I have found myself using the phrase “I’m a huge Disney nerd” a lot lately so I thought I’d prove it by doing a Top 11 Disney Animated films. This does not include films produced by Pixar because that’s a whole list by itself. I also don’t include any movies by Studio Ghibli because Disney just did the American distribution. There’s also numerous other studios that obviously won’t make this list. These are films that were important to me growing up or spoke to me in more recent times.
11 Alice in Wonderland (1951)
I read Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass at a fairly young age but I’m reasonably sure that the Disney cartoon was my first exposure to the stories. The world of Alice is fantastic and illogical while still having a certain logic to it. As I grew up, I realized that the books were filled with logic problems, puzzles and riddles but the first time reading it I didn’t know all of that. I liked the story of a young girl travelling through a world that doesn’t making any sense that grows increasingly scary. As in the book, she realizes that none of it is real and wakes up. As I grew, I often wondered about how much she was willing to believe until she refused to believe anymore. The voice acting was very good (for its time) and I especially liked the proper British speech of Alice.
10 Beauty and the Beast (1991)
From a young age I was very interested in books and reading in general. Reading was something I grasped early on and being transported into other worlds was something I clung to. My life was good but there were people having adventures and my imagination wanted fuel to create adventures of my own. Because of all that, I identified heavily with the character of Belle and I have since identified with a lot of the dreamers in fiction. As a kid the story didn’t really effect me the way it does now and even now it’s not the story that sucks me in. I love the songs and all the little side characters and the bizarre world where all of the inanimate objects are characters. The animation is beautiful and definitely still holds up after all of this time. The music is fun and pretty timeless. The voice actors are all great but I especially love Jerry Orbach and Lumiere. That must have been a lot of fun to do.
9 The Lion King (1994)
The Lion King came very near the height of my animation hysteria in the part of my childhood when I thought I might be an animator later on. The Lion King’s animation totally blew me away with how fluid and beautiful it was and, as Frank Sinatra sang, the best was yet to come. Still, Disney really outdid itself with this movie. The voice acting is really great even though they succumbed to the pitfall of using celebrities instead of seasoned voice actors. The music was really well done and I sang along to Just Can’t Wait to Be King and Hakuna Matata everyday for a little while. One of my big problems with the movie is that the main character is kind of entitled and looks forward to adulthood for all the wrong reasons. Of course, part of his journey is learning from those mistakes and earning his place of honor. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to respect the character Scar more as a dynamic and fun villain and the probably the first villain song I really enjoyed.
8 The Little Mermaid (1989)
Once again, yearning for a new world and wondering about a life beyond what I saw around me were themes that resonated with me. It’s not that I had a bad childhood but nobody has a childhood that’s without its bumps. Like many children I felt unpopular and unliked as a kid, a feeling that actually grew well into high school and in some forms exists today. When Ariel sings about the world “Up There” I think about all the times I wasn’t invited to a party or when I was picked last for kickball games. Don’t get me wrong, I always had friends but every so often I wondered what being a popular kid was like. At the same time, like Ariel, I wanted to be different and I really reveled in the differences between me and the other kids. Of course, I realized all of that later in life, when I was a teenager. The main thing that actually attracted me when I was younger was the music. Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright and Rene Auberjonois (no really, Odo had a cameo as a French chef) made songs that were a lot of fun to sing along to and enjoy.
7 Tangled (2010)
Depression is a hell of a thing. Depression lies. Even now I hesitate to call what I have bouts of “depression” because depression just calls me an idiot and to stop faking for attention. I don’t feel depressed right now but I definitely go through it from time to time. It’s just bad brain chemistry and it’s hard to get through but one thing that has always helped me fight it off or pull out of the pit is a good song or a good movie. That’s why I talk so much about the stuff I love here, because it really, really means something to me. Tangled was a movie that briefly cast sunshine on a dark period in New Jersey where I had very conflicting feelings about my life. The fluid animation, great music and slapstick humor almost always elicits a smile. The ending just feels really good to me too but I won’t spoil it here. The music is very good and a lot of it feels spontaneous and improvised while being polished at the same time (if that makes sense).
6 The Princess and the Frog (2009)
I love jazz music I like it a lot but not enough to listen to it regularly as many other genres float my boat more regularly. I love the big band sort of jazz that is loud and brassy and full of vibrating, bubbling energy. I love the kind of music that Dr. John sings. What a coincidence, Dr. John sings the very first song in the movie! I have never been to New Orleans but it’s always been spoken of with almost mythical reverence, especially by the jazz community. The art style and voice acting does a great job of setting the scene in a unique setting. It also takes us back to a different time period pretty effortlessly. The music is downright infectious and I especially like “When We’re Human”. I like the different twist on an old fairy tale with the added theme of working hard to make your dreams a reality but not too hard.
5 Wreck it Ralph (2012)
I love video games. I have loved video games ever since I laid eyes on (but was not allowed to touch) the Atari and watched somebody play Donkey Kong. Not long after we got an NES and I was hooked for life as a console gamer. I also hung out with my brothers and friends in several different arcades around town, pumping quarters for another few minutes of fun. This movie made me so nostalgic for those days of playing the hardest games kids were ever tortured with. The movie itself is really funny and also endearing and charming. I have to admit that I’ve done things in my life solely for the reward. I once ran for class president in high school just to see how many votes I could get. I’m not proud of it nor am I proud of hounding the teacher in charge when I never got an exact count. Later that year I actually won an award for service in the drama department and that felt way better. So I really love the theme of not trying so hard to be something you’re not and instead being the best you that you can be.
4 Big Hero 6 (2014)
This is the most recent animated Disney film I’ve seen. The art style, while similar to other recent movies, is also kind of infused with an anime feel which makes sense. The movie takes place in a mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo. I read some of the first run of the comic and Big Hero 6 was supposed to be Japan’s official superhero team. While that movie would have been cool, the movie we got was incredibly creative and had a ton of heart. The movie dealt with a lot of tough issues like death in the family but managed to stay lighthearted enough to not get me down. It’s definitely not your typical superhero movie but Disney’s Marvel Studios has proved that it doesn’t always go where you think they will go. This movie surprised me with how good it was and I think it really deserved to win the Academy Award. I really hope that they can write a successful sequel because I will definitely see it opening weekend.
3 Aladdin (1992)
Aladdin was the first soundtrack I ever owned and listened to until the casette tape was nearly worn out. I can sing along to most of the songs (except Friend Like Me. How did he breathe during that?) and I really enjoy doing so. This movie both started my extreme fandom of Robin Williams and it was also the first time I realized that voice actors are people. Aladdin is the story of a poor kid making it to the top with luck and his wits. It’s also the story of being rewarded for both being true to who you are and a good person. The main characters are flawed people but come through fire. Besides the great music, great story and great characters, I also have a very personal connection with this movie. When I had heart surgery in fifth grade to fix the double aortic arch that I was born with, this was the movie they let me watch in the ICU. So it’s also the only Disney movie I’ve watched on heavy drugs.
2 Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
I think this might be the movie that I’ve mentioned most in this blog and it is a movie that I will probably always be fascinated with. As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered more and more that I like about it. When I first saw it, I was a huge Tim Burton fan and fascinated with the macabre elements of Halloween. As I grew up, I still loved the dark elements married to the comedy elements but I began to appreciate the craft of stop-motion animation. I started to understand the story more and that led me to imagine the world they had created beyond the bounds of the story. What was Easterland like? What was Thanksgivingland like? As I watched it again in my adult years I now understood the parts about depression and self-discovery and creativity. I am always inspired by this movie and I love consuming anything connected to it.
1 Frozen (2013)
What more can be said about this movie? The movie became a phenomenon overnight and most people I know either love it or are apathetic. I actually thought I was going to hate it because the early trailer absolutely turned me off. It said nothing about what the movie was about but that actually worked in my favor. I wrote the movie off and filed it away somewhere in my brain. It came into theaters and left and I still had not watched it. Now, I had no idea at the time that Kristen Bell played Anna in the movie which would have swayed me as a Veronica Mars superfan. Also, had I known that Frozen had the same songwriters as Avenue Q and Book of Mormon I might have taken notice. No. I heard rave reviews and just decided to watch it one day. I love it now. The characters are so interesting, the acting is excellent and the story is a little bit different from what I’ve seen before in Disney movies. They’re are deep psychological stories being told just under the surface of a straightforward tale about the bond between two siblings. The music is amazing and Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel blew me away with how well they did with it. I definitely recommend this one and I promise I won’t get mad if you don’t like it. Just ask my brother.