10 Greatest Disney (2D) Animated Features Pt. 1


Almost everyone who grew up in the ‘80s and/or ‘90s has some kind of nostalgic attachment to a Walt Disney 2D animated feature. (It’s a sad world we live in now that “2D” is a required adjective in that sentence.) Hours of our childhoods were devoted to watching a singular Disney title over and over again and we wouldn’t trade it for anything.

An entire decade, however, missed out. Disney couldn’t churn out quality moneymaking 2D titles in the early 2000s having already opened the floodgates for CGI animation with Toy Story in 1995. Although 2002’s Lilo and Stitch found some love, the magic faded and ended in 2004 with the bust that was Home on the Range.

ids born in the last few years, however, will have a chance at a more ideal childhood with Disney’s triumphant return in the form of The Princess and the Frog, which opens across the country on Friday. With African-American princess and a new “world” to explore in Jazz-Age New Orleans, Disney looks ready to reestablish itself as the class of meaningful, theme-driven entertainment in the age of A.D.D.

Also back is music. Longtime Disney collaborator Randy Newman has given “Frog” a southern Creole jazz soundtrack that fits the film and Disney perfectly. They might not be the Alan Menken-written showstoppers of the ‘90s, but in listening briefly on iTunes, they hold more promise than anything Disney’s done with music since then (with the exception arguably of the Phil Collins Tarzan soundtrack).

So thank you, The Princess and the Frog, for giving me an excuse to write about Disney classics and – more importantly – to rank them, which is always fun. Who hasn’t debated about which Disney movie is the best? Here’s my take. Feel free to argue.

10. The Jungle Book (1967)


I debated long and hard about which of many deserving films should grab that last coveted spot in my Top 10, and I had to award it to The Jungle Book, really the first of its kind for Disney. The Jungle Book was Disney’s first venture outside of that Caucasian comfort zone. Although certainly not a landmark for diversity in animated film by any means (they’d follow it up with plenty more white-centered features – plus thematically it preaches you should want to be a civilized human), it stands out as a unique achievement for Disney.

With a few great sing-a-long songs, namely “The Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You,” The Jungle Book was one of Disney’s first easy-going, fun movies. Baloo the bear is a pretty lovable dude too. This is one of the first movies I’d like to revisit if I were to make a list of Disney films worth rediscovering as an adult.

9. Mulan (1998)


Mulan makes my list as the last Disney animated movie worthy of deeming a classic. Great music, same quirky supporting cast, wholesome family (albeit Asian) values – The Princess and the Frog would’ve been a great next step for them back at the turn of the century considering the diversity instead of heading down a non-princess path. Unfortunately, though the movie faired well, the relatively unknown story of a girl posing as a man conflicted with the cultural messages toward little girls and straight up baffled boys. Mulan the character as a result never achieved “princess” status.

“Reflection” was the ballad that gave rise to Christina Aguilera’s career. Why it didn’t get nominated for an Oscar baffles me, but then again the winner that year was The Prince of Egypt’s “When You Believe,” so that’s fair. Donnie Osmond’s performance of “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” was probably the best upbeat song in a Disney film since The Lion King. And who can forget the credits track “True to Your Heart” featuring Stevie Wonder and 98 Degrees? Yea, I totally rocked to that cassette tape.

8. Lady and the Tramp (1955)


If I were making a totally biased list that didn’t consider any thoughtful evaluation, Lady and the Tramp would make my top five. I was fascinated, I mean, completely entranced by this movie. It’s one of those films that has this quiet aura about it that’s slightly chilling but utterly captivating. The ups and downs of this movie were like a rollercoaster to me and just picturing them in my mind right now gives me goosebumps.

Looking back, I think what makes Lady and the Tramp sort of a cult favorite when it comes to Disney movies (along with The Fox and the Hound which I woefully had to omit from this list), is its perspective. The fact that it cuts all the humans off at the knees (with the exception of the Italian restaurant guy Tony) and really puts you in Lady and the other dog’s perspective makes it so easily identifiable for children. The dogs all vie for love and attention from the parental figures of the story and that is a connection children watching this film instantly make subconsciously that draws them in to feeling invested in the story. The happy ending to it all is the payoff that brings them back each time (though I should say I speak for myself).

7. Peter Pan (1953)


There’s a reason Tinker Bell became the iconic character of Disney. Peter Pan was really Disney’s first foray into action and fantasy. It began with Alice in Wonderland two years earlier, but this was the first successful attempt, namely because the story was also attractive to young boys. In fact, Peter Pan was the first entirely human male protagonist in a Disney animated classic. J.M. Barrie’s story was really perfect for Disney in the way that it had such a broad appeal to all children.

The execution is of course there too. That old-timey adult chorus singing “You Can Fly!” is memorable and one of Disney’s more effective “you can do anything if you put your mind to it” songs. Capt. Hook is one of the more formidable Disney bad guys and the whole fantasy world of Neverland is simply dreamy.

6. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)


Here’s where we get into the matriarchs of the Disney movies, the ones responsible for everything we ever got afterward that turned Disney into a powerhouse of children’s entertainment. Snow White of course was Disney’s first full-length animated feature. The first memorable children’s tunes in movie history came from this picture. Everything about it is classic.

Granted, when looked at with a skeptic eye, Snow White can seem horribly anti-feminist and kinda screwed up. I mean, a drop-dead gorgeous woman with the fairest complexion in all the world ends up in a house with seven disgruntled midgets, does all their bitch work while they go mine the caves during the day and, because of her own dumb ignorance, is forced to wait for the elusive Prince Charming to kiss her so she can truly live happily ever after. But nonetheless, these are classic story archetypes and we owe them everything for laying the foundation for future classics.

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  1. Hello – just a brief note to say thanks for this entry. Very helpful.

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