the lovely banner celebrating 50 Disney Animated Films

Now that we have finally seen Tangled this seems like a fitting list to do.  After all, there have now been 50 Disney Animated Films (actually, there have been a lot more).  So, with that in mind, I am here to rank all 50 of them – some of them are absolute classics and some of them, well, some of them are, shall we say, not good.  I’ve seen all 50 of them.  I almost started to write, “but there are probably a lot of people who have”.  But now that I think about it, it might be less common than I think.

First of all, there are a bunch of films that you probably are thinking of for this list that, technically, according to the people at Disney, not part of this list.  The first is of course, the Pixar films, all of which would be near the top of the list.  The second group would be the Studio Ghibli films (Hayao Miyazaki’s films), many of which would also be near or at the top.  There are of course films like Song of the South, Mary Poppins, Pete’s Dragon or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which combine live action and animation.  Then, finally, there are the DisneyToon films – like the recent Winnie the Pooh films, the films made from tv shows or the endless number of sequels to the actual Disney Animated Films.  And there are many of these films – especially the package films from the late 40’s or the lesser quality films from the last decade that you might not have actually seen.  But these are the films that count and we know which ones they are because conveniently, Disney numbers them.  Well, so will I.  But their numbering is in order of release.  Mine is in order of greatness.

The Crappy Films:

Home on the Range (2004)

#50  –  Home on the Range (2004)

As it turned out, I hadn’t seen all of the animated films and I had to go out and watch this before doing this list.  Most of the mediocre films of the last decade I had seen because of my awards obsessions.  But this film was so bad that it wasn’t even nominated for anything that I track.  Let’s just say that it has Roseanne Barr as a cow.  It is as bad as that sounds.  I kept watching, thinking to myself, this is a complete train wreck.  How could Disney ever have approved this film, even during the last decade when their films were getting worse and worse?  This is one of those rare Disney animated films to actually lose money and you wonder how they ever thought it would do well.

Hercules (1997)

#49  –  Hercules (1997)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Song  (“Go the Distance”)

This was the film that turned me away from Disney.  After the mediocrity of Pocahontas and the weak songs of Hunchback, this was supposed to be the throwback good film.  It was utter crap.  I even went back last week and watched it again.  I had to stop watching.  It is still utter crap.  If you didn’t want to make a film about actual Greek mythology, then why make it?  Why throw in all the ridiculous nods to make it more modern?  Why the horrible songs?  Every song just dragged it down and every modern reference made me cringe.  I kept watching it and thinking “Xena has a better grasp on Greek mythology.”

The Mediocre Films:

Chicken Little (2005)

#48  –  Chicken Little (2005)

This was actually nominated for the Annie over Steamboy, Robots and Valiant.  The latter two aren’t great, but they’re sure better than this mishmash of various kids characters.  It was the first fully computer animated film for Disney and it showed as they tried too hard on the look and not enough on the story.  With a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes, it is the lowest rated film on the list.

Mulan (1998)

#47  –  Mulan (1998)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Musical or Comedy Score

I went back and watched this again at Veronica’s insistence over how low I had rated it.  I did bump it up a little, but I stand by my low opinion.  Is it nice that Disney finally made a movie about a strong heroine who goes out and is the hero?  Yes.  Do the songs suck?  Yes.  Is Eddie Murphy possibly the most annoying sidekick ever, thus making how funny he was as Donkey astonishing?  Yes.  It has some very nice animation in it at times, especially during the long shots on the charge down the mountain (I remember being impressed with that in the theater), but most of the animation isn’t up to par, and like with Hercules, they would have done better by sticking more to the original story and away from the Disney schtick of sidekicks and attempts at lame humor.  This stretch in the late nineties is where Disney went so wrong.

Pocahontas (1995)

#46  –  Pocahontas (1995)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, Best Original Song  (“Colors of the Wind”)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Original Song  (“Colors of the Wind”)

Such a disappointment after the triumphs of Little Mermaid / Beauty and the Beast / Aladdin / Lion King.  “Colors of the Wind” is such a good song that it just makes the wretchedness of the rest of the film even worse.  The plot seems to combine the worst of political correctness and old fashioned stereotyping, the rest of the songs are no good and the film itself is mostly a waste of time.

Treasure Planet (2002)

#45  –  Treasure Planet (2002)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Animated Film

It was the second year of the Best Animated Film category at the Oscars, and because nothing aside from Spirited Away and Lilo & Stitch were worth nominating, this, Spirit and Ice Age slipped in.  But it’s fairly boring, although, thanks to Shark Tale, not the worst nominee ever in this category.  It is one of the biggest financial failures on the list, with a budget of $140 million and a domestic gross of just $38 million.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

#44  –  Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

No guild rewards mediocre films like the Motion Picture Sound Editors, which gave it not only a nomination but an award (over Monsters Inc.).  This was never worth remembering.  Do you remember it?  I can’t remember anything about it, other than I gave it **.5 and that’s only because it’s in the spreadsheet.

Bolt (2008)

#43 –  Bolt (2008)

A movie star dog believes it has powers and tries to rescue its owner.  It actually would have been a more interesting film if it had the powers.  As it was, it wasn’t interesting at all.  It was nominated for the Annie and the Oscar over the second Madagascar film (and Waltz with Bashir for the latter – truly baffling).  I am no fan of Madagascar, but the scene of the penguins stealing the jeep is better than all of Bolt.  This also indicates the importance of Metacritic over RT.  RT gives it a 89% because most people like it.  But Metacritic gives it a 67, which is more indicative that people aren’t that fond of it.  It still had to rely on its international gross to make back its budget.

The Good Films:

Meet the Robinsons (2007)

#42  –  Meet the Robinsons (2007)

This film was decent enough.  But, sadly, like with so many films, the best scene, by far, is in the trailers, and once you’ve already seen the best scene enough times before you see the film it loses impact.  That scene, by the way, is the T Rex complaining “I have a big head and little arms.”

Dinosaur (2000)

#41  –  Dinosaur (2000)

Dinosaur has that absolutely great opening scene where the eggs takes its long journey, that same scene that was essentially the trailer itself.  Too bad the rest of the film needed a story to go from there.  It would have been better off as basically a nature documentary with CG.  It wasn’t originally part of the canon, but was retroconned in there several years ago.

The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

#40  –  The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

One of those sequels that doesn’t match up to the original.  But, to its credit, unlike many of the Disney sequels later on, it does not embarrass the original either.  It was the first of the Disney sequels and it’s the film that everyone forgets about because it came out in the middle of the Disney Renaissance but doesn’t hold up to the other films at the time.

Oliver & Company (1988)

#39  –  Oliver & Company (1988)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Original Song  (“Why Should I Worry”)

In a year so weak with original songs that the Academy only nominated three, it didn’t bother with either of the solid songs from Oliver: “Once Upon a Time in New York City”, sung by Huey Lewis and the wonderful “Why Should I Worry” by Billy Joel.  The story itself is okay (stealing from Dickens usually will work) though it gets pretty cheesy.  It’s really the songs that carry it through.

Brother Bear (2003)

#38  –  Brother Bear (2003)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Animated Film

This is a decent little film, though like with many Disney films, the supporting characters (the moose) are more interesting than the main character.  But decent little films don’t deserve Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film, especially with Satoshi Kon releases not one but two fantastic films (Tokyo Godfathers and Millennium Actress).  It just proves that better box office can help more than quality (Brother Bear made more in its first day than the two Kon films made in their whole U.S. theatrical runs).

The Black Cauldron (1985)

#37  –  The Black Cauldron (1985)

This was a disaster for Disney.  It was their first animated film in four years and it made less than half of what The Fox and the Hound had.  Hell, it made less than The Care Bears Movie which came out a few months earlier.  But it’s actually a pretty enjoyable film, a good step up from the previous films just listed.  I think part of the problem is that it just doesn’t feel like a Disney film.

Tarzan (1999)

#36  –  Tarzan (1999)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Song  (“You’ll Be in My Heart”)

The Oscar for the song was ridiculous (the song “Two Worlds” from the opening is much, much better).  But it’s a pretty good film – so much better than the horrible Tarzan and the Lost City from the year before and a big step up from both Mulan and Hercules.  It’s too bad they couldn’t keep up as most of the films since have been considerably worse.  It does suffer from the cutesy factor.  It wasn’t as good as the Tarzan cartoons of the late 70’s because of that.  One of those instances where the story would probably have been better if a different studio had made it.

The Rescuers - 1977

#35  –  The Rescuers (1977)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Song  (“Someone’s Waiting for You”)

An enjoyable film.  Like Robin Hood and The Fox and the Hound in the same era, it doesn’t really reach the level of the classic Disney films, but it’s good enough to hold its own.  It’s entirely possible that I don’t rate this as highly as others would because I didn’t see it until I was an adult, unlike the other Disney films of the time.

The Three Caballeros (1944)

#34  –  The Three Caballeros (1944)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, Best Sound

Though possibly the best known of the “package films”, the films made from 1944 to 1949 that were collections of shorter pieces rather than full length stories, it is also the weakest.  It does have some good moments, but doesn’t really hold together as a whole film.

Robin Hood (1973)

#33  –  Robin Hood (1973)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Song  (“Love”)

I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t think of this film fondly.  On the other hand, no one seems to think it is all that great.  It is enjoyable and charming, but without a single song to lift it up.  It is a nice telling of the Robin Hood legend, but ultimately, just charming.

The Emperor's New Groove (2000)

#32  –  The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Song  (“My Funny Friend and Me”)

Sometimes Disney realizes things when they go to make their sequels.  One of them is that this film is all about Kronk.  If they had made the entire film about Kronk, with Patrick Warburton’s wonderful voice work, then this film would be great.  But so much of it is the primary story, with the annoying David Spade.  That’s what known as the Mercutio problem – when your secondary character is so great he steals the show away and everything without him goes flat.

The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

#31  –  The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

This is one of those nice, almost forgotten Disney films.  It came after the classic era, but before the renaissance.  But it is very enjoyable, from the great Basil of Baker Street stories.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

#30  –  The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

This was the last of the package films – the six films that Disney made between Bambi and Cinderella.  I have very distinct memories of seeing the Ichabod part a number of times (probably in Disney’s Halloween Treat), but not as many in terms of Mr. Toad.  In fact, I think of Mr. Toad in a Disney sense more for the Wild Ride at Disneyland then I do for the film.  But is a passable version of both wonderful books The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Wind in the Willows.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

#29  –  The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Musical or Comedy Score

This covers a lot of contradictions.  On the one hand, it is fairly dark for a Disney film with a lot of more adult themes.  On the other hand, it takes Hugo’s novel and Disneyfies it, washing away the ending for one more suitable for kids.  It followed Pocahontas and was a much better film, but it was the first Disney film in years that didn’t have a single memorable song in the bunch.  In the end, it’s a good film, but it’s not good enough to rise to the next level.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

#28  –  The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song  (“Down in New Orleans”), Best Original Song  (“Almost There”)

This was Disney’s return to 2-D animation and it looks wonderful, it has some very nice songs and overall is an enjoyable film.  But the story isn’t quite there, the romance doesn’t quite work, and in the end, it’s not quite on a par with the very good or great films.

Make Mine Music (1946)

#27  –  Make Mine Music (1946)

If Make Mine Music had been all about Peter and the Wolf then it would probably rank higher.  But unfortunately, all the other pieces of this package don’t hold up.  I can close my eyes and perfectly picture every moment of Peter and the Wolf, but I for the life of me, can’t think of anything else in the film without going to look it up.

The Very Good Films:

The Fox and the Hound (1981)

#26  –  The Fox and the Hound (1981)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song  (“Best of Friends”)

I go back and forth on this as to whether or not I think this is a ***.5 film or *** film.  It’s a big cut-off, because, like with Best Picture and Best Foreign Film, it is my cut-off for eligibility for Best Animated Film.  In the end, this is such a sweet film, well made, fun to watch, that I usually put it just above the cut.  Most of the Disney films between Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid are films of this quality – they can’t really be called classics – not in the same sense as those films I have in that range on the list, but they all have fond places in my heart and they are all very good.

Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

#25  –  Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song  (“Fun and Fancy Free”)

One of the best of the package films – this one consists of Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk.  Both pieces are very nice in and of themselves.  I was actually familiar with this long before I ever saw it because Bongo is in The Wonderful Worlds of Walt Disney and I had a Viewmaster Reel of Mickey and the Beanstalk.

Saludos Amigos (1942)

#24  –  Saludos Amigos (1942)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, Best Sound, Best Song (“Saludos Amigos”)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“Watercolor of Brazil), Best Original Song (“Saludos Amigos”)

A very charming film with Donald and his friends.  For some reason this works much better than The Three Caballeros, but I can’t explain why.

The Aristocats (1970)

#23  –  The Aristocats (1970)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song  (“Everybody Wants to Be a Cat”)

Remember this when you think about the song branch of the Academy.  In 1970, they nominated forgettable songs from Scrooge, Darling Lili, Madron and Pieces of Dreams (the latter two completely forgettable films as well).  The semi-finalists that made the cut of 10, but not of 5 included “Suicide is Painless” from M*A*S*H, “Let it Be” and “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat”.  Of the stretch where I have the information on semi-finalists (1958 to 1979) it is the only song from a Disney Animated Film that made the 10 but didn’t earn a nomination.  It was not exactly their finest moment.  This was the final film approved by Walt Disney himself, though he died four years before it was released.  It is charming, has good songs and is generally fun to watch – a sign of those last several films approved by Walt as opposed to the slightly less good films that followed.

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

#22  –  The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Score – Adaptation or Treatment

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film

This has always been an enjoyable version of the Arthur legend.  It is a good way to introduce kids to King Arthur and pave the way for an eventual viewing of Excalibur once they are old enough.  It can get a bit silly but basically it doesn’t embarrass the source material (the first part of T.E. White’s The Once and Future King).  Of all the films about Arthur that are appropriate for kids, it is definitely the best.

Peter Pan (1953)

#21  –  Peter Pan (1953)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song (“You Can Fly”)

Like many of the Disney films in the 50’s and 60’s, this is a good film, great for kids, very enjoyable, a decent adaptation of the source material, with usually at least one truly memorable songs (though, sadly, often not more than one).  You remember this as very good because they are, but they don’t quite raise to the level of true Disney classics.

Melody Time (1948)

#20  –  Melody Time (1948)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song  (“Melody Time”)

This is the best of the original 6 package films – those films made between Bambi and Cinderella.  None of the package films really had much in the way of coherent themes, but this one had the best collection of shorts – including Johnny Appleseed, Little Toot and Pecos Bill.  I had a Disney book of American Legends when I was growing up, so I well knew these versions of those legends long before I ever actually saw this film.

101 Dalmations (1961)

#19  –  101 Dalmations (1961)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song (“Cruella de Vil”)

This is the primary reason why you should not tinker with what works.  The original 101 Dalmations is fun and charming.  It has a very good song in “Cruella de Vil” and even though the chase home goes on for a while, it all works out well.  But the remake is just utter crap – and I was forced to see it twice (once to see if it was okay for the daycare kids and another time actually with the kids).  Then they made a sequel.  Perfect examples of beating a dead dog.

The Jungle Book (1967)

#18  –  The Jungle Book (1967)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Song  (“The Bare Necessities)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song  (“The Bare Necessities”)

My excuse is that it loses to “Mrs. Robinson.”  The Academy has a hard time explaining how “The Bare Necessities” lost to “Talk to the Animals.”  There was a stretch where Thomas was obsessed with this film and we watched it every day and he would walk around singing the song.  I used to rank it a bit lower, but all those times of watching it together – well the ability to keep doing that says something about the endurance of a film.

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

#17  –  Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Scoring of a Musical Picture

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song  (“The Unbirthday Song”)

Disney has done well with fairy tales.  But of the great children’s books that they adapted, Alice in Wonderland works the best.  Partially it works so well because they were able to do so much with it – visual images that still stick in our minds.  And part of it was that they seemed to capture the anarchic feeling of Wonderland, especially in the song “The Unbirthday Song.”

Fantasia 2000 (1999)

#16  –  Fantasia 2000 (1999)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film

Veronica actually prefers this to the original, but Veronica doesn’t understand the greatness of dancing hippos.  Some parts of this are absolutely amazing – especially the Hirschfeld style animation for “Rhapsody in Blue”, but overall it goes more for laughs and doesn’t quite achieve the coherency of the original.  Still, we can appreciate it for the great moments (not just the flamingos, but the way that James Earl Jones introduces them).

Dumbo (1941)

#15  –  Dumbo (1941)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, Best Song (“Baby Mine”)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Song (“Baby Mine”)

Dumbo and Pinocchio are the films that Veronica and I flip-flop over.  I love the latter, she loves the former.  It’s hard to explain why I don’t think it’s a great film.  Something about the overall film just doesn’t quite reach that pinnacle – whether it be the songs, the story, what, I can’t quite put my finger on.  But this is where I place it and when you consider what’s above it, that’s not bad.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

#14  –  The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film

It doesn’t win any awards for the songs because it was another package film – made up of three earlier shorter Pooh films and thus the songs weren’t eligible.  But this is the way so many people of my generation think of Pooh Bear – with Tigger leaping up on top of him and singing “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers”.  The Brits could never really forgive us for co-opting their immortal characters in this way and many prefer the original Ernest Shepard illustrations, but many of us like both for their different interpretations of the characters.

Cinderella (1950)

#13  –  Cinderella (1950)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, Best Sound, Best Song (“Bibbidy-Bobbidi-Boo”)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song (“Bibbidy-Bobbidi-Boo”), Best Original Song (“The Work Song”), Best Original Song (“A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”), Best Original Song (“So This is Love”)

I have no explanation for why I have Cinderella down here other than that it feels like a ***.5 film rather than a **** film.  It doesn’t seem to achieve the greatness of the other older Disney princess films – Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

The Lion King (1994)

#12  –  The Lion King (1994)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”), Best Original Song (“Circle of Life”), Best Original Song (“Hakuna Matata”)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“Circle of Life”), Best Original Song (“Hakuna Matata”)

Was I the only one who watched this film and thought of Bambi?  Young prince, father killed, flees, returns as an adult, falls in love with childhood playmate, big fire, becomes king.  That could describe either film.  The Lion King isn’t quite up to the level of Bambi or the three great films of the Disney Renaissance that preceded it, and there are times when I fluctuate as to whether it is very good or great.  But for now it sits here, just outside the classics.  A fun, well-made film with some truly great songs.

The Classic Films

Lilo & Stitch (2002)

#11  –  Lilo & Stitch (2002)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Animated Film

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film

I had actually skipped this film in the theater.  It had been a few years since I had seen a Disney film in the theaters and nothing about the ads for this film lead me to believe it would be any better.  But it was magnificent.  It is perhaps the funniest of all Disney films (“His destructive programming is taking effect. He will be irresistibly drawn to large cities, where he will back up sewers, reverse street signs, and steal everyone’s left shoe.”).  Better yet, by making use of old Elvis songs rather than new songs it doesn’t drag the film down with the kind of sub-par songs that Disney had been putting in its recent films.  If only more of their recent films had been like this.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

#10  –  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Score

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Animated Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“Heigh Ho”), Best Original Song (“Whistle While You Work”), Best Original Song (“Someday My Prince Will Come”)

Now, to be fair, 1937 is one of the weakest years in film history, which is why Snow White comes in as my #4 film of the year.  But it is a hands down classic – with great animations, great characters and great songs.  It’s not just a question of whether or not the dwarfs are so recognizable.  It’s a question of whether or not you even want to think of those seven dwarfs in any other way.  They manage to provide a burst of humor as well as some pathos (in the way they mourn Snow White) at the same time.

Tangled (2010)

#9  –  Tangled (2010)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Song (“I See the Light”)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song (“I See the Light”), Best Original Song (“I’ve Got a Dream”), Best Original Song (“When Will My Life Begin”)

After seeing Tangled, I told Veronica that I was torn on it.  I couldn’t decide if it was the best Disney film since Lilo & Stitch or the best one since Aladdin.  I chose the latter and almost decided it was the best Disney film since Beauty and the Beast.  It has a great story, does a great job with it.  The animation is fantastic (especially the way they do Rapunzel’s face during all her expressions) and it has one of the greatest characters ever – Maximus, the horse.  It even has some really great songs to go with it.  If Menken had submitted more than just the one (though it was the best of the bunch), Randy Newman wouldn’t have had to complain about there only being 4 Best Original Song nominations.  I know that people were crazy about How To Train Your Dragon, and it was very good, but Tangled was great and the fact that it missed out on a Best Animated Film nomination is just wrong.

Aladdin (1992)

#8  –  Aladdin (1992)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Original Song (“A Whole New World”), Best Original Song (“Prince Ali”)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“One Jump Ahead”), Best Original Song (“A Whole New World”)

I saw Aladdin on Thanksgiving night.  It was a mostly deserted theater in the Mall in Albany.  There were 8 of us there – ranging in ages from 16 to 21 and we all loved it.  It was what Disney had come to represent since The Little Mermaid.  It had gone from the thing for kids to back to being someone of any age could enjoy.  The story is great, the animation is great, the songs are great and Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie was the first all-star voiceover and remains one of the best.

Lady and the Tramp (1955)

#7  –  Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Song  (“Bella Notte”)

In 1997, when I was living in Phoenix and crossing films off my lists, I realized I had never actually seen Lady and the Tramp.  So I went to Tower Video and tried to rent it.  They actually had a copy and they required a $200 deposit before you could rent it.  Thanks to the Disney policy of releasing videos, then pulling them and putting them in the vault, it had been unavailable for years, they were down to their only copy and didn’t want to risk not getting it back.  I actually gave them the deposit, took it home, watched it, loved it, and returned it.  It wasn’t until the following year that it came out of the vault again and I immediately purchased it.  Of all the Classics, it has the weakest music, but it has a wonderful story and wonderful characters.

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

#6  –  Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Scoring of a Musical Picture

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song (“Once Upon a Dream”)

Of all the traditional Disney films that have a princess who must wait for her Prince Charming (there are really only three that fully meet that description, but it is a well-known viewpoint of Disney films) this is the best.  What is it that makes it the best?  Is it because it has the best prince?  He doesn’t just wake her up with a kiss or go find her to match the slipper – he has to fight a freakin dragon.  But it also has the wonderful Tchaikovsky, the fairies (and the hilarious argument over the dress – I go with blue, by the way) and even the horse.  And by the way, it just misses out on Best Picture, coming in at #6 for the year.

The Little Mermaid (1989)

#5  –  The Little Mermaid (1989)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“Under the Sea”), Best Original Song (“Kiss the Girl”)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“Part of Your World”), Best Original Song (“Under the Sea”), Best Original Song (“Les Poissons”), Best Original Song (“Kiss the Girl”)

I skipped this film in the theaters.  I was 15 and no Disney film had been that great for a very long time.  But we rented this when it came out and I loved it so much that I watched it four times that weekend before we had to return the video.  It wasn’t long after that that I bought it on video and when it came out on DVD I bought it then too.  Is it because Ariel has red hair?  Is it because the prince is named Eric?  No, it’s because the songs are so awesome (“Les Poissons” ranks among the funniest moments in any Disney film), it’s because the characters are great and because 30 years after their last truly great film, Disney had returned.  It is so good that it comes in #8 for 1989, one of the greatest year for films.  The Disney Renaissance had begun.

Pinocchio (1940)

#4  –  Pinocchio (1940)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Score, Best Song (“When You Wish Upon a Star”)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Animated Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song  (“When You Wish Upon a Star”), Original Song (“Give a Little Whistle”)

It is my #6 film of a year in which the top 5 films are The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Dictator, The Philadelphia Story, Rebecca and His Girl Friday.  Part of it is the story is so great.  But the story isn’t enough – just look at how lousy the 1998 live action and 2002 Benigni films were.  Part of it is the music – including “When You Wish Upon a Star”, which was immediately recognized for the wonderful song it was and has become the Disney anthem.  Part of it is the great character of Jiminy Cricket.  But a lot of it is the animation – it is not as polished as the later films and that gives the world a nice lived-in look.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

#3  –  Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast”), Best Original Song (“Be Our Guest”), Best Original Song (“Belle”)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Animated Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“Something There”), Best Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast”)

In most other years, “Be Our Guest”, “Belle” and “Gaston” would be among my top songs.  But this is the same year as all the amazing alternative songs from Until the End of the World, a film that isn’t all that great outside of the songs.  But for Beauty and the Beast the songs are just the beginning of the magic.  In college my friend Chris pointed out to me that this was so great because it taught little girls that they didn’t have to wait around for a prince.  Belle is smart and strong and she’ll stand up to the Beast and help him in his fight.  Of course it has also a great deal of humor, wonderful characters and perhaps the best overall soundtrack of any Disney film.

Bambi (1942)

#2  –  Bambi (1942)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Score, Best Sound, Best Song (“Love is a Song”)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Animated Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“Little April Shower”)

I could talk about the fact that my entire life my mother has been quoting this film to me (“What does Thumper’s mother always say” she said for decades before realizing that Thumper’s mother says “What does your father always say?” – the answer by the way is, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”).  Or I could talk about the wonderful animation, the way the forest just comes to life.  Or how it has touched everybody when they were a child.  But, come on.  Do I really have to explain what Bambi is doing in this spot?  I didn’t think so.

Fantasia (1940)

#1  –  Fantasia (1940)

Nighthawk Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Animated Film, Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing

Dancing hippos.  There is also Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and all of the wonderful animation to the Nutcracker.  But when it comes down to it I am sticking with two words: dancing hippos.

Note:  Fantasia wasn’t eligible for the Oscars until 1941, so the same goes for the Nighthawk Awards, thus it and Pinocchio can both win Best Animated Film.  It’s only right that way.  They shouldn’t have to compete, both of them being among the best animated films ever made.

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