Ranking the Disney Canon – 21: Fantasia 2000

” Walt Disney described the art of animation as a voyage of discovery, into the realms of color, sound, and motion. The music from Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “The Firebird” inspires such a voyage. And so we conclude this version of “Fantasia” with a mythical story of life, death, and renewal.” – Angela Lansbury

Fantasia 2000 is one of the few films in the Disney Canon to be considered a sequel, following 1940’s Fantasia exactly 60 years later. Walt Disney originally intended for Fantasia to be constantly updated and re-released throughout the years, with some segments being kept and others being replaced by new segments. The initial financial failure of Fantasia and the outbreak of World War II shut this idea down, but the dream was finally realized with Fantasia 2000’s release. Fantasia 2000 was actually a decade in the making. Artists would work on Fantasia 2000 segments in between films, and the CG segments of the film were some of the main CG training Disney did. In fact, the Pines of Rome segment was Disney’s first ever entirely CG animation, and was completed before Pixar had completed Toy Story.

Fantasia 2000 features 8 segments, with only one segment returning from the original Fantasia. The songs are Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, which is the film’s abstract opening, Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi, telling the tale of migrating (and flying) Humpback Whales, Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, animated in the style of Al Herschfeld’s signature caricatures and telling the connected story of people living in the 1930s depression, Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major by Dmitri Shostakovich, an adaptation of Hans Christen Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Camille Saint Saens’s The Carnival of the Animals, Finale, which deals with a Flamingo finding a Yo-Yo, The Sorcerer’s Appprentice by Paul Dukas, the classic Mickey Mouse segment from Fantasia, Pomp and Circumstance by Edward Elgar, a retelling of Noah’s Ark with Donald Duck at the helm, and finally The Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky, a story of life, death and rebirth.

STRENGTHS

This is weird, because I don’t really want to get into all of what makes the Fantasia films great until we get to the original Fantasia, which I’ll tell you right now comes much, much later on this list. I’ll just say at this point that Fantasia 2000 retains many of the elements that made the original Fantasia an all time classic. It is a worthy successor to Walt’s original film. It remains in the spirit of the original, while still feeling fresh, in a sense. It’s always been amazing to be how the stories and images that the Fantasia films create feel like they’ve always been attached to the music they are connected to.

Fantasia 2000 features 2 fantastic segments that are right up there with anything the original film had to offer. The first of these segments is Rhapsody in Blue. The art style matches up with the music so well, and Rhapsody in Blue is certainly one of the best songs in the film. Eric Goldberg, the director of the segment, creates memorable characters, humorous gags, and actually creates emotion for these characters and moments. It is everything a Fantasia segment should be. Each story is given enough time to have clear goals for its protagonists, and it gives each character their moment to shine. And again, the fantastic choice of art style adds to the engaging nature of the segment.

My favorite segment from the film, and one that certainly contends with the best of the best from Fantasia, is the film’s final segment, The Firebird Suite. First of all, this segment is so gosh darn beautiful. The Mt. St. Helens inspired backdrop is the perfect setting and is wonderfully drawn. But the real draw to this segment is the Spring Sprite, the main character of the piece. She is as perfect of a character that a Fantasia film can produce. Her animation and emotion is clear and wonderful, and instantly makes you engage in the character. And all this before her classic encounter with the Firebird himself, in one of the great moments in modern Disney Animation. The segment ends with the sweeping triumph of rebirth and regrowth. It really is the perfect Fantasia segment.

Outside of these two standout sequences, Fantasia 2000 is full of great and memorable segments. Pomp and Circumstance is probably one of the most recognizable tunes in the film, and Donald Duck makes for a great protagonist in the film’s interesting new take on the classic tale of Noah’s Ark. It is able to be both a classic Donald Duck short and a great romance at the same time, something I’m sure was easier said than done. Carnival of the Animals is the shortest segment in Fantasia history, and was animated entirely by one man (the aforementioned Eric Goldberg, who animated it in 6 months), yet is hilarious and manages to be memorable in its own right. The opening segment, Symphony No. 5, also has its moments, and is a great abstract piece.

And for the returning segment, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was the correct choice. It is THE classic segment from the original Fantasia, and remains one of the all-time classic pieces of animation. I’ll touch on it more in my Fantasia post, but know it remains a classic even today.

WEAKNESSES

It is no coincidence that the two fantastic segments from the film are also two of the film’s longest segments. One of the issues I have with Fantasia 2000 is its length, both in individual segments and with the film as a whole. Part of what made the original Fantasia a classic, in my opinion, was its length. There was no segment under ten minutes, and when you watched the film, it felt like you were watching high art, like you were watching an event. Fantasia 2000 lacks this on both counts. The film is only 75 minutes compared to Fantasia’s 120 minute run time. I don’t know if the Fantasia concept works as well with the shorter runtime.

I mentioned three great segments above, but they couple have been classic segments if they had been given more time. Granted, I’m not so familiar with these songs to the point where I know where and if parts of these songs were cut, but just the short nature of the songs do hurt the segments overall. Carnival of the Animals and Symphony No. 5 are 2 minutes long and 3 minutes long respectively, and are entertaining enough, but they leave you wanting more. Pomp and Circumstance borders on the Fantastic line, but it feels like something is missing from the middle. Again, I’m not entirely sure if it would be possible to extend them, but I’d have been nice if they could.

If they couldn’t, then one thing that would’ve helped would be to insert more 10 minute segments to give it that grand feel and to counteract the shorter segments. One way this could have been dealt with would be to have taken another segment from the original Fantasia (The Nutcracker Suite and Dance of the Hours were originally planned) and place it into the film. That alone would have helped an already great film.

Fantasia 200 is also home to the two weakest segments from either Fantasia film. They are both good segments, and they do have a huge legacy to go against, but they still are the weakest in the franchise. I will admit that Piano Concerto No. 2 has grown on me the many times I’ve watched this film, and really, any adaptation of a Hans Christen Andersen story is better than the original, but I still feel it is the absolute weakest song in all of Fantasia lore, and it never felt grand enough to be included. Meanwhile, I’ve actually started to dislike Pines of Rome more and more every time I watch this great film. The best Fantasia segments have either a memorable story or memorable characters to go along with the music. Pines of Rome has neither, and only reaches its potential in its final minutes.

Finally, I am not a fan of the celebrity lead ins in Fantasia 2000. Much of the time these intros are over the top, and lack the majesty and subtlety that Deems Taylor’s original introductions had. In fact, the best introductions of Fantasia 2000 are Rhapsody in Blue and The Firebird Suite because they do lack the over the top introductions that Steadfast Tin Solider and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice have.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

As mentioned above, there are two distinctly amazing segments in Fantasia 2000. I’m putting Best Scene as The Firebird Suite because of its great emotional feeling and it’s perfect placing as the end of the film.

Best Song goes to Rhapsody in Blue. The music really does lend itself to the story at hand, and it is a great listen and visual experience.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I love the Fantasia films as a whole, and they are personal favorite watches for me. Though I do feel that Fantasia 2000 is weaker than the original classic, it still, in my mind, captures the spirit of the original and creates some moving and amazing entertainment. Here’s hoping that someday the Fantasia legacy will continue.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 22: The Rescuers

“Why, she- she tried to kill us. That, that, that terrible woman! Oh, if I was only a ten-foot mouse, I’d show her.” – Bianca

Let’s finally finish up the 70s and 80s, the period that could be called The Dark Ages if you look at things that way, shall we? While the rest of its brethren sit outside the Top 25, The Rescuers, released in 1977, was to many the lone shining star of the era, the proof that Walt Disney Animation still had the potential to produce quality films without the visionary that had shaped their production for almost 60 years. The Rescuers was a huge hit for the studio, became the highest grossing animated film of all time up to that point, and saved the Disney studio from shutting down its animation department.

The Rescuers begins as Penny, a young orphan who has been kidnapped by a mad woman named Madam Medusa, who uses Penny to search a small cave for a diamond, sends a message in a bottle asking for help. The bottle makes its way to New York City, and soon to the Rescue Aid Society, a collection of mice dedicated to rescuing people around the world. Bianca, the representative from Hungary, requests to take the job, and is forced by the rest of the society to bring a partner. Bianca chooses Bernard, a clumsy janitor. Together, they discover that Penny is located is Devil’s Bayou, down in the deep south, and they must work alongside Penny and the swamp folk to free Penny from her capture.

STRENGTHS

The Rescuers as a film features extremely strong title characters. I mentioned the greatness of Bernard and Bianca just briefly in my review of The Rescuers Down Under, but I really want to expand upon what makes them great characters in this post.

Let’s start with Bianca. She is so pure, so caring, that you can’t help but to like her. She is this perfect mix of adventurous and caring, of loving the journey and wanting to succeed in the outcome because she genuinely cares. And she remains distinctly female, which adds a lot to her personality. She feels motherly and has such a positive outlook on life, one she wants to share with absolutely everyone, that it is almost infectious. Eva Gabor hits the nail on the head with her performance here. She absolutely creates Bianca’s personality and makes her completely memorable, and the voice absolutely fits the character. Bianca is just wonderful through and through.

Bernard, however, is the real shining star. Bob Newhart gives a hall of fame performance here with the voice performance here. Bernard is such a fun character to watch in action. I love the ways he gets himself into situations that are totally beyond his limits in order to impress Bianca. I also love how this same notion evolves when he is trying to save Penny. He is overly cautious, very superstitious, and a overthinker. Yet, like Bianca, his true ability to care and love is extremely clear, and even through his  Bob Newhart plays it perfectly every step of the way, and helps to make Bernard the best character to come out of the 1970s, and arguably the best character Disney made until Ariel. Or at least Basil.

One of the things I really like about the film though is how well the film presents Penny. We don’t just care for her only because she is a helpless little girl. We actually care about her because she is built up as her own, strong little character. She is strong, sassy, adorable, cute, and smart all at the same time, which really says a lot about the effort put into her character. Penny has a lot going for her, and for her to actually help the mice in planning her own escape actually says everything about her. She is a lot of fun to watch throughout the course of the film.

These three characters alone elevate the film. For all the things I’ll talk about in the weaknesses section, the thing that puts this film in the Top 25 are Bianca, Bernard, and Penny, and how good they are, nay, how fantastic they are. Their personalities keep you engaged with the story and the film, and they are truly characters you want to see succeed.

When the film does comedy, it does it well. Bernard’s personality alone results in some great comedic moments, especially in the beginning when he is still attempting to find himself worthy of going on this journey. The film is littered with comedic gems, such as the few minutes that Orville the Albatross is on-screen, or the interactions between Penny, the Gators, and Snoops. Many smile inducing moments all around.

Finally, I like the film’s action overall, even though I feel the film could have done more to make them feel more exciting. They have this perfect blend of drama and comedy that create some of the film’s most memorable sequences. Our heroes vs. The Gators and the final battle are two moments that particularly come to mind.

WEAKNESSES

This film’s really got a boring tone. The weird thing is though, I don’t find it boring, or else it wouldn’t be in this spot. Rather, the film has this muted, low-key tone that stays consistent throughout the runtime. The film is always dark and dreary, and it feels very grounded in a sense. It almost feels like that the film is tricking you into thinking it is boring. While I think this style is good in some aspects of the film, I think it has a whole it hurts the film.

The film lacks any liveliness, and spark to keep the tempo high. The characters are able to masterfully save the film from becoming a bore, and as I said before, elevate the film’s quality, but The Rescuers could have really benefitted from just a couple more comedic moments. This is especially true for the films middle, where the search for Penny is supposed to be heating up, and yet it just feels drab the entire time. There are certainly moments at the beginning and end where comedy could be inserted. The film doesn’t need to be overloaded with comedy, but it really could have used some more funny bits to liven up the mood.

I actually think the film goes for a bit too much emotional pull, and the soundtrack is great evidence of this. The Rescuers has four songs. One of them is the short diddy that is the Rescue Aid Society pledge, and the other three are these highly emotional slow ballads. Having three songs in this single style is really grating by the third time they attempt to pull it off. I really wish they had put a more upbeat song in the middle of the film to really liven up the tone.

I’ve complained before about films that allow the side characters to overtake the main ones. Well, The Rescuers has the opposite problem. The main characters are so good and compelling that the side character almost feel like they are not there at all. This is a real shame because not only are these characters fun, but they also were the characters that had the opportunity to fix the film’s problems. Orville, for example, barely gets any screen time, and leaves almost as soon as he arrives. If he had stayed around to help Bernard and Bianca, he could have really contributed as a vibrant personality that constantly brought laughs. Same thing with the Gators. The Gators have such great comedic potential, and show proof of this through their scenes, but they are underused as a whole. I love our main characters, but I wanted the side characters to stick out as well.

Finally, while Madam Medusa isn’t a bad villain per say, I do wish she was less of a Cruella DeVille wannbe, especially since Cruella pulls off that personality so much better. You could tell that they had originally planned to have Cruella return as a villain after her role in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and I wish Medusa would have been given more of her own quirks other than own two Gators. She works, but could have been much greater.

(A minor note: I wish the film had made a bigger deal at the end that Bernard and Bianca had succeeded against all odds in the eyes of the Rescue Aid Society. At the beginning of the film, Bianca was seen as the girl who wanted to take matters into her own hands, no matter what other think of her size or gender, and Bernard was just a lowly janitor. This idea should have been a larger part of the plot.)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The Best Moment of the film, in my opinion, is the final chase scene that brings everything together. It really is a great scene for all the characters, and is one of the highest energy moments of the film.

I do love a nice slow ballad every once in a while, and the best one in this film is “Tomorrow is Another Day,” which plays as Bernard and Bianca fly to Devil’s Bayou on Orville. It is one of the film’s most beautiful moments.

CLOSING COMMENTS

The Rescuers, to me, could have easily join the films that surrounded it outside the Top 25 if things had gone differently with the film. The tone does not completely sit right me with, and it leaves me wanting the upbeat moments that so many Disney films have and do so well. However, its extremely strong characters and flashing moments of great comedy and action are able to elevate the film into a Top 25 spot. It is worthy of being on that surprisingly long list of films that saved Disney Animation.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 23: Mulan

” The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” – The Emperor of China

Right after our first Walt Disney era feature, let’s jump back forward in time to the 1990s for today’s film, Mulan. Our first 1990s era film in the Top 25, Mulan came right after the trio of films that did not make into the Top 25, Pocahontas, Hercules, and Hunchback, and rounded out the 1990s alongside another film in the Top 25, Tarzan. Mulan was also the first of three films to be fully animated in Orlando at the then Disney-MGM Studios Park.

Mulan takes place during the time when the Huns invaded China and started war with the Chinese. In response, The Emperor of China rounds up a male from every family in China in order to help engage the enemy. At this same time, Fa Mulan struggles with the expectations of being a woman, and fails to meet the standards at a matchmaking ceremony. Mulan, who cares very much for her elderly father, decides to take her father’s place in the army by posing as a man. Her Ancestors are worried about her safety , and order a small dragon, Mushu, to wake up the Great Stone Dragon to help protect Mulan. Mushu fails in this task, but decides to join Mulan and help her succeed in order to boost his own standing with the Ancestors. In the camp, Mulan, under the name of Ping, trains under the watchful eye of Captain Li Shang, until the group goes out to fight the Huns.

STRENGTHS

Mulan herself  is a fantastic protagonist and really pulls the movie together in every single aspect. Mulan truly ranks among the best female protagonists in the history of Disney. The build her character has is so good, and every scene feels necessary for her character. The matchmaker sequence is a great opening for the character, and really gets the audience tuned into the struggles she has finding her identity. Her decisions are logical, her love is pure, and she truly grows into her own. Mulan is a very strong character and is written very well, alongside having a great acting performance behind her.

One of the reasons Mulan is allowed to be this strong character is because the story of Mulan is a very strong one. The progression of the story is great and allows the characters to interact and grow. It also makes a ton of sense, which is always important. It’s engaging, greatly paced, and includes some great action sequences. I also love that the messages the film presents works on multiple levels. It’s as much a story about the equality of women to men as it is a story about avoiding society’s stereotypes and finding your own identity. The message never feels in your face, yet is very clear and moving by the end of the piece.

Mulan, like many of the Disney films above and even below it, contains a bunch of memorable characters to act alongside the character of Mulan. Shang is a great counterpart to Mulan, being the man who every man wants to be. His acting towards Mulan is always believable, both when he believes she is a man and when he finds out the truth, and is a romance you root for. The three other soldiers we are introduced to, Yao, Ling, and Cheng-Po, are also good companions to Mulan and provide some good comedy along the way. Shan Yu and the Huns are formidable opponents, and they certainly make their presence felt throughout the film. Other characters scattered throughout the film, such as Mulan’s father and grandmother, even in their small roles, add a lot to their segments.

And then there is Mushu. Oh, what to say about Mushu. First, I will say that Eddie Murphy makes the character, and gives a great performance as the small dragon. And though I do have some mixed feelings on the character (And by mixed feelings I mean 85% positive), I do admit that he has some very funny moments, interacts well with Mulan, and actually pulls off his emotional moments extremely well.

Overall, the film’s humor is much more hit than miss, and even with my mostly positive mixed feelings, I do laugh out loud at many of the film’s gags. I do want to mention here that I think the film handles its darker moments well. This is a film that deals with war, and there are moments presented where the consequences of war are shown. These moments are few and far between, emphasising their important, and are presented very well.

WEAKNESSES

I do have to say that I feel, at times, the humor goes a bit too much over the top. While I enjoy the lighthearted tone of the film, I always feel that jokes go about two or three lines too far in certain scenes, and it sort of takes you out of the film’s more serious messages and moments. I think the film really needed to slow down on the jokes overall. And even though many of the jokes are funny, the consistent overkill over the jokes does wear you down. It never takes a moment to slow down to be serious for a second, and while it’s not as big of an issue as it was in Emperor’s New Groove, it still weakens the film a bit.

The worst offender of this is Mushu. As much as I like Eddie Murphy’s performance, his style of comedy and acting just leads to some dull humor here and there. Again, 85% of the character’s on-screen time is great and funny, but that 15% of overkill really hurts. Then, there are just some jokes that simply fall flat and really kill the mood of some sequences (The scene in which Mulan discovers some of the Huns are still alive comes first to my mind.) I think if he would have been toned down just a little bit, the rest of the film and the emotions of the film would have been greatly elevated.

I really think that this soundtrack is of the weakest, if not the weakest, of the string of 1990s hit musicals. Sure, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” has become a cult favorite, but it is simply good, not great, and fails to stand out among other classic Disney songs. “Reflection” is decent, but much to short in the context of the film. The other two songs, “Honor to us All” and “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” are very forgettable, and feel forced into the movie and plot rather than feeling like a necessary addition to the story. These moments don’t do anything really for the film.

This is a final, minor point, but while I enjoy the final battle, I wish it was a bit more dramatic. Other Disney films with comedy throughout were able to conjour dramatic final battles, and Mulan’s good vs evil is so good that I wanted it to have more drama attached to it. The initial battle with the Huns was able to achieve this. I wanted the final battle to have that same feeling

Actually, A final, final minor point. I do like the idea of having a seedy character within the camp who may have doubts about Mulan, but his character is never really fleshed out enough to work. He needed more motivation, and more opportunities to raise his value. As is, he really just feels like a superfluous character that really doesn’t need to be there.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Yeah, yeah, I just ripped the soundtrack, but a Soundtrack still has best song, and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” fits that role. The visuals help to create a great montage, even if I feel the song leaves a little to be desired.

The the discovery of the Hun’s destruction and the first Hun battle takes the cake for me in the Best Scene department. It’s dramatic while still keeping with the films tone, which is what the final battle needed to be. I know that this is a long Best Scene, but the two moments really work together.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I think it’s obvious to say that Mulan is the best 1990s film we’ve seen thus far, but it is also is one of the first Disney films we’ve looked at that really does a good job of balancing drama and humor. Sure, I do feel that the film can weigh towards the comedy side a bit too much, I still feel that it never hurts enough to make the film bad. In fact, the film is quite good, as a Top 25 film should be.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 24: The Sword in the Stone

” Why, they might even make a motion picture about you.” – Merlin

“Motion picture?” – Arthur

“Oh. Well, that’s something like television… without commercials” – Merlin

Hey hey, it’s our first Walt Disney era single story feature! Amazing, isn’t it? All of Walt’s main features managed to make it into my Top 25. Quite an accomplishment, eh? The films released during his lifetime are all absolute classics. There was a ton of talent throughout the studio during this period of nearly 30 years, and they certainly knew what they were doing during this time.

The first Walt era Feature we’re looking at is actually one of the films released towards the end of his lifetime, and the last animated film he saw released. The Sword in the Stone is the feature from 1963, and puts a spin on the legend of King Arthur and Merlin. Instead of focusing on the adult Arthur, however, the movie follows the young Arthur, much before the time of his true fame.

The film takes place during a dark period of England’s history, when the king passed away without an heir to the throne. A sword was soon discovered placed in a stone, with an inscription that said that the one who pulled the sword from the stone would become king. No one was able to pull it, and the land remained without a king. Meanwhile, Young Arthur, called Wart by most, is out searching for an arrow that his older and arrogant brother when he stumbles upon the cabin of Merlin, who was expecting him. Merlin reveals to Arthur that he will be Arthur’s new tutor, and moves to live with Arthur in the castle. There, Merlin and Arthur have many adventures that lead to Arthur’s eventually pulling of the sword, including stints as Fish, Squirrels, and a battle with the nasty Madam Mim.

STRENGTHS

The Sword in the Stone is a Disney film that has an episodic style to it. Rather than have a single story with a single villain, the film features the loosely connected adventures of Merlin and Arthur, each with their own obstacles and lessons. Though The Sword in the Stone is not the best episodic film in Disney history, it still does a great job with the process. Each segment is engaging on its own, yet works within the larger overall arc. Each lesson learned makes sense within the story, and Arthur’s journey is believable and the progression of the lessons makes sense. Arthur and Merlin also are consistent throughout the journey, yet they never feel like they’ve digressed or remain the same. They feel like they’ve grown throughout their journey.

I like the way Arthur is built up. We are able to get both the sense that he is a young lad with a lot to learn, yet we see that he has the ability to eventually rule England. This is especially evident in the Fish segment of the film, where he learns to use his wits to battle a brute. We see that he has this ability, but at this point he is still a kid, and he needs the help at the moment. I see this as well in the film’s other two major episodes. The lessons he learns about the gravity of disappointment, the beauty of freedom, and the existence of evil all are evident and seem like great lessons for the eventual king, alongside his natural curiosity. Yet, we still see him learning, and that is important.

Merlin eclipses Arthur as the film’s most memorable character. He was The Genie before Genie was even conceived. The character of Merlin is a lot of fun to watch in action, and his antics never get old no matter how far into the film you get. His befuddled old man nature, his references to the present day, and his constant feuding with men and squirrels alike make for a very entertaining character. He is also a really good teacher for Arthur, and his wildness perfectly counter balances Arthur’s more calm demeanor. Many times, Merlin injects an energy into the film when other characters need to be a bit more calm or somber. Merlin is directly involved in most of the film’s best and most memorable moments, and that’s mostly because he is the film’s best character. You can tell that the animators really had a lot of fun with him.

I know it seems a bit early to be talking about Best Scene, but it’s difficult to mention The Sword in the Stone without mentioning the completely awesome Wizards Duel sequence, one of the absolute classics of animation. It’s everything that’s great about this film and everything that is great about Disney Animation during Walt’s era. It is hilarious, uses Merlin and Mim to the fullest, as brilliant pacing and timing, and pushes character design to the limit. I could have said all of this in the Best Moment and Song segment, but it is too good of a segment to just wait to mention. It’s really good. Scroll down to see it in action.

Finally, there is a ton of great visual humor littered throughout the film. The perfect example of this is when Merlin is first leading Arthur out of his house while going the wrong way. The humor comes from the misadventures of the wolf following them, and it becomes even better with the juxtaposition of Merlin’s speech. The sugar cup continually filling up Merlin’s tea and many elements of the Wizard Duel also fall into this strength. There are tons of visual gags littered throughout the film, and visual humor is always great.

WEAKNESSES

In terms of the episodic nature, the film does everything right up until the ending. To me, in episodic storytelling, you still need to raise the stakes for the character at the end and give them one final obstacle, their greatest challenge. I do dislike to compare films directly, as I’ve mentioned before, but Alice in Wonderland is a great example of this. The Queen of Hearts is the most powerful force Alice faces, and even with using all of the things she has learned and experienced, she has issues overtaking her foe. We’ll talk about this more later in the countdown, but the point is that Alice in Wonderland has a great ending to cap off the journey. The Sword in the Stone does not.

The first issue with it is that the biggest foe and stakes come just before the final scenes. In comparison to the highly energetic, extremely fun Wizard Battle, the final ten minutes feel slow and anticlimactic. As much as I like how the sword pulling is presented, it still feels like Arthur needs one final obstacle to hurdle over before becoming king. It all seems too simple, and that’s because it is. It ends with nothing for Arthur to really do, nothing to show who he is and who he will become. And though it may be necessary for Merlin to be gone for the final moments, the film does feel his lack of presence.

The other issue is that this ending does not allow Arthur to have any sort of triumph or final defining moment. He doesn’t even factor into the Mim battle. His build up of character is so good, but there’s nothing to show for it at the end. And this means at the end, the character of Arthur doesn’t show much change. He needed some sort of venue to show what he learned, and to show his confident side. The one this his arc was lacking was a sense that he had become more confident. I know that I said that I liked the fact that he still felt young, but we needed a for definite showing of his development.

Now, I’m the biggest fan of subtlety there is, but I wish the film was a bit more forward about the lessons learned. The segments have their lessons attached to them, but admittedly you do have to think about each one a little in order to truly get it. It also doesn’t help that we never see Arthur use his lessons in the movie. Again, let’s look at Alice in Wonderland. At the end of her episodic adventure, we at least see Alice taking in what she learned though her adventures. We never see Arthur in this role, and it hurts everything the episodes did so well.

Though I’m not saying much about the rest of the movie, it isn’t perfect. While I do like each segment of the film, I feel the connection between these segments, which really build the relationship between Arthur, Merlin, and the masters of the castle, could be stronger. They’re good, but they could have built up a stronger emotion within the characters.

(A final note. I really don’t like any of the voice actors for Arthur. Not only is he the only character to obviously lack an English accent, he is also voice by three different actors. It’s inconsistent and distracting at points.)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

I raved about it above. No need to repeat myself. The best scene is the Wizard Duel. No question.

Even though it is a short song, “Higitus Figitus” has some great moments and jokes, has some great visuals, and is a classic Sherman Brothers song. It shows their great ability to make up words year before they wrote a famous hard to spell song for Mary Poppins.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Though not entirely perfect, The Sword in the Stone does so much right in its first 9/10 that is really was heading towards being a Disney classic. Through its characters, its humor, and some particularly amazing scenes, The Sword in the Stone is throughly entertaining. However, that final 1/10 does enough to prevent it from rising to that next tier. Merlin needed to put some magic there as he did in the rest of the film. Though I find it Walt Disney’s weakest feature, it still is a classic, and it still ranks at 24.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 25: Lilo and Stitch

“This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.” – Stitch

Here we are folks. The Top 25. I’ve been saying for a while that we’ve already seen a ton of great Disney films, but now we are approaching the best of the best. The top half of the canon is chock full of absolutely classic films. The list is going to be fantastic. Personally, I can’t wait for the top 15, but we have a bit to go before we get there. Ready to dive in? I certainly am!

Lilo and Stich was released in 2002, in between Atlantis and Treasure Planet. Like those two films, Lilo and Stitch contained science fiction elements. (In fact, all of the Disney Animated films with Science Fiction elements come in the post 1990s era, so far 5 in total, which isn’t very surprising when you actually put thought into it.) Lilo and Stitch is the only one of these films to become wildly popular, with theme park rides (not necessarily good rides, but rides nonetheless), television shows, and tons of merchandise coming from this film, particularly involving our crazy, titular alien Stitch.

The story begins with Jumba Jookiba, a brilliant but misguided alien scientist, being sentenced to prison for creating genetic experiments, in particular his latest creation, Experiment 626. 626 is planned to be deserted on an asteroid, but the clever creatures manages to escape to the Planet Earth. Jumba is let out of prison and is ordered by the head galactic government, The Grand Councilwoman, to recapture Stitch with the help of clumsy Earth expert Agent Pleakley. Stitch lands in Hawaii, but is knocked unconscious by a truck and is taken to the local Dog Pound. There, he is adopted by Lilo, a young girl who recently lost her parents and is now being taken care of by her sister Nani. As Nani fights for the custody of Lilo, Lilo attempts to curve Stich’s aggression and make him in a good “pet.” Meanwhile, Pleakley and Jumba search for Stich, while facing pressure from the powerful and large Captain Gantu.

STRENGTHS

We’ve seen that relationships are important in creating a great Disney film, and with the film being titled Lilo and Stitch, the relationship has to be great in order for the film to work. Luckily, the relationship between Lilo and Stitch is one of the true modern classics. The owner-pet dynamic that Lilo sets up is an interesting one, and the growth between the two characters is extremely noticeable. The care that the two characters have for each other is apparent, especially Lilo’s initial care for Stitch. Lilo’s pure love and Stitch’s desire to destroy creates a perfect contrast and a perfect opportunity for the characters to grow.

Stitch is certainly one of the biggest, if not the biggest, breakout character to come out of the Disney studio in the past 10 years, and there’s good reason for it. While I admit he’s been overplayed with all of the different media he has been in, in this film he is a fantastic character in his purest form. I love Stitch’s antics in this film, and he has a fantastic character arc. His battle against his own nature and the building of his relationship with Lilo is fantastically done and makes for an interesting story. The progression is natural, and his fascination with the aspect of Ohana and the relationships Lilo actually comes unexpectedly but does wonders in giving an emotional core to a character who could have become a stale character fast. The way Stitch’s abilities are built up in particular are a favorite part of the film for me. The opening 5 minutes that details Stitch’s escape from his holding is amazing, and gives us a great sense of the character’s intelligence as well as his brute force and strength.

In order for Stitch to be good, Lilo has to be strong as well. And she is. Lilo has a purity about her that works, yet has the struggles that allow her to feel real at the same time. It’s clear that she needs Stitch as much as he needs her, and that’s great for engaging the audience in her story when Stitch becomes the main attraction. Lilo is cute and huggable, which is exactly what she needs to be. The fact that she is a good character adds so much to the Lilo/Stitch sections of the film.

Lilo and Stitch are not the only good characters in this film. In fact, I am as huge a fan of Jumba and Pleakley as I am for Lilo and Stitch. Jumba has some interesting moments as a scientist who is as interested in observing the actions of his creation as he is in recapturing it. It makes him more than just an obstacle, and really makes him more of a scientist than some other scientist characters I’ve seen. Pleakley, though, is a personal favorite of mine from this movie. His view of Earth and his fascination with the planet is unique and really fun, and he presents some high forms of comedy here. It’s really great that Pleakley and Jumba work very well as their own characters, yet they also play off each other very well. They aren’t a one trick duo.

Finally, I think the Hawaii setting is great for the film, not only for plot convenience, but also for design. The film’s stylization of Hawaii is really neat, and it does so in a way that the aliens never seem out of place within the film. I don’t know if this works in any other American setting. The Hawaiian setting in used to the fullest effect and actually factors into the plot rather than just being there for the beauty of it.

WEAKNESSES

For all the relationship strengths in this film, unfortunately, there is one weaker one: The Nani/Lilo relationship. It eventually becomes good, but it gets off to a rocky start. We’re not given a ton of set up for Lilo, like we are for Stitch’s story, and so their fighting and Lilo messing with Cobra Bubbles at the beginning does not make a lot of sense. It doesn’t seem natural for Lilo to be acting like that around the social worker and her sister, especially since there is no hint of this type of relationship between them for the rest of the film. Yes, I understand that Lilo is frustrated with her lack of friends, but there is still no reason given for her to be acting like this towards a sister whom she clearly cares about and a sister she wouldn’t want to be taken away from. The relationship fixes itself and becomes good as the film progresses, but there is a sense that the film has to play catch-up since the opening section of it is so weak.

The fact that Lilo digs herself into a hole with the social worker to begin with slightly takes away from the eventual blame of Stitch. Stitch should be the full reason that the Cobra mistakes them for a broken family. But instead, Lilo is what gives him that view, and Stitch just contributes to it. In fact, thinking about it, that opening part of Lilo’s story doesn’t do much of anything for the film at all. Sure, it establishes some parts of Lilo’s character, but a calmer sequence could have been just as effective and not brought up the issues that the current sequence has.

There are the ocassional characters I wish had more of presence. Cobra Bubbles just bothers me as a character. It may come from the fact that his final revelation that he saved the world from aliens once, while funny and sort of awesome (I’ve always wished to see the spinoff film of these events.), makes the character he was built up as seem unbelievable. I just don’t see him being dumb enough to see that all of the mistakes that happens between Lilo, Nani, and Stitch be Nani’s fault, especially in the opening sequence, and especially after he met Stitch for the first time. I also wish Gantu was more present in the film. I really like him as a character, but he is barely on-screen. I think there was a lot you could have done with the character within the film.

In fact, I wish that the Space Government had a bit more appearence in the film as well. It didn’t need to be a big sequence, but the film could have use a small scene in the middle of the film back at the HQ with Gantu and the crew. It would have added more of those characters, and a bit of a change of pace for the film.

(Also, Why does everyone have just a low key reaction to the fact that ALIENS EXIST? Everyone is like “Oh, OK, there is a giant Alien walking through here. No problem.”)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

I’m a huge fan of the sequence in which Jumba attempts to capture Stitch in Lilo’s house. It’s everything the is great about the film in one sequence: The characters, the humor, the sci-fi, and even the emotional beat afterwards.

The best song? Well, I could pick an Elvis song, but I like to highlight original songs unless they don’t exist in the film. In this case, Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride is my choice.

CLOSING COMMENTS

This post is already long enough, so I’ll make this short. Lilo and Stitch is a very entertaining film with a couple of great break out characters and great humor. Even if you’ve felt the Stitch burnout like I have, I don’t think you can deny that this film does a lot right, not just with that character, but throughout the entire film. The top 25 is upon us, and we’re only just beginning.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 26: Fun and Fancy Free

“Here, just look at the morning paper. Turn to any page. You’ll find the whole world worryin’ about some future age. But why get so excited? What’s gonna be is gonna be. The end of the world’s been comin’ since 1903. That’s, uh, B.C., of course.” – Jiminy Cricket

Hey, we’re almost there! The Top 25! The best of the best!

But first, we hit the closest thing to the Top 25, film 26. And it happens to be another great package film, Fun and Fancy Free. Fun and Fancy Free is our first introduction to the “Feature Length Shorts” style of package films, and while this may sound contradictory, it is the best way to describe it. Rather than having a collection of 7 minute shorts, the films of Fun and Fancy Free and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad feature two 30 minute short films. This allows full stories with characters and arcs. In fact, all four of these shorts were once intended to be feature-length before the start of World War II.  This is partly why these  package films rank among the elite. Their ability to be longer allows for much more development of the characters and the story, and it relies on the strength of two strong, longer shorts rather than 7 to 10 shorter, good film. A good example of quality over quantity.

Fun and Fancy Free is hosted by our old pal Jiminy Cricket as he explores an empty house, beginning with a song reciting his philosophy of being a “Happy Go Lucky Fellow.” He finds a record that gives the story of Bongo the Circus Bear. Wonderfully narrated by singer Dinah Shore, Bongo tells the story of the titular character, and circus bear who longs to live in the wilderness. Once he gets there, he meets a lovely female bear, and must win her from a jealous lover. Jiminy then finds an invitation to a party across the street, which he happily leaves to attend. At the party, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his pals Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, narrates the story of Jack and the Beanstalk to the party’s subject, a young girl. However, Jack is replaced in the story with Mickey, Goofy, and Donald.

A quick note before we move on: Fun and Fancy Free is the most re-edited films in Disney history. Both shorts made it onto TV in the 1950s and 1960s, though separated and with different narrators. Jiminy narrated Bongo, and Ludwig von Drake (and later our good buddy Sterling Holloway, though it will not become a part of the count.) narrated Mickey and the Beanstalk. We, as implied above, will be looking at the original 1947 version.

STRENGTHS

Let’s just start from the beginning. I love the use of Jiminy Cricket as a host. Jiminy is one of the greatest characters in Disney history, and this was a start of his rise through the fifties and sixties. A large part of the educational shorts Jiminy that you may have seen can be seen here, but it’s fantastic. “I’m a Happy Go Luck Fellow,” a song originally written for the character in Pinocchio but later cut, is a great song for the character, and for a film that doesn’t truly star him, it’s great that they have the ability to use the character. At the same time, he never takes over the movie or overstays his welcome. I have my list of Wished Were Used More Characters, but Jiminy is not on that list. A great use of a great character.

Onto the actual segments, Bongo is a near perfection. It’s everything a package film short should be. It’s got an interesting and engaging protagonist in Bongo, a great plot and arc for the characters, classic Disney humor and action, and great tunes. The thirty minute runtime of the segment, from beginning to end, are the best moments of the film far and away. I have a smile all the way through.

I’ll elaborate on the character of Bongo a bit. One of those Disney characters without a voice, he is a great example of the brilliant animation of silent characters in Disney. Bongo is extremely expressive, extremely emotional, and extremely likable. Paired with the fantastic storybook-like narration of Dinah Shore, Bongo becomes a very memorable character. It also helps that the rest of the characters in the short are just as expressive and allow themselves to play off of Bongo well.

On a last note on the Bongo segment, I also really like the plot structure for the short. Of the four films in the “Feature Length Shorts” films, there are two films I would have loved to see expanded in the features, and two that in my mind works better as a short. Bongo is one of those shorts I prefer in my mind as a short. Though Bongo could have worked as the Dumbo sequel/spinoff it was intended to be, the plot structure, again brilliantly accompanied by Dinah Shore’s narration, works very well without the Dumbo characters and as a thirty minutes story.

All this talk about the Brilliance of Bongo may make it seem like I’m short-changing Mickey and the Beanstalk, I’m certainly not trying to. While it is the weaker of the two segments, it still has plenty of good moments. It’s always great to see Mickey, Donald, and Goofy together on-screen, Willie the Giant is first introduced to us here and is a great comedic villain, and the setting is gorgeous, but with the Mickey Mouse style design that separates it from the other beautiful Disney scenery.

WEAKNESSES

As we approach the Top 25, it is imperative that I once again state that it’s getting harder and harder to find true weaknesses in these films. Compared to some of the films lower on this list, the films we are encountering here on up all have relatively minor weaknesses.

I’ll start by mentioning that Bongo has one very minor issue. Some of the segments, including the love song and Bongo’s first night in the woods, can seem like they go maybe 15 to 30 seconds too long. It never becomes crippling, and in my estimation, these segments end right before they  become to long. This is very minor, though.

Mickey and the Beanstalk has a bit more issues with it. While the personalities of our three stars are there, I really feel that there needed to be more of their personalities out there in the film. I want more of Goofy’s clumsiness, Donald’s anger, and Mickey’s kindness and leadership with a bit of mischievousness son the side. All of these are present in the film, but there needs to be a bit more of it. That’s why I feel this short would have made a great feature film. The fact that the personalities are there and great is great, but the film and the character would have been a classic, in my opinion, had it been extended.

Finally, while I like Edgar Bergen and most of his narration is great, I feel there are the occasional times he takes over the spotlight. There are times that Edgar gets into his comedy bits with Charlie and Mortimer, and while these are funny and entertaining, they tend to go on for a while, taking away from sharing the story of Mickey and the Beanstalk, the task at hand. I know this was a potential way for Edgar to share his work, but Mickey and the Beanstalk should remain the focus of the segment.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Both of our winners today come from Bongo, and we’ll start with the song. While the love song in Bongo is great, I really like “Bears Like to Say it with a Slap.” It’s in the classic bear humor of Disney (Yes, Disney has classic Bear humor throughout its history) and it is a very catchy tune.

The best moment is the scene right after that, the fight for the girl that makes up the final five minutes of Bongo. Great stuff all around in every aspect.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I can’t get over how strong the Disney canon is, and the fact that Fun and Fancy Free just barely misses the Top 25 is a real shame. This is the first package film that truly does things right, featuring one exceptional segment and one very good segment. And it only goes up from here, as we have two more package films to go. And the Top 25 too, I guess.