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

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

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

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

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

STRENGTHS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEAKNESSES

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

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

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

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

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

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

CLOSING COMMENTS

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

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Ranking the Disney Canon – 17: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

“Come along! Hop up here! We’ll go for a jolly ride! The open road! The dusty highway! Come! I’ll show you the world! Travel! Scene! Excitement! Ha ha ha!”

Mr. Toad

It’s time for the first package film in the Top 25! Huzzah! Ichabod and Mr. Toad also was the final Package Film to be released by the Walt Disney Studios. As such, it is the film that marks the end of the World War II era of animation for Disney. The next film, Cinderella, would be their first single story feature in nearly a decade. But we’ll save the Cinderella discussion for another day, hmm? Let’s get back to the task as hand.

Ichabod and Mr. Toad join Fun and Fancy Free in the “Feature Length Shorts” category of Package Film, featuring two longer segments with full story and character rather than a shorter collection of shorts. The first short of the feature is “The Wind in the Willows,” narrated by Sherlock Holmes himself, Basil Rathbone, and starring the lovable J. Thaddeus Toad. In the segment, the financial state of Toad Hall is a mess, and Toad’s friends attempt to stop him from indulging in his new obsession, Motor Cars. When Toad sneaks out and gets framed for stealing a car, he loses the ownership of Toad Hall. After a daring escape from Jail, Toad and his friends Ratty, Moley, and MacBadger must take Toad Hall back from the Weasels and their leader, Mr. Winky. The second segment is “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” narrated by Bing Crosby. It tells the classic tale of Teacher Ichabod Crane, a man with a love for food and the uncanny ability to charm women. When Ichabod falls head over heels for the beautiful Katrina, rival suitor Brom uses Ichabod’s superstitious beliefs against him, and relays the story of The Headless Horseman at a Halloween party. Ichabod must get to the bridge before the Headless Horseman takes his head!

A note: In recent years, Disney has actually released the two segments from this film in separate sets in the short films collection. Naturally, we will be taking a look at the original 1948 version of the film, which has also been released on home video.

STRENGTHS

This is a film that kept moving up and up on my list because the segments here are just stunningly brilliant. I really didn’t remember the two segments from this film being that good, but man, they are that good! True story, I actually let out an audible “Wow” after I finished the viewing of this film for this list. It jumped nearly 20 spots from my pre ranking list to the current spot. Let’s take a look at how the film impressed me, shall we?

We’ll start with the first segment, “The Wind in the Willows.” The theme that connects the two shorts in this film are that the narrators mention that these stories feature classic characters. And indeed, one of the major strengths of the Mr. Toad segment is that it has extremely strong characters. None stronger than our main character, Mr. Toad himself. Mr. Toad is wonderfully energetic with a wonderful voice and a wonderful personality and worldview. He’s one of those character that is so much fun to watch and experience. And while I normally desire an arc from the characters, one of the things that makes Mr. Toad great is the fact that his arc is halted. He has this huge realization in jail about his life and where he has gone wrong, only to drop the entire notion as soon as the opportunity to escape arises. That’s a part of what makes Mr. Toad a wonderful character, and one of the underrated characters in Disney History. Sherlock Holmes was right, as he always is.

Of course, Wind in the Willows has many other strong characters too. Cyril J. Proudbottom,  Mr. Toad’s loyal horse, is a scene stealer, and has a memorable moment in every scene he is in, especially the courtroom scene. Ratty, Moley, and MacBadger all have their moments to shine, and they make for great, serious friends of Toad’s. And our villains, Mr. Winky and the Weasels (who would later be the inspiration for the Weasels in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), are that classic mix of humorous and sinister, and contribute to a class final battle for the Deed to Toad Hall. Even the lawyer opposing Toad at the trial has some great moments on-screen. There are too many great characters to count, and each one has their own moment in the sun. And the voice acting in this film, especially Mr. Toad’s and Cyril’s, is absolutely perfect.

And the other thing that’s great about Mr. Toad? The fact that it is absolutely hilarious! Mr. Toad and Cyril make you laugh every single time they are on-screen. It’s the great characters that allow this segment to be as funny as it is. The courtroom scene, Toad’s escape from prison, and the final raid on Toad Hall especially are fantastic moments of comedy. The style of humor in this segment is perfectly Disney and perfect for the story, and it’s humor that you love to come back to. It is just as enjoyable to me now as it was back when I was first wowed by it.

Remember when I said that in these “Feature Length Shorts” style Package Films that there were two shorts that I wished could be expanded and two that I certainly prefer in my mind as shorts? It’s time to get to that category on this post. Wind in the Willows is one of those shorts that I wished had actually been expanded into a Full Feature. It’s got the characters, the story, the humor, the action, and the classic nature of the material would have potentially been a Top 10 Disney feature. Wind in the Willows actually takes the prize of my all time favorite Feature Length Short. It is so very excellent.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow may not be up to the level of Wind in the Willows, but it is pretty dang good in its own right. Just like in the Wind in the Willows segment, and just like the film claims, it has some really good characters. The film quickly establishes Ichabod’s own quirks and his own brilliance, and his uncanny ability to attract girls. Ichabod has an extremely memorable design, with his lanky body dominating the scene every time he appears. It are his quirks that end up creating the best moments of the story, and the segment does a great job building up Ichabod’s character.

Honestly, though, the real star of the segment is Bing Crosby. Bing is just fantastic throughout the entirety of the segment, and it’s his songs and narration that really bring everything together. “Ichabod” does such a perfect job at describing the character of Ichabod, and The Headless Horseman song is one of the absolute classics of this film. And the thing is, these songs fit perfectly with Bing’s voice and style, and his style and voice fit perfectly with the story, as surprising as it is. Who knew that Bing Crosby and Colonial America would fit so well together? It’s a pretty interesting combination, and one that ultimately works out extremely well. It was a huge risk that paid off with a huge reward.

Let’s take a quick break from the Sleepy Hollow story and talk about the music for a second, since this seems like the appropriate moment to do so. The music in this film is fantastic. I’ve already gone over what makes the Bing Crosby sounds of Sleepy Hollow so great, but Wind in the Willows is not to be outdone. “Merrily on Our Way to Nowhere” is such an underrated Disney song, and is so much fun to listen to. The scores for these two segments are also a lot of fun, and just add to the enjoyment of the program.

Now, back to the wonders of Sleepy Hollow. As much as Bing Crosby and the set up are great, the ending is the an absolute classic of Disney animation. Yes, Bing contributes with this with the Headless Horseman song (which is another extremely underrated Disney song), but the real shining star of the segment is what happens after Ichabod leaves his party. The initial part of the return is a fantastic look into how sound design can increase the intensity of a scene. This is a great example of how important sound design is not only to animation, but to film in general. And even though the segment is very tense, it manages to keep the humor with Ichabod’s manic reactions to every little thing and his horse’s general laziness.

And then of course, the Headless Horseman shows up. These final 4 minutes of the film are even more intense and more humorous than the last part. The Headless Horseman, for as little screen time as he gets, has such a memorable design that he is imprinted into your brain, as well as his red-eyed horse. The chase and the run for the bridge are as perfect as a package film and a Disney film can get. Great animation, great humor, great action. The final 8 minutes of Ichabod and Mr. Toad could certainly contend for the best final 8 minutes of a Disney film ever.

WEAKNESSES

I truly don’t have any complaints about the Toad segment. Seriously. Not that it is perfect, because nothing ever is, but nothing shoots to mind as something I should talk about here. Call it the first weaknessless segment, if you want to.

Sleepy Hollow, on the other hand, has just a tiny bit that doesn’t work for me. I think it is a weakness that the segment allows a little too much on Bing Crosby. Yes, he is fantastic, but the overabundance of him in the film, and the fact that he voices every male and sings every song, doesn’t allow Brom and Katrina to have their own moments the way that the characters in Toad are able to have these moment. Granted, the segment is still absolutely fantastic, but I feel that it could be even better if they had given Brom and Katrina just a bit more time to themselves and to allow themselves to build up. That’s why I feel like I’d prefer this film as a short rather than a feature. I can’t imagine it succeeding as much without Bing. I would have a lot of work to do.

(If somehow Bongo and Mr. Toad were paired together in a package film, then we’d have a Top 10 and possibly Top 5 Disney Feature.)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Because both segments are so good, and because I LOVE this film so much, I’m giving you the best moment and song from each segment!

Mr. Toad’s Best Song, as mentioned above, is “Merrily on Our Way to Nowhere.” A very catch tune and a great one at that.

Mr. Toad’s Best scene is the final battle for the Deed to Toad Hall. Great physical comedy and just as a whole a great ending to an amazing segment.

The best song of Sleepy Hollow is the Headless Horseman song. It is extremely catchy. You may get this one stuck in your head.

And finally, the best scene for Sleepy Hollow is those last 8 minutes I was talking about, the ride away from the party and the headless horseman chase. Simple Brilliance. But you know that if you read the above praise for such a segment.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I think my post has said it all, hasn’t it? The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is a near perfect Package Film, and it no doubt deserves to be counted among the great films that Disney has to offer. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend you check out the entirety of the film. It is fantastic. And it is only the second best Package film! Mr. Toad, you shall live forever. Ichabod, well, as long as you don’t get your head chopped off, you will too.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 18: Peter Pan

“All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again” – Narrator

Peter Pan, released in 1953, was originally intended to be Walt Disney’s second animated feature all the way back in 1940, but the combination of rights issues with the original source material and the outbreak of World War 2 forced the production to be delayed. Through these 13 years, the story and characters would change many times, and would have versions that were both closer to the original play and versions that were even more radically different from it. In the end, the film would eventually the third Canon film released in the 1950s.

Peter Pan begins as Wendy Darling is berated by her father for allowing her younger siblings to become rowdy, and declares her to be too old to continue to be in the nursery. This greatly upsets Wendy, who can’t imagine life without telling her siblings stories about Peter Pan. That very night, Peter Pan visits the nursery looking for his shadow, and discovers the great tragedy that has befallen the nursery. To the delight of everyone except a jealous Tinker Bell, Peter invites the group to come to Neverland with him. With a little pixie dust and a little fun, they fly off, only to be attacked by Peter’s arch nemesis, Captain Hook. Peter manages to escape and take his crew to the Lost Boys for Wendy to be their mother. Peter and Wendy continue to battle Hook, and also experience mermaid and Indians in the world of Neverland.

STRENGTHS

The one thing that Peter Pan does amazing is building great characters. Out of all the characters in the film, Wendy is overall the best built. The film may be named after Peter Pan, but this is Wendy’s movie. From the very beginning, the audience gets her charms and her motherly instincts and are immediately drawn to like her. Her emotional state throughout the film feels real, and especially when she is saddened by the fact that she will no longer be in the nursery. And yet her journey to accepting adulthood is completely believable. Much like Alice’s journey (More on that later), it is the ridiculousness of Neverland that shows Wendy that growing up is a good thing. She is charming and cute even in her most angry moments, and Kathryn Beaumont adds a ton of warmth to the role. She was the perfect casting choice for Wendy, and I can’t imagine the character working with any other voice. Wendy remains a shining star throughout the entire film.

Before we move onto other characters, I do want to mention that one of the things that truly enhances Wendy’s journey is the fantastic opening 10 minutes of the film, before Peter Pan is even introduced. This sequence does an amazing job at building up the character of the Darling family, and is key to making Wendy the great character she is. But this sequence does more than just build Wendy. This sequence is essentially what we get of Nana the St. Bernard and Mr. Darling, but both have some wonderful comedy here and add to the amazingness of this sequence. And of course, this our introduction to the other Darling children, Michael and John, who are just as fun. All in All, it is a great opening sequence.

And right after this opening sequence comes the introduction of Peter himself. Peter is a really fun character. His cockiness, his brashness, and his “all fun all the time” worldview come together to create a truly memorable male lead. The chase for his shadow and his continual battles with Captain Hook are by far the best sections of the character, but what really makes him special is his relationship with Wendy. Peter Pan’s personality is the perfect one to facilitate Wendy’s growth as a character, and they have a really interesting dynamic throughout the film, especially after Wendy’s annoyance with Peter’s antics. Peter is a ton of fun every time he is on-screen.

And of course, you can’t talk about Peter Pan without talking about Tinker Bell. Tinker Bell, in my opinion, is the film’s funniest character. One of the perfect examples of why Animation is great and why Disney succeeds so well with silent characters, Tinker Bell has some fantastic physical humor and has hilarious expressions throughout the entirety of the film. Her jealousy of Wendy adds some great tension and storylines to the film, yet she remains the very hilarious character throughout it all. And the animation of her is amazing. Very expressive and very fun to watch.

And the final great character on our list of great characters is the film’s villain, Captain Hook. Captain Hook is also in contention for Peter Pan’s funniest character, and is among the many great villains in Disney History. A wonderful performance by Hans Conried brings so much humor to the character, and it is a voice that will stick with you for a long time. But what makes Hook a great villain, like many of the great Disney villains, is that even through his humor he is a credible threat. Sure, he has his silly moments and his hilarious quirks (Never Smile at a Crocodile comes to mind), but through all that, the film presents Hook as a thoughtful, though arrogant, thinker who can really get a good idea and run with it. This always gives him somewhat of an aura even when Peter Pan is at his best. He is also able to convince Tinker Bell to give him the location of Peter, which showcases his talents. Hook easily makes it into the memorable book.

Alongside Captain Hook is his bumbling partner Mr. Smee. Mr. Smee and Hook have such a wonderful dynamic and comedy duo form to them. Hook and Smee have some of the film’s funniest sequences, and were just two personalities meant to be together. The scene in the caves is a particularly strong sequence mainly because of the triple dynamic of Smee, Hook, and Peter, all playing against and with each other.

And as good as the Smee/Hook and the Peter/Wendy dynamics are, the Peter/Hook dynamic is the film’s show stealing one. Peter Pan has some great action throughout, and most of this comes from the interactions between Hook and Peter. Everytime the two face off, so much fun is to be had. This is especially true in their final battle, which is arguably one of the film’s most memorable moments. The way Peter taunts and plays with Hook is absolutely fantastic, and adds a lot to the film’s humorous tones.

Moving on from character, he film’s biggest successes plot wise are in the first and third acts. The introduction of the film and the journey to Neverland, as mentioned above, are some of the film’s strongest moments. Moments that are just as strong come closer to the end of the film, for the Final Battle between Hook and Peter and the return to London for the Darling Children. Both of these sections of the film are full of great humor, dialogue, and action.

Finally, the soundtrack. For the most part, The soundtrack is great. Again, not one of the strongest in Disney History, but there are no bad songs. The two truly memorable songs are “Second Star to the Right” and “You Can Fly.” The real musical highlight, though, is the score. This is the first time I’ve mentioned Oliver Wallace on this blog, but be sure I’ll mention him again in the future. The score is full of fantastic variations on the melodies of the songs, and are absolutely wonderful to listen to.

WEAKNESSES

 

Much like Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan only has a few minor glitches, but as we approach films with practically no glitches, these glitches really determine the ranking.

I’ll start the weaknesses section by talking about the elephant in the room when it comes to Peter Pan. It really is hard to discuss the portrayal of Indians in this film considering that it is politically incorrect by today’s standards. Even when trying to ignore that, however, it is very easy to see that The Indians are the weakest part of the film. They really contribute no humor, their song is the film’s weakest by far, and the only one that feels of any importance is Tiger Lilly, who really just feels like she is there only to create the wonderful scene between Hook, Smee, and Peter. Sure the Indian Celebration does advance Wendy’s growth toward Adulthood, but not only was this already made clear by the Mermaid scene and would be made clear again later in the film, but there are better ways to advance it than this unfunny sequence.

Overall, I feel that Neverland is a bit underused. Obviously, they are working with the source material, but I felt that for as strong as the characters are, the world around them sort of fails in comparison. Again, it’s still a good world, but certain aspects of the world, especially the Pirates, could have been used more and been more explored. This could have added even more to the stories of Hook, Peter, and Wendy.

And for all the great characters, there are some that could be seen more. The Lost Boys are among them. I wish we could have seen a bit more with them and Wendy, and really building up Wendy’s feelings of motherhood. It’s well done as it is, but I still feel there is too little interaction between the characters. The most we get of the Lost Boys is their interactions with the Indians, which of course is the weakest part of the film. Their best section is the final battle with the pirates, but that comes much too late in the film. The same could be said about John and Michael, though the opening of the film allows for much more fun for their characters.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The Film’s Best Song is “You Can Fly.” It’s the film’s most classic sequence, and has great visuals of London and the flying children. There’s a reason it was a major inspiration for the Peter Pan’s Flight attraction at various Disney Parks around the world.

There are so many great sequences in Peter Pan, but I feel the cave sequence is the absolute best of the group. It shows the film’s great use of character as well as it’s humor and action. Overall a classic sequence.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Peter Pan has a huge multitude of strong characters that propel the film into the Top 20. Wendy, Peter, Tinker Bell, and Hook are all extremely fun to watch both individually, and alongside each other, and these character lead the film towards some great humor. However, the film suffers a bit from some unfunny sections in Neverland that ultimately place the film at 18.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 19: Lady and the Tramp

“What a dog!” – Peg

We continue to knock out better and better films as we take a look at Walt Disney’s 1955 feature, Lady and the Tramp. Conceived in pieces starting in 1939, Lady and the Tramp can be considered one of the earliest original stories to come out of a Disney Full Length Animated Feature. Though there are a few short stories that Disney loosely took ideas from, Lady and the Tramp mostly was wholly original ideas from the Walt Disney Studios Staff. It was also the first Animated Disney film to be presented in the 2.66:! aspect ratio, known at the time as Cinemascope.

The story begins with Lady being presented as a Christmas Gift from Jim Dear to his wife Darling. Lady lives a pampered life with her new family until they begin acting strange and ignoring her normal calls for attention. While discussing this issue with her neighbors, Jock and Trusty, a stray dog known as The Tramp passes by and alerts Lady that her owners are having a baby, and she will soon be kicked to the curb. Over the next 9 months, Lady witnesses herself continually being ignored, just as The Tramp had predicted. After the baby is born, the family heads out-of-town for a few days, leaving Lady and the new baby boy in the care of Aunt Sarah. Aunt Sarah’s cats begin tearing the house apart, causing Aunt Sarah to blame Lady and put her in a muzzle. Lady runs away and runs into the Tramp. The two of them share the day together, leading to a romantic night. Lady feels she still must return home, where unbeknownst to her, a small, unexpected menace is looming.

STRENGTHS

Romance is the name of the game in Lady and the Tramp. Lady and the Tramp is one of those romances you think about when you consider the classic Disney romances. The film is named after the two, after all, so it is the main attraction, and it is a great main attraction. Lots of care and attention was put into making sure this romance is a classic, and it starts from the very beginning of the film, before the two main characters even meet for the very first time.

One of the best things this film does for the romance is to build up who these characters are fantastically before the romance is even in the minds of the characters or the audience. By starting at Lady’s arrival within the “Darling” family, we truly get a sense of who Lady is and where she is coming from. We are given a status quo for her character, which in turn gives us a great sense of her character and a reason to care for her character throughout the rest of the film. It also gives us a great sense of why the arrival of the baby is so confusing and devastating to her. The film also takes the time to introduce us to Tramp’s life before he first passes by Lady’s house, giving us a clear look at his worldview. By not rushing into the romance and allowing time to introduce the characters, it improves the characters, the romance, the story, and the film as a whole.

Let’s focus on the two as individuals. Lady’s first. (IT’S PUNTASTIC!) Lady is wonderfully elegant, matching the environment that she has grown up in. She feels exactly like your pet, and that’s what makes her so easily lovable. She loves her pampered life, yet never comes off as lazy or arrogant. The pampered life is the only life she has ever known, and thus the film makes it extremely easy to understand why Lady is confused about the changes in her lifestyle. It also makes it easy to understand why she is able to get into so much trouble. I love the fact that Lady keeps her worldview throughout the film, even after her wonderful time with Tramp. Lady is a beautiful character, and a wonderful protagonist for the film. And this elegance keeps consistent throughout the film, even when the story presents her with the toughest of obstacles, which makes her an even more wonderful character. She is the perfect counterpart to Tramp.

And of course, Tramp is the perfect counterpart to Lady. What I like most about Tramp is that he’s not necessarily angry at the world in the same way that Mittens from Bolt was. Sure, he knows about the dangers of living with humans, but the way he lives his life is more about the fact that he likes living “footloose and collar-free” as he puts it. He is clever and streetwise, but like Lady, never angry or arrogant about the way he lives his life. Tramp is certainly up there among the best “rebels” in Disney history. And like most of these rebels, he comes around.

And so Lady and the Tramp create a wonderful romance together. But how does this happen once they are together? Well, as mentioned above, the fact that they are great counterparts to one another means that they are perfect for one another. We’ll see this idea again done even better as we get farther into the list, but one aspect of the opposites attract idea that Lady is the perfect person to change the Tramp. It is said throughout the film that Tramp is always moving on to the next girlfriend when he gets bored. What’s great about this is that it makes Lady seem important and it makes her his soul mate. All of Tramps other lovers are strays just like him, but Lady has this elegance that makes Tramp care and come back for her. Lady and Tramp feel made for each other. When one of the results is the famous candlelight dinner scene, you know you have a great romance on your hands.

The name of the game may be romance, but the film does other things great as well. Like another dog related feature that is fast approaching in the countdown, Lady and the Tramp does a fantastic job at making the dogs feel like dogs. Lady acts exactly like the pet that you own, and she has all of these subtle scenes that drive home this point. The same goes for the rest of the dogs in the movie, including Tramp, Jock, and Trusty. It may seem like small potatoes, but it actually does a ton to add to the believability of the story. One of my personal favorite things that the fact that Jim Dear and Darling’s faces are barely shown at all, and that most of the time we only see their legs. It truly is a brilliant touch.

At this point, I should point out that Jim Dear and Darling are wonderful in this movie. Their voices are spot on, their script is amazing, and their role adds so much to the film. I love them as characters. They could have easily been throw away characters who were just means to an end, but they end up becoming a favorite part of the film for me.

Finally, let’s look at the villains. Aunt Sarah, her cats, and the rat all work great for the story. The “slice of real life” aspect of this story doesn’t allow for much wiggle room in the villain department, but these four characters work as antagonists. Aunt Sarah and her Cats fall into that “Love to Hate” category, and the rat from the film’s climax is brilliantly sinister and the realistic portrayal of it really adds tension to the final moments.

WEAKNESSES

I told you, this section will continually and continually get smaller! There’s not a ton wrong with all of the upcoming films (They are Top 20 material, after all). These weaknesses are all nitpicks in comparison to the film breaking weaknesses earlier films had on this list. Anyways, let’s get to a short weaknesses section.

There is a small glitch in quality right after one of the film’s highlights, the dinner sequence I mentioned earlier. The wake-up, the chicken chase, the pound, and the return of Lady to her home all are great in comparison to the classic quality of the rest of the film. The Pound sequence is one I’ve always had an issue with. The scene really needed to be Lady realizing Tramp’s life with women, and being embarrassed by the fact that a dog like herself ended up in the pound. And it does accomplish that in a sense. But it needed to be stronger. It needed to be more heartbreaking, more embarrassing. As it is, it is great, but still one of the film’s weaker sequences.

I also feel like the Soundtrack is great, but not classic. I don’t deny that “The Siamese Cat Song” and “He’s a Tramp” are great songs, but I don’t know if they are as strong as the songs from films around it. Truly, only “Bella Notte” is a song that makes me go “Wow” whenever I see it or listen to it. The other two songs just don’t fall into the category of songs I want to listen to over and over again. It is a great Disney soundtrack, no doubt, but it falls just short of classic. You might say I feel this soundtrack is a bit overrated. But that’s just me. But this is my list after all.

There’s also a sense that I wanted a bit more from the ending. I wanted to see Tramp make the decision to stay with the family as well as Jim Dear and Darling accepting him into the family. It really would have been the icing on the cake for a great character arc. I also wanted to see that moment where Lady has puppies to parallel the baby storyline from the beginning of the film. It still is a great ending to a classic film, but it really could have been more.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

(Told you the Weaknesses were few and far between!)

For the first time in the countdown, the best scene and best song are one and the same! Both the Best Scene and Best Song come in the famous Dinner sequence, with the famous spaghetti kiss. “Bella Notte” adds a great Love song to one of the all time great Disney Romance Scenes.

CLOSING COMMENTS

In the end, Lady and the Tramp is a classic. Sure, it has some small issues that at this point are just enough to knock it down the ladder, but it remains a classic of animation and one of the greatest romances in the history of Disney. The two leads really do a lot to make it a memorable work of art, and it has an iconic moment that is as recognizable as any other moment in Disney history. And even if this isn’t the best dog themed film in Disney history (We’re not out of the doghouse just yet!) It is still one of the classics, and it stands at 19.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 20: Tarzan

“I was saved! I was saved by a flying wild man in a loincloth.” – Jane Porter

Tarzan is the film that rounded out the 1990s era of Disney Animation. For the studio, it was the last film that would be considered a “classic Disney Animated Musical” until The Princess and The Frog’s release in 2009. Tarzan is also noted for creating the “Deep Canvas” technique, which allowed animators to create Computer Generated backgrounds that looked similar to traditionally painted images. This would allow animators to create different camera techniques, much like the Multiplane Camera that Walt Disney created in the 1930s did for his animated shorts and features. The Deep Canvas technique would eventually merit an honorary Academy Award.

Tarzan begins as our main hero is taken in a mother Gorilla, after Sabor, a leopard, kills his shipwrecked mother and father. Kala, whose own baby was taken by Sabor about the same time, convinces her husband to allow Tarzan to live with the Gorillas. Tarzan has a hard time fitting in with his new brethren, but quickly learns to be a Gorilla and becomes accepted into the society, eventually proving himself worthy by killing Sabor. Soon, he meets a crew of explorers in the jungle looking for Gorillas. This includes the lovely Jane Porter, the first of the people who Tarzan meets and the one that interests him the most. Jane, along with her father Archimedes and their protector Clayton, teach Tarzan about human life. Clayton, however, is planning betrayal, and Tarzan soon must save his family and his new friends.

STRENGTHS

One thing that always sticks out to me about Tarzan is the action sequences. The escape from the treehouse, Tarzan vs Sabor, and the climatic battle are all extremely well done. They always take themselves seriously, never feeling over the top with humor, and the small bits of humor there are in these sequences don’t feel completely out-of-place. This leaves them with the intense nature that the best Disney battles have. I especially like the Tarzan vs. Sabor sequence. It’s a great moment for the character of Tarzan.

Tarzan himself has a great arc that follows his rise, fall, and redemption within the Gorillas community. What I especially like about how the movie build’s Tarzan’s character is that there are two distinct parts to his story that form to create one fantastic one. The beginning builds Tarzan’s rise with the apes(Not Rise of the Planet of the Apes, because that is a different story altogether), and the second half builds Tarzan’s realization of his true identity and his struggle to figure out which one he is truly part of. Both of these stories are necessary to tell, and it can be very hard to pull them off without having one or the other feel a bit shallow or let down. However, Tarzan manages to make both sides of the story feel satisfactory. It truly feels like a life story is being told.

Tarzan’s story also works well because we actually care for the relationship between Tarzan and the Gorillas. What’s great about this is that this viewing is not limited to Tarzan’s adulthood. Yes, we get the relationship very well in Tarzan’s adulthood, and there are very heartbreaking moments, but it shines in Tarzan’s childhood. We see WHY he is so caring for is family. This is a great example of why showing is always better than telling. By effectively building the relationship between Tarzan and his mother, and even the antagonistic one between Tarzan and his father, the decisions and feelings he makes in his adulthood make sense, and we care for them.

Jane and Tarzan’s relationship is also a classic. Jane is wonderfully voiced by Minnie Driver, who adds a wonderful warmth to the role. The meeting between Jane and Tarzan on the tree is one of the all time classic Disney romance scenes, and has some great writing in it. Jane’s fascination with Tarzan is wonderful and presented correctly. The same thing goes for Tarzan’s fascination with the human world and Jane herself. In this relationship, Tarzan is smart yet naive, but never looks dumb. This is another film where the relationship makes or breaks the film, and thankfully, this one very much makes it. But really, shouldn’t you expect that from a film this highly ranked?

Clayton is effective villain, and great for the story. He is charismatic, undoubtedly evil, and still has great moments with the rest of the cast. His turn is always believable to the audience, and he never feels like a character who turned just because the film needed a villain. He is memorable as a character, and like many great Disney villains, has a memorable final battle and death.

Finally, the soundtrack. Of Phil Collin’s two Disney soundtracks, this is by far his finer one. To me, all the songs on the soundtrack are great, and not one of them really falters. What makes the soundtrack great, though, are the images that go along with the songs. If the images were not memorable, then the songs being sung by Phil Collins would not work. However, the images are even more memorable than the songs, and are what really make the song sequences in this film memorable. Normally, I prefer characters singing over montage singing, but the sequences in Tarzan really work well with Montages, and the story is able to quickly pace along because of the use of montages. And again, all the montages are memorable.

(Also, outside of one little glitch, Tarzan does a much better job at presenting the communication factor than Pocahontas did. Proof it can be done!)

WEAKNESSES

We are at the point in this countdown where the films to follow lack true, film breaking weaknesses. Sure, I’ll list some things that annoy me, but just know that this section will continue to dwindle down and down until eventually there are no weaknesses to list! The strength of the canon everybody!

Tarzan does have a few issues though. Side characters being one of them. Though Tantor the Elephant is memorable and has a great performance by Wayne Knight (Newman!), Terk, Tarzan’s best friend, frequently falls into the “celebrity voice acting category we fell into so long ago with Home on the Range. Terk never feels like her own character or even as a necessary part of the movie. She doesn’t do anything that any of the other Gorilla friends or children could have done. Her only real moment is the “Trashing the Camp” number, which is fun but a bit weaker compared to the rest.

I also wanted it bit more from Jane’s father. He is such a fun character, and he had so much potential to steal so many scenes, but he just isn’t featured enough. Personally, I’d have like to see him more than we saw Terk.

I know that I just put the soundtrack in the strength section, I do have a few issues with it. The songs are great sure, but if you had someone who has never seen the movie listen to the songs, they wouldn’t know they are from a movie. It’s not a game breaker, but it has always bothered me. They are Disney songs that don’t feel like Disney songs.They fun to listen to, but I think that what doesn’t allow me to move this movie to the next level. Also, if you are not a fan of Phil Collins (like Matt Stone and Trey Parker), it can really take you out of the movie.

Finally, While I like Clayton, I never find it believable that Jane and her Father trust Clayton. The film presents him as too seedy and suspicious from the moment he is introduced. I can’t understand why Jane and the professor would hire him. The film needed to keep him a bit understated for a while. It would have gone a long way.

(And that minor glitch in the communication is that Tarzan says his own name first even though he was given that name in Gorilla. But the film does the rest of it so well that I can let it slide more than I should.)

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The best moment of the film was close between many scenes, but it goes to the Tarzan’s rescue of Jane and their subsequent first meeting. Wonderful character building here, and it is a wildly fun sequence.

The best song goes to “Son of Man”, and a lot of it is because of the montage that accompanies the song. Wonderful fitting the images with the song. The song is good too, though.

CLOSING COMMENTS

As the end of an era, Tarzan certainly fits. And as the beginning of our Top 20, it fits too. Tarzan is a fantastic film with great characters, a great script, great moments and great action. And what does that say about what is to come as we approach the end of the list? I hope you stick around for the rest of the ride however long it is may take (and hopefully not too much longer.) Now the fun begins.

Ranking the Disney Canon – 21: Fantasia 2000

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

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

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

STRENGTHS

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

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

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

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

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

WEAKNESSES

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

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

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

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

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

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

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

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

CLOSING COMMENTS

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

Ranking the Disney Canon – 22: The Rescuers

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

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

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

STRENGTHS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEAKNESSES

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

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

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

CLOSING COMMENTS

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