Few surnames elicit as much emotion, nostalgia, or whimsy as Disney’s. Because he was a great storyteller and animator, Walt Disney was an American pioneer and cultural icon of the first order. As proven by this week’s “Moana,” he constructed a flourishing enterprise that continues to remain the gold standard of feature-length animation 50 years after his death.
The best Disney animated movies
For many people, especially those who grew up during the VHS era, choosing a favorite Disney film is akin to choosing a favorite child. So, with great appreciation for the oeuvre, we aim to accomplish just that by compiling a list of the top ten Disney animated flicks (non-Pixar, because otherwise the list would be nothing but).
This is the most predictable Disney Renaissance film, yet Robin Williams is its ace in the hole. The madcap actor could be his most Robin Williamsy and burst out outdated celebrity impressions and pop cultural references on the whim thanks to the frequently imitated but never duplicated Genie of the Lamp. The ho-hum, excessively typical main plot – boy meets girl, boy saves girl, boy marries girl – pales in compared to Genie’s longing for freedom, which is heartfelt enough to make you cry between belly chuckles.
Until 1989’s “The Little Mermaid,” “Sleeping Beauty” is the most opulent of Disney’s fairy tale films, drawing inspiration from fine art and incorporating classical arrangements from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet of the same name. The film took over a decade to make, and the richness and beauty of the painstakingly hand-painted cels reflects that. However, Disney paid a hefty price for its opulence: poor box office results and a lukewarm critical reception resulted in layoffs and budget cuts. Time has proven that the aesthetic risk was worthwhile, most notably in the exaltation of Maleficent, a genuinely famous evil not only in the Disney universe but throughout cinema.
The Lion King
Thanks in part to a perfect synergy of voice actors, including Matthew Broderick as grown-up Simba, Nathan Lane as rascally meerkat Timon, Jeremy Irons as nefarious Scar, and James Earl Jones as kingly Mufasa, this safari take on “Hamlet” is one of the most beloved (and highest grossing) films of the Disney Renaissance. The murder of Mufasa, the second most horrifying death in the Disneyverse, immediately behind Bambi’s mother, has left a massive cultural pawprint, generating a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical and scarring young, sensitive minds.
Lilo & Stitch
“Lilo & Stitch” stands apart among the Disney canon almost defiantly. In this science-fiction comedy, an Elvis-loving alien wreaking havoc in a bright, painted Hawaii replaces fairy tales, sweeping romances, princesses, and magic. Stitch, the result of an unlawful genetic experiment, is destined for the outer reaches of the galaxy, but instead finds himself at a Hawaiian animal shelter, where he is adopted as a strange-looking dog by lonely Lilo. As crazy as it is, it’s also poignant, with a pair of female stars who aren’t drawn to look like Barbie dolls and a touching sister dynamic that puts “Frozen” to shame. “‘Ohana” is Hawaiian for “family.” No one is left out in the family.
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