsisters, and by the end of the movie thanks to a bit of magic ends up marrying the prince. Oh and some mice capable of sewing were also helpful.
In fact, the mice that help Cinderella probably have more screen time than she does. I suppose it’s a necessity considering how utterly bland she is as a character. The film spans a single day and night, and throughout that whole period she’s either cleaning on screen or cleaning off screen. Since watching the poor girl play slave to her family isn’t very engaging, we had the mice and their adventures to hold us over.
Other than that, I can’t say much else. The songs in this film are pretty nice. Not just the obvious ones like Bibbity Bobbity Boo and A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes, but even the song that her stepsisters were trying (and failing) to sing at one point is done magnificently by Cinderella herself. So yeah, not terrible.
33. Lady and the Tramp (#15)
Somewhere near the start of the 20th Century, a man gives his wife a Christmas gift. A puppy whom they call Lady, she grows up in a rather spiffy neighborhood and life seems rather perfect until one day she meets a stray mutt simply known as the Tramp. And over time, the two grow to fall in love.
On the surface, it sounds like a bland tale. But really it’s how the story plays out that makes it so interesting and ultimately endearing. I like how the story is in fact almost entirely about Lady, and the Tramp plays only a bit part all things considered. He wanders into her life one day by chance, says his piece, and then vanishes again for months to follow. The thing that was troubling Lady at that point in the film was her cold treatment by her owners, and her anxiety only escalated after meeting the Tramp (who told her that it was the start of a downward spiral for her).
But in truth what happens is that her owners are about to have a baby, and therefore their attention shifted from Lady to the baby. But once the child is born, things return to normalcy, and life seems to go on. It’s only after a series of unfortunate events that Lady finds herself on the street, and the Tramp shows up again to make sure she stays safe. And it’s at this point that she finally starts to develop feelings for him. It’s just so refreshing in a way to have the story focus almost exclusively on a female protagonist (not unheard mind you), but up until this point for Disney it was certainly unique. Tramp might be important, but he never really steals the show from Lady. He compliments her.
Other than that, I enjoy what little music is in this film. Bella Notte is the obvious contender, though the song He’s A Tramp is also great. The weakest part of the film I think is the climax, wherein Tramp confronts a rat (of all things) that tried to sneak about the baby’s room. The way the film portrays it, the rat was out to kill the baby. Other than that, it’s a fun movie.
32. 101 Dalmatians (#17)
A story about a dog that sees another dog he wants, and gets his owner to marry the owner of the dog in question so he can get some. No joke, that’s the plot.
Well, that’s not all of it. There’s also one of the coolest villains with Cruella De Vil, a system of communication between dogs throughout London and probably the whole world, and a scene where Pongo and Perdita are drawn as rabid as is possible during their fight with the inept Horace and Jasper.
I think 101 Dalmatians is more interesting on a scene by scene basis than as a complete film. It has a beginning, middle and end, and the plot is consistent throughout, but it’s also a bit dull that way. I remember single scenes a lot more than the whole story. Not just the ones I’ve already mentioned but also the climax of the film where Cruella chases a truck where the Dalmatians are aboard. Her car gets wrecked in the process, and with it her facade as a prissy high class woman as she becomes more devil-like in appearance. As tense as this scene is, what kills me about it is how the man driving the truck with the Dalmatians doesn’t even know why this crazy woman is trying to run his truck off the road!
Musically, the film doesn’t have much to offer. It isn’t a musical like other Disney films, despite Roger (Pongo’s owner) being a songwriter. He does give us one track at the start (Cruella De Vil), which during the course of the film becomes a smash hit and earns them enough money to move out of their London flat into the countryside. I still sing it to this day.
31. Oliver & Company (#27)
What a train wreck of a film.
This is a VERY loose adaptation of Oliver Twist, a classic novel that detailed how fucked up being an orphan in London in the 19th Century. About how they were used as mules for criminal “masterminds” who were no more than petty crooks. Only when Disney did it, they set it in 1980s New York City. With dogs. And a cat.
See, what I never got about Oliver and Company, even as a kid, was what Dodger and his crew of dogs were trying to accomplish. In Oliver Twist, they were kids who were pickpockets who reported to their criminal overlord Fagin. But here they’re dogs who just wander New York City doing… nothing in particular? At one point one of the dogs tries to hot wire a car. What was he planning to do? Drive it off? He’s a dog!
This leads to Oliver (the only cat) being taken in by Jenny, the daughter of a pair of rich people living somewhere in the rich part of the city. This turns out to be the best thing to happen to Oliver, and things look great for the kitty. It’s not until his old gang snatches him from the place that he tells them he was better off there, and tries to leave. Fagin hatches the plot to ransom Oliver to his new owner, since he’s in deep with the villain loanshark Sykes. This plan backfires when Fagin realizes the owner is Jenny (whose like 10) and Sykes then takes the girl hostage instead. The film ends with one of the strangest plot holes in the world, which I’d rather not even share here.
So if I’ve done nothing but talk shit about the movie, why is it so high up on my list (compared to other films I’ve only said mildly nice things about)? Because this film has a spectacular soundtrack.
All five of the songs in this film are great (with Good Company probably being the weakest but still holding up). Part of this came from the talents of Billy Joel and Bette Midler, but just go listen to the music and tell me it’s not catchy as hell. I think that’s why this film endured as much as it did, but it wasn’t quite as successful in the end to merit credit as the start of the Disney Renaissance.
But why should I worry?