Reflections on Seven Moments from the Past Year (or So) In Disney

I guess I should start by saying that it’s been a while. Just over a year, actually. I also feel that I should once again apologize that “Ranking the Disney Canon” has still not been finished. It’s due to a combination of putting my writing energy into my future career as a hopeful screenwriter/director and the busyness that comes with a senior year of college dedicating yourself to that career. I’m actually in the midst of plotting the return of the rankings, in a bigger way that you might expect. Though I don’t have an update on that plan for you readers at this moment, I promise you’ll be hearing more on that subject in the near future.

But the Rankings are not why we are here today. Or am I here, since I’m the one writing this piece. I’m writing on Disney and Beyond for the first time in a year because I’ve just been thinking. In retrospect, it’s been a crazy year for me. I graduated college, first of all, which relates to most of the “crazy” that I mentioned in the very last sentence. I’ve had so many good and bad experiences, so many friendships solidified, so many ideas for my future, and so much fear about it too.

But more importantly, (Not actually more importantly) it’s been a crazy Disney year for me. I got to meet Roger Rabbit, I promised Anastasia Tremaine seven castles (which I still haven’t given to her), and I chatted with Rapunzel about Captain America’s wardrobe choices. Come to think of it, I got to meet Captain America and Thor too, something that not too long ago was a faraway pipe dream. I’ve ridden rides for the last time and rides for the first time. I did Tom Sawyer’s Island for the first time! I’ve gone to Disneyland more times than I can count, and honestly more times than I could ever imagine. I’ve had two more Disney World trips than I thought I would have. And this is all before getting into the Disney films, new and old, in theaters and on Blu-Ray, that I’ve seen and rediscovered and been inspired by. (I own The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad on Blu-Ray now. How nuts is that?)

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But beyond the trips where I ride the same amazing rides over and over again and have somewhat insane conversations with characters, beyond the films and the parks, this past year (or so) in Disney has been defined by the people I’ve met, the unique experiences I’ve had, and the raw emotions I’ve felt during what I would tend to call life changing and affirming experiences. From this past year (or so) in Disney, seven of those meetings, those experiences, and those emotions have stood out to me over the past couple weeks, a crazy couple weeks for the Disney community.

I am here today to share with you those seven personal moments, those seven ways in which Disney has changed me, and made view a Whole New World, if you will. You may have seen me mention these moments before on Twitter or Facebook, but I feel that back on this blog, I’ll have a better opportunity to expand upon and explore why Disney is so important in my life. So read on if you dare. Without further ado, and without further apology, here are Reflections on Seven Moments from the Past Year (or so) in Disney, presented in reverse chronological order.

A Wedding in the Old West

To me, the “Legends of Frontierland” experiment at Disneyland was a great success in my eyes for a number of reasons. For those of you who don’t know what “Legends of Frontierland” was, it’s a sort of role-playing game set up in Frontierland, where guest pledges their allegiance to either Frontierland or Rainbow Ridge, earn “bits” by performing tasks, sending out messages, and making arrests, and compete to buy land for their town. But among these number of reasons that this unique Disney experience worked enough to be extended past its original end date of September 1st was because, like in any good role-playing game, everyone got way too into their roles. Both Cast Members and guests went above and beyond, creating a sort of actual society full of mayoral elections, town poets, and relationships and rivalries that turn into friendships beyond the pathways of Disneyland. Even though I was only able to participate in “Legends of Frontierland” twice, the amount of memorable moments I’ve accounted for because of my fellow guests and the absurdly wonderful Cast Members participating are too numerous.

But none was more memorable than the wedding that occurred on Wednesday, August 27th, 2014.

I was in the park that day specifically check out the activities in Frontierland before its end date, because I’m one of those people who wants to savor every moment of a Disney Experience before it might be gone forever. When I entered Frontierland that day, I already felt a buzz in the air. The excitement in everyone’s eyes was evident. Finally, I heard the announcement straight from the telegraph: at 5:15, there would be a wedding in front of The Golden Horseshoe. Afterward the announcement was made, the “citizens” of Frontierland and Rainbow Ridge were trying to find out everything they could about it. It turned out that a real life couple had gotten engaged right in the middle of Frontierland earlier that day, and as witnesses to the deed, the Cast Members and guests decided that a wedding must be thrown, even though this couple were newcomers to the #MyFrontierland experience.

(My apologies, but I have no knowledge of their names, which would be particularly useful for this story. For the record, they were both citizens of Frontierland and one them had the identity of Jack Rabbit.)

(For the record, I also represent Frontierland, repping WDW’s grand version for the west coast crowd.)

Anyways, I had other matters to attend to that day, namely a Fastpass to Indiana Jones with my hypothetical name on it, but I knew I had to be back at 5:15 to witness the third wedding of my life. And sure enough, at 5:15, I was back in Frontierland, as a crowd had gathered around The Golden Horseshoe, full of Frontierlanders and Rainbow Ridgers setting aside their differences, all waiting for our lovely Peter Pan themed couple to get hitched. The ceremony was presided over by the Mayor of Frontierland and various other citizens, both Cast Members and guests. The couple had to announce their wedding vows out of a giant megaphone, making sure everyone could hear the love they were declaring to each other.

As the crowd grew, the wedding gifts were presented. A pineapple from our friends in neighboring Adventureland was given, and a special button from Main Street City Hall was received. The town poet, who had entered the park that day as just a guest, wrote and read a beautiful poem to the crowd. A song to the tune of “Oh Susannah,” also written by our town poet, was sung by the entire wedding party. The citizens of Frontierland and Rainbow Ridge pooled their bits together to purchase five separate pieces of land for the happy couple. And every member of the crowd was given a small plastic glass of a concoction known as River Water to toast with as the newly “wed” couple finally kissed.

(Of course, five minutes later, in my clumsiness I nearly spilled my River Water onto some poor woman’s sandaled feet. I apologized by giving her the bits I had accumulated that day.)

To me, this story represents two aspects of Disney Magic that I love so much. One, it represents the most magical side of Disney fans and Cast Members. Here is a couple that were complete strangers to the participants of “Legends of Frontierland” no more than 6 hours before, and yet everyone was going out of their way to give gifts, congratulations, and participate in the ceremony. Disney Magic, to me, is a reminder of the joyfulness and kindness that can exist in life, and the way that the citizens of Frontierland and Rainbow Ridge made this act of kindness come together is nothing short of amazing to me.

The other aspect that’s amazing to me is how this kindness and joy has the ability to be shared with every single person who entered Disneyland that day. As the crowd of forty or so people watched the wedding ceremony, other guests who weren’t participating in “Legends of Frotierland,” guests who were coming from Fantasyland and Main Street to ride Pirates or head to Splash or journey to their reservation at Café Orleans, were passing by. Many of them, parents and teenagers and 20somethings, stopped to see what was going on. And many of them stayed to watch the wedding unfold, most of them with a smile on their faces thanks to this bit of surprise Disney Magic.

Showcasing The World Cup

A sunset over World Showcase Lagoon

A sunset over World Showcase Lagoon

The World Showcase has long been my favorite place in the entire world. My experience with the 2014 World Cup Final was the best confirmation of that fact that I could have. Friday, July 11th, 2014 was my full day at EPCOT, my favorite Disney Park, if that wasn’t already clear, on this past Disney World trip.

I had seen tweets and blogs about the ways in which Disney World and EPCOT were celebrating The World Cup, and I was excited that I had the opportunity to check out the festivities, especially since I have become a huge fan of the World Cup and of international soccer over the past 12 years. With the Germany-Argentina final fast approaching, that Friday was my one guaranteed opportunity to check things out. While the decorations of the flags of all countries playing in the Cup outside the Odyssey buildings and a soccer themed topiary of Donald and Goofy were a treat to see, what really captured my imagination that day was the way in which I witnessed guests and Cast Members show their excitement for the final on Sunday.

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My favorite thing about visiting The World Showcase, bar none, is watching guests discover an entire new culture. Sure, visiting The World Showcase is nothing like visiting those actual countries themselves, but to watch people who may never have an opportunity to visit France or Morocco or Japan or Norway explore the shops and exhibits of each pavilion, and especially watching them ask questions to the international cast members about their life back home or a specific food or just engaging in simple conversation, to me, represents the beauty of The World Showcase goes beyond the architectural representations of each country.

On that Friday, I heard a family from Alabama chat with a woman working in Sportsman’s Shoppe about Brazil’s astounding loss to Germany in the semifinal. In that same store, I saw a married couple from Texas look through the various Premier League jerseys on sale, trying to figure out which teams were good and which teams their children might want to root for. When I had dinner in France that day, a conversation about the entire Cup happened between the waiter and the family at the table next to me. In Japan, an American tourist and a British tourist shot the breeze about the intensity of a good soccer match as they waited for the rain to blow over. To me, this was all impressive considering the stereotype that Americans just don’t care about soccer.

None of this compared, however, to the buzz in the Germany Pavilion that day. It seemed like every single person made mention of the big match of Sunday. Everybody, from American guests to British guests to Japanese guests to everyone in-between, was saying good luck and sending their well wishes to the German Cast Members. Those very same German Cast Members had a look in their eyes that spoke of both their excitement and their nervousness. It was in that moment that I decided readjust my schedule so that I could return to EPCOT on Sunday to enjoy The World Cup Final amongst the backdrop of The World Showcase.

Sunday comes, and after a morning at Hollywood Studios, I took a Friendship Boat to EPCOT to try to catch the match. After finding out that both the viewing party in the Oddesey and the viewing party in the former Wonders of Life pavilion were at capacity (which continued my impression that Soccer was actually becoming a thing in America), I decided to spend the duration of the match in the German Pavillion. Sure, they probably wouldn’t have screens set up in order to preserve the magic of the World Showcase, but at the very least I could update Cast Members on the score and celebrate if them if the Germans took home the gold. When I arrived at Germany, I started walking my way through the various stores, and quickly found myself in the Weinkeller, which, as the name implies, is a sort of wine cellar where guests can find a number of German wines and beers. At one of the tables, I found a young couple watching the Final through the Watch ESPN app on their iPhone. Naturally, I asked if I could join them, and the kind folks allowed me to join in.

The image of the three of us watching a soccer match being played in Brazil on an iPhone in middle of a German Wine Cellar in Walt Disney World was both too absurd a situation and an amazing representation of the beauty of technology that I had to take a photo.

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Throughout the next hour and a half, people would walk through the store and get a quick glimpse at the game and comment on it before going about their day. The German CMs, of course, were trying everything they could to get a glimpse of the action. One particular CM, who was behind the counter for the first half of the match, would come to “wash our table” even if it just meant he could watch is country for ten seconds. Other CMs from the Karamell-Küche and Die Weihnachts Ecke shops next door quickly rushed in and made us promise that we’d update them if anything major happened, any goals scored, any red cards, any major injuries, we had to let them know.

This continued on and on, until we got into a 0-0 match at the end of regulation, which meant there was to be an overtime period. By this time, the group watching the match had turned from me and the couple to a crowd of maybe twenty people, all huddled around this iPhone, seeing if either team could get a goal. And finally, it happened. The Germans scored. The crowd, people from all over the world, cheered and clapped and jump for joy. We all, by this point, had made friends and had conversations with many of the Cast Members and even the managers of the German Pavilion, and all of us were completely on board for a German victory. At the sound of our cheers, the German CMs from all around the pavilion rushed to us to catch the replay, to catch a single but important moment in their culture occur. There was already hugging and tears from the Germans, and though they soon had to get back to work, they made us promise once again to rush to their working stations if any other goals were scored.

I forget at this point how many minutes were left in the match, but those last minutes were as intense as I’ve ever been watching a sporting event. Every rush by the Argentinians was a heart stopping moment, and every stop by the Germans was a huge sigh of relief. We began to even be worried about the possibility of the iPhone running out of battery, until I quickly downloaded the app and subbed in my phone to watch the Germans take the victory. I wish I had been able to take a picture of the crowd watching along with us, and I wish I could have captured the exact moment that Germany became the 2014 World Cup Champions. But I did have to take one for the team in order to ensure that all of use watching could see those intense final moments. And when those final moments drifted away, and the match officially ended, the celebratory roar that erupted throughout the entire pavilion was almost as loud as Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.

With the final match of the World Cup over, I grabbed my iPhone, thanked the crowd, especially that young couple that I had been watching with from almost the beginning of the match, and rushed out to hug some Germans. I still, in some sense, regret not being able to capture that roar of a championship country, or the pure raw emotion of the first seconds of celebration. But here are a few pictures of what I could capture of the next five minutes of the joyous lunacy that is sports in a nutshell.

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Once again, being that they do have a job to do, the German CMs eventually had to return to work. I stuck around a bit to chat with those I could about the victory, to watch guests come to Germany to get a celebratory beer and bratwurst, and to capture more pictures of Cast Members still letting out their emotions. Eventually, I had to get going to other things I needed to see around the World Showcase that day, but those two hours in the Germany Pavilion stuck with me for a long time. (As made obvious by me writing this much too long post about it.) The reaction to the German victory and the intensity and nervousness my new German friends had throughout the entire match proved to me that the importance of The World Cup goes beyond even the passion I have for my hometown Chicago, or the typical hometown passions of any typical sports fan. There is so much patriotic pride for the World’s Game, and I was shown truly how special the game of Football could be.

And as mentioned before, it was a striking reminder of why The World Showcase is my favorite place in the entire world.

For The First Time in Forever, I Finally Understand

Another reason that the surprise Disney World trip I took in July was a matter of good timing was that I was going to be able to actually experience the Frozen Summer Madness event at Hollywood Studios. I’m always excited to see new things at the Disney Parks, and the limited time new things are no different. Many times, because of my distance from Disney World, often I am looking at limited time affairs from afar, so the opportunity to see ice-skating and a new fireworks show was one I was not going to miss. 10513486_3387160355202_1033601966557095706_n

It was during this experience that I truly understood how deep the Frozen Madness this country is experiencing. It’s honestly somewhere in between the Star Wars fandom and BeatleMania. The rush for merchandise, the families excitedly waiting to build snowmen and to eat Anna themed cupcakes, and the men, women, and children finding their opportunities to take their Olaf Selfies proved as much to me.

But we’re not here to talk about Frozen Madness. Well, not specifically. We’re in this section of the post to talk about the pixie dust that falls over the parks when night falls: Firework Shows. I had never actually seen a Fireworks Show at the studio, much less a non permanent, non holiday special such as Star Wars Fireworks or the main event of this evening, Frozen Fireworks. I even rearranged my schedule after the World Cup viewing decision in order to make sure I saw the Fireworks Show on Saturday, July 12th, 2014.

After spending a good bit of time getting reacquainted with my favorite Hollywood Studios attractions, I made my way to find my Fireworks spot and was stunned by the amount of people already waiting for the show. I mean this… this was a CROWD. This was a Christmas type crowd, packed to the brim from the very front of the event stage to the entrance of the park. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the crowd, considering Frozen Madness and Firework Shows and all that. But I kept that in mind as I found a seat near the ABC TV Theater.

After a very enjoyable show (during which people SCREAMED at the sight of Kristoff and I very much enjoyed the “Love is an Open Door” segment), I made my way towards the park exit. And that’s when I saw one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen in my life.

I saw a little girl, dressed as Elsa, sitting on her father’s shoulders and above the rest of world, pretending to control the snow falling around her as “Let It Go” blared around Hollywood Boulevard. As soon as she caught my eye, I couldn’t help but to keep looking. I watched the awe in her eye and let my own eyes tear up a bit. I took in her infectiously joyous smile, and I smiled myself. I watched the passion she had for the moment and the dreams that existed in her every movement and I allowed myself to feel alive. And as I am ought to do in these moments, I reflected on a number of things as I headed out of the park and onto my bus back to Saratoga Springs.

This was a reminder that the magic of the Disney Parks is bigger than any of us can ever truly realize, just as life is bigger than we can even imagine. As Disney fans, we tend to have our own opinions about what should and shouldn’t be added to the parks, what should and shouldn’t be taken away, and what we enjoy and what we want others to enjoy. And in many ways, that’s fine. Healthy even. But when I watched that nameless little girl see the world as perfect for that one brief moment, I was reminded that the Disney World, and the world itself, is much bigger than me. I can take in all the Frozen stuff that Disney puts out and analyze it and enjoy it and debate about it with other Disney fans on Twitter. But that girl’s wordview, the perfect vision of life she had, is something I lost a long time ago and yet still have inside me. It’s that insane experience that completely defines what the Disney experience should be, the experience I try to give even an inch of to my friends and family who think my Disney obsession is a bit crazy. This moment put everything in perspective, and it’s a moment that I often think about when discussing Disney with the masses.

This moment also put into perspective why I want to be a filmmaker. A group of people, animators, directors, writers, producers, the whole lot, created a piece of work that effected this girl’s imagination in such a wonderful way. It made me want to make a piece of writing or a filmic work that affects someone even an inch as Frozen opened up that little girl’s heart.

All The Cats Join In

(After those marathons of stories, I’m sure a small little interlude will be a bit refreshing to the eye, no?)

Saturday, May 17th, 2014 was only a day past my graduation, and it would probably come as no surprise to you readers that there was a certain amount of anxiety about my future. I mean, I was a college graduate! I want to get into the film business! I want to make Disney Films! How was I going to manage all that? How was I going to be an adult?

What better way to settle my mind than a weekend stay at the Disneyland resort with my whole family?

Well, that Saturday was technically a me day, my opportunity that weekend to spend some time at parks and do the things I love to do, like musical chairs with Alice and multiple trips to the newly reopened for exploration Temple of the Forbidden Eye. But once again, the real magic happens as night falls. To some people, the combination of Disneyland and Saturday nights means one thing: Swing dancing. It had been had really long time since I had been to Disneyland on a Saturday night, and I just love the concept of swing dancing at Disneyland because it’s an event that’s so uniquely Disney and so richly connected to the history of Disneyland. There’s was no way I wasn’t going to check it out on this particular Saturday. My intention was to watch one of the later dances in the evening and check out the scene before going about with the rest of my night.As you might have seen as a common link in these stories, I like to let plans shift every once in a while.

That night, I truly took in the performances happening in front of me, not just by the Swingtown band but also by the guests who were extremely skilled at the art of swing. I watched as they switched partners, chatted with each other, and caught up with each other’s lives. I realized that this wasn’t simply a random group of strangers on a date night, but instead an entire community, nay, a family who enjoy Disneyland and dancing all the same. Well, probably not all the same, but they certainly shared those two interested.

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As I stuck around and watched the rest of the night’s swing dancing sessions, I reflected on that sense of community. My thoughts turned to my fellow Disney fans that I’ve met on Twitter and various fansites and in the parks and the sense of community I had with them. I thought about the screenwriters I just graduated with, and bond that I had made with them over the past four years. I thought about my closest friends and the ways in which I’ve shared my closest moments with them. And of course, I thought about my family, who were just beyond the Esplanade, enjoying a quiet night at the Grand Californian. Having the opportunity to share that night with the Disneyland Swing Dance community calmed me down just a bit. I knew that no matter what this confusing future in adulthood would be that I would have my family and friends, both the ones I know personally and the ones I meet on my journey, will be there to help me along the way.

That One Time I Worked on the Disney Studio Lot

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With the recent release of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and Fun and Fancy Free on Blu-Ray, I finally got a chance to check out “The Reluctant Dragon,” the main bonus feature on the set. Of the many immense joys that come from watching the film, the one most personal to me is the ability to see footage of the Disney Studio in the era of Walt Disney himself. During a recent viewing, I couldn’t help but to realize how absurd it was that just a year ago, I was working on the Disney Studio lot.

It was pure stroke of luck that semester that I had an internship at Marvel Studios was the semester that they moved their operations from Manhattan Beach to the Frank G. Wells building at the Disney Studio. And though I can’t talk about my time at Marvel for obvious reasons, I sure as hell can talk about the amazing four months I spent at the Disney Studio! For those four months, I spent three days a week at the studio and relished every minute of it. I’ll never forget driving onto the lot for the first time, the elation I felt to even have a small taste of my larger dream in life. Just to park in a parking structure known as The Zorro Lot was grin inducing. I had taken a tour of the studio once through D23, but there was no feeling in the world like walking through the lot on that very first day.

Throughout my limited time at the studio, I took every opportunity that I could to make my time on Walt Disney’s lot as memorable as possible. I would arrive a half hour early to walk around a bit. I enjoyed my ability to walk around the Legends Plaza and to pay tribute to many of my favorite Disney heroes. I’d spend at least a part of my hour break inside the studio’s Disney Store, just to listen to the Disney music playing and to sneak a little playtime with the stuffed dolls. When I got my one opportunity to enter the theater on the lot, I took it in a heartbeat. When I got my second opportunity to visit the Disney Archives, I relished every last moment I had in there. I would buy lunch at the commissary every day because the food was actually pretty good and because IT WAS THE COMMISSARY ON THE DISNEY STUDIO LOT! I even got to attend my first movie premier, which was a nutty experience even in itself.

I made sure I’d walk pas the animation building everyday, because I couldn’t believe I had the ability to stand next to the place where most of my inspirations came to be. I took a couple of afternoons to walk past the buildings that once housed the sets of Mary Poppins and the Fantasia Orchestra. For those four months, both in the original sections of the studio and the sections added later, I just appreciated the surreal feelings I was experiencing. Here was the ground that many of my heroes, from Walt Disney to Mary Blair and everyone in between, once stood. And now I was standing on it. For those four months at the studio, I felt like I was home.

But, unfortunately, I knew my time in this new home was a limited engagement. My last day at the studio, December 18th, 2013, was simultaneously the longest and shortest day of my four months there. While the hours passed by quickly, I took as much time as I possibly could to take in the Legends Plaza, the Disney Store, the Commissary, the Animation Building, and the studio as a whole. Even so, before I knew it, the night fell, and it was time to walk back to the Zorro lot one final time. I’ll admit to you right here that I teared up as I walked through the studio that last time. It was hard to think that I wouldn’t be traveling back to the Disney Lot that next week, or that next semester. Every time I walked onto it, it was magical feeling for me, from the first day to the final day, and to think I was going to lose that magical feeling was a bitter pill to take.

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In another sense, however, that final walk-through was still a magical moment for me. It was confirmation that there was nothing more I wanted in this world than to be able to work at the Disney Studio every single day. It was reaffirmation that my dreams were the dreams that I wanted to chase. It was another bit of motivation for me to work hard, write good material, and continue on this journey I started when I came to California in 2010. I still miss the studio even as I type this sentence. I wish dearly that there were some easy way to get back to it, or some way to start making my movies on that lot. If my four months there told me anything, it was that I will make it back. I can guarantee that.

Out There

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It wouldn’t be any stretch to call the two D23 Expos I’ve been able to attend the two most fun weekends of my entire life. There are plenty of choice candidates for that title, but can there truly be a better choice than a D23 Expo weekend?

D23 Expo is, in many ways, a Disney Fan’s dream. Beyond all the news from Disney about the future of its animation, its films, and its parks, which are always a treat to receive, it is a weekend filled with one-of a-kind Disney merchandise, unique Disney themed panels full of wonderful stories and the occasional information drop, celebrities in the form of Imagineers and Animators, and thousands of Disney fans getting to meet each other, chat with each other, and share in the magic that we’re all so passionate about. It’s a special weekend that I look forward to living every two years.

This past D23 Expo, one special, once-in-a-lifetime event stood out above all the rest: The Richard Sherman/Alan Menken concert.

When the Sherman/Menken concert was announced, everybody was ecstatic, as was I. This was one of those moments in time that you couldn’t imagine ever happening in your wildest dreams, and yet here was an opportunity to see possibly the two most important and best songwriters in the history of a company that in many ways defined by its music perform in the same night. There was no way I was going to miss this for anything in the Disney World.

It was now Saturday, August 10th, 2013, and after waiting in line for who knows how long, I was sitting the Arena, my phone out of battery, my feet tired from a full day at the expo, waiting for the concert of a lifetime to begin. Finally, Richard and Alan walk onto the stage, and I knew in an instant that this was going to be one of the most special things I ever had the privilege of experiencing.

I could spend some space talking to you about all of Richard’s amazing stories about working with Walt and his brother Robert, and all of Alan’s stories about working with the great Howard Ashman. I could recount to you that time Richard forgot the lyrics to Winnie the Pooh and we all had to help him out, and how Alan ripped through his discography like the Monorail zips from The Magic Kingdom to EPCOT. But to save some time, and because I want those of you who haven’t seen it to experience something honestly spectacular, I’m just going to post Inside the Magic’s wonderful videos containing the entire event. I’ll let you discover some of the more magical moments yourself.

The personal Disney moment I’m here to tell you about comes in the latter half of Alan Menken’s half of the concert. By this point, I’m already completely blown away from what’s been happening for the past three or so hours. Hearing these stories and songs from the people who helped create them, and in a way helped to influence my whole life, was already causing a million different things to rush through my mind. It was at this moment that Alan Menken began to perform songs from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

I watched attentively as Menken performed songs from one Disney’s most underrated musical scores, as “Bells of Notre Dame” and “God Help the Outcasts” rolled through my ears and rattled in my brain. As Menken transitioned into the next Hunchback song, I started to feel something stirring inside me. I don’t know why at this specific moment I was starting to feel it. It might have been because I had been up since 5AM and hadn’t eaten since 5:15AM. It might have been because I was unable to handle the surrealness of this whole weekend, and my ability to witness something so, so special.And maybe there was even a higher power involved that night.

As Alan Menken belted out “Out There,” I had a spiritual experience for the second time in my life.

I can barely come up with the words to describe what I was feeling. I was outside of my own body, all around the room, flowing with the music. I was on another plane of existence entirely. I was in a million different places, and yet still a single whole. I was connected to all things Disney and all things in my past, present, and future.

That might sound like a bunch of nonsense, but that is the recollection I have of the emotions I felt during Menken’s performance of “Out There.” I credited those emotions to the spirit of the entire night, a night that transformed me in ways that I still don’t really know. In many ways, it was probably the greatest three hours I’ve ever spent, or at least among the greatest three hours. I’m sure it makes more sense to you when I say that D23 Expo weekends are the best weekends I’ve ever had.

The Birds Stand Still, And The Tiki Room Flies Away

I haven’t revealed this final story to anyone, I don’t think. It’s by far the most personal story I’m sharing with you here, but I feel this post is as good a time as any to share it. This post is already too long as it is, might as well go all in, right? This story, to me, represents why Disney is so important in my life.

August 2nd, 2013 was in the middle of a very tough time for me in a variety of personal and professional ways. That summer, I had gone through a tough relationship experience that forced me to reevaluate the person I was and the person who I wanted to be. More frightening to me, I also realized something that summer that I don’t think I’ve told anyone until now: I had been spending so much time over the past year working on adaptations of material I didn’t have the rights to because I had been struggling to come up with an original script idea for a while, and I was starting to realize that my future as an adult was standing right in front of me. At that point, I didn’t know if I would be able to handle it, or to have the ability to find a path to my ultimate goal of making all those adaptations for Disney.

By happenstance, August 2nd was a date that I had scheduled for a Disneyland trip for a while, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I needed a day to myself, a day to try to calm down and get away and go to a place where I know I could think. It was the type of day where I rode Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride five different times. The type of day where I took a couple walks through Sleeping Beauty Castle. It was the day that I saw Mickey and the Magical Map for the first time, which I heartily enjoyed. But throughout the entire day, fear, sadness, rage, and confusion all rattled inside of me, and I tried to make sense of all of it as I made my rounds.

My rounds through the park eventually took me to The Enchanted Tiki Room, a Disney fan favorite and an attraction I had enjoyed very, very much up to that point. As the reflections continued in my head and throughout my entire body, I took in the pre-show as I had done many times, and made my way into the theater, heading straight for the my favorite seat in the house, the back of the wall straight across from the entrance. And soon, we woke up Jose and the glee club and began to sing.

The Enchanted Tiki Room holds up so well today because it is a perfectly structured attractions. The emotions flow perfectly from segment to segment, from happy and energetic to calm and serene to peppy and catchy to angry and brutal and finally all the way back to happy and energetic. That flow was exactly the cure I needed for all that ailed me. My emotions moved side my side with the emotions of the show. During the opening song, I thought about the past three years at USC and what had gotten me here. During “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing,” I confronted love in a way I hadn’t in a long time. As we moved into the musical luau, I felt calm, reflecting on some of the better moments I tended to forget about at times like this.

Suddenly, drums. Chants. Red Light. It was the Hawaiian War Chant, the climax of the show.

Remember the angry and brutal emotions of the show I mentioned earlier? That’s The Hawaiian War Chant to me. And in that exact moment, it was at its most brutal for me. The drums and the chant roared at me. The totem poles of Tiki Masks stared at me. The rising intensity of the music matched the intensity of my mind. I had to close my eyes, and in that moment, memories flashed before me. The anger and the rage that had been bubbling inside me were all there, right in front of me. I confronted everything I hated about myself and every mistake as I had made as the song became faster and faster.

The thunder cracked. The rain poured. All those emotions inside me crashed together. I broke down and cried.

But as the birdies above me began to talk about clouds with silver linings, something amazing happened: I had an idea! A story idea! And then another one! And another one! We stood up to face the door, and I figured out that I actually needed to be broken first before I could fix myself.

Within the span of a simple Tiki Room show, I experienced an entire emotional breakdown. So, of course, I immediately rushed back to the entrance and saw the show again.

The rest of that day became the start of a personal journey that took another six months to truly complete. In the days and months that followed I still made mistakes and had confusion and needed to think, but that moment in the Tiki Room was what unscrambled all that into a personal reaffirmation of my own identity. In the weeks that followed, I found that Disneyland had not only become a personal place of peace for me, but also the place where I wrote my best work. The Tiki Room is still where I get my best ideas, and as I told my fellow classmates once, “I go into the Tiki Room, and suddenly it all makes sense.” It has become one of my favorite attractions and probably the one that is most important to me.

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Over a year later, on August 27th, 2014, the same day as the Frontierland Wedding, I watched World of Color for the first time in forever, and as thoughts about my passion for Disney, my desire to create films that may or may not be in a future World of Color, and my status as a college graduate came to my mind, I once again became emotional. Naturally, once the show was over, I bolted out of California Adventure, headed straight to Disneyland, and took a seat at one of the final Tiki Room shows of the night to help unpack my head.

That night, I realized something vitally important: Disney is so important in my life because it has changed my life in so many variable ways. Without Disney, I don’t have that dreams I have, I don’t meet the people I’ve met, I don’t go to the places I’ve been, I’m not the person that I am. Disney is more than a company to me, more than animation, more than theme parks, more than entertainment. Disney is my comfort. Disney is my joy. Disney is me, in so many ways. Disney makes me feel alive. Disney is what pushes me. Disney is in my heart, in my mind, and in my soul. Disney is something that has and will molded me and shaped me and defined the very person that I aspire to be. Disney something that shows me fantasies can be real. It may take a little more than wishing upon a star, but dreams are still attainable.

Disney has given me so much more than I can ever really say in an overly long blog post. And the idea that I might be able to someday put something back into Disney is humbling in and of itself. To have the ability to put some stamp onto the legacy of the company, and in turn have the ability to effect someone as much as Mickey and friends have has an effect on me is something I can’t even fathom, and desire so badly. My journey to Disney continues. I don’t know where it will take me. I don’t know when I’ll get there. But the Disneyland Railroad has to stop sometime, and when it stops at the stations where I get to make Disney films, or Disney attractions, or just make someone’s Disney day, you can be sure I’ll jump off at that stop.

Until that time, I’ll keep having Disney Moments, I’m sure. And who knows what’ll happen the next time I get sprinkled with some Pixie Dust.

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Ranking the Disney Canon – 4: The Lion King

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” A king’s time as ruler rises and falls like the sun. One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king.” - Mufasa

You always hear about great films that have extremely difficult productions, Apocalypse Now probably being the most famous example. Well, in terms of that struggle, the story goes that The Lion King is the Apocalypse Now of the Disney Canon. For much of its production, it is said the crew of The Lion King had some struggles finding its characters, story and even music at points, and as noted in a previous post, many of the employees of Disney Animation at the time chose to work on Pocahontas because they thought that The Lion King would end up being the weaker film. Well, as history (and this list) tells us, The Lion King ended up becoming a major critical and financial success, and remains one of the most influential films in the modern Disney Pantheon. The huge box office reception The Lion King received in its 3D re-release two years ago is enough to show the continued popularity of one of the greatest films of the 1990s.

Based partially on the works of Shakespeare, particularly the story of Hamlet, The Lion King follows the life of Simba, son of the King of Pride Rock, Mufasa, who is destined to one day become king himself. This plan, however, does not sit well with Scar, the brother of Mufasa, who believes that he should be the next in line for the throne. As a young Simba excites himself for a grand life as king, Scar puts into motion a plan to claim the throne for himself. The plan eventually succeeds, as Scar betrays his brother and kills him, all while making Simba believe the death of his father was entirely his fault. Simba runs away, eventually growing up with his new friends Timon and Pumbaa, who teach him how to live life with no worries. As Simba grows up, he must realize his destiny as King of Pride Rock, and must save Pride Rock from the iron rule of Scar.

STRENGTHS

One part of me really, really wanted me to start this post talking about the amazingness of characters once again. And that’s certainly a fair place to start, as The Lion King features an entire host of wonderful characters, some of the best and most classic characters in the entire canon. (Again, there is a great reason why The Lion King is so high up on this list.) However, once I finally rewatched The Lion King, I felt like what makes this film so good is its script, both in terms of the overall story and in terms of the film’s humor and drama. And so, with the story we will begin this post!

As mentioned in the synopsis, The Lion King takes a great deal of influence from the works of the great bard himself, William Shakespeare. Being that Shakespeare is considered to be among the great writers in the history of human civilization, the influence certainly doesn’t hurt the film. The Shakespearian tropes of death, betrayal, drama around the throne, visions, self-realization, and a total epic feel, among many other Shakespearian ideals, are all present in The Lion King’s script. And having all of these specific, classic story elements make The Lion King a classic tale from the get go. The tale woven through the threads of The Lion King is big, bold, and extremely fun. Just like a well performed Shakespeare play!

What the Shakespearian influence really does for The Lion King, however, is it creates a very different Disney story than anything we’ve seen before, and that we’ll see again, honestly. In previous posts, I’ve championed the simplicity of stories such as Snow White and Cinderella before, and I still carry a simple belief that some of the great stories are the simpler ones. While The Lion King still tells a fairly simply story (which is good, considering how complex some of the best Shakespeare work can get), the influence gives the story a grander, complex feel that helps to accentuate the emotion and the drama we feel when Simba finds his dead father, or when Simba finally returns to Pride Rock at the end of the film to confront Scar. I truly believe that the influence from Hamlet makes the film feel important, and it really helps the structure of the film as well.

And while there is influence from The Bard, the other great thing about The Lion King is that it isn’t just a straight adaptation of Hamlet (which is also good, for those of you who aren’t big fans of Shakespearian language and soliloquies). Not only is there influence from the other works of Shakespeare (I’ve always felt a very strong influence from MacBeth in The Lion King, particularly in the character of Scar), but The Lion King also takes the basic story of Hamlet and expands upon it by showing us our Hamlet character, Simba, in his youth. The Lion King, when analyzed, is a pretty excellent mix of the classic Shakespearian Style, The Modernist Hollywood Style, and the Classic Disney Style in its storytelling, taking a great amount of influence from each source. And this mix works to create an absolutely compelling narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat in happiness and sadness the whole way through.

In fact, as much as The Lion King has a connection to Shakespeare, it also has a great connection one of Walt’s classic films: Bambi. While I was taking notes for Bambi before that particular review, I noted to myself how similar Bambi and The Lion King are to each other. They both focus on the story of a young animal, from Birth to Coronation, who must learn what it truly means to be an adult and a leader through the lessons they learn growing up. They both feature the death of a parent, a great fire at the end of the film, two hilarious side kick characters, and a romance that starts as a small friendship in childhood. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bambi is one of the great stories of the Walt Disney era of the company, and The Lion King executes the story just as well.

In fact, I’m going to break my one rule about comparing films directly to talk about how The Lion King takes some of the story elements it shares with Bambi and expands upon them to create an even higher emotionally resonant story, which is a high compliment, considering Bambi itself is of the most emotional stories in the entire canon. Whereas Bambi is meant to be an episodic look at a lifetime, and Bambi learns a couple different lessons about life in the forest, The Lion King puts more emphasis on how death affects the young soul, and this creates an even stronger emotional connection between Simba and the viewer.

(Just want to point out that this isn’t a knock on Bambi. Bambi, as I mentioned, also has one of the great scripts in the Disney canon, and The Lion King needs to expand the story because its themes are different from Bambi’s. Trust me, Bambi could just as easily be this high on the list. The Top 10 is that close.)

Anyways, I think what truly makes the narrative of The Lion King special is that through all of these influences comes a story that feels fresh, original, and most importantly, exciting. The film is hilarious, tragic, epic, dramatic, and feel good all at the same time as it follows the life of a lion destined to be a leader. Even though I’ve seen this movie 1000 times, it still feels like the first time every time I watch it. Sure, that may be true for many of the other films on this list, but for me, for some reason, it just stands out when I watch the Lion King.

And there are plenty of explanations for why it stands out. For one thing, when looking at the story from a script point of view, this film has so much emotional weight. One of the most brilliant aspects of The Lion King is how absolutely well it builds the drama of the story, in a number of ways, starting at the very beginning of the film. The sweeping montage of animals across the Savannah gathering together alone tells you that this film is going to have a different tone than the rest of the canon. From the very first frame, The Lion King draws you in.

And though I want to save a full analysis of the soundtrack for later in the post, let’s not forget to mention how dynamic of an opening “Circle of Life” is! That famous opening chant set to the visual of the sunset makes for one of the greatest opening moments of a Disney film ever, and, once again, sets the tone in less than five seconds. This is a movie that feels important, that feels like something special, right from the beginning.

Of course, the visuals and the soundtrack are only going to take you so far in this medium, as we’ve seen, and where the Lion King really shines in creating weighty drama is through the character relationships. This has been true for this entire list: Characters come first. If you don’t have good characters, and good character relationships, which has been a theme from the very beginning of this list, more likely than not you are going to fail at truly telling the story you want to tell. As much as I want to talk and praise the plot of this film, and as you have seen, I do very much, it’s the characters that are created through the story that really make this film special.

(It all comes back to character! Always! Remember that, future writers!)

And really, even if it only truly exists for half of the film, the relationship that defines The Lion King for me is for sure the relationship that exists between Simba and Mufasa. The relationship they share is another wonderful look at the classic Disney theme of the relationship that exists between the parent and the child, and I hope to argue in the next couple paragraphs that the relationship between Simba and Mufusa is the defining example of this theme in Disney Animation.

Let’s start with the character of Mufasa. The Lion King presents Mufasa as a complicated figure, one that must find the correct balance between being a leader to his people (err, animals?) and a father to his son. He is someone who finds himself at odds with his brother, yet a lion who still gives his brother the benefit of the doubt, regardless of the arguments they get into. Mufasa is a Lion among Lions, a man among men, as wise and as noble of a king the Pride Lands have ever seen.

OK, that may be a bit flowery, but it’s true. Mufusa is a very strong parent, and a very strong king, and it’s important to the character of Simba that Mufasa is the ultimate figure for Simba to look up to. Mufasa needs to have that other worldly tone, the king who seems to know the right thing to say in every situation, the parent who can be stern and fun with his son in the same conversation. Mufasa needs to be the father we wish we all had at one point to give us direction and advice that resonates to this day.

A quick aside: I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my least favorite Disney Myths is that the parents are always missing, and thus, the parents are not that important in the Disney film-verse. Well, that’s as far away from the truth as possible. In fact, in the history of Disney Animation filmmaking, parents are among the most important figures imaginable. Time and Time again, a parental relationship, even if it is not necessarily a kid and their parent, comes back as a driving force for the character to change, and this can be something we can take into our own lives. And this is as true as ever within the frames of The Lion King.

The film absolutely nails the character of Mufasa right on the head, starting with the acting choice. James Earl Jones brings the exact right amount of wiseness and gravitas to the character, and as his booming voice tells Simba that everything the light touches is their kingdom, you can feel like you are seeing a grand, historical figure give a great speech to his son. You feel like you are witnessing the wisdom of a great historical monarch. Every word out of Mufasa’s mouth is perfectly written to give every word an important meaning, every sentence a wise, necessary feel.

But actions can always speak louder than words, and Mufasa’s actions are really what speaks about the character. Mufasa isn’t just a powerful speaker, but he’s a powerful fighter as well, and the scene in which Mufasa saves Simba from the Hyenas speaks to that. Mufasa is supposed to be a character that is feared as much as he is revered, and it completely works when you see his anger. And yet, this anger, this fight, leads to a brave character that, once again, becomes the ultimate figure for Simba to look up to.

Another quick aside, this time more directly related to the film: the action in The Lion King is superb. From the smaller action sequences like the Hyena fight to the grand, epic, finale between Simba and Scar, the action is tense when it needs to be, humorous when it wants to be, always entertaining and, in some cases, breathtaking.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled analysis of the father-son dynamic.

What truly defines Mufasa to me, however, is the scene right after Mufasa saves Simba. The scene in which Mufasa scolds Simba about his actions. But it’s not that part of the scene. It’s the part of the scene in which Mufasa and Simba wrestle with each other.

Those couple, sweet, short seconds are as perfect and goosebump enducing as anything in the Disney Canon, and completely defines the emotion of this movie. By this point, you are completely invested in the relationship between Mufasa and Simba, and that moment is the icing on the cake, the memory you have when you are crying your eyes out when Simba is crying over his father’s body.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here. I mean, I’ve only really covered one half of this relationship, haven’t I? Simba is our protagonist, after all. I think it’s about time we get to his side of the story, don’t you? I’ll assume that you’re nodding your head. So I will continue.

Simba is among the greatest protagonists in the history of Disney Animation, and that’s because his world view as a young cub is so relatable and so easy to root for. Simba is an energetic child, one that wants to see everything in the world around him, regardless of the potential consequences. He is a cub who wants to be able to do what he wants, who, well, just can’t wait to be king. He is the child that most of us were at one point, when the world was new and mysterious and we just wanted to take everything in for the very first time.

And it could be easy to make a character that wants to be dangerous like this sort of jerk and sort of unwatchable, but what makes Simba such a good character in his youth is his unbridled enthusiasm for every opportunity he has. He is so cheerful, so full of life, that even when he wants to go to the forbidden elephant graveyard, there’s a part of you that is kinda sorta rooting for him, just because he is so excited about the potential danger he faces, the danger that he laughs in the face of.

While we are learning about Mufasa’s wiseness, in those same scenes, we are learning about Simba’s sense of wonder. And this dynamic is truly what makes their relationship as excellent as it is. Mufasa, though he never truly admits it, was like Simba once upon a time, but has grown up to be a wiser, smarter lion, and he knows that he needs to start educating Simba now to put him on his path towards leadership. And it’s clear that Simba knows this, and wants to be his father. But he wants to be the wrong parts of his father. He wants to be the brave and powerful side of his father, as opposed to the reserved, smarter side of his father.

I know I’ve done way too much analysis about the specifics of these two characters and the nature of their relationship, but I feel like it is necessary that, for all of its plot and side characters and charm and humor, what really makes The Lion King the film it is. Without the mastery of this core relationship, nothing else in the film resonates, nothing else works. Nothing else works. The audience needs to feel that the bond between Simba and Mufasa is real, and special. And the film, as mentioned before, does this with a stroke of mastery.

And with their mastery, the filmmakers rip out the hearts of nearly every member of the audience with the most heartbreaking moment in a Disney film since, well, the death of Bambi’s mother. The death of Mufasa is just perfectly executed, and a big reason for this is how well the relationship is built up in the beginning of the film. Sure, there is a certain natural sadness when Simba calls out for help, but the moment wouldn’t have as nearly the impact it has if the Mufasa-Simba relationship weren’t as perfect as it is.

And the moment also wouldn’t work without the brilliant, enormously breathtaking wildebeest chase sequence. God, where to start with this one? It’s perfect. This segment of the film is perfect. The tension, the music, the animation, the drama. All of it. This is one of the greatest scenes in the history of the medium of animation. I really think so. This is the scene I think about when I think about The Lion King. It’s a perfect set-up to the moment that comes right after it. Mufasa falling to his doom as Simba cries out in terror should be put in the dictionary next to the definition of “perfect.”

And that moment also leads us to why Simba is one of the most interesting and best protagonists in the Disney animated canon: he goes through an absolute drastic personality change halfway through the movie. The characters of Adult Simba and Young Simba are two different characters. And yet, it’s easy to see why they are the same. It’s so easy to see why the young, feisty, daring Simba who just couldn’t wait to be king developed into the care free, Hakuna Matata Simba that we see as an adult. It’s among the most dramatic changes in character we’ve seen in the canon thus far.

And this gives Simba a really interesting, complex arc of rediscovery that’s rarely seen in the field of Animation. Simba becomes a character who loses himself, loses who he is, and has to confront the  trauma of his past directly, (both literally and figuratively, in this case), in order to remember the true Simba that has lied dormant in him for so long. This entire arc, from the moment he first looks out on the pride lands to the moment where he reclaims his rightful place as king, is nothing short of an astounding journey, and a hell of a journey to go through with this character.

And one of the things that spurs on this arc is the reappearance of Simba’s childhood friend, Nala.  The relationship between Nala and Simba is among the most underrated romances in the Disney canon, and the reason it works so well is because it feels so natural. Their playful relationship as kids, where the thoughts of a marriage together disgust the both of them, is a perfect primer for how their relationship is rekindled as adults. When the two reunite, there is still a playfulness, still a sense of the friendship they had as kids, but as adults, they realize that this playfulness can be something more.  Now, Nala isn’t the most complex, or the greatest female in the Disney Canon, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t a great character. Because she is.

Nala is just a step on the ladder to creating a wonderful journey for Simba to embark on as a character. But what truly makes any hero’s journey spectacular is having a fantastic villain at the end of the Rainbow, and boy, does The Lion King have a good villain.

Scar.

Scar easily competes for the spot as the greatest Disney Villain ever put onto the page. I can’t start this praising of Scar without mentioning the absurdly amazing vocal performance by Jeremy Irons. Seriously, this is a top 5 all time voice performance here.  Man, Irons should have won some sort of award for this. Seriously.

Anyways, what makes Scar a fantastic villain is his brains, in more ways than one. For one thing, this is a villain with a very sensical motive, a very sensical worldview, and a very sensical reason for having that world view. Scar is as far away from an evil for the sake of evil” motive as possible. This is one of the times where the Shakespearian influence really creates something special. Scar is as devious a villain as Iago and Lady MacBeth are, and are as smart as the two of them as well. Scar is a smart cookie, and he thinks every single aspect of his plan through, from top to bottom. Scar is scary because he has the brains, even if those brains are a little messed up.

But where Scar really shines is the fact that he joins Maleificent, Pinocchio’s Coachman, and a few others as villains whose plans actually work for an extended period of time. Let’s think about that for a moment. Scar succeeds in murdering the king of the Pride Lands, convincing the king’s son that to run away, and takes the throne for himself. That’s a damn good villain if I ever saw one.

But like all great villains, Scar has a fatal flaw or two that causes his own downfall. And that’s the fact that his ruthless need to survive, this feeling that he needs to be treated better because he’s never been treated as the best, puts himself into these situations such as the pride lands being devoid of food, or the Hyenas suddenly turning against him as he tries to talk his way out of death. And the whole time, Scar is brilliant. He just might be a bit too brilliant for his own good.

Man, I’ve talked a ton about the drama in this film. It seems like this film is completely humorous when it completely isn’t. In fact, it has some of the funniest moments in the entirety of the Disney canon. And the humor in this film gets no better than the humor that comes from Timon and Pumbaa.

I’ll easily admit that Timon and Pumbaa are two of my all time favorite Disney characters, and that’s because they are the perfect comedic duo, as they are perfectly able to bounce off each other. Timon’s “I think I’m smart but actually really stupid” and Pumbaa’s “I think I’m dumb but I’m actually really smart” shtick never gets old, and almost every single line or song lyric out of their mouths is absolutely hilarious, due in large part to the wonderful comedic performances from Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella.  And what’s even better is that they play off of Simba and Nala perfectly as well (“The Monkey’s his Uncle?”), and are able to have an infinite amount of amazing moments. This is how you do side characters, people. Take a look!

(They even have some of the best moments of the final battle. The Hula Dance and They Call Me Mr. Pig slay me every time.)

On other Side Character front, The Hyenas play a perfect set of henchman to Scar, and play their roles rather well throughout the film. Zazu gives Rowan Atkinson the ability to really stretch his comedic muscles and get some really, really fun moments. And Rafiki brings the perfect balance between crazy old shaman and wise old sage, and his scenes with Adult Simba, especially the moment where he talks about how the past can hurt, are the perfect thematic moments of this movie.

And that’s what this whole review is about. The story, the characters, the humor, the drama, the sadness, all come together to create a perfectly thematically rich journey for our characters.

Did I forget anything? Oh! The Music!

The Lion King has, by far, the strongest soundtrack of the 1990s era of Disney, and one of the strongest soundtracks in the history of the company. I say that because every song, except for Be Prepared, which is still a wonderful song, can compete for the best song on the soundtrack. Circle of Life, I Just Can’t Wait To Be King, Hakuna Matata, and Can You Feel The Love Tonight are all amazing songs. And the score! Han Zimmer’s score is one of my all time favorites, as tracks like This Land, …To Die For, and King of Pride Rock all help to give the film that great sense of importance.

There, now that’s everything.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The best scene in the film? Easy. The Wildebeest Chase scene. End of story.

As mentioned above, the choice for best song is hard. But I got to go with Hakuna Matata. It’s just too much fun, and it features a couple of my all time favorite characters.

CLOSING COMMENTS

The Lion King is by far the best Disney film of the 1990s, and it certainly was able to make it through all that hardship in production. This film continues to live up to its reputation, and remains one of the greatest films of the 1990s.

And we’ve still got three perfect films to go.

Are you ready?

Ranking the Disney Canon – 5: Alice in Wonderland

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“I simply must get through! ” - Alice
 “Sorry, you’re much too big. Simply impassible.” - Doorknob
“You mean impossible?” - Alice
 “No, impassible. Nothing’s impossible.” - Doorknob

Alice in Wonderland, much like Snow White, was a source that Walt always had his eye on for adaptation, and was the inspiration for one of his earliest successes, The Alice Comedies. Walt had planned for Alice in Wonderland to be another of his early animated features, alongside Peter Pan. Unlike Snow White, and even unlike Peter Pan, Walt and his crew had difficulty breaking the Alice in Wonderland story for adaptation. For much of the pre-World War II production on the film, this story crew at the Disney Studio had trouble finding the right tone, most of the time finding their art too creepy or too scary or even to difficult for the animators to draw in more detail. Because they struggled with the finding the right tone, they struggled finding the right story to tell, and it seemed for a while that Alice in Wonderland was going to fall the way of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, stories that just were not working for Walt Disney’s animation crew. It wasn’t until Mary Blair had her artistic awakening during the South America trip that the Alice in Wonderland that we know and possibly love today.

Alice in Wonderland follows our title character, Alice, who dreams of living in a world where up is down and cats can talk to here. During one particular day, bored out her mind from an english lesson, she spies a White Rabbit in a waistcoat exclaiming his lateness for a seemingly important date. Curiosity getting the better of her, she follows the rabbit down a rabbit hole, and soon falls into the world of Wonderland. In her chase to find the nature of the White Rabbit’s date, she encounters talking doorknobs, grows and shrinks in size, finds a Mad Tea Party, gets bullied by flowers, and tries to survive as a disappearing cat gets her in trouble with the bombastic Queen of Hearts.

STRENGTHS

I have a suspicion that some of you might be surprised that Alice in Wonderland made it this far up the list, so I can only hope that my arguments will share the reasons that Alice in Wonderland has become one of my all time favorite films.

But where should we start? Well, you might remember that in many, many posts on the blog, I’ve heralded Alice in Wonderland as a masterwork of episodic storytelling, and have teased that we would talk about it much later in the list. Well, we are much later in the list, and so it is time for the teasing to end.

Alice in Wonderland is a masterwork in episodic storytelling, and one of my favorite examples not just in animation, but in the history of film. What makes Alice in Wonderland’s episodic approach so good is the way the story  builds itself, and how this build gives Alice a wonderful progression and arc. Plot is a means for characters to change, and Alice in Wonderland represents this idea perfectly.

See, most of the episodic films we have seen on the list fall into one of the two episodic traps: they either remain stagnant for a while, not giving the characters much obstacles to deal with, and thus not building the tension, or they fail to save the biggest obstacle for the end, giving the audience an unsatisfactory ending. The Aristocats, for example, falls into the first trap, and becomes a particularly boring film. The Sword in the Stone falls into trap  two, and ends up having a boring ending.

Fortunately, and excitingly, Alice in Wonderland falls into neither of those traps and, in fact, powers through with two amazing fixes to both of those traps. Other films also avoid those traps, but what makes Alice in Wonderland so, so good is how exceptionally the traps are avoided.

Let’s start with the first trap. It’s easy to forget when writing an episodic film that everything still needs to build up throughout the film. The characters, the world, the tension, the action, all of it needs to continually increase as the story progresses. Even though each individual episode is something on its own, they still need to fit together and be able to have the same level of progression as a three act structure generally gives you.

Alice in Wonderland’s main theme is the necessity for order, and so the build of the film is focused on creating more and more absurdity as the film goes on. But I think the dynamic is also related to the relation between the situation and how absurd it seems. And once again, all of this relation goes back to how the world of Wonderland effects Alice as a character.

The film begins with Alice enjoying some of the more absurd situations she runs into, the ones least related to the world she knows in England. The White Rabbit, The talking doorknob, the Drink Me Bottle and the Eat Me Tin, the Dodo and the Caucus Race, Tweedle Dee and Dweedle Dum story, and the incident of growth at the White Rabbit’s House all seems highly absurd to Alice, and so she enjoys her situation and becomes increasingly curious at this world she has dreamed of being in.

And even these sections we see the progression of Alice’s frustration, and it is partially relates to the juxtaposition of the realism to the reality. The fall to Wonderland, and the talking doorknob and the growth and shrink, are probably the most absurd and unrealistic situation Alice gets herself into, and while it presents a problem to Alice, the solution to the problem is just as absurd that Alice, though upset when she fails, is still in the mood to push on to follow the White Rabbit.

This brings me, in a quick aside, to another thing that puts Alice in Wonderland above the rest of the episodic canon: every single episode presents a new problem for Alice to Overcome. To compare again the Aristocats, each situation the cats get into presents very little issue to them, which means it is a movie about them just walking around, not getting into much trouble.

By contrast, Alice in Wonderland give Alice an overabundance of problems to overcome. she must shrink to fit in the doorway, then grow taller to get the key to the door, then grow smaller again to get in the door, then to escape the bottle she fell into when she shrank, then to find her way out of the Caucus Race, then to escape the Tweedle Twins to follow the White Rabbit, then to find the White Rabbit’s gloves, then to find a way to grow smaller and escape the White Rabbit’s House, and so on and so forth.

As you can see, Alice is given so much to do in this film, and that’s what makes this great. Alice is constantly put into situations and places where she is in a pickle and much find a way out. Alice is always in action or reaction, never in static, and that creates a film where something interesting is always happening on-screen. Watching Alice react to the situations she is in is such a blast, mostly because everything else comes together, but we’ll get more into that later.

Back to where I was going before, Alice’s reaction to the situations are key to the build of the story. The more real the situations get for Alice, the more frustrated she gets, and this frustration is the biggest key to her character growth. As I mentioned, the doorknob scene is absurd, but so absurd to Alice that she can move on from it. Same with the Caucus Race. Though Alice points out the absurdity of both the Dodo and the idea of drying in the Caucus Race, she brushes it off once she easily escapes and moves onto the Tweedles, and even then, her motives are more in genuine curiosity, wanting to hear the story of the oysters.

The situation in the house, where she gets stuck in the White Rabbit’s house and is mistaken for a giant Monster, is the first we really see of the frustrations of Alice, though it is a small frustration at this point. This is because the growth in the house is the first situation where Alice could be put in a bit of danger, something that could remind her of the reality of her world. It also doesn’t help Alice that The Dodo, who is attempting to help The White Rabbit, has such silly and cowardly solutions that Alice would be stuck there forever. This is where Alice’s first frustration is, as she figures that logic is out the window, and finds her own solution of eating something else to make her grow smaller.

But really, the beginning of Alice’s change comes in her next incident, the meeting of the flowers. Here is a true bit of writing brilliance. Alice mentions in her opening song that in her new world, the flowers would talk to her. It’s absolutely brilliant that her first real frustration with the world of Wonderland is with these talking flowers. Her dream starts to crack right in her face with something she desired from the beginning.

And what’s also brilliant about it is how Alice’s interactions with the flowers starts off as well as she probably imagined it would be. The flowers treat her kindly, they have a sweet conversation, and they even sing a beautiful song together. This is what she imagined Wonderland would be like from the beginning. Everything seems perfect until the flowers determine that the genus “Humanus Alice” is a weed, and kick her out of their exclusive group. To me, this is brilliant on so many levels, because this rejection is the first real reminder of the real world to Alice, a world of rejection, but here it seems more frustrating to Alice because there is so little logic it all. It doesn’t make sense to Alice that the flowers would see her as a weed. And this is the beginning of her drive back to reality.

And what’s great about the situations that follow are how not only do they continue to remind her of real world problems, but how they relate to her life in a physical sense as well. Take The Caterpillar, for example. Broken down to his basics, The Caterpillar is essentially  a more absurd version of the education she was receiving earlier from her older sister. Not only does the randomness, vagueness, and absurdity of the Caterpillar’s “lesson” frustrate Alice, it is also her first reminder of home, and the frustration begins to build up, Alice wanting to return to normal size and to home.

It really at the Mad Tea Party, however, that all this frustration really comes to a head. The Mad Tea Party is THE scene from this film, and represents everything that is amazing about this film. The characters of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare are two of the greatest in Disney History (I want to hold off on the characters for just a bit longer, but trust me when I say they are insanely awesome), the humor is amazing (including a fantastic improvisation from Ed Wynn’s Mad Hatter), the music is classic and top-notch, and most importantly for his discussion, Alice’s frustration grows to an upsetting point.

The Mad Hatter and The March Hare take something completely familiar and safe to Alice, the tea party, and turn it completely on its head. All Alice wants is a cup of tea. It seems simple enough. Pour here a cup of tea, let her drink it. Yet, The March Hare and Mad Hatter make it completely complicated. Again, at first, Alice enjoys it, as this crazy fun is something that she wanted from the beginning. But as the craziness interferes with getting anything done, that is where Alice’s frustration begins. The slow build of the scene, starting with Alice wanting to have some tea and ending with her leaving in complete frustration, is absolutely excellent.

If The Mad Tea Party is where Alice’s world really starts to break, then the next sequence is where it completely shatters. And once again, it is done completely brilliantly. This is a sequence where the Disney animators have a field day with design, with a ton of clever visual gags and weird and wild designs coming across the screen. Earlier in the film, Alice would have loved these creatures, taking great curiosity in their form and function. But at this point in the journey, Alice is weary and wants to go home, and really sees how silly this reality is. Her reaction to all of these weird animals is not curiosity but caution. She wants to get out of there. Badly.

But Alice is lost. And that’s the most real danger she’s faced yet: Never returning home. Again, at the beginning of her journey, Alice would have not wanted to return home. But all of the events she has gone through has led her to the point of missing home. One of my favorite moments in Alice’s journey is when she sees the path for the first time. Her infinite excitement over potentially finding her way signifies a huge change in character, as her excitement for logic and her old life to return is a huge, huge change. But, then she finds the path being erased by a Wonderland creature, and the heartbreak in Alice is, well, heartbreaking. Alice finally realizes the prospect of never getting home is real, and she realizes that there is a reason that up is up and flowers and cats don’t talk.

Alice, however, must face one final obstacle before she can properly return home: The Queen of Hearts. And this is where we finally fix the second trap of ending on a high note. The Queen of Hearts works on as the ending of the film for three reasons: it is extremely memorable in terms of music and character, it is the culmination of everything wrong with Wonderland in Alice’s eyes, and it is the one thing in Wonderland that can actually kill Alice.

The stakes are never higher than in the Queen of Hearts sequence, because Queen is the only thing in Wonderland that can shout OFF WITH HER HEAD and get away with it. Before, Alice continually got into situations where she could just walk away at the end, but here, it is a different story. Alice is likely not to get out of this situation alive, so now we have the greatest danger to Alice ending the film. The film was building to this danger, and it makes the whole film, and especially the ending.

The ending also works because the danger Alice is put in relates to the absurdity of Wonderland. The trial of Alice is a hilarious sequence, mostly because of Alice’s continued reactions to the meaninglessness of the trial, as witnesses and questions and answers that have nothing to do with anything are given great importance. And again, Alice knows that she is in true danger here, so it makes the trial all the more frustrating. One of my absolute favorite moments from the film is when Alice just exclaims “Oh No!” as the entire courtroom wishes the Queen of Hearts a very Merry Unbirthday. It’s just such a great moment that defines what Wonderland is supposed to be viewed as.

Of course, Alice’s verdict is OFF WITH HER HEAD, and the chase is on as Alice attempts to escape Wonderland. This is another well choreographed, intense sequence, as everything she has encountered in Wonderland comes up against her in some way or another. The music in this segment really brings it all together, as do the transitions between the places Alice arrives at, and Alice’s desperation to return home is the true culmination of her journey from Daydreamer to Realist.

Whew. Well. That ends the hardcore analysis of Alice in Wonderland’s structure. But, there are many other things that make the film a treasure.

And one of those things is the animation and design style. I wouldn’t normally advertise directly for buying Disney Blu-Rays, but one of my highest recommendations for a Disney Blu-Ray is Alice in Wonderland. Not only are the bonus features excellent (If you’ve never seen the One Hour in Wonderland Special from 1950, you are in for a real treat), but the Blu-Ray really makes you appreciate the design and animation for a couple of reasons.

The colors of this film are eye-popping, and the credit for that design choice goes completely to Mary Blair. Mary Blair is among my favorite artists to come out of the Disney Studio, and her work on The Three Caballeros, Cinderella, it’s a small world, the mural at the Contemporary Resort in Disney World, and many other personal works are among my favorite works out of the Disney studio. However, Alice in Wonderland is her masterpiece. I seriously recommend looking up some of her concept art for the film. It’s simple, but brilliant, and totally makes the film work. This film is brilliantly designed.

And another reason I recommend the Blu-Ray is because you get a chance to see some of the early concept art that didn’t work for the film. The early concept art of the film is more realistic and. honestly, more freaky, and this makes you realize why Mary Blair’s art style is so perfect for Alice’s story. Wonderland can’t be a place that is freaky to Alice. It has to be something that’s inviting to Alice, something Alice would take to, the kind of place Alice would actually take to. And that really defines the art style. There’s a reason Mary Blair turned the whole project around.

Alice in Wonderland is a film I love to show as an example of why I love Animation. Every single scene of this film in all aspects of the medium. As I mentioned earlier, the animators and artists of the Disney Studio really had a ton of fun with the designs of the characters, completely inspired by Mary Blair’s initial work, and it is among the best designed films in the Disney canon. The backgrounds are equally exceptional, and really add a ton to the tone and feel of the film.

Something that goes hand in hand with the story and design is the music, Walt made it a point that Wonderland needed to feel musical, so he pushed this film to be his most musical film yet. And it works tremendously. From short songs like the White Rabbit’s “I’m Late” and The Dodo’s “The Caucus Race” to the longer songs like “The Unbrithday Song”, “Golden Afternoon”, and “Painting the Roses Red”, this soundtrack is an absolute masterpiece, every song just as catchy as the next. At times, I feel it is underrated. This is among the greatest of the Disney Soundtracks. It is both different and familiar, and always awesome.

Oh, and the score! Oh, how I love this score. Oliver takes the songs of Alice in Wonderland and continues to reinvent them in ways which are awesome to listen to. A Highlight of this is the way he seamlessly mixes the scores of “Painting the Roses Red,” The Caucus Race,” and “The Unbirthday Song” together, flowing in and out of them like it was nothing special. That same brilliance is played throughout the film, and the score perfectly matches the action.

The music goes hand in hand with the script, which is absolutely hilarious. The psudo-intellectual/philosophical speak of most of Wonderland (A great example is Alice saying “I don’t think…” with the March Hare responding “If you don’t think, you shouldn’t speak!”) is hilarious, as is Alice’s dry reaction to most of it. I laugh more in this film than in Aladdin and Tangled, honestly. It’s not the most in your face humor, but the script is extremely smart, and holds up extremely well after multiple watches. The comedic timing in this film is insane.

And the script also includes an extraordinary amount of wonderful characters. The supporting cast is different from most Disney films in that they get relatively little screen time, this being an episodic story and all, but each and every member of the cast is so much fun to watch. Each character has his or her own unique personality that shines so brightly. This is a high energy film, thanks in large part to the cast.

In fact, most of the cast is underrated! Sure, we remember the March Hare, Mad Hatter, and Queen of Hearts extremely well, but The Doorknob’s philosophical joy, the Dodo’s fake brilliance, the flowers’ snooty gossip,  and Bill, The Lizard with a Ladder, are all so funny and so memorable. I love the characters of this film. Absolutely among the strongest casts in Disney History.

Of course, we have our star players as well.The Mad Hatter and the March Hare are fantastically written. The natural chemistry between the two is stunning, and they play off of each other so well, creating some of the funniest dialogue in the film and in Disney history. A special shout out to Ed Wynn, the voice of the Mad Hatter, who not only nails the role, but also improvised one of the funniest bits in the film, as he attempts to fix the White Rabbit’s Watch with Tea, Jam, Sugar, and Two Spoons, among other things (But not Mustard. Don’t be silly.) The couple of scene

The Queen of Hearts and the White Rabbit are both absolutely hilarious as well, but a special shout out to The King of Hearts (Yippie!) Another character we need to shout out is the Cheshire Cat, who’s trolling personality fits perfectly with Sterling Holloway’s odd but awesome voice to create his best role in the Disney Canon. (Hey! STERLING HOLLOWAY COUNT: 7!) Even the Walrus and the Carpenter, who have no direct interaction with Alice, are fantastic characters, and give me one of the biggest laughs of the film (THE TIME HAS COME!)

But of course, the star of the show is Alice. Alice is my favorite female protagonist in the Disney Canon, and ranks among my favorite characters of all time. Disney said that he felt that he made Alice a little bit too unlikable, but I disagree. Alice is so charming, so curious, and so funny, her commentaries on the world around her absolutely among the best in the canon. I love Alice so much, and could watch her run around Wonderland in a charming in British way all day. Her journey is so good, but I don’t have to talk about that again.

A final, special shout out needs to be made to the voice cast of this film. Kathryn Beaumont as Alice is a perfect, all time great performance, as it Ed Wynn as The Mad Hatter, Jerry Colonna as The March Hare, Verna Felton as The Queen of Hearts, Bill Thompson as The White Rabbit, and many, many more. There is a reason that this was the first voice cast to be completely credited within the film itself.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

My favorite song in the film is “Painting the Roses Red” and the subsequent score that comes after it. It’s so catchy and so much fun.

I talked about why the Mad Tea Party is the best scene above. Go watch it!

CLOSING COMMENTS

I feel like Alice in Wonderland is sometimes criticized because it is not exactly the book. And it isn’t. I give it that. But, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is its own brilliant thing, with amazing protagonist, a fantastic supporting cast, a perfect structure, and awesome design in animation and Music. I love Alice in Wonderland, so much, but we are just getting started in the Top 5!

(A note. I’m heading to Disney World for the new year! So no posts for a little bit, but I’ll be back! In the meantime, follow me on Twitter to follow my week in the happiest place on Earth!)

Ranking the Disney Canon – 6: Beauty and the Beast

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“As the years passed, he fell into despair and lost all hope. For who could ever learn to love a beast?” - Narrator

With New Fantasyland open, and with Beauty and the Beast being such a large part of it, and, of course, with the Christmas Season upon us as well, I don’t think there is a better time to get into our 6th film, Beauty and the Beast!

Beauty and the Beast marked a distinct change in Animation history. As many of you probably know, Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and with that nomination, in my opinion, animation changed. No longer was it a separate section of Hollywood, a “genre” to be enjoyed by the masses but not the elite. But with that nomination, Hollywood fully accepted the animated feature, and I feel that Beauty and the Beast did as much as Who Framed Roger Rabbit did for the rediscovery and reanalysis of many of the classic animation of the past.

Of course, now, with the creation of the Animated Feature award, there is still debate over Hollywood’s view of animation, so, who knows.

The story of Beauty and the Beast is a familiar one, but we’ll go through it anyways, as we have with all of our stories. Beauty and the Beast stars a girl named Belle, who loves to get lost in the worlds of her books, and dreams of something more than just her life defending her father and rejecting the advances and marriage proposals of Gaston, the hottest guy in town. When her inventing father, Maurice, goes missing on his way to a fair, Belle goes to find him, and runs into the mysterious Beast, actually a Prince cursed to have this hideous, animalistic form unless he finds true love by his 21st Birthday, when the final pedal on his cursed rose will fall. Belle gives herself up to the Beast in exchange for her father’s freedom. As Maurice tries to get help, and as Gaston schemes to force Belle into marriage, Belle grows closer to the Beast, as the race to the final pedal fall quickens.

STRENGTHS

The biggest reason that Beauty and the Best makes it this far up the list is the fact that this film has the strongest romance in the history of Disney Animation. We’ve seen some fantastic relationships in the past couple of films, and with five films to go, we’ll see some amazing relationships of all kinds coming up soon. But to me, the romantic relationship between Belle and the Beast is far and away the best we’ll see on this list.

And the main reason for that is similar to a reason I gave for the strong relationship between Rapunzel and Flynn all the way back in my review of Tangled. This is among the few films in the Animated Canon to have the two romantic interests constantly interacting with each other. Belle and The Beast spend a long time together, slowly growing closer and closer together through all the activities and arguments they share. And we see their growth from antagonistic to lovers, allowing us to fully and honestly see them as partners.

And that’s important for this film because the main thrust of the story is the romance. Sure, the romance is the main thrust in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella as well, but those work because of the almost mythical quality of those romances, the star-crossed lovers aspect, the idea that inner beauty can be seen on the glowing faces of Cinderella and Aurora. While those romances are classic, particularly in Sleeping Beauty, we don’t need to see the full extent of the romance.

But for this film, we do, because the whole point is that inner beauty can’t be seen right away within The Beast. We judge the book by its cover here. The Beast looks scary, because he is scary. (Note: I couldn’t watch this film as a kid because The Beast scared me too much.) Unlike Prince Charming and Prince Philip, we need to spend time with The Beast, and see that through his fury, clawed, fanged exterior pumps the heart of a human being. The Beast is human, despite his appearance, and the build up of that humanity helps to put The Beast on the list of great Disney characters.

Of course, what’s great about The Beast is that he doesn’t start out as a human being in the heart. On the contrary, the film’s prologue and The Beast’s early actions towards Maurice and Belle indicate how far removed he is from humanity, even at the point in his life where he was cursed. The Beast at the beginning of the movie, honestly, deserves his curse. If he weren’t a Beast, he’d be pompous, arrogant, and probably always still a bit angry. The Beast has an extremely strong character arc in this film, and it starts with a well established character introduction.

Small decisions can really make a difference in character development and audience emotions, and one of the decisions that really plays out to the advantage of the film is how The Beast is first shown to the audience. In his first scene, where he confronts Maurice about entering his house, he is constantly hidden in shadow, the audience not knowing at all what he looks like. This gives not only a sense of mystery for the moment, even if we’ve seen the film a million times, but it also perfectly establishes the emotion of what The Beast is supposed to be. He is scary, and this scene makes him scary.

And this scariness continues over to The Beast’s first meeting with Belle. Even though in this scene, we can see The Beast’s form better even in the shadow, the true extent of his appearance and actions are still hidden to the audience, and more importantly, to Belle. And that moment where he finally steps into the light at Belle’s request, to me, is breathtaking. It’s gold. It so perfectly establishes who The Beast is and what he thinks Belle is supposed to think of him. It may seem like a small moment, but it is honestly, to me, one of the film’s best.

And a huge reason for that is The Beast’s design. Through various interviews, commentaries, and released production work, we know that The Beast went through a ton, and I mean a TON, of possible designs during the production of Beauty and the Beast. It took hundreds of drawings and hundreds of hours, and who knows how many people to find the perfect balance of animal qualities versus human qualities, the types of animals present within The Beast, his height, weight, scariness, warmness, and everything in between.

Man, did that work pay off in spades, and then some. The Beast is among the most iconic and well designed characters of the Renaissance era, and quite possible among Disney’s best designed characters of all time. And it is one of those cases where I just why describe detail by detail why it is so good, but everything I mentioned above is just perfection. The animal qualities are perfectly terrifying, yet the right amount of humanity remains so that we remain sympathetic. A huge amount of animals, which is so long I won’t list them here, contribute to the design, making The Beast a little bit of everything. It’s real and it’s fantastical at the same time. It’s just… wordlessly awesome. The design is just so appealing, and is so much fun to see in animation.

The animation in this film is consistently superb, but The Beast’s animation, supervised by the legendary Glen Keane, is a real highlight. Just look at the scene where The Beast is pacing back and forth after locking Belle in her room, trying to figure out how to woo her into love. The way the four-legged pace of The Beast is animated is just so wonderful and so well done, especially considering this is a made up creature we talking about, as based in reality as he can be. But it is really the facial expressions of The Beast that stand out to me, and that same scene truly runs the Gambit. From angry to sad to happy, and all around the circle (of emotions, not life), The Beast is a treat to watch in action, as scary as he can be.

Of course, a great vocal performance must go along with great design, great script, and great animation if we are truly to create a memorable character. Luckily, Robby Benson is up to the task and then some. Although Robby’s voice is somewhat altered to include animal growls in the back of every line (one of the many examples of why an animated voice performance will never be considered for an Oscar), Robby still one of the best performances of the 1990s as The Beast. Just like with the facial expressions, Benson gives the perfect amount of passion to each of the emotions The Beast has. Of course, with the nature of the early Beast, Benson must have an angry voice, and the shouting he does while The Beast is arguing with Belle is perfect. And yet, the warmth is always still there, and that’s what makes the casting of Robby Benson so good. Even in The Beast’s angriest and saddest moments, his soul can still be heard through Benson’s voice. Benson has the perfect amount of everything to transform The Beast into a perfect character.

But what truly drives a character to the top of the amazing character pile is the arc, the journey of the character, and The Beast elevates this as well. The journey from rough, arrogant, well, beast, to a true man can be a classic film transformation, so to speak, but The Beast’s arc is so good because the specific he takes is just perfection. From making the deal with Belle, to arguing with her and kicking her out, to saving her from the wilderness, to bonding with her, to letting her go, The Beast’s arc makes perfect sense, and the audience is with him the entire way. It is such a heart warming story, a journey you cheer for, and it pushes the character, and the film as a whole, up towards perfection.

So we’ve talked about The Beast a ton already, but it takes to tango, or waltz, in this case, and The Beast needs a perfect partner to make this romance live up to its legend. Luckily, we have that perfect match in the character of Belle. I mentioned back in the Cinderella review that the fight for best Disney Princess would always come down to Cinderella and Belle, so you can see that I have high praise for the character.

From the moment we see her walking into the village, Belle is such a beautiful character, and part of what makes her great is the mix between how she connects with the Disney Princesses of the past, yet is still very unique and different that most of the Disney females around her. Like Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora, and Ariel before her, Belle yearns for something greater than the small little world she knows too well. She wants something new, something bigger, but doesn’t completely know how to get there. And yet, unlike those other Princesses, Belle has found a deeper passion in her love for books, stories, and imagination.

Belle’s love for books keeps the tradition of Disney protagonists with a child like wonder for the world around them, but Belle takes it to the next level. Belle is defined by books as Cinderella is defined by her singing and Ariel is defined by her thing-a-ma-bobs, but Belle’s interests in stories defines the traditional Princess yern in a whole new way, at least to me. Belle truly strives to be something bigger than herself, than her town, to find that perfect fairy tale in that castle far, far away. Though I don’t think any of the Disney Princess’s wants is particularly a man, Belle’s vision through her books is one of the stronger Disney Princess traits.

But what pushes Belle even beyond that is that she never loses perspective on what is most important in this world: family. Belle’s relationship with her father is another great example of the Disney theme of the importance of parents and family, and the dynamic between the two of them, with Belle constantly giving her father support about his “crazy” work, is wonderful, and the two have such a great father-daughter chemistry.

The relationship between Father and Daughter is so good, in fact, that it actually drives most of the plot. Belle arrives at the castle of The Beast after realizing her father is missing, trying to save him. She gives herself up to The Beast to save her father. She leaves the Beast to save her father, and she shows the town that The Beast exist to, you guessed it, save her father. Belle’s continual sacrifice for her father is a fantastic character trait, and sets her apart from the other Princesses more than the books do.

But what defines Belle most as a character is hr kindness, and her motherly charm. This not only comes clear in her relationship with her father, but most especially as part of her relationship with The Beast. Despite the way he had treated her before she escaped and got attacked by the wolves, she still appreciates the fact that he saved her, and she tends to his wounds like a mother would a child. And in the scenes after that, after their relationship begins to grow, you see Belle continue her sweetness all around the castle, as she connects with everyone from The Beast to the servants, and builds wonderful, lasting relationships through her kindness.

Belle uses her kindness to help The Beast regain the humanity he lost in the years he wallowed away his sorrow believing that nobody could ever love a beast. This is where the meat of what makes the movie good lies. The relationship between Belle and The Beast is superb, perfection, amazing words that don’t exist. And yes, you can joke and call it Stockholm Syndrome and all that jazz, but to me, the reason that this relationship is so good is that is makes sure to avoid that trap.

The gradual build of the relationship is absolutely astounding, and the budding relationship between Belle and The Beast is paced beautifully. The arguments for coming out to dinner and for Belle messing around in the forbidden West Wing are awesome in context. The attack of the wolves and the tending to Beast’s wounds is a perfect first bond. The giving of Belle the library, the teaching of human manners to The Beast, and the snowball fight are all wonderful friendship moments that hint at romantic undertones, but don’t really explicitly state it.

And then we get to the Ballroom scene. You all the ballroom scene. It is among the most iconic scenes in not just modern Disney History, but the history of the entire company. One of the first real major uses of CG in animated film history, everything comes together for the scene. The shots, the music, the animation, the wonderful, wonderful design of Belle’s yellow dress and The Beast’s Blue Tux, it all comes together to create a truly magical scene.

But what’s most amazing to me about the ballroom scene is, while the romance is extremely strong, there’s no indication that Belle would have said yes at that moment in time to The Beast’s advances. The scene is certainly a romance classic, sure, but I feel that the brilliance of their relationship is Belle not truly realizing her feelings for The Beast until she puts The Beast in danger of Death.

That brings me to the final piece of the puzzle that turns this relationship into the all time greatest. A rarity for the Disney Canon, our villain is actually another romantic “interest” for our main character, even is she is not particularly interested in him. This squarely puts the focus on the romance as the main plot of the story, and it gives us one of the greatest and most fun Disney villains: Gaston. (And LeFou, of course.)

Gaston is a revelation. Similar to Mother Gothel in Tangled so many years later, I love Gaston for the sole fact that he doesn’t want to take over the world or open up some dark, evil power. He just want’s Belle’s hand in marriage to finish making his life as perfect as can be. It’s always refreshing to see a villain like this in animated features, and yet still have the stakes high.

Gaston may be hilarious, but what makes him so good is that he is the perfect foil for The Beast. Gaston is an unchangeable Beast, probably something similar to what The Beast might have become had he stayed human. Gaston is the villain you love to hate, and that gives us even more investment in seeing Belle get with the Beast. Gaston not only makes the film more entertaining, but gives us a better relationship for our main characters as well.

But when push comes to shove, Gaston is still a serious threat, as his character given a good amount of intelligence despite his brutish nature. The end of the film is a masterpiece of investment, making us fear Gaston, root for the Beast to defend himself, and putting us on the edge of our seats as we hope Belle can make it to him in time. I think the ending gets a little underrated, and should be up there with the final moments of Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, The Lion King, and Dumbo as the greatest Disney endings of all time. (Hey, all those films are in the top 10! What a shock!)

And the final moments of the film, the final moment of pure greatness, is when Gaston falls, The Beast dies, and Belle finally says “I Love You.” That defines what their relationship is and was and always will be. Belle may have not been ready to say yes after that Ballroom scene, but the importance of The Beast to her is revealed in those moments. And really, that all it could be. I can’t imagine a perfect caper to their relationship than Page O’Hara’s heartbreaking read of the I love you line.

(Page O’Hara is another absolutely wonderful performance in this film, by the way.)

As you can probably tell from all the raving about the build and the pacing, the script is wonderful. The film is hilarious, heartbreaking, heartwarming, and just well paced. Not at lot else to say about the script, but special mention needed to be made of it.

And I just realized that there is actually another part of the puzzle after Gaston that elevates this film: The Music. Oh, the music in this film. This is the masterwork of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Every single song in this film is so catchy and so brilliant in lyric and tune. “Belle” is as great an introduction as any for the world of the story, and for Belle, and also has an astounding reprise. “Be Our Guest” is another iconic scene, and one of the most fun songs in Disney history. “Gaston” is one of the funniest songs in the Disney Canon as well, and “Beauty and the Beast” is, of course, a beautiful, Oscar-winning song. “Something There,” and “The Mob Song” round out a truly astounding soundtrack. Of course, all the soundtracks from here on out are astounding, and Beauty and the Beast starts it.

To take a quick aside from the review, I’d like to take a paragraph to honor the late-great Howard Ashman, who was taken from this Earth 8 months before the release of this film due to AIDS related complications. Ashman’s lyrics were nothing short of brilliant, and his sense for story was felt throughout the Walt Disney Company. His gifts were taken from us much to early, and we still miss him today. Though he may no longer be with us, his songs remain in our hearts. Thank you very much Howard. And Rest in Piece.

I think it’s about time we wrapped up this review, but not before we mention the rest of the cast of colorful characters. The objects of the castle are all well written, as to be expected. Lumiere and Cogsworth have a great buddy relationship, and Cogsworth has some of the films funniest moments. Mrs. Pots and Chip are sweet and charming as well, especially chip, who’s younger view on the world brings an interesting perspective on the romance. Belle’s Father, Maurice, is wonderfully eccentric, and is important to the film as mentioned above, and Lefou rounds out the cast as an awesome and hilarious, and underrated, sidekick to Gaston.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

I contend the Best Song of the film is Be Our Guest, followed very closely by Beauty and the Beast and Belle. Be Our Guest is just too much of a good time, and is an animation classic.

The best scene in the film are the final moments, the charge on the castle, Gaston vs. Beast, and Belle’s tears of heartbreak. It’s a wonderful, wonderful ending.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I think you can tell by my review, but the title relationship is what defines this film. The Beast and Belle is the best romance in the Disney Canon, and also rank as two of the greatest characters in the canon. This film deserved its nomination for Best Picture, no doubt about it. The emotions run the gambit here, and that means there is nothing better. Except that Top 5.

So, see you in the top 5!

Ranking the Disney Canon – 7: Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping-beauty-poster

“In ageless sleep, she finds repose. The years roll by, but a hundred years to a steadfast heart, are but a day. And now, the gates of a dungeon part, and our prince is free to go his way. Off he rides, on his noble steed, a valiant figure, straight and tall! To wake his love with “loves’ first kiss”! And prove that “true love” conquers all!” - Maleficent

Sleeping Beauty has one of the most interesting, if not the most interesting, production history of any Disney Animated feature. The film started active production in 1951, and wouldn’t be released until 1959, by far the longest time production time of any of Disney Animated Feature. (Films like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland had their productions begin in the early 1940s, but in terms of active production on the film, they wouldn’t actually begin until after World War II.) The lengthy production schedule was mostly due to the intensive and detailed animation process. Walt wanted the film to have a distinct, stylistic look that differed from his other Fairy Tale Stories such as Snow White and Cinderella. In order to do this, he decided upon a style that looked like the style of Medieval Art. Sleeping Beauty would be the final film of Walt Disney’s to use the traditional process of Ink and Paint Cells, as xerography would be introduced with the next feature, One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

Sleeping Beauty tells the story of the traditional tale of the fairy tale. Princess Aurora (her name is not Sleeping Beauty, people) has just been born, and the kingdom is in celebration. As the three good fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, bestow Aurora with the gifts of Song and Beauty, the wicked fairy Maleficent appears, being a little upset that she wasn’t invited to the party. She curses Aurora, telling the royal court that before her 16th Birthday, she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. The good fairies make it so that her will not die, but just fall into a deep sleep, to be awoken by love’s true kiss.The good fairies come up with the plan to hide Aurora as a peasant woman until she is 16. The day before her 16th Birthday, however, she unknowingly meets her future husband, Prince Phillip, and tricked by Maleficent to prick the spindle. The Good Fairies and Phillip must defeat Maleficent and save the kingdom.

STRENGTHS

Sleeping Beauty is an extremely stylish film, as you might have gathered from the introduction, and it is also is one of the most different films in the Disney Canon in terms of its tone. Both of these differences, together, are among what make Sleeping Beauty one of the most beautiful films in the Disney Canon, in a variety of different ways. Let’s start with the more obvious of the two differences: the beautiful art style and animation of the film.

This film’s animation style is different from anything that came before it, and truly, anything that comes after it. I do not think we will see a more artistic film in mainstream animation. This film truly looks like a painting in motion, and it is a huge testament to the work of Walt and his Animators. This was nine years of extremely tough work, and it truly paid off for them. This film is hypnotically gorgeous. It truly is stunning to look at.

Part of the hypnotism, as it were, comes from the brilliant use of color. I absolutely love the use of bright colors throughout the film, giving it an almost pastel look, and certainly a painted look, as was intended. From the opening scene, where the kingdom marches into the castle to celebrate  the birth of Princess Aurora, one can see how bright and colorful this film is. The Yellows and Blues and Reds and the many, many other colors present in the film just pop off the screen. and you don’t even need 3D! Seriously, though, this is beauty incarnate. A true testament to what animation can do as a style.

Of course, it can be the absence of these bright colors that can absolutely bring brilliance and feeling too, and it comes in the form of Maleficent’s world. Whereas the rest of the world of Sleeping Beauty is bright and cheery, Maleficent has herself surrounded by the colors of black, brown, and sickly, dark green. It seems like such a simple idea, but it works so effectively, and is executed absolutely brilliantly. It truly is amazing how something as simple as differentiating color can be so brilliant.

Another aspect that makes the animation so wonderful to look at is how flat the animation looks. Yes, this is traditional animation, and traditional animation is meant to be flat. These other Disney Animated films, however, use different drawing techniques in order to make the characters looks more three-dimensional.

Sleeping Beauty, however, forgoes these techniques in order to make the characters a little more flat, and thus look  a little bit more like a painting. Working in conjunction with the colors, the flatness of the characters completes the film’s attempt at looking like a painting in motion. The flatness of the characters also completes Walt Disney’s goal of making this film look completely different from any other Disney Animated film in history. The flatness gives the film a truly artistic charm that is just beautiful. That’s the only word I can use to describe it. Beautiful.

Where the design of the film really shines through, though, is in the Character Design. We’ll talk a ton about character design in the Top 10, as many of the most brilliant examples of it in the canon are coming up on this list, but the reason that Sleeping Beauty’s works so well is, one again, how much the design looks like characters you see in an old European painting. King Stephen and his wife, King Hubert and his son Phillip, and especially Aurora herself all are brilliant designed. The flatness and the colors don’t work if the characters don’t look like they fit the bill, but the animators do wonders with this film and came up with some extremely appealing character design.

Let’s move back to the design of the world itself. The background on Sleeping Beauty are absolutely gorgeous. I feel like you could argue that I’m just repeating myself at this point, but I can’t get over the fact that this film is gorgeous! The backgrounds are so rich with detail,  and yet still fits in with the rest of the film. The forest in the Once Upon a Dream sequence are a perfect example of that. The forest still has a realistic quality to it that would remind you of the work you might see in something like Bambi, and yet the stylization remains. The painted look of the characters fits in perfectly with the backgrounds to bring a truly spectacular, dynamic look.

I brought up the forest mainly because it is a location that continually appears in Disney films, but let me be clear that all of the locations in this film are just awesome to look at. The Forest, The Castle, The Courtyard, the Cottage, and especially Maleficent’s Domain are all intricately detailed and just as amazing to stare at for hours upon end as the animation is. A special shout out to the location of Maleficent’s dungeon. Along with the use of color I mentioned earlier, the dirtiness of the whole thing just gives it the perfect vibe. It is among my favorite designed locations in Disney films.

OK, I think I’ve gone on long enough about the film’s art style, but before I move on to the change in tone, as hinted about 1000 words ago, I just want to say that the reason that the art style of this film is so memorable is because it all fits together like a perfect puzzle. The color, the flatness, the animation, the backgrounds, all work together to create a beautiful work of art, worthy of the works that inspired it.

(OK, I may think of animation as a work of art in and of itself, but Sleeping Beauty is in a different realm altogether. Moving on.)

The style change of the art in Sleeping Beauty is matched by the second difference between this film and other Disney films on this list: the tone. Working with the dramatic artistic shift, Sleeping Beauty is among the most dramatic, if the not the most dramatic, work in the Disney Animated Canon. I feel that Sleeping Beauty is the closest we’ve come to a straight animated drama here in the United States.

And that isn’t to say that the film is humorless. Far from it. Humor is present in this film and, as per usual in the Walt Disney era, it is awesomely funny. The banter between the three fairies, especially within the famous fight about what color Aurora’s dress should be, is full of witty banter and wonderful visual humor. The drunken song between King Stephen and King Hubert, as they discuss the future of their children, is also a riot, and an underrated scene within the film itself. There are punches of humor throughout the film, even in small parts, and scenes like the drunken song and lines like “Oh, father, you’re living in the past. This is the 14th century!” contribute great chuckles.

But what is different about this humor is that it is a little quieter, a little more subtle, a little smaller in scope. The humor isn’t as in your face, slapsticky, or loud as you might find coming from Captain Hook in Peter Pan or Timothy Q. Mouse in Dumbo. I would almost describe the humor as more serious than normal. I find it hard to describe how the humor in Sleeping Beauty feels because it does have such a different feel to it. Even Bambi, another very dramatic film, had its humor feel grander.

But the smaller, quieter humor works perfectly with the story of Sleeping Beauty. From the very beginning, the film presents itself as an epic tale of great importance. The opening scenes are a perfect representation of this. The procession of the town in celebration of the birth of Aurora, the narrator describing our story and our characters, the looks on the faces of the Kings and Queens, showing the importance they give to their own child, the fairies presenting their gifts to the newborn princess, and Maleficent’s dramatic entrance and her curse on the child all come together to create a striking opening, one that gives the film a big feel, an opening that gives us the feeling like we were being told the greatest story ever written. It feels like the story actually comes from the era of kings and queens it comes from.

And a part of that feeling comes, of course, from the art style, but I should also point out the importance of the music in this instance. Again differing from the films around it, the song and score of the film do not come from the “Tin Pan Alley” musicians and other in-house songwriters like the Sherman Brothers. Instead, this film adapts much of the score to Tchaikovsky’s ballet based on the Sleeping Beauty story, changing them up by adding lyrics, lengthening some of the movements, and even moving around the placement of the songs.

What this does is, once again, adds to the films dramatic tone. The Sleeping Beauty ballet is a classic, and the classic arrangements of the songs from the ballet give the film a grandiose feel, the classical tones of the score ringing in your ears. The beauty of songs like “Hail to the Princess” and “Once Upon a Dream” feel completely different from even the songs of the previous two princess films, Cinderella and Snow White. Imagine if either of those two films had been based off of ballets. Would those films feel completely different? Absolutely. But it would have not worked for the vision of those films. But here, it does.

And sure, the difference in the humor and the songs add to the change in tone, but, obviously, what gives the most addition to the tone is the script and the story itself. From the beginning, this film is presented as a love story between Phillip and Aurora, and it does it beautifully. Everything in the film leads up to their fate as lovers, and it gives this journey the greatest of importance. I think it is actually striking how little humor Aurora and Phillip bring to the table, but this only enhances their arc as characters, as it gives them a drive that isn’t undercut at any point in the film.

But once Aurora pricks the spindle and lives to the title of the film, as the child friendly version of the saying goes, things just get real. From then on, there is no humor, no brightness, the only song being the beautiful song “Sleeping Beauty” wonderfully sung by the Disney Studio Chorus. The focus is squarely on Phillip’s quest to save Sleeping Beauty, from his capture by Maleficent, to his daring escape, to his final battle with the forces of evil. Sleeping Beauty is among the greatest romances in Disney history, because the films presents it as such. (Also, maybe because Phillip is actually one of the more developed princes in Disney history, but more on that later.)

Man, I feel I’m repeating myself once again, so its time to end our discussion of tone as well. But the story of Sleeping Beauty could not be presented in any other way. Cinderella and Snow White couldn’t work with this dramatic weight, just as Sleeping Beauty couldn’t function with the constant humor of the stepsisters and the dwarves. Sleeping Beauty is an epic tale, and the film feels like an epic tale. The grand story and the beautiful art are a large, large part of what pushes Sleeping Beauty to the seven spot on our list.

But, as you should know on this list by now, it all comes back to character on these Disney films. And Sleeping Beauty is no exception. As any film fan should know, a great plot can only get you so far, and Walt Disney certainly knew that. So much focus is put onto character here, as it is in any Disney film, and that’s what truly pushes it into the top 10. So, why don’t we get started?

And why don’t we start with our title character, the sleeping beauty, Briar Rose, AKA, Princess Aurora. (Let me emphasize again: Her name is NOT Sleeping Beauty.) Aurora, like Cinderella and Snow White, is a wonderful princess, full of pure heart and pure mind. She shares many similar characteristics, such as her connections with animals and her dreams of a greater life outside of the confines of her cottage that she grew up within. And all of these, again, like with Cinderella and Snow White, come together to create the classic Walt princess.

But also like the other two, Aurora has enough qualities to make her a unique character. To me, what stands out most about Aurora is her sheltered life. Her lack of knowledge about her true heritage actually creates a fascinating character, one that is humble, respecting the world around her and the “mothers” that raised her, yet a character that yearns for something greater. She wants to go out and meet people, find something larger than what she knows. Of Walt’s three princesses, Aurora probably shares the most similarities to the modern Princesses of Ariel and Belle, and I think that adds to what makes her interesting. The situation of the story forces Aurora to be a different character in Walt’s canon, and her pretty (apparently Audrey Hepburn inspired) character design, her lovely voice, and her sweet personality only bump Aurora up the Greatest Disney Princess list.

Of course, I should mention here that Aurora only appears in the film for about 18 minutes, certainly a short amount of time for a title character. But, as you watch the film, you don’t even realize that she is in it for that short of a time. Her presence is always felt, her character always on your mind. To me, that is truly the sign of a great character. She sticks with you despite her lack of screen time, and you push for Phillip to save her. You care for her. She is the film no longer than she needs to be, but she remains a very memorable character regardless, and that is a true success of writing.

The real protagonist of our story, in my opinion, is Prince Phillip, no doubt the greatest of the traditional Disney Princes. Phillip is charming, courageous, intelligent, and heroic, mainly, everything you could ask for in the Prince character of this film. What really makes him so likable is how he handles himself, how pure is own heart is presented, how perfect of a companion he becomes to Aurora. He would rather lose the throne by marrying a peasant girl than gain it by marrying a Princess. He risks his life escaping the dungeon and fighting Maleficent  to save the one dream he has, Aurora. He likes Aurora not because she is a princess, for most of the time, he doesn’t know, but because of the person she is (I guess the looks don’t hurt either). Already, all of this give Prince Phillip more character, and more likability and most of the Princes in the canon. I am a huge fan of Phillip, and he becomes one of my favorite parts of the film.

You may remember that in the Snow White review (or you may not remember, because I it was so long ago) that I mentioned many aspects of this film, like the dungeon escape, were intended for him, but fit the Prince Phillip character better. This is because that these daring escapes not only fit the story of Sleeping Beauty better, but also add much more to the Prince Phillip character. Even though it comes towards the end of the film, his reactions to Maleficent’s taunts and his escape from the castle, battling the minions of Maleficent, round out the character we’ve seen fall in love with Princess Aurora. And together it creates a well-rounded, and frankly, awesome Prince.

Ahh, but the real star of the show is none other than the villain of the piece, Maleficent. Perfectly voiced by Eleanor Audley, whom you may recognize as the sinister voice of Lady Tremaine from Cinderella, Maleficent is the most purely evil bad guy the Disney folk have ever created. She is evil to her core, and she is so much fun to watch. The script gives Maleficent so many fun lines and taunts, and Audley reads them perfectly each and every time. Watching Maleficent taunt Phillip about the Sleeping Beauty is a scene I could watch over and over again. Maleficent is always in consideration for one of the great villains of any medium, in my opinion.

Of course, the iconic scene, one of the all time great Disney scenes, is the moment where Prince Phillip and Maleficent have their final confrontation. The spells Maleficent casts, the thorns, the dragon transformation, and the iconic line “Now, shall you deal with me, oh Prince, and all the powers of HELL!” contribute to an unbelievable sequence. It’s bold, it’s striking, it’s imaginative, it’s epic, it’s emotional, it’s everything you want in a movie. It’s iconic for a reason.

Now, before we wrap up, we must conclude the character exploration. Probably the most important characters in the film are the three fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. All three bounce off each other great, and contribute some of the film’s best humor, including the iconic argument about the dress’ color. The trio of fairies help to drive most of the film’s plot, but they never feel convenient or contrived. Like the rest of the cast, their scenes come naturally. And just like the rest of the cast, their scenes are a blast to watch. Their distinct personalities are there for the world to see, and they are perfect magical counterparts to Maleficent’s dark magic.

Finally, we arrive at the kings, Stephan and Hubert, perfect counterbalances to each other. Stephan is wise, where Hubert is a little slow. Stephan and Hubert both share a concern for their children, and they both share a sense of seriousness. And yet, Hubert is much more of the party type, something he goads Stephan into getting into. These two characters are wonderful in their own ways, particularly Hubert, who contributes many funny scenes between himself and Phillip and Stephen. You also really feel for Stephen’s plight, having not seen his daughter for years, and you jump for joy when all is finally well.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The best scene is the final battle between Phillip and Maleficent. It’s bold, it’s striking… oh, I already said all this.

The best song is Once Upon a Dream. The melody is catchy and beautiful, and the sequence that goes along with it is beautiful in its own way. The lyrics added to the song only serve to enhance it, creating one of the classic Disney love songs.

CLOSING COMMENTS

There are two things I want to say.

The characters, style, and tone of Sleeping Beauty all help to create one of the most memorable films in Disney History.

And I’m glad to be back! Again!

Ranking the Disney Canon – 8: The Jungle Book

“Ha-Ha! Man, that’s what I call a swinging party!” - Baloo

The Jungle Book holds the unfortunate distinction of being the final animated feature to be heavily worked on by Walt Disney himself. After the studio’s internal disappointment with The Sword in the Stone, Walt worked heavily with his animators and story people to make sure the characters and the story were once again the stars of the show, and a huge effort was made to make the film fun and lively, as opposed to the two mellower toned films that came before it, One Hundred and One Dalmatians and Sword in the Stone. This was done through the casting of comedian Phil Harris and singer Louis Prima in key roles, and to have The Sherman Brothers at their liveliest. Unfortunately, Walt never lived to see the finished product, as he passed away before the film’s release. His efforts, as always, shine through, and his legacy would live on not just through this film, but by continuing work of his company.

The story, based rather loosely off the Rudyard Kipling book of the same name, tells us the story of Mowgli, a young “man-cub” who is abandoned in the child as a young baby. Bagheera, the black panther, discovers the child and takes him to a family of wolves, who raise him into boyhood. When news of Shere Khan, the man hating tiger, is back in their neck of the jungle, Bagheera and the wolves agree that Mowgli must be taken back to the man village for his own safety. Mowgli, however, refuses to go, and attempts to stay with a freedom loving bear named Baloo. From there, Mowgli gets into misadventures involving Colonel Hathi and his elephant army, King Louie and his fire seeking Monkeys, British Invasion Vultures, Hypnotic Snakes, and Shere Kahn himself.

STRENGTHS

Walt said that he wanted The Jungle Book to have “the Disney touch.” And boy, does this film have The Disney Touch and then some. The Jungle Book is so much fun. It is just an absolute blast to watch from top to bottom. Obviously, there is a reason it is this high on the list, but truly, this film is extremely sharp in every scene. Every scene is alive and kicking, and so full of energy, just as Walt Disney intended. I think we are truly at the part of the list where absolutely no scene is wasted or unneeded. I told you it was hard to rank these films!

But where to begin with Jungle Book? I mean that may be the second hardest part of this list, is deciding where to start with each film. It’s tough when all these films do so many things really well. I guess I just have to start with the first thing I think of with Jungle Book, and the first thing I think of with Jungle Book is the film’s relationships.

You may remember that early in the list, poorly executed relationships were a common theme of what made a film weaker than it could be. Well, The Jungle Book is the exact opposite of that. The Relationships are extremely strong, and I mean all of the relationships. That’s what is so amazing about this film to me. EVERY relationship in this film is amazing in its own unique way. And, these relationships all add to the fun of the film in huge ways.

The core relationship of the film, and by far the strongest, is the triangle that exists between Mowgli, Baloo, and Bagheera. While we will see the classic Disney mentor-protege relationship a couple more times in this top 10, in all sorts of different ways, The Jungle Book holds a unique position for having two mentors compete to send their protegé on the right path. And, once again, it is such a fun trio to watch in action.

What make Bagheera and Baloo so appealing to watch together is that their points of views on life are so polar opposite, and yet it makes sense that they have some form a friendship together. The conversations between the strict and serious Bagheera and the fun-loving, dancing Baloo are extremely well written (As well as well performed, but we’ll get to that in a bit), and their care for Mowgli is so apparent in these sequences. In all essence, The Bagheera-Baloo relationship is like that of two parents arguing how their kid should be raised.  And it is extremely hilarious and awesome.

But of course, it  is Mowgli who is in the center of it all, and  the key to the whole puzzle. And it is Mowgli’s relationship to his potential mentors that truly brings the film together. Let’s first consider the Bagheera-Mowgli relationship. Bagheera is, of course, the parent that Mowgli doesn’t want to listen to, but Bagheera has seen Mowgli grow up, and just wants to see Mowgli protected and safe. He even is able to convince Baloo that the man village is the best idea for the child.

A fantastic sequence is one that comes after Mowgli attempted and failed to join the elephant herd, and Bagheera and Mowgli have an argument in the jungle. Bagheera allows Mowgli to go off on his own, and Mowgli meets Baloo for the first time. Baloo helps Mowgli learn to roar, and Bagheera interprets this as a sign that Mowgli is in trouble, and runs after him, regretting ever leaving Mowlgi. Of course, when Bagheera arrives, he is more upset that Mowgli met Baloo than if Mowgli would have ever been in any actual trouble.

This scene is brilliant for a couple of reasons. One, the way Bagheera reacts to Baloo, as if Baloo were the worst possible thing Mowgli could have encountered, is brilliant. I especially love that Bagheera refers to Baloo as a “shiftless stupid jungle bum” to himself, of course. It is a perfect description of their relationship. Also, right after this comment, Bagheera shares some playful, sarcastic comments that one would share between friends. It is absolutely a beautiful introduction to their friendship for the audience, and it comes to define what is so much fun about this dynamic.

This scene is also the perfect description of the relationship between Bagheera and Mowgli. Bagheera’s instant reaction to even the slightest notion that Mowgli is in trouble is an absolute treat, a treat that builds the emotions between characters to absolute perfection. This is a great way to relay emotions between characters. It seems very simple, but it is also very real, and that is  what counts. There is real emotion present in this scene, and when it is real, it can be a whole lot of fun.

And the most real and the most fun relationship present in the film is the one between Baloo and Mowgli. Seriously, this is the greatest Disney Bromance. From the moment the two appear on-screen together, as Mowgli sulks next to a rock, and Baloo dances out of the jungle, there are sparks between the two of them. It really is a match made in heaven. It is just extremely well written and so much fun to watch. The moment of Baloo attempted to calm down an angry Mowgli with a mellow boxing lesson is absolutely astonishing. It really is fantastic relationship writing. I really cannot describe its greatness in this simple paragraph or even this review. You really need to see it to believe it.

Let’s move on to the character of Baloo for a second. This is a fantastic character with an absolutely wonderful voice performance behind it. Phil Harris nails the character every step of the way, and gives one of the greatest voice performances of all time. It truly is a voice that defines the character. Baloo’s laid back attitude and, in a word, “hip” look on life is not only a perfect counterpoint to Bagheera and a perfect companion to Mowgli, as we already have mentioned, but also makes Baloo one of the greatest Disney characters of all time. He is just so much fun to watch and absolutely hilarious to encounter.

But what truly makes Baloo an amazing character is that he is able to step back from the laid backness and the hilarity for moments and actually have wonderful moments of drama. The Jungle Book is absolutely fantastic at mixing its humor and its drama, and it does this mainly through the relationship between Mowgli and Baloo. There is a fantastic scene between Bagheera and Baloo where Baloo is convinced that Mowgli needs to return to the man village. This scene is an amazing look at Baloo as a character, as he reaches down deep inside himself to realize that, he though he does not want to give up Mowgli, who, even in the short amount of time that they’ve had together, feels like a son, he knows it might be best to give him up.

And of course, it is the scene afterwards where Baloo must relate this idea to Mowgli is where we truly see the human side of the bear. This is what makes a classic character. Yes, the humor and the memorable personalities are also extremely important, but the best Disney characters are the ones that feel the most human, the most real. And Baloo certainly shows his human side through his struggles with thinking maturely, and his resistance to admit that Mowgli needs to go. The best Disney characters also grow, and throughout this film, Baloo, as well as Mowgli and even Bahgeera, certainly grow.

Of course, you also cannot lose the humor and personality that made you so great in the first place. This is true for Baloo as well. One of my favorite moments in the film actually comes near the end, when it seems that Baloo has made the ultimate sacrifice to save Mowgli from Shere Kahn, and Bahgeera is giving him the eulogy to end all eulogies. Of course, Baloo reveals that he is actually alive, but continues to play dead in order to hear Bagheera praise him to the moon. This is a wonderful mixture of drama and humor that few films are able to pull off. Of course, we are in the Top 10, so films have to be up to that quality at this point in time.

(Also, this is a wonderful character moment for Bagheera as well. Instead of being happy that Baloo is alive, he is extremely angry, and almost embarrassed, because of the bear. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.)

And then, at the end, Mowgli’s journey ends with him going back to the man village after seeing a girl for the first time. This ending is so, so brilliant, and was pushed by Walt even as some of his animators wanted Mowgli to stay with Baloo and Bagheera. But, as usual, Walt made the right call here. The film had to end with Mowgli to returning where he belongs, because the film made a point that he truly didn’t stand a chance if he stays in the Jungle, even if he has the protection of the animals. And the way that Baloo and Bagheera watch him move in, with Baloo objecting, but eventually relenting, is just more brilliant writing.

OK, so I think you can see that I’ve said a ton about our three main characters, and they are pretty much perfection in terms of what a main character can be. But, you might have also remembered me talking about how the side characters can truly make or break a film. So, does The Jungle Book succeed in this category? With flying colors.

Seriously, every single person Mowgli, Baloo, and Bagheera meet along the journey are absolutely amazing and hilarious. I said there is no wasted scene, and I absolutely mean that, and that means there is no wasted character. Every single character, every single joke, is worth it.

It all begins with Colonel Hathi and his elephant army. I’m absolute sucker for the bumbling leader characters, and Colonel Hathi is one of the best I’ve had the pleasure of laughing to. His interactions with his wife and son, his easily wavering decisions, and the way he just treats the rest of his army who clearly doesn’t want to be there are all just amazing. And he is amazing voiced by J. Pat O’Malley, one of the classic Disney Voice actors. The Colonel Hathi character is completely not fit to be a colonel, and that’s why he is one of my favorites.

Of course, one of the most memorable characters in the film in King Louis, the king of the apes, incredibly voiced by musical legend Louis Prima. Just like Baloo, Louis is “Hip” and the only thing he desires is man’s red fire, and he kidnaps Mowgli in hopes to get it. Louis Prima shows his swing all over the place here, and he is so incredibly fun to watch, just like the rest of the film.  I especially love the fact that Louis is the perfect counterpoint and companion for Baloo.

The Top 10 is full of moments that are worthy of being in the Top 10 moments of all time. The moment that Jungle Book throws into the fray is the moment where Baloo disguises himself as a monkey and does an amazing scat with King Louis to end the “I Wanna Be Like You” number. This moment is just incredible. I can’t really describe why. It’s just one of those moment where, when you see it, you are absolutely amazed by what is transpiring around you.

And this would be a perfect time to delve into the soundtrack. Of all the animated soundtracks The Sherman Brothers worked on, this is their masterpiece. “I Wanna Be Like You” is incredibly catchy and captures what makes Louis Prima so good at what he does, “Trust in Me” is an incredibly hypnotic number that is perfect for the character of Kaa, “Colonel Hathi’s March”  and it’s reprise is a perfectly catchy military song, and “That’s What Friends are For,” though easily the weakest of the film’s songs, is still a lovely number that goes into the styles of Babershop Quartet and 60s Pop.

Of course, the most classic song on the soundtrack is naturally the only one the Sherman Brothers didn’t write. “The Bare Necessities” was written by Terry Gilkyson for an earlier version of the film that had a bit more of the darker edge the original source had. The animators loved this particular song so much that they convinced Walt to leave it in even after the story direction had changed. “The Bare Necessities” alone is why Phil Harris should be commended for his performance and why Baloo is among the greatest characters in Disney history. The lyrics and the music are perfect, and this song would easily fit into any Top 10 Disney songs list. I love this song.

We should get back to the villains before we need to finish up. First, Kaa, voiced by none other than our good friend Sterling Holloway! (STERLING HOLLOWAY COUNT: 6!) This is a completely different role for Holloway than we’ve seen before. Whereas up to this point he was always in the laid back good guy role, here he plays a python looking to eat anything and everything. And it absolutely works because Holloway has a hypnotic voice to begin with. I just love the way Holloway slurs his ssssss here, and Kaa is perfectly written as a mix of a hugely confidant and yet somewhat cowardly character. And Holloway nails the performance to make this a classic character.

And while they aren’t really villains,  I should mention the vulture characters, really for the sole reason that they were meant to be voiced by The Beatles! Now, there are conflicting reports as to why this didn’t happen. Some say Lennon really wanted to do it, but the rest of the Beatles and their managers and such wanted to focus on making albums. Others say that Lennon was against it all the way, and shot it down before any discussion could be had. Seriously though, wouldn’t it have been amazing if The Beatles had done a song in a Disney film?

And we shall end our discussion of The Jungle Book with our true villain, Shere Kahn. You know what is amazing about Shere Kahn? He doesn’t show up until halfway through the film. And he doesn’t need to. By the time he shows up, there is already an aura around him because everybody has talked about how dangerous he is. And we get to see why: he is as smart as he is strong. The absolutely brilliant casting choice of George Sanders, who is probably best known for his role as Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, pays of in spades. One of the best scenes in the film is when George Sanders is being George Sanders as Shere Kahn talks to Kaa about the whereabouts of Mowgli. Shere Kahn’s intellect is what makes him a memorable villain, even if he is only in the film for a couple of minutes.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The best song is by far “The Bare Necessities.” Go look it up on Youtube or Buy it on iTunes and just listen to the brilliance of the lyrics.

The best scene in the film is the “I Wanna Be Like You” number. It perfectly describes everything about this film: The relationships, the music, the characters, and the fun.

CLOSING COMMENTS

The Jungle Book is among the most purely fun films in the Disney Canon, and also does a fantastic job with Character, Drama, and Song, as any great Disney film should. I’ve said almost 3000 words about it. Just go watch it. It’s in the Top 10 on my list, and it might be on yours too.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 9: Bambi

“Everyone respects him. For of all the deer in the forest, not one has lived half so long. He is very brave and very wise. That’s why he is known as the Great Prince of the Forest.” - Bambi’s Mother

Bambi was the most controversial film Walt Disney ever made, and probably remains one of the more controversial films in the entire canon. The idea that (spoilers if you have not seen Bambi, or, dare I say it, are not in tune with popular culture) a good guy, in this case, Bambi’s mother, could actually perish in an animated film incited venom by all sorts of people when Bambi was released in 1942. The response to the death effected Disney so much that he steadfastly refused to have another heroic character die in one of him films. Though a main character death was considered for both Lady and the Tramp and The Jungle Book, Walt never again repeated the Bambi controversy. Walt Disney Animation would also keep up with this ideal until the release of The Lion King in 1994. That’s a period of 52 years! And death and adult topics in Animation is still a hot topic today, though that is another discussion for another, less Rankings related post.

Bambi, based on the Austrian novel Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten, is actually one of the simplest movies in the Disney canon to describe. Bambi follows the life of our title character, Bambi, from his birth all to way to when he achieves his destiny as the new Prince of the Forest. Along the way, we see Bambi as he makes friends, encounters the rain and snow for the first time, falls in love, and witnesses how destructive the creature known as man can truly be to Bambi’s forest home.

STRENGTHS

I got to tell you, this was one of the hardest posts to write on this list thus far. Not only is it really hard to talk only good things about a film, but how can you describe something as simple as Bambi? I’m not kidding when I say that Bambi is one of the most straightforward and simplest stories in the canon, and yet, unlike Snow White’s simplicity, Bambi’s simplicity allows the films to have such a complexity. It’s a complicated film to talk about, and thus write about. And where to even begin with Bambi?

Well, this is one of the most stylistic films in the canon, but in a different way from the artsy style of Sleeping Beauty or Fantasia and the Cartoony style of Alice in Wonderland or Dumbo. See, Bambi is stylistic in its use of realism. See, it’s become cliché to say “Oh, Disney films have talking animals LOL So Unrealistic,” but, in actuality, The Disney Animators prided themselves on getting movement of both humans and animals realistic. And if you watch Bambi, you can see all of the little details that make Bambi and Thumper and the rest of the forest seem as real as the ones that is all around the great American outdoors. Next time you watch the film, notice how Bambi stumbles as he first walks around, or truly see how Thumper eats with his family. The Disney animators truly did their homework, and it shows in how beautiful the animation is.

But it is the backgrounds, and the “sets” if you will that truly stand out in this film. I’ve mentioned a few times on this list that Disney has a strong history of films that deal with nature, as Walt Disney had a natural fascination with the subject (you can look up one of his many Oscar winning True Life Adventure documentaries to see a whole lot more, if you wish). And Nature in Disney films begins with Bambi, and nature in Bambi begins with the absolutely stunning background work. Sometimes the backgrounds of these classic Disney films can be a little overlooked, but it really is an important aspect of animation and something that should be celebrated.

And Bambi is among the films that the animated backgrounds should be really appreciated. It’s not that the backgrounds look exceptionally real, but they do look like they could have been adapted from real pictures of the forest. Thus, the backgrounds are able to add to the realism of the whole piece, and it truly adds to the world that Bambi is able to grow up and run around in. Any film in this Top 10 can be used as an example of why I love Animation from a technical standpoint, but Bambi truly shows what Backgrounds can be and what they can do.

And I sort of mentioned it a couple of paragraphs up, but I especially appreciate the realistic character designs in Bambi. Again, it may be cliché at this point to go on about how Disney animals are anthropomorphic, but, again, just look at the character designs of Bambi and Thumper and Friend Owl and even the little details like the field mouse running from the rain. They all are extremely well designed and extremely realistic, and it adds to what Bambi is trying is do and successfully does.

And it may be earlier than usual for me to talk about the soundtrack, but Bambi also has one of the more artsy soundtracks in the Disney canon too. The heavily orchestrated soundtrack and the wonderful vocals of what was then known as the Disney Studio Chorus leads to a collection of music that goes absolutely hand in hand with the nature that defines Bambi. Though the film doesn’t feature a whole ton of songs, The hypnotic “Little April Shower” and the bright and cheery “Let’s Sing a Gay Little Spring Song” are certainly good enough considered for any list of great Disney Songs. This is especially true for “Little April Shower” which moves over a brilliant sequence that just deals with Bambi’s first rain shower. And Frank Churchill’s score is also one of the Disney classics, especially his three note piece for Man’s theme, which would later inspire John Williams on Jaws.

I think it is about time we get to where the real brilliance of Bambi lies: It’s structure. Bambi is the most pure episodic film that Walt Disney ever made. Sure, many of Walt Disney’s film deal with some sort of episodic structure, and sure, there may be better examples of it above this film, but Bambi is so episodic in that we are truly looking at episodes in Bambi’s life. We watch as he walks for the first time, we watch him learn to speak, we watch him make friends, we watch his first rain, his first time in the meadow, his first snow, and of course, his first loss. Whereas the other great episodic films have bits of three act structure in them, due to their shorter time span, Bambi is truly episodic since the story takes a life time. These episodes are exactly that: episodes.

And that structure absolutely works for Bambi because it is the best possible way we can see Bambi’s journey from a newborn fawn to the Prince of the Forest. This is a true life story, from birth to adulthood, and watching Bambi grow up throughout that time is instrumental in caring for the character, which helps the audience become invested in the story. This structure wouldn’t  work for something like Dumbo or Alice in Wonderland, but it is hugely important that Bambi features this structure.

Of course, having mentioned all the episodes from the childhood, one can forget that we actually see Bambi in adulthood having to deal with love, leadership, and the ever dangerous presence of man. And while these sequences are not as iconic or even as amazing as the childhood segments, they are still awesome in their own right, and should not be forgotten. These are as important to see as we need to see Bambi’s final tests before he can truly have the courage and strength to become the next Prince of the Forest. Him fighting the other male deer for the love of his life, which is one of the film’s few stylized sequences, and him having to escape the forest fire after being shot are the final tests on his journey to manhood, and are stunning in their own sense.

It’s actually very interesting to dissect Bambi as a character, since what we experience of the character growing up to be a man. So, much of the time we spend with Bambi is watching him question the world around him, learning what a bird is and being stunned by the rain and even realizing there are other deer in the forest. The young Bambi is one of the more childlike characters in the canon, and his youthful fancy is extremely well written. It’s almost as if Bambi is your own child as he runs around the forest.

Of course, with Bambi being the questioning child that he is, his interactions with the people, er, animals around him are extremely important and as with any child, the interactions that define their life are the ones with friends and family. Let’s start with the friends side of it. Bambi, being the future Prince, has a ton of interest surrounding him, both from the adults and the other children. However, the one child that takes interest in him right away is Bambi’s future best friend, Thumper.

Thumper is the film’s second most famous character, and far and away the film’s best source of comedy. Thumper’s humor has a wide range, from him initially making fun of Bambi’s walking and incorrectness in identifying the world around him, to the running gag of what his father has told him, to the thumping of his leg for which he is named for. Actually, for much of the film, Thumper steals the show. Thumper is an extremely enjoyable character, and one of the few times I think using a child voice actor actually really adds to the character. (it also adds to Bambi’s character, but it stands out more to me in Thumper.)

Again, though, what’s important is the fact that Bambi and Thumper are friends and interact as such, and their scenes together are such a treat. Every single scene between them shows true friendship, and are extremely enjoyable. The scenes in which Thumper teaches Bambi what each thing in the forest is called, and Thumper and Bambi experience winter together by ice skating are wonderful because the two of them are so naive, in a sense, and so childlike. It’s wonderful.

Of course, we can’t forget the lesser seen, but still important, friend of Bambi, the skunk named Flower. The scene where Bambi and Flower first meet is one of the iconic images of Walt’s era, and I love the few scenes we get of Flower. His shyness is perfectly presented, and his hibernation scene is hilarious. I wish we got more of Flower. Even in the few times we see him, he is an enjoyable fellow.

One final aspect I enjoy about the friendship between is how realistic it is in terms of them being animals. OK, sure, it is unlikely that a skunk, a deer, and a rabbit would all be the best of friends, but what makes sense, and what makes it real, is that Flower would be hibernating during the winter while Bambi and Thumper play, or how the three of them haven’t seen each other for a long time when they rekindle as adults, as their fellow species would probably end up in different parts of the forest. I think this make their friendship even stronger, though obviously it cannot be as strong as it was in their childhood, both from a realism perspective and from a film perspective.

(NOTE: The adult voice of Flower is none other than our good friend Sterling Holloway! STERLING HOLLOWAY COUNT: 5!)

I did mention earlier that the second part of Bambi’s relationship is family, and that, of course, starts with Bambi’s mother. Bambi and his mother connect from the beginning of the film, and his far and away the film’s best relationship. It is a modern cliché to say that Disney films don’t include the mothers and even sometimes the fathers of our heroes and heroines (man, disproving clichés is a little bit of a theme, isn’t it?), actually the theme of family and the parent-child relationship is present in many Disney films, and this is one of them.

What makes the relationship between Bambi and his mother so good is that it feels so real. There is no better example than the meadow sequence. It starts with a conversation between Bambi and his mother about what the meadow actually is, and how Bambi has heard that other deer exist. This is almost exactly what any mother-son conversation would be like. And of course, in this instance, the mother also takes a protective role when the deer sense man in the forest, just as any mother would protect their child from whatever danger lies ahead.. This whole sequence may be the best example of it, but it certainly isn’t the only one.

Every moment between Bambi and his mother his precious. From her naming him to her protecting him from the rain, to letting him play with Thumper in the snow, to making him meet a girl for the first time. Bambi and his mother have a true connection in each of these sequences, and it leads to one of the great parental relationships in Disney history.

And of course, it is the fact that this relationship is so good that makes the death of Bambi’s mother so tragic. I know the scene gets a lot of hype due to, you know, people loving to mention that a Disney film features death, but seriously, this is a stunning sequence, and among the greatest in Disney history. I mean, it is chilling to watch Bambi cry out for his mother. It’s a Disney scene that truly can bring you to tears.

And this brings us to one of the film’s forgotten, but awesome characters, The Great Prince of the Forest, Bambi’s father. I love the mysterious mentorship role that the father portrays. His appearance after the death of Bambi’s mother may be among the perfect lines ever seen in a Disney film. It’s just so powerful to hear him speak, not only in that section, but also when he is encouraging Bambi to get up after Bambi had been shot, as the forest fire rages around him. I love the almost wise spirit aura that surround The Great Prince, appearing at the moments when Bambi needs him most. He’s actually one of my favorite characters in the film, even though he doesn’t appear often. He doesn’t need to.

And we will finish off this most by talking about the film’s villain. For a company that has so many outlandish and memorable villains, antagonists, bad guys, and henchmen with so many amazing designs and personalities, it is amazing that one of its most memorable villains never actually appears on-screen. Though I don’t put all my faith in the AFI lists, it is amazing that Man, the unseen villain in Bambi, was named the 20th greatest film villain of all time. Man is just an amazing villain.

We really don’t need to see man, we just need to see the destructive force they can be. And being the cause of the death of Bambi’s mother and the jaw dropping forest fire sequence is enough to make you realize what man can do. Making Man almost this godly, otherworldly force humanizes the animals even more, and that’s an absolutely amazing accomplishment. Man is a wonderful villain that says as much about ourselves as it does about the world around us.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The best moment is the death of Bambi’s mother. The best song is “Little April Shower.” I really don’t need to say anymore.

CLOSING COMMENTS

WHY IS IT SO HARD TO RANK!?!?! It’s no long based on comparing strengths. It’s based on pure feeling. Where does this belong, according to my gut? Bambi might as well be a perfect film, but it just feels like Film 9 for me. Don’t take this low ranking for anything else other than the fact that we have AMAZING films coming up. Bambi is one of the most serious, most touching, and best films in the Disney Canon. And I think you can see how much I love these films.