Nine Old Men and a Top Ten List

Recently, a few of my friends participated in a Disney-themed meme on Livejournal. It was particularly designed for girls (many questions devoted to princesses and such), but it's still a lovable subject. Disney remains an essential facet in everybody's life, particularly film buffs like me. I don't know a single person without at least one fond memory of the Disney library, so it's time to pay tribute with a new list:

My Ten Favorite Disney Films

10) Hercules (1997)

I'm not going to lie. This is not a good movie. The myths and characters of Greek mythology are watered down for children, and it hurts the end product. It tries to hard to be subversive without ever crossing over into full-on parody. Established historical figures are completely misinterpreted or else completely fabricated. The jokes are bad, bad, bad. And it's guilty of one of my biggest pet peeves: Hercules was the character's Roman character, Heracles was his Greek name.

Despite all this, I still love it. It's a guilty pleasure, plain and simple. I love the the Muses depicted as a Motown soul group, and Paul Shaffer was genius casting for Hermes. I also like James Woods as Hades, but not as much as everyone else. And how can you not feel the urge to stand up and cheer during "Go the Distance"? It ranks right up there with "You're the Best" from the The Karate Kid, "Danger Zone" from Top Gun, and the Rocky theme.

Ancient mythology has this certain allure; even its worst incarnation, it's still fascinating. I remember enjoying the animated series as well (even though it had the same problems as the film). Consider it a precursor to actual Greek mythology.

9) The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King was a critical darling and box-office phenomena in 1994, an already legendary year in film. It was funny, emotional, and epic; a cinematic trifecta. The voice acting was good, the music was good, the animation was good. But there was a reason it was so good. It was plagiarized. I don't mean it's loosely based on the story of Hamlet; everybody knows that. I mean the entire film was completely ripped off.

Kimba the White Lion. It was a Japanese property in the sixties. It was about a lion separated from home, taking refuge elsewhere until his rightful return as king. Both Kimba and Simba were forced to adopt an all-bug diet to placate their non-carnivore friends. Simba's antagonist was his uncle, Kimba's antagonist was his aunt. There is a huge stampede in both movies. Both Kimba and Simba see their deceased parents appear in the clouds, which then bestow advice. Hell, both properties feature elderly, mandrill sages! Even Matthew Broderick signed on under the assumption it was an American adaptation.

But regardless of all that, The Lion King is a staple of childhood. I cannot imagine anybody growing up without this film (childhoods ending prior to 1994 notwithstanding). Stolen or not, I do indeed like The Lion King. Hakuna Matata, indeed.

8) The Three Caballeros (1944)

Libraries rent out video tapes as well as books. In the suburbs, it's typical practice to abuse this service as a cheap alternative to Blockbuster. Unfortunately, there's a flaw in this plan: all the movies are educational. I actually view this as beneficial for two reasons: A) Smart kids like me were satisfied with educational films, and B) It allowed me to find things like The Three Caballeros.

Donald Duck is awesome. Yeah, Mickey Mouse is alright, and Goofy I could take or leave, but Donald was cream of the crop. The premise of him starring in his own movie was enough to make me love The Three Caballeros before I'd even seen it. Along with Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros was part of an American goodwill endeavor to Latin America helmed by Walt Disney himself. The two films introduced Americans to their neighbors cultures, and in turn, Latin American nations were invited into a Western Hemisphere brotherhood.

I don't remember a lot of this movie. What I do remember is Donald making friends with a Brazilian parrot named Jose Carioca, and a Mexican rooster named Panchito Pistoles. Together, the three avian amigos narrate/interact with various documentary segments about South and Central America. Between these segments, there's cartoon frivolity and wackiness. There was also a penguin for some reason. It's not a traditional film, but that's part of the fun. It certainly taught me more about Mexican culture than an animated Latina child yelling for a half hour about her map.

7) The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Remember how Disney spat out sequels to every animated property it owned? Remember how they were always rushed jobs that didn't make a whole lot of sense canonically, and besmirched the integrity of the original? Well, this is the exception.

The Rescuers Down Under was a sequel to the 1977 film The Rescuers, and the second film from the Disney Renaissance (The Little Mermaid was the first). It was the first Disney film to be colored with computers, and it screamed excitement at every turn. Of course it does; it takes place in Australia. They can't make a cup of coffee down there without wrestling a crocodile.

I wasn't even aware of the original Rescuers movie until years after I saw the sequel. Frankly, I didn't care. All I needed to see was Cody riding the giant eagle, and I knew the predecessor couldn't possibly compare (when I finally did see it, I was sorely disappointed.)

I was always waiting for a crossover between The Rescuers and The Rescue Rangers. Apart from the obvious name similarities, both were about globetrotting rodents who helped victimized people. Sadly, such a crossover never came to fruition.

6) Fantasia (1940)

Fantasia is an art film by the most honest definition. Walt Disney tasked his animation staff to listen to seven pieces of classical music, then animate their interpretations. These seven segments were to accompany The Sorcerer's Apprentice, an animated short in the same vain featuring Mickey Mouse.

Fantasia is often derided by people who don't understand it's purpose. These were music videos before music videos were even a thing. Because the animators were not trained or versed in musical history (not even the specific compositions they were working with), they were able to create unique, stylistic, modern interpretations of already famous works. Some were treated with the utmost sincerity; The Pastoral Symphony features characters of Greek mythology at the feast of Bacchus. Some were lighthearted; Dance of the Hours features alligators, ostriches, and hippos dancing a clumsy ballet. Some are just experimental; Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is represented by abstract patterns and shadows.

In the end, Fantasia is a wild headtrip, but a must see for animation devotees and classical music aficionados. And I don't care what anyone says; That is Czernobóg, the Slavic deity, not Satan.

5) Aladdin (1992)

I can't make a Disney top ten list without mentioning at least one prince/princess film. It might as well be the best of the bunch.

Aladdin is hero that truly grows as an act of character, not plot convenience. When we meet him, we see he's a caring, decent individual forced into a life of crime by unfortunate circumstances. He can be selfish and mopey at times, but his good heart always shines through.

Jasmine is a respectable female lead. While every other princess waits patiently for her prince, Jasmine makes it quite vocal she neither wants or needs one. She's fine on her own. In fact, she almost gets herself killed trying to prove this. Luckily, Aladdin swoops in to save her. Right from their first meeting, Aladdin and Jasmine have a chemistry, Aladdin playing off Jasmine's thirst for adventure, and Jasmine playing off Aladdin's jocular nature. It seems real.

It's weird how Aladdin can be such a mirthful character, and yet, there are four other comic relief characters; Abu, the cheeky monkey (literally), Magic Carpet, the silent but exaggerated, um, flying carpet, Iago, the loudmouthed assistant of Jafar, and The Genie. My god, the genie. You either love him, or you hate him, but he steals the show.

Like many other Disney films of the 90's, Aladdin had an animated TV series spin-off. It was probably the best among the spin-offs. The characters remained consistent with their film counterparts, and despite a couple glaring anachronisms, it's solid entertainment. I consider it a forgotten classic. Aladdin was also the first Disney franchise to receive a straight-to-video sequel. So... I guess it's not all grand.

4) Oliver & Company (1988)

I don't know why I like Oliver & Company as much as I do. It seems to hit all the marks of inadequacy; a weak central character, poor pacing, pointless musical numbers, nonsensical character motivations, plot holes, unprovoked shifts in tone, and animals dancing while wearing sunglasses. And yet, here it is at number four on my list. I can't explain it. I think 90% of it has to do with Billy Joel. For some reason, I really liked him when I was a kid.

In light of these problems, Oliver & Company is a harmless film. It's not particularly strong, but it's inoffensive, which goes a long way in children's entertainment. I loved the first half of the movie when Oliver and Fagin's dogs are running scams, but after Jenny is introduced, I lose interest. The entire film becomes the story of a girl loving her cat, and I was really embarrassed to watch it. So much so, I had to fast forward through the musical numbers.

The strangest thing about Oliver & Company, a fact I never pinpointed until recently, it takes place in modern society. Every other Disney film takes place in times of aristocracies, the middle ages, or at the very least some rural/wilderness environment. The exception being 101 Dalmatians, but its modernistic 1960's styling ironically dates the film. For reasons I may never understand, Oliver & Company takes the number 4 spot.

3) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Yes, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not part of the official Disney animated library. Yes, it is a live-action film first and a cartoon only secondary. No, I don't care either way, I'm still including it. Otherwise I'd only have nine films on this list.

The movie is a postmodern piece of wonderment. It's a formalist film noir set in a world of pure fantasy. It's a satire of the film industry, but it makes everything up. The characters are easily recognizable figures, but independent of any predecessors. Bob Hoskins plays a hardboiled detective so well, I wouldn't believe for years he was actually British. Roger's as annoying character, but it's intentional, so I guess that's acceptable. Baby Herman is a genius piece of writing, Judge Doom is a frightening and intimidating villain, and although I never fetishized Jessica Rabbit (her freakishly out-of-proportion face always scared me off), I can see why she jump-started puberty for millions of young boys.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those rare cinematic experiences where everything goes exactly right. It's a great script on its own, and based on a novel idea. The special effects are cutting edge, and the visuals are top-notch. But most importantly, contrary to all other evidence, it proved Hollywood cares more about good ideas than money. Disney managed to convince Warner Bros, Fleischer Studios, Turner Entertainment, and Universal Pictures to feature their characters in a Disney movie. Nobody would ever have imagined something that insane happening, but here it is. In Technicolor.

2) Robin Hood (1973)

Still my favorite interpretation of the story, Disney's Robin Hood features an all-animal cast that most certainly spawned a dangerous amount of Furries. Squicky images aside, Robin Hood is a character everybody can love and admire. A man... er, fox, who stands up against injustice. A noble hero driven to change things for the better, putting right what has gone and wrong, and hoping that his next leap will be the leap home.

I watched this movie more than any other when I was a kid. There was just something about it so indescribably fascinating. I liked the music, the characters, and even though I could recite the story verbatim, it made me cheer time every time I watched it. The only thing I didn't like was the geeky turtle in big glasses. I always thought he was making fun of me.

I liked Robin Hood so much, I tried to read the official Robin Hood story, only to be disappointed by archaic English in a big, thick book. I tried to watch the 1992 Kevin Costner adaptation on video, but I was too young, and my mother made me turn it off. If only I could go back in time and inform my younger self of the Errol Flynn adaptation.

The animation is kind of weak, but there's a reason. Walt Disney died before its production began, and his passing hurt the studio financially. Animators were forced to copy character designs and even reuse entire sequences from previous films with the new characters drawn in place. As a result, many scenes look exactly like similar scenes from Snow White, The Jungle Book, and Bedknobs & Broomsticks. Regardless, Robin Hood is a cult classic that still holds up today.

1) The Sword in the Stone (1963)

I may have once been obsessed with Robin Hood, but The Sword in the Stone is my all-time favorite Disney film. There is only one reason I showed so much affection to Robin Hood, and only began heralding The Sword in the Stone recently: Disney's crazy-ass home video system. You've all seen the commercials; Disney releases one of its classic films from the Disney Vault, keeps it on the market for 9 months, then removes it from store shelves in favor of something else. If you want a Disney film, you better pick it up during this window. I don't know why they do this. I don't know any other company that does this. Just print your damn movies, and stop teasing us.

Unless I was grievously misinformed, The Sword in the Stone was never released on video when I was a kid. It was at Blockbuster,but always checked out. I had to subsist on the occasional random airings on Saturday afternoons. I always stumbled upon it by pure luck, and always halfway through.

I don't think I ever watched the movie in its entirety. When I was 22, I was playing Kingdom Hearts II, and I figured 'why the hell not?' I torrented a copy, and I enjoyed every bit of it. Merlin is a great absent-minded genius, and Archimedes is hilarious. Both are stubborn, short-tempered, opinionated, and they both deserve each other.

The physical transformations, especially the final Wizard's Duel, are pinnacles of animation, but there are a few questionable moments in production. There are three child actors who voiced Arthur, and none of them sound the same. If that's not bad enough, they switch constantly, sometimes in the middle of the scene.

In conclusion, The Sword in the Stone is my favorite of the Disney animated library; a vast collection of legendary titles, forgotten classics, and timeless stories. And Chicken Little. Despite recent missteps and the overreaching hands of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner, the name of Disney stands for quality and grandiose film. It's one of the few brand names in Hollywood to remain untarnished forever, and whatever direction it goes, every adult and child will stand beside it.