I know a lot of people despise rats, but they really make wonderful pets. They’re unbelievably cute and smart, and they’re great companions. If you want a rodent for a pet, go with a rat. They have the rare ability to interact and bond with you, and to love you as much as you love them. I also know that people might not consider the death of a rat a big deal, but I’m a huge animal lover, and I’m totally devoted to my pets. The death of my darling Hermione is as significant as the loss of any pet. I miss her terribly. I was a weeping, emotional wreck for days (while she was sick and then after she died). It’s agonizing to watch a pet die, and her illness and death hit me hard. I just didn’t have the energy to devote to our collaboration at the time. It was also my turn to pick the topic, and because of what was going on, I couldn’t think of anything good enough.
But then, as I was mourning my baby, I came up with what I feel was a stroke of genius. I was consumed with the loss of Hermione, which led me to think about animals and how much I adored them, and that took me way back to my childhood. Eureka! I’m positive that my love of animals is deeply rooted in the cinematic influence of Walt Disney during my formative years. Like most people, I grew up on Disney films, and they’ve always been a big part of who I am. There’s a special section in my heart dedicated to Disney (the entity, not so much the man). Because I couldn’t possibly narrow the list down to five, I suggested that Bill and I each choose our ten favorite animated Disney films (live action/animated combos, unless the live action is extremely sparse, as is the case of one of the picks, and Pixar do not apply) and discuss why for about a paragraph. So, I was really happy with this idea.
Yet even though the concept was inspired by my beloved pet, when the time came to make my list, I somehow couldn’t bring myself to think about all the animals in those movies. It was too painful. As that wore off, I encountered another problem when I realized that my recollection was seriously fuzzy. I had a definite idea of what would go on the list, and I distinctly recalled feelings associated with the films, but I couldn’t quite identify specifics or articulate why they made the cut because I didn’t remember, at least not to my satisfaction. I decided to give myself a crash course in Disney and just bombard myself with the candidates.
This Disney assault was a wise plan, because some of the films that I thought were definitely going to be on my list ended up definitely not. I had a theory that if it was magical for me as a little girl, it would hold up and still be as magical for me today. Indeed, some proved to be just as awe-inspiring and delightful as ever, and others did not. They just failed to impress me on that fundamental level. They’re still really good or even great, but they didn’t quite live up to the glorious memory, and they’re certainly not favorites. I’m glad I reviewed. I fell in love with the films all over again, but then, I put even more pressure on myself to get the piece right. It had to be special. So, it ended up taking me a lot longer than I thought it would to write. I put everything I had into it, and I think it paid off.
So, that’s the long story of why the “She Said, He Said” is late. Bill never complained for one second and has been a wonderfully supportive friend and colleague throughout this process. Regrettably, we’ve missed two weeks, and we're not able to post one next week either, but that’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise. Hopefully this entry is big and juicy enough to make up for it. The following week, we'll be back on track, and it'll be Bill's turn to host. Look for it on Wednesday, our regularly scheduled day. That's May 14th, in case you want to mark your calendars.
So, to officially introduce this collaboration, the topic is Disney. Bill and I each selected our ten favorite Disney films of all time, and I’m sure it was as difficult for Bill as it was for me. There are so many great ones that it’s hard to narrow the list down to only ten. But, huzzah, we’ve done it! What did we pick? How do our lists compare and contrast? Do we have anything in common Disney-wise at all? Aren’t you excited to see? And I put this to you: What are YOUR favorite Disney films? I promise you’ll have fun figuring it out.
The VCR opened up a whole new world to me. Stuff that I enjoyed on TV could be taped and watched over and over. Children’s television was blissful during my youth. I feel sorry for kids today. I devoured Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, The Smurfs, Care Bears, My Little Pony, Alvin and the Chipmunks and, my very favorite, She-Ra. With her, a feminist was born. I dressed up as She-Ra for three consecutive Halloweens, you know. Anyway, the VCR also introduced me to a man who set the standard for entertainment, a man who irrevocably changed my life and shaped the woman I would become, sparked my imagination, and soaked my spongy brain with all sorts of marvelous ideas and possibilities. That man is Walt Disney.
The illusion of the grandfatherly nurturer has, alas, been shattered, but luckily it was when I was old enough to separate the man from his work. I think Walt Disney was a misguided, horrid, evil person. I’ve read so much about his Hitler-like business practices, and I’ve heard that he was a racist. Yes, that’s another thing he seems to have had in common with Adolf Hitler – raging anti-Semitism. I don’t know if the racism/anti-Semitism stuff is totally true, yet somehow I believe it is, at least on some level. I think he had some serious hatred in him. That’s just my feeling. Sigh. But there had to be good in him. How else could he cast such a powerful, beautiful spell over the hearts of children everywhere, including myself, and create some of the most beloved, enduring works of all time? He was a revolutionary who obviously loved children, and his dedication and creativity are unparalleled and inspiring. I am forever indebted to him for the joy his films have brought me. That’s what I choose to remember about him. Walt Disney, I salute you, sir.
My appreciation for Walt Disney and his awe-inspiring canon of films has only grown with me. I’m talking about all of them, including the ones made after he died during the Renaissance period that began with The Little Mermaid. In fact, it was the Renaissance that influenced me more than anything because of my age at the time and just being in the moment. So, when I refer to Disney, I mean the man and everything associated with that name. Anyway, besides fostering a lifelong love of animals, as I’ve already mentioned, Disney films were my main introduction to film, period. I think I was always going to study and write about film, but without Disney, who knows? He was the catalyst that got the fires of passion burning. These films molded me and opened me up to countless new and exciting people, places, and things. I emphasize places because you have to give the Disney bunch credit for exploring other worlds and cultures. There have been accusations of racism (Dumbo, Song of the South), which are sometimes totally justified. I tell you, though, when you’re a kid, you don’t think about that stuff. I didn’t grow up to be a racist because of the crows in Dumbo. It doesn’t make it right, but I think overall there’s a very, very low percentage of racism in Disney films. Unfortunately, I’m sure there’s been flack surrounding every film not set in America. Anyway, I seriously love how Disney has transported us around the world – the Arabian desert, the streets of London, France, China, India, Mesoamerica, and even under the sea – and to other time periods, while always remaining universal and timeless.
These films made me think wonderful thoughts. I said that She-Ra was responsible for my feminist sentiments. Well, she was part of it, but I’d say that she comprised about 10% (a tremendous 10%, though) of my introduction to female empowerment. The rest was all Disney. She-Ra didn’t have the same staying power, so Disney films (the whole shebang, or SHE-bang if you prefer), were infinitely more important in shaping my ideas of femininity, and I’m glad and grateful that they were. It’s rather remarkable that these positive representations of women came from virtually all men (seriously, check the credits) in a time when girl power wasn’t exactly cool in society. The Disney heroines are such empowering, glorious female role models and icons. How delightfully progressive.
When they say that every little girl wants to be a princess, it’s true. Why? For the answer, look no further than Walt’s vault of girl-centric goodies. Yes, Walt Disney is the reason that all little girls want to be princesses. I know I did. I’m sure there are some feminazis out there who scoff at the prevalence of princess-hood in Disney movies and get huffy because they think it’s a negative, old-fashioned representation of feminine oppression. To them I say: Get over yourselves. Join us rational people back on Earth, won’t you? Not everyone is out to get us. That poisonous anti-Disney argument couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s just absurd. The Disney women rock. They make me proud to be a woman. And seriously, there are far worse aspirations than wanting to be a princess. In fact, the princess notion taught us to strive for greatness and never settle. Be a princess. Be royalty. You deserve it. That’s awesome! Disney women are so strong, and that message of strength and empowerment was what I absorbed from them and the films. I wanted to be a princess when I was a little girl, but I wanted to be a princess who looked great, wore fabulous dresses, AND kicked ass. I knew we could have it all. Thank you, Mr. Disney.
The scene with the Fairy Godmother singing “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” and transforming Cinderella, the pumpkin, and the animals for the ball is one of the most magical in film history. That glittering white dress she wears to the ball is exquisite. Some people think it’s blue, some think it’s white. I say it’s white. I’ve always believed that and still do. Regardless, it’s beautiful. It’s one of the best, if not the very best, of the princess dresses. Every girl (and woman) wants Cinderella’s dress. In fact, I wore a dress to my senior prom that looks like it. Now that I think about it, I must have been subconsciously influenced by Cinderella in my choice. All I knew was that I wanted to look like a princess for prom. I know that Snow White is historically significant, but I don’t care for it. As far as I’m concerned, Cinderella is the pinnacle of Disney excellence during Walt’s lifetime. It’s the quintessential fairy tale. It set the royal standard. And speaking of royal, the Cinderella castle is unquestionably Disney’s most recognizable piece of architecture. It’s the foundation, the most prominent fixture, of two of the theme parks (Tokyo and the main one, the big kahuna - Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida). Let’s be honest here: Disneyworld is way better than Disneyland in California. And the Cinderella castle of Disneyworld puts the Sleeping Beauty castle of Disneyland to shame. If you still need more convincing about the film’s significance, the Cinderella castle is also the Disney logo. Case closed. How’s that for cinematic longevity and influence?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that The Little Mermaid contains the best songs of any Disney film. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are gods. All of the songs are knockouts. Even the seemingly trifling “Les Poissons” is hilarious. “Part of Your World”, “Under the Sea”, and “Kiss the Girl” – be still my heart. It doesn’t get better. Who doesn’t want to live under the sea after watching The Little Mermaid? Sebastian is so damn convincing with the elaborately exciting “Under the Sea.” I have a phobia of fish, and even I want to live there! I want Flounder as my best friend. Jodi Benson made “Part of Your World” iconic. She’s outstanding as Ariel. The “Kiss the Girl” sequence gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Sebastian wanted to create “the mood,” and he sure succeeded. It’s so romantic, and the animation takes my breath away every time. The ending is one of the most suspenseful of all Disney films (maybe the most, actually). As a young girl, I was petrified of Ursula, and that electrocution is damn freaky. Oh, it’s all so good. It’s a beautiful, timeless story. The Little Mermaid is pure, magical perfection. I love it so much. It’s so hard to pick the very favorites out of my ten favorites, but this is in my top two. Why else would a 26-year-old have “Kiss the Girl” as the ringtone on her cell phone?
The relationship between Belle and the Beast and how it develops is divine. The Beast, as the beast, is the most fully-realized Disney male. I mean, I guess he is as a man, too, but we only really know him as the Beast. And come on, who doesn’t prefer him as the Beast? Even Belle looks a bit disappointed for a second when he transforms, which I think is fascinating. The voice work is all amazing – Robby Benson as the Beast, Richard White as Gaston, David Ogden Stiers as Cogsworth the clock, Jerry Orbach as Lumière the candlestick (I’m floored that Jerry “Law and Order” Orbach did this voice – he’s fantastic!), Bradley Michael Pierce as the adorable cup Chip (the cutest little kid voice in all of Disney), and, of course, the luminous Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts the tea kettle. Can you imagine anyone else but Angela Lansbury singing the titular song? The animation is gorgeous, and the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken songs are incredible (“Belle”, “Be Our Guest”, and my favorite, “Something There”). Cinderella’s ball gown is spectacular, but the heavenly yellow dress Belle wears to dine and dance, while Lansbury sings “Beauty and the Beast,” is the best of all the Disney dresses. THAT’S the dress that every girl and every woman wants. It’s exquisite. And speaking of exquisite, let’s talk about that phenomenal sweeping shot from the ceiling over the chandelier and down to the polished floor with Belle and the Beast dancing. Best Disney shot ever. There are no words to describe it adequately. When I see it, I gasp, I cry, I get all fluttery, the wind is knocked out of me, and my stomach and jaw just drop. It’s truly awe-inspiring. That shot is the very definition of magic. Actually, so is the entire film.
That being said, I want to talk a little more about the films. I know it’s a common belief that The Lion King is the best Disney film ever made. It is not. I loved it when it came out (I was 13, of course I did!), and I still think it’s great, but it hasn’t held up as well as the other three Renaissance films – The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. It’s diminished over the years. The opening sequence is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on film, period, but the rest is pretty banal by comparison. I don’t think it’s as special as the other three. I’m sure the absence of the dynamic songwriting duo of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, the maestros behind The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, has a lot to do with it. Without their music, those three wouldn’t be half the movies that they are. Also, I just think those three are better stories. They’re infinitely more timeless and universal, especially The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.
I want to make that clear, too. I think The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast are better than Aladdin. I mean, they’re significantly better, almost in another league. But I fully stand by my opinion that Aladdin is one of Disney’s best, equal in greatness to anything put out pre-Renaissance. The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast are Disney’s crowning achievements. They are better than all other Disney films, from Snow White on. They’re the best. That’s all there is to it. The four Renaissance films just exist on a whole other plane of filmmaking than the old classics. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin (I really don’t care for The Lion King anymore, even though I respect it) have a new dimension, a connection to reality, that the old films lacked. There’s more depth and substance. These characters were the first fully three-dimensional that Disney ever created. Oh, and to put the Princess issue to rest, Belle is my favorite, followed closely by Ariel and then Jasmine. They're fantastic, empowering female role models. You go, girls. Anyway, while I hate to admit it, the Renaissance films make the older films feel trite and adolescent to me. I adore the Walt-era films, and I know that without them, we never would have had the Renaissance at all. The old classics serve their purpose, but they have definitively been outdone. The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast surpass anything that came before them.
I was at exactly the right age at the right time when the blessed Renaissance occurred. I was 8, 10, 12, and 13 when The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King came out, respectively. I was enamored. The wonderful thing is that they, for the most part, are just as miraculous as they were then. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin haven’t lost the magic when many others have for me. The timing was perfect, and these films were always going to be more special because I lived through them firsthand. I want to reiterate that The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast are in a class of their own. They’re the best of the best. No other Disney films can touch them. Aladdin is excellent and just as special to me in its own way, and it's terribly underappreciated, but it’s no Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid.
It’s sad to see what’s happened to Disney. The Renaissance officially ended with The Lion King. We just got lucky with Mulan and The Emperor’s New Groove. Disney as we know it is gone, and it’s not coming back. I don’t think there will ever be another Renaissance. I’m just lucky and grateful that I got to be there. I only wish that Walt could have been there, too.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977):
Fun and Fancy Free (1947):