Friday, November 29, 2013

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.

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