Disney has long been creating a lot of top notch movies where old fairy tales are concerned. Their characters are usually well rendered and interesting, with an inner life which cannot be mistaken. I’ve always been an ardent Disney lover: I have seen almost all the fairy tale retellings and a lot of their more original works with the exception of Road to El Dorado and a few others.
In this, there are obviously some which have been my favorite. I have seen too many to not have a ranking system of some sort. Their solid messages, character arcs, early feminist works and out and out feminism (recently, they’ve also started passing the Bechdel test!) and everything good about society is what I love about Disney.
Taking into account that it is literally impossible to have seen every Disney movie ever (Go on Wikipedia and look at the list of Disney movies, I dare you) and that Pixar is not accounted for in this, we have from least to most, the top ten Disney movies:
Sleeping Beauty and Snow White
You can imagine why this is at the end – the characters are a little passive, and the story does not have as solid an arc as later Disney movies. The reason it is on this list is that it gives us a little perspective in what Disney really does. Adapting fairy tales to engage viewers. Classical Disney is what Sleeping Beauty originally was: reimagining characters in the best possible ways – of course, until they started doing creative remakes and everything else.
When I was a kid, my parents bought me this movie on DVD. The number of times I saw it has surpassed twenty. I loved Cinderella – as small girls, we all wanted to be Cinderella. We wanted to have a magic dress, glass slippers, and everything that came with it. Obviously, the object of the movie was to instill what a hard life Cinderella really had – and that in this, she had someone who would help her get a night-out from all her chores. She accidentally fell in love with the prince, and vice versa – who knows? Maybe they talked about whether or not humans were made of star dust.
Pocahontas is a wonderful movie that tackles intolerance, racism, genocide, and everything wonderful in a way to make the children understand these topics. This is where we begin to see a solid change in the way Disney treats female characters: earlier, they are simply princesses who can do very little wrong, and are put under harsh circumstances which they eventually get out of. Pocahontas shows a different woman: fun loving, but dignified, beautiful, adventurous, not to mention the fact that the ending is unexpected, going by Disney. And Pocahontas is also something which shows a different culture, it shows the resource hungry humans, it shows everything and yet ends on a good note. Of course, history classes will later teach the kids about the Spanish invasion into America and the destruction of a whole people, but at least the movie tried to show that America wasn’t about to be ravaged any time soon. Of course, the bitter pill was that Pocahontas doesn’t marry the love of her life, but at least the movie doesn’t end in genocide!
Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast is a well-made movie – with very good animation, which is all hand drawn (it just is more appreciated when it’s hand drawn!), and which begins to show a different kind of heroine. Belle, the bookworm who falls in love with the bad boy is a trope that is going to continue for a long, long time after this.
The Princess and the Frog
I love this movie for being set in New Orleans. I love it because it shows a friendship between a white upper-class girl and a black lower class one. I love it because Tiana is always so done with romance that it never stops being hilarious. I love it because Tiana has a goal that goes beyond marriage. I love it because it’s funny, and I can never get over the firefly who fell in love with a star called Evangeline.
The first Indian Disney movie, Khoobsurat is rather remarkable in its making: not only do they manage to show some excellent camera work, they also build a very romantic relationship between two unlikely candidates. Fawad Khan is gorgeous, and Sonam Kapoor manages to do the ‘whimsical and colorful’ woman excellently. I love this branching out of different kinds of personalities in women that Disney has started bringing out.
This one doesn’t even need explanation.
I know that it is not a perfect movie – but the whole point of this movie is just wonderful. Anna’s unconditional love, the absolutely terrifying storm shows the intense emotions in Elsa that she has cut off. The fact is, it shows some wonderful facets of character development where both Anna and Elsa are concerned. The reason why it’s not higher up on the list is that the ending is unrealistically contrived: the whole kingdom accepts Elsa? She has an epiphany that finally leads to the thaw? I dunno, the movie should have built a little more towards that.
Okay, let’s all just agree that Rapunzel from Tangled was a cinnamon bun of the highest order and she deserves our recognition and praise.
Disney has really started branching out with their characters – the sarcastic and funny Eugene Fitzherbert, along with the highly energetic and crazy Rapunzel is something that I can easily get behind. I love this movie for everything – the animation (even though not hand drawn), the beautiful and believable character arc of both characters, and Maximus! Just Maximus!
The Lion King
I adore Shakespeare.
I love Shakespeare, and I love what Disney did with Hamlet through this movie. Thankfully, there were fewer deaths, but the point was the same. And, Ophelia didn’t die, which didn’t lead to Hamlet’s madness – so there’s all of that. But Simba, Mufasa, Nala and Sarabi all make an excellent cast for the same. Hell, the sequel was a reworking of Romeo and Juliet, and who doesn’t love that?
There’s a reason this is my favorite movie of all time.
And that reason can be boiled down to the way Shang says “You fight good,” to Mulan at the end. Just rewatch the scene. Have you ever seen anyone more inept at flirting?
There’s also the fact that Mulan herself has one of the strongest characters arcs ever, that she became a warrior of her own right, and that Mushu just… exists. Her own character building, her resourcefulness, her brilliance, and her general genius is something I will never get over. I know there are flaws in the movie – the snow ocean and the way the Huns popped out of the snow liked daisies, but these are all wave-able. I love this movie.
The end conclusion of this whole countdown is that I enjoy what Disney does so much. I love the way they rework these fairytales, and I love the way they seem to give such solid and complicated lessons to children without messing up their heads.