Ranking the Disney Canon – 13: The Three Caballeros

“Well, that’s human nature for you, even if you’re a penguin!” – Narrator

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time for our final package film! Please folks, hold your applause until the end. The Three Caballeros is the second of the two “South America” package film, and also the second one to appear on this list. Unlike any of the other package films, including Saludos Amigos, it is hard to place The Three Caballeros into any one category. It mixes the documentary style of Saludos Amigos, the storytelling of the “Feature Length Shorts” package films, and the music of the “Fantasia Clone” package films. It truly stands out among all the films in Disney history.

The film begins on Donald Duck’s birthday, as he receives a gift from his friends from Latin America. Donald watches “The Cold Blooded Penguin” and ” The Little Gauchito,” as well as learning about the many birds from South America. Donald is soon joined by his old pal Jose Caricoca from Saludos Amigos, who takes him on a journey to the Brazilian city of Baia, where the city dances to a rousing rendition of the South American song “Angel May Care.” After returning to a normal size, Donald and Jose meet Panchito the Mexican Rooster, who dubs them “The Three Caballeros” before taking them on a musical journey of Mexico. The film ends with one of the craziest endings in Disney History, as Donald travels through a series of surreal environments to the tune of “You Belong to My Heart” and “Jesusita en Chihuahua.”

WHY IT’S GREAT

Where do I begin? Where I can begin with a film like this.

Let me make this statement first, which you may have been able to grasp from this entry’s introduction: The Three Caballeros is one of the most unique and, dare I say, daring films in Disney History. It is untraditional in every way and remains extremely entertaining in every way. It uses to character, humor, music, and South American culture to the fullest. It will be hard to describe exactly what it does, but I’ll try.

And let’s start with one of the things that make it a unique film in Disney history. The film uses a large collection of animation and artistic styles. The shorts and the characters are animated in a traditional Disney style, but the Baia segment features both a realistic painting style and the patented pastel like stylization of Mary Blair (more on her in a bit). The Angel May Care segment features both Live Action in a traditional musical sense and in an extremely stylized sense. Mary Blair’s art appears again when the film explores the Mexican tradition of Christmas, and the film runs the gambit of traditional to near abstract for the film’s wild finale. As you can see from this description alone, The Three Caballeros goes all over the place, and it works.

I love the exploration of Animation styles in this film. The Three Caballeros is so visually interesting to look at, and this is because all of the film’s stylization in the visual department is fantastic. This film truly shows the artistic talent the Disney Studio had throughout Walt’s era. I love how every different style gives you a different feeling for each segment, and yet they all connect through one simple word: Beauty. Each style is beautiful in its own special way. This is one of those films I show when I want to show someone why I love animation.

The South American Films are noted for being the moment in time when Mary Blair fully came into her own as an artist. We still have yet to see her greatest work on this list, but The Three Caballeros is a film where you can truly see her work. For those of you who don’t know who Mary Blair is, she is one of the most famous artist that came out of the Disney Studio. If you’ve ever been on It’s A Small World, you’ve seen what is probably her most her famous and enduring design work.Anyways, Mary Blair’s work here is among the best. The Train sequence in the Baia segment is completely Mary Blair and completely happy, and the character designs for the Christmas in Mexico drawings absolutely make that sequence. I’m a huge fan of Mary’s work, and this is absolutely among her best.

But like many, if not all, of the films surrounding this one, it all comes back to character. The Three Caballeros stars one of Disney’s greatest characters in Donald Duck. This is the 1940s we are talking about here, when Donald was in top form, and this film is no exception. From the beginning until the end, Donald is an absolute treat, and is always showing off why is was Disney’s most popular character. Everything Donald has in this film is great, from his excitement for this Birthday Gifts to his interaction with the human women throughout the film to his failure to perform some Black Magic. Donald is hilarious here, as he almost always is.

Of course, Donald is at his best when he has other character to play off of, and the film is called The Three Caballeros, after all. We have two more Caballeros to go! The second one to appear in the film is Jose, who we already met in Saludos Amigos. Luckily for us, Jose has so much more screen time to show off his great personality and style. You may remember that I mentioned my disappointment with the lack of Jose in Saludos Amigos. Well, The Three Caballeros more than makes us for that.

Jose’s personality is perfect one to play off of Donald’s, as it is smarter, mischievous, and to use a modern word, trolling. Throughout the entire film, Jose’s personality is in full force in contrast with Donald, and it truly is fun to see the two continue to interact.  Jose has got this literal magical quality to him that adds this almost intangible mystique to the film. And, of course, we have to include the fact that Jose is hilarious, especially alongside Donald and encouraging Donald’s purely Donald antics to come out for his own personal enjoyment. I really wish Jose would have ben in more Disney productions, because he is such a fun foil for Donald to play alongside, and still uniquely different from The Nephews and The Chipmunks as viable opponents for the world’s angriest Duck.

And then, there is the introduction of Panchito, representing Mexico, which was completely absent from Saludos Amigos. Though Panchito is not as strong of a character as Jose is, he is still extremely fun character, especially his uncensored, gun-toting version. I think the best thing about Panchito is that he brings something unique to the group that neither Donald nor Jose bring. Panchito is completely wild, unpredictable, and crazy, shooting his guns all around, and confusing Donald and Jose. But at the same time, Jose and Panchito end up being perfect partners, as they both enjoy the humor in seeing Donald suffer. The Three Caballeros as a group are fantastic, and it is a shame that Disney has not used them together more often. They do what a group should do, being great as a group, each being able to play off the other, yet being wonderful on their own as well.

I think this is a good moment to move towards the shorts and the individual segments, and for that we’ll start a the beginning with “The Cold Blooded Penguin.” Narrated by Sterling Holloway (THE COUNT RETURNS! Sterling Holloway Count: 4!), The Cold Blooded Penguin is a great way to start off the film. It’s a hilarious premise with a wonderful Main Character in Pablo, who wants nothing more than to move somewhere warm. Pablo’s misadventures in trying to find his sunny beach are great, and as memorable as any of the Disney Shorts coming from the studio at the time. It’s also able to sneak in the informational bits about South America with really interrupting the flow of the short. The finale with the sinking Bathtub is so much fun, and as always, Sterling Holloway’s voice just adds a unique charm to the piece, and his narration is perfectly written for him.

Of the two beginning shorts, though, “The Little Gauchito” is the winner. This short does everything that The Cold Blooded Penguin does, but better. Our characters of the Gauchito and the Flying Donkey are fantastically expressive, the short is layered with visual gags and smart humor, the learning is subtle but still present, and the score and action is fun, thrilling, and entertaining. What makes this segment amazing, however, is the narration. Not only is this segment the best example of the classic Disney Narrator-Subject interaction outside of a Goofy short, it may be the best use of it ever. Seriously, I still laugh at the narrator in this section. The writing for The Little Gauchito is flawless. Every line and every line delivery is perfect in its own way. I absolutely love this segment.

The real highlight segment of this film starts, however, when Jose finally makes an appearance. The entirety of the film’s Brazil segment is nearly flawless, from the beautiful painting of Baia, to the “Have You Been to Baia?” section, to Mary Blair’s wonderfully animated. beautifully scored Train section, and finally, to Angel May Care. Oh, where do I begin with Angel May Care?

I cannot begin to describe my love for Angel May Care. The entire section is just simply wonderful in every way. The song is alive with so much pop, so much fun, and so much happiness, the choreography is absolutely spot on and enchanting to watch, the human actors are amazing and do a wonderful job with the material, and Donald and Jose are pitch perfect in their interactions and their attempts to woo the woman at hand. And that’s all before getting into the extremely stylized ending, where the lighting and the choreography, and the animation, pick up to an amazing style. All in all, Angel May Care, and the entire Brazil section of the film, is certainly the best any of the package films have to offer, and among my favorite moments in Disney Film history. Even the scene afterwards, where Donald and Jose use Black Magic to return to normal size, is wonderfully hilarious and near perfect.

And then, of course, we get to Panchito and The Three Caballeros song, and this is where I briefly want to talk about the film’s music. I love this film’s soundtrack. I LOVE it. It is so unique, different, and fun, and gives a wonderful taste of Latin America culture. I’ve already talked about Angel May Care, but my favorite song in the film is the title song, which I think is one of the most underrated songs in Disney history. The song’s lyrics are fun, but what really makes the song are the visuals. The song is one of the most visually fun Disney songs ever, and has an amazing set of visual gags. And the songs that end the film with the Mexico segment are also wonderful. The score is another highlight, with the scores for The Little Gauchito and The Train to Baia being major highlights.

If we want to get back to the segments, The entirety of Mexico is extremely fun. The explanation of the traditions of the Mexican Christmas and the origin of the Pinata is very interesting and the drawings by Mary Blair perfectly compliment the touching story. The music and live action shots all throughout the segment are amazing, and feature more great animation and humor, especially when Donald is on the Mexican beach attempting to woo some women.

It’s the ending of the Mexico segment, and the ending of the film, that is another real highlight. This is what you call a “go for broke” ending. It’s absolutely INSANE! The animation, the soundtrack, the design work, everything. I love this ending. You couldn’t get away with something like this now. Believe me when I say this ending is all over the place, and it’s wonderful. You need to see it to understand it, but everything from “You Belong to My Heart” to “Jesusita en Chihuahua” to the reprise of “The Three Caballeros” is another set of perfection.

And that’s the last thing I think about when I think about The Three Caballeros: It is the absolute Package film. It is entertaining all the way through, perfectly paced, hilarious and touching, not a moment of downtime to be found. It was fantastic characters, wonderful music, interesting and unique visuals, and it leaves you with something memorable, which is fantastic without a plot to drive it through.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Man, I feel like I don’t even have to describe these, because I talked about them at length above! But it is still a section, and we will need to see it in official, written form. Don’t we?

Since I cannot claim that the entire Brazil segment is the best scene, as it would be a HUGE chunk of the film, I’ll make the The best scene in the film Angel May Care. And it really is. Go back up if you want to see me rant about it!

And the film’s best song is The Three Caballeros song. It is just a segment full of wonderful visual humor and amazing sound and music. Certainly a fun segment, to say the least.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I’m going to call The Three Caballeros the most underrated film in Disney History. Every single moment for me is pure entertainment in the purest Disney form, and the uniqueness and craziness of the film keeps me coming back for more. The Three Caballeros is truly one of my personal favorites, and is a film you should totally check out. If you take one thing from this list, take the fact that if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you’ll promise me that you’ll see it. Promise? Good. LONG LIVE THE THREE CABALLEROS!

Ranking the Disney Canon – 14: Tangled

“This is the story of how I died. Don’t worry, this is actually a very fun story and the truth is, it isn’t even mine. This is the story of a girl named Rapunzel.”- Flynn Rider

Tangled was the 2010 release for Walt Disney Animation, and the most recent release we’ll be looking at on this list, since Winnie the Pooh, the 2011 release, was released in theaters after this list had begun. Tangled was directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, both of whom were major parts of the Bolt retooling from 2008. For both men, this was their first original directorial effort. Tangled should also be noted as Disney’s first computer animated fairy tale, and to be perfectly honest, one of the first mainstream computer animated fairy tales from any major studio. It’s certainly an interesting way to look at the modern animation landscape.

Tangled is a take on the story of Rapunzel, and starts with the story about how Rapunzel came to be all alone in that tall tower. Rapunzel has magical glowing hair that has the ability to heal, thanks to the magical flower that was given to her mother, the queen in order to save her during child-birth. Mother Gothel, who had been using the flower to heal time’s wounds, ends up kidnapping Rapunzel in order to retain this power. The kingdom has the tradition of sending off floating lights on Rapunzel’s birthday, hoping that she will eventually return. Rapunzel dreams of one day seeing these lights, and finds the opportunity in her grasps when Flynn Rider, a noted thief who has just stolen the crown from the castle, happens upon Rapunzel’s tower. Together, they head off on an unforgettable journey to the kingdom to see the floating lights.

STRENGTHS

One thing that I am truly starting to realize through this countdown is that the best Disney films have the best Disney characters. I know that may seem like an obvious remark, but you’ve seen these posts. You know that many of the paragraphs are describing how great certain characters are, and the reason is that those character are part of the film’s heart and soul. My point here is, Tangled is a film that carries on that great Disney tradition. It certainly is the greatest post Renaissance Disney film, and, in my estimation, one of the best in Disney history, as evidence by the Top 15 ranking. And it starts, for me, with the return of great characters.

And great characters in Tangled starts with its main character, Rapunzel. Rapunzel is so pure, so youthful, and so easy to love. Part of what makes Rapunzel so great to me is the fact that she feels so real, just as all the great Disney characters do in some way. She feels like a child in every way, yet still has those teenage bits in her. She is written perfectly as a person who hasn’t left her single location for 18 years. Her pure joy of experiencing the world for the first time makes so much sense. The connection that she has with Mother Gothel is so complex and yet so fantastic considering that she has been caring for her for 18 years. In a modern animation world where every hero has to be super aware and extremely butt kicking, Rapunzel is a return to the youthful wonder that  Snow White, Cinderella, Alice, Ariel, and Belle had back in their day. One of the best examples of this in the film is the scene where Rapunzel is figuring out what the crown is for. Of course she wouldn’t know what that is, and that’s what makes her great.

Mandy Moore gives, what I believe,  one of the greatest voice performances in modern animation history. She adds so much to the reality and the youthfulness of Rapunzel. Almost every word that comes out of Mandy’s mouth is perfect for the line. Every joyful glee is packed to the brim with bubbling happiness, every emotional scene filled with powerful tears. Mandy was the perfect choice for the role, in every way. She is what makes Rapunzel sparkle, and what makes me so happy every time I watch Tangled. Or one of the many reasons.

Another reason is Rapunzel’s love interest from throughout the film, Flynn Rider, AKA Eugene Fitzherbert, but I’ll just call him Flynn. Fueled by another fantastic voice performance, this time by Zachary Levi, Flynn is such a fun character. His bravado mixed with his shock,horror, and annoyance with the situation he has found himself in. And yet he never goes so over the top where his eventual emotional scenes don’t feel real. In fact, I love the “distinction” between Flynn and Eugene that the film presents. It’s so fun to watch Flynn the character, and so emotionally satisfying to watch Eugene the real life person, and he’s the guy you root for. Luckily, Flynn never loses the fun that makes him a great, classic character.

Rapunzel and Flynn, like many of the great Disney couples, are fantastic on their own. It is when they are together, however that the pair really shine. The chemistry the two have together, fueled by the wonderful performances of Mandy and Zachary and the great script, is unbelievable. From the moment they meet, there is such a fire between the two, a hilarious and wonderful fire.  Their dialogue just lights sparks, their personalities bounce off each other perfectly. We are truly into the classic Disney relationships now, and Rapunzel and Flynn deserve to be in that category.

Part of the way the relationship builds is that Flynn and Rapunzel are one of the few Disney couples to have constant interaction throughout the film. Their journey together from Rapunzel’s tower to the kingdom is a wild ride, and a great one to watch. The necessity of having the two together allows Rapunzel and Flynn to have so many funny and wild exchanges and adventures together, and allows for a full exhibition of their personalities and their chemistry. Seriously, there is not a moment where the two falter together at all. It’s so perfect. It really is uncanny.

But in the end, it is their love for each other, and the way each changes the other, that makes the relationship as classic is should be remembered. Their emotional scene together where Flynn reveals Eugene to Rapunzel is wonderful, and the two’s care for each other at the end of the film, Flynn’s desperation to escape from prison to save Rapunzel and Rapunzel willing to sacrifice herself to save Flynn both are wonderful moments of character evolution and emotional overload.

But let’s not forget the there is more of the film than just Rapunzel and Flynn. And there are more classic Disney characters in the pile as well. The two animal sidekicks of Tangled, Pascal and Maximus, are wonderful additions to the silent Disney character family. Let’s begin with Pascal, the weaker, but still great, of the two. A chameleon is an inspired choice of partner, considering Rapunzel’s love for painting, and Pascal has a great personality, the wise sage who may think he’s a little smarter than he is. The film gives Pascal a great friendship with Rapunzel and a hilarious weirdness with any other character he comes in contact with, especially Flynn. Their interaction at the river is just hilarious.

But the real show stealer of Tangled is Maximus, the loyal palace horse. It’s amazing how animation can turn a silent horse into one of the most expressive and hilarious characters in the film and among the greats in Disney Animation history. Seriously, Maximus kills every time he is on-screen. His animation is absurdly good and is one of the greatest uses of CG character animation. Because of the expressive nature of the character, Maximus is allowed to have some fantastic physical comedy, both on his own and with other characters. His rivalry and eventual friendship with Flynn is one of the film’s comedy highlights. But Maximus shines in his super serious, rule following personality. His expressions throughout the entire film are just priceless. I can’t stress how awesome Maximus is in this film. He’s just awesome.

And then, of course, there is the film’s villain, Mother Gothel. I know she has some mixed reception out there, but personally, I really enjoy her as a villain. Maybe part of it was because it was refreshing to have a villain who wasn’t all about TAKING OVER THE WORLD MUHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA, especially after that exact motivation derailed the villain of Princess and the Frog (seriously, the last true villain he had that didn’t have a WORLD DOMINATION plotline was Gaston. You could possibly argue that Frollo didn’t either, but still, a long time.) but I just love the Broadway Divaesque, Over the Top performance that Donna Murphy gives in another wonderful voice acting triumph. The character has so many subtleties and nuances that make her a full, fleshed out villain and a true character. She may not rank among the Greatest Disney villains, but I still think that she does a wonderful job for the film.

OK, let’s finally move away from characters to talk about some of the other things that Tangled does so well. One thing that continues to amaze me is the film’s animation and it’s style. Tangled looks different from any other CG animated film, at least to me. The characters look like a perfect fix between the best of Traditional and Computer Animated design. The film in general looks a bit softer and cartoonish than some of the other films currently on the market, and it absolutely works. And the detail in this film is striking as well. Rapunzel’s hair is particularly a triumph, and if you know anything about computer animation, you know how difficult is was to keep that hair in line, and watching the film, you know nothing ever goes wrong with it.

One of the things that the animation does that you certainly won’t notice unless you really slow things down, is the fact that Tangled uses the classic animation principle of squash and stretch, a true rarity in Computer animation. Squash and Stretch is the classic technique of exaggerating the motion of the animation in order to achieve comedic effect. And Tangled uses this alongside the design to have some fantastic uses of physical comedy. This can best be seen by slowing down parts of the dam action piece, especially when Flynn tries to escape by swinging on Rapunzel’s hair. It’s such a subtle thing, but it subconsciously makes sequences funnier, as well as making the animation design and feel even closer to the classic Disney features. It is such a small touch, but it ultimately works amazingly.

And the design and Animation work together to make an absolutely beautiful film. Every set is ripe with details, and even though this is not one of the Disney films centered on nature, the nature settings in this film are gorgeous. And this is all before getting to the kingdom itself and the famous “I See the Light” sequence, which is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen in Computer Animation. I love watching this film just for the animation. It still stuns me, and it’s proof enough that Computer Animation can be just as beautiful as the traditional type.

Tangled is one of those films where I have to compliment the direction. Nathan Greno and Byron Howard do a fantastic job with the shot selection all throughout the film. Their direction during the action sequences is fantastic, as is captures the tension, the action, and the humor all in one fell swoop. Their choice of shots for the final escape from prison and final confrontation also combines these elements and adds the element of being heartbreaking. It really is spectacular direction.

Tangled also succeeds on the merits of its script. This film is hilarious. I will contend that it is absolutely one of the funniest Disney films of all time. Every character has their comedic moment, just like in Aladdin, and every scene has at least on great laugh. There is no wasted scene, no sense of downtime. Every scene is great in its own way. But like all of the great Disney comedies, it is able to mix the drama in there without so much of an issue. It is a really, really strong script.

And finally, the soundtrack. I know this also has received some mixed reviews, but personally, I enjoy it. I feel this is another Alan Menken success. One of the things I truly like about the soundtrack is how each song has a different feel to match the character. I like how “When Will My Life Begin” has a bit of a pop sound for the teenage Rapunzel, how “Mother Knows Best” has a broadway sound for the Over the Top Mother Gothel, and how “I’ve Got a Dream” is almost vaudevillian for the hilarious thugs.And of course, “I See the Light” is the film’ highlight, and a wonderful sequence. I think each song is catchy and fun, and while it may not be Alan Menken’s strongest soundtrack, it’s still a great one for his track record. Also, the score is amazing. “Kingdom Dance,” “Horse with No Rider,” and “Realization and Escape” are among Menken’s best scores.

WEAKNESSES

Well, this is it. The final section of weaknesses! I don’t have any major weaknesses for this film! Nothing! Not to say that is perfect, Because nothing ever is. It really just is I have nothing that comes to mind that I need to say.

Originally, I going to use this section to argue against perceived weakness, but I realized I really just argued against those in the strengths section. So, from now on, NO MORE WEAKNESSES SECTION! CHEER IT UP!

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Tangled’s best moment is not only my favorite moment in the film, but one of my all time favorite film moments. The Kingdom Dance segment is just brilliant in all regards, and was the number one thing I remembered walking out of the theater. I could just watch this segment over and over and over again. It is the most played song on my iPod, after all. Before the actual segment is another one of my favorite moments, where Rapunzel woos Maximus to not hurt Flynn.

The film’s best song is, no doubt, “I See the Light.” Not only is the song wonderful and beautiful and a classic love song, but the visual of the floating lights is absolutely stunning.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Tangled is the true return of Disney Animation to me, as it mixes the best aspects of Walt’s era and the Modern age of Animation. It is beautiful, hilarious, and features fantastic characters that I hope will continue to live on in the Disney community. If Disney animation can continue on the path that Tangled set, We are in for another great era of Walt Disney Feature Animation.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 15: Aladdin

“Wonderful! Magnificent! Glorious!… Punctual!” – Genie

Aladdin, another effort from the Ron and Jon team, is actually one of the most important  films in modern animation history, when you really look at it. Though animated films before had used famous actor for major roles, (a notable example we’ve looked at is Bob Newhart as Barnard in The Rescuers), Aladdin was one of the first major animated films to use a major star as an attraction to see the film. In this case, a major part of Aladdin’s marketing campaign and its appeal was the casting of Robin Williams in the role of The Genie. Of course, if you look at the modern animation landscape, you will see that the famous actor gambit is one of the major forces within the animation community today. Disney itself has moved in and out of this gambit for years.

Aladdin is the story of our title character, Aladdin, a “street rat” who survives the daily life on the streets of Agrabah. One day, he has a chance encounter with Jasmine, daughter of the Sultan, who has run away because her father has forced her into marriage with men she doesn’t like. Their bonding is interrupted when the Palace Guards capture Aladdin by the order of Jafar, the Sultan’s advisor, who knows that Aladdin is his key into the mythical Cave of Wonders. Jafar convinces Jasmine that Aladdin is dead, then disguises himself as an old man to lead Aladdin to the Cave of Wonders  There, Aladdin finds the lamp, and prevents the backstabbing Jafar from obtaining it. Aladdin meets the Genie, and uses the Genie’s powers to turn him into a prince. Aladdin must now try once again to win the heart of Jasmine, while Jafar, still lurking in the background, attempts to overthrow the Sultan, and ultimately, gain complete power.

STRENGTHS

Aladdin is, straight up, one of the most humorous films in the entire Disney canon. Even Chuck Jones, the famous director of Looney Tunes shorts, called it the funniest animated film ever, and he only worked for Disney for 4 months! And he didn’t even like it! Anyways, Aladdin blows out of the gate with the comedy from the moment it begins, and rarely lets up. The comedy is in your face and subtle, shown through the script and the animation, and every character has a least one moment to shine. It’s great.

I do want to go a bit further on some of these points, and we’ll start with how the animation in this film is amazing. Visual gags are a huge part of what makes Aladdin amazing, from the many faces of the Genie, to Genie pulling Sebastian out of a cookbook, to the visuals of the songs, to the way Iago imitates Jafar as he congratulates himself for taking the lamp. All of these, and a whole lot more, feature truly stupendous design and animation, and add so much to the humor. The film overall also has a bit of a more cartoonish look than other 1990s Disney films, which adds even more to the comedic proceedings.

And the script. Or possibly the lack of script, as it were, but we’ll get to that one point in just a bit. One thing that strikes me most about Aladdin when watching it now is how well the pop culture references hold up. The problem with many pop culture heavy movies currently is the fact that the pop culture referencing is all so modern that the film loses any meaning it had within a year (See: Epic Movie, Date Movie, Disaster Movie or save some time and don’t see them). Aladdin’s pop culture references were made to be timeless. Many of The Genie’s references are not actually to the modern culture but to culture that spans across time, from Groucho Marx to Rodney Dangerfield. These are not just references to the time but through recognizable people throughout history. And of course, the film has many other great moments of comedy that don’t involve referencing to the modern reality from both The Genie and from its other characters. Credit to Robin Williams and to the directors and writers here.

Oh! I just mentioned Robin Williams! He should have been the first strength mentioned, but oh well. Let’s talk about Robin. Williams gives one of the classic voice performances in the history of animation here as the Genie. If Robin Williams didn’t make it in stand up or film acting, he could have certainly become a star voice actor. The range this guy has! The impersonations this guy can do! The stuff he can come up with on the fly! It’s striking. Robin Williams actually improvised most of the lines you see in the film. So much so, that the Academy refused to nominate Aladdin for its screenplay because the finished film was so different from the original script. All for the better though. The Genie is hilarious as he is, as Robin Williams intended him to be.

Now, one could argue that Robin Williams’ performance as The Genie could fall into the “Celebrity Voice Acting” trap that I established all the way back at the Home on the Range ranking. And yes, you can hear a ton of Robin Williams in the Genie. But The Genie is never truly just Robin Williams being Robin Williams. While it is, Robin is actually able to build the character that is The Genie around his shtick, rather than relying on it. Robin is such a good actor, and he allows us to experience The Genie’s hopes and dreams, his sorrow and pain. While you hear Robin Williams in The Genie, you sometimes forget that you are listening to Robin Williams. That’s what makes a celebrity voice acting role good, when you forget that there is an actor behind that animation. And that is what Robin and the filmmakers are able to do.

Part of the reason that The Genie is able to become his own character is the way the film builds the relationship between The Genie and Aladdin. Aladdin and Genie have one of the all time greatest bromances in Disney History, and you can feel the love from the moment the pair meet. Aladdin and Genie just hit it off extremely well, and Aladdin’s straight man to Genie’s crazy guy makes this relationship. You can feel the connection, the playfulness between the two, the respect, and later anger, that the two have for each other. Man, I’m making this relationship sound romantic. It isn’t, but it is still, in nature, a great relationship, and one that helps both characters.

The romantic relationship in this film is not Genie and Aladdin, but rather Aladdin and Jasmine, and this is another classic Renaissance Disney Romance. What is classic about the Aladdin-Jasmine romance is the connection they have even before Aladdin becomes Prince Ali. While “A Whole New World” may be the remembered romance sequence, I think that their first scenes together in the market and on the rooftops are the better romantic sequences in the film and a classic Renaissance Romance scene. This is because I really enjoy the way their relationship is built as a friendship first. Yes, there is always a romantic edge to the relationship, but there is still the friendship budding that starts it out. It certainly is an interesting start, and a great one.

I need to move back towards the praising of characters again before I forget. And I’ll start with who I think is the unsung comedian of the film: Iago. Yes, Iago is completely Gilbert Gottfried, but that’s part of what makes him amazing. It is certainly more of a character than Gottfried ever played before, but he is absolutely hilarious. Iago has some of the absolute funniest lines, and his constant anger and sarcasm just carry some segments of the film to stardom, especially parts of the second act.

Of course, Iago wouldn’t be complete without his owner Jafar to constantly interact and argue with. In a film full of good voice performances, Jonathan Freeman, a noted Broadway Actor, gives another spectacular one, thanks in part to the wonderful script attached to the character. Jafar is such a fun mix of sinister and crazy, and runs the gambit of trying to get power subtlety when he thinks he has lost the lamp, and going all out bonkers when he has the lamp. And Jonathan Freeman helps this come out through his inspired voice performance. Jafar is such a great villain, and fits right into the crazy world that is Aladdin.

And finally, there is Abu and Magic Carpet, the two “silent” characters of the film. Abu, voiced by animal voice master Frank Welker, is a great sidekick to Aladdin, and like Iago, has some really fun moments of animation attached to him, and has some fun interactions throughout the film, though I prefer his monkey form to his elephant form. But Magic Carpet… where do I begin? Only in Animation can a rug have so much personality. Carpet is truly a masterwork, turning an inanimate object into a character that the audience can understand easily through visual. Carpet follows in the footsteps of other great silent characters in Disney history, and is probably the star Silent character of the 1990s.

Magic Carpet also helps to add to one of the film’s great action sequences, the attempted escape from The Cave of Wonders. The action and the choreography of the sequence is fantastic, and the way the sequence is shot, with the point of the view and the cutbacks to Aladdin and Abu, are absolutely wonderful. Another great action sequence that the film has is the final battle with Jafar. Combining the craziness of Jafar with Aladdin fighting like any good Disney Hero would and with Genie doing his antics in the background makes for a great final battle.

And finally, like any good Disney musical, Aladdin has a great soundtrack. The Genie’s two songs, “Friend like Me” and “Prince Ali” are a ton of fun, and Robin Williams does a number with his singing in these songs. “A Whole New World” is one of the classic Disney Romance Songs of the modern era, with some great visuals to go along with it. And the reprise of “Prince Ali” by Jafar is one of the best reprises in the history of Disney’s films. Ever. Jafar’s happy tone and taunting lyrics just make it for me. “Arabian Nights” is the film’s weakest song, but it still manages to open the film in an entertaining manner.

WEAKNESSES

Following in the tradition of The Aristocats and The Princess and the Frog, Aladdin suffers a bit because it’s true protagonists are weaker than the side characters that surround them. Unlike the other two films, however, Aladdin’s gap between the two is relatively small. Aladdin and Jasmine are still great protagonists. Classic Disney protagonists, even. However, when Aladdin as a film needs to slow down and create drama, after the Prince Ali number, the film does suffer a bit because Aladdin and Jasmine don’t pop as much as the other characters do. It doesn’t help that the film forces Aladdin to act like an idiot when he is in Prince Ali form. Again, Aladdin and Jasmine are great, but they are surrounded by a fantastic cast that ultimately eclipses them. And again, it is a small gap, but at this point, it’s going to hurt you.

And that is all I got. One small weakness, but a weakness nonetheless.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The film’s best moment is the entirety of the time that Aladdin is in the Cave of Wonders, including the action sequence I mentioned from above. As a whole, from Jafar’s antics to The Magic Carpet to the action, is great.

The best song in the film is Friend like Me. It is the catchiest, it has the most fun visuals, and it’s just a fun song overall. Robin Williams shines here. The Genie’s introduction before the song is also wonderful, and is a perfect example of Robin William’s talent and the film’s humor.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Aladdin is hilarious in nearly every moment. Though I wish Aladdin and Jasmine were a little stronger (a wish that I don’t think Genie can get done for me at this moment), the film as a whole is fantastic, and well deserves its spot in the Top 15. I’m sure many of you have seen it by this point, but if you need a good laugh, go watch it. Robin Williams alone is worth it. We shall march onward and upward. See you at film 14!

Ranking the Disney Canon – 16: One Hundred and One Dalmatians

“As far as I could see, the old notion that a bachelor’s life was so… glamorous and carefree was all nonsense. It was downright dull.”  – Pongo

Man, it’s been so long, hasn’t it? Well, we’re back, and possibly better than ever. Let’s dive right back into Ranking the Disney Canon!

One Hundred and One Dalmatians, released in 1961 is notable for being the first film in the canon to use the process of xerography. Xerography is the process of using a Xerox camera to put pencil drawings from paper directly onto animation cells, thus eliminating the need for inking, saving time and money. This process was implemented in response to the expensive and detailed process that defined Sleeping Beauty, which ended up losing the studio money. The trade-off for using this cheaper process, however, was the fact that the animation no longer had the smooth lines of the ink. Rather, it now featured the rougher lines of the pencil. The studio would use the process on and off for the next couple years, and would completely disappear in the 198os.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians, based on the book of the same name, begins with Pongo, our lead dalmatian, forcing his “pet” Rodger, a struggling songwriter, to “accidentally” meet Anita, another human with a Dalmatian, a female named Perdita. Rodger and Anita get married, allowing Pongo and Perdita to have a litter of puppies. This captures the attention of Cruella De Vil, a former schoolmate of Anita’s who desperately wants to buy all of the puppies for herself. Rodger and Anita refuse, not trusting Cruella to treat the puppies well, so Cruella hires two goons, Horace and Jasper, to kidnap them instead. Pongo and Perdita, as well as dogs all across England, must race against time and save the one hundred and one Dalmatians that Cruella has taken in order to prevent them from becoming her newest fur coat.

STRENGTHS

The first thing that stands out to me about this film is how extremely well written it is across the board. The dialogue alone not only is able to capture the distinct British charm of the setting and characters, but it is also able to be extremely clever and extremely funny. I love the film’s ability to have both great sections of dialogue and great sections of physical comedy. It has the ability to have short moments of parody and longer moments of just pure fun. It is able to mix its moments of comedy and drama so well. In the modern age where Aladdin and Hercules and even Tangled feature a more in your face style of comedy, I think One Hundred and One Dalmatians gets lost as one of the classic Disney Comedies.

One of the prime examples of the fantastic script at hand is the first 8 minutes of the film, as Pongo narrates his life as a bachelor, and then goes through his entire thought process in finding and getting the attention of Anita and Perdita. What makes this sequence as good as it is is how well written Pongo’s thoughts are. They are so much fun and so british, and so eyepopingly perfect. I love the animation here as well. The way the camera moves in order to shot for shot convey the thought process that Pongo is going through, as well as Pongo’s expressions matching his thoughts, which create just another aspect of the scene to greatly admire. I think it’s one of the underrated sequences in Disney history, and it is such a strong start to the film.

Of course, a major part of what that makes that opening sequence so memorable is the character of Pongo. I just love how the character of Pongo is presented. His completely British, calm, intellectual demeanor is just so great, and make Pongo an incredibly fun character to watch. Rod Taylor (who would end up starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Bird’s a couple years later) brings such a perfect voice into the role. It’s almost hypnotizing at times. All in all, it is just a great voice with a great character with a great script, and that equals fantastic.

The real star of the show here, and the first character that you probably think about when you think about this film, is Cruella De Vil. Man, Cruella De Vil. What can you say? She made the AFI’s 100 Heroes and Villains list! That could say enough on its own, but, in my usual style, we’ll take a closer look at what makes her great.

Cruella is so eccentric that you can’t help but to pay attention to her every moment she is one screen. She steals the show (and the puppies) against any character she is with. And so many things contribute to her success. For one thing, the voice is so distinctive, so condescending, and so evil, and, much like with Pongo, it adds so much to the character. Credit must be given to voice actress Betty Lou Gerson for bringing that voice into our minds. And then there is the animation by the legendary Marc Davis. The contradiction of the extremely large coat on top of the extremely skinny body, and how this is used in the animation, and Cruella’s habit of smoking, are just a few the many subtleties that Davis brings out in the design and the animation of the character. Davis has always done well with expressive characters (we have already seen his work in Peter Pan with Tinker Bell), and Cruella is among many of the highlights of his long and storied career.

To get a little sidetracked for a second, let’s move on to the music for a second. Though there is only one major song in the film, it is one of the most classic villain songs in all the Disney Canon. The song “Cruella De Vil” is, like much of the film, so much fun. The lyrics perfectly describe the character, and it’s a song you’ll be humming for at least a little bit after you watch to movie. What’s also great about it, in the context of the film, is the juxtaposition of what Cruella thinks of herself and how she is treating Anita, and Rodger going crazy on the song in the attic. It’s another extremely memorable song in the film, especially considering that this is our introduction to Cruella.

And to transition back to the side characters for a second, like many of the great Disney films before and after, the film is enhanced by the smaller roles of the side characters. I really enjoy Rodger and Anita. They work perfectly in their roles in the film, and I especially like the way they match up with their pets in personality. Rodger and Pongo are the intellectual ones, Anita and Perdita are the emotional ones.

(I do love the running gag throughout the film about all of the dogs looking and acting like their owners. It’s a great use of animation and actually turns out to be a humorous gag.)

Elsewhere, Horace and Jasper also fall into fun characters category. They make a great comedy duo, a great henchmen duo for Cruella to yell at, and a great obstacle for the puppies to overcome. And for a final note on the character front, the entire “Twilight Bark” sequence is full of great characters, but specifically the trio of The Colonel, Sgt. Tibbs, and Captain, who lie at the barn at the end of the Twilight Bark Trail. I just love the interaction between The Colonel and Sgt. Tibbs, falling in the classic, “leader who thinks he has the brains with the underling who actually has the brain” sense of comedy, and using it to the full effect for some great, entertaining humor. I do love Sgt. Tibbs on his own as well. He’s so smart, so nervous, and so catty. It’s certainly a different interpretation of the Disney Cat.

And while all these great characters are great in making humor and entertainment and fun, what they more importantly do is create characters that you love (or love to hate) and thus characters that you care for. If you remember my review of The Aristocats all the way back from the beginning of this list (and if you don’t, you can go back and reread it if you wish, and if you are reading this one before that one, what are you doing here? Start at the bottom!), one of the major problems with that film is that you don’t care for the main character or their journey. One Hundred and One Dalmatians is the exact opposite of The Aristocats. It works with the same idea, pets separated from their owners and needing to return back, and makes it so much more entertaining through the use of humor and use of great character. If you want to see how much of a difference great characters can make to a film, watch the two films back to back. It is a stunning difference. I could go on and on about this and why this is, but I think I’ve made my point. Let’s move on.

I usually dislike xerography as a whole, as I prefer the smoother, inked lines, as they allow for much more beautiful animation and much more stylization, but One Hundred and One is one of the films where this style works, and one of the films where the stylization available through xerography is best shown. The London location of the film and the rougher, middle class locations really play into the style, and the character design also fits very well. And one of the best uses of xerography ever is when the Puppies and Sgt. Tibbs attempt to escape Jasper and Horace, just as they are seemingly caught in a corner. The background turns completely red, showing the sense of danger. It’s a striking scene, and extremely eyepoping and memorable.

For all the comedy the film has, I really enjoy the drama. Another one of the memorable scenes of the film is the scene where Perdita has her puppies (not shown on-screen, of course, for the sake of the children) and one of the seemingly doesn’t survive. The audience really feels the gravity of the emotion, both when the puppy seems to be dead and when Rodger nurses her back to health. It’s really a great dramatic moment. Another great moment is when the Puppies are being led by Pongo and Perdita through the snow. Again, the drama is really felt here. More proof of the greatness of the characters and the script.

Finally, and this is a minor point that goes back to the humor of the film, I simple ADORE the parodies of television that are presented throughout the film. The Thunderbolt program is a perfect parody of the types of shows that Walt Disney himself would make for his Disneyland and Wonderful World of Color television shows, as well as other nighttime entertainment. The Kanine Krunchies commercial is a great send up to the commercials of the late 1950s and early 1960s. But the highlight, at least to me, is What’s My Crime, the game show that Horace and Jasper watch. If you know anything about 1950s and 1960s Game shows, and have any familiarity with shows such as What’s My Line, which I do, then the parody is one of the sneakiest funny things in the film.

WEAKNESSES

I debated for a long time whether or not this was a real weakness or not, but I decided that it barely is. For a film called One Hundred and One Dalmatians, most of the Dalmatians don’t have much of a presence. I wondered for a bit if the film needed more of the puppies, since the film works so well without them, but ultimately, they should have been in there more. We could have gotten one or two scenes toward the end of the film that explored the Puppies and their feelings and personalities. It’s not a huge blow, but it could have enhanced the emotion and the humor to another level.

That leads into my only other issue with the film: The scene where the crew finally gets some rest in the barn. I understand the purpose of this scene, to show that all of the Dalmatians found rest, but I feel that this is the one scene in the film that is a wasted opportunity. This could have been used to explore Pongo and Perdita’s feelings on the large number of puppies, it could have been used for some more drama, some more comedy, or a sequence that explores the puppies more. I don’t know. This scene is the one scene in the film that feels flat to me. Though it still feels somehow necessary.

There are other things I could mention, but they are very, very minor. In fact, you could argue the above two points are minor, as they really do nothing to break the film. That’s the point we are getting to. What are we going to do when I run out of films with weaknesses worth mentioning? Don’t worry. I have a plan.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The best song is, bar none, the only major song in the film, Cruella De Vil. It may be the only one, but it’s amazing nonetheless. Plus, it’s got the introduction to Cruella. All in all, just fantastic and classic.

The best scene is the opening 8 minutes. I described it above. No need to describe it again.

CLOSING COMMENTS

What a great film to return to the blog with. One Hundred and One Dalmatians is classic Disney Comedy, with great writing, characters, drama, and animation. And trust me, this film was very hard to rank, because it is so good! It jumped all around the next couple spots, because these films are so close in quality. What is next on our list? Stay tuned to find out! Man, It’s good to be back!