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.
15. The Emperor’s New Groove (Canon #40)
Disney films typically have some humor in them, but I would never really call them comedies. Even Hercules, which was a lot more comical in tone would never be called a comedy. So to think that Disney would actually try a legit comedy is a bit strange to me. And probably was to everyone else.
Kuzco is the selfish prick ruler of an ancient (Mayan? Incan?) civilization who gets turned into a llama by his backstabbing advisor. While the goal is to kill him, our villains are so inept they fail at this, and so we follow Kuzco as he travels with a peasant named Pacha to retake his kingdom and perhaps learn a lesson along the way.
The plot is a means to an end. The end is a punchline. This movie is funny. Tons of funny, even on multiple watches. So much so I don’t want to spoil ANY of the jokes. Enjoy the film is all I can say.
14. Alice in Wonderland (#13)
Lewis Carrol’s magnum opus (not sure if anyone else considers it this, but I do) has been adapted dozens of times. Into cartoons, live action, pornos, games; you name it, there’s probably an Alice version in existence. Sifting through the dozens of adaptations is something I like to do, since the original novel is one of my favorite stories ever. And I’m happy to say Disney’s version is not only one of the best, but also a huge influence on every adaptation since.
Alice is a curious seven year old who wanders into the whimsical Wonderland after falling down a rabbit hole, and she explores this magical place over the course of the film. Virtually everyone she meets is mad, because that’s the entire point of this story. It’s how curiosity bounces off the insanity that passes for normalcy in this world.
Disney’s version takes the best elements of both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (the sequel) and makes a single romp through Wonderland, far more cohesive than you’d imagine. I’ve seen versions that stick to the letter of the original novel, but even they tend to pale in comparison to this one. Perhaps it’s the Disney bias, but I feel this version just flows better from one plot point to the next. Some might say this is against the complete wackiness that is Alice, but to them I say: hush.
13. Lilo & Stitch (#42)
So a mad scientist creates an abomination designed to wreck havoc, is caught and sentenced, while his creation is to be exiled to a deserted planet. But before Experiment 626 can be taken to his final resting place, he breaks free and crash lands a ship on a primitive planet. That planet is Earth, and after Experiment 626 is incapacitated, he’s taken to a dog shelter where he’s adopted by the little girl Lilo as her pet.
This movie sometimes feels like its all over the place. The first part of the scientist sent to retrieve his monster undercover makes it feel like it’s a silly movie. Named Stitch by Lilo, he was designed to destroy stuff, but is isolated on an island where there’s nothing to destroy and is being taught by the girl to be good. I’m sure there’s a message here somewhere but maybe not, and I don’t care.
The other part of this film is the struggles of Lilo’s elder sister Nani, who is trying her best to find a job since she’s in charge of her younger sister following their parents’ deaths. Lilo doesn’t make it any easier for her; not because she does it intentionally, mind you, just the antics of a child that get Nani in trouble. Add to all of this a social worker who is on the poor girl because it’s his job, and there’s a real sense of urgency and drama. You almost want to forget the silly plot of the alien Lilo adopted as a dog.
And that’s where I think the movie is weakest. The Stitch plot on its own is silly and fun, but the Lilo plot with her sister is infinitely stronger. I think the best part is towards the end, where Nani accepts the fact that she has to let Lilo go (and thus be taken into some sort of foster care) because she just isn’t equipped to look after her. There’s a scene where the two sisters share a mostly silent moment together that’s particularly powerful, and feels somehow out of place with the rest of the film.
But even putting aside my desire to have one or the other, the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. The film is about family, and part of that message is you have to take the bad with the good.
Plus! The marketing campaign for this one was great. Look up old trailers for it, you’ll have a blast.
12. Frozen (#53)
It took the world by storm. We’ve all seen it.
So what do I think of Frozen? Considering it’s this high up on my list, I like it. Quite a bit, too. It’s got good messages, good music, a good story. It’s overall good.
But overall good isn’t good enough for me. Perhaps in the distant future when Frozen is considered a “classic” it might have a chance to rise the ranks. Given enough time, the music will grow on me more, and thus propel it into the top 10.
As of now, it’s a good film. At times I feel like the messages it pushes are a bit much, but at the same time they’re tongue-in-cheek considering Disney’s history. Maybe there’s just still too much spotlight on this one. But it is strong enough to make it this far.
11. Zootopia (#55)
The latest film at the time of writing. Zootopia is about a bunny who becomes a cop. Treated as something of a joke in a city where animals are not all make to be of similar proportions, she strives to be the best cop she can in the metropolis of Zootopia, where word of mouth says all animals live happily together. But that’s not entirely true, and after meeting a sly fox she’s handed a case on which her fresh new career is riding on.
It’s obvious that one of the biggest reasons Zootopia got as much praise as it has is because of its great allusions to current society. We as a people like to think we all get along, but every individual knows that’s not the case. Zootopia shows us this with cartoon animals, and while many have said the metaphors to factors such as race aren’t 100%, that wasn’t the point I think.
I’m not going to get political about this of course. This is a Disney film list, and I talk about what I like about the films. Zootopia is at its heart a mystery film, a buddy cop film, and a fun look at what a city populated by animals that don’t eat each other would look like. And seeing the locales of presented here are amazing, and make me wish we could see more of it. While I doubt we’ll ever get a sequel to Zootopia, I do hope some day we’ll get shorts that showcase the various districts of the city.
Zootopia is a great example of the upward trend of Disney that began with their 2009 film outing. It sets a high bar for films to follow, and I’m certain they’ll keep raising that bar higher. It’s the latest film, so it’s also one of the easiest to go see now if you haven’t already.