The (Not So) Definitive Ranking of Disney Animated Films: 70-61

Welcome to the next 10! This is the continuation of the series started here.

70. Make Mine Music (1946) [Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet – The Andrews Sisters]

Make Mine Music

The history continues! We already discussed in Melody Time in the first ten, but to recap: Disney lost a good portion of his staff to the war effort and the studio faced significant financial challenges. They had to put together features to try and make money without much of a budget and limited personnel. Disney found his way around this by cobbling together unfinished pieces into compilation features.

In the spirit of Fantasia and the formula already set out by Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, Disney created Make Mine Music. Blue Bayou (from Fantasia’s cutting room floor), All the Cats Join In, Without You, Casey at the Bat, Two Silhouettes, Peter and the Wolf, After You’ve Gone, Johnny Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet, and the Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met. (And the Martins and the Coys, which we don’t discuss.)

On the plus side, it accomplished more than Melody Time because it came first – a popular music version of Fantasia. In that same sense, it lives in the shadow of Fantasia and doomed by the production issues of the time. The same film with a full-powered Disney studio might have been something grand to behold. In the end, we have a fun and serviceable piece of entertainment.

69. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Rescuers Down Under

Unpopular opinion? The Rescuers Down Under is the superior of the Rescuers films. We’re at the start of the Renaissance now and Disney managed to take everything that was great about The Rescuers and gives it additional production quality. The animation is far cleaner with some gorgeous scenes that capture the beauty of the Australian Outback. We have a better villain (fun trivia: an early script had Cruella de Vil as the villain in the original before replacing her with Medusa).

However, we also have a slight misstep during the early Renaissance. Disney captured lightning in a bottle with its Broadway-style approach to animation. While many consider The Little Mermaid the start of the Renaissance, I argue it was Oliver & Company with the show-stopping numbers and overall prominent music that they perfected with The Little Mermaid.

Why they stepped away from that approach to pursue their first canon sequel is knowledge that I do not possess.

68. Cars 3 (2017) [Ride – ZZ Ward featuring Gary Clark, Jr.]

Cars 3

Trying to keep the entries fresh, but the fact is that when faced with ranking all of these films rather than summarising them there is a lot of similar stuff to say about this end of the list.

Cars 2 already appeared on the list and the third entry into the franchise is here for similar reasons: the Cars universe is known to us. We know these characters and from a storytelling perspective these are additional chapters in their lives. The animation improved from the prior entries, but as they are the same characters it limits the conspicuous artistic improvements – who wants the characters to look dramatically different?

Still, I feel that Cars 3 did deliver a better story than Cars 2. It feels less like an attempt to capitalise on the popularity of the franchise and more like people at the studio said, “Lightning McQueen would be the perfect…vehicle…to tell this story.” They were able to leverage what was already known about the characters to tell a story they could not with a new character, much the way MCU sequels only work because we know the character(s) from earlier films.

67. Robin Hood (1973) [Oo-De-Lally]

Robin Hood

When you read this section, you might argue that Robin Hood should be lower on the list. The tale of Robin Hood is a classic, so from a storytelling perspective one cannot object to much here. Something should be said for the fact that Disney planned to tell a story about Reynard the Fox and it sat on the shelf until someone at the studio proposed doing Robin Hood with anthropomorphic animals – for those wondering why Robin Hood is a fox.

Of course, piecing stuff together is kind of the story with Robin Hood. Unlike the early compilation films like Saludos Amigos and Make Mine Music, Robin Hood did not compile unused bits into a series of stories, it reused old bits of animation to save on costs:

The movie overall is wonderful, but I felt it needed to be pushed down the list a bit because in terms of animation Disney literally recycled what it had already done – not in an interpretive way but a literal way. They took old cels and animated their new characters over them (a personal favourite is replacing Baloo with Little John because both bears are Phil Harris.

66. The Black Cauldron (1985) [Finale – Elmer Bernstein]

Black Cauldron

Look, I personally love The Black Cauldron. If the whole story here were that Disney took some Welsh mythology and built this feature from it, it would probably be a classic. Instead, it’s one of those movies that makes most people think, “JFC – that’s a Disney film!”

It’s the animated theatrical equivalent of the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. No, not the encounter with Stitch and that horrible chili dog belch – the original, Ridley Scott-like horror experience. Remember going in there and that sense of, “Am I really at Disney World right now?”

Perhaps that is why The Black Cauldron is on a short list of canon films not yet released on Blu Ray (come on, Disney! – your completionist and most dedicated fans demand it!). The film, one of the last pre-Renaissance, featured no music originally and little music as it stands. The film has lots of rather frightening imagery for a Disney film.

The greatest difficulty is attempting to squeeze the entirety of the Chronicles of Prydain into a 90-minute runtime though. Peter Jackson turned a paragraph into a three-hour movie while Disney turned an entire YA series into a 90-minute cartoon. Strange world.

65. The Good Dinosaur (2015) [Goodbye Spot – Mychael Danna & Jeff Danna]

The Good Dinosaur

This one is wrong but I don’t know what to say. I have a hard time moving it further up the list, but it definitely feels like it belongs further up the list.

For one thing, I loved the animation. There’s a brilliant mix of realism and cartoonish exaggeration. Dinosaur took a far more realistic track, and I think this film would have suffered had it done the same. Too cartoonish and it would have felt like We’re Back, The Land Before Time, Ice Age….

And there’s wonderful heart to the story, directed beautifully by first-time feature length director Peter Sohn (who you’ve kind of seen – he was the inspiration for Russell’s character in Up).

So many great things to say about The Good Dinosaur and yet this is where it inevitably landed. Perhaps it just needs more time to marinate.

64. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) [Little Black Rain Cloud]

Adv of Winnie the Pooh

Or perhaps the next entry will shed some light. I mean, who can complain about Winnie the Pooh? The A.A. Milne biopic, sure, but not Winnie the Pooh himself. My wife can’t even think about the Christopher Robin movie without tearing up.

But something must be said about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and while The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is fantastically entertaining and timeless, it just does not have the same punch as many other Disney classics. It almost feels like an appetiser, or something enjoy during a break with other titles.

One could render a philosophical opinion of the Winnie the Pooh stories, but it requires a deliberateness not required by other Disney films and I think that is the heart and charm of these stories. We could discuss the emotional intelligence and dynamics of these friends, such as with their relationship with Eeyore, or we could enjoy it without much consideration just as the Hundred Acre inhabitants do. We never see them considering¬†why they should behave in such a wonderful way; it’s simply their way.

63. Peter Pan (1953) [You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!]

Peter Pan

I submit to you proof of my objectivity. Peter Pan is perhaps my favourite story of all time. I adore Sir Barrie’s story, yet here we are with 62 more films ahead of us.

The story is amazing, but that is Barrie. Disney did not do much except to bring the story to life with its animation (which I realise is an odd critique as most of their films are adaptations like this), but anyone who has seen a production of Peter Pan knows more or less what they’re getting here (sans clapping for Tinker Bell’s life).

Disney was coming off its post-war period and starting to find itself again. This film is an undeniable classic, but if we’re going to put it up against the rest of the canon it must take steps behind films that challenged and revolutionised animation, storytelling, music, and so forth.

62. Lady and the Tramp (1955) [Bella Notte]

Lady and the Tramp

Things have not changed much in the world of Disney. This was the first full-length feature released by the studio following Peter Pan. As is somewhat unsurprising with some older films, the film earned money but not a lot of critical acclaim initially; many critics took specific aim at the animation itself.

That said, the Bella Notte sequence with the surprise kiss is not only iconic in the Disney filmography, it’s iconic in all filmography and greater pop culture. The film contains all of the sentimentality one would expect of a Disney film, executed in a typical Disney fashion to attain the status of classic.

However, it’s also a slight tipping point for the studio. They rebounded from the post-war period with Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, peaking in terms of box office with Sleeping Beauty taking such a hit that Walt had the studio…step away from the princess stories. Can you imagine? They might have stopped after just the original three.

61. Dinosaur (2000) [Epilogue – James Newton Howard]

Dinosaur

I am going to catch heat for this one I expect. Dinosaur has dedicated fans who will demand that it be higher on the list, but it also has detractors who will find it unreasonable that I placed it so high. Maybe everyone can consider this a compromise?

Dinosaur appeared near the start of the Experimental Era as Walt Disney Animation Studios (not Pixar) stepped up its game with digital animation. Unlike older Disney films that supplemented traditional animation with the digital, Dinosaur features the digital heavily.

Looking at the film with modern eyes, it still holds up rather well. One can see a distinct separation between the computer animated characters and their backgrounds, but considering this in the context of the time it still seems revolutionary – no points deducted. The film gains spots on the list for its efforts in the field of animation, but the story is not what one gets from other Disney classics so I relegated it towards the end of the pack.

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