I love Disney. Not in a simple, “Because the movies are cute!” type of way, but because they are cute, gorgeous, problematic, and reflective of the times. They are great discussion movies as well as great entertainment. In this list, I’m not including anything by Pixar, because to be perfectly honest, just about every answer would be Pixar-related. That will be a separate post. I’m also sticking to animated features.
Favorite movie: Beauty and the Beast
This is probably the first movie I ever saw, not counting anything Veggie Tale-related. I love it because Belle is a great character. She’s this mix of smart, naive, impatient, loving, and loyal. When her father disappears, she just sets off alone after him. When she finds him captured by a monster, she voluntarily takes his place. No real hesitation. Of course, she’s not happy about it, and resigns herself to weeping on her bed. She is on the kind of adventure she’s always read about in her books (in her opening song, she literally describes the plot of the movie to a sheep by a fountain, “Blah blah, a prince in disguise!”), and she doesn’t know how to react. With the help of Broadway alums in the form of various kitchen equipment, she begins to let down her guard. A little too much. She disobeys the beast’s instruction to not enter the West Wing. A very gutsy (translation: stupid) move, he is, y’know, a beast with claws, with a temper. She doesn’t know if he has the mangled corpses of villagers hanging all up in there. Anywho, she goes in there, gets in trouble, and runs away. Screw adventure. Give me back boring old French village and Gaston who can’t keep his hands to himself. She then encounters wolves (and screams very oddly, right??) and is saved by Beastly himself. She could have easily left him there to die of his wounds, but instead, somehow manages to lift his MASSIVE body unto her horse and takes him back to the castle. A friendship begins to develop.
Keep in mind, the Beast is like twenty-one and has been hanging around the castle with talking candlesticks and what not for TEN YEARS. All because he refused to take in a beggar when he was eleven. Rude, yes, worthy of a curse that transforms him into a monster? Hmm…ok. He has a reason to be bitter. And WHERE ARE HIS PARENTS?? Was he an 11-year old king? Anyway, he isn’t great with social cues. But, he gradually begins to pick up traits from Belle and his brutish personality softens. He falls in love with her and honors her most defining trait – her intelligence – by giving her a huge library. IMPORTANT. The best gift he could think of was not a gorgeous dress or jewelry, or, as Cogsworth suggested, “Flowers, chocolates, and promises you don’t intend to keep.” The Beast knows Belle.
When Belle sees that her father is dying in the snow in search of her, the Beast lets her go, believing that he is dooming himself and castle to a life under the curse. A lot of people criticize this film because they say it’s showing a Stockholm Syndrome relationship, but that is just plain stupid. If that was true, she would have stayed with the Beast instead of saving her father, and the Beast would have had to still be the same raging lion-monster he was when they first met. He has obviously changed at this point in the film, and not because she tried to “fix” him. It just happened. So, the Beast, and after trying to prove that her dad is not crazy and save him from Gaston and that asylum manager who looks like Spiderman-villain Vulture and/or an albino praying mantis, Belle inadvertently sets the village on a murderous rampage. How they didn’t know about this huge castle and enchanted prince, I’ll never know, especially since it’s only been ten years. There are old people in the village, do they not remember what happened?? Maybe that was part of the enchantment. That’s what we’ll go with.
So they fight. The Beast is ready to let Gaston kill him, but when he sees that Belle has returned, he fights back. He is mortally wounded by Gaston, who then falls shrieking to his death, and, once again exhibiting insane strength, Belle pulls the Beast back unto the balcony where she confesses her love for him. Just as the last petal falls. So, happy birthday, Beast! He then transforms back into human form and all is well.
There are damsel-in-distress moments in this movie, but there are just as many, if not more, dude-in-distress moments. The whole dang movie is about Belle saving the Beast. They save each other. That’s beautiful, man. That’s real beautiful.
Favorite underrated Disney movie: The Sword in the Stone
I don’t know a ton of people who have seen this movie, or if they have, they don’t talk about it much. I think it’s adorable. It’s the origin story of King Arthur (called Wart) and his tutoring by Merlin the Wizard, although, honestly, it’s more like playing dress-up with Merlin. They turn into various animals, like fishes and squirrels. Merlin is focused on educating Wart, who is more interested in knights and sword-fighting. I really like this movie because Merlin has no idea who Wart will become; he is invested in him just for his own sake. It’s also just good old-fashioned, hand-drawn traditional animation.
Favorite character: Mulan
Come on, are we surprised? She is everything. She is a misfit. She’s pretty, but awkward. She wants to make her family (especially her father) proud, but feels unable to. I also love the relationship she has with her father. After being humiliated in public by the matchmaker (“You will never bring your family honor!”), major diss, he comforts her by saying her time will come, and she’s going to be the best. Awwww. When war comes, she abandons everything she knows and takes her father’s place as a soldier. After struggling physically, she then uses her brain to impress her betters. Mushu the tiny dragon is supposed to be helping her, but really, it’s Mulan who rocks it all. There’s actually a cool theory about all that, that the reason Mushu isn’t able to awaken The Great Stone Dragon and has to fool the ancestors and run off, is that the great dragon is already awake, in Mulan. She is sitting at his feet in the rain before she decides to run away, and the lightning flashes, and her mind is made up. Mulan has the dragon’s spirit in her. She then saves China and a California-born Japanese emperor (Pat Morita) bows to her. Epic.
Least favorite character: Aurora
She’s so BORING, guys. She has NO personality, and I’m pretty sure she has about two spoken lines because she sings her whole scene when she meets the Prince in the woods. That’s why I don’t like her, because I know nothing about her. To be fair, the only characters in that whole movie who have personalities are the fairies, the troll things, and maybe the kings. Malificent and the Prince are just archetypes with no real individuality.
Favorite villain: Izma from The Emperor’s New Groove
She is basically a more hilarious Cruella de Ville. She also has the best sidekick. I love how crazy she looks and that she doesn’t die in the end, but rather lives on in the body of an adorable Persian cat. I have a separate category for favorite voice work, but if I could divide it up into male/female categories, Eartha Kitt (heaven’s got another star, baby, R.I.P.) definitely did my favorite.
Least favorite villain: The Queen of Hearts
Again, mostly because she isn’t really a thing, she’s kind of just a crazy cat in the weird mish-mosh that is Alice in Wonderland. I like this movie for some reason, but it is very weird, and there isn’t really a clear motive or anything for the Queen. That’s how it is in the original story, because Lewis Carroll was pretty nuts, but it just worked better in book form.
Funniest scene: Robin Hood dressed as a fortune-teller stealing King John’s gold
An oldie, but a goodie. I watched this one a lot when I was a little and that song is always playing somewhere in my head. The snake is the best.
Saddest scene: Mufasa’s death
COME ON. One of the few times Disney actually shows a dead body, and it is SIMBA’S DAD. I had a puzzle once that was a mosaic of Mickey Mouse made up of all these film stills, and like the whole bottom left was just frame after frame of Simba pulling on Mufasa’s ear. CUE UGLY WEEPING.
Favorite quote: “Pudge controls the weather.”
You guys, you don’t even know. This is from Lilo & Stitch, which it another one of those kind of obscure Disney movies that I love, and like no one else does, and it confuses me. Lilo says this when she is late for dancing class, and is explaining why she had to go feed Pudge the fish a peanut butter sandwich. We later learn that Lilo’s parents were killed in a car accident when it was raining. Lilo just has her sister left. Lilo is bringing Pudge the weather-controlling fish a sandwich so he will make sure it stays sunny so no one else Lilo loves will die. OH MY GOSH.
Favorite Song: “God Help the Outcasts” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This song is legit. All of the music from this movie is great, which kind of makes up for how messed up the story is. I get why they had to change, oh, EVERYTHING so Hunchback was kid-friendly, but why even try?? Anyway, this song is so beautiful, and sung by Esmerelda, one of the most dynamic female characters in Disney. It’s a prayer, and it’s desperate, and honest, and THE BEST. Youtube it if you aren’t feeling emotional yet.
Least favorite song: “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book
Best singing work: Idina Menzel as Elsa in Frozen
This is just within the movies themselves, not the reprise versions they always have with famous singers during the credits. It’s recent, but I’m going to have to go with Idina Menzel in Frozen. She really just gets one big song, “Let It Go,” but it is big. She stands out from a lot of Disney singers who tend to all kind of sound the same.
Best voice work: Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin
Again, is this surprising? This is Grade-A Robin.