I feel like I have to go into this expecting people to disagree. It’s Disney, everyone has their most favorite and least favorite. Maybe yours made the list and maybe it didn’t. I’m more than willing to hear your arguments. Now, I was raised on the Disney Renaissance. That magical time between 1989 and 2000-ish when everything Disney produced seemed to be gold. As a result I’m a little biased when it comes to those films. There’s also what constitutes a Disney film to take into account. What about the Pixar flicks? Or the live action movies? Well I’ve culled this list from all of them. If Disney had a hand in the production then I’ve counted it. So let’s count down the Top Ten Disney Films, according to me.
Top Ten Disney Films of All Time
10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
This is where it all began. If it weren’t for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs we may well not have had all the wonderful films in the Disney Canon that we enjoy today. Jeez, that was a weird sentence. Anyway, Snow White, not a huge fan of this 1937 adaptation of the German Fairy Tale, but its contribution to the industry cannot be overstated. It was the first long form animated feature by the Disney Company. You know the plot already, Snow White is pretty, Evil Queen is somewhat less pretty and wants her dead. Snow White moves in with seven unmarried bachelors and eventually falls into a coma. Saved by prince; credits. Not a great story by any means, but we all had less expectations in the thirties.
Honorable Mention – Who Framed Roger Rabbit
I don’t really know where to put this flick. It is one of my favorite films of all time. It features Disney characters and it was produced by Touchstone, a division of Disney. But it isn’t really a Disney film. Half the characters are from Warner’s stable and honestly they were more entertaining. But it deserves a mention here anyway. It stars the late Bob Hoskins as a down and out gumshoe in a noir-ish tale about the frame up of the titular Roger Rabbit. Pioneering the blending of animation and live action the film was very well received by critics and has a legacy that lasts to this day. If you haven’t seen it, please do so.
Ignorant spell check doesn’t recognize Mulan as a word. I mean the film was released in 1998, get with the times. Anyway, not the best Disney film by any means, but it has a fair number of good songs, the usual excellent animation and one of the few remaining performances from Eddie Murphy that is actually funny. Poor guy. Breaking some new ground with a female protagonist that doesn’t fall asleep for no reason and kicks a little ass for a change too. The film is a western take on an old Chinese tale, and it was the “western take” part of that sentence that led to its poor reception in China. It stars Ming-Na Wen in the title role, who is also Agent May in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which I only found out when researching this article.
8. Alice in Wonderland
I feel like I have to have a few of the older films on this list, and Alice is my favorite of the bunch. The film was panned by critics at the time, which came as a shock to me, but is now regarded as one of the very best films in the canon. Filled with twisted imagery and unsettling music, I can’t listen to jazz without feeling uncomfortable for some reason, the film does a wonderful job of conveying a sense of displacement. Perhaps not too surprising it was during the sixties counter-culture movement when the film gained its audience. It was even re-released in the early seventies, billed as a film in tune with the then current psychedelic times.
Honorable Mention – Tron
Tron is a masterpiece. Its story sucks, the acting is passable at best and it made no money. But Tron is a masterpiece. The film is still a joy to look at these days, so striking and unique. The sequel, released in 2010, does its best but fails to capture that special something that made the original so wonderful to look at. Though the soundtrack to Tron Legacy is fantastic, seeing as it was composed by Daft Punk. Tron was well received by most critics at the time, but I feel it was too alien, too ahead of its time to be appreciated by the 1982 public. Its influence can be felt to this day, and without it we wouldn’t have Toy Story.
7. Finding Nemo
The first of two Pixar flicks on the list. I feel in love with this film the first time I saw it. Such clever plot writing from Pixar here. Their films have cross generational appeal, and I think that’s exemplified by Finding Nemo. You have the A plot of Nemo’s journey, discovery and challenges to overcome, and the B story of Marlin trying to find him. And that is very much an Adult fear, the panic of losing a child, you almost don’t need the added baggage of the death of his wife and the destruction of the eggs, the empathy already exists for any parent who watches the film. Coupled with some smart dialogue, and the occasional joke, and we have one of the very best films Disney has ever produced.
6. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
If you told me Disney would make a film based on a theme park ride, and that it would be awesome, back in 2002 I would have laughed in your face. Well, maybe not to your face, maybe more away from your face. In my room, does anyone remember being fourteen? I’m a bit vague on back then. But you would have been right. And that’s all that matters. Starring Geoffrey Rush and other less important people in a swash-buckling romp the likes of which we hadn’t seen for years. How good was Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa in this flick? I mean seriously, the guy even out performed Johnny Depp.
Honorable Mention – Return to Oz
Return to Oz was terrifying. It looks like everything in that film was exquisitely designed for the sole purpose of giving kids nightmares. From the deranged looking companions to the head swapping vanity of Princess Mombi the film is a marvel of horror, presented as a children’s flick. Worst of all is the Wheelers. Those grotesque amalgams of man and machine and chase Dorothy early in the film. Disney has wanted to do an animated adaptation of the original story for years, but MGM beat them to the punch with their Judy Garland classic. Instead we got this… and nightmares
5. The Lion King
Now I know what you’re thinking. “The Lion King? Number five? Are you insane? Surely it deserves to be higher on the list than that?!” And you would be right. If you’ve never heard of Kimba: The White Lion. That The Lion King started as a Kimba film is undeniable. Early concept art showed Simba as a white lion and he was even originally called Kimba, according to Roy Disney. Even some of the characters bear a striking resemblance to the Osamu Tezuka created originals. Now that that’s out of the way, the film is great. Owing a great deal to Hamlet, it has a great story, and a few great songs. Still not a big fan of the villain song in this one though.
Look at that picture. Do you see Hercules in that picture. No? good. The most boring part of Hercules was the title character. He was generic and uninteresting. It’s a testament to his supporting cast that this film ranks so highly. James Woods was astoundingly good in this film as Hades, as was Susan Egan as Megara. Meg is perhaps the most fleshed out female character in the Disney canon. Everyone was amazing, bar Tate Donovan as Hercules. And that soundtrack, full on gospel with R&B and soul influences. Masterful, and as yet unmatched by another Disney flick.
Honorable Mention – Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
There’s nothing particularly innovative in this film. It’s a remake of a sixties film based on a book called The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. I just watched it a lot when I was a kid. Watched it again last year and it totally holds up. I have no idea how they got those animals to behave themselves for the shoot, especially the cat, but if you’re looking for a great family film this is the one I’d recommend. Just don’t think about what ages the animals are now.
3. Toy Story
What can I say about Toy Story that hasn’t been said a thousand times since it was released? The film is a joy to watch from start to finish. Excellent art direction, wonderful story and it paved the way for all the other computer generated films since. I’m a little sad to see traditional animation fall by the wayside in the years since its release, but that’s a small price to pay on the whole. A few fun facts, it took 91 machine years to render the film back in 1995, these days it would take approximately 0.4 machine years to do it now.
2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Am I really so alone in this one? I asked a few friends to give me their favorites and to a man they all rebuked this one. I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I guess it speaks to me. Based on the wonderful Victor Hugo novel of the same name, albeit with a happier, not happy, ending, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a film about freedom, social acceptance and sin. How many Disney flicks have a clergyman as the primary villain? Whoops, just realized that he’s supposed to be a Judge in the Disney version, he’s the Archdeacon of Notre Dame in the Book. Anyway, this is where we find the greatest villain song in the entire Disney canon. Hellfire. A chilling ode to self loathing and lust from a man who is supposed to represent the church, forgiveness and love but is instead consumed by pettiness and the weakness of man. His arrogant self-confessed superiority spelled out in every word, I cannot overstate how fantastic this song is. The late Tony Jay lends his magnificent bass to the performance with the Latin version of the Confiteor as the counter melody.
Honorable Mention – The Emperor’s New Groove
I really like this film. It’s often ignored, due to its unconventional nature. An animated Disney film without songs? Who’d wanna see something like that? Me for one. The film is hilarious, great performances from Patrick Warburton, Eartha Kitt and John Goodman. Even David Spade manages not to suck. The film started life as Kingdom of the Sun, a more serious Incan film. What we got was less epic and more buddy road movie, with a little Dick Dastadly thrown in for good measure. All in all an unfortunately overlooked film.
There it is. Should have been obvious by this point. Getting to around half way without seeing Aladdin makes it fairly obvious that it’s at number one on a list of Top Ten Disney Films. What isn’t there to love about this film? Great songs, all of them for a change rather than one or two. Excellent performances by the cast, special note going to the late great Robin Williams for his performance as the Genie and Jonathan Freeman for his insidious portrayal of Jafar. Based on the most well-known tale in 1001 Arabian Nights, though it was only added to the collection in the 18th century and is actually set in China in the original, Disney’s take on the tale codified their Renaissance. On a side note, while The Return of Jafar sucked, I would argue that The King of Thieves isn’t a bad film. Terrible songs, but watchable.
So there we have it. My top ten Disney films, plus a few honorable mentions. So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? I think the list is fairly solid but if you feel like I missed one by all means leave a comment. I’m looking forward to what you all have to say.