Tell Everybody Iโ€™m On My Way

Brother Bear was supposed to be The Lion King of North America. Instead it ended up being one of the more forgotten Walt Disney animated films. The forty-fourth feature was in fact made as a response to the need for more animal stories after the success of The Lion King. Since bears are the kings of the forest, an original bear movie was made. It just went through many story changes before the brother theme was chosen. Along with a focus on Inuit culture in the greater Alaskan region. Although Brother Bear seems like a downgrade, Disney needed something smaller after the financial failure of Treasure Planet. Animation is predominantly traditional with only a few computer enhancements here and there. Specifically a wildebeest style caribou stampede and a salmon stream. Brother Bear did a lot to bring back a Renaissance feel, including the second use of Phil Collins music after Tarzan. I love “On My Way,” but most songs aren’t memorable.

Brother Bear itself never feels like anything special by Disney standards. I didn’t even see the movie in theaters, because it didn’t feel warranted. My brother and I saw it on video shortly after when I was still about 8 years old. True we could relate to the brotherly story, but I still wouldn’t call it completely underrated. The lukewarm reception isn’t entirely off, although it was nominated for Best Animated Feature. Brother Bear is set after the Ice Age. Centering on a trio of Inuit brothers including older brother Sitka, middle brother Denahi, and younger brother Kenai. The unlikely voice of Joaquin Phoenix portrays Kenai. A foolhardy young tribesman hoping to receive an honorable totem from his village’s shamen woman. Instead he receives the bear of love. The quasi-mysticism doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is what turns Kenai into a bear. After he vengefully kills a bear that he blames for the death of Sitka. The great spirits of the Northern Lights transform Kenai and the aspect ratio changes to widescreen.

As a bear, Kenai must learn a lesson that will hopefully change him back. Jokes from the animals are fairly standard. Most attempts at humor come from Rutt & Tuke. A Bob and Doug McKenzie style Canadian Moose duo with the voices of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. This was Moranis’ final theatrical role before his retirement. Kenai is joined by a talkative cub named Koda with the commendable voice of child actor Jeremy Suarez. The animal transformation isn’t as funny as The Emperor’s New Groove, but there is a lot of heart. The unlikely brother bears bond all the way to a salmon run where they meet many bears. Including one voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan. All the while Denahi seeks vengeance on the bear in a way that makes him a misunderstood villain. The final lesson about the perspective of one’s supposed enemy works well enough. So Brother Bear at least means well in the end.

69. Brother Bear

Kenai travels with Koda

Ohana Means Family

Lilo & Stitch may be the weirdest animated film Disney ever greenlit. Which is why it’s the only Post-Renaissance movie I wouldn’t consider to be underrated. Its instant popularity and success was very mainstream. Earning Walt Disney Animation Studios their first of two Best Animated Feature nominations at the Academy Awards. Although computer animation still loomed in the background, Lilo & Stitch was able to overcome it. The literally experimental idea for Disney’s forty-second feature was as old as 1985. Director Chris Sanders reworked his idea for a failed children’s book starring an alien named Stitch. The story was resurrected when Disney needed a lower budget film to balanced the expensive films of the Renaissance.

Sanders even reused watercolor backgrounds for the first time in decades. Along with his own signature animation style. Lilo & Stitch really came together when Hawaii was chosen as the location. Although Atlantis: The Lost Empire was technically Disney’s first sci-fi project, Lilo & Stitch really takes advantage of it with a contemporary story involving aliens, spaceships, and lasers. It was so different that teasers and promotional material painted Stitch as the black sheep of the Disney family. With Stitch interrupting famous songs from Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King. Followed by characters reacting negatively to him. The irony is that Stitch later became a major icon among hardcore Disney fans…

66. Lilo & Stitch

Lilo and Nani ride a wave with Stitch

Lilo & Stitch is among my all time favorite Disney films. I’m not sure my brother and I saw it in theaters, but I know we’ve loved it ever since. Making Lilo & Stitch our most dedicated franchise at the time. I may have been just 7 years old, but I distinctly remember not knowing how to react to it. Lilo & Stitch was the furthest thing from the typical Disney formula. I think that just made me appreciate it more. Although Lilo & Stitch can feel over-the-top with all the aliens and space travel, it does tell a very human story at the same time. Both worlds complement each other surprisingly well. Lilo & Stitch establishes its world at the very beginning. With the Galactic Federation holding a trial for one Jumba Jookiba. The Galactic Federation is lead by the Grand Councilwoman. A tall grey alien who maintains law in the universe. Jumba is a large pudgy four-eyed mad scientist who illegally created Experiment 626.

626 is a cute & fluffy blue koala-like alien with six limbs, antennas, and back spikes. Stitch is an instant icon with a flawed need to destroy. Making him more relatable to Disney fans seeking something edgier. 626 was designed to be nearly invincible with super strength, and intellect. Stitch can speak, but only in limited snappy phrases supplied by the director himself. 626 is declared an abomination and sentenced to isolation. The giant elephant shark Captain Gantu is the closest thing to a Disney villain. His only goal is seizing the “trog” for the Federation. Voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson’s booming voice was a perfect fit for Gantu. While Disney mainstay David Ogden Stiers brought an ambiguous madness to Jumba. 626 escapes with an awesome red police cruiser heading towards Earth. Stitch’s only weakness is water, but his ship miraculously manages to land on the tiny island of Kauai, Hawaii. So Jumba is paroled to bring back his experiment along with one-eyed alien and Earth mosquito expert Agent Pleakley. Kevin McDonald has just the right naroutic tone for the alien who likes dressing like a woman. Make of that what you will.

Lilo & Stitch officially begins after that 10 minute prologue. We’re then introduced to Hawaiian girl Lilo. Easily the best child Disney ever created. Lilo is weird, hilarious, quotable, and more relatable than most Disney kids who are just there to be cute. Daveigh Chase was born to voice Lilo and boy does she have range (she played Samara in The Ring the very same year). Lilo’s main unusual traits include thinking a fish controls the weather, taking pictures of overweight people, and having a doll that’s stitched together. Although Lilo fights with snobby girl Mertile in her hula class, she still longs to make friends. What makes Lilo & Stitch so relatable is the dynamic between her and big sister Nani. The first animated Disney movie about sisterly love. Nani does her best to raise Lilo after their parents past away. She has job troubles and bickers with Lilo, but she’s still the only one who loves and understands her. They get surprisingly real with their struggle. Including a visit from a social worker who’s just doing his job.

Nani is seriously underappreciated as far as female Disney role models are concerned. Tia Carrere was one of a few Hawaiian cast members. She provided a lot of cultural accuracy along with Jason Scott Lee. He’s also underappreciated as Nani’s dedicated sorta boyfriend surfer David. Even Ving Rhames as social worker Cobra Bubbles has plenty of time to flesh out his character. Things change for Lilo and Nani when the falling star they see turns out to be 626 crash landing on Earth. After being hit by several trucks and somehow mistaken for a dog, he winds up in a kenal. Lilo is taken their to adopt a dog and that’s where the unlikely duo finally meet. Although it’s glaringly obvious that Stitch isn’t a dog, no one second guesses his strange behavior too much. Stitch blends in by removing his more alien features and posing as Lilo’s pet. Lilo & Stitch have a great dynamic where Lilo tries to give him a purpose beyond destroying and Stitch becomes the friend she always wanted. Ohana means family after all.

It’s just a troubled road with many unfortunate incidents to get there. Jumba & Pleakley comically wait in the background before interrupting a beautiful surfing montage. With Lilo likely to be taken away, the sadness increases when Stitch relates to the ugly duckling being lost. With the Federation cutting them off, Jumba destroys Lilo’s house just to get to Stitch. Where they play a game of “Blue punch buggy.” Stitch reveals the truth to Lilo and they’re both captured by Gantu. Stitch escapes, but Nani discovers the truth as well. Leading to a team up between Stitch, Jumba, Pleakley, and Nani in order to rescue Lilo. I cheer every time Stitch has his epic hero moment. Then I applaud when the odd assortment of Hawaiians and aliens become a loving ohana.

Lilo & Stitch went through all sorts of changes in its development. Not quite to the point of the equally good The Emperor’s New Groove, but there are many deleted scenes. The spaceship flying through the mountains climax was originally a hijacked plane flying through buildings for example. It was changed for obvious reasons. Fortunately the limited computer animation was mostly for ships. The curvy stylized look of the characters helped to complement the modern setting. While the creatively designed aliens were very imaginative without feeling too childish. Hence the PG rating. As far as music, Lilo & Stitch made use of catchy Hawaiian beats. Including the upbeat surfing song “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride.” The rest of the music is all Elvis hits. Since Lilo is naturally a big Elvis fan who shares the love with Stitch. Lilo & Stitch shouldn’t work, but I’m so happy it did. “Aloha.”

67. Lilo & Stitch

Lilo feeds Stitch

Shut Up and Deal

The Apartment is the final black & white film to win Best Picture in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Fitting since it’s a good transitional film. The Apartment may have a classic look, but its themes are distinctly modern and a bit controversial for the time. But that didn’t stop it from winning Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay in a landmark series of wins for Billy Wilder. The first person to win all three awards for the same movie. Like most great Wilder pictures, The Apartment is about an unconventional romance and boundary pushing subject matter.

Jack Lemmon shines as C.C. “Bud” Baxter. An insurance agent who climbs to the top by loaning his apartment to his sleazy adulterous bosses. Bud (or Buddy Boy) can’t catch a break however. Although his doctor neighbor thinks he’s this big lady’s man, the one woman he does fall for is tangled up in an apartment affair of her own. Shirley MaClaine also shines as Fran Kubelik. An elevator operator who’s pulled back into an affair with Bud’s boss Sheldrake. Fred MacMurray could’ve just been a standard villain, but he turns the ensemble into a believable character study. One that feels like a play since everything revolves around the titular apartment.

As if the affairs weren’t edgy enough, Fran attempts suicide in Bud’s apartment after leaving Sheldrake. The unconventional romance comes when Bud looks after her and she opens up to him over a game of gin rummy. Fortunately Bud manages to stand up for himself and Fran does the same. Ending on another ambiguously hopeful Wilder line, “Shut up and deal.” The Apartment is a funny, honest depiction of old & new ideas.

The Apartment

“Shut up and deal”

East Meets West

Heaven & Earth details the seldom talked about Vietnamese perspective of the Vietnam war. After closely following the war in Platoon and its life changing aftermath in Born on the Fourth of July, Heaven & Earth was the final piece of Oliver Stone’s Vietnam war trilogy. Although it’s not as acclaimed or talked about half as much as the first two. I guarantee I’d probably never have seen it if not for the trilogy.

Heaven & Earth is based on Le Ly Hayslip’s personal experience during the Vietnam war. Painting a picture of how much Vietnamese villagers dealt with their place in the middle of conflict. Even dealing with the brutality of the Viet Cong before Americans even entered the war. The late Hiep Thi Le was chosen among many Vietnamese actresses. Although she had no acting experience, she’s natural enough to carry the film as Le Ly. Hiep’s performance, Stone’s filming techniques (especially in the gorgeous Vietnam fields), and less traumatizing aspects of the war itself are about all I got out of Heaven & Earth.

Le Ly’s narration dominates too much of the film. To the point important details of her life don’t have time to set in. Same with the out of place black & white flashbacks. Le Ly goes through a lot of personal trauma before meeting her American soldier husband. Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t appear until about an hour in. Le Ly becomes more Americanized, but everyone in Vietnam speaks English, so it’s not a big change. It’s depressing, but most of her American life was changed to increase tragedy. Heaven & Earth is a good perspective change that should’ve had a better presentation.

3. Heaven and Earth

Le Ly sits with Steve

Wounded Warrior

Born on the Fourth of July isn’t an easy film to discuss, but I’ll try my best to stay impartial. Happy 4th of July everyone! Born on the Fourth of July is the second film in what would turn out to be Oliver Stone’s Vietnam war trilogy. The only similarity is Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger. Since Stone has experience as a Vietnam veteran, he became the top choice to direct Ron Kovic’s autobiography. Kovic was an all-American Catholic youth so patriotic he was born on the 4th of July. So he severed by enlisting in the Vietnam war.

Reality sets in when a misfire results in the loss of innocent villagers and the accidental shooting of one of his fellow soldiers. The loss of his legs is what changes him forever. Maintaining his patriotism, but slowly losing faith when people turn their back on him. When fleeing to Mexico doesn’t work, Kovic returns to speak out against the war. Compared to Platoon, there’s actually very little war featured in the 2 hour & 25 minute movie. There’s just enough to take in the harshness of the war from someone else’s perspective.

Born on the Fourth of July was a major breakthrough for Tom Cruise. Earning him his first Oscar nomination and first chance in a dramatic leading role. Since before he was just the young heartthrob type. Cruise takes Kovic to every extreme he experienced. Spending nearly the entire movie in a wheelchair. Suffering through his post-war experience with genuine realism. It helped that the real Rob Kovic co-wrote the script. I don’t agree with everything, but Born on the Fourth of July is just another reminder of the folly of the Vietnam war.

2. Born on the Fourth of July

Ron Kovic protests the war

Adventure is Out There!

Up finally puts Pixar adventure in the forefront. Winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and becoming the second animated film ever nominated for Best Picture. Something that only happened once before with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Up was the first computer animated film nominated for the Oscar. As well as one of the first 3D movies nominated from 2009 (the other being Avatar). Needless to say, Pixar’s track record was due for Best Picture attention. The 2010 ceremony increased its number to 10, just to include more neglected genres like animation. Up asks the question, what if an old man went on an adventure without having to leave his house?

The reason behind the adventure makes Up one of the most realistic Pixar movies ever, but the method behind the adventure makes it one of the most unrealistic at the same time. Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter really knows how to drive a story with emotion. The idea came from a fantasy of his about escaping life. It was intended to be a space adventure similar to WALLยทE, but all that changed when a grumpy old man became the lead. At 13 years old, I honestly didn’t know how to react to a house taking off because of balloons. I also wasn’t sure how any of it fit the Pixar formula, but Up is really about the concept of adventure more than anything else…

20. Up

Carl takes flight

Up was shown with the Pixar short Partly Cloudy. A remarkably similar short where a cloud creates dangerous animals for an unlucky stork. Up may not be a non-human characters with emotions story like Pixar’s other work, but the choice of a senior citizen as the lead in a kid’s film was very unique. Yet it made a lot of sense considering children had their grandparents to compare him to. I was too young to really remember my grandparents, but I’ve been around enough elderly folks to relate. Up takes things all the way back to Carl Fredriksen’s days as a youngster. Carl sees a newsreel about his hero Charles F. Muntz. A famous explorer with the motto “Adventure is out there!” Muntz pilots a blimp built for his canine companions and explores the far reaches of Paradise Falls, South America. Muntz is disgraced when a rare bird skeleton he’s discovered is called into question. So he vows to stay in Paradise Falls until he captures the bird alive.

It’s enough to inspire Carl to be adventurous, but what he wasn’t expecting was a friend who loved adventure as much as he does. I was taken almost completely off guard by Ellie, because the trailer gave no indication of her presence. Carl is shy at first, but Ellie pushes him to be brave and retrieve his balloon. Ellie is a precocious aspiring adventurer with dreams of taking her house to Paradise Falls. Something Carl promises after crossing his heart. One of the most beautiful sequences in Pixar history comes when Carl & Ellie grow old together. There’s an unmistakable realism to their touching love story. From getting married, fixing up their abandoned clubhouse, picnicking under the clouds, wanting to have kids, but sadly not being able to have kids, trying to save up for an adventure, and ultimately growing old together.

All set to an amazing old fashioned score by the now three time Pixar composer Michael Giacchino. Becoming the first Pixar score to win Best Original Score. One of the most tear worthy Pixar moments ever, is Carl sadly losing his wife. Not since Finding Nemo has a Pixar movie made everyone cry at the very beginning. In the present, Carl Fredricksen has become a grumpy 77 year old man. Unlike most of the movies before it, Pete Docter intended for highly stylized characters. Carl has a very cartoony square head and small body. His white hair and glasses were meant to resemble Spencer Tracy in his later years. However, Ed Asner looks an awful lot like Fredricksen too. Asner’s spry elderly voice is a perfect match for Carl. The main animation challenge was properly rendering an old person. So Carl has wrinkles, a hearing aid, and a walking cane. Along with subtle movements and mannerisms that really go the extra mile. The cloth used on outfits just looks more and more realistic.

Like most senior citizens, Carl balances being lovable with being cranky. His current problem is a construction site that threatens to tear down his home. To cope with his wife’s death, Carl preserves her memory by preserving the positions in their house. A complex message that Pixar is more than prepared for. Since Up has a very small cast, John Ratzenberger pops up as a friendly construction worker. Then Carl is greeted by Russell. A young wilderness explorer who needs to get an “Assisting the elderly” badge. Russell is the first Asian lead (voiced by Asian child actor Jordan Nagai) in a Pixar film. Something I never gave a second thought because he’s just a normal kid. Carl gets rid of Russell by sending him on a wild Snipe chase, but things get worse for him when he unintentionally assaults someone with his cane. The blood and strong sense of peril are why Up was only the second PG rated Pixar movie. Carl is supposed to be taken to a retirement home, but he can’t forget the unfulfilled promise he made to Ellie.

It’s a truly magical moment when Carl’s house takes off after he’s attached hundreds of balloons to it. It’s best not to think about the science of it. Just appreciate the many colors and wonder of a house flying through the city and into the clouds. The only place you can find easter eggs like a luxo ball, Pizza Planet Truck, and a certain teddy bear. The instantly iconic house with balloons uses bed sheets as sails and is steered using a weather vane. Up is a brilliant 2 letter title since all the action is up in the air. Up truly perfected Disney Digital 3-D in a way that complements the computer animation without having to throw things at the audience. I didn’t see Up in 3D, but the colorful adventure was still a sight to see in theaters nonetheless. Things get complicated when Carl hears a knock on his front door. It turns out Russell somehow stayed on the house and becomes his unwilling travel companion. Russell & Mr. Fredriksen are an unlikely Pixar duo if I’ve ever seen one.

Russell is curious, talkative, and very much into the wilderness. After a dangerous thunderstorm, Russell uses his GPS to steer them to South America. Paradise Falls is a breathtaking sight based on the real tepui mountains of the area. If the flying house was unrealistic, than an old man and child weighing the house down is a series suspension of disbelief. Russell plans to get his badge by helping Carl walk his house to the other side of the falls, but an even greater adventure awaits them. They encounter a unique large colorful bird who likes chocolate that Russell names Kevin (great name). Then they’re met with the unlikely sight of a dog. Dug is a Golden Retriever who can talk through the aid of a special collar. All the loyal thoughts of a loving canine are summed up by- “SQUIRREL!”

Dug is on a special mission that you can learn more about in the short Dug’s Special Mission. He’s the misfit of a pack of dogs tasked with finding the bird. Alpha is the intimidating Doberman pack leader with a hilariously high pitched voice. Together with Beta and Gamma, they manage to track down the travelers. But not before finding out Kevin is a mother needing to return to her babies in a labyrinth. An elderly Charles F. Muntz who must be over 100 by now, greets Carl & Russell as guests. Carl is in awe of his hero, but quickly learns that decades of hunting for the bird have driven him mad. Christopher Plummer rounds out the small but respectable cast as the surprisingly evil villain. Leading to a perilous chase that leaves Kevin injured. Carl selfishly chooses to save his house over Kevin, but he changes his tune when he revisits Ellie’s adventure book. Where it turns out ordinary married life was the real adventure afterall. A touching moment that shows we should appreciate the smaller things in life.

Russell flies off to save Kevin and Carl finally realizes the memory of his wife is more important than his meager possessions. The climax on the dirigible is a danger filled chase that turns Carl into an elderly action hero. Using his cane, hearing aid, and denchers as a weapon against Muntz in a funny senior fight. Meanwhile, Russell avoids literal dog fighting planes and Dug places Alpha in the cone of shame. Muntz makes one last attempt on the bird, but is outwitted and sent hurtling down. In the end, Carl becomes the adventurer he always wanted to be. But most importantly, Russell receives a grandfather figure who’s there for him. Up goes to show that if you want adventure, look no further than your own backyard.

21. Up

Carl and Russell meet Dug

Topsy-Turvy Day

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the darkest Disney animated movies ever made. Even darker than The Black Caldron in my opinion. How it managed to receive a G rating is baffling. The MPAA have given film’s PG ratings for far less than this. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a rare animated kid’s film that deals with religious themes. As uncharacteristic as it is for the studio, I have to admire Disney’s willingness to tackle such subject matter. Especially after Pocahontas didn’t win everyone over with its heavier material. The thirty-fourth Walt Disney animated feature is notably based on the 1831 novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. Which had been adapted a number of times in black & white.

The gothic story is so dark that I still can’t believe it was greenlit. In the book, the Hunchback is half blind, deaf, and more likely to be violent. A 16 year old Esmeralda is hanged and Quasimodo holds her lifeless body until he starves. This obviously had to be changed, but Disneyfication can only change so much. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is surprisingly faithful to the book in every other regard that maintains a kid friendly rating. I haven’t seen the classic Lon Chaney version or any others, but I can’t image a more sophisticated take than this surprisingly mature interpretation of the Disney Renaissance…

53. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Quasimodo longs for freedom

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was not something my brother and I watched frequently as children. Although we owned it on VHS, I definitely had to be in the mood for its intense, often upsetting material. Which was more difficult to watch as a Christian. That being said, I still loved The Hunchback of Notre Dame for respectfully handling faith, its spirit lifting music, and well placed light hearted moments. As I got older, I grew to see it as an underrated classic. Especially after what happened to the real life Notre Dame cathedral. The story takes place in 1400’s Paris, France. Since it’s the second French story in the Disney Renaissance after Beauty and the Beast, Belle can be seen reading in the background. Jester dressed Gypsy storyteller Clopin tells the dark tale of the mysterious bell ringer of Notre Dame.

Born to a Gypsy family, the ruthless Judge Claude Frollo hunts down the mother until he causes her death on the steps of the cathedral. Then he attempts to murder the deformed baby before the archdeacon condemns his soul with damnation (a Disney movie). Frollo is easily one of the most irredeemably evil Disney villains ever created. Made worse with Tony Jay’s sinister voice work. There’s nothing more sinful than a “man of faith” twisting the Lord’s word in order to commit heinous crimes. Frollo reluctantly raises Quasimodo to believe he’s a monster that people will never accept. Yet Quasimodo ends up a gentle soul with the angelic voice of Tom Hulce. Disney was able to honor the book’s description of the Hunchback without going too overboard. Rather than become deaf, years of ringing the bells have made Quasimodo very strong and acrobatic. While years of isolation have given him an opportunity to carve a perfect miniature replica of the city and its inhabitants.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be the most serious Disney movie if not for those darn gargoyles. Of course you can’t expect Disney to abandon their formula entirely. Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander, and the late Mary Wickes are a trio of gargoyles that come to life as Quasimodo’s only friends. The cultured Victor, goofball Hugo, and motherly Laverne have their occasional funny moments, but sometimes their antics are too tonally jarring. Quasimodo disobeys his master by attending the Festival of Fools. An absurd celebration where he meets Esmeralda and her faithful goat Djali. Esmeralda is a gorgeous Gypsy with a kind heart who dances far more seductively than other Disney heroines. Although she’s meant to be Romani due to her green eyes, I sometimes confused her for black. Which was more confusing when I learned Demi Moore voiced her. Rounding out the high profile talent is Kevin Kline as the far more heroic Captain Phoebus. Who first works as Frollo’s Captain of the Guard before turning against him.

Quasimodo’s appearance earns him admiration as the King of Fools, but the celebration takes a dark turn when he’s tied up and humiliated. One of the most difficult moments to watch in any Disney movie. The only person to show Quasimodo kindness is Esmeralda. He falls for her when she receives sanctuary in Notre Dame. Although it’s just what Quasimodo needs to feel good about himself, his heart breaks when she chooses Phoebus over him. Esmeralda & Phoebus are another interracial Disney couple that I adore. As if it wasn’t already pushing enough boundaries, Frollo is also lustfully attracted to Esmeralda. And he’s willing to burn down all of Paris just to have her. Quasimodo & Phoebus set aside their differences long enough to track down the “Court of Miracles” Gypsy refuge. Frollo’s war on the Gypsies comes to a head when he follows them there.

Esmeralda is sentenced to burn at the stake, while Quasimodo is chained up. It’s always satisfying to see Quasimodo break free from his chains and rescue Esmeralda yelling “Sanctuary!” The book’s ending is hinted at when Quasimodo thinks Esmeralda has died, but she lives long enough for them to faceoff against Frollo. The final fight in Notre Dame is intense with fire blazing all around them. Frollo’s wickedness is judged when a statue takes demonic form and he’s cast into a symbolic Hell (a Disney movie). Quasimodo accepts Phoebus & Esmeralda’s love and I get emotional every time citizens accept him for who he is. Although some might find it uncomfortable, it’s not too much for kids to understand. The animation brings out the beauty in Paris and the Catholic church. CGI sequences around Notre Dame are especially impressive. Whether Quasimodo is escaping with Esmeralda or freeing her from the crowd in a sweeping shot. Luckily computer animation hadn’t completely overshadowed the accomplishment.

The large assortment of music is sophisticated to the point of resembling an opera. No Oscars were won, but this is a soundtrack worth appreciating. “Out There” is a spirited longing song for Quasimodo. “Topsy-Turvy” is the closest thing to a fun catchy number. While “God Help the Outcasts” is a deeply sincere pray by Esmeralda, asking God to help the less fortunate. “Heaven’s Light” is a beautiful song in sharp contrast to “Hellfire.” A seriously dark, lustful, and powerful Disney villain song by Frollo that I can’t believe Disney approved. Immediately followed by the goofy comic relief gargoyle song “A Guy Like You.” “The Court of Miracles” at least balances those tonal shifts. For me, the most fitting and triumphant musical composition will always be “The Bells of Notre Dame.” The Hunchback of Notre Dame preaches an important message by taking as many risks as possible.

54. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Esmeralda sees Quasimodo

Colors of the Wind

Pocahontas is one of the most historically inaccurate movies ever made. Which is why its been unfairly labeled the weakest addition in the Disney Renaissance. Despite being just as good in terms of memorable characters, beautiful animation, and the best original songs Hollywood had to offer. The biggest difference was Disney’s choice to adapate a real life historical figure for the first (and only) time in Walt Disney animation. The idea came at Thanksgiving when it’s director wanted to make a historical western. The life of Pocahontas was chosen instead for its potential as another Best Picture candidate. The thirty-third Disney project Pocahontas was given a more serious tone and animators seriously thought it would be superior to The Lion King.

Pocahontas is far from a proper history lesson. The real Pocahontas was at least 10 years old when she first met the grown up John Smith. So there was clearly never a Romeo and Juliet romance going on between them. Further Disneyfied omissions included ignoring Pocahontas’ later capture by colonists, marriage to John Rolfe, and immigration into English society. Yet, Disney still made an effort to cast and collaborate with Native Americans for the sake of authenticity. That’s why it’s better to appreciate Pocahontas as a simple lesson in the acceptance of other cultures (that just happens to use the names of real life people)…

51. Pocahontas

Pocahontas listens to her heart

Pocahontas was released 15 days after I was born in 1995. Making it the first Disney movie released in my lifetime. It’s why I’ve always felt a personal attachment to Pocahontas. Of course it helps to be part Native American. My brother and I watched Pocahontas a fair number of times on VHS. It’s lesser emphasis on comedy was definitely different. That’s why there are no wacky talking animals or over-the-top sidekicks. Any humor is subtle by comparison. Pocahontas accurately opens in 1607 London, England. We follow the fictionalized sea voyage of the Virginia Company on their way to colonize the New World. John Smith is portrayed as more of a dashing, if misinformed adventurer with long blonde hair and rugged good looks. Rather than a harsh authoritarian, this Disney Prince version is suited for Mel Gibson.

Most of the settlers are interchangeable except for Thomas. A young settler who looks up to John that I was shocked to learn was voiced by Christian Bale. The real Captain of the the Susan Constant was Christopher Newport, but he was changed to Governor Ratcliffe. A different colonist Captain with a hand in Jamestown. His harsher sounding name is why he was chosen as villain. Governor Ratcliffe’s greed for gold, bigotry against natives, and hate-mongering make him a particularly despicable Disney villain. Disney mainstay David Ogden Stiers does double duty as the radically different Ratcliffe and his effeminate manservant Wiggins. As the settlers begin taking the land and mining for gold, we experience the vastly different culture of the Powhatan tribe.

Then we say “Wingapo” to Pocahontas. The very first “woman of color” to headline a Disney animated movie. Since Jasmine was only a supporting player in Aladdin. Pocahontas is the Native American daughter of Chief Powhatan. So that qualifies her as a Disney Princess. Unlike her real life counterpart, Pocahontas is made to look like a gorgeous supermodel. Complete with long flowing hair, tribal tattoo, her mother’s necklace, and traditional native garment. This older version of Pocahontas is a free spirited risk taker who loves her culture and goes where the wind takes her. Irene Bedard is a genuine Native American who breathes refreshing life into Pocahontas, but her singing voice Judy Kuhn shouldn’t be understated. The more realistic animal sidekicks are hungry raccoon Meeko and stubborn hummingbird Flit. As well as pampered pug Percy who belongs to Ratcliffe and fights with Meeko before redeeming himself. The antics don’t add much, but they’re fun distractions.

Pocahontas is a rare Disney Princess who has human friends. There’s her best friend Nakoma. As well as proud warrior Kocoum as her intended husband. Kekata is the shaman and Chief Powhatan is the tribe’s wise leader. He’s a caring father who just wants his daughter to choose a steady course. Except a dream seems to be spinning her in a different direction. The only fantastical element in Pocahontas is Grandmother Willow. A wise weeping willow voiced by Linda Hunt who leads Pocahontas to her destiny. Everything changes when Pocahontas & John Smith have their powerful first encounter. The winds help them to understand each other and they each learn about their respective cultures. Their conflicting ideologies clash at first, but Pocahontas helps John to better respect nature, the land, and people who are different from him.

John & Pocahontas hold a special place in my heart for being the first interracial Disney couple. Their romance is mature and sincere. It’s the only thing that can unite the warring colonists and natives. Which sadly falls apart when Thomas unintentionally shoots Kocoum. Radcliffe encourages hatred by going to war and Powhatan sees no other option himself. John is taken by the tribe where he is sentenced to death. The powerful image of Pocahontas bravely laying her body on John is recreated when she runs to stop the fighting. Ever the hatemonger, Radcliffe is arrested for taking a shot that John jumps in front of.

Unlike most Disney endings, Pocahontas proclaims her love for the wounded John, but they sadly part ways in the most hopeful way possible. Pocahontas deserves credit for tackling such grown up themes. However inaccurate it may be, the themes of peace over conflict and ending intolerance are things all kids should know. The harsh terms used by the colonists are necessary to get the message across. While the far less stylized character designs fit the realistic approach. The rest of the animation is just as mesmerizing as everything from its era. Still, the best reason to revisit Pocahontas is the music. Even in a polarizing production, everyone agrees the soundtrack is topnotch. It’s practically a non-stop musical throughout.

“The Virginia Company” and “Steady as the Beating Drum” are fine introductory songs for each side. “Mine Mine Mine” works well as an energetic Disney villain song about gold that gives John Smith a power solo. I just wish the tender love song “If I Never Knew You” was kept in. Grandmother Willow’s “Listen with Your Heart” is a quick song that helps at least. I know “Savages” is a controversial hate song, but neither side is right in their prejudice. Plus the beat is too infectious to right off completely. “Just Around the Riverbed” is a perfect “I want” song for Pocahontas that made her all the more inspirational. But the Oscar winning “Colors of the Wind” truly encapsulates everything Pocahontas stands for. I know all the words to the beautiful power ballad and appreciate nature all the more because of it. Pocahontas is an influential indigenous Disney portrayal that should be judged on its own merit.

52. Pocahontas

Pocahontas teaches John Smith to paint with all the colors of the wind

The Best of Friends

The Fox and the Hound is the unlikely tale of natural enemies that turned out to be the best of friends. As their twenty-fourth production, this was the first animated Disney movie released in the turbulent 80’s and the very first to have no Walt Disney involvement whatsoever. The rights to the book were purchased a year after Disney’s death and production only picked up 10 years after. The story was just as dark as everything else released at the time, but darker parts of the book still needed to be lightened up. Despite its initial successful, The Fox and the Hound had one of the most troubled productions. The decade change meant the transition of legendary animators with several familiar younger animators. The age gap lead to many story clashes. It got so bad that notable 80’s animation competitor Don Bluth left the company to start his own. Of course my brother and I watched The Fox and the Hound when we were younger, but only a few times due to the harsher tone.

The Fox and the Hound uses the natural enemies of a red fox and a hound dog to tackle social prejudice. Just like in Bambi, a young fox loses his mother to a hunter’s rifle. Caring motherly owl Big Mama helps find him a home. Pearl Bailey is a much more positively depicted black woman with soulful musical talent. In between the heavier story is a subplot about two birds trying to catch a caterpillar. Which doesn’t add much. It’s really the relationship between the poor Widow Tweed and fox that she raises as Tod that gives the film heart. On the other side is tempered hunter Amos Slade who relies on his aging hunting dog Chief before adopting a puppy hound dog named Copper. When the two cross paths, their childlike innocence makes them fast friends. It’s a precious friendship, but sadly life doesn’t always work out that way.

When they grow up, they’re destined to be enemies. Tweed leaves Tod in the forest and Copper becomes Slade’s lead hunting dog. Their first reunion ends in Chief being injured, but it would have made a lot more sense if he died. Tod falls for Vixie, but their happiness doesn’t last as the vengeful hunters try to put an end to them. Only a bear attack brings them together. Copper stands up for Tod, but they still go their separate ways in the end. The animation is much more high quality and the backgrounds are just as detailed as The Rescuers were. The music is mostly left to Big Mama and the most notable song is probably “Best of Friends.” Although it’s really the big name voices of Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Corey Feldman, and Keith Mitchell that deserve a mention. The Fox and the Hound has a moral we’ve all heard before, but it takes enough chances to stand out.

38. The Fox and the Hound

Tod meets Copper

Cupid’s Day

Before I Fall is one of many movies made featuring a time loop. I swear it’s practically become a genre at this point. But while most of them can be labeled comedies, Before I Fall is much more dramatic. While at the same time utilizing the YA teen subgenre. I was somewhat intrigued since it’s really difficult to go wrong with the time loop gimmick. Even though I didn’t read the book, I very nearly went to see the movie. I didn’t, but luckily another time loop movie was released the same year (Happy Death Day).

Before I Fall centers its time loop on teenager Samantha. On the fictional holiday Cupid’s Day (a possible reference to Groundhog Day), Sam hangs with her popular sort of mean girl best friends and douchey boyfriend. She attends a party and apart from a nasty incident, all seems normal. Until she’s killed in a car crash at precisely 12:39AM. The first loop feels like a dream. Then Sam does whatever she can to avoid dying, but she gives up when there appears to be no way out.

Like most time loop movies, Sam ends up doing whatever she wants to whoever she wants. The dramatic tone makes it feel a lot harsher. So she begins a path of self improvement that addresses whether or not she’s a good person. Zoey Deutch is a natural just like her mother Lea Thompson. Who ironically also played a teenager in a movie about time. Sam repairs her relationships, but this isn’t exactly a happy ending. I get the moral, but it’s more than a little depressing. Before I Fall is an underrated time loop scenario with a not often explored existential tone.

beforeifall_trailer

Sam’s life passes her by