In keeping with the controversial (the wounds from last week’s trilogy piece are still stinging), let’s now turn our sights to one of the most misunderstood—and uneven—oeuvres in all of modern moviemaking: The Disney Full Length Animated “Classic”. Considering the amount of unconditional love these House of Mouse favorites tend to generate, it would be foolhardy to try and pick 20, let alone an even tougher 10. But the truth is a bit more measured. Not everything that came out of Walt’s World, either before or after his death, wasn’t an apple of painted cell gold. Instead, just like any accomplished creator, he and his company had their good days and bad, their One Hundred and One Dalmatians and their Fun and Fancy Free, so to speak.
So, we are ready to hear the horrific cries of those who want any number of the following found below: Bambi, Dumbo, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, The Sword in the Stone, Aladdin and/or The Emperor’s New Groove. We get it, we are out of touch and wouldn’t know good cartooning if it jumped up and bit us in the pen and inks. This is particularly true of the more contemporary titles, since determining artistic longevity is more than just a sense of appreciation. However, we can literally defend every choice here, from the inclusion of one of the company’s most unusual efforts (a Greek God comedy???) to the obvious universally adored efforts. Still, you might find a few surprises along the way, especially when it comes to placement (as in a certain revered royalty that’s currently burning up the box office).
In the end, you can argue over the order or inclusion/exclusion, but you cannot deny the impact Disney has had on the artform. Animation would never be the same without the mammoth that Mickey built—even the oddball pick in tenth place:
Many might wonder how we came up with this choice, considering the above-mentioned list it bettered. The answer, oddly enough, is in the actual film itself. This is a spry, satiric epic, a brilliant deconstruction of the conqueror ideal with as much smarts and stunt casting. The inclusion of a pre-Family Guy James Woods as the villain is just one of this hilarious effort’s many genius moves. The Cliff’s Notes version of mythology is also incredible. In the end, this is the movie Aladdin wanted to be, if it wasn’t so busy catering to an over the top Robin Williams. Sans the stand-up motor mouth, Hercules is truly heroic.
While many point to The Little Mermaid as the beginning of Disney’s post-‘70s renaissance, this is actually the title that lifted the company’s sagging creative spirits. Sure, we had to suffer through Oliver and Company (and suffer we did) and a reasonable decent Rescuers Down Under before the House of Mouse truly rediscovered its footing, but in this likable amalgamation of cartoon and caper, we get the basics that would blossom into incontrovertible brilliance. As usual, the company deserves kudos for its casting choices. Vincent Price was never better as the voice of the evil Ratigan, providing a level of legitimacy that would linger.
What? Why not higher? Why not somewhere in the rarified air of the Top Three, if not Numero Uno itself? Well, the answer is a bit obvious. Have you seen The Lion King lately? Though it deals with anthropomorphized animals in a native African setting, this uplifting story of father and son bonding is a bit… dated. Indeed, it just feels like Disney circa the early ‘90s. It’s a bit aloof, a tad too full of itself, and the Elton John/Tim Rice songs have not aged well. Come on—who can hear “Hakuna Matata” today and not throw up a little bit in their mouth?
This earns its place on the countdown for one reason and one reason only: the appropriately named Maleficent. There has never been a more modern, malevolent baddie in all of old school Disney. She out shrews Cruella De Ville an out-evils any wicked witch you can mention. When facing down Prince Phillip with her magic and her dragon, she’s everything a movie villain needs to be… and then some. Today, she might be an unusual icon for many (fan and fetishist alike) but her aura continues to carry over to every female fiend the company has ever created.