From the company that turned a mouse - that scurrying thing that shot your grandmother on top of a chair, holding a broom for dear life - into a national hero, comes the story of a rat. A disgusting, disease-ridden rat, who dreams of being a gourmet chef. Underdog (underrat?) stories don’t start much lower, and in Brad Bird’s fanciful, romantic and wholly unlikely Ratatouille, that just makes Remy’s ascension taste sweeter. The plot is a little absurd, but the point - that great talent can come from the most unexpected places - will always be lovely.
Disney's kiddie-friendly fare was a key to their success, but it did occasionally hamstring their ability to tell more mature stories. In 1983, Disney released a comparatively harrowing feature called Never Cry Wolf, a quiet story about a Canadian researcher (Charles Martin Smith) who must live in the wilderness, studying how wolves may or may not be thinning the local caribou herds. In addition to his research, our hero much also learn a few basic survival skills. I defy you to forget the scene wherein he eats mice. The ultimate conclusion of Never Cry Wolf is that humans are actually a greater threat to the land than wolves could ever be. This is Davy Crockett by way of Terrence Malick. Never Cry Wolf's contemplative content ultimately led to the formation of Touchstone Pictures, a more mature branch of the Disney machine.
Every kid’s favorite fantasy is the one about possessing secret power or information, resulting in an urgent task that will allow the child to be The Only One Who’s Right and triumph over whatever adversity stands in her or his way. The kids in this wickedly exciting adventure are not only telekinetic and telepathic, they’re also aliens who have to flee some bad people to get home to their superior race of extraterrestrial beings. So it’s perfect. And it stars Disney veteran Kim Richards, which makes it the perfect antidote to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and the unhappy spectacle of the actress in perpetual, screaming, middle-age meltdown.
For my money, Muppet Treasure Island is the best Muppet movie after the 1979 original. In the 1990s, it looked like the Muppets had found their toe-hold in their newly Disney-acquired brand: feature the Muppet performers as characters in classic literature. A Muppet Christmas Carol was an excellent start, but Muppet Treasure Island takes it to 10, mutating Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel into an impeccable slapstick spoof. This film makes me chortle heartily. It's a pity that the Muppets followed this with the not-at-all-good Muppets from Space. To think what we could have had instead. Muppet Midsummer Night's Dream, Muppet 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Muppet Dracula, etc.
It may come as a surprise to find The Lion King ranked so low on a list of the best Disney movies ever made. Maybe it’s a generational thing. When The Lion King came out in 1994, the most recent Disney animated films were all about dreamers and magic. And then came, essentially, Hamlet, a harshly dramatic tale of murder and corruption. Yes, yes, “hakuna matata” to you too, but for all the fun to be had in The Lion King, it’s the melodrama that really stands the test of time: jealousy, betrayal, and a young hero whose self-doubt threatens a kingdom. For young audiences in the early 1990s, this was a revelation in Disney animation.
Two dogs and a cat travel 250 miles through the Canadian wilderness after being separated from their humans. Along the way they encounter harsh elements and non-domesticated creatures, such as bears, that they must flee and sometimes fight. The cat gets lost (who knows, maybe the dogs conspired to ditch it) and nearly starves to death, but they all make it home by the end. With three animals as leads, though, the lingering logistical question remains: HOW DID THEY EVEN MAKE THIS? And that, of course, brings up a second lingering question: After all the horrible revelations about Milo & Otis, do you really want to know the answer to the first lingering question?
And sometimes Disney throws off the shackles of warm, humble, homey, suburban bliss, and delves into the urbane, the silly, and – dare I say – the crass. 1980's Midnight Madness, while rated PG, still has the air of an R-rated National Lampoon farce lingering over it. Various teams of college students – nerds, jocks, sorority girls, “good guys,” and “bad guys” – are enlisted by a mad game master to play an all-night, L.A.-wide scavenger hunt, complete with oblique clues and notable L.A. landmarks. The movie is unadulterated, playful, adolescent fun. It also features small roles from Michael J. Fox, Scott Bakula, and Paul Reubens, and features the incomparable Eddie Deezen.
The title alone gives it away. The cat dies. How many times does the cat die? Does it matter? THE CAT DIES. As a five-year-old watching this one on Sunday night’s The Wonderful World of Disney, that fact was enough to send me into sobbing hysterics. But Thomasina marked a shift in Disney’s presentation of harsh reality. No more Old Yellers or Bambis, where death was simply death, kid, so get over it. This particular animal’s demise was magical, imbued with atheism-defying resurrections and lessons learned. Thomasina was a messenger of faith and love, earning her next life and saving human souls along the way. I know, weird; not as trippy as The Gnome-Mobile, maybe, but still pretty strange.
Muppet super-fans Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller used their post–Judd Apatow clout to bring the Jim Henson creations back to the big screen in a movie that’s both a loving throwback to the 1970s Muppet Show and spin-off films, and a post-ironic celebration and updating of everyone’s favorite felt family of entertainers. Armed with snappy new songs by Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords, this witty, affectionate redux of Kermit and company set the tone for a whole new set of adventures on film and (starting this fall) TV as well.
As a kid, you just knew that there were monsters in your closet. Evidence be damned, it was an indisputable fact. So what does Disney do to charm the hearts of children everywhere? It confirms your greatest fears, and then turns the monster into… your dad. One of Pixar’s most mature films tells the story of hardworking, blue collar men who are thrust into fatherhood against their will, and learn - in turn - that kids aren’t scary either. Monsters Inc. is that rare Disney movie that helps parents and children grow up in equal measure, with manic wit and visual ingenuity.
There’s a case to be made for the Lindsay Lohan/Jamie Lee Curtis remake of this film. It’s certainly more warm-hearted. But being first means a lot, meaning that this is the wacky body-switching movie that set the tone, the one others wish they could be. In spite of her future Oscar-winner status, the main attraction here isn’t really Jodie Foster; she’s always been more comfortable in drama than comedy (a point made by Taxi Driver, released the same year). So this is Barbara Harris’ show. As a wife and mother pulled in too many directions, she plays her own daughter as though she were on a blissful bender, before realizing that it sucks to be an adult.
Disney's carefully manufactured squeaky-clean wholesomeness serves as its greatest asset (they have built their entire brand around comforting, nonthreatening idylls) as well as their greatest detriment (they have no sense of weight, reality, edge, or grit). But in 1960, the Disney wholesomeness actually managed to appear as a life philosophy in their Hayley Mills vehicle Pollyanna. Pollyanna herself is a benevolent soul whose determination to see the good in the world infects and overpowers the cynicism around her. Wholesomeness, Disney declares, is no bad thing. Pollyanna would feel perfectly at home in Frank Capra's canon.
Somwhere amongst the scratchy, vertical London cityscape, into the wholesome, sleepy story of two urban newlyweds and their pet humans, enters Cruella De Vil. She’s not an all-powerful sorceress, she’s a sadistic fur-fetishist who kidnaps puppies and fully intends to skin them alive. Although the scope of One Hundred and One Dalmatians may be dwarfed by Disney's many other productions, the simple, primal viciousness of one great villain turns an adorable widdle dog story into the studio’s most brutal saga of survival. And Cruella’s wonderful theme song, sprung entirely out of a hero’s childish spite, has gotta be the most toe-tapping hate tune ever written.
Toward the end of Disney’s first era of classic animation came this breezy adaptation of Rudyard Kipling, one armed with a healthy dose of cool. (If this movie were a person, he’d be holding a cigarette in one hand and a bourbon in the other while standing poolside at Sinatra’s house.) Between Phil Harris’ rendition of “Bare Necessities,” Louis Prima going to town on “I Wanna Be Like You,” and the chilly villainy of George Sanders, the second bananas definitely steal the show.
Describing this film is a bit like being held captive by SNL’s Stefon has he doles out information about New York’s hottest nightclub for children. This one has everything: witches, war refugees, flying beds, Nazis, people being turned into rabbits, talking cartoon animals interacting with live humans, soccer matches, medieval suits of armor coming to life and waging war. And it’s a musical. And it’s two and a half hours long. What worked so seamlessly for Mary Poppins became, here, a discombobulated splatter of kid-entrancing hijinks. Still crazy watchable, though.
Fans of the Marvel movies may be surprised to hear that Disney has been doing this whole shared-universe thing for ages: Medfield College, which would eventually be the setting for the beloved Dexter Riley series of films starring Kurt Russell, first emerged as the institution where Flubber was invented, in this lark starring Fred MacMurray as the titular teacher who creates chaos with his anti-gravity goo. This film set the tone for decades of wacky, family-friendly, effects-heavy comedies from the studio.
The 1990s were, as has been said by many critics, a great time for Disney, and is often called the Disney Renaissance. They went back to their old model of re-purposing fairy tales, hired some brilliant songwriters, and produced a long string of amazing and memorable movies. Nestled right in the middle of the Renaissance is Aladdin, a retelling of one of the most famous tales from One Thousand and One Nights. The story is fine, but the presence of Robin Williams as the wisecracking, intentionally anachronistic genie is what made the film fly, allowing Williams' trademark mania more ample elbowroom than it has ever had.
28 years after the release of Tron, Disney’s most ambitious box office dud, director Joe Kosinski brought us back into this electronic universe, refined it, and pumped it up with an amazing score by Daft Punk. Like the original, Tron: Legacy is not a cheerful adventure, it’s a stylish attempt to turn big ideas into popcorn entertainment, with heady notions about God, free will and existentialism. The action doesn’t fly, it glides, evoking a potent, hallucinatory mood, readying our minds for more unexpected and lofty philosophies. Tron: Legacy is one of the most intriguing and beautiful films to ever come out of the studio.
Ok, so you showed that kid Bambi, right? Tears for a week, right? That means it’s time for Old Yeller, the devastating film that demonstrates just how much more insanely tragic it is when it’s not the main character’s mother that gets shot and killed, but the main character himself. That’s right, the climax of Old Yeller involves the brave and loyal Labrador/Mastiff mix contracting rabies and being “put down” by his teenage owner (Tommy Kirk). You thought you got choked up during Marley & Me when the dog just got old and kicked it from natural causes? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This film has been known to cause children to take up whiskey and cigarettes after surviving an initial viewing.
In the modern age, Disney has become ambivalent about their “princess” products. On the one hand, they embrace their ownership of early fairy tales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, but they are also constantly attempting to subvert their well-known “shrinking violet” princess characters with “strong” females like Mulan and, uh, Tiana. With Tangled, their 2010 reworking of Rapunzel, Disney struck a perfect balance, making a film that is magically princess-ly, while making an energetic – not to mention hilarious – character study. Tangled is perhaps the best Disney animated feature of recent years, in many ways surpassing the far more popular Frozen.
Disney’s darkest adventure, and the only film ever directed by Apocalypse Now editor Walter Murch, begins with Dorothy Gale (Fairuza Balk) committed to an asylum and forced into electroshock therapy. It gets creepier from there, as she journeys back to Oz and finds only a wasteland. But somewhere amidst the giggling, homicidal wheelers and hallways filled with severed heads is a powerful story about conquering your fears, and accepting eccentricity into your life. Unforgettable imagery abounds in Return to Oz, a film that is part family-friendly adventure, part revisionist fantasy, and all psychotic break.
Perhaps the most bizarre of all of Disney's output, I still cannot fathom the enjoyable oddness of Robert Altman's 1980 film version of Popeye. The character of Popeye was well-known in the funny papers, and through the utterly amazing 1930s Fleischer cartoon shorts, so I suppose an eventual live-action film adaptation was strangely inevitable. But Altman was better known for his casual, conversational naturalism, and not for his stylized color or musicality. But when one blends the high cartoon style of Popeye with Altman's casual chattiness, one finds a fascinating – and utterly amusing – curio of the ages.
Tron is nerd training wheels. The story of a guy lost inside a video game that’s part Pong, part Rollerball, and all neon motorcycles, it’s a triumph of the bizarre, jump-starting the tech imaginations of tween geeks nationwide when it was released in 1982 to disappointing box office. The practical mysteries of its production process - and the emotional pull of a story of a trapped man breaking free - brought that cult audience back again and again. Overlooked, underloved, and slighted by the Academy Awards special effects nominations for “cheating” with digital imagery, it more or less defines the expression “ahead of its time.” And it invented Daft Punk. Recognize its significance.
When Volkswagen designed the Type 1 Beetle back in the 1930s (which was, incidentally, put into heavy production by Hilter's Reich), they probably could not have predicted how much the world would fall in love with the cute little car's face-like layout. Disney essentially wrote a love letter to Volkswagen with The Love Bug, a truly surreal, bright, and incredibly fun comedy film about Dean Jones, Michele Lee, and Buddy Hackett winning big races and finding true love with the help of a sentient Bug named Herbie. It's charming, yes, but it's just weird enough to have something of a retrospective edge, a quality most Disney films lack.
Years before Disney bought Marvel Studios, and a few years after the disappointing Condorman, came this stalwart, sexy, always romantic superhero drama starring Billy Campbell as The Rocketeer, a naive flyboy who stumbles across Howard Hughes’s experimental jetpack and fights Nazis atop a blimp. Meanwhile, Timothy Dalton simmers as the villainous Errol Flynn knockoff Neville Sinclair, and Jennifer Connelly smolders as the buxom and capable damsel. Joe Johnston directed a handsome feature - the flying effects still fly, even by modern standards - and although The Rocketeer wasn’t a big hit, you can still find its DNA in nearly every successful superhero movie made in its wake.
From a distance, Up looks like a fairly rote story of a crusty senior citizen making friends with a lonely boy as the two of them take flight in a balloon-house. It also has that Pixar sheen, another visually breathtaking, eye-dazzling feat of meticulous animation from Disney’s identical cousin. Until you lay eyes on it, it seems as though it might be as perfunctory as Cars. But Up is actually a secret weapon, breaking your heart early with its dialogue-free preamble of old-people love. Then it spends the rest of its running time mending the pieces, gently and comically warning you not to waste days on stupid stuff when the people around you are what matter most.
This is not a typo – David Lynch directed a G-rated movie for Disney. What it lacks in mutant babies and dead prom queens, it makes up for in a straightforward and moving character piece anchored by an unforgettable performance by legendary character actor Richard Farnsworth. Based on a true tale of a man who drove his riding lawn mower across two states, the film takes an unsentimental look at the lives and the sacrifices of the elderly; a bar scene in which Farnsworth’s character meets a fellow World War II veteran is a masterful moment of things left unsaid.
The horror: a child’s first step towards independence, after years of overprotective parenting, are met with disaster when Nemo - a little clownfish - gets fishnapped by an overzealous scuba diver. Now Marlin, voiced by a perpetually panicked Albert Brooks, must conquer his own fears and traverse the whole flipping ocean to save his son. Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich’s film is so overwhelmingly emotional you almost forget to wonder at its many visual marvels: the inside of a whale, a breathtaking mid-air pelican chase, and a cast of wonderfully colorful characters who make one of Disney’s most intense motion pictures a joy for the whole family.
Before you and I and everyone else got sick of “Let It Go,” this animated musical came as a delightful surprise after two decades of Pixar-dominated cartoons from the studio. In this celebration of sisterhood and of female empowerment, the male characters take what would traditionally be roles for “The Girl,” from the devious, plotting double-crosser to the attractive love interest. Its massive popularity amongst the princess-besotted girl demographic speaks volumes about how underserved young ladies are for role models in contemporary pop culture. Now where’s that Black Widow movie?
Lilo & Stitch is a land mine of sorrow, hidden under a booger joke. What appears at first to be one of Disney’s flightiest, jokiest movies - about a destructive little alien who uses a destructive little girl as a human shield - is actually steeped in raw loneliness, and misplaced love. Lilo is a weird child, Stitch is a weird alien, and although their family is broken (and on the verge of being ripped apart by a well-intentioned yet threatening social worker), it’s still good. Damn it, it’s still good… cue the waterworks! Not many movies can jerk your tears while attacking you with a chainsaw. Actually, Lilo & Stitch is the only one.
Brad Bird’s wonderful adventure owes a mighty debt to The Fantastic Four, illustrating as they both do a vibrant family dynamic, made all the more complicated by the addition of superpowers. But The Incredibles finds a voice all its own, thanks to characters who respond to their repression in unique and heartfelt ways. Mr. Incredible longs for the days of youthful heroism, Elastigirl embraces her retirement and their children - Ultraviolet and Dash - suffer the unexpected consequences of never embracing their real natures. Bird gets a lot of mileage out of their domestic unhappiness, but once they finally cut loose, The Incredibles is a wonderful explosion of family bonding, and of finally-unbridled individuality. (Bonus points for introducing the world to Edna Mode.)
This hit helped launch Disney Animation 2.0, a reprise of the studio’s heyday of cartoon domination. After a slow decline in the 60s and 70s, this 1989 feature felt like a return to the Walt era, with a combination of breathtaking animation and a standout score from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who at that point were best known for the Little Shop of Horrors musical. Yes, it’s a bowdlerized version of a much creepier Hans Christian Andersen fable, and Ariel is hardly a poster-girl for female agency, but just try getting “Under the Sea” out of your head anytime soon.
The rare franchise in which the films improve with each new chapter, Toy Story 2 went straight for the sadness with a plot that involved toys being discarded and abandoned, then preserved in ways that negate their entire reason for existence. Woody learns he’s collectable, and the other toys seem excited by the prospect of living forever in a museum in Tokyo. However, as cool for a toy’s self-esteem as that sort of prestige may be, the movie knows that it can’t hold a candle to being loved and played with by a child. So when that Sarah McLachlan song rolls around, the one about “when she loved me,” expect to weep.
Something of an anomaly for the studio, featuring a bigger budget and bigger names than usual for them at the time, this adaptation of the Jules Verne novel paid off for Disney, becoming a big moneymaker in its original release and a perennial favorite for decades to come. James Mason makes a memorably mad Captain Nemo opposite Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre in this stirring undersea adventure, and the art direction – from the sleek submarine the Nautilus to the fantastic contraptions onboard – cements the film as a steampunk touchstone.
At their best, Disney films are often about evoking a pure, emotional experience. So it’s a little odd that with Alice in Wonderland, the emotion felt most often is frustration. How apropos, of course, to this mostly faithful adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s indictment of circular, faulty logic, in which young Alice falls down the rabbit hole and into a world of absolute madness. The humor, as in Carroll’s work, stems from Alice’s befuddlement: every lunatic she meets is convinced of their sensibility, to the extent that the only way to beat them - for the audience, at least - is to join them. So just kick back and go a little mad, because Alice in Wonderland is one of the best and silliest flights of fancy Disney ever crafted.
Just as Bela Lugosi taught us everything we know about Dracula, Disney taught us everything we now about classic fairy tales. Sure, the Disney versions were heavily re-worked through their ultra-wholesome lens, but they somehow snagged the attention of generation after generation, ensuring their their version of the story became the standard. Cinderella is a boldly 1950s version of the fable, wherein a heroine is rewarded for not only her nobility and purity, but also for her demureness and housewife-like qualities. And while the story came under fire from feminists a generation later, this Cinderella still has the ability to charm us and fulfill little girls' wishes.
To understand the massive popularity of young star Hayley Mills in the 1960s, look no further than this mistaken-identity comedy, starring the effervescent actress as separated identical twins who accidentally cross paths at summer camp and then trade places to get to know, and eventually reunite, their estranged parents. Sure, this is one of those movies that indulges the kid fantasy of making your divorced mom and dad get back together, but what adult could resist the charm of two Hayley Millses? (The quite lovely 1998 remake made Lindsay Lohan a household name.)
While it’s difficult to remember the actual plot of this opposites-attract romance between viewings, this film is loaded with standout individual moments, from the duplicitous Siamese cats to Peggy Lee’s smoky rendition of “He’s a Tramp” to the oft-referenced scene of the title characters accidentally kissing after consuming the same spaghetti noodle from opposite ends as the swoony “Bella Notte” booms out on the soundtrack. Essentially, it’s a rich-girl-meets-streetwise-guy rom-com played out among canines, but it’s all done so sweetly and skillfully that it’s become a love story for the ages.
Right in the middle of the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s came this unexpected hit from a then-unknown studio called Pixar, which was doing something truly daring: making movies entirely out of CGI. And while many animation purists anticipated the flick with suspicion, all of our fears were put to rest by an unexpected defining quality of Pixar: warmth. Even Disney's traditionally animated fare lacked the particular flavor of heart that Pixar offered in Toy Story, a well thought-out tale about what a child's toys do when he's not looking. Toy Story is not only an excellent film, but it was a big hit, ensuring that the Pixar name would be known for years.
WALL-E begins as bravely as any movie ever has, with a wordless, extended prologue about a little trash compactor robot living an isolated life on the planet Earth, centuries after the human race abandoned its uninhabitable surface. This exercise in pure cinema was met with cheers from critics and audiences alike, to the extent that they often overlooked the wonderful story that follows, when little WALL-E travels to the stars, and breaks up the dystopian monotony of the humans who no longer understand what they’ve really lost. A little spark of chaos becomes an act of revolutionary heroism, leading to a thrilling, inspirational climax and a potent message about who we all are, and where we should be going.
Sophisticated and sentimental, extravagantly strange, a luxurious fantasy just dark enough around the edges to lend it gravity, Mary Poppins set the bar almost too high. It was the site where multiple bolts of lightning struck at the same time: fantastic songs from the Sherman Brothers, an enduring performance by Julie Andrews, wild invention that mixed animation with live action, intoxicating special effects, and a true depth of emotion. Did we ever need the Tom Hanks/Emma Thompson hard-sell of 2013 to justify its existence? So what if P.L. Travers hated it? She was wrong.
The first animated film to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination (and the only one to do so under the five-nominee system), this sweeping romance dares to mess with the usual studio-imposed structure: the “princess” is a self-possessed young woman who loves to read, and the square-jawed male hunk turns out to be the villain of the piece. Skillfully matching some of songwriters Ashman and Menken’s finest work with visual shout-outs to Jean Cocteau’s legendary adaptation of the fairy tale, this is arguably the best of the studio’s fertile post–Little Mermaid period.
Fantasia, rather notoriously, bombed upon its initial release in 1940, and has just as notoriously become one of the most beloved films in the Disney canon. It's easy to see why on both accounts. Disney had not made a film quite like this before, nor have they since (Fantasia 2000, and perhaps their Salvador Dalí short Destino notwithstanding). Here was an animation studio flexing its creative muscles, making a string of varied short films strung together by nothing more than some of the finest classical music known to the Western world. Animation is the sharpest tool for dissecting the imagination, and, with Fantasia, Disney delved more deeply than they ever had before.
It’s important for children to experience make-believe trauma. It prepares them for the cruelty of real life. That’s why every human being, before they’re old enough to process it rationally, should see Bambi. It’s beautiful to look at and listen to, every frame a gorgeous watercolor joy to behold. And it includes shocking scenes of Death and Abandonment, baby’s first cinema scars. Later in life, let’s say around the time of legal drinking, get that person watch it again so they can understand it for the mature, mournful, coming of age parable it really is. They’ll agree that it toughened them up.
Tim Burton’s signature affection for everything creepy shines through in this marvelous, eccentric fable about the King of Halloween going through an identity crisis and hijacking Christmas away from Santa Claus. Danny Elfman’s elaborate and curious lyrics, and a strikingly detailed stop-motion aesthetic make The Nightmare Before Christmas - which was actually directed by Henry Selick (Coraline) - a unique curio in the Disney canon. Originally shuffled off onto their Touchstone imprint, and later revitalized as a “Walt Disney Presents” classic after finding a dedicated and loving audience on home video. What is this? It’s marvelous, that’s what.
One of Disney’s most gorgeously animated productions, Sleeping Beauty invites the audience into a distinctly vertical, colorful and magical world in which social impropriety dooms an infant girl to death by spinning wheel. Much has been made of the elegant malevolence of Maleficent, the mysteriously faux pas oriented villain whose popularity motivated Disney to revitalize her character with an ugly and problematic live-action feature. They eventually turned her into a feminist hero, seemingly oblivious to the fact that - although Sleeping Beauty herself is a bit of a non-character - the original movie already has three of them: Flora, Fauna and Merriweather, some of the most distinctly realized, selfless and remarkable female characters Disney ever brought to life (in animation or live-action).
There is a man named Leonard Maltin in the world, and Leonard Maltin knows more about – and has more affection for – Disney animated features than any other human being who has ever lived. Leonard Maltin would be aghast that 1941's Dumbo was as low as #4 on this list, as he considers it the studio's finest, and who am I to argue? Dumbo, a brief, sweet fable about a baby circus elephant who learns that he can fly with his outsize ears, is perhaps the most immediately emotional of Disney's golden age. It's about a youngster taken from his mother, and about finding your hidden talent. Plus, it has that wonderfully surreal alcohol hallucination sequence.
Whereas Pixar’s Cars 2 seemed like just a craven attempt to sell more bedsheets, this third Toy Story film found new resonance in the tale of these beloved playthings. Allowing young Andy to age in real time, so that the college-bound freshman would have to say goodbye to his childhood and its trappings, made this threequel emotionally devastating for fans of all ages. It’s about loss, death, and moving on – not to mention what happens when Buzz Lightyear gets switched to Spanish mode – and the results are emotionally and narratively perfect.
Most movie “firsts” (The Jazz Singer for talkies, Bwana Devil for 3-D features, etc.) tend to be famous for being technological breakthroughs without necessarily being acclaimed for their aesthetic qualities. Being the first feature-length cel-animated movie is just one of the reasons that Snow White remains so very important; take away its historical status, and you’ve still got a beautifully crafted film that set up so much of the Disney house style, from memorable villains and sidekicks to unforgettable songs. Feature animation starts here, in more ways than one.
It gave the world the Disney anthem, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” a song that more or less created Steven Spielberg’s entire career. It also pushed all of animation forward with groundbreaking effects. It’s as lush and gorgeous as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but it goes even deeper. The world moved in Pinocchio, all that stuff surrounding those animated characters came alive, and afterward nobody could ignore a static background. But historical significance is never really enough; Pinocchio matters for interior reasons, for its ability to move us to be brave, truthful, and unselfish (or at least make us wish we could be), for its insistence on the idea that if we are good and work hard we will be rewarded with real change. Maybe that’s a big lie, but Pinocchio inspires belief.