The Great Chariot Race

Ben-Hur is one of the last great Biblical epics from classic Hollywood. Since there was a silent version of the 1880 novel released in 1925, that technically makes it a remake. One of the greatest remakes of all time. Since Ben-Hur was such a magnet for records, milestones, and cinematic firsts upon its release. In fact, Ben-Hur is one of my mom’s top favorite movies she’s ever seen. It was released in her birth year, 1959 (hence why I’m reviewing it on her birthday). I always knew I needed to see Ben-Hur, but the 3 hour & 44 minute runtime was daunting.

My lifetime knowledge of the Bible and seeing the silent film helped me to familiarize myself with the story. So I barely felt the extended runtime. Granted the length does include an overture and intermission. Ben-Hur was by far the biggest movie made at the time. Sets were the biggest ever built, props & wardrobe were in the hundreds, actors & animals were in the thousands, and all were established a year in advance. That’s not even factoring in the three month shooting of the great chariot race. I wish Christian epics like Ben-Hur still had this level of dedication. It’s a miracle everything came together so well…


Ben-Hur rides his chariot

Ben-Hur is the same story told in the novel and silent film, but changes were made in places. Most were done to increase the length and dramatic weight. Now characters are more complex with better character development. When you wanted a great Bible epic, you called Charlton Heston. It already worked so well in The Ten Commandments. It’s mostly the reason why Heston is one of my mom’s favorite actors. Since he appeared in so many of her childhood films. I value him too, so it increased my appreciation of Judah Ben-Hur. His life as a wealthy Jewish prince in Jerusalem is given more attention. Along with his close friendship with childhood friend turned Roman tribune Messala. You can really see the anguish between them, as they know they can’t be friends anymore. The ways of the Romans turn Messala towards evil. While Ben-Hur remains faithful to his Jewish people. His relationship with freed slave Esther is given more weight as well.

Ben-Hur is betrayed by Messala after an accident and separated from his mother Miriam & sister Tirzah. He fights back a bit more, but that’s not enough to save him from enslavement aboard a galley. The large scale rowing is just as grand as the battle that follows. Miniatures were used in that scene and I couldn’t tell the difference. Heston’s Ben-Hur is a bit more vengeful in his quest to return home. He’s adopted by the Roman Consul after he saves his life and a promising chariot racing career follows. Hugh Griffith received just as much admiration for his role as Judah’s spirited chariot sponsor. It’s only after thinking his mother & sister are dead that he pursues his vengeance against Messala. When in reality, Esther is the only one who knows they have leprosy. The most isolating disease anyone could get at the time.

The chariot race is one of the most epic climaxes ever filmed. The grandeur was so big that an ultra wide screen was needed. The race is fast paced excitement with very real danger. Racers flipped off their chariots, horses run into each other, and Messala popularized the bladed wheel method. He also cheats when he starts whipping Ben-Hur. The race may be won, but his family is still missing. What makes Ben-Hur truly important is the parallel between Judah and Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I of course recognize every important moment. From the Nativity to the Sermon on the Mount to the Crucifixion. Every scene filled me with emotion without ever seeing my savior’s face. My favorite scene will always be Jesus giving a thirsty Ben-Hur water. The Roman’s awestruck reaction is a nice touch too. The encounter drives Judah, but he does struggle with faith at first.

Esther listens to the Sermon, so she’s the one who encourages her husband’s step towards Christianity. They take his mother & sister to the heartbreaking Crucifixion where Judah returns the favor of water. My mom cries every time a miraculous rain storm cures them of their leprosy. Ben-Hur is truly a wonder to behold years later. So much detail was put into the multitude of sets. It may have been a massive film to complete, but William Wyler pulled it off. It helps that he was a Jew that understood the importance of the material. Despite its enormous budget, Ben-Hur became the second highest grossing film of all time. Encouraging it to win a record 11 Academy Awards. Best Picture, Director William Wyler, Actor Charlton Heston, Supporting Actor Hugh Griffith, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Special Effects, Film Editing, Music, and Sound Recording. The only Oscar it didn’t win was for Screenplay. Ben-Hur remains one of the grandest cinematic achievements of all time.


Ben-Hur rows the galley

Remake of: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

The Rancher and the Outlaw

3:10 to Yuma brings us only the best from the old west. Appropriately beginning and ending with a folksy tune to set the mood. 3:10 to Yuma is a classic tale of a rancher and an outlaw. The rancher is Dan Evans played by Van Heflin. A struggling family man with a wife and two boys dealing with a devastating drought. The outlaw is Ben Wade played by Glen Ford. A charismatic criminal with a romantic streak who rides with his posse of outlaws.

Their paths cross when Wade shoots two stagecoach men and swipe Dan’s horses. When found out and arrested, Dan reluctantly agrees to transport Wade to the 3:10 to Yuma for a ranch saving price along with a small band of men. Dan and Wade are complete opposites at constant odds with one another, but they do form a bit of a mutual respect while hiding out in a hotel. Especially since Wade isn’t such a bad guy. Dan knows how to handle a gun, so he’s perfect to make the dangerous trip while avoiding Wade’s men.

Everything leads to the titular train and it’s worth the nail biting climax. I don’t watch westerns often, but I always appreciate a simple story like this. Understandable considering it was based on a short story from a pulp magazine. Although color was slowly taking over in the late 50’s, 3:10 to Yuma is more effective in black & white. With plenty of great dramatic shots of a smokey Arizona. 3:10 to Yuma uses its time wisely.

3:10 to Yuma

Dan Evans (left) moves Ben Wade (right) along

I Coulda Been a Contender

On the Waterfront is one of the best contenders to win Best Picture. Really it was thanks to one of the greatest performances from celebrated actor Marlon Brando. A performance that earned Brando his first Academy Award for Best Actor. Thanks to his popularizing method acting in mainstream Hollywood. I’ll admit I didn’t know much about On the Waterfront outside of its iconic quote. Context makes all the difference, because On the Waterfront is so much more than that. It’s a multilayered character study set in the harsh Jersey docks on the waterfront. Nothing but mob controlled corruption and deaf & dumb longshoremen who don’t ask too many questions.

All that changes when well-liked dockworker Joey Doyle is killed. Setting off a chain reaction with simple pigeon loving former boxer Terry Malloy at the center of it. Sure he coulda had class, he coulda been a contender, he coulda been somebody, instead of a bum (which is what he is), but he sticks to his role. Staying out of ruthless union mob boss Johnny Friendly’s way. Which is difficult when his brother Charley is his right-hand. Terry’s mind starts to change when Joey’s sister Edie starts asking questions and they fall for eachother.

Eva Marie Saint made her acting debut and she’s so good that she earned an Oscar too. Edie brings humanity into the harsh setting along with tough priest Father Barry. When Terry pours his heart out, he makes the right decision to literally and metaphorically stand up for his fellow dockworkers. Testifying against the mob even if it means his life. I’m not an expert on unions or McCarthyism, but I could still feel the weight of every action. Additional wins went to Director Elia Kazan, Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Film Editing. On the Waterfront took a risk and came out on top.

On the Waterfront

“I coulda been a contender”

What Have I Done?

The Bridge on the River Kwai is an epic war film best remembered for 2 reasons. One is for featuring one of the riskiest practical effects in movie history. The other is for featuring the famous war march whistle. A whistle people would sooner think originated from The Breakfast Club. I hadn’t seen many Best Picture winners from the 50’s, but I knew I needed to see it for these reasons alone. The film is based on a book of a similar name, which in turn was loosely based on actually events.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is set in World War II. British POWs are tasked by the Japanese to build a bridge over the Kwai river. After decades of only knowing Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan, I finally saw his Best Actor winning performance as Colonel Nicholson. A stubborn and duty bound British officer who refuses to allow his officers to work. It puts him at odds with the Japanese Colonel Saito. Although it was the only Oscar they didn’t win, Sessue Hayakawa is just as engrossing in a way that makes you see things from both sides.

When an agreement is made, Nicholson seems to lose sight of which side he’s on. Taking pride in the bridge his men built. Meanwhile, William Holden’s Major Shears is the only serviceman to escape. Except he’s brought back on a mission he doesn’t believe in, to blow up the bridge. With the help of local women, charges are set, and the once in a lifetime blast goes off. The tension is great and the explosion is well worth nearly 3 hours. With so many grey areas, The Bridge on the River Kwai makes it clear that war is simply madness.

Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins in Bridge on the River Kwai (1)

The bridge on the river Kwai

Plant Man From Outer Space

The Thing from Another World is a lot more talk heavy than I expected, but that’s okay since it’s all about the atmosphere. Like most 50’s alien invasion features, The Thing from Another World is more of an allegory for communist paranoia. My parents always talked about the original 50’s classic, but its often overshadowed by the remake. My only knowledge of it was from John Carpenter’s Halloween.

I only now realize the novella it’s based on, Who Goes There?, was only a loose interpretation. The only thing that remains is the Arctic setting and an alien stalking a team of professionals. Most of the time is spent on a crew of Air Force pilots, scientists, and journalists at the North Pole. With a lot of time spent on a romance. They discover a flying saucer that contains a space man frozen in ice. When accidentally thawed, the team find themselves isolated with nowhere to run.

Since a shapeshifter was likely too complex for 1951, the thing is a plant based humanoid. Obscured by shadows and building tension by popping up when you least suspect. The thing is also impervious to bullets, feeds on blood, and can regrow its body. It’s actually one of the two female crew members that suggests burning the creature. A decision that divides the team. Since one scientist would rather study the alien. So the main lesson at the end is to “Keep watching the skies.” The Thing from Another World deserves just as much admiration as its more memorable remake.


The Thing emerges

Once Upon a Dream

Sleeping Beauty is the last great fairy tale made in Walt Disney’s lifetime. As the animation studio wouldn’t return to their winning Disney princess formula for well over 30 years. The reason being that it performed surprisingly low at the time of its release. Sleeping Beauty was the sixthteenth animated Disney movie and the most expensive one made at the time. That coupled with audiences that thought it was too similar to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, are why it underperformed. Well like most movies made in the Silver Age, it received a far warmer reevaluation.

Sleeping Beauty is based on the 1800’s French fairy tale of the same name. Which was retitled Little Briar Rose in the Brothers Grimm version. All interpretations feature a princess awakened by true love’s kiss, but names vary between writers. Just as unspecific is the villain who is simply described as a Wicked Fairy Godmother. Needless to say, Disney made the story their own. Sleeping Beauty was made in response to the success of previous princess movie Cinderella. So it was shot in widescreen just like Lady and the Tramp, featured more improved sound, and more unique animated backgrounds…

26. Sleeping Beauty

Prince Phillip awakens Princess Aurora

Sleeping Beauty is my personal favorite Disney princess movie of the original three made by Walt Disney. As a child I watched it several times on VHS, because I felt it was the most balanced. There was plenty of romance to appeal to the female demographic. As well as plenty of action to appeal to the male demographic. Not that I didn’t love both equally. The opening of the book starts it all. Once upon a time a King and Queen welcome a daughter into their lives. “They named her after the dawn, for she filled their lives with sunshine.” Princess Aurora is a Disney princess who’s a bit difficult to describe. Not for her hair of sunshine gold and lips red as the rose, but because she only appears for 18 minutes with a mere 18 lines of dialogue. When we do see Aurora, her personality can sort of be described as longing. That’s why the particularly strong supporting characters have to shine through.

At the christening of their daughter, King Stefan and Queen Leah (Disney’s only living parents at the time) welcome the three good fairies into their kingdom. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are really the stars of the movie, because they do all the work. Flora is the leader dressed in red, Fauna is the compassionate one dressed in green, and Merryweather is the headstrong one dressed in blue. They’re funny, magical, and take an active role in the action. During the christening, Flora blesses Aurora with beauty, Fauna with song, Merryweather with… Just then the greatest Disney villain of all time arrives. As well as the best animated female villain.

Maleficent is an evil fairy who curses baby Aurora, simply because she didn’t receive an invitation. It doesn’t get more evil than that. I mean her name literally means “to cause harm.” I don’t often mention voice actors from classic Disney, but Eleanor Audley deserves all the credit. She gave Maleficent a commanding cackling charisma. While dressed in a sinister black gown complete with horns and magic staff. Her curse specifies that before the sun sets on Aurora’s 16th birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. To counter the spell, Merriweather blesses her instead with ageless sleep that can be broken by true love’s kiss. As an added precaution, the three good fairies raise her while in disguise as a simple peasant girl named Briar Rose.

16 years later, Rose dreams of a prince she met once upon a dream. With her animal friends by her side, they help make her dream come true. Until the real prince cuts in. Prince Phillip is the first Disney prince to have a name, a personality, and to actually participate in the action. Even though Philip also stops talking right after a word with his father King Hubert. Who randomly shares wine with King Stefan and a drunken mandolin player. Unbeknownst to them that they’re the betrothed prince and princess, Aurora and Phillip fall in love after a memorable dance in the forest. Meanwhile a hilarious chain of events where the fairies cook a cake and sew a dress leads to Maleficent’s crow discovering them. In a haunting sequence, a hypnotized Aurora pricks her finger on a magically appearing spinning wheel.

With Aurora becoming a sleeping beauty, the fairies put the rest of the kingdom to sleep as well. But not before realizing Prince Philip is the true love needed to break the curse. So the fairies free him from Maleficent’s forbidden mountain. What follows is easily one of the most exciting action sequences in all of Disney’s history. In grand medieval fashion, Philip rides his noble steed equipped with the shield of virtue and sword of truth. Maleficent only becomes more evil when unleashing all the powers of Hell. She transforms into a purple green flame throwing dragon for him to slay.

When slayed, Philip is finally able to kiss Aurora, breaking the curse. And no I don’t have a problem with the fairy tale moment. They share another memorable dance in the clouds where Aurora’s trademark dress turns pink & blue and live happily ever after. Sleeping Beauty has many unique distinctions that set it apart from most magical Disney adventures. The background animation has a far more art deco renaissance feel complete with square trees. To match that look, most of the characters are given a sharper design. Despite being a musical, the songs don’t really stand out as much as the instrumentals. The best song is easily Aurora’s romantic dreamer song “Once Upon a Dream.” Sleeping Beauty is in fact a dream come true.

27. Sleeping Beauty

Prince Philip fights Maleficent

Puppy Love

Lady and the Tramp is the greatest canine romance ever put to film. So it’s hard to believe people didn’t appreciate it upon its release. Everyone loves dogs after all. Well fortunately Lady and the Tramp is now seen as the animated Disney classic that it always ways. Lady and the Tramp was probably the closest thing to an original idea Walt Disney made at the time. Lady was actually based on the dog of one of Disney’s story artists. Disney loved the idea, but thought it was too light. Enter the Tramp. A character inspired by a short story from Cosmopolitan titled “Happy Dan, the Cynical Dog.”

The rest of the movie drew heavily from personal experiences with man’s best friend. After many human focused adventures like Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp became the first animal focused Disney animated movie since Bambi. As well as the fifthteenth made by the studio. Being something of a passion project, Lady and the Tramp had many firsts. It was the first movie disturbed by the entirely Disney owned company Buena Vista and it was the first animated movie filmed in widescreen CinemaScope…

24. Lady and the Tramp

Lady and the Tramp share a plate of spaghetti

Lady and the Tramp was a dog centered Disney movie that I couldn’t help but love when I was younger. I didn’t watch it as frequently on VHS, but it was still a staple (despite my never officially having a dog). Lady and the Tramp is a classic love story about two individuals from different social classes. Only this time done entirely from the perspective of a dog. That means everything is drawn from a low angle with most human characters having partially obscured faces. On Christmas day in 1909, Jim Dear and Darling receive the very adorable puppy Lady as a present. After a sequence I’m sure most dog owners can relate to, Lady grows up.

Lady is a lovely purebred Cocker Spaniel who lives in a high end upper-middle class neighborhood. Like most dogs, Lady is full of energy and loves attention. Her friends are the Scottish accented Scottish Terrier Jock and older Bloodhood who lost his sense of smell Trusty. We spend a lot of time on the average everyday experiences of a dog. Including receiving their first collar & license and the more life changing addition of a baby to the family. That’s where Tramp comes in. Tramp is a stray part Schnauzer part Terrier mutt from the wrong side of the tracks. Known by his reputation of always evading dog catchers. After freeing his friends Peg and Bull, Tramp winds up in the rich neighborhood where he meets Lady. His cynical attitude towards being a pet clashes with her naive optimism. They couldn’t be more different, but he does have a heart of gold.

After the baby is born, Jim Dear and Darling leave him to be looked after by Aunt Sarah. I know she’s supposed to mean well, but I can’t help but to hate the way she treats Lady. Even worse is her evil Siamese cats. Chinese stereotypes that annoyingly blame their mess on Lady. She’s then taken to get a muzzle, but Lady escapes into the big bad world. Where the Tramp rescues her from a pack of vicious dogs. After a whistling beaver gets the muzzle off, Tramp shows Lady the exciting life of a stray dog. Then they share a romantic date at an Italian restaurant. Not only is this the most iconic scene in the animated film, it’s also one of the most iconic scenes in film period. Hard to believe Disney almost cut it. There’s just something about seeing two dogs accidentally kiss while sharing a plate of spaghetti & meatballs. Something many couples have tried to replicate.

They fall in love, but Lady unfortunately winds up in the dog house. It’s a surprisingly depressing sequence that doesn’t stray away from what living in a pound is like. Lady also discovers the Tramps trampy past. She stops speaking to him, but there’s an even greater problem that needs to be dealt with. A monsterous rat that goes after the baby. Tramp shows his true colors, but is still sent away. Trusty uses his nose to sacrifice himself, but there’s no way the movie would kill him off. Just like the beginning, Lady and the Tramp enjoy Christmas day with Jock, Trusty, and their puppies. Three that look like Lady and a scampy one that looks like Tramp.

Lady and the Tramp is only enhanced by its widescreen format. Something that was a bit of a learning curve for the animators, but they pulled it off. Giving them more sweeping backgrounds and characters to fill the screen. Just like with Bambi, real dogs were used as reference. They certainly captured all the mannerisms that we know and love. Music wise, “He’s a Tramp” has always been a sultry favorite. While obviously cringy, “We are Siamese” is still pretty catchy. But “Bella Notte” is a romantic serenade from the heart. Lady and the Tramp is just as loveable as its titualar canine couple.

25. Lady and the Tramp

Christmas with Lady, Tramp, and family

You Can Fly!

Peter Pan will make you feel young again. As I would consider it to be the definitive take on the boy who never grew up. Peter Pan was a project that Walt Disney wanted to make right after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was originally based on a stage play by J. M. Barrie titled Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Which was shortly adapted into the children’s novel Peter and Wendy (that I partially read). Although the original story was a bit darker and sort of tailor made for theater, Disney still wanted a hand in another adaptation.

Paramount had the live-action film rights, but not the animated film rights. I honestly don’t think any property has had as many cross media reinterpretations as Peter Pan. Of course the story had to be Disneyfied a bit to keep characters like Peter or Tinker Bell more likable. Just like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan was one of the three feature length animation projects that needed to be put on hold until the war ended. Eventually becoming the fourteenth Disney animated film overall…

Peter Pan

Peter teaches Wendy and her brothers to fly

Peter Pan is actually one of my personal favorite Disney movies. I watched it on VHS numerous times when I myself was a kid who wanted to hold onto his childhood. Mostly because Peter Pan was very much targeted at a male demographic. I loved the swashbuckling action and greater focus on physical comedy. Along with a healthy dose of Disney magic that gave it the classic feel. Peter Pan begins with three Darling children named Wendy, John, and Michael. Wendy Darling is arguably the star of the story. In London, England during the 1900’s, Wendy lives in the nursery with her two brothers who are looked after by their St. Bernard nursemaid Nana. Despite her father’s insistence that she should grow up, Wendy encourages her brothers love of stories about Peter Pan.

Peter Pan is one of the most famous characters in all of fiction. He quickly became an icon for Disney as well. A leafy green outfit with a feathered hat makes sense, but I never understood why he has pointy ears. As a boy who never grew up, Peter is full of childlike mischief. Most plays cast a woman to play Peter, but Disney mainstay Bobby Driscoll got the part instead. Peter flies into the Darling house in search of his lost shadow. Waking Wendy in the process. She desperately wants to see Neverland, so Peter decides to take her there to become their mother. Something that makes Tinker Bell jealous. Tinker Bell is a fairy with a blonde 50’s style bun and leaf dress who never leaves Peter’s side. Tink was different than other female Disney characters at the time. She was a curvy cutie who was sassy and showed jealousy without having to say a word. Tinker Bell was so popular that she became the magical face of Disney during all of its studio intros.

In the most famous scene in the movie, Peter helps Wendy, John, and Michael to fly with him to Neverland. All it takes is faith, trust, and a little pixie dust. By taking the second star to the right and straight on till morning, Peter and company arrive at Neverland. A mythical land where you never grow up. Just like in the original story, Neverland is an island populated by pirates, mermaids, indians, and the Lost Boys. Children dressed in animal skins that were also taken by Peter.

The first true male Disney villain and Peter Pan’s archenemy is Captain Hook. A flamboyant pirate dressed in red with a hook for a hand. Something that Peter cut off and fed to a crocodile as a practical joke. Captain Hook is easily one of the funniest Disney villains along with his bumbling first mate Mr. Smee. Although generally realistic, their antics are very exaggerated in a more cartoony way. Especially when the ticking crocodile attacks. Not that Hook doesn’t have his cold hearted moments. Like shooting one of his shipmates mid-song.

When Tink goes too far, she’s banished by Peter. Who proceeds to take Wendy to see the mermaids. Meanwhile, John and Michael take the Lost Boys to find the indians. Mermaids are beautiful, but show their true colors when they casually try to drown Wendy. The indians are easily the most controversial part of the movie. Along with some stray sexist remarks, the indians are obviously racist caricatures drawn to look as red as possible. It’s outdated, but far too important to cut out. I’ll at least say that they are depicted as clever warriors with a sense of honor. When the lovely daughter of the Chief Tiger Lily is kidnapped, Peter comes to the rescue.

After a bonfire celebration that didn’t age well, Wendy reminds everyone of their mother. Which leads to a raid that nearly ends Peter’s life. Until Tink gets caught in the crossfire (“I do believe in fairies”). With Wendy and the boys taken to Hook’s ship, Peter Pan faces the old codfish once and for all. Peter wins the duel and sprinkles the ship with pixie dust. Flying Wendy, John, and Michael back to their family. Peter Pan takes flight with gloriously fast paced animation and plenty of memorable sword fights. The best remembered songs include the villainous sea shanty “A Pirates Life,” the catchy “Following the Leader,” the mildly uncomfortable “What Made the Red Man Red?,” and the inspiring “You Can Fly!” Peter Pan never gets old.

23. Peter Pan

Peter faces Captain Hook

A Very Very Unbirthday

Alice in Wonderland invites you to go tumbling down the rabbit hole. With perhaps the most surreal movie Walt Disney ever produced. Alice in Wonderland is based on one of the most beloved children’s fantasy novels ever written. While under the very obvious influence of drugs, Lewis Carroll created a wonderful world of curious nonsense. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are 1800’s books that popularized that most unusual subgenre. Walt Disney was a fan of the Alice books since childhood. It was always his intention to bring it to the big screen.

First as a live-action/animation hybrid, then as a much more appropriate entirely animated feature. The war and production cost forced Disney to put Alice in Wonderland on hold along with three other projects. Although done simultaneously, Cinderella beat Alice in Wonderland to become the first of the Silver Age. While the latter became the thirteenth animated Disney film. Which was surprisingly panned by critics and longtime book fans alike. Most complained that there was too much Disneyfication of the mad Carroll tale. At least until the more psychedelic 60’s came around, which earned Alice in Wonderland the appropriate rank of cult classic…

20. Alice in Wonderland

Alice has tea with the Mad Hatter and March Hare

Alice in Wonderland was so nonsensical that my childhood history with the movie was just as unusual. I definitely saw it a couple of times on VHS, but certain moments stood out to me more than others. I have fond memories of the tea party and ending with the Red Queen more than anything else. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Rather than frontwards, I should go backwards. Alice in Wonderland begins in a barely seen Victorian England that centers around Alice. Disney’s third animated heroine who’s sometimes included in the princess lineup. Rather than a child like in the books, Alice is an elegant, well mannered, young lady with her head in the clouds. Notably dressed in her iconic puffy blue dress.

Alice imagines a Wonderland where everything is nonsense. So we start by seeing a White Rabbit dressed in a waistcoat carrying a pocket watch. He’s late, he’s late, for a very important date! So in classic Disney fashion, Alice goes tumbling down the rabbit hole and into the curiouser and curiouser world of Wonderland. A colorful land where nothing makes sense. In her movie long pursuit of the White Rabbit, Alice meets all sorts of truly mad characters. The first is a doorknob that convinces Alice to grow smaller and larger. Since in Wonderland, “Drink Me” bottles make you shrink and “Eat Me” biscuits make you grow. It’s her tears that help her through the keyhole.

Then Alice crosses paths with a sailor Dodo and the oddball pair Tweedledee & Tweedledum. Egg shaped twins that tell Alice the tale of “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” A surprisingly dark story about a walrus that tricks a group of baby oysters into becoming dinner. Alice eventually catches up to the Rabbit, but grows to the size of house instead. When she shrinks again, Alice is greeted by a bouquet of rude talking flowers that mistake her for a weed. Then Alice meets the most obvious drug metaphor in the book. An articulate hookah-smoking Caterpillar that instructs Alice to grow by ingesting mushrooms. Alice then meets the hilariously random Cheshire Cat. A mad grinning cat that can disappear.

However, the most famous scene in Alice in Wonderland is of the mad tea party. Where the goofball Mad Hatter and insane March Hare are celebrating their Unbirthday with the drunken Dormouse. Why today is my unbirthday too. The tea party is full of nonsensical tea gags that go absolutely nowhere. When Wonderland becomes too much for Alice, the Cheshire Cat returns to point her in the direction of the Queen. The last character we meet in the slowly paced movie. After helping her army of playing cards paint the roses red, Alice encounters the Queen of Hearts (and the King). She’s a loud pompous tyrannical Disney Villain known for the phrase “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!” A quick game of flamingo croquet brings out her temper and Alice is sent to court. Where every mad Wonderland resident comes flooding in and finally wakes Alice up.

Animation is the only medium that could bring Alice in Wonderland to life. With trippy visuals much in the style of Fantasia. Character designs remained very faithful to the original illustrations. Making almost everyone in Wonderland a Disney icon. Music was another priority with memorable songs like “I’m Late,” “Painting the Roses Red,” and my personal favorite “The Unbirthday Song.” The rest of the many songs are less well known. Alice in Wonderland is a wonderfully silly piece of nonsensical art.

21. Alice in Wonderland

Alice meets the Red Queen


Cinderella finally brought Disney animation back to its former glory. Returning to what worked in the first place. Feature length animation based on fairy tales. By 1950, Disney was near bankrupt after releasing their sixth package film with The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Needless to say, Walt Disney needed a surefire hit to bring back joy after the war. “Cinderella” couldn’t have been a more perfect choice. The idea was in Walt Disney’s head since the 20’s, but it took over three decades before it finally became Disney’s twelfth animated film. Which also made it the first of the Silver Age.

“Cinderella” is a timeless fairy tale that’s been told and retold a countless number of times over the years. The story is so old that it can even be traced back to ancient times, but the European versions from Brothers Grimm and other writers in the 1600’s are the closest to the ones we recognize. Some versions her name is Ella before receiving the “Cinder” part of it, sometimes Cinderella dances with the Prince multiple times, and occasionally the evil stepmother & stepsisters have their eyes pecked out. Rest assured Cinderella (1950) was as Disneyfied as possible without losing the heart of the rags to riches story…

18. Cinderella

Cinderella dances with her Prince Charming

Cinderella may be considered one of the girliest movies Disney has made, but it was still one that I loved watching on VHS growing up. Even after seeing numerous versions of the story, this version will always hold a special place in my heart. Even though pretty much everyone is familiar with the story, this is what Disney does differently. After the opening of the book of course. Once Upon a time a beautiful young girl lived a happy life before the loss of her mother. Her father remarried, but it wasn’t long after his passing that Cinderella’s stepmother & stepsisters showed their true colors.

Despite the unfair label that she’s received in recent years, I actually consider Cinderella to be a very worthy Disney Princess. At least in the context of the fairy tale. This was still the 50’s afterall. Cinderella is best recognized by her strawberry blonde hair and classic beauty. Not even a cleaning outfit can hide it. I don’t consider Cinderella to be a doormat. She’s a dreamer. A victim of circumstance who holds onto her hope and remains kind in the face of hardship. Her only friends are a group of adorable birds and mice that affectionately refer to her as “Cinderelli.” She also has a horse and a dog named Bruno that keep her company. They serve as her animal sidekicks and were one of Disney’s earliest additions to the fairly light fairy tale.

Jaq and Gus are a fun mouse duo that spend most of the screen time escaping the devilishly evil cat Lucifer. Which amounts to multiple Tom & Jerry style games of cat and mouse mixed in with the hour & 16 minute story. Cinderella works hard as a servant for her evil stepmother & ugly stepsisters, yet she’s actually less of a pushover than most people remember. Lady Tremaine is easily one of the Disney villains that I despise the most. Physical threats are one thing, but sometimes nothing’s worse than an antagonist that mentally abuses someone. The same goes for Anastasia and Drizella. Especially when they destroy the dress that the birds and mice lovingly made for her. That moment will always be hard to watch. Fortunately it’s followed by one of the greatest in Disney history.

Cinderella is greeted by her Fairy Godmother who resembles a sweet caring grandmother. In a magical sequence, the Fairy Godmother grants Cinderella her wish to go to the ball. With the flick of her wand and the magic words Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, a pumpkin becomes a couch, the mice become horses, and Cinderella is given a beautiful dress. Her most iconic outfit complete with classic updo, choker, and frilly white design (that’s often recolored blue). The animation used to transform the dress was actually Walt Disney’s personal favorite.

The castle became the basis for the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. It’s where the King has his own subplot of desperately wanting grandchildren. He has many humorous moments with the Grand Duke before and after the ball. Prince Charming is an apt description, but he’s another prince without a personality. Serving as the dream guy for Cinderella when they share a romantic dance at the ball. Of course the clock strikes 12 and Cinderella leaves behind her famously impractical glass slipper. Being cruelly locked away isn’t enough to keep Cinderella from fitting the slipper and living happily ever after with her Prince Charming.

Cinderella was achieved with all the high quality animation that was underutilized for several years. This was the first feature to bring together Disney’s Nine Old Men. An animation team responsible for many classics. Cinderella is realistically drawn, but in a way that’s different than Snow White. It’s mostly the animals that are more stylized. Straightforward musicals were also sorely missed from the studio. Luckily the songs were worth the wait. Cinderella’s signature “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” is a perfect dreamer song, “Sing Sweet Nightingale” only sounds good from her, the “Work Song” is very catchy, but nothing beats the Oscar nominated gibberish song “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.” Cinderella is just the magical masterpiece that Disney needed.

19. Cinderella

Cinderella’s dress transforms