A couple of weeks ago, Disney released one of it’s perennial classic, Pinocchio, on DVD. With Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan released last year, here’s hoping for some other greats like Fantasia and the classics from the Disney Renaissance (i.e. The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast). But what is about the vintage Disney animated features so special? I believe it’s their wonderful charm, their catchy musical songs, lovable characters, and simplistic plot. Not only has America loved these fairy tales-turned movies, but the world for almost a century regards these movies has classics standing next to Casablanca and Gone With the Wind. They are a glimpse of our society during that period and they are timeless classics. So here’s some of my favorites from the pre-1960s classics and the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s.
THE PRE-1960s DISNEY CLASSICS
1. Sleeping Beauty (1959):
My absolute favorite Disney movie. Based on the classic fairy tale of a princess pricked by a spindle and lying restless in a tower, it’s settings is classic 1950s to the well-coifed Prince Phillip to the hilarious fairies that protect the princess. But what this film has that most don’t is the Tchavisokys ballet paired with the stunning visuals. This film should be studied relentlessly in cinema class instead of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane or Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game.
2. Dumbo (1941):
Besides its racial stereotypes, Dumbo succeeds as a human tale with animals in their positions. Dumbo is an elephant born with abnormally large ears. His mother is taken away and is ostracized from the circus creatures, but learns to love his imperfections as they make him special (and famous). A heartfelt animated flick with the good guy against all odds. Disney hit gold with the big elephant in the room.
3. Fantasia (1940):
Truly one of the films that surpasses the visual storytelling as the art and music doesn’t need dialogue to tell a story. With animated ballet performance with accompanying music from Beethoven, Tchaivosky, Bach, Mussorgsky, these 7 shorts helped create Fantasia as a classic even though it failed during it’s initial release. It can convert any one to be a classical music enthusiast.
4. Cinderella (1950):
The classic fairy tale of a peasant girl whisked away from her unhappy life with a dream date by a prince. It’s every girl’s dream come true, and the music only supplies more wish fulfillment. One of the classics that can’t stop being one of Disney’s early gems. It was released a couple of years ago and should be watched by every child with a television.
5. Peter Pan (1953):
Not one of my favorites at first, the film quickly grew on me as the simple plot became a child’s dream come true, especially for little boys since Cinderella is for the girls. Never grow up? Be a vagabond beating up pirates? Fly the skies forever? Peter Pan and his buxom fairy, Tinkerbell, take three children away from London and into Never Never Land as they fight pirates and meet mermaids and Indians. This movie is perfect for any child’s fantasy. So may be a second watch is what is essential to warm up to the boy who never grows up.
THE DISNEY RENAISSANCE
6. Aladdin (1992):
This film was made in the 90s, but really is considered a classic. Plot? Poor thief finds a magic lamp with a genie granting him three wishes to win a princess. Oh yeah, and a crazy villain, fantastic music again (“A Whole New World”), and great comedy from comedian Robin Williams. One of the best animated films of the 1990s with a fast-paced adventure in the Middle East.
7. The Little Mermaid (1989):
This little movie helped the Disney franchise out of the slump and into the 90s renaissance. The look was definitely 80s with the crazy hairstyles, slang, and colorful materialism, but the movie shines with a high adventure of a mermaid wanting to be a human after meeting her love at first sight. Some of the enduring songs are “Part Of Your World” and “Under The Sea.” Walt Disney wanted to make this movie in the 1950s, but the look would look drastically different.
8. Beauty of the Beast (1991):
Now, if The Little Mermaid was the precedent of the renaissance while Aladdin was the high-octane adventure, then Beauty and the Beast was the pinnacle of success of the Disney films. A great morality tale that puts a peasant girl to love a cursed beast. The visuals especially shine with the ball scene and the beast’s transformation. It was the only animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture in the Academy Awards, but lost to some movie called Silence of the Lambs. Now which kid is gonna choose lambs over the beast?
9. The Lion King (1994):
Okay, Beauty and the Beast has more competition as The Lion King with the highest gross ever made for a Disney film. A movie based on generations and family and betrayal, the movie plays like a Shakespearean play as the movie spans the protagonist’s life from birth to his own child’s birth. Music like “Can You Feel the Love Night” and a thematic soundtrack leave this film as the only animated film into a successful Broadway play.
10. Pocahontas (1995):
Probably one of the last great films of the Disney Renaissance (maybe Mulan takes the prize), but this film focuses on the historic adventure of Pocahanta’s love for an English foreigner. The main female protagonist is for once not a pretty blonde or buxom brunette, but an authentic Native American girl. But I didn’t believe she was 16 at all. The movie also spotlights one of the social topics, which is the need for conservancy. The message of preservation shines in the song “Colors of the Wind.”
And for fun here’s Mulan, for no apparent reason other than that I liked the portrayals of Asian Americans, the cross gender actions, and that the poster is awesome.