Queen of the Monsters

Mothra introduced the world to the second greatest kaiju after Godzilla. It was 5 years before Ishirō Honda directed another giant monster film. Like Rodan, Mothra is another solo outing that my brother and I likely watched after we were already introduced to the titular monster in the Godzilla franchise. Since it was the 60’s, Toho took a different direction with their next kaiju. Unlike her Prehistoric competitors, Mothra is a majestic female monster from a mysterious island that treats her like a goddess. Honda wanted a more family friendly movie that felt more like a Disney production. Mothra was originally written as a serialized magazine story called The Glowing Fairies and Mothra. As much as I love the fantasy angle, I’m glad the final product wasn’t as strange as it could’ve been.

Mothra is like a combination of King Kong, Godzilla, and Rodan. Like Kong Kong, a Japanese expedition travels to Infant Island where they discover natives and exotic plant life. One of my favorite aspects of Mothra are the 2 miniature fairies referred to as Shobijin (or Small Beauties) who speak on Mothra’s behalf. The Peanuts were a singing twin double act who steal the show in their first acting job. “Mothra’s Song” has been stuck in my head ever since. Comedian Frankie Sakai plays well meaning reporter Fukuda who vows to keep them secret. Kyōko Kagawa plays his camerawoman Hanamura who doesn’t experience the island. Fukuda is joined on the expedition by Hiroshi Koizumi who now plays linguist Chūjō. Like Godzilla, the island is affected by atomic testing that Ken Uehara tests as radiation expert Dr. Harada. Takashi Shimura is also around, but he plays a newspaper editor. Jerry Ito plays the unlikable Nelson who kidnaps the Shobijin to perform in a show.

Mothra slowly became more international with a few Americans added to the cast. Like Robert Dunham as a corrupt Rolisican. Unlike most other monsters, Mothra is mostly justified in her rampage. All she wants is to rescue the fairies. Like Rodan, she hatches from a giant egg as a less than appealing larva. Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka were both part of a multi-person caterpillar suit. Mothra uses silk as a weapon, but she’s truly powerful in her final form. After an intense struggle at Tokyo Tower, Mothra transforms inside a cocoon and becomes a beautiful moth-like creature. This version of Mothra was the first scale model puppet. She was made for color thanks to her exotic orange wing patterns and glowing blue eyes. Mothra devastates the fictional New Kirk City with her powerful wings until the heroes figure out a religious connection that gains her favor. Mothra is a whimsical tale that added another iconic monster to the ever-growing roster.

2. Mothra

Mothra flies

Giant Monster of the Sky

Rodan is practically Godzilla with wings. Since he wasn’t available for Godzilla Raids Again, Ishirō Honda directed a different kaiju film with a very similar setup. Although Rodan is Toho’s last monster movie from the 50’s, it stood out because it was shot in color. My brother and I might’ve been introduced to Rodan in a later Godzilla film, but it wasn’t long before we saw his solo debut. Like Godzilla, King of the Monsters! or Giantis, the Fire Monster, Rodan proved popular enough for an English dub with the title Rodan! The Flying Monster! Rodan is a giant Pteranodon (or Pterodactyl) with a 270 ft. wingspan.

What he lacks in special powers, he makes up for in the ability to fly at supersonic speed and create devastating winds. Rodan’s shriek is recognizable in its own right. Without Godzilla, Haruo Nakajima does dangerous stunt work for Rodan from a wire. Like Godzilla, there’s a fair amount of build up before the monster is revealed. Most of the attention is given to a group of miners who make a discovery at the volcanic Mount Aso. It’s actually a large Prehistoric dragonfly larvae called a Meganuron that attacks first. They serve as food for Rodan when he hatches from a giant egg. Akihiko Hirata now plays important paleontologist Dr. Kashiwagi who figures Rodan was also awakened by H-bomb testing.

The only difference is Rodan emerging from fire instead of water. The human element comes from Godzilla mainstay Kenji Sahara as the amnesiac miner Shigeru and the lovely Yumi Shirakawa as his fiancée Kiyo who lost her brother to the monsters. Fighter pilots think Rodan is a UFO, but he makes his presence known by blowing Fukuoka away. I completely forgot that there was a second Rodan in the movie. They both suffer the same fate when the Military activates the volcano. Rodan may not have the immediate recognition of Godzilla, but it did introduce a monster with just as much destructive power.

1. Rodan

Rodan devastates a city

Titan of Terror

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! made the iconic Japanese monster popular in America. It was arguably responsible for giving foreign language films more international appeal, but it wasn’t as simple as it is now. Rather than add subtitles, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is an Americanized version of the 1954 Gojira. My brother and I never watched the 1956 version when we were younger, because we assumed it was just a simple English dub. King of the Monsters! was re-edited by American director Terry O. Morse to be a straightforward monster flick. Foreign politics, references to atomic testing, and several heavier moments are all removed.

Since no one thought 50’s audiences would accept an all-Japanese cast, Perry Mason star Raymond Burr was crudely inserted into the movie. Steve Martin (no, not him) is an everyman American reporter on assignment in Tokyo. Dr. Yamane, Emiko, Ogato, and Dr. Serizawa all act like he was there from the beginning with extremely obvious stand-ins. Though there is awkward English dubbing for established characters, Burr either uses on the nose narration or converses with a Japanese translator. Prolific actor James Hong is the most notable Japanese American dubber.

Martin spends most of the movie reacting to Godzilla’s rampage and the love triangle. Despite being a colleague of Dr. Serizawa, anything involving his Oxygen Destroyer is kept separate from him. No changes were made to Godzilla since a destructive monster has universal appeal. Although King of the Monsters! is pretty bad by today’s standards, it was successful at the box-office. It was later colorized by Italian filmmakers, but I wouldn’t watch that version even if it was available. Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is a surprisingly beloved American knockoff.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

Godzilla attacks Tokyo

Japanese Original: Godzilla

The Fire Monster

Godzilla Raids Again is a crucial film in the Japanese monster franchise. Since Toho wanted a sequel immediately, Ishirō Honda was temporarily replaced by B movie director Motoyoshi Oda. Though it was still shot in black & white, the serious tone of the original Godzilla diminished. Godzilla Raids Again became the first movie to establish the monster vs. monster formula by pitting Godzilla against his first opponent. Anguirus is a quadrupedal Ankylosaurus with horns and a spiky shell. Despite clearly dying at the end of the original, another Godzilla is awakened by an A-bomb alongside his new foe.

Takashi Shimura returns as Dr. Yamane just to show footage from the first movie’s attack and offer a possible strategy. Godzilla’s weakness seems to be light, but it’s not enough to keep him from destroying Osaka. Haruo Nakajima is back in a slightly modified Godzilla suit while back up stunt performer Katsumi Tezuka plays Anguirus. Human drama starts to feel more like a soap opera with another love triangle between the young Hiroshi Koizumi and older Minoru Chiaki as pilots Tsukioka and Kobayashi who are interested in the same woman. They both land on an island where we see Godzilla fighting Anguirus right away. Their second fight only happens when escaped convicts cause an explosion.

Anguirus is a quick and fierce opponent with a distinct roar, but he doesn’t have any special abilities like Godzilla’s atomic breath. The most they have in common is the fact that they’re both part dinosaur. Anguirus is surprisingly killed long before the climax where the pilots bury Godzilla under a snowy avalanche. Although it wasn’t as big of a success as the original, the sequel was later released in America with the confusing title Giantis, the Fire Monster. My brother and I didn’t see Godzilla Raids Again until way later, but it is interesting to see the humble beginning of monster fighting.

2. Godzilla Raids Again

Godzilla vs. Anguirus

Preceded by: Godzilla & Followed by: King Kong vs. Godzilla

King of the Monsters

Godzilla is the greatest kaiju movie ever made. Since today is my birthday, I thought I’d finally talk about the King of the Monsters. King Kong may have been the most iconic giant monster in America, but Godzilla is among the most iconic Japanese characters ever created. The success of Godzilla led to the longest running franchise of all time. From 1954 to present day, there have been sequels, remakes, reboots, toys, video games, books, comic books, and even a rare fictional star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Godzilla is so popular that my brother and I have actually been fans ever since we were kids.

We ended up watching almost every Godzilla movie out of order, including the original. The 1954 Gojira is a lot more serious than people remember. It’s no secret that Godzilla is meant to be a metaphor for World War II atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Director Ishirō Honda wanted to represent the disaster and Toho wanted to create a monster similar to the one in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Although Godzilla was nearly a giant gorilla or a giant octopus, a giant Prehistoric lizard is what made him the icon he is today…

1. Godzilla

Godzilla attacks Tokyo

Godzilla retroactively became the first movie in the Shōwa era. Though American audiences recognize the movies for their bad English dubbing, the Japanese original can only be viewed with subtitles. Unless you watch the Americanized Godzilla, King of the Monsters! from 1956 (more on that later). The movie opens with the perfectly ominous Godzilla theme composed by Akira Ifukube. Shooting in black & white was a great way to build suspense. Like the best monster movies, Godzilla isn’t revealed right away. The first attack is a Japanese vessel and a fishing boat meant to represent a similar boat called the Daigo Fukuryū Maru that was affected by nuclear fallout. Godzilla continues to attack Odo Island without being seen. Villagers know the name Gojira, but the big reveal happens at the top of a hill.

As most people know, Godzilla is an ancient Prehistoric sea creature that evolved into a 164 ft. tall dinosaur. Although lizards don’t have vocal cords, Godzilla has one of the most instantly recognizable roars of all time. His appearance is like an upright T-Rex with the arms of an Iguanodon and dorsal fins similar to a Stegosaurus. Like a dragon, Godzilla has devastating atomic breath that shoots out like a flamethrower. Though special effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya wanted to use stop motion animation like King Kong, it would’ve been way too time consuming. Instead Godzilla revolutionized a new form of suitmation. Which is basically stunt performer Haruo Nakajima in a rubber Godzilla costume destroying a miniature city. Shooting in black & white was also a good way to hide any imperfections.

Godzilla being awakened is the result of H-bomb testing. The political theme is made clear when the Government attempts to hide the truth, but civilians are reminded of Nagasaki when they learn Godzilla’s origin. Human characters spend most of the movie thinking of ways to kill the giant monster. Takashi Shimura plays a paleontologist named Dr. Kyohei Yamane who wants to study Godzilla. The lovely Momoko Kōchi plays his daughter Emiko who finds herself in a love triangle with Akira Takarada as young ship captain Ogata and Akihiko Hirata as brilliant eyepatch wearing scientist Dr. Serizawa. Although nobody watches a Godzilla movie for civilian drama, they are an important way to humanize the disaster. When Godzilla leaves the sea and finally attacks Tokyo, he holds nothing back.

Godzilla derails a train, melts an electrical grid, and destroys every building in his path. Normally destruction is the best part of the movie, but a mother accepting death and crying children are a sobering reminder of how close to reality this was at the time. When Military tanks and jets fail to stop Godzilla, only one scientist has the answer. Like J. Robert Oppenheimer, Dr. Serizawa develops a weapon of mass destruction called an Oxygen Destroyer. A superweapon capable of disintegrating oxygen that he tests on fish. Dr. Serizawa is a moral scientist who doesn’t want the weapon to fall in the wrong hands. So he destroys his research and sacrifices himself in order to save humanity. The movie ends with an important reminder to end nuclear testing or else risk the return of Godzilla. The original Godzilla is a somber disaster movie that spoke to generations of monster fans.

Godzilla 1954

Godzilla is spotted

Followed by: Godzilla Raids Again


The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning marked the end of direct-to-video Disney sequels. When John Lasseter became chairman, DisneyToon Studios put an end to traditional animation. It only made sense to end with a Disney Princess. Cinderella III: A Twist in Time and Ariel’s Beginning were both allowed to finish before the closure. Since The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea was a straightforward sequel, they decided to make a prequel instead. Something that already happened in the 1992 Little Mermaid animated series. My brother watched more of the series than I did, but we both watched Ariel’s Beginning without realizing it was the last direct-to-video continuation. The digital ink & paint animation lives up to the Disney Renaissance and most of the original cast returns.

Jodi Benson will always be Ariel, but Kenneth Mars was sadly replaced as King Triton due to a diagnosis. It was also Samuel E. Wright’s final time voicing Sebastian. The rest of the cast is mostly made up of familiar voice actresses. Since Ariel’s Beginning takes place entirely under the sea, we get to know her 6 mermaid sisters. They’re pretty interchangeable, but Attina is the responsible one, Adella is boy crazy, Andrina is sarcastic, Alana is beauty conscious, Aquata can’t dance, and Arista is quirky. Ariel is still the most rebellious daughter. Ariel’s Beginning is basically Footloose with fish. When the Queen Athena is killed listening to music, Triton bans music in Atlantica. Ariel meets Flounder for the first time, but he’s not much of a guppy. He’s brave enough to attend an underground music club.

Sebastian is supposed to be the strict one, but he also sings in secret. Ariel joins the club and convinces her sisters to join her. It’s not as dramatic as her obsession with the surface, but Ariel’s love of music does get her in trouble. The weakest link is the villain who can’t hold a tentacle to Ursula. Not even Sally Field can make the power hungry governess Marina Del Rey interesting. She’s a lame villain accompanied by her soft-spoken manatee sidekick Benjamin. Music is the real star of the movie, but songs like “Athena’s Song (Endless Sky),” “Just One Mistake,” “I Remember,” and “I Will Sing” don’t stand out as much as the existing calypso song “Jump in the Line.” The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning is the end of an era that deserved better.

26. The Little Mermaid Ariel's Beginning

Ariel and her sisters

Followed by: The Little Mermaid

Keys to the Peacock Princess

Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams is the first and only attempt to expand the Disney Princess brand as a series of direct-to-video films. The Enchanted Tales series would’ve featured short stories from all 8 of the current Disney Princesses. Like The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, each movie would’ve featured 2 stories with a similar theme. As much as my brother and I love Disney and the various Princesses, Follow Your Dreams was clearly made for little kids.

Keys to the Kingdom – The first story is all about Princess Aurora. Since Sleeping Beauty is one of my all time favorite Disney movies from the Silver Age, I was happy to finally get a continuation. The animation recaptures the painted look of the original, but some of the soundalike voices are a little off. Since Aurora spent most of her movie asleep, we never got a proper understanding of who she was. There’s also a noticeable lack of Maleficent.

When Prince Phillip, King Stefan, Queen Leah, and King Hubert leave for a Royal Conference, Aurora is left in charge. The three good fairies have their own inconsequential subplot where they deliver a lost speech to Hubert. Like Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, Princess duties are surprisingly boring. The only thing that makes it funny is Merryweather lending her wand to Aurora. Hijinks ensue when Aurora tries to help the kingdom with magic. In the end, Aurora realizes hard work is the best way to solve her problems…

24. Disney Princess Enchanted Tales Follow Your Dreams

Princess Aurora speaks with her Prince Phillip

More Than a Peacock Princess – The second story is all about Princess Jasmine. Unlike the former story, the Aladdin franchise had a long run in the 90’s. Although I was satisfied with everything I got, I’ll always be happy to return to Agrabah. Since Jasmine was never the main character, Aladdin and Genie had to go just to give her the spotlight. The short maintains continuity with Aladdin and the King of Thieves, but the animation is noticeably better in the late 2000’s.

Linda Larkin is back to voice Jasmine and Gilbert Gottfried provides comic relief as Iago. Magic Carpet, Abu, Raja, and the Sultan are also around to support the Princess. Jasmine’s Lady-in-Waiting Aneesa is given time to shine as well. When Jasmine longs for a challenge, she tries and fails to teach rowdy kids. The story only picks up when Jasmine trusts in her abilities enough to tame a horse named Sahara who once belonged to her mother.

In conclusion, Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams is all about perseverance. The movie is presented like a storybook with Aurora and Jasmine directly addressing the audience. They each have their own set of songs that aren’t likely to be remembered. Aurora has “Keys to the Kingdom” and its reprise. Jasmine has “Peacock Princess” and “I’ve Got My Eyes on You.” Before John Lasseter shut down Disneytoon Studios, a Belle short was in development. All we have left is a song called “You’ll Never Lose This Love.” Another Enchanted Tales movie would’ve been about Cinderella and Mulan. All we have left of that is a preview for a series that was never meant to be. Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams is a cute idea that needed a better hook.

25. Disney Princess Enchanted Tales Follow Your Dreams

Princess Jasmine tames Sahara

Perfectly Perfect

Cinderella III: A Twist in Time puts an unexpected twist on the classic fairy tale. Although direct-to-video Disney sequels have a reputation for being inferior to the original, A Twist in Time is way better than it has any right to be. My brother and I knew right away that it was something special. Unlike the predictable Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, Cinderella III pushed boundaries and developed its classic characters for the modern age. The soundalike voice cast remained consistent and the Silver Age animation was just as good. Sadly, this was the last movie that DisneyToon Studios Australia animated before closing forever. At least the story was worth finishing. A Twist in Time takes place one year after Cinderella and Prince Charming fell in love and got married.

It’s a storybook ending, but all that changes when the wicked stepmother steals the Fairy Godmother’s magic wand. If you hated Lady Tremaine before, just imagine her with magical powers. Like a more human Maleficent, she somehow manages to make “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” sound sinister. Lady Tremaine makes it so that the glass slipper fits Anastasia instead of Cinderella. Dreams Come True may be weak, but one of its better additions was redeeming one of the ugly stepsisters. Drizella is still a villain, but Anastasia genuinely wants to be loved. Cinderella is left heartbroken, but Jaq and Gus help her find answers at the castle. Another carryover from the sequel is the housekeeper Prudence. The Duke is about the same, but the King and Prince are given much more characterization.

Though he still doesn’t have a name, the Prince is a more three dimensional Hugh Grant type who thinks true love is as simple as holding hands. The King is a lot softer and accepting of Anastasia. Lady Tremaine erases the Prince’s memory, but love is more powerful than magic. At first it seems like the Prince rescuing Cinderella on a boat like a true action hero will be the end, but the climax is even crazier. Cinderella is trapped inside a pumpkin and Lucifer is turned into a creepy coachman. Despite her reputation as an old fashioned Disney Princess, Cinderella fights for her happily ever after. In the end, Cinderella and Prince Charming accept their new reality. The music features the intentionally sappy “Perfectly Perfect,” the hopeful “More than a Dream,” the silly mouse duet “At the Ball,” and Hayden Panettiere’s pop song “I Still Believe.” Cinderella III: A Twist in Time is a perfect companion piece for the original.

23. Cinderella III A Twist in Time

Cinderella meets Prince Charming again

Preceded by: Cinderella II: Dreams Come True

Good Doggie, No Bone

The Fox and the Hound 2 is my least favorite direct-to-video Disney sequel. I know there are plenty that are objectively worse, but at least they were part of my childhood. My brother kind of made me watch The Fox and the Hound 2 even though it looked bad to me. It’s the only direct-to-video sequel based on a movie from Disney’s Dark Age. The Fox and the Hound had a rustic charm, but it’s not remembered enough to warrant a continuation. The Fox and the Hound 2 follows in the paw prints of Tarzan II and Bambi II by focusing on Tod and Copper’s childhood.

Unlike those interquels, there’s nothing we learn that makes their unlikely friendship feel complete. The original had a harsh tone that’s replaced by goofy slapstick. The ruthless Amos Slade and his older hunting dog Chief are turned into a joke. Tod’s owner Widow Tweed fights back, but they’re a little too sweet on each other. Slade doesn’t even care much that his hound is playing with a fox. The soundalike voices are fine and I guess I can’t fault the animation even though it is too bright. The real problem with The Fox and the Hound 2 is how much emphasis they put on country/bluegrass music.

I don’t mind country music, but it is a very lame direction to take. Tod and Copper go to a county fair where they find a band of Singin’ Strays who practically hijack the movie. Reba McEntire voices the diva Dixie and the late Patrick Swayze voices the temperamental lead dog Cash. There’s also Vicki Lawrence, Jeff Foxworthy, and Stephen Root as an unlucky talent scout. The soundtrack is just a little too hillbilly for my taste. The conflict comes when Copper decides to join the band and Tod feels left out. It’s nothing compared to the real reason they drifted apart. The Fox and the Hound 2 is a bad dog and fox adventure.

22. The Fox and the Hound 2

Tod and Copper playing together

Preceded by: The Fox and the Hound

The Bear of Love

Brother Bear 2 is the only direct-to-video Disney sequel that may be an improvement of the original. Brother Bear has heart, but I wouldn’t exactly call it underrated in the forgotten Post-Renaissance era. Despite a lukewarm reception, the sequel came out 3 years later. My brother had to show me the movie years later since I chose to ignore it. It’s not entirely necessary, but Brother Bear 2 does try harder with its animation and story than it has to. Most of the original cast returns with the exception of Joaquin Phoenix for obvious reasons. Kenai is instead voiced by Jason Marsden who was later replaced by Patrick Dempsey.

Jeremy Suarez was still young enough to voice Koda and Michael Clarke Duncan gladly returns to voice Tug. The comedic Canadian moose duo Rutt & Tuke have an expanded role with Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas returning to voice them. Though it’s direct-to-video, Brother Bear 2 was officially Moranis’ final role before retirement. Phil Collins doesn’t return to do the soundtrack, but I’m sure they would’ve still been generic pop songs. Like other Disney sequels, the main purpose was introducing a love interest for the main character.

Before she was Rapunzel, Mandy Moore voiced Kenai’s cautious Inuit childhood friend Nita. A vague mystical amulet binds them together and burning it at the Equinox is the only way to seperate them. So an eccentric shawoman voiced by Wanda Sykes gives her the ability to talk to animals. The human Nita joins the brother bears on a journey that brings a good amount of conflict to their dynamic. Since Kenai and Nita start to fall in love and Koda thinks he’ll be abandoned. The solution to their problem has an obvious outcome, but it’s executed well. Meanwhile, Rutt & Tuke have a running gag where they attempt to woo a pair of female moose. Brother Bear 2 makes the most of an okay first installment.

Brother Bear 2

Kenai and Nita argue

Preceded by: Brother Bear