It’s hard to rank the Disney animated films, and not just because there are so many of them. These are films that mean so much to so many people, that are inherently linked to powerful memories of childhood and have informed what we so many adults consider magical. Ranking their respective strengths and weaknesses becomes as much an investigation of why you loved something as it is to their relative worth as a creative endeavor. (Divorcing yourself of those emotions is mightily challenging.) Still, I tried to do just that, and wanted to share stories from the making of the movies as well, so you know just what went into that film’s success (or lack thereof). So, yes, this is a history lesson as much as it’s a critical appraisal. (My primary sources were Disney War by James B. Stewart, Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, and Walt Disney by Neal Gabler, plus the fantastic documentary films Waking Sleeping Beauty and Walt and El Grupo. I heartily recommend them all.)
But please, let us know in the comments what you think of this list, what Disney films you continue to revisit, and which of these 58 you hadn’t ever even heard of until this list.
And if you feel inspired to check some of these out on Disney+, here’s a list of everything currently available to stream on that streaming service.
58) Chicken Little (2005)
The mid-2000’s where an interesting time for Walt Disney Animation Studios; they had all but completely abandoned the traditional hand drawn animation, with the satellite studios in Paris and Orlando quietly closing their doors as well (in 2002 and 2004 respectively). There was even an attempt to produce sequels to Pixar films without their involvement, thanks to a loophole in their original arrangement that Michael Eisner wanted to exploit (there was even an additional animation studio – Circle 7 – set up in Glendale to handle the sequels). And in this chaotic time WDAS was trying to reinvent itself as the fresh, edgy, computer-generated studio of tomorrow. It was as messy and aimless as the animation studio had been since Walt died, and was marked with the same kind of creative and financial uncertainty. And into this Chicken Little was born. This is a movie that made no impact. You don’t see plushes of the characters in Disney Stores and you don’t see them walking around Disneyland or Walt Disney World shaking peoples’ hands. It has all but evaporated from the public consciousness and for good reason: it’s really pretty bad. Originally envisioned as a more unconventional story about a female Chicken Little and her relationship with her father, it transformed over the years into a kind of sci-fi comedy, with the “sky is falling” referring to an alien invasion. (Okay.) Mark Dindal, who had previously directed the deeply brilliant The Emperor’s New Groove, feels lost with the extra dimensionality and the animators, learning an entirely new methodology, aren’t exactly on their game. This is probably the ugliest looking Disney movie ever.
57) The Fox and the Hound (1981)
Dear lord this movie is boring. It’s somewhat historically important because it was the last movie to be worked on by some of Walt’s legendary Nine Old Men, who then handed the animation duties off to a new generation of talented artists, many of whom would be responsible for shaping the next few generations of Disney animated features (among them: John Lasseter, Tim Burton, Ron Clements, John Musker, Mark Dindal and Brad Bird). Also of note was the fact that that during production Don Bluth, one of the company’s star animators and someone who many saw as the heir apparent to Walt Disney, staged a major defection with several other animators and left the studio, something that effectively waylaid the production (with 17% of the staff gone the release date was pushed from Christmas 1980 to summer 1981). Clearly the creative tension between the old guard and the new crop of animators left its mark. You can feel a better movie trying to get out from under the cutesy, cloying façade of The Fox and the Hound but sadly it never happens. (And just imagine if they had gone through with a sequence involving game show staple Charo as a crane singing a song called “Scoobie-Doobie Doobie Doo, Let Your Body Turn Goo.” Actually maybe that would have been incredible.) Sure, it’s cute, but can you really remember anything besides the bear attack sequence and Pearl Bailey singing “Best of Friends?” Didn’t think so.
56) Home on the Range (2004)
For a while it looked like Home on the Range would be the last traditionally animated movie Disney would ever release. And if that had been true it would have been a truly inglorious demise. Home on the Range, originally envisioned as an ambitious supernatural western called Sweating Bullets (it went into production shortly after Hercules), soon mutated into a dinky musical comedy featuring three female cows (Rosanne Barr, Judi Dench, and Jennifer Tilly) who attempt to stop a cattle rustler (played, in his waning days of sanity, by Randy Quaid). It is, no joke, a huge waste of time – humorless, slack, and featuring unimaginative character designs and backgrounds. The only highlight (and a relatively dim one at that) is the villain’s big musical number, “Yodel-Adle-Eedle-Idle-Oo,” which at least sees them channeling some early Disney weirdness. Thankfully there would be more traditionally animated movies released by Disney, so even its place in the historic Disney canon has been diluted.
55) Dinosaur (2000)
If it turns out Jon Favreau‘s The Lion King remake uses live action plates that the animators will then superimpose hyper-realistic characters upon (and I can’t get confirmation that this has been completely ruled out), just know that there’s a precedent for this kind of thing. And that it’s awful. That was the conceit behind Dinosaur, a bold, ambitious, and utterly boring experiment that was a production handled by both Walt Disney Animation Studios and The Secret Lab, a hybrid effects and animation house that Disney had set up in a state-of-the-art facility near the Burbank airport. What began in the 1988 as a stop-motion project, to be directed by Paul Verhoeven with animation overseen by the legendary Phil Tippett, soon became a rather cookie cutter tale of family and survival rendered in thoroughly unconvincing and instantly dated computer animation. The first ten minutes of the movie, a wordless odyssey that followed an egg as it was about to be hatched, is magnificent but the rest … not so much. Everything about it is both absurd (so many lemurs) and banal; it’s a movie that has the highest possible stakes (the end of the world) but can’t muster much energy or emotional investment. The film, released a few weeks after the BBC special Walking with Dinosaurs (which employed literally the same live action plates and animated characters approach), felt like yesterday’s news before it even came out. Extinction couldn’t come soon enough.
54) Bolt (2008)
Walt Disney Animation at its most inoffensive, Bolt features a talented team behind the camera, including future Big Hero 6 director Chris Williams, the Tangled creative team of Byron Howard and Nathan Greno, and a script co-written by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, but lacks anything remotely interesting, either technically or storytelling-wise. The fact that it is coherent at all is something of a miracle, given that its production aligned closely with the contentious “Save Disney” campaign that would end with Michael Eisner being ousted and Bob Iger paying a hefty sum for Pixar and its creative principles to run all of Disney’s animated output. Originally the film was called American Dog and was being written and directed by Chris Sanders, the prickly genius behind Lilo & Stitch and a longtime Disney story artist (his storyboards for The Lion King will make your jaw drop – and those were only storyboards). That film, had it seen the light of day, would have been heralded as an offbeat masterpiece, mark my words. But new boss John Lasseter, now finding himself in charge of Disney animation as well as Pixar, disliked Lilo & Stitch and thought American Dog‘s story was too problematic (he couldn’t get over the idea that humans could understand animals when they were talking to them). Sanders was relieved, the new (extremely talented) team was installed and the narrative became much simpler and less fussy. Bolt is workmanlike, for sure, and it’s probably a good thing, for the overall health of the studio, that it went a more conventional route. But American Dog (along with a few others) remain a damnably tangible what-if that makes Bolt look like less of a film than it already is, for better or worse.
53) Oliver & Company (1988)
If you’ve ever wondered where the painfully “hip” DreamWorks Animation movies began, well, here’s a good place to start. Originally pitched by animator Pete Young in one of Jeffrey Katzenberg‘s infamous “Gong Show” pitch meetings where animators would throw out ideas and bad ideas would be “gonged” out of the room (the pitch was simply “Oliver Twist with dogs”), it sparked to Katzenberg’s desire to make a big budget movie out of Broadway standard Oliver! while at Paramount Pictures. Now he could do it! With dogs! While a modest hit at the box office, the movie is a creative disappointment (and many at Disney shared this opinion at the time). The grab bag of pop musicians and musical personalities wedged into the movie (among them: Billy Joel, Huey Lewis and Bette Midler, who was something of a Disney stalwart at the time) in a desperate bid for contemporary relevance made for a less cohesive vibe. It is worth noting that this is the first Disney animated feature to showcase the lyrical abilities of the legendary Howard Ashman, who along with Alan Menken would go on to become a key component of Disney’s renewed popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was also the first film to ditch actual paint; the movie was largely colored instead by the CAPS system that was developed with the help of a struggling computer firm in Northern California named Pixar. (The Rescuers Down Under would be the first film to utilize the process completely.) While these are interesting asides they add nothing to the actual enjoyment of the film, which feels lame and disjointed.
52) The Black Cauldron (1985)
This movie is terrible but the stories that came out of it are beyond delicious. More than ten years in the making (the rights were first optioned in 1971 and Disney reacquired the rights last year), The Black Cauldron was the first Walt Disney animated film to feature computer-generated imagery, the first to have a Dolby Digital soundtrack, the first to be rated PG and the first to extensively use 70mm since Sleeping Beauty in 1979. It was the nadir of the post-Walt period; the production was wasteful, exorbitant and creatively unfocused. And that was before Roy Disney, Walt’s nephew and a key board member, saw a rough cut of the film and was horrified by what he saw as excessive violence. He suggested trimming bloody sequences but according to James Stewart‘s Disney War, confessed to producer Joe Hale, “I just don’t understand the story.” But that was nothing compared with the reaction it elicited in Jeffrey Katzenberg, the newly installed head of animation who had followed Michael Eisner from Paramount. “This has to be edited,” he proclaimed. “Animated films can’t be edited,” Hale informed him. Katzenberg stormed into the editing room and had to be talked out by Eisner, who informed him that Roy could handle the situation. The movie was postponed a year, with more of the objectionable material taken out and additional dialogue recorded. When Roy appeared on The Today Show and was asked what the movie was, he couldn’t say. When the film finally opened, it lost at the box office to The Care Bears Movie. The reign of Disney was official over. They had hit bottom. And watching the movie now, it doesn’t hold up any better. It’s still ugly and muddled, with simplistic designs (and this is after they had coaxed Milt Kahl out of retirement to do additional conceptualization). John Hurt as The Horned King, though, is the stuff of nightmares and is easily one of the scariest (and most underutilized) Disney villains ever (there used to be a very creepy Audio Animatronic version of the character in Tokyo Disneyland – YouTube it). The Black Cauldron is a noble failure but that doesn’t make it any more interesting or watchable.
51) Saludos Amigos (1942)
The first in a series of more economically manageable “package films” that could be produced utilizing the diminished resources of the studio during World War II (when the Burbank studio was occupied by military personnel and produced a number of educational films) and the first film inspired by Walt’s government-sponsored goodwill tour of South America (more on that later), Saludos Amigos is more fascinating than lovable. The film is mostly notable for its colorful introduction of Jose Carioca (voiced by Jose Oliveira), the Brazilian, cigar-chomping, samba-loving parrot who served as Donald Duck’s confederate. Of the film’s segments, the most memorable is “Pedro,” about an anthropomorphic plane delivering mail in Chile (he follows a similar path to the one Walt took). This sequence was so good, in fact, that it was released as a stand-alone short by Disney’s then-distributor RKO.
50) Three Caballeros (1944)
The follow-up to Saludos Amigos and the second of Disney’s World War II-era “package films” to be inspired by Walt’s ambassadorship to South America. (Briefly: the State Department, desperate to drum up support in South America, sent Walt on a goodwill tour of the region. Walt, who brought along a small team of artists, saw it as a way to creatively recharge his batteries.) Three Caballeros is the more fun, energetic version of Saludos Amigos, and has another all new character to join Jose and Donald: Panchito Pistoles (Joaquin Garay), who was meant to represent Mexican culture. It also introduced Aracuan Bird, a weird South American bird of indeterminate origin who would go on to make several more appearances alongside the more popular characters. Although considered one of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ animated classics, the film features liberal use of live action footage, most of it featuring popular cultural figures from the time (Aurora Miranda, Dora Luz, etc.) This is a movie that is lively and weird, especially during the kaleidoscopic “Donald’s Surreal Reverie” sequence which is trippier than anything the studio had done outside of the “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence from Dumbo and all of Fantasia. Three Caballeros has had a surprisingly long shadow, as well, thanks largely to their appearance (complete with the magic carpet from the “Mexico: Pátzcuaro, Veracruz and Acapulco” section of the movie) in Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros, the attraction at the heart of the Mexico Pavilion in Epcot Center’s World Showcase at Walt Disney World. Ole!
49) Meet the Robinsons (2007)
This is an odd transitional feature in the company’s history. During production Disney had announced that it was acquiring Pixar and that John Lasseter, visionary filmmaker and Pixar bigwig, would be leading the charge on all animated features. When he saw Meet the Robinsons, he cornered director Stephen Anderson and told him how the movie could be improved. (The New York Times claims the meeting lasted six hours.) The movie ended up being pushed back and the film heavily reworked (something like 60% of what had previously been done was thrown out). It’s unclear if the earlier version of the film would have been much better, but the version of Meet the Robinsons that was released was fairly undercooked. There are some great things about this family comedy-cum-time travel tale, in particular Danny Elfman’s score and some nifty shout-outs to the Tomorrowland section of the Disney Parks, but overall this feels like the pilot to a series we never get to watch. There are so many characters, each one of them thinly sketched, with very little in the way of resolution (or even a clear emotional through line). It was the work of a studio on the precipice of renewed greatness but this one is … not great.
48) Make Mine Music (1946)
The third of the World War II-era “package films” designed to keep the studio afloat while the actual physical studio was being occupied by the US military and forced to churn out artful propaganda films, Make Mine Music has slightly more prestige (it was entered into the Cannes Film Festival) and a handful of memorable pieces, but like the other films in this series feels like what it is – a collection of unrefined ideas shoved next to one another and released theatrically. (There are ten segments and yet the movie barely cracks an hour runtime.) The more memorable sections of the film include “Blue Bayou” (beautiful and melancholic, it was originally planned for Fantasia and served as the inspiration for one of Disneyland’s most famous restaurants), “Casey at the Bat” (based on the Ernest Thayer poem, recited here) and “Peter and the Wolf” (genuinely gorgeous, based on the Sergei Prokofiev composition with narration by Sterling Holloway). The film (originally titled Swing Street) was not one of Walt’s favorites (the animators agreed, referring to it as a “remnant sale”) and critics usually effusive about anything with the Disney name attached to it were indifferent. Still, it made a profit so more films in the style were produced. The remnant sales continued.
47) Fun and Fancy Free (1947)
Instead of a plethora of shorter films, Fun and Fancy Free was sliced right down the middle (like one of Mickey’s beans), featuring two tales that were originally developed as feature films before stalling. That meant that one half of the film was devoted to “Bongo,” a story about a circus bear who finds himself back in nature (a storyline that would be recycled decades later in films like Bolt), narrated by Jiminy Cricket; and “Mickey and the Beanstalk,” the far greater section of the film, which put Walt’s most famous character in the classic fairy tale. (This had been an idea that had been proposed as early as 1940 as a feature entitled The Legend of Happy Valley.) “Mickey and the Beanstalk” was narrated by Edgar Bergen, who Disney biographer Neal Gabler noted as “one of the very few people” Walt socialized with. While the Mickey section of the film is superior, it also suffers a bit from casting Mickey as just another character (a similar fate befell the Muppets when they were being forced into classic literary adaptations), as Gabler also notes. Maybe it’s telling that this was the first film where Walt didn’t exclusively voice the character himself. Instead, he called sound effects man Jimmy Macdonald into his office and told him he didn’t have the time anymore, although its been theorized that his voice, which took on a gravelly quality due to his chain-smoking filter-less cigarettes, probably had something to do with it. Macdonald would voice the character for the next 38 years. So while the Mickey in this film had drifted far away from the Mouse that was so beloved, it was the start of a version of the character that would last for the next several decades.
46) Melody Time (1948)
Maybe the most uneven of the “package films,” there’s also some lyrical beauty to be found in Melody Time, which, despite its ups and downs, makes it the best of the bunch – or at least the most interesting. Originally intended as an anthology of American folk heroes (only two are left in the final product), it serves as a kind of half-formed follow-up to Fantasia, which despite its commercial success was still seen as a creative north star. Of the seven short sections, most are at least entertaining and some are downright stunning. “Once Upon a Wintertime,” with its bold, graphic aesthetic and wordless storytelling, is something of a Disney holiday classic; there’s a kind of odd beauty to “Trees,” due mostly to its use of “frosted” cells to convey its storybook origins; “Pecos Bill” is a rousing salute to American mythmaking; and “Blame it on the Samba” features our friends from Saludos Amigos, which is fun. Ultimately, Melody Time (like the other package films) sits awkwardly between an overlong “Silly Symphony” and the grand ambition of Fantasia. When the film was released it failed to recoup its hefty $2 million price tag, blamed (by Roy Disney, at least) on a polio scare that was keeping children away from movie theaters. The result was layoffs at the studio and a three-week Hawaiian cruise for Walt. He wanted to forget about work for a while. It’s easy to understand why.
45) The Rescuers (1977)
Remembered now more for the single-frame splice of a pornographic film into the background than for anything in the actual movie, The Rescuers is intermittently charming but mostly flavorless and limp. Originally attempted years earlier with The Jungle Book favorite Louis Prima in a prominent musical role (he’d also play a singing bear), it was put on hold after the singer discovered he had a brain tumor. Instead, two other Margery Sharp stories were adapted and combined to form The Rescuers. The idea of a pair of animal detectives attempting to solve a crime in the human world is an ingenious idea (the original poster promised “mystery,” “fun” and “intrigue”), and Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor are terrific performers, gamely suited for animation. (Just think about Newhart’s flawless cameo eulogizing Krusty on The Simpsons or Gabor’s superior performance in The Aristocats.) But the movie feels listless and the animation style (referred to as xerography due to the animator’s lines being copied onto cels), which is charming in other films, feels cheap and unfinished here. The hairiness of the lines adds a seedy quality to the entire enterprise (which was fully pulled into the mucky depths by that animator splicing a shot from an adult film into the background of one of the scenes). The most memorable aspect of the film is probably Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page), a blustery villainess that was originally supposed to be Cruella de Vil and was eventually modeled on legendary animator Milt Kahl’s ex-wife (seriously). The characters of Bernard and Bianca would be revisited years later in a superior (and still oddly overlooked) sequel, the first in the history of Walt Disney Animation Studios.
44) The Aristocats (1970)
This, of all things, was the last film approved by Walt Disney himself before his untimely death in 1966. Originally conceived as twin episodes of his prime time television series, Walt liked the story (by Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color writers Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe) so much he suggested it might work better as an animated feature. Even with more than two years work put into refining the storyline, the movie often feels worn and like a lesser version of better Disney films (101 Dalmatians specifically). The vocal performances by Phil Harris and Eva Gabor are aces, as are the songs by the Sherman Brothers (“Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” and “Thomas O’Malley Cat” are certifiable classics). But even the songs have a kind of bittersweet quality to them; this was the last film that the Sherman Brothers would work on for the company, finding the professional atmosphere at the studio toxic following Walt’s death. (They wouldn’t return until The Tigger Movie in 2000.) This was a period of listlessness and creative uneasiness and in The Aristocats … it shows.
43) Robin Hood (1973)
Check your nostalgia: Robin Hood isn’t very good. It was born of many abandoned ideas and half-baked inclinations – Walt Disney wanted to do something with Reynard the fox, a medieval character that was initially to serve as animated vignettes to be incorporated into Treasure Island; an animated adaptation of popular play Chantecler (the main character was a rooster) had been developed but floundered; and designer Ken Anderson had successfully rallied support for an all-animal version of Robin Hood set in the deep south (an idea that Song of the South had already soured). The resulting film is neither fish nor foul (nor fox), a loose collection of classic tropes, undeniably wonderful character designs by Anderson (although it always bothered me why Sir Hiss, a snake, was furry) and animated sequences that were literally recycled from earlier, far better animated features. (While some find it ugly, I’m a big fan of the look of the Xerox photography process, which gave the lines a kind of raggedness.) Robin Hood is painfully evocative of the films that were made in the aftermath of Walt’s death, with creative principles too busy wondering what Disney would have done (or liked) that they never thought to innovate for themselves. It has its charms and it was clearly an influence on last year’s Oscar-winning Zootopia but Robin Hood is far from a classic.
42) Pocahontas (1995)
Yes, Pocahontas is gorgeous, with its sharp graphical aesthetic that is reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty and “Once Upon a Wintertime.” It’s directed by two of Walt Disney Animation’s very best, Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg. There are a couple of catchy tunes. But, and I apologize to your nostalgia-worshipping inner child when I say this, it’s also pretty lousy and a sobering reminder that pedigree does not equal entertainment value. Gabriel’s original pitch, utilizing an image of Tiger Lily from Peter Pan, supposedly received the quickest green light in the history of the studio. (This had to do with a number of factors, including the rapid-fire way that movies were pitched back in the day, the alluringness of the image Gabriel had created, and the studio’s long held desire to make an animated version of Romeo & Juliet.) Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, for his part, thought it could be another Beauty and the Beast, while Disney chief Michael Eisner worried that it couldn’t live up to the standards of the recent slate of hits and nitpicked details of the story and music.
Ultimately, Eisner was right. The film just doesn’t work as well as it should. It’s both too heavy and, at the same time, the attempts to alleviate the darkness just come off as tonally inconsistent and out-of-place. You can feel it strain to maintain its seriousness, even during sequences with talking trees or comedic pugs. It’s puffed up by its own inflated sense of self. “Colors of the Wind” is a showstopper, for sure, but otherwise can you name another song from the movie (besides the incredibly questionable “Savages”)? While the character has maintained a fair degree of popularity due to her inclusion in the Disney Princess consumer products line, the movie has largely faded from memory. (Not that it was a smash to begin with; compared with those earlier releases from the same timeframe, it underwhelmed critically and commercially, although a rousing Pocahontas-themed ride was planned for the eventually-defunct Disney’s America theme park.) In every sequence of Pocahontas you can feel its good intentions but those same intentions are what make it feel so safe and boring. Quite frankly it could have used a little savagery.
41) The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
This charming collection of shorter adventures featuring Winnie the Pooh featured three sections had already been released theatrically and a fourth was newly created for this program. Included here are arguably the most famous stories, including “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree” and “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day,” and since these features had already been produced they boast a murderer’s row of talent, including but not limited to animators and story men like Ken Anderson and X. Atencio and songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman. It’s also heavily cited that technically this was the last film that Walt himself personally worked on, since he had a hand in both “Honey Tree” and “Blustery Day.” The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is arguably the most iconic, classic representation of all of the Hundred Acre Wood pals and the vessel to which they were introduced to a huge global audience. (Eventually, the Disney company would outright own the character, purchasing it decades later from A.A. Milne’s estate.) Ultimately, it’s only undone by the start/stop nature of its structure and for being a package film made up of older, previously released material instead of one new, longer story. That would eventually happen, but many, many years later.
40) Fantasia 2000 (1999)
Walt had always wanted to do another Fantasia. Before it was released he hypothesized that it could have run for decades, with an occasionally new segment being added to appease new audiences. While work on a follow-up was flirted with in the early 1980s, it wasn’t until Fantasia was released on home video in 1990 and sold 15 million copies (!) that company head Michael Eisner gave the project a green light. (Jeffrey Katzenberg always hated it and it remained a passion project of Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew.) By all accounts the production was a nightmare as Roy and his collaborators trudged through pieces of classical music and debated endlessly as to the style and direction the different segments should take. The fact that everything took so long makes the final decisions even more baffling (“Pomp and Circumstance” as a weird comic retelling of Noah’s Ark with Donald Duck as Noah? Really?) but, while the general quality fails to reach the astronomical heights of the original, the sections that are good are really, really good. In particular, the jazzy “Rhapsody in Blue” section, animated by the great Eric Goldberg and based on the caricatured style of Al Hirschfeld, is a standout. As is “The Firebird,” a sweeping, quasi-spiritual successor to the “Night on Bald Mountain” section of the original, this time with a gentler, more environmentally conscious message and even dreamier visuals (accomplished via a romantic combination of traditional animation and computerized effects), based on Igor Stravinsky‘s ballet of the same name. While Fantasia 2000 didn’t make the same impact as the original Fantasia, there were a number of nifty exhibitions of the film, including a limited run that featured a full orchestra (each of these performances cost the company over $1 million) and a wider IMAX presentation.
What’s even more surprising is that at least two sequels were in development following the film’s release (that I know of); one was based on world music and had several segments go into production (when the project was scrapped these segments were released as short films) and the other based on a handful of ideas concocted by Goldberg himself. It’s a shame that Fantasia 2000, which today plays like an instant time capsule thanks to its late-’90s-specific guest appearances (who invited Penn & Teller?) was the end of the line for the Fantasia brand. The original project was so innovative and it was clearly so close to Walt’s heart that to have the franchise end this ingloriously, with an uneven feature that most people skipped, is a huge disappointment no matter how you slice it and what pretty music is playing in the background.
39) Treasure Planet (2002)
Director Ron Clements, who would go on to create some of the most unforgettable classics during the so-called Disney Renaissance, didn’t have the same clout in 1985. Back then he found himself taking part in one of the “gong show” pitch sessions that Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg would conduct, wherein animators would quickly pitch several ideas that were either accepted or dismissed, right there on the spot. Two of Clements’ ideas that day were rejected. One was for The Little Mermaid (dismissed because it was too similar to Disney’s recent live-action hit Splash) and the other was something Clements described as “Treasure Island in space.” (According to author James B. Stewart, Eisner gonged the idea, partially because he knew there was a Treasure Island-style Star Trek sequel in the works at Paramount.) When Disney was trying to get Hercules off the ground, after a failed development period on an Odyssey animated feature, they went to Clements and his directing partner John Musker and told them they could finally make their “Treasure Island in space” movie if they’d just get Hercules across the finish line. They agreed.
But by the time Treasure Planet (as it was eventually known) was in development, Atlantis: The Lost Empire had come out, a similarly themed (and more importantly, identically marketed) animated sci-fi film had come out and been ignored by audiences. The weekend after Treasure Planet opened to a lackluster box office tally, Disney brass announced a nearly $75 million write-down on the film, the largest in the history of animation. Still, the movie was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and there are some cool things about it. But as a whole it doesn’t work nearly as well as it should, feeling like any number of anonymous animated features from that same period (hello Titan A.E.!) The translation of Robert Louis Stevenson‘s classic tale to an intergalactic setting is surprisingly seamless (the script was worked on by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, Clements and Musker’s collaborators on Aladdin and co-architects of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), even if some of the ideas and character designs don’t quite work (WTF is globular sidekick Morph about anyway?) Maybe most damnable is how little you see Clements and Musker in the work. These guys are classic filmmakers who know how to reinvent and subvert both audience expectations and the original source material, but here the storytelling feel stale and desperately striving for relevance (it’s not enough that Jim Hawkins has a cool alt-rock haircut in this movie but he is also a surfer). Still, this is a movie that is handsomely produced and has a number of wicked technological innovations, like John Silver’s computer-generated mechanical arm. You just wish that it was a movie so spectacular that it would justify the decades of painful development. Maybe it was right to be gonged.
“Joe, you, uh, look different somehow.”
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