Considering I’m one half of a partially Disney-obsessed twin-ship, I’m forced to approach this list with some level of trepidation. I fear the wrath of my wonderfully Walt-obsessed sister if I dare wrong her with any of my ten selections; it’s a large task to live up to, and in keeping with tradition, I’m prepared to disappoint her. On that note, I do feel I must apologise for the apparently flagrant omission of The Little Mermaid. Being forced to sit through the shipwreck that is its straight-to-DVD sequel, The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, has sullied any appreciation I once had for the original despite a not-so-secret love for the film defining song, Le Poisson.
5) MULAN – 7.5 ON IMDB AND 71% ON METACRITIC Arguably the last film in Disney’s golden age, Mulan was a film unlike any other Disney had previously released: Its art-style combined the familiar Disney style with the inclusion of more traditional elements congruent with its Chinese folk-tale setting. The subsequently experimental style is something unfortunately absent from Disney’s recent slate of films despite visual elements borrowed from the ever-growing obsession with Anime in the west.
The unrelenting detail found in the presentation of nature in Mulan corresponds with the stories it takes heed from, and provides one of the most cinematic and picturesque Disney films in memory. It’s almost impossible to conceive it being 18 years old, when it looks as if it could have been released yesterday. Much of that is owed to Disney’s astounding technical team, who, regardless of the content, manage to conjure up visual magic every time. None so more than Mulan.
4) PETER PAN – 7.3 ON IMDB
“You can fly! You can fly! You can fly!”God damn it, no I can’t. The perpetrator of a childhood complex, Peter Pan possessed an unrivalled ability to make me believe in the fantasy on show, enough so that I felt burdened by my inability to spread my arms out and soar. It was the first Disney film I’d seen that had been set, initially, in my world, the world I was familiar with and had seen spread across all kinds of media. So it only made sense that it was real.
It was the most daring kind of escapism for a child: a world where they reigned supreme. Not in a Lord of the Flies children reigning supreme sort of way, but one where wistful adventure ruled all. Peter Pan was the film that made children want to stay young, it made us believe that despite our small stature we could accomplish everything we wanted. Who needs to drive a car when you can fly? No one has to adhere to a bed time when you’re living with your pals. Yes, the world is still dangerous but we know how to deal with it. Neverland is an incredibly special place to a lot of kids (ignoring Michael Jackson’s bastardisation of the name).
3) THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG – 7.1 ON IMDB AND 73% ON METACRITIC A film that I waited far too long to watch. Perhaps the retreading of a very tiresome premise was enough to put me off, but when has that ever stopped Disney from pulling magic out of its ass before? This is no exception. It’s an exploration of the colourful and capricious culture of New Orleans, with a jaunty jazz-centric soundtrack to accommodate the vivid portrayal of 1920s Louisiana. Tiana, as you’d come to expect from any soon-to-be Disney Princess, is bound by dogged determinism to achieve the one thing she wants in life. In her case, it’s to own the finest eatery in all of New Orleans, but that’s a pretty huge task when she finds herself sporting a powerful pair of back legs and a sickly green complexion.
Princess and the Frog was a step into the past with its “hand-drawn” animation, but it wasn’t a step backwards. It was a bold statement in the midst of their sister studio Pixar’s beautifully rendered 3D animation to opt for a more traditional route. A call-back to Disney’s storied and celebrated past, they hoped to recapture the charm and success that came with the Golden-era, as it’s since been proclaimed. The move proved to be a success, with a film that feels perfectly placed in Disney’s lineage of Princess films. It helped to further Disney’s wide-spread exploration of different cultures, and sought to rectify their only previous excursion into African-American culture with the much maligned Song of the South.
2) ENCHANTED 71% ON IMDB AND 75% ON METACRITIC Patrick Dempsey and James Marsden? I understand that John Smith, Flynn Rider and of course, Prince Charming as he’s so aptly named pose an unfair example of handsome men to all of us 5/10s, but at least they’re animated. They’re crafted to be inconceivably perfect in the context of an animated film. But with Enchanted, we watch this square-jawed Prince fall haplessly into reality and are forced to realise that this idealistic vision of a man is actually living, breathing and existing in our very world. It wouldn’t be fair, if not for Amy Adams proving to be the ideal, albeit ditzy and purposefully caricature-like, princess that we’d hope to stumble upon climbing a billboard on a sodden New York street. The film of unachievable expectations.
I mean, the film title says all it needs to about a Disney film. Enchanted is what Disney always aims for, but the film itself proves that reality is vastly different to what we see on our screens. The idyllic fantastical animated world is a stark contrast to the vermin-filled streets of New York, despite said vermin proving incredibly helpful during “A Happy Working Song”. It tussles with the idea of love, and how the notions explored in previous Disney films are inherently untrue when dealing with characters that are grounded in the real world. It’s pleasantly self-aware, and spends the predominant amount of the film prodding fun at itself with Patrick Dempsey’s Robert lamenting and questioning the sudden outbursts into song, which just about everyone knows the lyrics to.
1) TANGLED – 7.8 ON IMDB AND 71% ON METACRITICContemporary society is unforgiving. The world we live in is rife with injustice: poverty, gender inequality and ongoing and unnecessary wars, but none are more upsetting and maddening than Frozen’s place atop the Disney ladder at the expense of Tangled*. Of course, Frozen’s a film that captured the hearts of children and adults everywhere; I can only assume that it was also the catalyst for many cases of early on-set dementia and hundreds of divorces thanks to incessant renditions of the most over-saturated song of the 21st Century. (I loved you in Wicked though, Idina Menzel.)
A story about self-discovery and the burgeoning adventure of adulthood, Tangled takes the existing story of Rapunzel and spins it into an unrecognisably enchanting tale that maintains the foundation of the fairytale it’s based on, but applies a fresh coat of paint to its door-less tower. Alan Menken conducts a strikingly, and expectantly, whimsical accompaniment to the beautifully animated effervescence that, along with the top-draw voice acting, makes the characters feel very real.
Mandy Moore’s Rapunzel is sprightly and curious whilst her posing parent, Mother Gothel is the complete antithesis: reserved, passive and imperturbable until Rapunzel dares mention the lanterns she sees every year on her birthday from her tower window. This only furthers her want for adventure, and when one Flynn Rider comes crawling through her window (not in a The Strangers home invasion sort of way, more in an O’ Brother Where Art Thou seeking refuge way) possessing a Royal Crown, Rapunzel uses Rider to get her wish. The culmination of the aforementioned wish results in a verified (By me, of course) tear-jerker. Whether I’m alone in my sodden-eyed assessment, I do not know, but the moment I See The Light begins to play, and a thousand lanterns soar into the night sky, I can’t help but devolve into an emotionally-unstable puddle.
Tangled marks a half century for Disney, an impressive feat as the company’s 50th animated feature. Considering the undeniable quality of the predominant amount of Disney’s previous films (Black Cauldron, you can step to the back of line) Tangled requires something special to live up to its near-worshipped predecessors and it provides just that. The CG animation is so carefully nuanced, with an almost inhuman level of care and attention paid to its details in an attempt to curate the same level of charm that its hand-drawn ancestors possess. This is the most alive Disney’s felt in a very long time (along with Princess and the Frog) and its buoyancy and sprightly charm provides in my opinion, one of Disney’s greatest feats. Tangled encapsulates exactly what Disney’s about, and that is, at its most fundamental level, an incredibly magical experience.
*In case you didn’t realise, this is a joke.