Tag Archives: movies

Best of the Best

The obvious flip side of last week’s blog is an examination of the best that Disney animation has to offer.  As difficult as it was to find consensus last week on the worst of the Disney catalog there is even more discrepancy to find the best.   Objectively, there is no question that animation techniques have improved  dramatically, which leads to a natural bias towards newer films.  But there are many other biases at play.  Some reviewers obviously prefer musicals, others dislike CGI.  There are also more than a few who are convinced that the movies of their childhood are objectively the best.  This last one, at least, I am free from.  The animated features of the 1970’s were lackluster at best. I don’t think there is a single one of the four films that were released when I was a child that I would go to bat for as a contender for best Disney film ever. So I consider myself at least a little bit objective.

Just a quick reminder from last week, for my purposes, I have limited the list to feature films, created by Disney Animation studios, and released in theaters. Including other studios in the list again skews the results dramatically.  For example on Rotten tomatoes, 6 of the 10 top rated Disney movies are Pixar films.  I have also stopped the list at four films instead of five.  While there is general agreement in these four, rankings very quickly diverge.  So without further ado, here are Disney Animation’s best movies.

#1   Pinocchio

pinocchio

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 100% — Audience 75%

It is interesting to me that this is listed on almost every list at or near the top.  “Pinocchio” was never one of my favorites.  The Princess watched it once, cried so hard she missed the end, and then refused to watch it again.  However, my personal experience aside, more than one critic has called it ‘perfect’.  It is held up as an example of strong storytelling tied to beautifully crafted animation.  While it does feel a little heavy handed to contemporary audiences as well as a little dark for young children (The Princess isn’t the only weeper), it is a powerful film that has held up for almost 80 years.

#2    Fantasia

fantasia

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 96% — Audience 83%

Interestingly, the second film on the list was released in the same year as “Pinocchio”.  1940 was a good year for Disney Animation.  “Fantasia” was a unique project that featured, rather than one coherent whole, a compilation of different animation styles, stories, and musical soundtracks.  It was an experimental piece designed to be taken apart and put back together with new and different pieces periodically.  It was so beloved that it never happened.  In fact, the image of Mickey Mouse in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” became a Disney icon.  Instead of taking it apart, eventually animators created an entirely different project to continue the work Walt Disney initially envisioned.  It is still considered innovative and beautiful today.

# 3   Lion King

lion king

 

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 93% — Audience 93%

The next two often fight it out for the top spot.  They have a lot in common.  Both are considered part of the Disney Renaissance of the 90’s, both have successful stage productions, and soon both with have live action remakes.  “The Lion King” barely sneaks into the higher spot often because of the story itself.  “The Lion King” rather than relying on fairy tale tropes feels much more Shakespearean in nature.  The drama level is higher and the African Savannah makes a much grander backdrop for regicide and revenge.  All of this underscored with a soundtrack that takes many influences from traditional African influences.  It was unique in animated films at the time and continues to resonate with audiences.  As the film has been adapted to the stage and now to a live action film, Disney has increased the African influences in the music, costuming, and characters which has only made the piece that much stronger.

#4   Beauty and the Beast

beauty and the beast

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 94% — Audience 92%

Finally, there is “Beauty and the Beast”.  This is the last film entirely scored by Howard Ashman before his death and the film is dedicated to his memory.  In my opinion it is the music, rather than the plot that drives this film consistently to the top of the ‘Best of’ lists.  The fairy tale is fairly predictable and straightforward.  It is the music that connects us.  It makes us love the household staff, feel sorry for the Beast, root for the heroine, and even enjoy the villain.  More than the very singable numbers performed by the cast, the background music sets a scene that is at once both sad and hopeful.  The four opening notes of the main theme will pull me into the world of Belle and the Beast immediately.  In fact, that was all it took to let me know what was coming when I saw the live action previews.  I could have literally seen a black screen and those four notes and I would have needed nothing else.  Add to that stunning animation that resembles Italian Renaissance painting and it is no wonder that this film remains a classic.

Honorable Mention: Frozen

frozen

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 90% — Audience 85%

Do NOT yell at me about this one.  I know that “Frozen” is not one of the best Disney movies ever made.  It is very good, but doesn’t even break most top 10 lists.  I include it here for another reason.  This is the film that shifted our culture’s concept of what an animated feature could be.  It featured two strong, but imperfect women who drove the action and pulled the men along in their wake.  It was created and conceived by women.  It broke records. It won awards.  It made an absurd amount of money and continues to be a force in our popular culture five years later.  All of this from a ‘Princess’ movie aimed at little girls.  This movie raised the bar for the genre and is the standard by which other movies will be judged.  And I will fight you on this one.

 

So there is my list.  What do you think?  Have I missed the best Disney movie ever?  Let me know in the comments.

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Worst of the Worst

If you want to have a long conversation with a Disney fan, tell them what you think the worst Disney animated feature is.  Responses will range from heated defense of the chosen movie to reasons why another film is so much worse to “but, really, is there a BAD Disney movie?”  The answer to this last question is an unequivocal  “Yes”.

Interestingly, there is some discrepancy about which movies belong on this list.  The three lowest rated “Disney” movies on Rotten Tomatoes were not actually produced by Disney Animation Studios.  They were either produced by affiliated studios or simply distributed by Disney.  For me purposes, I have limited the list to feature  films, created by Disney Animation studios, and released in theaters.  If I included everything, the list would be full of direct to video releases and “Planes”.  (Don’t get me started on “Planes”)

I have also noticed that there is a huge discrepancy between what the fans beleive are the worst movies and what the critics beleive are the worst movies.  With only a couple of exceptions the critic scores are significantly lower than the fan scores.  I have tried to find a balance between these two things.  Interestingly this list contains films I’ve never seen which, in itself, says something.

What follows is a list, in no particular order, of the worst Disney animated feature films.

#1     Chicken Little

chicken little

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 37% — Audience 47%

This film tops both the critics’ and fans’ list of the worst Disney movie making it the only movie on this list that is agreed on  The general consensus is that the plot is boring and predictable and the characters are one dimensional.    It is somewhat entertaining to read reviews of the animation.  For many people the ‘new’ CGI technology is the only redeeming factor of the film.  For others, this ‘flash in the pan’, new ‘gimmick’ is a fad that Disney is mistakenly jumping on board to great detriment to the writing.  Oops.  I’m sure Disney is deeply reflecting on that as they count their millions of dollars from “Frozen”.

While this is overwhelmingly considered to be the worst Disney movie, I don[‘t remember being that unimpressed with it.  It was formulaic, but not as glaringly as another movie on this list (see #2).  I actually thought is was clever to turn the Chicken Little fable into a story of alien invasion.  This wouldn’t top my personal list of worst Disney movies, but I am completely out voted.

# 2     Atlantis: The Lost Empire

atlantis

Rotten Tomatoes Score:  Critics 49% — Audience 52%

I have listed this one second, not because its actual scores are the lowest, but because of all the films on the list this one is the one that the critics and fans agree on the most.  Everyone agrees that “Atlantis” is a mediocre offering from Disney.  I understand that completely.  All the supporting characters are uninteresting.  They are more caricatures than actual characters in their own right.  Their actions are predictable as in the plot.  There is nothing engaging in this film.  In fact, I didn’t even bother to finish watching it.  I already knew how it was going to end, so I saw no reason to waste time watching it play out.

#3     Home on the Range

home on the range

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 54% — Audience 28%

Blah.  There are two movies on this list that have a 26 point discrepancy between what the fans think and what the critic think.  This First review discrepancy film has lower overall scores than its compatriot which is why it’s higher up on the list.  Critics liked “Home on the Range” more than audiences, but didn’t really ‘like’ it.  The best reviews I could find for this film basically all said some version of ‘it’s fine for kids.’  (The fact that critics believe that kids deserve/enjoy substandard movies is a whole other blog post so I will not get into that today.)  Audiences were much more honest in pointing out that the story was simplistic, forgettable, and ill conceived.  I remember thinking that this was a movie created as a vehicle for Roseanne Barr.  As I have never been I fan, I was unimpressed.  The plot was improbable even by my standards and I’m fully on board with talking cars and wild life with housekeeping skills.  It definitely belongs on this list.  If you can remember it even exists in the first place.

#4     Brother Bear

brother bear

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 38% — Audience 64%

This second review score discrepancy movie,  swings toward the fans.  Its scores are 10 points higher than the last film on the list.  Fans enjoyed “Brother Bear” and the critics hated it.  Critics use such terms as “lackluster”, “uninspired” and “banal”.  Fans almost universally see beyond the movie’s obvious flaws to the potential underneath.  Several fan reviews mention that with a few changes that this one could have been a Disney Classic rather than just another movie.  Personally, I fall firmly in this second category.  Any movie that can make me cry any time I watch it has some depth and quality that perhaps critics cannot appreciate.  It makes most fan lists of worst Disney movies, but rarely is is all the way at the bottom.

#5 Dinosaur

dinosaur

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 65% — Audience 47%

This is the one movie on this list I’ve never seen so I have to rely on what others have said.  Though after having read the plot synopsis, I now understand the “Dinosaur” ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, so there’s that.  Again we have a movie that critics enjoyed much more than the audience.  That being said it seems like most of the positive reviews say very little about the substance of the movie.  The reviews both critic and audience praise the fantastic CGI animation and say very little else.  If this was the one thing that “Dinosaur” had going for it, I can see why it has slowly fallen to the bottom of lists as not just CGI, but excellent CGI became the standard for animation.

(Dis) Honorable mention: The Black Cauldron

black cauldron

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critic 57% — Audience 48%

This is a movie that even Disney doesn’t seem sure what to do with.  Audiences hated this movie when it came out and still dislike it more than the critics today.  It was dark and scary and kids were freaked out after seeing it.  It was the first Disney film to get a PG rating.  That was a much bigger deal than it is now.  Now any animated feature that isn’t accessible to the preschool crowd gets a PG rating.  Back then, not so much.  PG-13 was still relatively new and not used much yet.  Other PG movies released the same year included the less than family friendly “Out of Africa”, “Rocky IV”, “Clue”, and “A View to a Kill”.  Not really the company Disney films usually keep.  The movie is dark, violent, and not very engaging.  The animation is lovely and harks back to the original classics, but it definitely would have given me nightmares as a kids and my mom would have been mad, too.  It doesn’t make all the lists, but it does get mentioned in this discussion a lot.

 

So there you have it.  The five worst Disney movies according to me.  What do you think?  Is there something misplaced?  Is there something missing?  Let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

What to see in 2017

The Disney/Marvel/Star Wars studios have a very busy year planned.  I will see most, if not all, of these movies in the theaters and share my thoughts with you after I have seen them.  I thought it might be fun for a change to do a little pre-release check in and see if any of you share my thoughts.  So here they are in release order

beauty-and-the-beast-live“Beauty and the Beast” (3/17/17)

As I have previously stated, I’m not a huge fan of the live action reboots.  While I understand the need to update characters and attract both old and new audiences, it feels like the studio has run out of ideas.  There are so many stories out there that need to be told, it seems almost cowardly to run back to a story that has been told on screen already.  If you really want to update something, find a way to bring the music of “Song of the South” into a movie without it being deeply racist and offensive.  All that being said, I will see this in the theater with The Princess probably on opening weekend because Disney’s marketing works.

 

gotg_vol2_poster“Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol.2” (5/5/17)

I am absolutely thrilled about this one!  I loved the first Guardians SO MUCH.  The plot was different.  The ‘heroes’ were not very heroic.  It was funny.  As an added bonus it included the soundtrack of my childhood.  There is no way barring death or dismemberment that I will miss this one.  These are characters that I don’t know well, in a corner of the Marvel Universe that hasn’t been explored extensively.  Characters can come, characters can go, who knows what will happen with this group.  I have high expectations that this sequel will match or exceed its predecessor.  Plus Baby Groot!

 

pirates-5“Pirates of the Caribbean:Dead Men Tell no Tales” (5/26/17)

Do we really need to go back to this franchise?  I enjoy Captain Jack Sparrow’s antics, but honestly the movies have gotten progressively worse and forgettable.  So much so that when Pirates 5 was announced I asked someone how they could have a 5 without a 4?  I saw “On Stranger Tides” in the theater and played the Lego game.  I still forgot it ever existed.  This doesn’t inspired me with much hope for the new installment.  I will not rush out to see this one when it opens.  This one I will wait and hear reviews first.  If they are promising I will go, if not I will wait for Redbox.

 

cars3-d23-poster“Cars 3” (6/16/17)

Have you seen these previews?  Oh, my Disney!  It’s like they heard the critique of “Cars 2” being too slapstick and decided to see how far the other way they could go.  In the first preview it looked like Lighting was going to DIE!  The second preview alleviated those fears at least, but it is definitely going to be a story about Lighting McQueen, racing, and what’s important.  Sounds a lot more like “Cars” which can only be a good thing.  I am on board all the way with this one which is not something I’d thought I’d say after the awfulness of “Cars 2”, the worst Pixar feature ever.  I may, however hold off on seeing this on opening weekend.  We will be at the Disney World resort the following week and I have never seen a Disney Movie at a Disney resort and the idea has appeal.

thor-3

“Thor: Ragnarok” (11/3/17)

I love Thor.  He is my favorite on-screen Avenger.  This movie comes out on my birthday.  I will definitely go see it, but here is why I am not excited.  At this point, midway through Phase 3, there is narrative imperative that is missing.  We know that another Avengers movie is coming.  We know that Thor will be in it.  There is only so much dramatic tension that will be happening.  Thor and Loki will survive.  Something will happen with an Infinity Stone.  Hulk will smash.  Everyone will happily advance to the Infinity War in 2018.  Hopefully the journey will be interesting and engaging.

coco_poster“Coco” 11/22/17

I know very little about this one.  Pixar has come back from the world of sequels to give us a new original feature which is never a bad thing.  Inspired by the Dia de los Muertos Festival in Mexico, the animation looks vibrant and different from anything we have seen from Pixar before.  I will definitely see this one as soon as possible.  I have rarely been disappointed in a Pixar film, and often want to see them repeatedly in the theater just so I can enjoy the animation on the big screen.

 

 

star-wars-8“Star Wars: Episode VIII” (12/15/17)

It’s Star Wars.  It could be awful and not only will I go, I will buy the Blu-ray when it comes out.  Seriously, I’m excited and sad.  It is obviously Carrie Fisher’s last appearance in the saga which means there is something unfortunate in store for General Organa.  That makes my heart hurt.  Princess Leia has been my hero since I was 7 years old.  One can only hope her exit will be handled with the grace and dignity we expect from royalty.

So there they are.  What do you think?  What are you excited about?  Let me know in the comments.