Hi, gentle readers. Right now, as I write these words, I’m sitting at the house of my friends, in the cold of November New England. By the time they appear on the site, however, and you’re able to read them, I’ll be winging down to Orlando Florida to take my first Disney cruise with my husband Steve and our equally Disney-Geeky housemate Jay. No, don’t pity us.
As a result, the conversation this weekend has turned frequently to Disney (not surprising when you realize that our friends have a 4 year old son, who, as I type, is wearing a bunch of Disney stickers on the chest of his pajama top.
We’ve been discussing favorite Disney movies, and this very naturally suggested a topic for this article. Here, then, are what might be my five favorite Disney movies, and a little insight into why they inspire me so. And yes, I’m including Pixar movies in this list.
Hands down, without a doubt, Brother Bear is my favorite Disney movie. It may surprise you to know that, prior to Brother Bear, I identified far more with wolves and foxes. Thinking about bears following this movie made me realize that, as I’d matured, I’d begun to think of myself in much more bearish terms.
If you don’t know the story of Brother Bear, it centers on Kenai, a self-centered young man living in the pre-Columbian Pacific Northwest. He comes to blame a bear for the death of his older brother and pursues the bear against the wisdom of his tribe’s shaman. When he finds the bear he kills it in a perilous hunt, much to the displeasure of the spirits, including the spirit of his older brother. To teach him a lesson, they transform him into a bear. He finds himself taking responsibility for a little bearcub named Koda, as they head to the Salmon Run, near where the sky touches the earth. Due to further confusion, Kenai’s remaining brother pursues the bear he now believes has killed both of his brothers, not realizing the bear is his brother.
During the journey, Kenai, who had been the youngest brother, learns about being a big brother and taking responsibility for both his actions and for the cub that now relies on him. And, in the end, he’s left with a decision that will cost him either his human brother or his bear brother. There is no perfect ending, and Kenai’s decision may surprise you.
This movie isn’t a musical, exactly…no one sings a song. There are songs, however, provided by Phil Collins, Tina Turner, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. I like the music from the movie, but it’s not what draws me to it. It feels like a very mature movie for Disney, and it’s a movie with no true villain, unless you count intolerance and willful misunderstanding. It’s also an intensely visually appealing movie. When Kenai becomes a bear, the movie’s aspect ratio changes from TV-sized to widescreen, and the color palette goes from being muted to being incredibly vibrant. This is a simple way to express Kenai’s change in perception, and it’s a fantastic visual change.
Hands down, this is my favorite of the old school Disney films. I may have named myself Gus Gus after seeing Cinderella, but this movie, with its unique Mary Blair inspired visuals, really captured my imagination as a kid. Watching it again as an adult re-awoke my love for it all over again, and it has my favorite Disney villain for sheer bad-assery.
The story is pretty familiar to most folks who know fairy tales. A beautiful daughter, Aurora, is born to the king and queen of a happy kingdom. They fail to invite the evil fairy, Maleficent, but she shows up to the baby’s christening anyway. Two of the kingdom’s good fairies have given her their gifts already – Beauty and Song. Maleficent’s “Gift” is that the princess will be beloved by everyone she meets…right up until her 16th birthday, when she’ll prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. After Maleficent leaves, the last fairy gives her gift. Aurora will only fall asleep, waiting to be awoken by Love’s First Kiss.
The fairies hide Aurora, naming her Briar Rose and keeping her hidden in a country cottage in an effort to protect her, and her parents destroy every spinning wheel in the kingdom. She meets a prince in the forest who just happens to be Prince Phillip, the prince to whom Aurora was betrothed as a child, and they just happen to fall in love.
In the end, however, Destiny will have its way. Aurora is brought to the palace and pricks her finger on a spinning wheel Maleficent reveals to her, falling asleep. The fairies, having been undone, put everyone around her to sleep as well, then find Prince Phillip. Maleficent does everything in her power to keep the Prince away, including turning into one of the most awesome film dragons ever, but ultimately, good and love are given their chance to win the day.
With an incredibly memorable villain, a hero who actually *does* something, fantastic music based on the Sleeping Beauty ballet by Tchaikovsky, and fun characters, this movie really stands up as a classic.
In a move defying all logic, when a movie version of My Fair Lady was made, the woman who had made it a hit on Broadway was totally ignored in favor of the star power of Audrey Hepburn – who couldn’t sing. Good move, Hollywood. Actually, though, their loss was our gain, because otherwise we might not have gotten the incomparable Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, a role in which she beat Hepburn to receive the Oscar for Best Actress.
Mary Poppins is an eccentric and rather magical woman who comes to be Nanny for Jane and Michael Banks, but who has just as much influence over the Banks household, including the stodgy Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson in one of his best movie roles) who has been neglecting his children. Aided and abetted by Bert, a plucky Cockney street performer who also moonlights as a chimney sweep (and played delightfully, if with one of the most ridiculous accents ever, by Dick van Dyke), she takes the children on marvelous outings into chalk paintings, has a tea party on the ceiling, and convinces Mr. Banks to take them to his place of business…a bank. When chaos ensues at the bank, Mr. Banks ends up weighing his family against his career, and decides what’s really important in life.
With an Oscar winning song and an Oscar winning actress, this movie must stand out as one of Disney’s masterpieces. Despite the fact that the author of the Mary Poppins books, P. L. Travers, expresses her disdain for the movie, it’s a real work of art.
Toy Story 3
When we saw Toy Story, we loved it. When we heard about Toy Story 2, we weren’t that excited. A sequel? Why? We don’t need one. But then we saw it, and it was brilliant. Liked it better than the first one. And then we heard about Toy Story 3. Do we need a third sequel? we wondered. But then we saw it, and we loved it. It’s the perfect cap to the series, and the ending…both the exciting climax and then the real emotional heart of the movie…gave us something we’d never seen before in an animated film.
In short, Andy, the owner of the toys, has grown to college age. He doesn’t want to dispose of his old toys, but he doesn’t want to take them to college with him, either. He decides to take Woody, but his mother misunderstands his intentions and puts the other toys on the curb to be thrown out. Feeling discarded and alone, they decide to donate themselves to a child care center, where they find everything seems wonderful. Things turn out to be not so rosy, however, and escape plans are soon hatched. In the end, everything works out, of course, but Andy’s still too old to take them to college. His decision on what to do makes for one of the most tear-jerking moments in animated movie history. A perfect and fulfilling ending which is heart-breaking for anyone who’s ever said goodbye to something they’ve loved.
This movie brings back a lot of favorite characters, and it introduces new ones like Buttercup the stuffed unicorn, Mr. Pricklepants, the Shakespearean hedgehog figurine, and Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear, who smells like strawberries but who harbors a dark heart. Who would’ve thought Ned Beatty could be chilling? It also has one of the funniest ideas in the movie franchise, in which Buzz Lightyear is accidentally switched to Spanish language mode. And it introduces Bonnie, a little girl with a heck of an imagination.
Again, this movie puts the perfect ending on the series and teaches us all what it means to grow up.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
You might not immediately have this incredibly ground-breaking film leap to mind when you think of Disney, but it is, via Disney’s Touchstone Pictures. I saw this movie over a dozen times in the theater, thanks to an easy college semester and living in the vicinity of many different theaters.
The movie takes place in the 40s in a Hollywood that borders on Toontown, where all the cartoon characters live. The story follows Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), a down-and-out alcoholic private eye who is hired by R. K. Maroon, the head of Maroon Cartoons. One of the studio’s big stars, Roger Rabbit, is distracted because his wife, Jessica Rabbit, is suspected of sleeping around with Marvin Acme, the owner of the Acme Gag Factory. Valiant discovers that Jessica isn’t a rabbit at all…she’s an unbelievably curvaceous and beautiful human cartoon…and he takes compromising photos of her playing pattycake with Acme…and no, that’s not a euphemism. When Acme shows up dead of an anvil being dropped on his head, Roger becomes the prime suspect. He comes to Valiant for help, because the P.I. used to be known for his friendship towards toons, but he’s become embittered since a toon killed his brother. Chasing Roger is a bunch of cartoon weasels and the uber-creepy Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), who has created a substance called Dip that can actually kill a toon. It all adds up to a story of sex, love, greed, and Hollywood sleaze in a world where humans and cartoons live side by side.
As great as the main story and characters are, what really steals the show are the effects and the cameos. The movie seamlessly blends live-action and animation in a way that no other movie had before. When a cartoon weasel flicks the water in a sink, real water gets flicked up. When Bob Hoskins gets dragged around his office by Roger, he really knocks things over, manipulates desk drawers, and seems to be bodily dragging Hoskins against his will. It makes for a startling visual treat.
When they decided to make this movie, Touchstone knew that this movie wouldn’t work if the only cartoon characters appearing in it were Disney characters. They made deals with Warner Brothers, Walter Lanz, and other studios to have their characters appear. As a result, you see Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse in a parachuting scene, and Betty Boop is a cigarette girl at a club where Donald Duck and Daffy Duck play dueling pianos, and the penguins from Mary Poppins are waiters.
This movie really paved the way for movies in which computer animation blends into live action. We really owe it a debt.
I could mention so many other Disney movies. I love most of the animated films, in particular the Bongo the Circus Bear sequence from Fun and Fancy Free, and the Sleepy Hollow part of the Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. I love Pixar’s films in general, excepting the Cars movies, and with The Incredibles being a specific favorite, edged out only barely by Toy Story 3.
Have I left your favorite movie out of my list? Do you dislike one of the movies I’ve included? Let us all know.