There was a dark period of my life (from tween to teen) when I felt I was too cool for kids movies, especially Disney movies. It was about the same time that I vowed I didn’t need to sleep with my teddy anymore. Luckily, this was a phase I grew out of. These days, I’m happy to own up to my love of the classic Disney animated features.
Here’s a list of my top ten:
(Note: only out of the classic animated film – not including Pixar features; listed in order of release date)
I was a weird kid. I loved classical music and could tell you what pieces were composed by Tchaikovsky, Chopin, or Mozart. Fantasia was a big part of my love for classical music. While to this day I am still terrified of the ‘Rite of Spring’ section, my favourite was always ‘The Pastoral Symphony’. Another one of my big loves is Greek mythology, which may very well have begun with this film as well. Zeus is such a badass and the centaurs are adorable. As I grew up, I found an increasing number of people who dismissed Fantasia as ‘boring’. That attitude thoroughly disappoints me. Each section of this film is memorable and original. Come on – there are hippos in tutus!
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
I have always been more of a cat person than a dog person, but who doesn’t love a tramp? ‘He’s a Tramp’ is still one of my favourite all time songs. That’s right, not just my favourite Disney song… Hell, it is Peggy Lee, people! But the real heart of this film is the relationship between Trusty and Jock. If you don’t cry when Trusty is hit by the carriage, you don’t have a heart. And who hasn’t known someone like Aunt Sarah and her bastard Siamese cats? I think everyone has had an experience where they got blamed for something they didn’t do. Maybe I really just related to it out of guilt (from blaming the writing on the wall – hidden behind the curtain – on my poor dog).
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
When I think of Disney films, I often think of fairytales. So it is odd to think that Sleeping Beauty was a box office flop and that Disney didn’t make another fairytale film for another 30 years (The Little Mermaid). Prince Philip was the first really fanciable Prince – and yes, this is important. I always had a problem with Aurora talking to Philip despite strict instructions from her ‘aunts’ not to talk to strangers. She’s lucky that the handsome man in the forrest turned out to be friendly! Perhaps if I ever meet one of the many hot male celebrities I lust after I shall just sing to him, ‘I know what you do, you’ll love me at once, they way you did once, upon a dream.’ It wouldn’t be weird or creepy at all.
The Sword in the Stone (1963)
Merlin. In beach shorts. Need I say more? Yes? This film has some of my favourite moments in all of Disney. When Merlin turns Arthur into a squirrel and the poor female squirrel gets it bad for him… my heart breaks for the poor thing. It is Archimedes and Madam Mim that really make this film for me. Madam Mim is the kind of character we see recurring in many Disney films since The Sword in the Stone. For a kid whose childhood nickname was ‘Maggot’, I could definitely relate to poor ‘Wart’.
The Jungle Book (1967)
One of the most popular games amongst my group of friends was The Jungle Book. I don’t mean any kind of video or board game… this was ‘live action’, so to speak. We would play-act the film. And I always insisted on being Mowgli. A few of the not-so-clever boys would tell me that I couldn’t be Mowgli because I was a girl. Ha! I would not let gender get in my way, even at that age. I wanted to be the rough and tumble jungle kid. There was no way they were going to make me appear only at the end to collect water. No thanks. If I had to be anyone else, it was always Bagheera. I love that this film truly has an ensemble cast. All of the secondary characters are just as fun and memorable as the main characters. For a very long time (or at least until I first saw Star Wars) this was my favourite film.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Growing up in a coastal city, I spent a lot of time at the beach (although, far less time than any normal Perth kid). My best friend and I were obsessed with the song ‘Part of Your World’ from The Little Mermaid. When we went to the beach together, we would lie on the sand and wait for the waves to crash behind us so that we could imitate the moment in the reprise, as Ariel sings her guts out and looks stunning doing it. We mostly looked ridiculous and couldn’t sing through all the giggles… but it was fun.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Beauty and the Beast is a masterpiece. There isn’t really any wiggle room in that claim, nor should there be. It is brilliant. The music, the art direction, everything. And it has David Ogden Stiers! The M*A*S*H* fan in my does a little ‘squee’! My grandparents took me to see this at the cinema, but I had to leave early. What a wuss! The beast was just far too scary. So I left the cinema, shaking and crying. It wasn’t until it came out on video (yes, VHS, remember them?!) that I first sat through it in its entirety. And then came the colouring books and my desire to one day have a beautiful gold dress just like Belle’s. Most of the time I was a tomboy, but it was moments like this when I realised I was just a big girl. I recently purchased the film on Blu-Ray. When the film was released, everyone was talking about the amazing use of CG for the backgrounds, with traditional drawn characters. Unfortunately, in HD, this technique doesn’t hold up as well, which is disappointing.
Greek myths mashed together with gospel music. Is there anything better? Plus James Woods! It is also nice to have the male character falling instantly in love, while the sassy woman keeps her cool for a little longer. This film has a lot more ‘sass’ and general tongue in cheek that is missing from a lot of other Disney classics. It makes for a refreshing change and is a great, fun take on the Greek myths. Who doesn’t love a good Narcissus joke? Oh, and Pegasus is the best friend a guy could have.
Another tick for the girl power column. Mulan is the ultimate bad-ass Disney ‘Princess’. And the man she falls for actually respects her fighting skills even after discovering she is a woman. Mulan is a misfit. She doesn’t fit in with the other women in her village and doesn’t know what her calling in life is. Until she dresses up in a warrior’s clothes and joins the army… and gives us an awesome getting better montage. Mulan also appeals to the Star Trek geek in me with George Takei performing the voice of the ‘First Ancestor’.
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
I have always loved an underdog. I used to dig through all the piles of toys in the store and deliberately pick the one with a gammy leg or some odd stitching. I felt that I was saving the poor toy that would otherwise never be picked. What this said about me and my own insecurities, I’m not sure, but I know it is why I really love this film (even if I was more than old enough to have outgrown it). I have never been an Elvis fan, but I am a big Prince fan and I’ve been teased for my obsession just as Lilo was. Stitch is a great character – a creature designed specifically to destroy – and yet he somehow finds the capacity to love. He finds a family and he sticks it to the man. And in true Disney style, Lilo and her sister are orphans. Why Disney, why? Can’t you tell a story about a happy, healthy family unit? Must they all be orphans, single parents, or have family members murdered during the course of the story?
These are, of course, my personal favourites. I know there are still a number of classics that could easily have made the list – but I had to cut it off somewhere.
Let us know your favourite animated classics in the comments!