Ranking the Disney Canon – 5: Alice in Wonderland


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


Ranking the Disney Canon – 6: Beauty and the Beast


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

So, see you in the top 5!

Ranking the Disney Canon – 7: Sleeping Beauty


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


There are two things I want to say.

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

And I’m glad to be back! Again!