Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Disney Decade

Here I am at the Magic Kingdom. Just because.

In keeping with my looking back at the Aughts, I don't think I could let the opportunity pass by to rank the Disney Animated Films that came out from 2000 to 2009.

So, here it is... my list, from worst to best, of the Disney Animated Films of the Aughts.

18. Chicken Little

Sorry Zach Braff... You know it's bad when you go to the parks around the time of the release and there's no sign of any merchandise. When the company itself thinks it's no good, that pretty much tells you all you need to know. If you can take anything else from this ranking, keep in mind that I own most Disney movies on DVD, and this is not one of them. I didn't get a chance to see it in the theaters, and I've barely been able to sit through it on TV. Not good coming from a notorious Disney apologist.

17. Home on the Range

This is the other film on the list that I actively dislike.. The rest, from 16 to 1 all have good things about them. This movie? I can't really think of anything. In fact, I guess the best way to reason my ranking of this movie at this place in the countdown is that I KNOW I've seen it, but I can't remember a single thing about it. Not one. I don't recall who did the voices. I don't recall the plot. I know there are cows and chickens involved. That's about it.

16. Treasure Planet

Probably the most glaring issue of this movie is that it was obviously trying too hard to capture some sort of "Hi Tech" kind of feel. What's interesting is that I think the movie, with the same animators, would have been far more successful if they'd done a more traditional take on the the Treasure Island story. The hand drawn animation is really excellent overall, and the integration of some of the computer done stuff was really cool. Long John Silver is a great villain, and really deserved better. I just think that Disney got caught up in trying to tap into some sort of space-craze thing (Star Wars was back t being hot). This movie came out in November of 2002, and I think would have been better as a traditional pirate story (as evidenced by the success of Pirates of the Caribbean 7 months later.). It's actually vaguely Steam-Punk, which I love a lot more now than I did then. Maybe I should revisit.

15. Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Atlantis isn't bad at all. Just kind of got lost in a sort of dark ages for Disney Animation. Tarzan was excellent, but the next few weren't particularly memorable. The animation in this movie is really cool, though, and the story is solid. I think Disney goes off the rails a little when they attempt to include minorities or different ethnicities when the story doesn't expressly call for it. I'm not saying they shouldn't do that... I'm just saying that it seems that many of the times they've attempted it, it's come across as clumsy. Still... I liked this one enough to use it as the subject in my Musical Theater writing class my senior year of college. We were supposed to take a non-musical movie and write an adaptation that includes music. I got an A.

14. Dinosaur
I'm not really a huge fan of this movie, but it definitely wins points from me due to the ride at Disney World that was refurbished to incorporate it. I really like the ride. The movie is pretty standard "Our World is Coming to an End" movie, and it's sad and kind of hopeless, know...the dinosaurs all died. I think this one also falls into the "trying too hard" mold. This time with the Global Warming allegories and whatnot. Still and all, some pretty good action sequences with the Carnataurs and dinosaurs are always cool.

13. Brother Bear

Now... I actually really like this movie. It was sort of dismissed at the time as another pay-homage-to-the-Native-Americans story, but I didn't really get that. I mean... there was some vaguely antiquated mysticism involved, and it's not THE BEST movie ever, but the animation is really, really cool. The characters are pretty memorable as well. I especially liked the Strange-Brew Moose. It's cheap, but funny. The only reason it gets any points off is that the story isn't exactly original. In fact... Avatar is pretty much the same. And Pocahontas. And Dances with Wolves. It's... not important. They did it well here. It's about here where the rankings are more simply degrees of awesome.

12. Fantasia 2000
I only put it down this low because it's not a movie I'd wanna watch over and over. The animation is beautiful. The music is very powerful. It's excellently done. It also was a pet project of Roy E. Disney (the guy who passed away last month, and who still deserves his own blog). The visuals of a few of the pieces are incredible. I'm especially fond of the Rhapsody in Blue piece that is styled like Al Hirschfeld's art. I like it a lot. Again... this only loses points due to it's lower re-watchability. (I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that the premier was in December of 1999, whereas the actual release was Jan 1st, I'm counting it.)

11. The Emperor's New Groove
This movie has some absolutely hilarious moments in it, and I love the voice work of Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, and Eartha Kitt... If David Spade was even close to the same ball-park, I think it may vault it into the top 7 or 8. I really like the look of it, and I kind of enjoy the take on the story. I wish they hadn't pandered and tried to "hip" it up. I sometimes look at the title and think... does this title make you think this movie belongs in the pantheon of great films in the Disney vault? Man...the title kills me.

10. Meet the Robinsons

I really like Meet the Robinsons. It's got great themes (originally from Walt Disney himself) "Keep Moving Forward" is one of Walt Disney's own quotes, and works well in this movie that straddles the present and future... The animation is cool, though not quite as smooth as the Pixar movies that come later in the list. There aren't a ton of memorable characters, too, which loses some points. It DOES have one of the most hilarious, and ultimately sympathetic villains I can think of, and I love me a good villain. In the end, this is a really solid movie, and one I would watch were it on cable. It possibly loses points since the ulimate villain is an evil hat. That's kinda weird. It falls here on the list, because head-to-head if I'm picking one DVD to pop in, this doesn't beat any of the next 9. Doesn't take away from it at all though.

9. Cars

My least favorite of the Disney/Pixar collaborations. I liked it. I think the animation is cool. But really... not in the same class, emotionally, as any of the films made around it. It's good...don't get me wrong. It's very good. The voice acting of Paul Newman especially is excellent. I really like the sort of vaguely deco, automobile themed landscaping and theming throughout. It's the details like that that keep this movie in the top 10. I don't find the story all that interesting. It's another twist on the Avatar, Pocahontas, Brother Bear, Dances With Wolves story... Still, Pixar most shines in the details, and this movie isn't any different.

8. Bolt

I saw this movie last Winter when I was visiting my fam in Denver, and I wasn't expecting much from it. I typically dislike John Travolta pretty supremely. I'm not a huge Miley Cyrus fan. It just seemed kinda dumb. Well... I was totally wrong. You may even remember that I blogged about it at the time. This movie was essentially made as great as it was by being a vehicle for a great travel-venture story combined with one of the most memorable sidekicks in any Disney movie ever. In fact, I was sorely disappointed there wasn't more Rhino the Hamster merchandise at the parks during my last 2 visits. I think a Rhino-in-his-Ball themed ride would be effing sweet. I even liked Travolta more than I have in years. I also really liked the twists on the story, and Bolts progression as a character. Good stuff.

7. Ratatouille
First, let me say that Patton Oswalt is effing awesome, and his voice is made for animation. It's extremely expressive and he does an excellent job. There are some legitimately awesome sequences in this movie. The whole portion of the movie where Remy learned to "drive" Linguini. The excellent chase scene through the kitchen at the beginning. I also really love the heart of the film...the dissing of snobbery in any form. I also find their less-than-subtle nod to the dirty side of commercialization and marketing. The whole globalized marketing of Gusteau's Microwavable meals. It feels like a sort of self-acknowledgment to me. Anyway, there are some great moments, and with the subject matter being "Cooking", this one will always be a winner to me.

6. Wall-E

I know it's blasphemy to list this any lower than 2nd, as it was deemed worthy of Best Picture and whatnot, and I agree.. it was definitely worthy of Best Picture. Of course, so were, in my opinion, the rest of the movies ahead of it on the list, so... In any case, this is a truly excellent movie, and could easily have been higher on the list, but again it came down to me thinking if I could watch any of them at any time, what would I pick. This lands about here. Usually I can point to voice work, but since this movie is largely beeping and booping and whatnot, I can't in this case, which probably makes it even more special. The first 30 minutes are incredibly engaging for having essentially no dialogue. The notion that society will lazify over time is an interesting one to explore, and I love the whole sequence on the cruise ship. I take off MINOR points for 2 things; 1) I don't love Hello Dolly, so it's hard to hear it over and over. and 2) The rip-off of 2001 with the whole machine taking over...thing. I don't love that.

5. Monsters Inc.

Just an excellent movie from start to finish. This was the first of the Pixar movies where the animation really just absolutely shocked me. I loved A Bug's Life's visuals too, but Sully's fur in Monsters Inc is truly amazing to watch throughout. That's a minor thing in the grand scheme, but I'll never forget it, and I think that's really the hallmark of a great film. Something new. The plot is excellent too, if not a little tiny bit simplistic. The door chase scene is one of the most incredible animated sequences ever, and really does one of the coolest things in film, which is executing "camera moves" that a real camera would never be able to do. I hate it when animation doesn't take advantage of that. This movie does. The team of Sully and Mike is excellent comically, and Randall is one of the creepiest villains in all of Disney-dom. Love this movie.

4. Lilo and Stitch

The greatest non-Pixar Disney movie of the decade. It's just so elegantly drawn, and the character designs are so neat. I love the music, and I love the characterizations. It's an awesome movie. Of course, the real reason this movie is where it is on the list boils down to one word: Stitch. Stitch is one of the most awesome, hilarious, bad ass characters Disney has ever created. There's a reason he is consistently the most popular character in the Disney universe. Surpassing Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. He combines the great elements of each. He's got Mickey's heart. (Just try to sit through the "Ohana means Family" scene without choking up. ) Goofy's well... goofiness. And Donald's ability to turn on a dime (not to mention sputter and blabber with the best of them.) He's an excellent character, and I'd watch it for just that reason alone.

3. The Incredibles

Not much I can say about this movie that I didn't say earlier in the week with my top 20 movies of the decade list. The voices are excellent. The characters are really fun. ( I especially love the punny names for the villains. I don't know why I always love puns so much, but I do. The best of the bunch? Underminer the mole-like villain voiced by Pixar fixture John Ratzenberger. ) The story is tight, and emotional. It deals with themes such as the embracing of mediocrity, and the malaise associated with getting older. I also love the look of this movie, with it's extremely stylized shapes and visuals. I love that the animators made a choice to look different. I like the angles. It's got a very late Art-Deco look to it. Like something from the Early 50s.. like the production art from the 1964 World's Fair or something.

2. Up
We're all going to be "Up"ed out soon enough, since with an expanded Best Picture field starting this year at the Oscars, it will be a shock if it's not nominated. Certainly it deserves that kind of attention, even if just because of the elegant and beautiful opening sequence of the film that, after checking last week, still packs a pretty emotional punch. I'd venture to say even more so upon second viewing. It's just so perfectly done, and I think congratulations to the creators for taking that kind of chance in a medium that has long been reserved for children. That sequence was certainly not designed for children alone, and that's ultimately what makes Up and Pixar's other movies so successful and critically acclaimed both. We've never seen, to this point at least, Pixar pandering to the lowest common denominator. This is why they'll stand the test of time... When a kid falls in love with a movie, they watch and watch and watch.. and then eventually they grow up and often the films don't grow up with them. Because Pixar (fully) and Disney (in its more successful films) provide layers of story telling that allows the film to grow with its audience.... that's how a film goes from a fad (Say... Kung Fu Panda) to a classic (Toy Story, Up, Little Mermaid, etc...). I seem to have gone off the rails, slightly... Up features some of the best pure visuals and storytelling of any Disney film... The characters are all fully realized, and the "talking dogs" bit is so funny and perfectly done I could watch a whole movie of the dogs going through their daily activities. Really an all-timer.

1. Finding Nemo
What is there even to say about Finding Nemo? Probably in my top 5 movies ever. It's the only animated movie I can think of where I wanted to watch it again right away. The animation is so superb that you forget you're even watching animation at all. There are at least 5 points where you sit back and try to figure out how they made that happen with computers... If you ever get the pleasure of watching the "Making of" you can just see how much care and time they spent getting every moment perfect. The voice casting is the best Disney/Pixar has ever done. Ellen Degeneres as Dory should have won some sort of special Oscar. The "speaking whale" sequence STILL cracks me up every time I see it. It's possible that my perception of this movie has been enhanced recently by the absolutely amazing Finding Nemo: The Musical at Disney World. I saw it when it first came out, and it's clear the kinks weren't out yet, because I wasn't really a fan. I saw it again in October, and have sort of become obsessed with it since. The Tofu Muchacha bought me the soundtrack (for her birthday...) and it's been a fixture in my CD player ever since. I realize I'm using outside influences to help make my rankings, but since it's my list, there's no rule against it. I think it says something for the story that it lends itself so easily to a really excellent musical. Ultimately it comes down to one thing... If I have all of these movies to choose from, but could only watch one, which would I watch? The answer was easier than I expected. It's Finding Nemo.

** NOTE 1**
I have not yet watched The Princess and the Frog, so it is currently unranked. Once I see it (hopefully soon), I'll post a brief editorial with an updated ranking.

** NOTE 2**
I am not including The Wild on the list as it's not technically a Disney-made movie. It was funded and distributed by Disney, but created by a separate entity.


Bridget said...

It's a good thing you've been blogging again so I have something to read at home. Thanks!

Caren said...

The first time you saw Fantasia was for your 7th? birthday with a bunch of friends and then you all went out for pizza. With an almost 3 hour movie it's probably the longest 7-year-old birthday party in history.

Tom Auel Jr. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Auel Jr. said...

Treasure planet was going to be much better than what it ended up being. When 9/11 hit Eisner had the animators dumb it down as to not upset people. It's too bad because the movie had potential.

Beefy Muchacho said...

I was actually reading about that not too long ago, Tom. I think Treasure Planet had a ton of promise... Great cast. Great animation. Obviously great story. Just... lacking something. And I think you're right... it was the post-911 knee-jerk that took the balls away.