I think it's rather interesting only one movie appeared on both of the lists. It makes sense, though; there are several Disney movies that I respect for the innovation they must have been when they debuted, but I don't actually like them all that much. Also, there are movies that I know are not quite the cream of the crop, but I love them anyway. So here we go...
Note: The movies aren't ranked from best to least of the five; they're listed chronologically. I think they're all equally special, just for different reasons.
Top 5 Disney Movies: Personal Favorites
1. 101 Dalmatians
I know, an animal movie! It's shocking, right? But 101 Dalmatians is an incredibly good movie. The animation has this awesome sketchiness that really complimented 1950s contemporary design, and the story moves at a quick and snappy pace. Characters are well-developed, even when they only get a few minutes of screen time, and Cruella de Vil is one f*cked up fashionista. I LOVE HER.
2. The Little Mermaid
First of all, this movie came out at the perfect time: it's a princess movie, it's a mermaid movie, and it came out when I was five and a half years old. That, my friend, is the sweet spot for princess marketing. Of course I loved it. How could I not? Plus, it's a friggin' Broadway musical, with beautiful songs and some excellent lyrics. Throw in some great character design - Ariel's pretty, Eric's good-looking, Ursula is the scariest drag queen I ever did see either on land or underwater - and amazing animation, and it's no wonder that this movie pretty much saved Disney Animation Studios.
3. Aladdin (Runner up: The Emperor's New Groove)
These movies are just really, really funny. Neither of them strikes me as particularly innovative in their use of animation. Aladdin does some interesting things with CGI for the carpet and Cave of Wonders, and The Emperor's New Groove has an anarchic quality to the character movement found in no other Disney movie. But In fact, a small part of me secretly hates Aladdin because it was Robin Williams' performance as the Genie that really kickstarted the whole celebrities-as-voice-actors phenomenon that has, frankly, done more to poison animated movies than any other single factor. But these bright, upbeat movies leave me in stitches every time.
I spent my entire childhood waiting for my Asian Princess to show up, and when she finally arrived Mulan did not disappoint. She was noble, brave, tough, and clever - everything a girl should be! Never mind that she hasn't a drop of royal blood nor a royal beau to elevate her upon marriage, this warrior was awesome. That said, Mulan nearly got knocked off this list thanks to the inclusion of Mushu, a character that has not aged well and may well be one of Disney's worst ideas and.
5. Lilo and Stitch
It's soooo cute!
This is just a well-made movie in every respect. The animation is beautiful, with a lovely round softness. The story focuses on family relationships, with a good balance of real life problems (moving past the death of parents, caring for a child when practically a child yourself) and fantastic situations (aliens and spaceships!) Lilo and Stitch has a lot of the charm that made Calvin and Hobbes so appealing; throw it all into a tropical paradise and it's impossible not to fall in love.
Top 5 Disney Movies: Best Movies
1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
I don't actually care for the character of Snow White. She's pretty weak and helpless and has a voice that can shatter glass. But this movie was the first full-length cel-animated feature, and that is incredible. No one thought a cartoon could maintain an audience's attention for an hour, but Disney proved them wrong with this masterpiece. The animation was groundbreaking at the time, and it still looks pretty good today. Snow White's run through the forest is freakin' scary! Disney also showed a knack for adapting old stories for new audiences, and by developing individual personalities for each of the dwarfs and expanding the role of the prince, he changed the way Snow White was told to future generations.
To me, Fantasia will always be the brilliant concept that just didn't work out. Disney had come up with a brilliant idea: setting a visual sequence to music was an idea that worked in his Silly Symphonies shorts and obviously worked wonderfully for MTV and its music videos. Fantasia was a financial bomb for the studio, and I can see why. It's freakin' long and it's hard to sit through so many shorts. But the animation was top quality, and some of the pairings of music and story were truly inspired. The Nutcracker Suite? Brilliant! NIght on Bald Mountain! Stunning! I still love the idea of swapping segments out and re-releasing the film every few years - wouldn't we call that a film festival today? - and hope that someday, it'll happen.
Why do I like Dumbo? It is an exercise in restraint. The animation is lovely, but there was nothing especially groundbreaking about it. The story is concise, tight, controlled - the entire movie is only 64 minutes long. There are a few songs, but they all move the story forward. (Well, maybe not Pink Elephants on Parade but goodness that trippy segment is FUN!) It's very refreshing to watch Dumbo after sitting through a few movies that have twice its length but only half its heart.
4. Sleeping Beauty
It's really important to for a movie to be unified. All elements need to work together in harmony, and that they do in Sleeping Beauty. It's a very deliberate movie. The backgrounds are incredibly detailed and layered. The figures trend toward angles and geometric shapes. The colors are bright, but flat. It's less a film, per se, as a moving stain glass window or tapestry. I think it's one of the "artsiest" films Disney ever made, and I love it. Plus, y'know, Tchaikovsky's score - can't go wrong there!
5. The Little Mermaid (Runner up: Beauty and the Beast)
As I said before, The Little Mermaid pretty much saved and defined what a perfect Disney film should be. The formula that worked here - a Broadway style song-and-dance fairy tale with action, adventure and romance - succeeded far beyond any expectation. Beauty and the Beast came along two years after The Little Mermaid and proved the formula was solid by doing it just as well - or, some might argue, even better - than its predessor. Even now, whenever the studio's slipping and needs a solid hit to bolster the Disney reputation, they turn to The Little Mermaid for ideas.