Saturday, November 30, 2013

Best of Disney Animated Features (33-24)

33. The Aristocats (1970)
Even when Disney has a mid-range movie, it is still considered a classic.  Definitely not among the studio's best, but a very likable movie.  The story is built on a loose, but strong foundation of a family of cats going on a journey to find their way home and meeting some colorful new friends.  It has its dull moments like many Disney movies from this period, but not as much as others.  The musical sequences are high energy and the characters are likable.

32. Treasure Planet (2002)
It seems that either you love this movie or you don't.  When looking at it critically it really is somewhere in the middle.  It is an uneven movie, with some intrusive comic relief and a lack of focus.  Still, it is creative, adventurous and sincere.  The relationships and characterization among the leads is really sweet and surprisingly mature.  The action scenes are exciting and well paced.  I love this movie and it is worth discovering.  It is one of the best adaptations of Treasure Island.  I describe it further in this review (not my best review, but still make some good points, if I do say so myself).

31. Hercules (1997)
This is such an interesting movie when looking at Disney's entire library, it really is unique.  It tries to follow the Broadway musical format, but rather than going serious like the previous two films it went straight for the laughs.  There is still definitely drama, especially with Eric Goldberg's character of Phil who is both comic relief and caring mentor.  The character of Hades steals the show along with some pretty clever pop culture references.  The visuals in this movie went away from the Disney style with designs from Scarfe, which makes this stand out.  It is interesting that the story seems to take it inspirations from movies such as Superman, Karate Kid and Rocky rather than Greek myths.  All of these disparate elements works but don't necessarily make the most complete film.  It lacks a definite anchor in the main character and story structure.  However this works as a comedy and a pretty touching underdog story.  Time has been kind to this film and it is a good one.

30. Great Mouse Detective (1986)
The third movie in a row from Ron Clements and John Musker on this list.  The strength in this movie is in its two leads: the clever, charming Basil of Baker Street and his hammy nemesis Ratigan.  Disney plays up the arch-rival archetypes well and the animators are clearly having fun with them.  It is a pleasant little comedy that also serves as an exciting adventure.  Even though the clock tower is clearly computer animated you still believe that the characters are there and it remains the most memorable part of the movie.  This was the first time that Disney animation had made a quality product in a long time and was an important step to bigger and better things.

28. Frozen (2013)
This is the most recent Disney animated feature and it is a good one.  There is a huge scale, some interesting twists and great comic relief.  Despite its definite quality, it definitely gives the feeling that it could be better.  The plot is not set up well and follows too many different story lines.  Many of the themes are interesting, but it should have just chosen one to focus on.  Some scenes also seem abrupt.  The chase with the wolves and the Snow Monster are well animated, but the movie does not take its time with them.  Still, this is complaining about a very good movie.  Snow has never looked better on the screen, there is creativity in the trolls and the comic relief character of Olaf is an absolute stand out as the animators find every way to take advantage of him being a snowman.  It is touching, just not as consistent as it could have been.  This has been heavily applauded for subverting the traditional Disney romance, but Disney has already poked fun at themselves in other movies and showcased strong independent female characters.  This movie would have been better if it had trusted itself to tell a story about two sisters, without cramming in love interests.

29. Fantasia 2000 (1999)
Vastly different from 1940's Fantasia, but a very worthy successor.  The weakness of this film is in its packaging.  The live-action scenes with celebrities seem out of place and age the movie.  They are not funny and ruin the flow of the movie, although some segments such as James Earl Jones' work well.  Disney utilizes many different styles of music and animation to tell different stories.  The best shorts are the ones directed by Eric Goldberg: Rhapsody in Blue and Carnival of the Animals.  Other shorts such as Pines of Rome, Pomp and Circumstance, and The Firebird Suite are stunning and creative.  Of course it is always great to see The Sorcerer's Apprentice.  In many ways this is more accessible than the original Fantasia, which has been seen as a tad pretentious.  These cartoons are all story based, don't shy away from humor and take place in a much shorter film.  This movie has unfortunately been forgotten, but it should be rediscovered as it features some amazingly underrated work from Disney animators.

27. Rescuers Down Under (1990)
I ranked the original 1977 Rescuers pretty low, but this is the rare sequel that is leagues above the original.  The scenes with Marahute are some of the best flying scenes ever animated and his relationship with Cody is rather touching.  The side characters are fun as are the leads Bernard and Bianca.  This is a rousing adventure that is only know receiving the credit it very much deserves.  It is a shame that this did not receive a bigger push when it was released, it would be nice to see more movies like it.

26. Mulan (1998)
This movie does a lot of things different from previous Disney movies, primarily with its gender roles.  Unfortunately the movie feels the need to point that out and does not trust itself to be entirely different.  Still the character of Mulan is a strong, admirable lead.  There are many scenes that stand out such as the touching talk from Fa Zou, the silent scene where she steals her father's armor and the battle on the mountain.  The movie is a little disjointed as it tries to cram some unnecessary comic relief and a love story.  But overall this is a great effort from the studio who successfully broke out of the mold.

25. The Jungle Book (1967)
One of the best-loved Disney animated features.  The songs and fun characters have made this a classic and help it hold up for new audiences.  It definitely lags at times and is not the most impressive film from an artistic stand point.  But the character animation and voice work are the selling point.  Baloo, Baghera, Shere Khan, Kaa, King Louie and Colonel Haithi's elephants are great characters to build a film around.

24. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
This is one of Disney's best known films.  These versions of Lewis Caroll's characters have become iconic and remain one of Disney's most popular brand.  Critically and among Disney animators at the time this was not the most popular.  It certainly has its flaws as it does not feel like a complete film.  But much like the Jungle Book, the character animation raises the quality of the film immensely.  The Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit, Caterpillar and Queen of Hearts are some of Disney's best wacky characters.  The bright and colorful nonsensical world is also a treat for the eyes with Mary Blair's backgrounds.  It may not be perfect as a whole, but there is certainly great art at play.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Best of Disney Animated Features (43-34)

43. Sword in the Stone (1963)
Much like, Robin Hood, it is well liked but not great.  Again, the criticism comes back to being dull.  Wart is not a good lead character and there are scenes that slow it down (namely the song To and Fro).  Watching this again I was struck by how incredibly segmented the movie was and also how angry Merlin would get seemingly out of nowhere.  But this is not without its strengths.  The squirrel scene is memorable for many, but the highlight is a colorful battle with the ridiculous Madame Mim.

42. Robin Hood (1973)
This was one of my favorites as a kid.  It does not completely hold up, but it does have some rousing adventure elements.  The big action set pieces are very good, especially the big robbery and prison break.  However, as many films from this period, it is dull.  The characters are not all interesting, the romance slows the movie down and the humor does not all work.  However many of the characters do work and it is one of the more memorable tellings of Robin Hood.

41. Three Caballeros (1945)
This does not work as a feature, but it is remembered fondly for good reason.  Donald's trip to Baia and the introduction of the Aracuan are really fun.  The titular song, animated vibrantly by Ward Kimball, is the most surreal and energetic animation in the studio's long history.  The movie still includes some forgettable shorts and live-action scenes that have aged it.  Unlike any other Disney feature, but it is not for everyone.

40. Oliver and Company (1988)
This is a pleasant little feature, but not one that is a must see.  There is strong character animation and some good action scenes but it does not do too much that hasn't been done before.  The character of the Dodger is really fun and his big number, Why Should I Worry?, is great.  Nothing all that bad other than there is not all that good.  Pretty mid-range Disney film.

39. Bolt (2008)
Many are curious what Chris Sanders' American Dog would have been like.  But as a final film this was the best Disney animated movie in years.  The pet on a journey home is a likable story and always makes for a good family film.  It is an incredibly likable feature, albeit not too memorable.  The best part of this movie was the exciting chase scene from the fictitious TV show.

38. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
Like most Disney movies that attempt to capture an older audience they become uneven as they try to remain marketable.  There are definite flaws, the tonal shifts and some out of place comic relief.  However this is creatively designed, gorgeously drawn and features great character animation (particularly on the characters of Helga and Dr. Sweet).  This is a high adventure but is not as consistent as it should be.  Still this gets unfairly maligned and deserves its cult classic status.

37. Fun and Fancy Free (1947)
I may be the only person who really likes this movie and may rank it too high, but this is one of Disney's best package features.  Jiminy Cricket is a natural narrator and it is fun to see him in that likable role.  The first half, Bongo, is pretty standard but it still entertains.  The second half is Mickey and the Beanstalk, which is one of the best trio shorts of all time.  There is some good animation with the growth of the beanstalk, Goofy vs. the jello and the new character of Willie the Giant.  Personally I find Edgar Bergen's schtick hilarious, but it ages the movie a bit.  This is just fun, quality Disney animation featuring classic characters.  Would love to see them do something similar again.

36. Pocahontas (1995)
One of the best things I have ever written was this in depth review.  It is a good movie but has some persistent flaws holding it back.  Read the review for my analysis.

35. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Far below the Disney masterpieces it is usually grouped with.  It is pretty uninteresting and features many bland characters.  The highlights that help this hold up are Marc Davis' animation of Maleficent and the stunning stylized backgrounds.  The scene where Maleficent possesses Aurora into pricking her finger is also one of Disney's eeriest scenes.  But there is not much in the way of creativity, the humor does not work and it is full of things that work better in previous movies.  This still holds a place in many people's hearts, but Disney has done much better work.

34. Fox and the Hound (1981)
This is one of the more flawed Disney movies, but that never gets much negative attention because the parts that work really work and inspire a strong emotional connection.  The friendship with Todd and Copper is touching and their struggles carries some definite weight.  The main characters are likable and the side characters, namely Big Mama, are good too.  There are definite issues with the pacing, the animation is not all that extraordinary and there are several missed story opportunities.  However the song Best of Friends, the bear fight and other high points make this a classic to those who grew up with it.

Best of Disney Animated Features (53-44)

Having just seen Frozen I have now seen all 53 Disney animated features.  For the next several days I am going to list these movies from the worst to the best.  Please keep in mind that I am ranking 53 movies.  This is all subjective and it is difficult to compare many of these as they are all different (despite the misconception that all Disney movies are the same).  If I rank a movie that you love or grew up with lower, please do not take it personally.  But I hope you enjoy and look at some of these movies that you have never heard of or have not seen since you were a kid.

53. Chicken Little (2005)
Disney at their best set standards and changed the industry, this was them following passing trends.  Disney had switched to computer generated movies with this Shrek knock-off.  There is really no story here to justify a feature length, it is transparently an attempt to follow passing trends.  The characters are not likable, memorable or even entertaining.  The universe that features fairy tale characters, baseball, a suburban setting, pop culture references and aliens does not make much sense.  The look of the film is pretty disjointed and character designs are unappealing.  It isn't funny, isn't touching, it is just there in the most uninteresting way.

52. The Black Cauldron (1985)
Disney made one of their most ambitious films when the company was at its weakest.  This was a passion project for a new batch of animators who were working without the guidance of Disney's veteran staff for the first time.  There is ambition here and a definite effort to make a different type of animated feature.  There is nothing overly creative in the animation, although it is competent.  These are the dullest Disney characters ever created.  This has found a cult following and is an interesting installment in their filmography, but it will never be considered a masterpiece.

51. Make Mine Music (1946)
This has to be the least known Disney animated feature.  During and after World War II Disney made package features to create revenue as full length narratives were too costly at the time.  The problem with the package features of the forties is that there is no thematic unity.  The assortment of shorts seem rather random.  This movie has more mediocre shorts than memorable ones.  Casey at the Bat and Peter and the Wolf are good enough, but definitely not anywhere near the studio's best.  All the Cats Join In features some unique designs and lively animation from Fred Moore, but it shows its age.  The highlight of the feature is easily Willie the Operatic Whale, the hilariously tragic story of a whale with three throats that wants to sing at The Met.

50. Dinosaur (2000)
As with many of Disney's features this one is incredibly ambitious.  This was Disney's first serious foray into computer animation as it pits its animated dinosaurs against live-action backgrounds.  The look of this movie is pretty stunning and the realistic characters are very believable.  People are quick to blame the quality of this movie on the decision to include dialogue, but even without the terrible lines the story does not justify its feature length.  It is really beautiful and was a risk, but just not enough in the story or characters to recommend it.

49. Saludos Amigos (1942)
It is questionable if this should even count as a feature film as it is only 42 minutes.  However it is much more entertaining than most package features as it does not overstay its welcome and the quality is consistent among the four shorts.  It includes documentary footage from a Good Neighbor trip that the animators took to South America.  The shorts included are pretty standard, but still fun.  They include Donald Duck in Lake Titicaca, a How-To Goofy short El Gaucho Goofy and an original story about a young airplane,  Pedro.  The short that makes this movie stand out is Aqualero do Brasil, which was the debut of Jose Carioca and features gorgeous backgrounds from Mary Blair.

48. Melody Time (1948)
Another package feature, this one has some better shorts than Make Mine Music.  The best two are Bumble Boogie and the Donald short Blame it on the Samba.  Also memorable are the tall tales Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill.  Once Upon a Wintertime and Little Toot are standard Disney shorts.  Plenty of great classic Disney animation, but not the studios' best.

47. Home on the Range (2004)
This was going to be their final traditionally animated movie.  I liked it a lot more when I saw it again as an adult than when I was a kid.  There are a couple of good songs from Alan Menken and some good action scenes.  However this is one of Disney's more forgettable features.  The premise of cows collecting a bounty on a cow thief to save their farm would make for a very fun short, but it is difficult to get invested in this for ninety minutes.  Nothing terrible, but not much good either.

46. Meet the Robinsons (2007)
This was heavily reworked after Lasseter became head of Disney animation.  Overall it is very busy and frantic with a lot of lively colors and characters, but it leaves very little impact.  There is almost too much going on with the adventure and the drama, but none of it really seems to matter.  However some characters such as Bowler Hat Guy and Grandpa, both voiced by director Stephen Anderson, are fun.  There is a very touching scene at the end of the movie that does tug at the heartstrings, but it is pretty unearned.

45. The Rescuers (1977)
I know that this is considered a classic and many grew up with it, but I have a difficult time finding things to recommend.  There are good characters.  Bernard and Bianca are pleasant, Madame Medusa is wonderfully hammy and Rufus is a delightfully warm character.  But it is dull.  The action moves slowly, the colors are rather bland, and Penny is an irritating child character.  Not a bad movie, but definitely not in the same league as Disney's classics.

44. Brother Bear (2003)
Another movie that features some great parts that never completely comes together.  It finds some great emotions and has an incredible nature setting.  But despite the strength of it as a morality tale the story elements do not work.  It is an enjoyable film, but the comic relief is intrusive and it does not seem to trust itself to be deep or beautiful.  Definitely a lot of great elements, but not a complete masterpiece.