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What Are the 5 Best Films In the Disney Animated Canon?

Beauty and the Beast? Sleeping Beauty? Which is the strongest?

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February 21, 2014 - 10:00 am
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PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle offers his initial picks, in preparation for a longer, more in-depth list post eventually. Photographed amidst some of the books on history, religion, ideology, culture, and technology on his reading list:

What are the 5 best #disney animated films? I am counting down my picks. 5: Beauty and the Beast

5. Beauty and the Beast

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Top Rated Comments   
5. The Little Mermaid

As the last of the traditionally animated films and first to use any computer animation (only very briefly, in a shot where Ariel is descending a flight of stairs), this movie ended a long slump and brought on a new era in which Disney animated films were awesome again. You can see why, too: in addition to the slick production values on the animation, the characters are well fleshed out and the songs are top-notch. It's not exactly the original story (which, after all, had a bittersweet-verging-on-downbeat ending), but it's a good story in its own right.

4. Mulan

At first, you start thinking it's going to be all politically correct nonsense, granting the feminist grievance-mongers an excuse to rant at how awful we men were for not letting the women into our exclusive good-old-boys club known as the military, right? Wrong. Yes, Mulan is obviously bound to come into conflict with this males-only policy, but the film doesn't gloss over the very good reasons various cultures had for enacting this policy. Neither does it bash the old-time chivalry of the men though it pokes a little good-natured fun at them, depicting them nobly enduring their harsh training and courageously facing the horrors of war on the front line in order to protect their women and children. All in all, it's a very uplifting tribute to the warriors who fight to protect us, men and women alike.

3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Some do fault this for setting the tone of "Disneyfication" in fairy tales, but a look back at the actual movie reveals that if it had anything to do with this alleged trend of Bowdlerizing the old tales to get that G-rating, it also kicked off the practice of testing the boundaries; one important plot point this adaptation of the Grimms' fairy tale did NOT leave out was the Queen's demand that the hunter she'd tasked with assassinating Snow White was to cut out the girl's heart and bring it back as proof he'd done the deed. While Disney's version doesn't go into the part about her then frying and eating the animal heart he'd brought back instead, it does spell out this part of her villainy very plainly in a scene where she insists to her talking mirror that Snow White is dead and shows it the box in which she thinks she has the girl's heart to prove it. This opened the door for a great many more parental bonuses in subsequent Disney movies.

2. Lady and the Tramp

Having absent parents and broken families does often provide some of the conflict for driving the story in a lot of old fairy tales and therefore in Disney itself, but sometimes we'd like to see a story about how the family works when it's intact. Here, we get to see that story, with the conflict coming instead from opposites attracting, the titular Lady being a well-bred high-class lady and the titular Tramp being a lowly mongrel and lovable rogue. It also gets a lot of points for the memorable "We Are Siamese If You Please" song and for its tribute to the enduring loyalty of man's best friend.

1. Fantasia

Disney meant for this to be a great pinnacle to his achievements, and at this he very much succeeded. From the clever abstraction of Toccata & Fugue in D Minor to the darkly fascinating Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria, this flick succeeds at setting animation to music better than just about anything else. The later attempt to recapture some of this glory in Fantasia 2000 was at best a rather pale echo (which is why that piece is not on this list). While others have (sometimes successfully) explored the art of setting imagery to music before and since, Fantasia was a real trailblazer in this art genre, and as such has fully earned all the plaudits it has received.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (20)
All Comments   (20)
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Bambi - not only absolutely gorgeous, but it has one of the most iconic and powerful scenes in the history of film.

Until Miyazaki's "Spirited Away," I considered Bambi the greatest animated film of all time. Now I think it's a tie.
18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Disney old-style animation movies with the best storyline and music are 101 Dalmations and The Jungle Book.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
Jungle Book!
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Let me suggest the following as contenders for the top 5 (in no particular order):

Dumbo - - The Little Mermaid - - Cinderella - - Toy Story - - Alice in Wonderland - - Finding Nemo - - Aladin - - Bambi.

There is also a long list of Disney animated and live-action movies that are best forgotten.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
In no particular order - and excluding Pixar films.

The Lion King
Ratatouille (surprised the heck outta me how good it was... I'm not a fan of rats!)
Sleeping Beauty
Lady & The Tramp
Tangled
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
5. The Little Mermaid

As the last of the traditionally animated films and first to use any computer animation (only very briefly, in a shot where Ariel is descending a flight of stairs), this movie ended a long slump and brought on a new era in which Disney animated films were awesome again. You can see why, too: in addition to the slick production values on the animation, the characters are well fleshed out and the songs are top-notch. It's not exactly the original story (which, after all, had a bittersweet-verging-on-downbeat ending), but it's a good story in its own right.

4. Mulan

At first, you start thinking it's going to be all politically correct nonsense, granting the feminist grievance-mongers an excuse to rant at how awful we men were for not letting the women into our exclusive good-old-boys club known as the military, right? Wrong. Yes, Mulan is obviously bound to come into conflict with this males-only policy, but the film doesn't gloss over the very good reasons various cultures had for enacting this policy. Neither does it bash the old-time chivalry of the men though it pokes a little good-natured fun at them, depicting them nobly enduring their harsh training and courageously facing the horrors of war on the front line in order to protect their women and children. All in all, it's a very uplifting tribute to the warriors who fight to protect us, men and women alike.

3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Some do fault this for setting the tone of "Disneyfication" in fairy tales, but a look back at the actual movie reveals that if it had anything to do with this alleged trend of Bowdlerizing the old tales to get that G-rating, it also kicked off the practice of testing the boundaries; one important plot point this adaptation of the Grimms' fairy tale did NOT leave out was the Queen's demand that the hunter she'd tasked with assassinating Snow White was to cut out the girl's heart and bring it back as proof he'd done the deed. While Disney's version doesn't go into the part about her then frying and eating the animal heart he'd brought back instead, it does spell out this part of her villainy very plainly in a scene where she insists to her talking mirror that Snow White is dead and shows it the box in which she thinks she has the girl's heart to prove it. This opened the door for a great many more parental bonuses in subsequent Disney movies.

2. Lady and the Tramp

Having absent parents and broken families does often provide some of the conflict for driving the story in a lot of old fairy tales and therefore in Disney itself, but sometimes we'd like to see a story about how the family works when it's intact. Here, we get to see that story, with the conflict coming instead from opposites attracting, the titular Lady being a well-bred high-class lady and the titular Tramp being a lowly mongrel and lovable rogue. It also gets a lot of points for the memorable "We Are Siamese If You Please" song and for its tribute to the enduring loyalty of man's best friend.

1. Fantasia

Disney meant for this to be a great pinnacle to his achievements, and at this he very much succeeded. From the clever abstraction of Toccata & Fugue in D Minor to the darkly fascinating Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria, this flick succeeds at setting animation to music better than just about anything else. The later attempt to recapture some of this glory in Fantasia 2000 was at best a rather pale echo (which is why that piece is not on this list). While others have (sometimes successfully) explored the art of setting imagery to music before and since, Fantasia was a real trailblazer in this art genre, and as such has fully earned all the plaudits it has received.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Excellent!
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Might not FANTASIA be the first music video?
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
It kind of depends on how you define "music video" when drawing up these lists. As somebody pointed out, if simple images set to music counts, then you could go all the way back to 1894 with "The Little Lost Child" which was a live performance of music set to a series of images thrown up on a screen as part of a Magic Lantern show. If you insist on it being a recording, there were musical "talkies" as early as 1926 that might qualify. Fantasia is definitely an early pioneer in this form of art, but it's not really the very first.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'd put Dumbo in there.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
It'll probably be in the top 10. Not sure it's strong enough for top 5.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I tend to object to the politically correct Disney files.
Alladdin (it's OK to steal if you're poor)
Beauty and the Beast (mate outside your culture because white people are bad)
Lilo and Stitch (dysfunctional families are OK because it's a family and we don't want to make judgements)
Pocahontas seems to have a split-brain. white people are bad but then why even make the movie?
None of these would make my "best" list though all have redeeming elements. For example, my single favorite animated image/sequence would be the horse in Beauty as it reacts to wolf attack while breaking through the ice. So well done.

Love Fantasia for its mystic pre-psychedelic imagery
Value Robin Hood for its distrust of government
Cinderella is inspiring for showing a character who bears up under adverse life circumstances, makes no excuses and remains an admirable person.

For non-ideological evaluations--great entertainment from Dumbo, Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, Sword in the Stone, Jungle Book, Great Mouse Detective, Monsters Inc and more.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Your hostility to Lilo & Stitch makes no sense to me. Lilo and her older sister Nani were orphaned, Lilo isn't living without parents because of anyone's choice. And the film is rather explicit in portraying this arrangement as not only inferior to life with two parents, but almost impossible to cope with for both Nani and Lilo. This is not a glorification of a "dysfunctional" family, it's a portrayal of how hard life is without a normal family structure. Furthermore, think about the alternative: they aren't choosing between a normal family (which they have been deprived of through tragic circumstances, not because of choice or even their own mistakes) and the older sister acting as guardian, they are choosing between Lilo staying with the only family she has and Lilo becoming a ward of the state. And the latter option is portrayed as the one the characters struggle to avoid, and their ability to finally do so is portrayed as a victory. That's a very conservative message, don't you think? That the state is NOT the solution to their problems? Hell, even Stitch's struggle is one of the individual fighting against a government that is trying to take away his rights.
16 weeks ago
16 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh, brother. You're as bad as the feminists. Listen, you don't have to force fit a political spin on every movie you see, especially when you elevate minor details into thematic points. The theme of Aladdin was not "stealing is OK if you're poor." It was, "Be truthful; be yourself." As for Belle in Beauty and the Beast, she wasn't hostile to "white people"; she was bored with her provincial village and sought something more, as have millions of people over the years who left the farm for the big city. Of the movies you mention, Pocahontas is the only one that IMO distorted the original story for PC purposes -- turning the heroine into an environmentalist.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I see your point about Aladdin, but Belle basically cursed out her own village, and it was strongly implied that she was the village pariah solely because of her literacy (even though most of the villagers were strongly implied to be fairly devout Catholics and thus especially with it being the late 18th century they definitely had to have read at least the bible, during mass if not on their own spare time, and besides which, they had a bookstore that was doing economically well). I've dealt with at least one militant feminist professor who claimed that women were kept uneducated and illiterate until the 1960s, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary (not to mention bashing a lot of Christians), and based on some of my research, that's a common lie the feminists push. I recognize that lie when I see or hear it thanks to that garbage of a World History up to the 1500s class. Not to mention, I don't think Belle even acknowledged any religious beliefs, and based on her statements about the village in the opening song, and its reprise, she basically looked down on the villagers. They should have at least given her one line directly referencing religion if they wanted to show she was religious, PC be darned.

Also, someone who would be like Gaston (ie, value illiterate women more than literate women) would ironically be someone like Jean-Jacques Rousseau (who definitely is nothing like Gaston), who is effectively closer to Belle in terms of intelligence than Gaston.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Perhaps I should clarify, they [Gaston and Rousseau] are not similar in professions, intellectual capabilities, appearance, or even religious beliefs (Gaston was implied to be Catholic, while Rousseau was more of an atheist, agnostic, or deist than a Catholic even when he did convert temporarily). They are, however, very similar in terms of personalities (ie, being narcissistic jerks).
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Let's agree to disagree :)
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Beauty and the Beast (mate outside your culture because white people are bad)"

Well, technically, Belle was mating inside her culture (as she never left France), but I see your point. Also really dislike it now that I've endured professors who pushed this lie constantly about women being completely illiterate and uneducated until the 1960s and how we Christians put them down and invented misogyny when they basically had Belle basically being treated badly for being the sole villager (or at least sole woman) able to read (even though 1. The bookstore was doing very well economically, meaning Belle's far from the only villager with the ability to read, and 2. the village is strongly implied to be Catholic from the failed "wedding" scene and the Mob Song, meaning the villagers, both male and female, definitely had to have read the bible, if not on their own time, certainly during Mass on Sundays or any other time they had the opportunity). Plus I distrust Belle's intellectual nature because of what intellectuals like her did to us Catholics in real life (not only instigating the French Revolution and Communist revolutions, but also tarnishing Pope Pius XII with the lie that he supported Hitler).
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Most Disney animateds involve a dead or missing parent (or two); kind of rough on kids watching it (SPOILER ALERT - latest example, Frozen both parents drown in a shipwreck)

Love Fantasia though, watched it with every one of my kids as something for them to fall asleep to...
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, everybody knows that kids can't have an adventure unless their mother is dead. Mothers are much too sensible to let their children get into a situation bad enough to be an adventure!
17 weeks ago
17 weeks ago Link To Comment
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