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

creativelogos16You’ve waited maybe 24 hours … wait no more. This is for those of you that didn’t see Part 1 (10-6)

5. Cinderella (1950)


Ahh, another classic tale just brimming with positive social concepts about women. Cinderella, however, is just a better film than Snow White. It’s a lot more magical and captivating in that dreamy fantasy sense although the concept of a beautiful girl forced into a state of solitude and slave labor due to others’ jealousy who enlists the help of talking animals still applies. In general, however, Cinderella executes better. For example, we hate Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters with a fiery passion more than we ever hate the Queen who dresses as an old hag in Snow White.

Cinderella is frankly a more redeemable story in addition to the extravagance of the ball and the glass slippers (which in hindsight, ouch anyone?). She’s aware of her cruel treatment and aspires to overcome it. Her daydream of being free and falling in love being realized by the Fairy Godmother and coming to life is vicarious wish fulfillment for all of us in one way or another. The classic storybook opening at the beginning and end is also money.

4. The Little Mermaid (1989)


Here’s where this gets tough. In my own personal list, this is top two. This was another one of those Disney home videos I was addicted to and it was one of the first movies I ever saw in theaters at age 2. Personal feelings aside, however, this was the game-changer for Disney. This launched them into the hits of the ‘90s and proved their sustainability as a company. From this point forward, Disney becomes a true powerhouse by capturing the next generation.

It all started with a simple decision. To write the music for The Little Mermaid, Disney turned to a man named Alan Menken. With his collaborator, lyricist Howard Ashman, the two would write the greatest songs in film history before Ashman’s death from AIDS in 1991. Disney owes Menken almost everything, in my opinion. “Under the Sea” became the first hit of a new generation of Disney.

“Mermaid” borrows on those timeless Disney themes of a princess being confined by her oppressive father who yearns to be something she’s not (human) and is envied by an evil sea witch who tricks the naïve girl into giving up her beautiful voice for a pair of legs. Disney wisely took us somewhere new and unknown to us in a world under the sea, delivering us important themes about being happy about who you are and where you come from. The only thing that keeps this one down at No. 4 is a weak leading man in Prince Eric and animation that wasn’t quite up to 1990’s levels yet.

3. Aladdin (1992)


Disney’s first decision in modern times to push the multi-cultural envelope pays off tremendously. Aladdin takes us to Arabia, completely unfamiliar Disney territory but one that it handles smoothly. Aladdin is maybe the most fun Disney ever had. Its main character is a thief and a troublemaker and the writers surrounded him with wackier pals in Abu the monkey, a magic carpet with a mind of its own and an insane genie voiced by Robin Williams who is easily Disney’s most successful supporting character of all time.

Aladdin is a bit more superficial in ways. Of course Princess Jasmine is still held back by her father and longs to get out and see the world and the man vying for her affections is a “street rat” so you have the timeless forbidden romance motif, but Jafar is a total cross-gender wackjob. Here’s where you get that villain that wants to possess all the power in the world (and also marry our leading lady), which made him just okay. That’s why they gave him a talking parrot voiced by Gilbert Gottfried. I mean, seriously, who needs Gilbert Gottfried as a complement to their character?

The key to this one was possibly the addition of two writers that would be frequent Disney collaborators: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. These two would go on to write Shrek (not Disney but Dreamworks’ most successful product) as well as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Musically, the fantastic Tim Rice stepped in as lyricist for the songs that Howard Ashman had yet to help write. With Menken, they wrote the greatest Disney power ballad of all time in “A Whole New World” as well as the fantastically jazzy “Friend Like Me,” “One Jump Ahead” and “Prince Ali.”

2. Beauty and the Beast (1991)


erhaps Disney’s most powerful thematic message comes from the ’91 classic Beauty and the Beast. Here comes this gorgeous new Disney princess who a) loves to read books and b) falls in love with a hideous man-beast because she has faith that he’s a good person at heart and that what’s on the inside counts. As a four-year-old, I was like “huh?” Disney managed to apologize for years of preaching superficiality to young girls by giving us Belle, a hot nerd who wards off her obnoxious suitors and goes for a beast who is not all that likable.

If you look at The Princess and the Frog, Disney is recycling this theme. Characters in that movie are humans transformed into swamp animals. In “Beauty” it was a Family Feud-style list of “name an inanimate object found in a mansion.” There’s Lumiere, the candlestick aka second coming of The Little Mermaid’s Sebastian the Crab, Mrs. Potts and Chip the tea cups, Cogsworth the clock and more. The characters were never more inventive and that’s why Beauty and the Beast became a first-rate Broadway production as well. Transformation is a powerful archetype that really works in Disney films. Not only is it magical, but also its impact is more fully realized by children. The concept and consequent themes are easier to grasp because it’s so visually distinctive.

Musically, the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman tradition of at least one huge upbeat number and one gorgeous ballad (“Be Our Guest” and “Beauty and the Beast”) continued. “Gaston” is also one of my personal favorite songs, celebrating Disney’s villain who is not so much evil as he is selfish and stubborn, championing ego and unkindness instead of the traditional Disney villain desires of power. Just another example of the excellent values being embedded into the Disney films of the ‘90s.

1. The Lion King (1994)

Walt Disney - Lion King family dim

I don’t think there’s any doubt that The Lion King is the most beloved Disney 2D animated film of all time. I don’t think I would call it my personal number one, but if you surveyed a wide group, I think you’ll find this twist on the Hamletstory atop a majority of people’s lists and it’s certainly deserving of being there.

The most interesting thing about The Lion King is the absence of human characters. Disney liked using animals as goofy supporting roles or in the case of Robin Hood giving animals anthropomorphic physicality. Everyone in The Lion King is as the animal would be minus talking. And what a cast it is; there isn’t a dull or pointless character in this entire movie. Disney’s most successful comic relief duo in Pumbaa and Timon came here. The ruthless Scar was formidable and he was complemented by three crazy hyenas that made henchmen staples of good vs. evil storytelling. Then of course Simba and Nala were as good as any human Disney prince and princess.

But the coup de grace, if you will, was the most emotional scene in Disney history: the death of Mufasa. Not since Bambi’s mother had Disney killed off a major good character. What an aggressive choice to risk something that could traumatize young children but instead ended up grabbing their attention and opening their eyes to difficult themes like revenge and forgiveness.

In addition, Disney took a break from Alan Menken and hired, — gee – Tim Rice and Elton John, never missing a beat in terms of music. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” match up with any other Disney song combo and “The Circle of Life” is simply breathtaking. And that’s leaving out “Hakuna Matata.” The Lion Kingalso became Disney’s biggest Broadway hit and it wasn’t just because of the costumes.

So there you have it. Agree? Disagree? Pissed I left off Pocahontas? Feel free to comment! Just for fun, here are some superlatives.

Top 10 Songs

  1. “A Whole New World” from Aladdin
  2. “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas
  3. “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid
  4. “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast
  5. “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin
  6. “Beauty and the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast
  7. “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King
  8. “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” from The Lion King
  9. “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid
  10. “Go The Distance” from Hercules

Top 10 Villains

  1. Scar from The Lion King
  2. Captain Hook from Peter Pan
  3. Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians
  4. Ursula from The Little Mermaid
  5. Jafar from Aladdin
  6. The Hunter from Bambi
  7. Gaston from Beauty and the Beast
  8. Evil Stepmother from Cinderella
  9. Hades from Hercules
  10. Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty

Top 10 Supporting Animals

  1. Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King
  2. Sebastian and Flounder from The Little Mermaid
  3. Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio
  4. Abu from Aladdin
  5. Mushu and the Cricket from Mulan
  6. Thumper and Flower from Bambi
  7. Jock and Trusty from Lady and the Tramp
  8. Meeko from Pocahontas
  9. Gus and the Mice from Cinderella
  10. Baloo and Bagheera from The Jungle Book

1 Comment

  1. Haynes says:

    Definitely agree with Lion King being #1, and can’t argue with the rest. Enjoying your lists.

Leave a Comment