How Far I’ll Go

Moana took Disney fans back to the ocean in the most transformative way yet. In my opinion, the fifty-sixth Walt Disney Animation Studios movie marked the end of the Revival era. An era known for returning to tradition, but also taking chances with modern twists. It was the closest thing to a second Renaissance for Disney in the 2010’s. So it only made sense for proven Disney duo Clements & Musker to director their 7th film for the studio. Except this was the very first computer animated feature for the duo. Since The Princess and the Frog was their last project. Unlike all their other projects, Moana was much more original with inspiration drawn from Polynesian mythology. Something that hadn’t been explored nearly as much as Greek, Roman, or even Norse mythology.

The most well known individual among the culture was Māui. A trickster demigod kind of like a Polynesian Hercules. The directors read up on Māui and were inspired to build an animated story around him. Although he was the main character at first, Moana developed into more of a Princess movie. One that was further inspired by Polynesian wayfinding tradition. John Lasseter sent the directors to research locations and understand the culture better. Unlike Tangled and Frozen, Disney kept its “feminine” title and was successful. The only problem was releasing it the same year as Zootopia. Which seriously overshadowed it as a non-Pixar Disney movie come award season. Same with La La Land in any original song category. Still, Moana was a strong way to end an era that looked to the future…

88. Moana

Moana doesn’t know how far she’ll go

Moana is my second favorite Polynesian animated Disney movie. Sorry but, Lilo & Stitch will always be #1 for me. Not that my brother and I didn’t get fully invested in Moana as soon as it came out. I still had my usual reservations, but it was like most Disney classics that focused on a specific culture. One that greatly benefited from a theater going experience. Although I couldn’t help but feel like it was trying to be an Oceanic Frozen. Well Moana didn’t become a major phenomenon, but it did come closest to matching it. Moana is set on the Polynesian island of Motunui. An island that was once rich with coconuts and wayfinders who explored the vast oceans. Maui, shapeshifter, demigod of the wind and sea (hero of men) removed the heart of island goddess Te Fiti. Causing an unstoppable curse that affects the stability of the ocean and slowly infects islands one by one.

Moana is the first Polynesian Disney Princess. Although she’s technically the daughter of a village chief, one of several meta jokes point out her qualifications. She just follows the trend of not having a Prince. Something I’m still coming to terms with. Moana is more concerned with following the sea. Even at a young age when the ocean comes to life right in front of her. Her father is just like King Triton in terms of keeping his daughter away from somewhere she truly wants to be. Her mother and father want her to focus on learning to lead her people. A people that fish, harvest coconuts, and earn tribal tattoos. The only person that supports Moana’s dream is her caring grandmother Tala. Moana grows up through song into the new village chief. She’s attractive like all other Princesses, but differs in terms of body type. Having a stronger physique with a bit more curves. Along with long wavy hair and a traditional island dress.

Disney was sure to be thorough in finding a Polynesian voice actress. Happening on 14 year old Hawaiian Auliʻi Cravalho in the process. She was so perfect for the part that she resembled Moana before even being cast. Moana’s animal sidekick is a pig named Pua. Except when he’s dropped in the first act and doesn’t even go on the adventure. The teaser sure made it look like he was important. Really it’s Alan Tudyk voiced chicken Heihei who’s the primary animal sidekick that joins Moana on the sea. A brainless chicken so dumb he serves practically no purpose outside of mild comic relief. Moana disobeys her father by attempting to pass the reef, but her grandmother reveals the truth to her before she gives up. Showing her the boats her people used and pointing her towards her destiny. Confirming that the ocean chose her to restore Te Fiti’s heart and return balance to the islands. So Moana literally has to save the world.

Her journey begins with a loss and a treacherous ocean, but it’s more helpful than it appears. Leading her to the island Maui’s been stranded on. It’s almost impossible to go wrong with Dwayne Johnson. Maui’s an immediate scene stealer and the funniest part of the movie. Like mythology, he possesses a giant magical fish hook that grants him shapeshifting abilities. Along with a bunch of other cool powers he’s more than happy to boast about. His look is pure Rock apart from his heftier build. Which contains several sentient tattoos that can interact with his body. Maui is all too eager to leave the island and sail as far away from Moana as possible. Ignoring the whole reason she came there. She escapes and the sea assists her every time she’s thrown off her boat. Maui eventually comes around in exchange for his fish hook back and the admiration of his people.

Moana & Maui make for a strong non-romantic duo. Evading a horde of coconut pirates called Kakamora, Maui teaching Moana to sail, and reaching the Realm of Monsters. A deadly subterranean lair that Moana somehow survives falling into. It contains the closest thing to a Disney villain with a flashy personality in years. Although giant Jemaine Clement voiced collector crab Tamatoa is a strange sort of random. Obsessed with shiny things and currently possessing Maui’s hook. Which he turns out to be a bit rusty with. Moana gets them out, but it takes some prodding to get Maui to open up. Revealing his sad past and the real reason he seeks admiration from mortals. They bond even more and Moana becomes an expert wayfinder. All they need to do now is get past the volcanic monster Te Kā that emerged since Maui removed the heart.

Moana goes too far and Maui’s hook is damaged in the process. Forcing him to leave and for Moana to give up on herself. All it takes is a visit from her grandmother’s spirit for her to realize who she is. Retrieving the heart, setting sail, and being reunited with a more confident Maui. It’s a thrilling final battle fraught with danger and the near loss of the heart. Heihei grabbing it is literally the only good thing he ends up doing. SPOILER ALERT! I’ve seen enough Disney movies at this point to know some kind of twist was coming. So learning Te Kā was really Te Fiti didn’t come as much of a surprise. Not that Moana walking through a parted ocean to restore the heart wasn’t an epic moment. Revealing the beautiful grassy goddess underneath. In the end, Moana restores piece, Maui is gifted a new hook, and her people return to wayfinding. Moana has such crisp and beautiful computer animation that I’d swear they were just showing off. Although Clements & Musker briefly considered continuing to use traditional animation, it was better to embrace the new medium.

The only hand drawn part is Maui’s tattoos and some Polynesian artwork. Water is beyond life-like with tropical warmth and personality. The islands have immense detail, but it’s really Te Fiti that continues to blow me away. Although it doesn’t stray too far from the Disney look, characters are made to look a bit more stylized. As a musical, Moana greatly benefits from Polynesian beats and original songs from Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda. “Where You Are” explores their culture in an entertaining way. “We Know the Way” is an epic explorer song that makes me want to sail. Maui’s song “You’re Welcome” is easily the most infectiously catchy song in the movie. Enough to forgive the Rock’s singing voice. “Shiny” is a welcomed villain song for Tamatoa, but it does come out of nowhere. “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” is necessary, but feels like overkill this late in the movie. Same with “Know Who You Are.” The best song (and obvious attempt at another “Let it Go”) is Moana’s signature longing song “How Far I’ll Go” A wayfinding power ballad that stands on its own. Moana goes further than any Disney adventure ever dreamed imaginable.

87. Moana

Moana and Maui gaze upon his fish hook

Try Everything

Zootopia talks about prejudice through the kid friendly lense of talking animals. Anthropomorphic animal movies have always been a staple of Walt Disney animation. From Robin Hood to Chicken Little, they were just never the biggest successes for the studio. Quadrupedal animal movies like Lady and the Tramp and The Lion King were always much bigger successes. All that changed when Zootopia became the most well received anthropomorphic animal movie ever made. The fifty-fifth animated Disney film sustained a 100% for a long time on Rotten Tomatoes. Becoming the third non-Pixar Disney movie to win Best Animated Feature after Frozen and Big Hero 6. Zootopia is an entirely original idea. The director pitched three different animal stories to John Lasseter.

All of which sound like a serious step back from the higher standard the Revival era maintained. It would have either been an all animal Three Musketeers, a 60’s mad doctor cat movie, or something with a space pug. It eventually evolved into an arctic hare spy adventure. The only constant was a modern world made by animals for animals. It helped distinguish Zootopia from any other anthropomorphic animal movie made before it. So a city focused police procedural was envisioned instead. The original concept was just a lot darker than what we ended up with. Featuring something called a Tame Collar that’s mandatory for all predators. That idea was dropped and the perspective of the protagonists were switched. The change turned out to be the best thing for Zootopia

85. Zootopia

Nick and Judy attend the DMV

Zootopia made me nervous as soon as I first learned about. I knew the reputation of anthropomorphic animal movies and the teaser didn’t help much. The teaser was Disney’s way of explaining how the world worked. The trailer made me laugh too much not to at least give it a chance. My brother and I went to the theater to see it and I can’t say I was expecting what we ended up with. Zootopia was finally an animal world that fully warranted the use of animal protagonists. I was blown away by the animal utopia they created. Zootopia takes place in a non-human world where animals have evolved into a modern bipedal fully clothed society. Zootopia is an impressively complex city that unites mammals from all walks of life. I’m not sure where that leaves birds, fish, or lizards. Size and ecosystem are all taken into account. With buildings that accommodate giraffes and elephants, miniature towns for rodents, and climate controlled regions. Like Tundratown, Sahara Square, Savannah Central, and the Rainforest District. Everyone’s still obsessed with smartphones though.

Judy Hopps is an optimistic country bunny who believes in Zootopia’s motto that an animal can be whatever they want. So Judy wants to be the first rabbit police officer. Judy is a good Disney role model and a better protagonist for a story like this. Once Upon a Time actress Ginnifer Goodwin was almost overqualified for the role. She brings a certain persistence to Judy’s struggle to be taken seriously as a cop. So there’s obvious commentary throughout Zootopia that replaces racism, sexisim, ect. with speciesism. Zootopia is unknowingly divided into predator and prey. Judy is frequently stereotyped as a dumb bunny, but she won’t let an incident with a fox bully define who she is. But she’s not perfect since she still reluctantly accepts fox spray from her concerned parents. Judy works extra hard to overcome basic training and is graciously accepted into Zootopia’s mammal inclusion initiative.

Mayor Lionheart is mostly concerned with publicity and frequently mistreats his sheep assistant mayor Bellwether. Probably the only mammal who really believes in her. Although Zootopia tries to overcome stereotypes, they still have characters like doughnut eating cheetah dispatch Officer Clawhauser. Along with the expected animal puns and pretty much any excuse to make risque jokes with animals. Luckily the humor ends up working out. Judy’s African buffalo police Chief Bogo doesn’t have much confidence in her. It’s one of many Disney roles that suited Idris Elba. Bogo puts her on parking duty, but she tries to make the most of it. It’s then that she runs into sly fox Nick Wilde. Formally the protagonist who wanted to build a collar free amusement park for predators. He’s better in a supporting role that still makes good use of an unlikely buddy cop dynamic between Nick & Judy.

Nick is a con artist who deals with prejudice just like Judy. Since everyone expects a fox to be untrustworthy. Just the kind of role for the dry-witted Jason Bateman. They meet when an elephant ice cream parlor refuses Nick’s service and she stands up for him. Before discovering his popsicle con. They behave like a bunny and fox at first, but Judy gains extra confidence after apprehending a thieving weasel in the rodent district. Judy receives a case for a missing otter that’s her only chance to be taken seriously as a cop. Judy seeks Nick’s help after the Otter is caught on camera with one of his popsicles. So she hustles him with a carrot tape recorder containing his own incriminating words. The neo-noir case is really where the plot kicks in. Nick & Judy cross all parts of Zootopia to find information. He takes her to a nudist resort that they can only get away with because they’re animals.

A hippie yak with the appropriate voice of Tommy Chong recalls the licence plate for the car the otter was driving in. Leading to them running the number at a DMV run by sloths. The hilarious joke was the best way to make people want to see the movie. The car they find is owned by a feared mob boss that’s really just a shrew modeled after the Godfather. A little cliché, but funny nonetheless. He points them in the direction of the jaguar driver who explains how the otter went savage and attacked him. When the driver goes savage, it leads to a conspiracy that predators are biologically reverting to an animalistic state. Nick stands up for Judy when the police miss any evidence of that. Which leads to Nick opening up about his own past struggles. Since prejudice goes both ways. Although Nick & Judy never become an interspecies couple, I still ship them together.

Bellwether leads them to the final stop in a compound guarded by timber wolves that they assume are the “night hollowers” the otter screamed about. It’s in the compound that they find all missing predators. SPOILER ALERT! Mayor Lionheart is holding them to avoid a panic that predators can turn savage. Judy is able to get the evidence to the police and she’s hailed a hero by the precinct. Nick’s help on the case inspires him to fill out an application, but everything goes wrong when Judy twists her words in front of reporters. Causing a rift in their friendship, increased division, protests, and a lot of other things that were gutsy for Disney. Judy becomes disillusioned by this and gives up her dream. Fortunately it’s at her parents home that she receives closure from her bully and realizes “night hollowers” are actually plants that make animals savage.

Nick & Judy make up and the weasel Duke Weaselton points them in the direction of a ram that he sold the plants to. Alan Tudyk voices Duke, who’s an obvious pun on his Frozen character. Plus there’s the added bonus of pirated Disney DVDs with animal puns. The ram basically works in a meth lab modeled after Breaking Bad. So now we have drug metaphors in a Disney movie. Judy & Nick work together to get the train full of evidence to the station. Until they realize Bellwether is a literal wolf in sheep’s clothing. She’s another Disney twist villain with a prey-supremacist mentality. Like Disney’s other twists, it makes sense, but it starts to get a little played out after awhile. No one’s gonna put a small sheep voiced by Jenny Slate on a list of iconic Disney villains. She is ruthless in her resentment though, but Nick & Judy trick her into recording her entire evil plan. It’s then that Zootopia ends with a message from Judy about trying harder to make the world a better place. Leading by example with her new police partner Nick by her side.

Zootopia employed the same technology Big Hero 6 used to render a heavily detailed cityscape. Zootopia is truly a wonder of computer animation. Techniques used for Bolt were improved as well. Rendering animals with life-like fur. Having animals drawn to scale was another way of differentiating the movie. Mammals are cartoony, but not overly stylized. Like most non-musicals in the Revival era, there’s at least one original song. Zootopia’s only celebrity is Gazelle. A Thomson’s gazelle with the curvy hips and latin charm of Shakira. She provides the very catchy dreamer song “Try Everything.” Zootopia shows us that whether human or animal, unity can only be achieved when we come together.

86. Zootopia

Judy comforts Nick

We Can Be Immortals

Big Hero 6 took an obscure comic book team and turned it into something truly special. After Disney acquired the rights to Marvel in 2009, it was only a matter of time before they exploited that opportunity. The MCU was one thing, but Walt Disney Animation wanted a piece of the action. Fortunately they went with the most obscure Marvel comic imaginable. Superheroes that no one would care if they were drastically changed. So Big Hero 6 became Disney’s fifty-fourth animated film and the first based on a comic. Totally different from how Pixar made something original with The Incredibles. Big Hero 6 is so obscure that even I never heard of it. The team was created in 1998 by Man of Action under the title Sunfire & Big Hero 6.

They exist in the greater Marvel universe, but never had many crossovers with other superheroes. The only real connection was founding Mutants Sunfire and Silver Samurai from X-Men. The director was won over by the title and John Lasseter saw its potential as well. Marvel CCO Joe Quesada even gave his blessing on the revision of the story. Names, abilities, and a Japanese connection remained similar, but Big Hero 6 was given much more of a Disney feel. Along with a strong focus on science that was completely different than their previous success with Frozen. Although I feel like something else should have won, Big Hero 6 nevertheless became another worthy Best Animated Feature winner for the Disney Revival era…

83. Big Hero 6

Hiro talks with Baymax

Big Hero 6 was mandatory theater viewing as both a Disney and Marvel movie. Big Hero 6 technically became the first Marvel movie to win a major Oscar. Although we never asked for a Big Hero 6 movie, my brother and I were on board nonetheless. I didn’t read any comics beforehand, but I did as much research as I usually do. I’m not sure what I was expecting from a Marvel movie made by Disney, but I wasn’t disappointed. Nor was I upset that it wasn’t set in the MCU. Not that doing that would’ve made any sense. It fast became one of my favorite obscure comic adaptations. Big Hero 6 is primarily a superhero movie, but this is really the story of a boy and his robot. Unlike the comic, the action is set in the fictional city San Fransokyo. A futuristic city that blends elements of San Francisco with Tokyo. There’s a reasonable explanation for the location, but I’ll just settle for it sounding cool.

The literal hero of the story is Hiro Hamada, based on Hiro Takachiho from the comics. Both are 14 year old Japanese child prodigies with vast intellect. Hiro just squanders his talents hustling illegal bot fights. Ryan Potter adds great angst to Hiro. His big brother Tadashi looks out for him and tries to help him see his potential. I’m not sure if the sibling dynamic was a carryover from Frozen, but Hiro & Tadashi have a great brotherly bond too. Much like Spider-Man, Hiro and his brother live with their Aunt. Aunt Cass is a quirky, but caring guardian that Maya Rudolph tires a lot harder with than she needs to. Tadashi’s main encouragement is showing Hiro around his nerd school. San Fransokyo Institute of Technology was closely modeled after real scientific institutes. Not all inventions sound plausible, but they do a decent job at replacing superpowers. It’s at the Institute that Hiro meets his new friends and future teammates.

Go Go is an athletic mechanical genius, based on GoGo Tomago from the comics. Both are Asian, but the movie version is curvy with a biker look. Jamie Chung doesn’t speak much, but she makes an impression. Wasabi is an OCD laser genius, based on Wasabi-No-Ginger from the comics. Apart from the name, Wasabi is black instead of Asian with a buffer build. The exact opposite of Damon Wayans Jr.’s neurotic approach. Honey Lemon is a caring chemical genius, based on the character of the same name from the comics. Other than a less revealing costume, they’re both still attractive blondes. Genesis Rodriguez is enthusiastic enough to stand out as well. Fred is just a slacker/comic book enthusiast, based on Fredzilla from the comics. He’s white instead of Asian with your typical slacker look. Although T.J. Miller is usually a warning sign, this is actually one of his better comedic characters. Especially when it turns out Fred is fabulously wealthy.

The final member of the group is also the biggest scene stealer and face of the movie. Baymax is a personal healthcare companion, based on the robot of the same name from the comics. His alterations were vital in adding heart to the story. Since Baymax was drastically changed from a dragon mech bodyguard built by Hiro to a soft medical assistant built by Tadashi. Baymax became an instant favorite with his huggable marshmallow appearance and limited facial features. Of course Scott Adsit helped bring humor even with a robotic voice. Baymax is an awesome invention that scans illness, offers aid, and deflates when not in use. Hiro can only attend the school if he builds something that impresses encouraging head of robotics Robert Callaghan. Hiro’s idea is an equally impressive series of microbots that can build and transport with the aid of a head scanner. Alan Tudyk’s third voice role is Alistair Krei. An industrialist who shows interest in Hiro’s invention.

Everything goes well for Hiro until a sudden fire leads to the unexpected death of his brother. Hiro falls into depression, but Baymax is around to answer his cry for help. Although Hiro doesn’t want any help, Baymax follows the lead of one of his stray microbots. What they discover is a mysterious trench coat wearing man in a kabuki mask developing more microbots. Although it’s not stated in the movie, Yokai is the original supervillain’s name. Baymax is comically unable to do much and they narrowly escape. The police don’t believe Hiro and Baymax needs to return home to recharge his battery in drunk fashion. In the process, Baymax learns more about personal loss and contacts his friends for him. But Hiro would rather upgrade Baymax to better fight the villain. Karate skills are uploaded into his system and he’s fitted with pudgy green armor. Like all great “Boy and his robot” stories, Hiro begins to bond with Baymax by teaching him slang and fist bumps (“balalala”).

Honey Lemon, Go Go, Wasabi, and Fred get roped into the fight and narrowly avoid the villain in a car chase. It’s then that Fred’s superhero themed room inspires Hiro to create upgrades for the rest of his friends. Equipping them with their own colorful costumes and weapons inspired by their individual inventions. Go Go races around with hydraulic wheel feet and throwing discs. Honey Lemon has a purse that mixes various elements together. Wasabi has energized blades built into his wrists. Fred has a flamethrowing dragon suit. And Hiro can magnetize himself to a heavily armored Baymax with flight capabilities. The most awe-inspiring sequence is Baymax flying around San Fransokyo with Hiro. Scanning for the man in the mask. Although they make a cool looking team, they’re a bit inexperienced at first. They find answers at an abandoned island with a decommissioned teleportation device in it.

SPOILER ALERT! Although they think Alistair Krei is the bad guy, surprise, another twist villain. Robert Callaghan was behind the mask all along. All to avenge his daughter who was lost when Krei’s teleportation test went wrong. It wasn’t overly surprising since Krei’s nose couldn’t fit in that mask and it wasn’t the first time James Cromwell played a twist villain. Hiro goes too far by removing Baymax’s health chip to destroy Callaghan, but he’s stopped before any lines are crossed. It’s not until Baymax reminds Hiro of Tadashi’s need to help people that he’s finally able to let his emotions out for his team. In the climax, the team have to prevent Callaghan from plunging Krei Tech into a portal. They’re overwhelmed at first, but the team really power up when they approach things scientifically. Allowing the microbots to drift into the sky beam before anyone else is hurt.

All that’s left is Callaghan’s daughter who’s still alive in the other dimension. Sadly, Baymax is damaged before they can make it out and has to sacrifice himself in order to free Hiro. It doesn’t last too long since he is a robot after all. Ending with a big hero shot of the newly dubbed Big Hero 6. Plus a very unexpected animated post-credits Stan Lee cameo as Fred’s dad. Big Hero 6 is like most superhero movies, but a lot of inspiration came from Anime. So the art style reflects that in a more three dimensional way. The crisp computer animation advanced to the point of rendering an entire digital model of San Fransokyo. With a distinctive look that blends the best of both major cities together. It’s not a musical, but “Immortals” by Fall Out Boy is an awesome hero theme. Big Hero 6 is big hero fun in a huggable package.

84. Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 assembles

Let it Go

Frozen is the Disney phenomenon that audiences just couldn’t let go. Not since The Lion King has a Disney movie become such an obsession that resonated with people regardless of age, nationality, or gender. Although Wreck-It Ralph came close, Frozen was the first Walt Disney Animation Studios film to win Best Animated Feature. It only took fifty-three movies, but the category wasn’t introduced until the Post-Renaissance. In a decade that belonged to Pixar. Frozen has the longest, most confusing history of any Disney production. Walt Disney himself wanted to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s 1844 Danish fairy tale The Snow Queen before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was even released. Envisioning it as an animated segment in an Andersen biopic. The story proved to be the most difficult fairy tale Disney ever attempted to adapt.

It was shelved many times over the decades, because they just couldn’t get the Snow Queen herself right. I knew practically nothing about The Snow Queen. Turns out it’s very complex. Dealing with religious aspects of good vs. evil with characters like Gerda, Kai, and a mysterious Snow Queen. Original drafts followed the story closely, just with a more Disneyfied spin, and traditional animation. It wasn’t until late 2000’s that director Chris Buck imagined something more relatable and subversive. While continuing to remain true to Disney tradition in a way that defined the Revival era. With John Lasseter’s encouragement, Jennifer Lee put her own perspective in the story and was even promoted to co-director. Frozen was such an unexpected hit that it became the highest grossing animated film at the time. With year long attention that never seemed to go away…

81. Frozen

Elsa lets it go

Frozen was actually something that I was a little hesitant about at first. Misleading teasers and comical trailers made me a bit nervous about its success. Along with a neutral title reminiscent of Tangled. Boy, was I off base. Like critics, Frozen was the closest thing to a Disney Renaissance movie I’d seen in years. I could tell watching it in theaters with my brother that it would turn into something special. Kids were singing along the moment we left the theater. Little did we know they’d be singing non-stop for the next couple of years. Although it’s easy to get tired of Frozen years later, I still love it anytime I watch it. And I have seen Frozen more times than any other Revival movie. Releasing Frozen at the end of November 2013, so close to Christmas was a genius way to keep it going. Of course Frozen wouldn’t be as big of a success if they didn’t make the changes they did at the last possible second. Not since Toy Story 2, has an animated production been cut so close without becoming a disaster.

Once upon a time there lived two sisters from the fictional Scandinavian kingdom Arendelle. The most game changing difference between The Snow Queen and Frozen was making the hero and villain sisters. Their way of making the titular character resonate better. The decision effectively altered the entire original story. Until only snow and the Queen remained in tact. Elsa is a Disney Princess born with magical ice powers. Anna is her sister and another Disney Princess who doesn’t have powers. Apart from the underappreciated Lilo & Stitch, Frozen is a rare Disney movie that tackles a sister dynamic. Another reason for its success since most people can relate to having a sibling. While playing with Elsa’s powers as children, Anna is accidentally struck. The King and Queen seek help from rock trolls that help alter Anna’s memory. A warning from the Troll King forces Elsa’s parents to take drastic actions. Keeping her powers hidden from Anna for the rest of their childhood.

When the King and Queen parish at sea, Elsa is crowned Queen for the first time in Disney history. Despite their immense popularity, both Princesses are so different that they haven’t even been officially inducted in the Disney Princess line up. Anna replaces Gerda as the main protagonist. Kristen Bell gave her a down to Earth personality with more relatable enthusiasm and a determination that makes her stand out. Anna is adorkable with light brown braids, a Rogue streak, and freckles. Her biggest need is overcoming her loneliness. Since Elsa shut her out, she’s willing to accept love from the first person she meets. Prince Hans of the Southern Isle turns out to be that guy. He’s a handsome standard Disney Prince who wins Anna’s heart in one day. When Elsa won’t bless the marriage, her powers are revealed to the whole kingdom who dub her a monster. Unlike the traditional Disney villain that she was envisioned as, Elsa evolved into a way more sympathetic character.

Elsa’s powers are a fear she needs to overcome and embrace. Turning Elsa into a beloved Princess and an instant icon. It was practically impossible not to see her snow white braid and icy blue dress. Elsa accidentally plunges Arendelle in eternal winter, but her actions are never outright villainous. Elsa’s powers are also very random. She can create snow, ice, an entire castle, a dress, and even a living snowman. Anna sets out to find Elsa and acquires a stylish blue & purple snowsuit at a quirky merchants shop. She also meets Kristoff and his reindeer companion Sven. Hans Kristoff Anna Sven, get it? Kristoff is a rugged blonde ice harvester who reluctantly gives Anna safe passage to see her sister. Jonathan Groff makes Kristoff a bit of a weirdo too with his habit of talking for Sven. Disney clichés start to unravel a bit when he questions Anna’s unrealistic decision to marry a guy she just met. While escaping hungry wolves and dangerous cliffs, it becomes more clear that they’re meant for eachother.

Since Frozen is winter themed with a reindeer companion, it only made sense for a snowman to be the wacky comedic Disney sidekick. Olaf the talking snowman was a major boost to Josh Gad’s career. His random thoughts/body mix ups are funny and never obnoxious since he genuinely cares about Anna’s well being. He’s just a bit absent-minded when it comes to heat. Anna finally reaches Elsa, but her out of control powers strike her in the heart. A giant snowman called Marshmallow throws them out and drives them away. Hans sets out to find Anna and the more villainous Duke of Weasel Town (Weselton) voiced by Alan Tudyk orders his men to take Elsa out when they find her. Elsa nearly crosses the line, but is captured instead. The effects of Elsa’s blast gives Anna a frozen heart that will consume her unless she finds an act of true love. Something she discovers from Kristoff’s adopted rock troll family. Who are frankly the only weak part of the movie. Kristoff cares about Anna enough to take her back to kiss Hans and hopefully break the curse.

SPOILER ALERT! Hans becomes another twist Disney villain when it’s revealed that he was just manipulating Anna the entire time. Planning to rule Arendelle since he’s 13th in line for his own throne. It’s unexpected and makes sense, but it does come out of nowhere in a somewhat cynical way. Hans always seems genuinely likable before that. Well with him as the antagonist, Kristoff becomes the true Disney Prince who turns back to be with Anna. Elsa tries to escape into a now out of control snow storm, but Hans convinces her that she killed her own sister. Anna frees herself with Olaf’s help, in time for Kristoff to find her. The second and most subversive twist comes when Anna chooses to save Elsa from Hans. Thawing her frozen heart, because family love is just as powerful as romantic love. The power of love enables Elsa to reverse the storm and keep Olaf from melting, while Anna punches out Hans. Although it wasn’t what saved the day, Anna & Kristoff become a cute couple anyway. Elsa is embraced by the kingdom, the gates remain open, and they all lived happily ever after.

Frozen pushed the boundaries of computer animation. Creating a magical winter wonderland that captured snow and ice so well you’d swear it was the real thing. It’s better they stuck with CGI. Since they were also able to give great detail to the movie’s culture. Norwegian architecture, clothing, and customs were studied in order to bring a new level of authenticity. Dresses in particular have so much fine detail in every stitch. Similar to Tangled, characters are once again meant to resemble classic hand drawn Disney characters. Managing to create two beautiful Disney Princesses that looked like siblings, but didn’t look exactly the same. Fortunately, Frozen has a spectacular soundtrack to go with its amazing animation. Years later, it’s still one of Disney’s all time greatest musicals. We have Winnie the Pooh songwriting couple Robert & Kristen Anderson-Lopez to thank for creating so many catchy instant hits. While Christophe Beck is who’s to thank for the opening Scandinavian choir.

Which leads to the underrated ice cutting song “Frozen Heart.” Followed by four Broadway caliber songs in a row. Granted it does sort of go downhill after that. Kristoff’s Reindeer song is quick and silly, Olaf’s “In Summer” is random, but likable, and the rock trolls’ “Fixer Upper” matchmaking song is kinda pointless. Young Anna’s “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is an infectious way to explore childhood. “For the First Time in Forever” is my second favorite song and a triumphant longing song that shows the differences between siblings. The reprise is less spectacular, but still emotional. “Love is an Open Door” is a well oiled love song that takes on an unexpected meaning by the end. Of course the real star of Frozen is the power ballad “Let it Go.” A clear, easy to remember, emotionally resonate song that was made for Idina Menzel. It’s impossible to separate Menzel from Elsa or the song. Leading to an expected Oscar win for Best Original Song. Frozen may have overstayed its welcome, but I’m confident that it’ll thaw even the most frozen of hearts.

82. Frozen

Anna, Kristoff, and Sven meet Olaf

Followed by: Frozen II

I’m Gonna Wreck It!

Wreck-It Ralph proved video games could be just as enjoyable on the big screen. As long as they’re about video games and not an adaptation of one. Walt Disney animation’s fifty-second outing Wreck-It Ralph is unlike anything the studio had done up to this point. Disney never swayed away from current day, but this was the first to feel distinctly modern. Wreck-It Ralph is deeply rooted in video game mythology. The idea was understandably thought up in the late 80’s. Going by the names High Score, Joe Jump, and Reboot Ralph. Until John Lasseter pitched Wreck-It Ralph as something similar to Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Toy Story. Like those 2 movies, Wreck-It Ralph asks the question, what if video game characters came to life?

Main characters are entirely original, but officially licensed video game characters appear as well. Pop culture nods and edgy humor make it understandable that this was Simpsons director Rich Moore’s first movie. Although the Revival era was already in full effect, Wreck-It Ralph really set the standard moving forward. With Winnie the Pooh closing the door on traditional animation, Wreck-It Ralph evolved its computer animation even more. Despite Pixar continuing to dominate, I really feel like it was the most worthy Disney film to win Best Animated Feature up to that point. Alas, Wreck-It Ralph had to settle for putting video game based movies on a whole other level…

79. Wreck-it-Ralph

Ralph helps Vanellope learn to race

Wreck-It-Ralph quickly became my favorite video game movie. I’ve never considered myself to be a hardcore gamer, but there’s no way my brother and I wouldn’t go see it. Of course I’ve played all the arcade classics and know enough about iconic characters to get by. The best thing about Wreck-It Ralph is that you don’t have to be part of the gaming community to enjoy it. My parents had very limited video game knowledge, but that didn’t stop them from liking it when I showed it to them. Not that I didn’t see plenty of gaming nerds in the theater. Wreck-It ralph takes place in an old fashioned arcade called Litwak’s. Video game characters treat their console like a job. Relaxing as soon as the arcade closes. A power strip acts as a sort of train station where characters can visit other games. Another clever detail is that dying in your game will make you regenerate.

Since gaming is just a job, Wreck-It Ralph starts to get tired of his. Ralph is a freakishly big villain in overalls modeled after Donkey Kong. Despite his designation, Ralph is the kind hearted protagonist. John C. Reilly fit the role and some of his facial features can be seen in Ralph. Ralph’s game is Fix-It Felix Jr. Something Disney turned into a real playable game as a promotion. Also similar to Donkey Kong with Mario type repairman Fix-It Felix Jr. as the hero. You’d think that would make him antagonistic, but Felix is a nice guy just trying to do his job. With the innocent voice of Jack McBrayer to back it up. Really it’s the misnamed Nicelanders who treat Ralph like a villain. So Ralph visits the villain support group Bad-Anon to express his desire to win a medal and be a hero. Bad-Anon features several clever cameos from villains in Pac-Man, Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Bros., etc. All with their classic non-Disneyfied appearances. Sonic and Pac-Man have memorable cameos, but Mario doesn’t appear for some reason.

One of the main video game struggles is having your game unplugged. Which results in characters like Q*bert being homeless. When Ralph isn’t even welcome at his own game’s 30 year anniversary party, he makes a plan to win his own medal. While having a root beer at Tappers, 8 bit Ralph switches places with a soldier from an ultraviolent high definition Halo & Call of Duty type game called Hero’s Duty. With a robotic first-person shooter and everything. Intense soldier Sgt. Calhoun leads an assault on Cy-Bugs with a mission that wins a medal. Calhoun is obviously modeled after her voice actress Jane Lynch. Unlike everyone else, Cy-Bugs are more like a virus that don’t know they’re in a game. They become what they consume and are only destroyed by a sky beacon. Ralph really messes up when he activates one after taking his medal.

An escape pod sends him ricocheting into the candy themed racing game Sugar Rush for a majority of the movie. The first half is heavy with video game references, but it’s all sugar puns from here on out. Meanwhile, the unlikely duo Felix & Calhoun set out to find Ralph. Calhoun wants to destroy the Cy-Bug before it can take over Sugar Rush and Felix needs Ralph back or else risk losing their game forever. A situation video game characters refer to as “Going Turbo.” Turbo being a jealous racer who abandoned his game to sabotage RoadBlasters. Despite one being a small cartoony 8 bit character and the other being a tall realistic HD character, Felix & Calhoun become an unexpectedly sweet romantic odd couple by the end. Ralph attempts to retrieve his medal in Sugar Rush, but he runs into Vanellope von Schweetz in the process. A supposed little kid who’s basically a miniature version of Sarah Silverman. Annoying at times, but ultimately a playful kid who just wants to race.

Vanellope’s only problem is her glitch. An intermittent glitch that makes her a criminal in Sugar Rush and bullied by the sweet but sour racers. Vanellope uses Ralph’s medal as a gold coin to enter a roster deciding race. King Candy is the main Disney villain with the goofy mannerisms of the Mad Hatter and voice of Alan Tudyk. Get used to seeing his name in Disney movies from here on out. Ralph sticks up for Vanellope and they form an unlikely duo with the goal to help her win the race in order to get his medal back. They build a kart in a minigame and they even start to bond in an immature, but heartfelt way. Avoiding King Candy’s detection in an unfinished bonus level with Mentos hanging over a Diet Coke hot spring. It’s here Ralph helps Vanellope learn to shut up and drive. Unfortunately, King Candy gets to Ralph and convinces him to wreck Vanellope’s kart or else risk her glitch getting the game unplugged. It’s tough to watch, but Ralph learns his lesson when he discovers the truth.

SPOILER ALERT! Ralph learns from sour ball henchman Sour Bill that King Candy reprogrammed the game’s code in order to remove Vanellope from Sugar Rush and keep everyone’s memory. Ralph has a more understanding Felix fix Vanellope’s kart and she enters the race. A candy coated thrill ride similar to Mario Kart. Vanellope uses her glitch to her advantage, but discovers something shocking in the process. King Candy became Disney’s first of many twist villains when he’s revealed to have been Turbo all along. Before that clever twist has time to sink in, the Cy-Bugs finally attack in devastating numbers. Eating Turbo and leaving Vanellope unable to finish the race or escape the game. Ralph has an idea, but a psychotic Cy-Bug Turbo comenses the boss level. Emotions really kick in when Ralph sacrifices himself by punching the Mentos into the Diet Coke in order to destroy the Cy-Bugs and Turbo. Vanellope rescues him last second and finally crosses the finish line.

Leading to the odd reveal that Vanellope is really a Princess. Although she chooses to keep her glitch and she’s embraced by gamers all throughout the arcade. Ralph is similarly embraced for his role as a villain and Vanellope’s friendship helps him feel like a better person. Wreck-It Ralph is great at giving pixelated video game characters emotions. Although it would’ve been unique to see, it’s better that they didn’t make Ralph entirely 8 bit. A character’s 8 bit form can only be seen on the gaming screen. Certain games still retain jerky movements as a fun nod to their mobility. The computer animation progressed to the point of practically using game engine software to better create environments. Although there’s limitless video game worlds to explore, Wreck-It Ralph explores just enough without sacrificing its heart. It’s not a musical, but the music still stands out. If it’s not pop songs like “Shut Up and Drive,” it’s fun Owl City originals like “When Can I See You Again.” Along with infectiously catchy video game themes like the Japanese “Sugar Rush” tune. Wreck-It Ralph wrecks the competition to become a Disney adventure worth inserting a quarter for.

80. Wreck-it-Ralph

Ralph attends a Bad-Anon meeting

Followed by: Ralph Breaks the Internet

Oh Bother

Winnie the Pooh is the final traditionally animated Walt Disney Animation Studios film. As the fifty-first film’s box-office disappointment proved computer animation was the way to go moving forward. The revival era was meant to keep both mediums, but it was only fitting for Winnie the Pooh to be the last. While technically a theatrical sequel to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh from 1977, Winnie the Pooh has made more media appearances than any other Disney franchise. Movies (theatrical & direct-to-video), TV shows, shorts, video games, you couldn’t avoid the silly old bear growing up. John Lasseter had no problem pitching the idea.

2D animation is really the only way to tell Pooh’s story. Using the same process The Princess and the Frog used, except character designs already existed. Unlike the more ambitious Tangled, 3D animation can only be found in a honey dream sequence. Like every single Pooh film, Winnie the Pooh is short and simple. At an unbelievably short 1 hour & 9 minutes, my brother and I didn’t even see it in theaters. Not that we didn’t want to. It just wasn’t playing in our theater. Winnie the Pooh is inspired by three A. A. Milne stories. The old fashion beginning in Christopher Robin’s room is a comforting sight. As is the opening of the book, theme song sung by Zooey Deschanel, and narration from John Cleese. The meta book interactions are more frequent than ever.

Pooh wants to eat honey, but he just can’t seem to win. Tigger wants to be a hero, Piglet is reluctantly happy to help, and Eeyore needs to find a new tail. Owl causes most of the film’s problems by mistaking Christopher Robin’s note for a monster called the Backson. Rabbit employs military tactics to trap him, Kanga shows motherly concern, and Roo interjects every once in a while. A misunderstanding and very little brain are their only obstacles to overcome. They’re just as sweet as ever, but they feel a bit cynical sometimes. Jim Cummings & Travis Oates were the only returning voices. While Bud Luckey, Craig Ferguson, Tom Kenny, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez replaced everyone else. The latter is one half of the Lopez songwriting duo. They provide cute and catchy songs for the brief outing. The catchiest ones being “The Backson Song” and “Everything is Honey.” Winnie the Pooh may be short, but it’s just nice to return to the Hundred Acre Wood.

78. Winnie the Pooh

Pooh and friends are happy

Preceded by: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

I See the Light

Tangled is the first ever computer animated Disney fairy tale. It only made sense for Tangled to be the studio’s fiftieth animated production. A major milestone that only took Disney 73 years to reach. Unlike most classic stories, Rapunzel was a well known fairy tale fixture long before Disney. There’s not a single child that doesn’t know the phrase “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.” So I’m actually shocked to learn Walt Disney never once considered adapting the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. More shocking is how little Rapunzel movies there actually are. She always appeared in more fairy tale ensembles. The idea for a Disney version came around the Disney Renaissance, but it was always intended to be computer animated.

Eventually becoming the most expensive animated movie ever made. Hair is just that difficult to realistically render with CGI. Tangled continues the Revival era with a more subverted take on the classic tale. It was Disneyfied, but I doubt many people know the full story of Rapunzel. How her father gave her to a sorceress in exchange for a salad that his selfish wife wanted. How the Prince climbed her hair because of her beautiful voice and was blinded when he was discovered. Tangled keeps the spirit, but changed it into a more adventurous movie called Rapunzel Unbraided. A lame title that was thankfully changed to Rapunzel, then more controversially changed to Tangled. The misguided reason being that they blamed The Princess and the Frog not being a huge success on its title being too girly…

76. Tangled

Rapunzel leaving Flynn tangled up

Tangled is something I fell in love with the moment I saw it in theaters with my brother. Shame on Disney for thinking I care how “girly” a movie appears to be. Some of the greatest Disney movies are female focused and that didn’t stop them from being successful. The Princess and the Frog only failed because of its traditional animation. Sadly audiences outgrew seeing the medium on the big screen. In a way, Tangled being released at the very beginning of 2010 was fitting. I always hoped Disney would make a Rapunzel movie, but computer animation made it better than I could’ve ever dreamed. Once upon a time a drop of golden sun fell from the sky. It’s magic sprouted a flower with the ability to heal the sick and injured. All a person has to do is sing the song “Flower gleam and glow…” Unlike the fairy tale, Rapunzel’s parents are loving rulers of Corona who use the flower to heal the queen.

Rapunzel is born with beautiful golden hair, but is sadly kidnapped by the evil Mother Gothel. Who locks her in her infamous tower hidden in the woods. Rapunzel is the first computer animated Disney Princess. She’s literally and figuratively three dimensional. Rapunzel is spunky, creative, resourceful, and caring in the best Princess way. Singer Mandy Moore is no stranger to Disney and Rapunzel was her chance to let her hair down. Rapunzel became an instant favorite of mine who I personally think is the prettiest. Computer animation is just closer to real life without being totally real. Her notable traits are her big green eyes, bare feet, lovely lavender dress, and 70 ft long blonde hair. Her hair is given extra importance because it contains healing properties. So it can’t be cut, or else risk losing its magic.

Rapunzel’s only real friend is her animal companion Pascal. An encouraging chameleon with a lot of personality in a small silent package. Mother Gothel is a unique Disney villain. Since she’s not overtly evil. Gothel is like real life baby nappers who genuinely care about the child and manipulate them into loving them as well. Making Gothel’s actions feel more cruel in a less common way. Gothel is a great modern Disney villain with a big personality, fueled by vanity, and a need to keep herself young forever. Donna Murphy was practically made for the role. Gothel keeps her locked in her tower at all times, but if she was so smart, she wouldn’t have told Rapunzel her birthday aligned with the palace launching lanterns in honor of the lost Princess.

Meanwhile, dashing rogue Flynn Ryder replaces the traditional wandering Prince. As a Disney Prince, Flynn was an obvious marketing tool. Trailers were made from his perspective. Emphasizing the action in a way Disney hoped would appeal to boys. It wasn’t exactly false marketing, because Flynn Ryder is just as important as Rapunzel. He’s a charming thief and the funniest character in the movie. He was purposefully made to look as handsome as possible and the unlikely voice/singing talent of Zachary Levi rounded him out. Along with being the narrator, Flynn is motivated by wealth and steals the royal tiara with the Stabbington Brothers. Guards begin to chase him, but it’s palace horse Maximus who really stands out. Maximus has more personality than any other Disney horse in his desperate pursuit of Flynn. Flynn only goes to the tower to hideout. He’s instead met with multiple frying pans to the head. Rapunzel’s weapon of choice.

Character interactions are great, but the physical comedy is really what’s best. While not exactly prehensile, Rapunzel still uses her hair in a variety of creative ways. Whether it’s grasping, climbing, or swinging. Rapunzel & Flynn make a deal that’ll allow her to see the lanterns in exchange for the crown. Rapunzel’s reaction to finally leaving her tower is infectiously cheerful, but the only thing holding her back is her “mother.” While on their adventure, Flynn tries to turn her back with grizzly ruffians who turn out to be sensitive dreamers like her. They let them go with the guards and Maximus not far behind. Gothel isn’t far behind either, since she discovers the truth and hires the Stabbington Brothers to manipulate. Rapunzel & Flynn grow closer when they think they’re gonna drown and he even reveals his real name to be the dorky Eugene Fitzherbert. While she reveals her hairs true power.

Leading to perhaps the most believable Disney animated couple I’ve ever seen. Rapunzel & Flynn spend most of Tangled tangled up together. Allowing them to convincingly fall in love thanks to them being presented as equals. Maximus eventually catches up to them, but Rapunzel’s Princess appropriate way with animals makes him a traveling companion. When they reach the kingdom, Rapunzel & Eugene bond even more. A flower filled braid at least helps Rapunzel get around better. Their boat ride in the middle of the floating lanterns is one of the most gorgeous sequences in recent Disney animation. Their kiss is interrupted by the Stabbington Brothers. Who make Rapunzel think he’s run off with the crown. Then Gothel back stabs them by continuing to keep Rapunzel for herself. Except Rapunzel subconsciously remembers her past as a Princess. Turning on her so called mother. Flynn is sentenced to death, but the sensitive ruffians return to free him.

Flynn finally says the iconic words, but he’s met with a dagger instead. Honestly the only reason the movie has a PG rating. Rapunzel promises to willingly go with Gothel in exchange for healing Flynn. SPOILER ALERT! Flynn instead cuts Rapunzel’s hair in one swift motion. Turning it brunette with a stylish pixie cut and draining all the youth out of Gothel. Her disturbing villain death ends with her falling out a window (thanks to Pascal) and turning to dust before she hits the ground. All hope seems lost, but the power was inside all along. Rapunzel’s tear brings Eugene back to life and they finally share a kiss. In the end, Rapunzel at last reunites with her parents, Eugene is embraced by the kingdom, and they both lived happily ever after. Tangled could really only be done justice in 3D animation. The look stays true to Disney’s older 2D animation in a way that sets it apart from Pixar. John Lasseter may have had a lot of influence on both studios at the time, but I can easily tell the difference between both styles.

Rapunzel still feels right at home with her fellow 2D Disney Princesses. A process was used that blended 2D with 3D. Backgrounds appear painted with motions that mimic hand drawn artwork. Rapunzel’s famous long hair was still the most impressive feat in the end. As instantly enjoyable as Tangled is, the only thing holding it back is the music. Great Disney musical composer Alan Menken returned to score, but his work ended up sounding a bit derivative. It’s hard to call any of them overly catchy. “When Will My Life Begin?” is a fine longing song for Rapunzel, but it’s just okay. “Mother Knows Best” is a unique villain song with an upbeat tone that sounds oddly mainstream. “I’ve Got a Dream” is fun if kinda rambling. Primary love song “I See the Light” is the only truly Oscar worthy song of the bunch. Tangled is a hair raising spectacle that gave Rapunzel the movie she deserved.

77. Tangled

Rapunzel and Flynn see the light

I’m Almost There

The Princess and the Frog brought Disney back to their traditionally animated musical fairy tale roots. After the 2D animated Home on the Range proved disastrous, Walt Disney animation abandoned the medium altogether. Favoring computer animation for the next 5 years. With Pixar head John Lasseter’s influence in full effect, he chose to give the artform a much needed second chance. Although Bolt was a bigger success in the Post-Renaissance, it’s really The Princess and the Frog that feels like the start of something truly magical. The forty-ninth feature brought back Disney mainstays Clements & Musker, gave us a new broadway style musical, and returned to the tried-and-true fairy tale format. While at the same time embracing modern sensibilities in a way that defined what has become the Disney Revival era.

The Princess and the Frog retells the classic Brothers Grimm story The Frog Prince. In a way that’s closer to the 2002 book The Frog Princess. I don’t know much about either story outside of the basic kissing of the frog. Apart from its animation, Disney made the simple fairy tale stand out in many ways. The Princess and the Frog sets things in the magical city of New Orleans and gave us the first ever African American Disney Princess. Both worked out when distance was given between the film and the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and Oprah Winfrey was brought in to improve some racial issues. In spite of its Best Animated Feature nomination, The Princess and the Frog was unfortunately not the major success Disney was hoping for…

74. The Princess and the Frog

Tiana spots a frog

The Princess and the Frog was exactly what my brother and I wanted to see in theaters after years of watching Disney. My more cynical 14 year old brain was proven wrong thinking I’d outgrown the magic. Although I was skeptical of Disney returning to traditional animation this far into the 2000’s, the familiar look won me over immediately. Same with the instantly catchy original songs and detailed focus on New Orleans. Whether it’s the flavorful food, jazzy music, or Mardi Gras. Of course working in a Louisiana themed restaurant increased my appreciation of the movie years later. Once Upon a time in 1920’s New Orleans, there lived an aspiring young cook with dreams of opening a restaurant with her loving father.

It took awhile, but Tiana is Disney’s first official black Princess. As well as the first from a major American city. I’m so glad they didn’t go with the unsuitable chambermaid profession and more unsuitable name Maddy. Tiana is beautiful whether she’s wearing a waitress uniform or regal blue Princess costume. Of course Tiana’s differences extend further than race. She has a strong work ethic and doesn’t believe wishing on a star will make her dreams come true. Although it takes place in the 20’s, I’m glad they don’t make any of her struggles about race. Tiana’s struggles are really about earning money and losing sight of what’s important in life. Singer/actress Anika Noni Rose has a voice that was perfect for the Princess to be. Tiana’s wealthy and enthusiastic Southern Belle friend Lottie helps push her dream in the right direction. Encouraging her to clean up the old mill with her mother to keep her and her father’s dream of a restaurant alive.

Meanwhile, the closest thing to royalty arrives in the form of Prince Naveen. An ambiguously brown Disney Prince with a Brazilian voice actor from the fictional country Maldonia. His unspecific race was a bit of a compromise for having a blackish Prince that could also be in an interracial relationship. Naveen struggles with being cut off from his parents, but makes the most of it by having fun, flirting, and playing his ukulele. Really the only one struggling is his hapless valet Lawrence. While enjoying the sights & sounds of New Orleans at first, they soon find themselves caught in its dark underbelly. Dr. Facilier is a truly memorable return to form Disney villain. It only made sense for him to be a voodoo witch doctor with the charismatic voice of Keith David and flashy style of Baron Samedi. Along with an evil shadow that earned him the nickname “Shadow Man.” Naveen & Lawrence foolishly accept his reading and Lawrence makes a deal behind Naveen’s back.

Although things seem to be going up for Tiana at Big Daddy LaBouffe’s party, skeezy real estate agents crush her dream. Lottie tries to encourage her with a Princess costume and Tiana even restores to wishing on a star. What she finds is the famous frog we’ve all been waiting for. The frog is Naveen who mistakes Tiana for a real Princess and is inspired by the book The Frog Prince to kiss her. Tiana does it in exchange for money to start her restaurant, but the unexpected happens. Turning Tiana into a frog for a majority of the film. I try not to read too much into it. Personally I like how it blends Disney’s tradition of fairy tales and anthropomorphic animals together. So frog Naveen & Tiana set out on an adventure on the bayou in hopes of finding a cure. Unaware Facilier is using voodoo magic to help Lawrence pose as Naveen in order to marry Lottie and gain LaBouffe’s power for himself. In turn, giving his “Friends on the other side” control over New Orleans.

In their small green mucus covered form, Naveen & Tiana narrowly avoid deadly alligators and frog leg hungry hillbillies. Along the way meeting two wacky Disney sidekicks of varying effectiveness. First is friendly but fearful alligator Louis who wants nothing more than to play his trumpet with a jazz band. Second is cooky Cajun firefly Ray who’s forever in love with his sweetheart Evangeline (the evening star). Ray takes them to the crazy old blind voodoo queen Mama Odie. Jenifer Lewis puts some zing into the sort of Fairy Godmother who passes on her knowledge with a message they both need to learn. Naveen needs to learn to work for what he wants and Tiana needs to learn to loosen up and have fun. Making Tiana & Naveen a Disney couple that perfectly compliment each other. He teaches her to dance and she teaches him to mince. They’re on their way to get a kiss from Lotti when she’s crowned Princess of Mardi Gras, but their feelings can’t be ignored. Misunderstandings and voodoo spirits pull them apart.

Leading to an intense climax that results in the unexpectedly dark (SPOILER ALERT!) death of comical sidekick Ray. Played a lot straighter than you’d think. Tiana crosses paths with the Shadow Man and he offers her a deal that’ll make her restaurant come true. She chooses love and breaks his talisman. Resulting in a particularly disturbing death where Facilier is literally dragged to Hell. Lotti’s kiss doesn’t work, but the subversions come to a satisfying conclusion when Naveen & Tiana’s bayou wedding makes them human again. Since Tiana is now a genuine Princess. Which is why her leafy green dress is her official look. It’s nothing short of heartwarming to see Tiana finally open Tiana’s Palace and live happily ever after. The Princess and the Frog is great at linking modern ideas with old fashion sincerity. The animation may seem like a downgrade, but they don’t need CGI to break new ground. It’s far from the director’s previous effort with Treasure Planet.

Characters have the classic Disney look, animals are the right kind of stylized, and backgrounds are made to look painted. The hand drawn look was even able to make food like gumbo and beignets look just as appetizing as they are in real life. The dearly missed broadway style music is really what Disney needed. While at the same time blurring the lines with Pixar by hiring Randy Newman to write original songs. Along with a more R&B song from Ne-Yo after the credits. There’s the Oscar nominated Louisiana anthem “Down in New Orleans.” The long awaited villain song “Friends on the Other Side.” An infectiously energetic colorful number that was the studio’s first since “Hellfire.” There’s the easygoing jazz tune “When We’re Human.” There’s Ray’s vastly different solos and Mama Odie’s spirited jubilation “Dig a Little Deeper.” Finally, there’s the very Oscar worthy Disney Princess song “Almost There.” A smooth dreamer song that greatly benefits from a black voice. Blame it on their risky choice to use 2D animation, but The Princess and the Frog is groundbreaking regardless of box-office performance.

75. The Princess and the Frog

Tiana, Naveen, and Louis wish to be human

Vengeance Has a Name

Punisher: War Zone is the most faithful Punisher ever put to screen. No wonder it’s so unwatchable. Gory shootouts, decapitations, non-stop profanity, Punisher: War Zone takes full advantage of its hard R rating in only 1 hour & 47 minutes. Becoming the biggest Marvel box-office bomb to date. Punisher: War Zone is notably the last Marvel movie I didn’t see in theaters. Punisher is the first superhero character to receive three separate movie adaptations. The Punisher (1989), made before the genre took off and The Punisher (2004), made when the genre was in flux. When The Punisher 2 lost its star and director, it was reworked into Punisher: War Zone. The first to be made after the start of the MCU. So you can’t blame me for not knowing the best time to review them.

Although it bares the logo Marvel Knights, Punisher: War Zone is a lot closer to Marvel Max. A very adult imprint formed in the 2000’s. Ray Stevenson is perfectly standoffish and looks just like the Punisher. Although I fully understand Frank Castle’s methods and need for vengeance, the excessive violence does cross a line with me. Only because a child is in harm’s way and it’s just so freaking graphic. Granted, the kills are over-the-top in an occasionally darkly humorous way. The Punisher literally punches a guy’s face in, shoots off faces, blows someone up mid-air, and guns down criminals while hanging from a chandelier.

I wish it didn’t distract from the faithful comic elements. Like the use of Wayne Knight as armorer Microchip and archenemy Jigsaw played by an extremely evil Dominic West. His stitched up face is grotesque and his cannibal brother is just overkill. The movie is so macho that it’s sort of surprising that it has a female director. One who didn’t even want to use his trademark skull logo. What is with adaptations and not embracing the skull?! She comprised by having it be barely visible. Frank’s only desire is cleaning up crime in a brutal war zone. Maintaining his Punisher image no matter what. Punisher: War Zone may please fans of the anti-heroes bloodier tendencies, but I’ll take his Marvel owned Netflix outings over anything else.

The Punisher 3

The Punisher guns people down

Prepare for War

The Punisher (2004) is the closest thing to a good Punisher movie. Which isn’t saying much. The Punisher was created in 1974 by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, and John Romita Sr. First appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 as a Spider-Man villain. Stan Lee was unaffiliated, but he did suggest the name. Fortunately readers saw something more and the Punisher grew into a more complex anti-hero. Standing out as one of the only Marvel characters willing to kill his enemies. His mature war on crime is the main reason for my limited exposure growing up. I only enjoyed his less violent depiction on Spider-Man: The Animated Series and ignored his movie’s entirely. But like the equally R rated Blade trilogy, I couldn’t avoid them forever.

The Punisher (2004) was released at the peak of Marvel’s adaptation frenzy. Since Marvel foolishly sold their rights to Lionsgate, the film is more independent with a very low budget. Practical effects and stunt work are in place of any special effects. Although I’m willing to call The Punisher (2004) underrated in an age that’s embraced R rated superheroes, clichés and a first time director hold it back. Along with excessive 2000’s hard rock edginess. Almost like Daredevil if it went a step further. Flaming logo and all. It’s violent, but not overly graphic. Thomas Jane was a good physically imposing choice to play Frank Castle/The Punisher. Although he does feel a bit nondescript.

Frank is turned into a retiring FBI agent, but he does retain his military past. A sting operation results in the death of a mob bosses son. Resulting in not just the death of Frank’s wife & kid, but his entire family reunion. Which is so needlessly excessive. When he recovers, Frank adopts a much better skull t-shirt and black trench coat ripped straight out of the comics. Until he trades it for an illogical sleeveless look. A lot of comic storylines are used almost word for word. Some are cool like Frank’s popsicle interrogation and intense fight with the hulking Russian. Others are lame like including one-off tenants instead of more well known allies like Microchip. The Punisher’s quest for vengeance leads to some badass gunplay, but John Travolta isn’t good enough as a generic mob boss. The Punisher (2004) makes the most of a standard revenge plot.

The Punisher 2

The Punisher takes aim