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.

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