Even if the positive reviews (our Russ Fischer was less enraptured than many, but still impressed) can’t convince you that the prospect of Jon Favreau remaking “The Jungle Book” as a live-action extravaganza was a good idea, it’s a phenomenon we’re all going to to have to get used to. The classic Disneyverse is about to get a whole lot more photo-real, with live action remakes/prequels/versions of “Beauty and the Beast” (starring Emma Watson), “Mulan,” “Aladdin,” “Tinkerbell,” “Winnie the Pooh” (focusing on Christopher Robin and to be penned by Alex Ross Perry), “Dumbo” and “Prince Charming” all in various stages of development right now. And this on the glass-slippered foot of Kenneth Branagh‘s triumphantly traditionalist 2015 take on “Cinderella” which made $542m worldwide, along with Angelina Jolie‘s $758 million worldwide earning “Maleficent.”
You can either see it as a symptom of increasing creative bankruptcy or… well, it’s not entirely clear what else there is to see it as. But if the new versions can be as good as or (hopefully) even better than Favreau and Branagh’s renditions (and Disney’s trend toward hiring respected independent directors as writers is certainly an interesting unforeseen twist), perhaps we’ll be forced to eat our words.
But if we are a little wary of this live-action, CG-infused future, it’s only because we have so much love for so many of the 2D, often hand-drawn animations that Disney are now revisiting. So to mark the release of “The Jungle Book” and to remind you just how great the originals of so many of these soon-to-be-remade stories are, here’s our own ranking of the top 20 Disney animations of all time.
We know there’s little that raises controversy among cine-literate adults more than a listing of kids/family films (here’s our Miyazaki feature and our Pixar feature for comparison), and there are certainly some inclusions and exclusions that are likely to raise hackles. But please believe we’re not aiming to “destroy” any “childhoods” here. This is just to celebrate what we believe are, without regard to nostalgia, the best examples of Disney’s signature genre and to justify the buckets of joy-tears shed during the research for this feature.
20. “Hercules” (1997)
“Hercules” was the lowest-grossing of the 1990s second Golden Age of Disney Animation —it was crushed at the box office in a competitive summer by “Men In Black” and some middling reviews. And we’ve always thought that was somewhat unfair: John Musker and Ron Clements’ follow-up to megahit “Aladdin” doesn’t quite hit the heights of its predecessor, but it’s a pretty successful attempt at tweaking a similar formula and somehow keeping it fresh. The film’s very loose version of the Greek myth sees baby Hercules turned mortal and adrift by the machinations of the evil Hades (James Woods), who’s plotting to free the Titans and conquer Olympus (Hercules’ mythological origins, in which he was fathered by Zeus with a human, were changed presumably due to Disney’s aversion to gods shagging around). Years later, Herc (Tate Donovan) discovers his heritage and sets out to be a hero worthy of the gods. It’s a lighter, poppier affair than “Aladdin,” with a distinctive style of animation influenced at once by Greek vases and Pink Floyd-affiliated cartoonist Gerald Scarfe (who worked on the film), and is exemplified best by the villain, a witty and memorable creation among Disney’s best. The hero’s a bit bland, but the set pieces are striking, the Motown-influenced music is fun, and in the Susan Egan-voiced Meg, the film has one of Disney’s best and most complex female characters.
19. “The Little Mermaid” (1989)
There’ll no doubt be an outcry at the perceived low placement of a film that was the childhood Disney animation for a large swathe of our readership. But nostalgia aside, while the exploits of Ariel and her quest to become human are enjoyable, the songs characterful and charming, and the film’s importance in ushering in the 1990s Disney Renaissance after a couple of wilderness decades can’t be overstated, it doesn’t quite hold up as well as others [*gets pelted with seaweed and guano*]. It’s a somewhat predictable take on the Disney princess formula, a straightforward romance between pretty mermaid Ariel (Jodi Benson) and handsome sailor prince Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes) which is only given dramatic stakes by the intervention of Ursula (in fairness, an excellent villain voiced by Pat Carroll) and her dastardly plot to wrest dominion over the underwater realm from Ariel’s dad Triton (Kenneth Mars, the Nazi playwright in “The Producers“!). Where later, more sophisticated stories from Disney’s second Golden Age would make their heroines’ psychologies a bit more complex, the 16-year-old Ariel has few qualms about leaving her home, friends and family forever for love, which strikes a slightly discordant note in an otherwise sweet and harmonious confection.
18. “Robin Hood” (1973)
After the death of Walt Disney, the company went into two decades of difficulty with a series of flops through the 1970s and 1980s, with only “The Little Mermaid” helping to right the ship in a big way. Which is odd, because the first film made entirely without Disney’s involvement (he’d greenlit “The Aristocats” but didn’t live to see its release) was actually an excellent note on which to start things, despite the odds. In light of uncertainty over the post-Walt era, the film was given a meager budget and was made with a fair amount of recycled animation (hence Little John’s resemblance to “The Jungle Book“‘s Baloo, not aided by Phil Harris returning to voice him). Yet despite its difficulties, the film (directed by the estimable Wolfgang Reitherman) is a highly engaging animal-centric take on Nottingham’s finest, with the Errol Flynn-ish fox Robin (Brian Bedford) clashing with the leonine, plummy Prince John (Peter Ustinov) and his sidekick Hiss (Terry-Thomas), while reconnecting with his childhood sweetheart Maid Marian (Monica Evans). There are some missteps (a rabbit child character for one), and the budgetary strains do show, but it’s got a ton of charm, and Reitherman’s vision —equal parts British pastoral and bluegrass music— somehow coheres. If nothing else, it’s roughly four hundred times better than the Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe version.
17. “Winnie the Pooh” (2011)
As adults (albeit in various stages of arrested development), we’re in danger of including picks that work better for the grown-up audience than for kids, especially very young children. But “Winnie the Pooh,” while the polar opposite of the eye-janglingly colorful, squeaky-voiced irritants that a characterize a lot of animation aimed at elementary schoolers and younger, is the rare animation that manages to entirely sustain its naive and completely unironic charms across its slim, 69m runtime no matter your age. A lot of that is due to the deceptive simplicity of the approach, in which the very best places to get your Pooh fix —the books— are appropriately honored and homaged by an inventive device that knits the words into the action, and has the narrator (John Cleese) comment on both as well as interacting with the beloved characters. The stories remain slight and sweet and faithful to AA Milne‘s originals, but under Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall’s direction, and populated with a wonderful voice cast including Jim Cummings, Travis Oates, Bud Luckey, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Craig Ferguson, they engage in a way that both evokes and transcends the printed page. Essentially, they put a new-fangled, metatextual sensibility at work to promote the most old fashioned of values: that reading is cool, kids!
16. “Sleeping Beauty” (1959)
Produced on widescreen 70mm and at a budget more than twice those of proceeding films like “Peter Pan” and “Lady And The Tramp,” the modest box office of “Sleeping Beauty” caused layoffs at Disney Animation, and between that and some mixed reviews, it was initially seen as a disappointment. These days, it’s one of the solid gold classics of the 1950s era for the company, and one of its finest fairy tale films. Adapting the classic folk tale, it sees the evil fairy Maleficent (Eleanor Audley) cursing Princess Aurora (Mary Costa) after her parents fail to invite her to the christening, a curse that will mean that after her 16th birthday, if she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel, she’ll fall into an eternal slumber. It’s thinly plotted stuff with a boring hero and heroine, but it looks absolutely gorgeous, thanks to design by painter Eyvind Earle that’s among the distinctive the studio ever made, melding Italian Renaissance, Gothic art and bright primary colors. And when the iconic Maleficent (sanded down and made sympathetic in the studio’s poor recent live-action retelling named after the villain) is onscreen, the film’s far more than a visual feast, taking on a crackle and fizz that puts those moments, if not the sappy romance, among the studio’s finest.
15. “The Emperor’s New Groove” (2000)
Perhaps the greatest crisis for Disney came in the early ’00s. The disappointments of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Hercules” had convinced executives that the formula perfected with “Aladdin” and co. was tired, while former head Jeffrey Katzenberg had set up rival Dreamworks, and Disney’s own Pixar was demonstrating an increasing appetite for CGI animation among audiences. The result was a series of unsuccessful course corrections that lasted nearly a decade without a real hit. Nevertheless, there were gems to be found in this period, and perhaps the most fun of those gems was “The Emperor’s New Groove.” Initially meant to be a musical epic but retooled late in the game as a sort of gonzo comedy utterly out of step with most other Disney pics, the film sees arrogant, spoiled Incan emperor Kuzco (David Spade) transformed into a llama by his evil advisor (Eartha Kitt), and forced to team with the kind peasant Pacha (John Goodman). It’s both atypically small in the scope of its story (there are really only four major character, including Patrick Warburton’s all-timer of a dimwit henchman Kronk), but pleasingly loose in its interests, with an anything-goes sense of humor falling somewhere between Chuck Jones absurdism and Golden Age “Simpsons.” It’s admittedly minor, but it’s also far, far more enjoyable than most.
14. “Bolt” (2008)
Disney’s current creative and commercial renaissance didn’t begin with current megahit “Zootopia” or its billion-dollar Oscar-winning predecessor “Frozen,” but with 2008’s “Bolt.” Overlooked by those who confused it with Disney’s lackluster early CGI fare like “Chicken Little,” the film was the first released after John Lasseter took creative control over the parent studio as well as Pixar, and it shows: far more so than most of the subsequent films, this has a blend of spectacle, thrills, gags and heart that puts it on the top tier. In arguably his most likable role of the last twenty years, John Travolta plays the title character, a dog who believes he has superpowers, but is in fact the sheltered star of a TV show. He’s accidentally sent to New York and believed lost, separated from his beloved owner (Miley Cyrus), and with the help of a cynical cat (Susie Essman) and a fanboy hamster (Mark Walton), he tries to make his way home. It is not wildly original —as you might have guessed, it’s the exact midpoint of “The Truman Show” and “The Incredible Journey.” But for the first time in a long time, it displays the kind of storytelling nous that Pixar were known for, its airtight writing and likable characters making it utterly satisfying and legitimately moving in a way that had begun to feel rare from Disney.
13. “101 Dalmatians” (1961)
Disney’s practice of pillaging their animated back catalogue for live-action remake fodder may be amping up, but it’s not a wholly new phenomenon. By 1996, the studio made “101 Dalmatians,” a hugely successful but largely pointless live-action version of their 1961 classic which is most notable for Glenn Close‘s portrayal of villain Cruella De Vil being marginally more cartoonish than the hand-painted antecedent. The spectacle of Close treating the scenery as her own personal chew-toy aside, there’s really no comparison, as the gorgeous animated version remains one of the most touching and beautifully drawn films of Disney’s classic era, despite or perhaps because of ingenious solutions to budgetary cutbacks necessitated by the underperformance of the costly “Sleeping Beauty.” Based on Dodie Smith‘s novel, it follows dalmatian couple Pongo (Rod Taylor) and Perdita (Cate Bauer) —because in this version, the dogs talk— whose first litter of puppies is stolen by gaunt, obsessive furmongerer De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), as they heroically expose Cruella’s whole horrible operation and, with the help of every other dog in the city it seems, rescue 99 puppies. Car chases, frozen river crossings, disguises, narrow escapes, and an Underground Railroad-style network of conspiratorial canines —if you’re not a dog lover before it begins, you will be by the end.
12. “Lady & The Tramp” (1955)
Patenting a certain kind of adorable-animals-have-an-adventure formula that continued on to “101 Dalmatians” and “The Aristocats” (the latter being all but a remake), “Lady & The Tramp” may not be Disney’s greatest romance, but it at least provides its single most romantic moment, thanks to the classic, much-repeated spaghetti kiss moment. But the film’s appeal last far beyond that. Based in part on a dog belonging to Disney artist Joe Grant, and how it was ignored after the birth of his first child (he was still working at Disney when he died aged 97: “Up” is dedicated to him), it sees posh cocker spaniel Lady (Barbara Luddy) forced out on to the streets by a pair of Siamese cats (Peggy Lee), where she’s aided by the streetwise, rough-around-the-edges Tramp (Larry Roberts). Breaking away from well-established fairy tales for the first time since “Bambi” gives the story a certain room to breathe and makes the film feel pleasingly organic: a sweet, low-key meld of “It Happened One Night” and more child-friendly animal fare with classic characters that go beyond the title characters (even if some, namely the Siamese cats, haven’t aged well).
11. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996)
Unfairly consigned to the “minor Disney” category, this Gary Trousdale/Kirk Wise rendering of the Victor Hugo classic is actually one of the Mouse House’s most complex films, in which magic is largely forsworn in favor of traditional religiosity. That might seem obvious, being as the setting is a rather famous Parisian church, but all the talk of God and Hellfire, as well as ethnic persecution, religious hypocrisy, infanticide, abuse of power, the sin of lust and even distrust of female sexuality (seriously!), combine to make it one pretty dark and grown-up cartoon. Of course, all that is subtext while the main story, of Not Judging By Appearances and Being True To Yourself is Disney handbook 101: Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), the deformed bellringer of Notre Dame raised in secret by the evil, archly pious judge Frollo (Tony Jay), finds in his illicit friendship with the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda (Demi Moore) and her beau Phoebus (Kevin Kline) the courage to go out into the world. It’s an overt simplification of the epic novel, but one that actually introduces some new, interesting elements, so while the songs are a little forgettable and sidekick detail is muted (Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough and Mary Wickes), ‘Hunchback’ is a heady brew nonetheless.
10. “Mulan” (1998)
“Mulan,” which came at the tail end of the so-called Disney renaissance of the 1990s, is nothing if not ahead of its time. The studio’s movies haven’t always been terribly progressive, but this adaptation of a Chinese legend features a kick-ass women of color in its lead role, and one with a somewhat fluid approach to gender at that. When her father (Soon-Tek Oh) is conscripted into the army to battle Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer) and his invading Huns, the tomboyish Fa Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) disguises herself as a man in order to take his place, and heads off to war with the help of her dragon guardian Mushu (Eddie Murphy). Directed by Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft, the film is legitimately beautiful and truly epic in scale in a way that some of its contemporaries aren’t, with a clear, crisp art style and some stunning battle sequences. The energy drops off every time a song appears —every one should have been rejected— but Murphy’s vocal performance, more than just a warm-up for Donkey a few years later, helps to pick things up, and the heroine is resourceful, brave and far less bland than many Disney characters, even if the film’s feminism isn’t perfect. Given how in vogue it would seem now (not least in its appeal to the Chinese market), it’s no wonder Disney has a live-action remake in development.
9. “Lilo & Stitch” (2002)
An unexpectedly delightful, gently subversive, surprisingly progressive film from directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois ( the ‘How To Train Your Dragon‘ movies) “Lilo & Stitch” passed many of us by back in the day but is now a firm favorite. Even the character design is unusual, with the largely non-white human cast of Hawaiian islander grown-ups beautifully rendered as strong and athletic rather than the more willowy princesse-y silhouettes we’re used to, while the kids, led by Lilo (Daveigh Chase) are pudgily adorable and the aliens, especially cute/ugly Stitch are appropriately weird and diverse. The bonkers story is of Stitch (Sanders is on voice duty too) aka Experiment 626, a ferocious creature genetically engineered for invulnerability and destructive capability whose spaceship crashes in Hawaii. There, he is adopted as a “dog” by a lonely little Elvis fan Lilo, who lives with her loving but overstretched sister Nani (Tia Carrere) since the death of their parents. With an overbearing social worker (Ving Rhames) ready to separate the sisters, Stitch’s anarchic impulses do not help, while half the galaxy is on his tail. The lessons about family may be predictable, but it’s such an atypical family (the relationship between Nani and Lilo is so wittily drawn) that the Pacific quantities of tear water it might provoke are anything but.
8. “Aladdin” (1992)
These days, every A-list star at some point gets the phone call to voice an animated character (or, if you’re Seth Rogen, you get twelve phone calls). It wasn’t entirely new at the time —think of classic Disney’s use of Peggy Lee or Louis Prima, among others— but most of it can be traced back to Robin Williams’ movie-stealing turn in “Aladdin,” which helped to make the movie a far bigger hit than “Beauty And The Beast” and “The Little Mermaid,” the two earlier movies in the Disney renaissance. Reteaming the “Little Mermaid” duo of John Musker and Ron Clements, the film’s based on the classic Arabian Nights tale of the title character (Scott Weinger), a street kid tricked into retrieving a magic lamp and who finds his fortunes transformed as a result of the genie residing therein. The script (co-written by Ted Eliott & Terry Rossio) is one of the tightest the studio had, the songs (featuring the late Howard Ashman’s final contributions) are some of their catchiest, and there’s some absolutely stunning animation throughout. Not everybody loved Williams’ tour-de-force comic turn, but we’d argue that his brilliance comes not just in the impressions and voices, but in the pathos he’s able to give the character. He comes close to unbalancing the film, but given that lead duo Aladdin and Jasmine are such 90210-ish dullards, that unbalance was probably necessary.
7. “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs” (1937)
The first Walt Disney animation, and the one from which all others spring. ‘Snow White’ isn’t just the first Disney film —it is the first full-length animated feature full stop. The best part of a century, a cottage industry and several dire would-be-gritty remakes later, it remains a towering titan of the form. More faithful than many of the films that would come after to its source material (frankly, the narrative is a little thin for its 83 minute running time), it’s also noticeably darker: what would become the Disney formula is still in flux, and the film goes to some rather terrifying places that the studio would shy away from in later years. Its willingness to go there as such helps to make up for deficiencies in the narrative elsewhere —being the first attempt at feature length animation, it’s simple perhaps to a fault, with the heroine in particular being something of a blank canvas. Yet, probably because it’s been lovingly restored, as a crown jewel in the Disney canon, it still looks stunning. The rotoscoped animation (where live-action footage is painted over) gives proceedings a realism that’s rarely been returned to since, though its finest moments are when it departs from human characters with the utterly charming dwarfs or the woodland creatures. It’s easy to take ‘Snow White’ for granted, but after nearly eighty years, it remains a miracle.
6. “Dumbo” (1941)
Made in only a few months at a minimal budget in order to make a quick buck after the financial disaster of “Fantasia,” “Dumbo” is a modest, sweet little affair that easily outshines some of Disney’s more lavish spectacles. Curiously based on a story for a Roll-A-Book novelty toy written by Helen Aberson, it sees a stork delivering to Mrs. Jumbo a new baby elephant boy, the titular Dumbo, whose long ears see him mocked by his circus colleagues. He’s so badly bullied that his mother steps in, only to be locked away when the authorities believe her crazy. But with the help of Timothy Q. Mouse (Edward Brophy), Dumbo becomes a flying circus clown and a national celebrity. Clocking in at just 65 minutes, the film feels like a product of its times more than some of its contemporaries, sometimes positively (the charming music, the mouse, the design), sometimes not so much (the questionable stereotyped crows). But its problems are wildly overshadowed by the lo-fi inventiveness of the invention, the personality invested in the animation (Dumbo never says a word, yet you feel for him more than any one of the thousands of animals in “Zootopia”), and the soaring, deeply moving finale.
5. “Bambi” (1942)
You could probably say that millions of characters have died in movies since the medium’s arrival (even if you limited the number to named characters rather than planetary extinctions, or whatever). But few can have had the impact of the death of Bambi’s mom, who is shot by a hunter when the title character is just a fawn. The kid-traumatizing demise of the character, forcibly dragging millions of children into an adult reality, is still the film’s biggest talking point 70-odd years on, but the merits of “Bambi” go far beyond that. Based on a book by Austrian novelist Felix Salten, it’s a coming-of-age story of sorts, as we see the title character progress from doe-eyed, gangly-limbed innocent to embracing his destiny as the Prince of the Forest. It’s almost experimentally episodic in its narrative (even “The Jungle Book” feels like it has a stronger throughline), clearly building on the success of “Pinocchio” and “Dumbo” before it, but with an even greater sense of humanity —which is ironic, given the villainous role that “man” plays throughout. Quiet, beautiful and pastoral, it’s close to becoming something like “Disney as arthouse movie,” while still appealing utterly to children throughout.
4. “Pinocchio” (1940)
The term “Disneyfication” evokes a reliance on formula, an essentially conservative approach to gender values, a simplistic storyline in which moral blacks and whites are clearly delineated and everything resolves neatly for the happy-ever-after. And yet the studio’s second animated feature “Pinocchio,” which is so firmly embedded in the Disney DNA that its gorgeous song “When You Wish Upon a Star” remains the company jingle to this day, is way, way weirder than that. Without a princess in sight, we get an epic head trip about a wooden puppet who wants to be a real boy, and whose nose grows longer when he tells a lie going on a sprawling Odyssey of self-discovery, mortal peril and grand high adventure. Narrated by Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s official “conscience,” the film has a million moving parts: even after being seduced into the circus, Pinocchio goes on a drunken, vandalizing debauch with some other boys, is partially turned into a donkey, narrowly avoids being sold into slavery and then returns home to his father/maker Geppetto only to have to rescue him from the belly of an irascible whale. Then he dies. Some suggest the same year’s “Fantasia“ is the greatest achievement from classic-era Disney era, but “Pinocchio” has just as spectacular an imagination, while being infinitely more thrilling and moving.
3. “The Jungle Book” (1967)
If we’re very quick to point out the times when remaking a classic yields substandard, cynical results, we should also be happy when one beats the odds as apparently has Jon Favreau’s live-action reworking of this beloved and brilliant ’60s film. It’s even more impressive here, because the original is one of the most beloved of all the classic Disney animations, and with good reason: the character and voice work is among their best ever (particularly George Sanders‘ suave, chocolate-voiced Shere Khan, Phil Harris’ “shiftless jungle bum” Baloo, Louis Prima as fire-coveting King Louie, J. Pat O’Malley as Colonel Hathi and Sebastian Cabot as Kaa, not to mention those fabulously Beatles-esque vultures), the animation is artful but also rooted in reality (Mowgli kicking at stones like a disaffected kid would) and the songs —well, they’re simply the best ever. “Bare Necessities,” “I Wanna Be Like You” “That’s What Friends Are For” and even the sappy but sweet “My Own Home” all have the wonderful quality, lost in many later animated musical numbers, of reinforcing character, furthering the story and being damn catchy all at once. Its brilliance is such that not even subsequent revisionist takes which have critiqued its racist and conservative overtones can truly tarnish its legacy.
2. “The Lion King” (1994)
Still the highest-grossing Disney animation domestically at $422m (in 1994 dollars!), “The Lion King,” from directors Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, represented the box-office pinnacle of the Disney renaissance of the 1990s. But it’s also a creative highlight, the exceptionally well-structured story of lion cub Simba (among the most adorable of Disney protagonists, superbly voiced by Matthew Broderick) who is tricked by his cunning fratricidal uncle Scar (who but Jeremy Irons?) into believing he has caused the death of his noble father King Mufasa (James Earl Jones as the Platonic ideal of fatherhood). Fleeing the kingdom, Simba hooks up with Disney’s best-ever sidekicks, meerkat Timon and warthog Pumba (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella respectively) while evading the clutches of the trio of hyena henchmen (Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Cummings and Cheech Marin) who serve Scar. Growing up in carefree exile with the catchy philosophy of “Hakuna Matata,” he eventually meets and falls for childhood friend Nala (Moira Kelly) who persuades him to return to the Pride Lands that Scar’s rule has decimated and to reclaim his rightful Kingship. The (Circle of) Life Lessons that “The Lion King” teaches may not be exactly groundbreaking, but seeing them executed with such sincerity and deep feeling, and with unparalleled craft in terms of the animation and design of every single character and every single background, is purest, unalloyed Disney magic.
1. “Beauty and the Beast” (1991)
If there’s one quality that marks out the greatest animations, it’s a feel of effortlessness. It’s a sense that nothing is beyond the reaches of the visual imagination, but at the same time, that everyone, down to the person making tea for the background colorists, is having a blast while making it all look as easy as falling off a log. And that’s the quality that Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” famously the first animated film ever to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, has in spades, a kind of liberating storytelling verve that matches their surprisingly liberated heroine. In Belle (Paige O’Hara), Disney has still possibly its best-ever princess —the only one you really believe doesn’t give a damn for that title, as well as being the one whose innate goodness, intelligence, curiosity and sense of humor put her in the position of rescuing her trapped and helpless Prince. The songs are the best in the Disney repertoire since “The Jungle Book” and the supporting voice cast, particularly Angela Lansbury‘s comfy Mrs. Potts, Jerry Orbach‘s suave candelabra Lumiere, Bradley Michael Pierce as the adorable Chip and Richard White‘s egomaniac Gaston, are perfection. Also straddling the old and the new in elegant style with that lovely ballroom scene —the only scene to use CG animation in the whole film, but used to pristine effect— “Beauty at the Beast” is both progressive and classic, and, as those of us with 90s-born nieces and nephews can testify, the most endlessly rewatchable of all the Disney animations. It’s perfection.
No, all you irate Elsas and Annas out there, you did not read it wrong: there is no “Frozen” here. The unstoppable behemoth of two years ago missed out on our list —while obviously it’s good that the story is about sisterhood, it is still about enchanted princesses, and we’d hoped by the mid 2010s we’d have moved on from all that corsetry and crown-wearing. Another relatively progressive film that came close but was just edged out was “The Princess and the Frog” which is charming in its New Orleans setting and features a black princess, but is hampered by an uninspired plot, while “Pocahontas” was a similar near-miss. Others will no doubt lament the absence of classic era staples “Cinderella” and “Alice in Wonderland” but both seem rather anodyne to a modern eye, no matter how crucial they may have been to the building of the Disney brand. “Peter Pan,” “Tarzan” and “Big Hero 6” were all discussed too, as were “The Aristocats,” “Tangled” and the still-in-theaters “Zootopia” but none got the groundswell of support needed for their inclusion. “Fantasia,” by contrast, was on the list for a long time before we actually thought about it and realized that if we were honest, it was there as a legacy pick rather than because any of us truly love it.
Aside from those, we know there’ll be some incredulous “Fox and the Hound” or “Rescuers Down Under” fans out there, so let us have it in the comments. Except if your comment is about not including “Frozen,” in which case (you can see this coming, can’t you?): let it go.