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.
40. Fun and Fancy Free (Canon #9)
The last of the package films.
Like The Three Caballeros, this film has a framing device to give context to the two separate stories here. Jiminy Cricket (from Pinocchio) ends up inside a random house, where he accidentally sets a record of a story told by Dinah Shore (look her up, she’s awesome). This is the first story called Bongo, which is about a circus bear who escapes his circus life to hook up with a girl bear after some shenanigans. This story isn’t that great, but Dinah Shore narrating (and singing!) makes it worth watching.
Following the end of this story, Jiminy moves on in his crime spree to break into a different house across the street. Here Jiminy listens in on a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. This story is intercut with live action segments featuring Edgar Bergen (a ventriloquist back when this was a legit profession) who is telling the story with the help of his dummies to (then) child actress Luana Patten.
The animated segment would later be rereleased as Mickey and the Beanstalk, but basically it’s what you’d expect from a Mickey Mouse cartoon. Mickey plays Jack, Donald and Goofy show up for added antics, and this film is the first appearance (I think) of Willie the Giant (who would later show up in future Disney cartoons). And fun fact: this would be the last time Walt Disney voiced Mickey Mouse, so enjoy that.
Now shockingly, one of the best parts of this whole film isn’t the Mickey and the Beanstalk short (though Donald Duck steals virtually every scene he’s in), but the live action segments with Edgar Bergen! One of his two dummies (specifically Mortimer Snerd) is a snark-tastic bastard who has some of the best lines ever. No joke, if you want a reason to watch this film, do it for ventriloquist dummy Mortimer!
39. The Sword in the Stone (#18)
Disney adaptations are a strange thing. Sometimes the changes are for the best. Sometimes they destroy the potential of the work. And then sometimes you’re left so confounded about what the source material even was (or why it was chosen).
The Sword in the Stone is based off a novel by T.H. White, wherein legendary King Arthur’s youth involves being turned into various animals to learn lessons as well as being tutored by Merlin in various important things for being a king. And that’s pretty much what happens in the film, too.
There’s not much else for me to say about this one. If I think about Arthurian legend, I think about everything but the youth of King Arthur. And I suppose that’s not the end-all of this legend. And Disney being as family-friendly as it is, sort of makes sense this is what they’d go with. It has a few good songs, and the climax of the film features an interesting duel between Merlin and eleventh hour villainess Madam Mim. But overall, not a film to watch over and over again.
38. Dumbo (#4)
Following the box office failure of Fantasia, Disney made Dumbo supposedly on the cheap to make back their money. It doesn’t show, really.
Dumbo tells the story of a baby elephant with giant ears who’s mocked by all the other animals in his circus home and even the public he’s meant to entertain. Despite this, the baby elephant is looked after by a mouse named Timothy, and with his help Dumbo becomes a sensation once he learns to fly with those flappy ears.
Now, of course elephants can’t fly no matter how large their ears. If I saw that, I’d claim to have seen everything too. Dumbo is a short film, but in the hour it lasts you get a number of great moments that aren’t easily forgotten.
Probably the most remembered part of the film is Pink Elephants on Parade, a dream sequence viewed by Dumbo and Timothy after they become knock-out drunk (long story). Drunken hallucinations in a Disney movie? No way! But it’s not so much that this happens, but how utterly BIZARRE the whole sequence is. Worth a watch alone for that!
We also get a powerfully sad bit just before that acid trip with Baby Mine, a lullaby sung from Dumbo’s mom to comfort him despite her being locked up as a “mad elephant”. And if that wasn’t enough, the film reaches its end through one more musical number featuring what many have described as racist crows. I won’t even go beyond that, but let’s just say they are awesome. Racist depictions or not.
37. The Rescuers Down Under (#29)
If we’re keeping count, this would be the weakest film from the fabled Disney Renaissance on my list.
A sequel to the 1977 film The Rescuers, Down Under follows the duo of Bernard and Bianca as they travel to the Australian Outback to rescue a boy named Cody whose been kidnapped by a poacher. They’re helped by a mouse named Jake, and a subplot of the film features Bernard trying over and over to find the right moment to propose to his long-time partner Bianca.
Now, Down Under isn’t as bad as I tend to make it out. It’s visually gorgeous (it is a Renaissance film, after all), the villain McLeach is actually really fun, and the action sequences are damn good. However, what’s always bugged me about this film is how it felt like a completely different project that got The Rescuers shoehorned in at some point during development. I’ve never found evidence to support this, so it’s entirely likely it’s just in my head.
So my mixed feelings on this film stem from the belief that without Bernard and Bianca, it could have been a fun story on its own. Jake the Australian hopping mouse is a cool character, easily able to carry the lead role and help Cody get to safety while stopping the villain McLeach. It’s entirely unfair to the movie, but bias is what bias is.
The first true sequel in Disney Canon wasn’t a bad outing. But I wouldn’t want it to become a thing, either. Disney didn’t want it, and I don’t think it should be allowed anymore than the couple instances we have today.
36. Peter Pan (#14)
Peter Pan is a classic, but I could not begin to explain the why.
A boy from Neverland where you don’t have to grow up, he leads the Darling children (Wendy, John and Michael) on an adventure shortly after it’s proclaimed that it’s time Wendy grew up (in this context, that she got her own room since she is a girl and probably reaching puberty). They battle pirates, smoke with Indians, and eventually go home all the wiser. Yes, it’s as insane as it sounds, but this shit flew as much as the kids themselves back in the day. Imagine that.
I’ve heard a lot of anger towards the Disney interpretation of Peter Pan, but I can’t say I share that anger. He’s pretty much what I’d expect from a child of about 12 or 13 years: selfish, cocky, brash, a complete disregard for anyone or anything other than himself. And at the end of the story he learns nothing from his actions or grows in any meaningful capacity. But I suppose that’s the whole point of Neverland, isn’t it?
Another enduring aspect of the film is Tinkerbell, Pan’s right-hand man (only she’s a pixie). I can’t say for certain if she was always portrayed as a jealous homicidal bitch, but this one was. And nowadays attempted murder is treated as “sassy” for marketing purposes. All things considered I don’t hate Tinkerbell.
And actually, now that my thoughts are laid out, I think I see why this is a classic. It really does feel like a timeless sense of adventure, perfectly referenced in the movie itself by Mr. Darling when he sees the golden pirate ship flying in the sky.
“I have the strangest feeling I’ve seen that ship before. A long time ago, when I was very young.” We all did, Mr. Darling. We all did.