The (Not So) Definitive Ranking of Disney Animated Films: 60-51

You made it to part 3! Or you stumbled into part 3 unaware that we’ve already covered the first 20 films (80-61) here and here.

On to number 60!

60. The Great Mouse Detective (1986) [The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind – Vincent Price]

Great Mouse Detective

There’s so much to love about this movie. It’s an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. Actual audio of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock appears in the film. Ratigan (and Vincent Price) are just ::chef’s kiss::

This film comes at the end of the Bronze Age and on the heels of The Black Cauldron and was a nice return to traditional Disney fare, but there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about the experience. I think it’s fair to say that The Great Mouse Detective, which did arrive to commercial and critical success, was Disney’s commercial response to the disappointment of The Black Cauldron rather than one of their more ambitious attempts.

59. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) [Where the Dream Takes You – Mya]

Atlantis

Context, context, context. Atlantis appeared in the early years of the Post-Renaissance era when Disney began exploring with other animation methods, especially the use of digital tools in their medium. Unlike the movies before and after Atlantis though, this film kept things fairly traditional. Fairly. There’s far more CGI in Atlantis than in prior films and used to great effect, but considering where Disney was before and after this…

Basically, they did not take the bigger risks seen in later Post-Renaissance films, and while they made greater use of the CGI it was not unheard of for Disney to use CGI in their movies..

Don’t get me wrong. Atlantis has some gorgeous art, and the difficulty level increases anytime water features heavily in animation. The combination of water and light in the film makes for stunning scenes, and the plot

58. Finding Dory (2016) [Unforgettable – Sia]

Finding Dory

Back into the sequel territory. Finding Dory is amazing, amazing fun with an almost manic energy at times with all the brilliance of Finding Nemo’s undersea artistry. Like many other sequels on the list, had this been an initial entry into a franchise it would appear much higher on this list. The fact that we have such a strong sense of familiarity suppresses the impact of the film with respect to others because so many of the elements revisit what we’ve seen.

57. Cars (2006) [Real Gone – Sheryl Crow]

Cars

This one had me reconsidering The Good Dinosaur again because it’s probably my least favourite Pixar film (among first entries in a franchise). A big reason for that is the story just does not possess the heart typical of Pixar films – it feels like the genesis of the idea was “let’s make a movie about cars” rather than “let’s make a movie about ____ using cars” or even “how would a car experience ______?” You know, like the comment about Pixar getting increasingly existential about their concepts until eventually reaching, “What if feelings had feelings?” with Inside Out.

The art is well done and the story is solid, but it feels like a fun diversion for the Pixar crew alongside their other projects.

56. Toy Story 2 (1999) [When She Loved Me – Sarah McLachlan]

Toy Story 2

This one was also complicated to rank. I tend to side with Pixar staff who regard the film as rushed and of lesser quality than possible from the studio, though critics generally view it with praise. Pixar managed to do a Herculean amount of work following a Disney decision to transition this from a straight-to-video sequel to a full theatrical release in order to get the version that we see (and that includes someone deleting most of the project – fortunately a staffer had a copy to restore it!).

Toy Story 2 marked a transition in the review of the films from those with some deficiencies to those that are strong (but not exceptional) across the board. The “When She Loved Me” sequence with Jessie are her original owner reportedly moved both Tom Hanks and Tim Allen to tears.

The dependency on Toy Story moves it back on the list though.

55. Incredibles 2 (2018) [Incredits 2 – Michael Giacchino]

Incredibles 2

As with earlier segments of the list, we are addressing a similar theme among several films in this portion. Like Toy Story 2, Incredibles 2 is a sequel with an excellent story that did make improvements in the area of animation, but I cannot help but feel its role as a sequel propelled it there. That is, would Incredibles 2 work had it just been the Incredibles and the original never existed?

The story is, well, incredible, especially with Elastigirl taking such a prominent role, but as with Toy Story 2 we are so dependent on Incredibles that it simply had to slide down the list a bit.

54. Toy Story 4 (2019) [The Ballad of the Lonesome Cowboy – Chris Stapleton]

Toy Story 4

I think Toy Story 4 wound up here mostly in relation to the Toy Story franchise. Some argue that Toy Story 2 was better than Toy Story. I disagree because Toy Story was revolutionary in animation, and in that context deserves more weight than its sequel, believing instead that Toy Story was a decent follow-up with the real improvement coming in Toy Story 3.

Similarly, Toy Story 4 follows a drop-off from its predecessor. This was a fun movie with our familiar friends (who have made us ugly cry so, so many times). In fact, I think the film exceeds expectations because the response to news of a Toy Story 4 was cautious. After Andy left the toys with a new owner at the end of the third film, it felt odd that we should return to their universe. Pixar handled it masterfully, but other than being entertaining it feels like a somewhat unnecessary addition to a franchise that hit such a high note in 3.

53. Sleeping Beauty (1959) [Once Upon a Dream – Mary Costa]

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty hurt the studio so bad that Walt himself put an indefinite moratorium on princess films (not lifted until 1989’s The Little Mermaid). The film has no particular problem, and ultimately that was the problem for many critics who saw this as a re-tread of the Snow White and Cinderella formula.

The art style differs somewhat from other films of the period, and that resulted in unique issues. The background artist put considerable effort in his role (despite objections from the director) and that resulted in changes to the character design to match what was done. The full contains some stunning scenes but otherwise feels like it’s at war with itself (which technically it was).

Sleeping Beauty is a classic, but not the titan some of these other titles are.

52. Dumbo (1941) [Baby Mine – Betty Noyes]

Dumbo

Again we have an interesting contextual story. Fantasia is an artistic masterpiece, but cost the studio a fortune to produce and left them in a bad way. For their subsequent projects they would need to achieve commercial success to survive.

For Dumbo, the immediate follow-up to Fantasia, that meant simplicity. Simplicity in story, simplicity in animation…the inclusion of Jim Crow and some overt racial stereotyping in the When I See an Elephant Fly sequence. Everything in the film is dialled back, which does give it a unique charm.

Plus, they deserve some credit for carrying a feature length animated film with a protagonist who never speaks.

51. Bambi (1942) [Little April Shower – Bambi Chorus]

Bambi

Take Dumbo, lather, rinse, and repeat without the problematic racial elements and with improved animation. Disney attempted to animate an all animal cast true to life, bringing in life models and translating those details magically to the screen. The anthropomorphised elements of the characters are delightful, especially Thumper’s childlike tendencies and little remarks.

Disney did a wonderful job and put a little more into this than Dumbo, hence leapfrogging the flying elephant in the ranking, but ultimately this was the next story to receive the feature-length animation treatment from the young Disney studio (and a Golden Age classic) and not the cultural juggernaut that other films became.

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