Ranking the Disney Canon – 10: Cinderella

Here we are, ladies and gentlemen. The Top 10. THE best of the best. The films that are about to follow are not just a collection of the most iconic Disney films of all time, they are a collection of some of the most iconic films of all time. Seriously, folks, from here on out, all of it is amazing.

Let me make one thing clear before we actually move onto the post: making this Top 10 was HARD. I’m serious when I say that this may have been the toughest decision of my life. You give just this list of 10 films to 10 people, and you’ll see 10 completely different lists. I labored for hours making the decision on the Top 10 alone just for you readers. I know you all want to see what comes out on top! Now, let’s begin!

” No doubt you saw the whole pretty picture in detail. The young prince bowing to the assembly. Suddenly, he stops. He looks up. For lo… there she stands. The girl of his dreams. Who she is or whence she came, he knows not, nor does he care, for his heart tells him that here, here is the maid predestined to be his bride. A pretty plot for fairy tales, Sire. But in real life, oh, no. No, it was foredoomed to failure. ” – The Grand Duke

Cinderella truly tops the list of films that saved the Disney Studio. Even after the decision to created package films in order to counterbalance the loss of materials and men during World War II, the Disney Studio was still in a dire time when Cinderella began production. Everything was riding on this film. If Cinderella had failed, it would have been very hard for Walt Disney to justify keeping his animation studio open. However, as you may guessed by now, Cinderella was a huge hit for the studio when it finally released in 1950, and allowed the Disney Studio to continue to thrive and create wonderful films throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Cinderella was such a huge success, in fact, that the money from its box office gross would eventually be a large part of the funding for Disneyland.

The classic fairy tale tells the story of Cinderella, a beautiful, charming young girl who becomes a servant to her stepmother after her father passes away. Cinderella dreams of a better life, but continues to service her stepmother, Lady Tremaine, her stepsisters, Drizella and Anastasia, and their cat, Lucifer. One day, The King orders every eligible bachelorette in the kingdom to attend a ball, hoping that Prince Charming will finally choose a mother for the King’s grandchildren. Cinderella attempts to go, with the help of her animal friends, but her chances are eventually ruined by her stepsisters. She is still able to go to the ball though, thanks to her Fairy Godmother, and falls in love with Prince Charming. I think you know the rest of the story. Strike of Midnight, Glass Slipper, happily ever after.

STRENGTHS

Cinderella is one of the most heartwarming tales that Disney has ever produced, and much of this is because of how sympathetic the character of Cinderella is. Yes, this is another one of those posts that start off ranting and raving about character, but here, it is justly deserved. Cinderella, as a character, certainly deserves her spot among the best female protagonists in the Disney Canon.

Cinderella’s conflict, to me, is so real and so relatable. We’ve all had those situations where we dream of something better, anything that could be better, and yet we trudge along, accepting life for what it is. Cinderella really captures this, especially in the “A Dream is a Wish your Heart Makes” sequence, where we see Cinderella begin her day. Through all the trouble, it is the dreams that keep her moving, keep her going, and that, to me, is a wonderful and beautiful character detail.

To go on a bit of an aside, a common theme of Disney films is the idea of dreams and wishes. You bet that if I ever teach a class on Disney Animation, that’ll be a huge class period. and during that Class Period, Cinderella will be a main focus. Cinderella is one of the strongest examples of the importance of dreams and wishes in Disney films, since it is the main character motivation for Cinderella. I find myself describing it in my head as sweet and charming, and that’s because it is. I just love watching Cinderella, with that smile on her face, dancing around the room alone, knowing that nothing lies ahead but hardship, only having a dream. I find it truly inspiring.

Like the other Disney Princesses around her, Cinderella is appropriately sweet, and this can be seen in her connection with animals, just like her fellow Walt era princesses Snow White and Aurora. I think what ends up enhancing Cinderella’s character in particular, however, is the fact that she is this sweet even in the context of the situation that surrounds her. Snow White and Aurora, and even Ariel and Rapunzel and the like have their problems, but to be surrounded by an evil stepmother and stepsister, and to have to cater to their every whim? That’s difficult, and yet Cinderella takes it in stride.

A perfect example of this idea in action is a scene that happens fairly early in the film, where Cinderella is preparing breakfast for both the animals around the house, and the animals she calls her family. During this, her dog Bruno gets in a scuffle with Lucifer, and Cinderella, knowing full well that Bruno is doing nothing wrong, chastises him for wanting to start a fight, while also chastising Lucifer for the same. I just love this. It is the perfect example of why Cinderella is so perfect as a Disney Princess. She is so pure. There is no anger in her. There is no evil. She is pure good.

And it is this pure good that attracts the good in the world to her. This is what attracts Prince Charming to her. Not just her outer beauty, though Cinderella is certainly a beautiful and well designed female character, but her inner beauty. It is her inner beauty that shines even brighter than her outer beauty. Cinderella is such a distinct light amid the darkness of people like Drizella and Anastasia that one cannot helped to be drawn to her.

A personal favorite moment in the film relating to this idea is towards the end, after Drizella and Anastasia both fail to fit the glass slipper on their foot…

(God, writing that sentence reminded me of how terrible of a film Cinderella III: A Twist in Time is. Now I feel like puking. Moving on quickly.)

Anyways, after they fail, and The Grand Duke is about to leave, Cinderella comes rushing down the stairs, having just been let out of her room thanks to her mice friends, asking as polite as she can to try on the slipper. The Grand Duke just hears her voice, and a smile appears on his face. It is such a nice contrast from the violent and selfish outbursts that her two Stepsisters had just demonstrated on the poor Duke. Cinderella’s charm is just so well written, and I smile every time I see her on-screen.

In fact, I’m going to make this argument right now: Cinderella is the best written Disney Princess. Not my personal favorite (as established, that would be Ariel and Rapunzel) nor the best Disney Princess Film (as we still have two more Princess films to go) but I’m going to say that Cinderella’s purity, drive, and journey push her to the top. To be honest, it is a two-horse race with Belle, but to me Cinderella takes the cake because her emotions, her joy and her wonder and even her disappointment, is so enjoyable and brilliantly written.

Before we move on, I do want to say that a HUGE kudos needs to go out to the late, great Ilene Woods, who beat out 300 hundred other auditions unknowingly, as her friends sent in her audition without her knowledge. Cinderella may be the most perfect casting choice of Walt’s era. Ilene brings so much charm to the role of Cinderella, and has a beautiful voice to boot. A wonderful, wonderful performance by Ilene Woods. One of the greatest performances of all time, I would say.

Part of what makes this brilliantly written is the film’s use of contrast. By contrast, I mean how the film contrasts Cinderella as a character to the rest of her so-called “family.” That’s what makes Cinderella so sympathetic. That’s what makes Cinderella such a brilliantly written character. And, of course, it is what makes Lady Tremaine, Drizella, and Anastasia such wonderful, wonderful villains.

And sure, they do have the big and obvious moments of Contrast, the ones where Walt wants you to know that these characters are the polar opposites of each other. That’s a good way to put it. Drizella and Anastasia are the anti-Cinderella. They are everything that Cinderella is not. And this is shown consistently throughout the film. And the obvious moments are obvious. Drizella and Anastasia fail at singing “Sweet, Sweet Nightingale” just as Cinderella knocks it out of the park. The two stepsisters are shown in all their rude glory right before Cinderella shows up at the ball. These are no accident. These, of course, are intentional, but they are effective. Extremely effective, in my opinion.

What really adds to the brilliance of the film, however, is the subtler moments of contrast. The ones that are not as obvious and not as in your face. These are the moments of amazing writing and the moments that really add to the greatness of this script. One example I love is, in a bit of background dialogue, Drizella and Anastasia complain about how they don’t have any gowns like the other girls. It’s not part of a larger scene, it’s not a major moment in the film, it is an offscreen comment that is made in the background of a scene in which Cinderella is working in order to have an attempt at getting to the ball.

It’s amazing to me how one simple line can do so much, but I absolutely love this moment. Drizella and Anastasia get everything in the world and yet are still angry, still unsatisfied with everything. Cinderella has nothing, and has seemingly no chance of getting anything to go her way, and yet, in a way, is content. She still dreams, and yearns for a better life, but she isn’t angry. She can be frustrated, but never angry. She has her dreams to comfort her.

And in a moment that is in between obvious and subtlety, The Stepsisters throw away some items that they think would be terrible to wear to the ball. The Mice, naturally, use these as materials to help make Cinderella’s dress. When the Stepsisters notice this later on Cinderella, they strip her down and tear her apart in a powerful and heartbreaking sequence. It’s just amazing how angry they get as they tear the dress into a shell of its former self. It’s a stunning sequence that truly shows you the differences between the good Cinderella and the Evil Stepsisters.

Where this contrast really creates amazement, however, is through the relationship between Lady Tremaine and Cinderella. What I love about these scenes is how much actual tension can exist between the two. Eleanor Audley, who voices another Disney villain we’ll get to soon enough, just has evil in her voice, and gives a powerful and intense performance here. She is among the most perfectly evil villains in the entire Disney Canon (and funny enough, the most purely evil Villain in the Disney Canon is also voiced by Audley. She just has evil in her.) She is perfectly manipulative as well. Remember that scene I mentioned where the stepsisters rip apart Cinderella’s dress? It is Lady Tremaine who hints to them that the materials are not Cinderella’s. It’s, again, perfectly animated by Marc Davis, and perfectly voiced by Eleanor Audley.

Two scenes come to mind in terms of expressing the relationship between Lady Tremaine and Cinderella. One is near the beginning, when our Wicked Stepmother calls upon Cinderella in order to punish her for a perceived practical joke which was actually a misunderstanding with Gus, the mouse. The way that Lady Tremaine commands Cinderella, and the way she speaks in general, is somewhat chilling, and it makes for a lovely villain. This same chill comes across in the other scene I think about, in which Lady Tremaine slowly makes her way up the stairwell in order to lock Cinderella in her room. The slowness of this action is just full of tension, mostly because the personalities of the two characters are so different from each other that you know trouble is afoot.

And we haven’t even gotten to the animal characters yet. I’ll start with my personal favorite, Lucifer. Lucifer is brilliantly animated and designed, and is absolutely hilarious. His misadventures in attempting to catch Gus and Jaq, both at the beginning of the film and at the end, and wonderful to watch just for him. I especially love the fact that he comes back as a final obstacle for Cinderella before she can put on the glass slipper. Lucifer brings a ton of humor to the film, and it absolutely fits.

Now, I’ll be frank, could the extended sequences featuring Lucifer and the Mice be a little shorter? Possibly. Could more that time be wonderfully spent with Cinderella, or even building up Prince Charming (as was planned in the early stages)? Sure. But I don’t think it is a weakness. These sequences are still amazing. I just feel that it is something I should point out.

Back to the humor, I also love the sequences between the Grand Duke and The King, especially the hilarious second sequence where The Grand Duke has to tell The King that Cinderella has disappeared. Also, the relationship between Gus and Jaq not only leads to the humor in the Lucifer sequences, but is also a very heartwarming side story. The Mice characters in general work, especially during the “Worksong” number.

Oh! The music! Let’s talk about the soundtrack! Cinderella has an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack. Though none of the songs are particularly long, they all are extremely well written and so beautiful. It also feature more slow songs than the traditional Disney film, but all three of Slower songs are beautiful. The inspiring lyrics of “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” the beautiful layered melodies of “Sweet, Sweet Nightingale,” and the lovely nature of “So This is Love” are all heart melting and beautifully sung by Ilene Woods. And the fun doesn’t completely disappear. “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” and “The Work Song” and even the second half, hummed section of “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” are all wonderful.

A final note: The Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo sequence is a classic of animation, especially the sequence where Cinderella’s dress goes from tattered to fully beautiful. That is said to be one of Walt Disney’s personal favorite pieces of animation. The Fairy Godmother is appropriately magical, and sings the song with a wonderful magical tone and wonderful magical lyrics. It truly is a classic sequence.

(A final, small note: I love that all the names of the women that are announced at the ball are Extremely French names. It is wonderful touch.)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

My favorite Song in the Film is “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” I think the song is truly inspiring, and is just beautiful all around.

My favorite scene is the entire glass slipper sequence at the end of the film. I think it perfectly showcases the humor, heart, and drama of the film.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Wow, Cinderella is really 10 on my list? I told you this was an extremely hard decision! Cinderella is a beautiful, well written, and all around amazing film and truly captures what Disney Animation is, and it only comes in at 10. What do we have in store next? Wow. I’m excited. Aren’t you?

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Ranking the Disney Canon – 11: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

“Magic Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” – The Wicked Queen 

And here we are. Finally, we have arrived at the film that started it all. Without Snow White, there is Disney, No Disneyland or Disney World, No Renaissance, No Package Films, No Golden Age or Silver Age or Dark Age, and certainly no Ranking the Disney Canon! Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a story that captured Walt from a early age, and when the time came for him to create his first Feature Length Film, there was no other story he could think of other than Snow White. Of course, everyone else thought he was crazy, and other’s called the film “Disney’s Folly” during production. As we know, the film was a huge success and the rest is history. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs remains 10th on the All Time Box Office Gross List, right above another classic Disney film, 101 Dalmatians.

The story of Snow White begins with The Wicked Queen asking her Magic Mirror “Who is the fairest of them all?” Of course, the answer is not the Queen, but Snow White, as perfect as person as a person can be. So, The Wicked Queen tells the Huntsman to kill Snow White, but The Huntsman cannot go through with it, warning Snow White about the Queen. Snow White runs through the Dark Forrest, where she seems to come across a dirty cottage housed by children. With the help of her animal friends, Snow White cleans up the cottage, which is actually the home of the Seven Dwarfs. As Snow White and the Dwarfs connect, wash their faces, and dance, The Wicked Queen finds out that Snow White is still alive, and decides to disguise herself as an old woman in order to finish the job. The Queen succeeds at poisoning Snow White, but is killed after being chased by the Dwarfs onto a cliff. All ends Happily Ever After, however, when Prince Charming comes and awakens Snow White with Love’s True Kiss.

STRENGTHS

One of the reasons that Snow White works as well as it does, and one of the reasons I would assume Walt Disney chose it as his first feature, is that it is beautiful in it’s simplcity. It really is. It certainly isn’t the most complex Disney feature of Walt’s time, but the simple story makes for a brilliant film. The plot is just classic. It’s as simple as that.

I think what I love about this plot so much is I love the way the story flows. Many of Walt’s films had this mixture of episodic pieces wrapped up in the structure of Three Acts, and Snow White is probably the simplest example of that. Though it may not have the darkness of Pinocchio or the weirdness of Alice in Wonderland, or the style of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White flows like the grandest river imaginable, and it is still special in its own right.

The story of Snow White running away from the Queen and then meeting The Seven Dwarfs is just great. Disney and his crew interpreted the story in such a way that it is so completely timeless and so completely fun. Every scene just flows into the next one perfectly, and, once again, there is a beautiful simplicity to it all. Again, it may not get as fancy as some other stories in the Disney Canon, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t wonderful. Because it is wonderful.

The plot also does a wonderful job at enhancing the characters through its sequence of events. Sure, that may seem like a general suggestion for all good movies, but Snow White works because the plot allows us to see Snow White be Snow White, and it allows us to see the Dwarfs grow from simple miners into the heroes of the day, and it allows us to see the continued downward spiral of the Queen into a wicked Old Hag. Walt uses the story of Snow White to the fullest effect, turning the simple story into a simple story driven by character. It really is a great opportunity to look at the genius of Walt Disney as a storyteller. He saw this from an early age, and he was able to bring it to life in his first feature film. What a brilliant filmmaker.

Well, since I just talked about the characters in the relation to the plot, I might as well finally get into the characters of the story. Man, I thought I could hold up the characters for just a little bit longer! But, as with all of the Disney films around this, the characters are just wonderfully written. And there is probably no greater example of this than the title character, Snow White. Well, the Seven Dwarfs are also extremely awesome, but we’ll get to them later.

From the opening moments of the film, Snow White is written absolutely amazingly. I think the best way you can see this is the way she interacts with the world around her as she sings the opening song, “I’m Wishing.” That opening sequence alone does so many wonderful things for Snow White’s character, I don’t know if I can get them all down here without going overboard, but I shall try, because I am here to give you the full story.

That opening sequences really builds Snow White as the fairest of them all, without really being upfront about it. It’s all about subtlety here. Let’s start with her interaction with the animals around here. Showing Snow White with the ability to connect with the nature around here truly shows how her fairness is on the inside. Snow White is completely sweet and innocent, and she is almost always the brightest ray of sunshine, no matter who or what is around her. And the sequence really shows that just by the way she treats animals. I want to describe it more, but it is one of those thing that is just brilliant. And it is.

This sequence also establishes her relationship with The Prince, who tries to court while, but ends up scaring Snow White away. Now, it is known that originally The Prince had a bigger role in the story, with him being captured by the Wicked Queen and escaping her castle in order to save Snow White. However, Walt felt that trying to animate a human female and a human male in a believable fashion would be way too much work for his animators, and thus he decided to focus mainly on Snow White.

I bring this up because I feel that The Prince is in this film for the exact right amount of time. This is Snow White’s story, and her interactions with him bring out her character more than it could possibly bring out hers. The fact that Snow White and The Prince only interact at the beginning and the end of the film, to me, is perfect, and the classic romance aspect of their relationship is still able to be built up through Snow White’s dreams of love (which we will get to in a bit.)

(For the record, many of the concepts for The Prince that weren’t in this film ended up being used for Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty. We’ll get to that film soon, but suffice to say, I think it works much better for that film than it would have for this one.)

What the first encounter with The Prince does for Snow White’s character is reminding the audience of the youthful side of her innocence. This is another key aspect of what makes Snow White the fairest: her youth. She is a shy, young woman, and the continually reminds us of this. Another fantastic sequence that this is presented in is the classic Dark Forest segment where Snow White becomes scared as she runs through all of the scary and spooky looking trees. This emphasis on youthful innocence also makes it completely believable that she would fall for The Wicked Queen’s trap later in the film.

I think what is wonderful about Snow White is despite her youthfulness, she seems like she would make the greatest mother possible. The way she treats the Dwarfs throughout her time in their cottage is absolutely wonderful and is probably the most perfect way to show Snow White’s character. Even when she is strict with them about washing their hands, she is the sweetest person in the world. The way she just cares for the complete strangers surrounding her as if she had known them all of her life is simply amazing. It’s no wonder she is the fairest of them all.

And of course, that is the key distinction: Snow White has to be the fairest of them all. The film needs to present that difference between Snow White and The Wicked Queen, and it does that beautifully. Again, let’s look at the opening scene. The film truly begins with The Wicked Queen asks the magic mirror that famous question, and after Snow White runs from The Prince, we see that The Wicked Queen is watching over her. Even if we just remove the dialogue from these scenes, the visuals and the animation paint a clear distinction by themselves. Whereas the Wicked Queen is cold, menacing, and adult in the strict and villainous way, Snow White is Warm, Open, and Motherly in the best way possible. The Character Design of these two characters just emphasize this to the fullest as well. The distinction is absolutely practically perfect in every way, as Mary Poppins might put it. (RANDOM DISNEY REFERENCE.)

I think the most important distinction, however, is one of philosophy. The Wicked Queen is more concerned with the harsh reality of the present. She was to be the fairest of them all right now, and will do anything to achieve that goal as quickly as possible. Snow White, on the other hand, dreams of the future. She wishes for the one she loves, and she believes that someday, her prince will come. Again, it’s not something that is ever explicitly stated, but the fact it is there is just great, and a great read into what makes these character special.

(Another note. The Queen spends all her time in front of a mirror and concerned with her outwardly appearance, in more ways than one, while Snow White is in tune with nature and spends time caring for the Dwarfs. Just an observation.)

Even though we have spent quite a bit of time on The Wicked Queen, I do want to mention that she is certainly is in contention to be on that list of greatest Disney villains ever. She is just perfectly wicked, and written and acted to the point where she is evil, but not over the top. Her design is flawless, and she is a fantastic villain to root against. The transformation sequence with her is a particular standout, both visually and writing wise.

Wow, we’ve come this far and we have not even talked about the Seven Dwarfs yet! The Dwarfs are so much fun, and nearly always steal the show from Snow White and the rest of the plot. It’s just so much fun to watch the physical comedy of the Dwarfs throughout the entire film. A wonderful example of this is the scene where the Dwarfs are attempting to investigate who is sleeping in their house, and Sneezy lets out a huge sneeze that blows the other Dwarfs across the room. It is so funny and so brilliantly executed.

Another things to love about the Dwarfs are how strong their personalities are. I mean, their personalities are in their names. They’ve got to be strong. Luckily, Happy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful, Doc, Grumpy, and Dopey are all distinct and great in design and execution. What’s also amazing is the fact that all of these personalities play off of each other so easily. These Seven Dwarfs feel like family. They feel like they belong together. It just seems natural. That is fantastic writing.

They all stand out in their own way, but to me, the two that stand out most are Grumpy and Dopey. Grumpy has an absolutely wonderful arc of going from Grumpy to Caring, and it builds up well throughout the middle of the film and comes full circle when Grumpy leads the charge to save Snow White. And Dopey, of course, stands out because he is another fantastic testament to how well silent characters work in animation. He so much fun to watch not talk.

I think the most important element of the Dwarfs is how their relationship to Snow White changes both her and them. The Dwarfs have a great and interesting arc of going from children to becoming caring adults that have the capacity to truly take care of themselves. Meanwhile, Snow White, from her time with the Dwarfs, learns to embrace her dreams. Whereas “I’m Wishing” is purposely vague, “Someday My Prince Will Come” specifically mentions The Prince. Snow White becomes more sure of herself through her opportunity to care for the Dwarfs.

Now would be a wonderful time to mention the Soundtrack. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has a wonderful, and at times extremely underrated, soundtrack. Yes, the famous songs like “Heigh-Ho” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” are extremely amazing, the soundtrack is full of extremely strong gems. “I’m Wishing,”  “The Dwarfs Washing Song,” and “The Dwarfs Yodeling Song” that get lost. Really, this whole soundtrack is amazing, and perfectly balances itself between the silly, fun Disney Songs, and the broadway style, powerful love songs. It perfectly sets up a great history of Disney Music.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

My favorite song in the piece has to be Heigh-H0. It is just so lyrically brilliant and so catchy, and the visuals are hilarious too.

My favorite moment is certainly the sequence in which The Dwarfs come home and try to figure out who is in their house. I laugh every time. It’s perfect.

CLOSING COMMENTS

It is amazing to me how well Snow White can hold up, considering it was one of the first major Animated Features to be made. Thanks to a strong soundtrack, strong characters, and a simple story, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs set the stage for the rest of the Disney Empire to rise. And to think that I find an amazing film like this just outside of the Top 10. Amazing.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 12: The Little Mermaid

“Your Majesty. This will be the finest concert I have ever conducted. Your daughters, they will be spectacular!” – Sebastian

OK, time to finally make it back to the list! The films have been watched and analyzed, the final order has been decided, and the Disney canon is finally ready to be ranked!

And what better way to start off our return than with one of the most important films in the history of the Disney Animation Studio?

The Little Mermaid may not technically be on that list of “Films that Saved the Disney Studio,” but as a good friend of mine says, It might as well be. Whereas The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company, and even Who Framed Roger Rabbit, were all important to reviving Disney Animation after the rough patches in the early 70s and late 80s, The Little Mermaid exploded onto the scene in 1989 and announced the true return of the classic Disney Animated musical. When you really look at it, the effects of The Little Mermaid can still be felt today. The Little Mermaid showed the blockbuster potential for the Animated Genre, and how animated films are treated today, in my opinion, can be traced directly back to The Little Mermaid’s monstrous success.

The Little Mermaid stars our little mermaid, Ariel, as she dreams of finding a way to be part of the human world that lies above her. She continually searches for artifacts from the human world with her best friend, Flounder, and gets “explanations” of their uses from Scuttle, here seagull eye in the human sky. One night, while watching a celebration on a human ship, Ariel saves a human, Prince Eric, from a storm, and falls in love with him.  Her father, King Triton, disapproves of this, and after a heated argument with him, Ariel swims off and makes a deal with the Sea Witch, Ursula, to make her human. Ariel must now receive help from Flounder, Scuttle, and her father’s #1 assistant, Sebastian, to make Prince Eric “Kiss the Girl” before the entire kingdom sinks under Ursula’s dream takeover.

STRENGTHS

Since we have talked so much about character throughout this entire list, especially the Top 20, I wanted to start with something else. Seriously, I keep feeling like Characters are the strongest part of any Disney film, and that is because they are! But I did intend to switch it up with this post, as I felt I wanted to switch it up from starting with character over and over and over again. However, I cannot escape it. Ariel is just too strong of a character for me to start with anything else.

I’m come right out and say it: Ariel is my personal favorite Disney Princess, though Rapunzel really gives her a close run for her money. Or shells. Or whatever Merpeople use as currency. Anyways, I just love the innocence in Ariel’s character. Her pure joy and sense of adventure in terms of her interactions with the human world are extremely wonderful. From the opening moments with her, when she is escaping a shark after exploring a sunken human ship, we understand her simple awe at the unknown, her curiosity for the human world she knows so little about, and it is amazingly written.

I think what makes Ariel (and also Rapunzel, in my opinion) so fun to watch is their childlike sense of wonder. Because they know so little about the world around them, they feel like the people we used to be, the child that just wanted to learn about every single little thing they could. That childlike wonder creates magic. Disney magic, you could even say. Ariel and Rapunzel just burst through the screen with so much happiness and joy that you can’t help but to smile. I think the two of them, as characters, define what makes Disney so wonderful for me.

Man, I just talked a little bit about a character that wouldn’t exist for another 20 years, didn’t I? To move it back to Ariel proper, I love her naivety. In fact, I think her reactions for all of the human things around her are some of the funniest bits of Renaissance era Disney Animation. Even in the weakest part of the film, when Ariel and Prince Eric are going around the town before the “Kiss the Girl” sequence, Ariel’s over abundant reaction to EVERYTHING makes it go from a potentially weak sequence to one that is so much fun to watch. That is what makes Ariel amazing. She makes the weakest things better.

And all of this is before we get to Ariel’s signature song. First, I must mention the wonderful voice and singing performance of Jodi Benson. The voice for Ariel is extremely important, not just because it will define Ariel’s character, but it is also an extremely important plot point. And Jodi Benson was the perfect choice for the role. Jodi brings the absolute PERFECT amount of youthfulness and wonder to the character of Ariel, and creating one of the great voice performances of the Second Golden Age. Jodi Benson perfectly captures all of the emotions throughout Ariel’s journey, and adds so much to the joy that surrounds Ariel.

And where this emotion is seen most is in “Part of Your World,” the definitive Ariel moment. In fact, I think that “Part of Your World” is also the definitive “I Want” song of this era of Disney Animation. Of course, the “I Want” song is the song in which that character sings about their inner most desires. Songs of this type are scattered throughout Disney, and musical, history, and can be important to defining the character and the film. I think “Part of Your World” does that to perfection, through Jodi Benson’s performance, through the Animation, and through the wonderful music in lyrics by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken.

This would be as good a transition as any to move away from me crushing on Ariel, as I’ve gone 1000 words just talking about her. But I do want to mention two last things. One, the character animation and design of Ariel is perfect, especially when she turns silent and you can still see the joy bursting through her. Great credit to the animators who put in the work to make her as amazing as she is. Second, got to love that red hair. Just got to shout it out.

Ariel is over and out, now to move to the amazing music, the second idea that defines this film. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were an amazing duo, and this film has an amazing soundtrack. The film’s first true song is, in fact, “Part of Your World” and it really is an impressive song. Ashman’s lyrics really show Ariel’s desires, as well as being expertly crafted to be creative and flowing. And the reprise of “Part of Your World,” after Ariel saves Eric from the storm, feels so triumphant, and contends to be among the best reprises in Disney Animation History. It really is a beautiful song, and marked the beginning of the return to great Disney Soundtracks.

It is the next song, “Under the Sea,” that truly marked the comeback of Disney Music. This song is just so much fun and so upbeat and so catchy and so memorable. “Under the Sea” is exactly what you want in any Disney song. The Animation is as bright and energetic as the song, the music is unique and yet makes sense within the context of the film, it is driven by both Sebastian’s character and Ariel’s character, the song is filled to the brim with so many memorable lines and memorable visuals, and it is a song you just love to play over and over and over again. I can’t even think of anything else to say. It is almost perfection and shows the true talent of the Ashman-Menken team.

Sebastian also has “Kiss the Girl” in his repertoire, which is the film’s only true love song. And what I love about that song is that, while it is not the most traditional love song, it works extremely well for the film. Sebastian, and his voice actor Samuel E. Wright, is a wonderful crooner, and brings the right romantic sense to the song. What’s truly amazing about “Kiss the Girl” is that it is a song about trying to get two people to fall in love, rather than about two people already in love. And it works. It may not be the strongest love some ever, but again, it is a song that shows the complete strength of Ashman’s lyrics and Menken’s music.

The final song worth going into detail about is the film’s villain song, “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” While I wouldn’t call it stronger than the two songs that come before it, it still is a wonderful song for Pat Carroll to sing and the animators to animate. I think that the most amazing part of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is that it is able to simultaneously build Ursula as a sneaky, manipulative villain as well as someone who Ariel could potentially trust. Too often the villain is so overly manipulative that you wonder why the protagonist believes him or her. But Ursula is written well, so it seems like Ariel could se her as trustworthy, especially in this part of her life.

I want to talk about Ursula, and other characters, a little bit more, but I’d like to finish speaking about the soundtrack. I love the use of the smaller songs “Fathoms Below” (which was originally much longer), and “Tritons Daughters” as they both feel like sections of a broadway musical, those smaller songs that surround the crowd pleasers. I do think that they add just a little bit extra to the film. And even though “Les Poisson” is a weird and random aside that really does nothing to the greater whole of the film, it is a a really fun and hilarious weird and random aside.

Now, Ursula. Ursula is a really fun villain, perfectly voiced by Pat Carroll. Ursula’s character design is absolutely fantastic, and her Vanessa counterpart is equally well designed and entertaining. What makes Ursula a great villain, however, is how smart she is. Her plan to take Ariel’s soul and use it as a hostage against Triton is well planned and smartly adjusted when Ariel makes more advances in her relationship with Eric than she planned. And even though the plan gets discovered, it still works. All of this is shown through Ursula’s large and funny personality, and it really works for the best. Mostly.

Ariel’s friends are also very fun and very strong on the character front. Flounder is a perfect companion to Ariel, and his even more childlike persona is perfect for Ariel to play off of. Also, another wonderful design, but not I just feel like I am repeating myself. So, moving on to Scuttle, I think Scuttle brings some of the best humor in the film. I mentioned before that I love Ariel’s naivety, and Scuttle is a big part of that. His explanations of Dinglehoppers and What Nots lead to some of the biggest smiles in the film. You also got to love his attempts to get into the “Kiss the Girl” number. Awesome.

Sebastian, however, is my favorite of Ariel’s companions, and also my second favorite character in the film. A large part of this is his reluctance to help Ariel. Sebastian, in my opinion, is the funniest character in the film due to how nervous he can get regarding all of the mistakes he can possibly make. The scene where he has to hide the fact that Ariel is in love with a human from Triton is just wonderful humor, and Samuel E. Wright brings an absolutely perfect humor to his performance.

And then, of course, it is wonderful to see Sebastian almost forced to come around and help Ariel in the end. I love the idea that, for all the trouble that she has caused him, he still cares so much about her. Sebastian is just wonderful to watch in the human world, especially all panicky in that weird and random aside. Just his scream alone makes the character amazing.

And finally, there is the relationship between Triton and Ariel. I truly do think this is a relationship that makes the film. Triton’s protection of his daughter makes complete sense, and never seems like conflict for the sake of conflict. I think that his care for her, and his fatherly appearance and demeanor, is apparent throughout the entire film, and makes his sacrifice for Ariel at the end even more heartfelt. Triton himself has a wonderful arc, and I think it is a key component of making the film as good as it is.

If I were to complain about the film I have two small ones that do not warrant a full section of weakness, since we got rid of that section already! One, Prince Eric isn’t necessarily weak, and is designed and written fine, but he is not the strongest Disney Prince. Two, The film’s finale is really fun, but does feel a bit more gimmicky than other finales surrounding it. It surely has the biggest (literally) gambit of the Disney 90s, and it works, it just isn’t as good.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Since I’m not uploading videos anymore, I’ll just quickly mention my favorite parts of the film.

With The Little Mermaid, the Best Moment and Best Song are one and the same. “Under The Sea” runs away with it. I described it above, but it is as perfect as any Disney Moment can be.

CLOSING COMMENTS

The Little Mermaid is truly a hilarious movie, and a great one too. Ariel and the characters that surround her bring so much liveliness to the screen that was missing from most of the dark ages of Disney Animation. The Soundtrack works alongside the characters to bring you the great awes that Disney animated films before it and after it would bring as well. The Little Mermaid was the perfect film to bring Disney Animation back, and to bring Disney and Beyond back. In both cases, the best still lies ahead.

Disney and Beyond is Back!

Did you miss me?

I’d like to first apologize for the lack of communication regarding the future of this blog. For those of you who know me personally, you know what kinds of semester of school this was for me. For those of you who don’t know me, this was an extremely busy semester of school, where every waking moment was either about me writing a screenplay or working on making films for classes, and that doesn’t even take into account the papers and presentations I had to create for other classes. Let me tell you, it was much harder than I anticipated being able to keep this blog up and continue with my school work, especially since writing this blog equates to a six page paper every post.

I knew throughout the semester that the unfortunate side effect of this busy but extremely fun semester was the fact that this blog was getting neglected. Trust me guys and gals, I want to finish the rankings as much as you want me to. I’ve had so much joy writing every single post, and I don’t want to quit right before we get to the Top 10! These are the best of the best, people. These are the posts I really want to write!

So yes, this post is basically the announcement that Ranking the Disney Canon will be finishes sooner rather than later (or never)! Work is going down as we speak, and Film #12 is going to be coming up as quickly as possible, and the ball will continue to roll soon after that!

In other Disney and Beyond news, you may have noticed, if you have been looking at previous posts, that all the videos were taken down. Yes, as much as the videos helped to explain my points, I realize now that have 100s of Disney videos on a single channel probably wasn’t the smartest idea. Though I attempted to argue that my videos were up under fair use rights, it quickly became too much when every other video started to go down. So, the Youtube Channel is gone, and I do not have the time and energy nor the resources to repost every single video. So, references to the videos will be edited out of every single one of my posts.

And the final question I’d like to ask myself here is “Where does Disney and Beyond go after he’s Ranked the Canon?” Well, I’d like to continue the reflection and discussion that defines the Ranking the Disney Canon for me. While it may be a while before I go into Ranking the Pixar Canon, or Ranking the Disney Parks Rides (canon?), I’d like to start to tell stories and opinions about my history with Disney, and to start discussion about this passion many of us share.

I’m looking forward to posting again, and I hope you still enjoy the ride? Be sure to follow me at @DisneyandBeyond on Twitter to know exactly when the next post is up!

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!