Since their first full-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Disney has been making the magical animated classics we all know and love today. They've popularized centuries-old tales such as Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, the Frog Prince, the Little Mermaid, etc. and created many amazing and inspiring original characters as well. Over time, Disney evolved and grew, expanding beyond European folklore into tales from other cultures, spawning films like Aladdin, Mulan, and Hercules.
There's something special about Disney's impressive body of work. They make stories with a lot of heart, with characters struggling with issues the audience can usually relate to. They've done movies with such massive appeal that many of their characters have a sort of celebrity status in the public mind.
With this list, I didn't just choose the most popular or even the most well-liked by critics. I march to beat of my own drummer. I chose these because I thought they had the most beautiful, deep, and compelling stories. Many of them are sort of under-appreciated, and many others have been criticized sharply. However, these movies were chosen by me because not only were they special to me as a kid, but they remained important to me as an adult.
And so here are the ten Disney animated movies I believe are the fairest of them all:
10. Beauty and the Beast
This charming tale takes place in provincial France sometime during the late Renaissance. Belle is an intelligent young woman who likes to read, which makes her have problems fitting in, as society in her small village is decidedly not intellectual. The most handsome guy in town, Gaston, has his eye on Belle anyway, because she's "the most beautiful girl in town" and he, as a hunter, wants her for a trophy.
Belle ends up in some trouble when her quirky inventor father gets kidnapped by a hideous beast-like man who lives in a large but desolate castle. She agrees to be the beast's prisoner in her father's place. Through perseverance, sensitivity, and a dedication to seeing the inner good in people, the beast and Belle eventually fall in love. The beast, as it was explained in the beginning, was originally a handsome prince. Through arrogance and vanity, he offended a "beggar woman" who was really an enchantress in disguise. He was punished by her by being transformed into this hideous creature, and forced to live that way unless someone fell in love with him, learning to love him for what was on the inside.
Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful romance with a great heroine. Belle is intelligent but also sensitive, caring, and kind. This makes her "the one" who can defeat the spell the beast is under. This is because she is the only one able to look past the beast's bad behavior, temper, and appearance and discover the beauty within him. Belle is also strong-willed. Instead of being a damsel in distress, she actually asked to be taken as the beast's prisoner in her father's place, which was very brave and a noble thing to do. In the beginning, she has no trouble asserting herself against the unwanted advances of Gaston, and is established as someone with a fiery spirit and big dreams, who fights for what she thinks is right.
The thing most critics say negatively about Beauty and the Beast is that the movie shows or promotes Stockholm syndrome, which is when a captive falls in love with his or her captor. People also sometimes say it promotes "battered wife syndrome". I don't think this is the case. Belle chose her captivity, to save her father. She only tries to get to know Beast out of curiosity (which I could relate to) and at the behest of various talking objects. At first, they don't get along at all, because the beast has lived a lonely life for many years and needs to work on being gentlemanly. But he does, he makes improvements, and Belle's kindness and forgiving nature are able to help him mature significantly throughout the course of the film. Also, Belle is no doormat. She definitely stood up to the beast when he was behaving badly, even as a prisoner in his castle. I think the media too-often confuses being nice with having a submissive personality, but this is not so with Belle.
My main problem with this is actually something few critics bring up; the talking objects. Are they necessary? They're goofy comic relief characters. In a show about the romance developing between Belle and the beast, sometimes I wonder if they are important to the story. And, it causes a logical problem as well, because why would a "good" enchantress curse all the household servants for the crime of their master? That doesn't seem very fair to me. It seems to me that these characters exist for unimportant side scenes that distract from the overall plot of the movie (like the "Be Our Guest" song, even though I still liked that song). They're cute and funny and all but do they really need to be there? They seemed more like freakish hallucinations of a grief-addled Belle than anything else, at least at first. However, their most important role is probably in explaining the beast's past and motives to Belle, and working with varying degrees of success to get the two together. They want to be human, damn it!
Belle - Beauty and the Beast
9. The Princess and the Frog
Finally, Disney did a movie with a black princess, which I thought was good because Hollywood has historically under-represented blacks and other minority groups way too much. Disney has also had problems before with not showing empowered women who think for themselves (like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, classic princesses with a more passive, feminine personality). This movie also changes that, and for the first time has a "princess" who is actually a hard-working waitress with dreams of owning her own restaurant. This movie was ground-breaking for Disney in a number of ways.
Tiana, the main character, is a young, single black woman living in New Orleans circa 1920's. She works two jobs as a waitress and is shown as barely having time to sleep sometimes between them. But to Tia, it's worth it, because she is saving every spare penny she can and putting it towards her dream of turning an old sugar mill into her restaurant. In some ways, it's also her father's dream, and Tia very much wants to emulate her father for his strong work ethic. However, this means ignoring her friends when they ask her to go out dancing. Tia's problem is largely that she's all work and no play.
Mardi Gras approaches (because that's what happens any time a movie is set in New Orleans) and a prince, Naveen of Maldonia, shows up in town for the celebrations. Charlotte, a rich southern belle who has been friends with Tia since childhood (since her mom worked for Charlotte's father as a seamstress and made her several princess-y dresses), is thrilled at the news. Charlotte has always wanted to be a princess, so she wants to meet, and hopefully marry, the visiting prince.
But another character has other ideas. Dr. Facilier, the villain of the show, is a power-hungry voodoo man. He plans to get Prince Naveen, Big Daddy (Charlotte's rich father), and Charlotte caught up in an intricate plot to rule over New Orleans. Naveen isn't off the boat for five minutes before being lured in by Facilier's charisma, and he ends up getting a tarot reading. Unlike a normal tarot reading, where you just pay some vague-talking hippie lady to tell you nice things about yourself, this one ends with Facilier convincing Naveen and his stuffy British servant to get involved in some kind of dark blood magic. This ends up turning Naveen into a frog and the servant into Naveen. Since the servant's ambitious side is being fed by Facilier, he eagerly allows himself to be a pawn in Facilier's game. The plan? Seduce Charlotte while wearing Naveen's body, marry her, and use her big shot father to control the city and give souls directly to Facilier's "friends", evil voodoo spirits, because... well, I don't really know the how of everything. Dr. Facilier was probably more after money than anything else.
At any rate, prince froggy hops off and, at the same costume party where Tia learns to her heartbreak that someone else outbid her for the restaurant, she meets a talking frog when she steps out onto a balcony. Realistically she freaks out and tries to squish him. But then, she remembers the story of the Frog Prince, and they both come to the conclusion that a kiss should be what causes him to turn back to normal. So they give it a shot...
Only for the spell to cause Tia to turn into a frog as well. The two go on a crazy adventure through the bayou to try to get themselves changed back into humans. They meet Ray, an elderly male firefly, and an alligator named Louis who dreams of being a human who plays jazz trumpet. Gee, doesn't that sound familiar, an animal named Louis or Louie who wants to become human and likes jazz music? (It's what the Nostalgia Chick called deja Disney!)
So then Louis, Tia, Naveen, and Ray travel through the bayou to meet Mama Odie, a kind old lady with magical powers who tells them that to be human again, Naveen in frog form has to kiss a real princess. They then realize that Charlotte is going to be a princess for as long as Mardi Gras, because her dad is always crowned "king" of the Mardi Gras parade. That counts... right?
They rush back to New Orleans to find Charlotte, but they end up separated. Ray ends up dead and they didn't get a kiss for Mr. Froggy on time. Then Mr. Facilier comes after the magical necklace containing the prince's blood (he needs more so that Naveen's servant can keep up his glamor spell and continue using the prince's identity).
In the end, Tia ends up destroying said necklace, and turning Dr. Facilier's little "friends" against him, and they drag him into hell. Disney! Anyway, then, Tia and Naveen, who have fallen in love through this whole experience, get married, remaining in frog form. However, since Tia became a princess when marrying Naveen, her kiss was able to break the spell.
The two have the happily ever after sequence, AND Tia gets the restaurant she's always dreamed of, and Louis can play as much trumpet as he likes.
Where do I start? I love the costumes, dresses, character designs, just the animation in general. The movie has one of the best Disney villains ever; Facilier is smart, cunning, and plenty spooky. It also has awesome songs, since the music was directed by Randy Newman (it makes me willing to forgive that song about short people). It says something when I'm in my 20s and still can't watch this movie without crying at the end.
I like that this is one of the few Disney movies that captures how hard it is to be poor, and how hard it is to get on top. Sure it's an idealistic picture of the South in the 1920's, but it's also more true to life than previous Disney movies and I deeply appreciate that. This movie has it's message clear; you have to work hard to succeed, but you should never forget to make time for the people you care about as well.
Compare that to, say, The Little Mermaid, where the main character is basically a spoiled teen going through that rebellious phase, only the plot completely justifies her irrationally hasty actions.
Um, it makes us get emotionally attached to, and care about the death of, a bug? Sorry but to me bugs are bugs. Plus his schizophrenia is more unsettling than heartwarming.
Down in New Orleans - Pricness and the Frog
"If the savage one is me, how can there be so much that you don't know?"
When I saw this movie as a kid, I immediately fell in love. This is one of few Disney movies (and movies in general) where I actually even liked the cute little side characters, especially the dog Percy and raccoon Meeko. I liked that their inability to get along was symbolic of the greater conflict between the Indians and settlers. I also liked that this was a Disney movie based on American history (ok, very, very, loosely based on American history, but still). It had an interesting conflict and told a Romeo and Juliet-like story of two lovers who unite despite their respective people's disputes.
Pocahontas hasn't been well received by critics. People said it revives the old stereotype of the Noble Savage. Although, I still wonder if, with all the racism against native Americans that still persists, taking a stand in a movie like this isn't at least a tiny bit necessary. People are faulting it for being progressive, but not progressive enough, when I feel like it's still important to point out that this movie was very progressive at the time. Along with Mulan and Princess and the Frog, it is part of Disney's efforts to include more minority main characters and stories stemming from non-white cultures. During this era of Disney films, Disney put out fantastic and awesome movies, like Lion King, Alladin, and Beauty and the Beast, overshadowing the more simple beauty of this movie.
Disney's re-imagined version of Pocahontas is still one of the best role models for girls ever seen on the big screen. That's one of the reasons I chose to include this one despite many negative reviews. Another trope it does well is the "environmental Aesop" or "green Aesop" seen here most strongly in the "Colors of the Wind" song. Pocahontas shows the colonists, who are only interested in gold, that there is no gold, and yet the land they stand on is worth a whole lot more than that, teaching them (and the audience) the value and beauty of "useless" wilderness.
I also liked that Pocahontas was a rebellious princess, but not in the way that Ariel or Jasmine were. She's not doing it because she feels rebellious or even just for love, although that plays a role. She's standing up to her father the chief to stop an execution which would lead to a devastating war, following what she believes is right.
As a kid, this movie was important for me in that it got me inspired to learn more about my country's history. A penchant for historical American fiction aimed at little girls also developed in me when I read the American Girls series of books. I think it's great because so often the importance of women is overlooked in historical discussions.
Pocahontas was a movie that dared to be serious and attempt to teach the audience a lesson, grown-ups included. I wonder why so many critics assume that's a bad thing. I was very mature and bookish as a kid, so why not have an intellectually complicated and serious Disney movie for children like me? I watched this movie way more times on VHS than Cinderella or Snow White, let's put it that way. There was something magical and captivating about it.
I've already talked about it, but I basically like this for two reasons:
- It discusses serious, important issues like racial conflict, colonization, and the beauty of nature, and
- It has a great, strong protagonist who I think is an exemplary role model for little girls.
Instead of falling in stereotypical love at first sight, she begins by challenging and lecturing John Smith. Instead of being passive, she fights for her beliefs. Instead of being disrespectful or rebellious for the sake of rebelliousness, she looks to the wisdom of her elders, especially the council of Grandmother Willow.
The drama in this movie is also really compelling.
Some critics have had a lot to say about the film's historical accuracy. However, I don't think very highly of people who nit-pick little details just to show off how mentally superior they are to an animated movie geared toward children. Yes we get that there are no moose in Virginia, you can go home now. I didn't mind the inaccuracies I now know about, because at the time the movie got me interested in learning about history. Isn't that what we want for children, to get them to be curious about discovery?
Other than inaccuracy, some people have taken offense to Pocahontas being made older than she actually was (she looks 18 or so, but in real life was about 11 or 12). But I think that there's no real way to make the story of John Smith and Pocahontas seem like an acceptable relationship to modern audiences if Pocahontas hadn't been at what we see as an acceptable age of consent. So I didn't care about that change. And as for her sexiness? Well, it was actually common back then for natives to run around in the buff, so if anything her dress is a more modest covering than she would have actually had.
The worst thing I can say about this movie? When Pocahontas dives off a cliff, Disney really should have put up a disclaimer reading "Do Not Attempt" on the screen.
The Virginia Company - Pocahontas
7. The Fox & The Hound
One of the few older movies I chose, and also one of the few that doesn't have a female protagonist. Fox and the Hound is a story of inter-species friendship between Todd, a baby fox who is rescued by a kind old widow, and Copper, a puppy one of the widow's neighbors, Amos, intends to turn into a mean hunting dog. The conflict presented by their friendship is apparent right from the start, but the two persist in sneaking around to see each other anyway.
When Copper goes out on his first hunting trip, he does become a successful hunting dog, even getting the right to displace the older hunting dog, Chief, in the front seat of Amos' truck. They realize that it can't be like it was in happier times when they were younger. And, in a heart-wrenching scene I can't to this day watch without crying, Todd is released by the widow into the wild, a decision she sees as being for Todd's own good once Amos decides he has a personal vendetta against the fox.
In the wild, Todd has a hard time adjusting, running afoul of a particularly mean badger (there's a shocker), but eventually his spirits are boosted when he meets Vixie, a vixen. A romance blooms, but the threat posed by Amos, Chief, and a trained Copper is still out there.
Eventually, Copper hunts Todd down, but lets him go, pretending he didn't see anything. The drama escalates as the hunters are confronted by a dangerous grizzly bear. Todd and Copper kill the bear as he plummets over a waterfall. Then Amos points his gun at Todd but Copper gets in the way, saving Todd's life. Copper and Amos go home and Todd is re-united with Vixie for the happy ending.
I loved this movie as a kid for it's themes of tolerance battling hatred and for its focus on the natural world (like Pocahontas had). America's forests are one of our most important resources, and should be cherished.
I also liked how the song "Appreciate the Lady" contained some good advice for men to follow. We live in a world where misogyny is rampant, and the lesson bears repeating that you get further with women by being nice, and genuinely yourself, than by being a jerk or a show-off, no matter what scuzzy pick-up artists and other sexist jerks say.
Basically, this movie has elements that appeal to little kids (the cute stuff in the beginning of the movie) and to adults (the lessons about love and how friendship changes as you grow older). Many movies try to appeal to both children and adults, but few pull this off as nicely as Fox and the Hound.
Overall the movie is a timeless, memorable classic.
Have tissues on hand, this one is a real tear-jerker for a Disney movie. That's it. It's just really sad, like Bambi. In some ways, the story is also much more mature of a conflict than that in other Disney movies, which I like to see as an adult, but which might make some of the issues covered hard for little children to fully understand.
Best of Friends - Fox and the Hound
6. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
It's rare for Disney to tackle this kind of heavy, adult literature. However, I think they do it surprisingly well, considering the grim nature of the source material.
Hunchback of Notre Dame takes place in medieval Paris. Quasimodo is a physically deformed man who has been forced to stay locked away in the bell tower of Notre Dame de Paris, a large and magnificently impressive cathedral. The animators did a lot of research and took great pains to show the church's beautiful architecture as it really looks.
Quasimodo escapes one fateful day to attend a peasant festival, the "Feast of Fools". When he is pushed on stage for an "ugliest face in Paris" contest involving ugly hand-made masks, the crowd is revolted to find out that Quasi isn't wearing a mask. However, Clopin, a jester and gypsy storyteller who narrated in the beginning of the movie, stops the crowd from harming him by crowning Quasi the King of Fools and giving him a parade.
However, the festivities stop when Frollo, a minister (changed to "judge" in this version to take religion out of it, even though religion plays a big part in his character) who was forced by the Archdeacon of Notre Dame to raise Quasi as a baby instead of drowning him in a well after killing his mother on the church's steps, realizes that Quasi disobeyed his explicit order not to leave the tower to attend the festival. Frollo publicly humiliates Quasimodo by inciting the mob to turn on him, and they start pelting him with rotten tomatoes while he's tied to um, some kind of merry-go-round thingy...
This continues until it is stopped by the courageous actions of one Esmeralda, a beautiful gypsy dancer. She frees Quasi and apologizes saying "If I knew that you weren't wearing a mask I would never have pulled you up onto the stage". This is done in open defiance of an order from Frollo. Esmeralda then cunningly evades the guards Frollo sends after her, and Quasi escapes back to the church. Esmeralda later ends up there, singing the beautiful song "God Help the Outcasts".
But then the guards, led by the handsome returning war hero, Captain Phoebus, catch up with her. Phoebus and her get into a sword/candlestick fight, but eventually he agrees to help her by telling Frollo she claims sanctuary in the cathedral and therefore can't be arrested. However, this leaves Esmeralda no choice but to stay inside the church, since Frollo then simply orders a guard to watch every door.
This is where Quasimodo comes in. Since he's been imprisoned in the church's bell tower all his life, he's become adept at climbing the various structures down in order to escape from high windows. He ends up helping Esmeralda, and her pet goat, escape. Then Frollo goes on a rampage, arresting all gypsies and people harboring them, searching for anyone who might know where she is.This leads to an establishing character moment for Captain Phoebus. He's ordered to allow a family to burn to death, trapped in their cottage that's set on fire by Frollo's men, and defies Frollo by rescuing them instead. He ends up heroically fleeing, getting shot by an arrow, and is rescued by Esmeralda, and the two seek refuge and help in Quasi's bell tower.
Frollo eventually tries to murder Quasimodo when he figures out that only he could have helped her escape. When that is thwarted, he simply ties up Quasi with heavy chains, and, having caught Esmeralda by tricking Quasi into leading him to a gypsy hide-out, stages a public execution of her by burning.
Even though at this point, Quasi's spirit is almost beaten down, his hallucination-talking-singing-comedic gargoyle friends are there to cheer him on and help him realize that he should never give up. So he breaks his chains, saves Esmeralda, beats the guards who try to attack the church, kills Frollo, and... Esmeralda ends up with Phoebus. It's much nicer than the book's ending, at least.
Historically, it was Victor Hugo's work (titled "Notre Dame de Paris" in French and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" in English) that inspired people to become interested in restoring this amazing Gothic structure, since the Gothic style of architecture had long since fallen out of fashion, replaced by a more restrained neo-classical style in France.
This movie left a huge impression on me, seeing it at the tender age of 6. I was mentally advanced for my age as a child, but there were still plenty of things about the movie that were mysterious to me, which led me on a path of further study into many subjects. For instance, this was the first time I remember even hearing the word "architecture", and then I ended up doing a project on it for 1st grade. Let's just say my teacher was impressed. Mom took me to see this movie not knowing I think all the things it would provoke discussion on. I remember at length discussing the idea of religious and ethnic persecution, because as a child it's rather hard to understand why someone would just want to wipe out an entire group of people under some delusion that God thinks they're evil and icky. The movie also was integral to my eventual obsession with France and medieval European history, in all it's deliciously gory goodness. It also got me interested in reading Victor Hugo, which led me to read many other classic works of French literature.
This movie is obviously the darkest of all Disney animated movies. It has a protagonist conflicted internally by his lust for Esmeralda, despite the fact that he's always prided himself for being holy and pure. This is what drives the plot. Hunchback has perhaps the most interesting villains of any Disney movie, at least psychologically. There is a lot an adult can get out of watching this move, and in particular I like it because it deals with religion, sex, and the persecution of minorities.
I liked them as a kid, but nowadays I wonder if the three gargoyles added for comic relief help or hurt the movie. They exist mainly to lighten up an otherwise depressing story. However, I felt that the idea to have them sing a silly song while Paris is burning and Esmeralda is out on the run was a horrible idea. Not to mention, their song, "A Guy Like You", only gets Quasimodo's hopes up thinking he has a shot with Esmeralda. That makes it seem even more disheartening when she ends up with Captain Phoebus instead. I did feel good for Phoebus and Esmeralda, but it's also a sad moment for Quasimodo.
The Bells of Notre Dame - Hunchback of Notre Dame
One of the other older works on this list, Fantasia is a musical tour de force. With stunning animations paired elegantly with classical music, Fantasia is educational, but also entertaining and inspiring. It was innovative for being an almost entirely musical feature-length animated film. It's also one of few "kiddie cartoons" to feature real sophisticated works of classical music, performed by a live orchestra.
What I liked Fantasia for most as a kid was the way in which Fantasia encourages playful flights of fancy, allowing the viewer to participate in the story using their imagination. That's why I would say Fantasia is the best at being mentally stimulating little kids, in a more subtle way than current educational TV shows are. As a child, Fantasia making up stories and setting them to music invited me to do that in my own head when listening to classical or other instrumental works of music.
Fantasia's stories are interesting because they aren't connected to the original intent of the work (except for the Sorcerer's Apprentice). For example, they did a version of the Nutcracker ballet symphony, but without the traditional Nutcracker story. Instead, it involved fairies, alluring fish, dancing mushrooms, and flowers. They made it amazing by making it their own.
Fantasia was not very successful when it first came out back in 1940, but today it is revered as a classic.
Brilliantly innovative, beautifully artistic. Encourages children to use their imagination while introducing them to the creme de la creme of classical music. Also, it's one of the few items on this list to actually have a good sequel, Fantasia 2000, which is as breathtakingly beautiful as the original. (Seriously, do not see Fox and the Hound 2, for example. You will weep blood that's how bad it is.)
As a kid, the last scene, "Night on Bald Mountain", scared me so much I always stopped the movie at that point. The first time I saw it I ran from the room screaming. Seriously, it still kind of creeps me out. Why have these weird dancing demons and a gigantic Satan terrorizing a town in a friggin' kid's movie? To me, the darkness in Hunchback by comparison was more subtle, going over my head completely as a kid. But the dark stuff in this movie is not subtle, it's dancing demons and fire and Satan. I'd think twice about very letting little kids (ages 4 and younger) watch this scene.
I also don't like the scenes in either movies where Disney felt the need to insert their own characters. I liked the dialog between Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney that occurred between scenes in the first movie, but putting him in the Sorcerer's Apprentice, and the Duck family being cast as the Biblical Noah's family in Fantasia 2000, both of these seemed dopey, at odds with the dramatic overall feel of the movies. I liked scenes where I barely even remembered I was watching a Disney movie. When it seemed obvious that they had to insert their brand icons into a movie where they were unnecessary, it kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
Pegasus Scene - Fantasia
I loved this one in theaters as a kid, but now I think it's weird that Disney chose to tackle Greek mythology, because it's so gory and rape-y. But I like that you see Disney pushing boundaries and doing something really ground-breaking.
The story is very different from the original Greek myth of Heracles, obviously. It starts with Hercules being born as a god-baby to proud parents Hera and Zeus. Hades, who has been upgraded to villain in all this, is jealous of their happiness. Furthermore, he receives a prophesy from the three fates saying that if he attempts to take over Olympus in eighteen years when the planets align and allow him to free the Titans, Hercules will fight him and he will fail.
To avert this, he sends his two stupidest minions, Pain and Panic, to feed the kid a potion that will turn him mortal and then kill him. However, the pair are startled as baby Herc is drinking it by a middle-aged peasant couple. They turn into snakes, but promptly get their scaly rear-ends handed to them by Herc, who still retains god-like strength since he didn't drink the last drop of the potion. However, he is considered mortal and can't live on Olympus. Luckily, the couple that walked in on all this wanted a child, and adopt him as their son.
However, as he's trying to live the life of a normal human, his superior strength proves more of a curse than a blessing. It makes him a hated outcast, because he has a hard time controlling things like how hard he throws a discus. Sad Herc sings an "I Want" song about how he wants to belong, and journeys to a temple dedicated to Zeus to ask for answers. (I guess the Oracle of Delphi must have been closed for renovation or something.)
Zeus appears and explains to Herc who he is and why he's been forced to live the life of a mortal. Zeus explains that if he can prove himself a true hero on Earth, his godhood will be restored. So, on the back of his babyhood friend Pegasus, he journeys off to find Philoctetes, a known trainer of heroes. (Interestingly enough, the "real" Philoctetes was a hero himself and a lover of Hercules. Because Greek mythology.)
"Phil" is a jaded satyr (half goat, half man). He's sick of training would-be heroes who struck out, which he's done many times. He is reluctant to teach Hercules, and only agrees when papa Zeus supplies a little zap of inspiration from above. So then they montage, and Hercules becomes skilled at swordsmanship, jumping through flaming hoops, and catching arrows on his shield. I like that the montage shows that even someone with natural talent has to train to be excellent, that hard work does pay off.
On their first trip off the island they trained on, they visit Thebes, a run-down city described as having a lot of problems. When some citizens scoff at him for being an amateur hero, he hears Megara, a girl he met earlier when he rescued her from a rape-y river centaur, Nessus (who did rape women in the original myths). However, she was ungrateful mainly because she was Hades' captive, sent by him to bargain with Nessus for his support in the coming uprising. In Thebes, Megara comes to Hercules, asking for his help saving two kids from being crushed by big rocks. He charges in there, lifts up the rocks, and frees the kids.
But it turned out, these "kids" were really Pain and Panic in disguise, and the whole thing was set up by Hades to lure Herc into a confrontation with a hydra, a deadly dragon-like creature with 3 heads and the ability to regenerate more heads when one is cut off. It takes a while for Herc to figure out that the best way to deal with this thing isn't head-slicing. But then again, he's not exactly very bright.
After defeating the hydra, he ends up vanquishing all kinds of monsters, most of which are from the original Hercules myths (like slaying the Nemean Lion, which is made to look like Scar from the Lion King, for example). He becomes a huge celebrity throughout all of Greece. However, Zeus says that he isn't a true hero yet.
Hercules is convinced by Meg to take a day off with her, and they date, giving us great adult bonus material like "And that play, that Oedipus thing, man, I thought I had problems!" But unbeknownst to Herc, Meg is simply being used by Hades and the date thing is just her way of trying to subtly figure out if he might have any weaknesses. You know, by directly asking him if he has any. She finds he doesn't, and finds herself falling in love with him despite being hurt in the past. But then Hades realizes that Meg is his weakness.
So he shows Herc that Meg had been working for him the whole time, and tricks Hercules into agreeing to "take a day off from this hero business" meaning that for the next 24 hours, he won't have superhuman strength. Hades thinks this will allow him to take over Olympus unencumbered, but he forgot his part of the deal, no harm could come to Meg. When she does get hurt, by a column falling on her, it means the deal is broken and Herc gets his strength restored.
So he flies off to kick some Titan patooty, but after beating them back, Meg dies. Hercules goes to the underworld to free her, telling Hades he will give up his own life to save hers. Hades accepts, but it turns out that Herc's willingness in that moment to give up his own life to rescue someone else was the missing ingredient of Herc's hero-ness. So he becomes a god, and therefore immortal and able to escape from the river Styx unharmed, with Meg's soul in tow. He's able to bring her back to life, and realize his dream of living among the gods on Mount Olympus.
However, being Herc, his love for Meg won't let him live even an immortal life without her, so he chooses to stay on Earth with her. Cue the Disney happily ever after. And a kickass credits song.
The movie was funny in combining elements from modern American culture with Ancient Greek culture. The script was pun-tastic, which is a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. It was also a very modern romance, edgy and ground-breaking for Disney.
Megara is a very interesting heroine to me, especially for a Disney character. She's technically evil at the start, but really just a slave to Hades. I like that she's not some obviously evil seductress character who chews Herc up and spits him out again. She's genuinely sympathetic. She has a more multi-faceted personality than most Disney characters, and what's also interesting is that she's one of the few Disney heroines to be doubtful about love. She was reluctant to admit she had feelings for Herc when men had abused and hurt her before. This is Disney being more real-world and less idealistic, but I think that adds to the beauty of the story.
Some of the 90's slang used hasn't aged well. Read my lips. "Earth to Herc" is particularly eye-roll-inducing since space travel won't be invented for a couple of millenia. Even more baffling is Meg changing "New York minute" to "Peloponnesian minute". Whether the modern pop culture humor is appealing or just sad is kind of in the eye of the beholder. Plus, this is very much a movie where good is dumb.
What can be said about this breathtaking, inspiring film that hasn't been said already? At it's core, Aladdin is a beautiful romance. It's about love transcending barriers of class, and about how being yourself and being honest is much better than pretending to be someone you're not to impress someone.
It's also very funny at times, and I think this is mostly due to the talent brought in with such comedic stars as Robin Williams as the genie and Gilbert Gottfried as the parrot, Iago.
Every character in this is cool. The villain, though not exactly subtle, is cunning and devious. The princess is smart, rebellious, and strong-willed. The hero has his flaws, deception being the one that gets him into trouble, but is ultimately a genuinely nice guy that you have no trouble rooting for. The genie, monkey, and evil parrot are all fantastically hilarious. And Jasmine has a pet tiger, when I was a kid I thought that was the coolest thing.
The story starts with a merchant telling a story about a magic lamp to the camera. Then a cool eerie song introduces the setting, Agraba, an Arabian village. Then a hilarious song introduces Aladdin, a homeless "street rat" who lives by stealing from merchants, aided by his monkey, Abu. Nothing seems to work out right for him, because he always has to dodge the po-po just to survive.
Then they go to the royal palace, where the beautiful Princess Jasmine, despite her opulent and pampered life, is not happy. She has to find a suitor to marry by her next birthday, but she's hated every man who came to court so far. Her father, "at his wit's end" over the whole deal, consults Jafar, the royal vizier.
Jafar has his own plans, and they include Aladdin. He finds out through mystical means that Aladdin is the prophetic "diamond in the rough", the only one who can go into a magical cave and retrieve the lamp Jafar has been searching for. Jafar hopes to rule Agraba, and to do that he desires the power of the lamp.
Jasmine runs away from home, dresses like a commoner (albeit while still sporting some very blingy earrings) and hopes to just get away from it all. When she is caught stealing an apple to give to a hungry child, her hand is about to be cut off when Aladdin comes to her rescue.
However, the pair don't get to have much of a date night before the cops get Aladdin and send him off to rot in a cell. Jafar, disguised as an elderly prisoner in the cell with him, busts Aladdin out and makes a deal with him, saying that he can go to the cave of wonders, retrieve the lamp, and in return Aladdin can have the rest of the treasures of the cave. But he must go in and touch nothing but the lamp, first.
Aladdin and Abu take this old stranger up on it, but to make a long story short Jafar reveals his stabby nature and Aladdin fights him off, only to get trapped inside the cave as it collapses. You'd think this would be fatal. Anyway, he ends up in the same cave but all the treasure has been lava-ed to death. He does still have the lamp (it turns out Abu stole it back even when they thought Jafar had it). He rubs it, trying to read what's written on it, and out pops Robin Williams as a big blue genie in all his hilarious glory. Aladdin tricks the genie into busting them out of the cave just to prove he is powerful.
Then the genie explains the rules about the "3 wishes" thing; no wishing for someone to die, no bringing people back from the dead, and no making people fall in love. And also no wishing for more wishes. That should be a no-brainer. So Aladdin wishes to be a prince, so he can woo Princess Jasmine. He gets an appropriately pimped out outfit, Abu becomes an elephant, and "Prince Ali" makes his debut in town in a most grandiose, flamboyant fashion.
However, when Jasmine finally recognizes him as "that boy from the market place", he denies it, and lying to her turns out (surprise) to be harmful to their relationship. Of course they eventually defeat Jafar's evil schemes and live happily ever after.
The humor of this movie was very fun. I also like that Aladdin is a hero who outwits his enemies, unlike Hercules or other Disney heroes who just kind of barrel in with a sword and slash at things.
I also like that this is a story about looking past someone's class and seeing the value of people for themselves, not just for the role society has imposed on them. That's what Aladdin and Jasmine really have in common, they're both seen for only what they are instead of who they are.
I'm not really sure what I could say here (and of course, as I get lower into the count-down, flaws are harder to find). Sure, Aladdin loses some sympathy points for lying, but everyone has faults, and this is mostly just a plot-driven thing.
What's interesting to me about "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, is that, if you pay attention, they go through Ancient Greece and end up in Ancient China. This foreshadows Disney coming out with Hercules and Mulan, respectively.
Mulan is an epic movie with a truly independent, feminist heroine. The story explores gender issues, getting to the heart of the historical ways women and men have been culturally conditioned to accept roles for which individually they may not be suited. Mulan is expected to play the role of a feminine "girly girl" to win the right to marry a good man. However, when the Huns invade and her land is threatened, she desires to go to war in her ailing father's place, as he's been conscripted but has no hope of surviving the war in his physical state.
She is aided by a little red dragon named Mushu, one of the former spirit guardians of the family, but now demoted to merely ringing a gong to wake up the ancestors when they have a meeting. I think it's interesting for Disney to have incorporated the idea of Chinese ancestor worship into the film. And since Mushu is voiced by Eddie Murphy, to say he's a funny character is an understatement. But unlike many other "comic relief" types, he plays an important role in the plot, working behind the scenes to help Mulan out fitting in and maintaining her charade in an all-male army.
However, Mushu is ambitious, desiring to earn more honor and respect from the nameless patriarch of the ancestors so he can get his "spot" on a shelf back again. (How the family doesn't notice that their guardian spirit-thingies change places on them is kind of a mystery) Due to this ambition, Mushu gets Mulan's troops into the war by creating forged documents signifying an order from the general. With the help of a "lucky" cricket that tags along with them.
Mulan's troops end up facing Shan Yu, the leader of the Huns, on a snowy mountain. The battle is epic and beautiful. When the team is down to their last cannon, Mulan fires it at a distant peak, causing an avalanche. When she's saved from the snow and the men survive, she (as "Ping", a man) is applauded as a hero. However, since she was wounded by Shan Yu, the fact that she's a woman is revealed. Her captain, Shang, with whom she's had some romantic tension building, is supposed to execute her, but instead takes mercy and simply... uh... leaves her alone to die in the mountains.
That's how Mulan realizes that the Huns actually survived the avalanche, and she rides to Beijing to warn the emperor. The city is all decorated for a festive welcome for the returning heroes, sans Mulan. No one will listen to her now that she's "a girl again", but when Shan Yu attacks, she helps her fellow soldiers save the emperor, and is finally given the recognition she deserves. And since it's Disney and romantic happy endings are their forte, she has one with Shang.
Very nice songs, I loved the animation, especially during the impressively large-scale battle and crowd scene in the city.
I ultimately like this movie for it's feminist values, but I think men could gain something from the morals presented here as well. The main point of the movie is "be true to your heart" and have the courage to believe in yourself, even when it seems that no one else believes in you. And that you should be yourself independent of what society thinks you should be.
I also like that this is based on Chinese history and culture, since there are so many Disney movies based on European folklore, as I've said. What's interesting to note is that the "real" Mulan of Chinese legend was even more awesome than the Disney version; she was said to have fought her father in a sword fight and won, and was such a good warrior that when it was revealed that she was a woman, no one cared. However, that would have made for a shorter film, and a much less interesting protagonist, so it's easy to see why they took the liberties with that source material that they did.
What I like about this movie is that it tells you that you should learn from failure. When Mulan failed at being the "perfect bride" everyone wanted her to be, instead of moping for too long, she decided she had to do something differently. I think that it's an important lesson that failure isn't always the end.
Sometimes is really blatant in exposing the sexism of ancient Chinese culture, or just of men in general. But hey, some anvils do in fact need to be dropped.
Honor to us All - Mulan
Humor, fun characters, moving sad scenes
Sometimes the humor misses, but this is subjective
Lady and the Tramp
Cute characters, scary parts are emotionally gripping, gorgeous backgrounds
Sort of drags at times, slightly dated feel
Cute characters, good story idea, emotionally gripping
Spay and neuter!
Artistically unique, encourages kids to study classical and modern art and music
The geese are so annoying, the villain is dumb, and most side characters are not that likeable or interesting.
Charming, beautifully designed, interiors look amazing, step mother is a cool villain.
Some consider Cinderella herself to be a dull or passive character, but I don't think she is.
The Little Mermaid
Cute songs, an all-around good time.
I never really understood Ariel's actions or feelings, which seemed too sudden, impulsive, and childish.
1. The Lion King
Lion King would have to be my all-time favorite Disney movie, for having a great story, beautiful artwork, exceptional music, and many talented voice actors.
The Lion King's plot resembles that of Hamlet. Simba is a prince of the lions, who rule over other animals. He lives at Pride Rock with his protective, wise father, Mufasa, and mother Sarabi. Having "rebellious prince syndrome", him and his not-girlfriend Nala decide to explore a forbidden territory his father warned him about, an elephant graveyard.
When he's there, his scheming uncle Scar sets three hyenas after the cubs, and they narrowly escape when Mufasa finds them and scares the bejeezus out of the hyenas. He gives Simba a stern lecture about responsibility, but that breaks into play, and then Mufasa explains that the "great kings of the past" are in the stars, watching over us.
Scar, who is sour about his place in line for the throne being bumped down a notch since Simba was born, enlists the help of the hyenas in a plot. He's going to get Simba and Mufasa killed in a gorge in a wildebeest stampede. He succeeds but only in killing Mufasa, who dies saving Simba. Simba is made by Scar to feel so guilty for his father's death that he is convinced to run away and never return to the Pride lands.
Eventually, Simba grows up in the jungle, raised by Timon, a meerkat, and Pumbaa, a warthog. Nala runs away from the Pride lands and finds Simba, explaining that he is the only one who can help now that Scar has taken over and let the hyenas eat all the food. And for some reason, the land also dried up. Anyway, at first he doesn't want to go, but Mufasa's former mystical adviser, a baboon named Rafiki, is able to uh, "knock some sense into him". Literally.
He returns to Pride rock, a fight breaks out between the lionesses and hyenas, and Simba finally gets his revenge on Scar, and romantic happy ending. Bam.
So much to talk about here. I love the story, the beautiful setting, the interesting characters. The funny moments are hilarious, the serious moments will have you on the edge of your seat, and the sad parts will make almost anyone cry. This is a movie I'd recommend to anyone. It's simply everything you want to see in a Disney movie, and it's done exceptionally well.
The part where Mufasa dies, and the part at the end with the big epic fight between Simba and Scar, especially the graphic part where Scar smacks Sarabi for questioning him, is kind of brutal for little kids to watch.
Can You Feel The Love Tonight - Lion King
Teenagegurl on March 26, 2014:
Everyones got their own opinion:)
I couldnr even get my favourite disney movies in an order i love all of them^^
And yeah its pretty sad that kids dont watch these anymore but i swear when i have children someday i will show them every single disney movie:)
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on July 04, 2013:
Both of you, thanks for commenting!
jimmy, I knew when I chose these movies that probably many people would disagree. A lot of it is a generational thing for me, being more closely tied to the movies that came out when I was a child in the 90's. I like many movies that didn't make it on here, however.
Jim Laughlin from Connecticut on July 03, 2013:
I disagree with your list, but I can appreciate that these movies are all important you.
Gil Silva from Porto, Portugal on July 03, 2013:
My favorite of classic Disney is The Lion King too! Mulan is great too.
But when I was a kid my favorite was the Hunchback of Notre Dame
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on July 02, 2013:
Thanks. I usually try to represent both sides as best as I can.
What I think is interesting about kid's movies today is that they're growing up watching things like Enchanted and Shrek, which parody classic Disney tropes, without necessarily knowing about the original movies that are being parodied.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on July 01, 2013:
thanks for writing out the good and bad of each animated movies. I like beauty and the beast. However, nowadays kids don't watch these movies anymore. I miss those movies.
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on July 01, 2013:
Yes, many of them are sad, I think it was that at the time, facing death of a parent or loved one was one of those rites of passage into adulthood, or seen as a character building thing for a protagonist. I also really love Beauty and the Beast. The thing about the Little Mermaid was that I actually liked Ursula more than Ariel, because Ariel was well, kind of stupid. But the movie itself is still very charming and has some unforgettable musical numbers.
Selina Kyle on July 01, 2013:
Good choices :) Crazy to hear some of the problems critics have had with these films. The only problem I ever had with Disney films was that the older ones are all so stinkin' sad! You were right-you better have tissues on hand for Fox and the Hound. I still cry every time I watch it! And I don't go near Dumbo or Bambi for that exact reason. Nothing or no one should ever lose its mother (or mother figure) in a kids cartoon-talk about traumatic! lol But, I love, love, love Beauty and the Beast. I guess it's the romantic in me:) And I also love the Little Mermaid and Alice in Wonderland. Something about Alice was always eerily enchanting to me and about as creepy as I dared to get with movies. And fantasia...fantasia freaked me the heck out.