Best and Worst of Disney 1937-1959

As I have been doing my reviews people have asked me ‘what is your favorite of what you’ve reviewed so far?’  It’s tough because I like all of them for different reasons.  But I thought it would be fun to give some highlights of the first 20 years of Disney which I just finished by reviewing Sleeping Beauty.

Overall Best Film-  Cinderella

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It’s really hard to decide but I’d pick Cinderella because it has the whole package.  It’s got a likable heroine who we actually get to know,  great songs, it’s got artistry in scenes like Sing Sweet Nightingale, a terrific villain in Lady Tremaine,  brilliant voice work and just the right touch of humor.

Overall Worst Film- Three Cabelleros and Fun and Fancy Free

fun and fancy free postercaballeros

I gave 2 films D grades, Fun and Fancy Free and Three Cabelleros.  FFF I thought was just lazy.  The Bongo story is odd and kind of slow. Mickey and the Beanstalk is fine but not great. If it was a little tighter with a better villain I would have enjoyed it more.  Three Cabelleros is in my opinion worse than Saludos Amigos because it only has 2 shorts and then there are songs where the characters are shouting and lots of Donald chasing human women.   They aren’t awful but just for Disney they are weak entries.

Best Artistry- Fantasia

Alice in Wonderland is amazing but Fantasia is like a combination of the greatest art gallery in the world and symphony in one experience.  It blows me away.

Fantasia isn’t really entertainment . It’s goals are bigger than that.  It is trying to inspire creativity in hopes the viewer will not simply absorb art and music but give their own spin on it, their own interpretation. It inspires me every time I watch it and I think people who don’t like it just don’t like classical music.

Strangest Scene- Dumbo

Pink Elephants on Parade

It’s like every bad dream you’ve ever had jumbled into one crazy sequence.  It is also comes from Dumbo and Timothy getting drunk which is strange and has absolutely no purpose in the story.   I love it!

Strangest Character- Make Mine Music- Willie the Whale who sings Opera

Is that not one of the oddest images you've seen?
Is that not one of the oddest images you’ve seen?

willie2 willie the whale

Make Mine Music was full of strange moments but Willie the opera singing whale was the strangest.. He just looks so strange.  He looks like  a giant chalkboard eraser. And why did he have to die?The narrator actually tells the children watching  “Willie’s singing was a miracle and people aren’t used to miracles.  And you faithful friend don’t be too sad because somewhere in whatever heaven is reserved for creatures of the deep Willie is still singing”  That’s such a strange message for kids.  ‘people don’t like miracles and so they kill them and send them to whale heaven.”

Scariest Scene- Pinnochio Pleasure Island.

As terrifying as The Headless Horseman is nothing will ever top little children being turned into donkeys to be sent to salt mines. And it is even scarier to know it is never resolved.  Pinocchio escapes but that’s it.  Nobody saves the kids or turns them back or anything.  It’s nuts!

Best Villain- Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty

crow

From Captain Hook, to the Devil, to Lady Tremaine all the early villains are good, but Maleficent is all of those villains put together in as she puts it ‘the mistress of evil’.  She’s over the top, funny, creepy, and gives the best fight of any villain in any Disney movie.  It actually feels like she might get away with everything when she enchains Prince Philip in her dungeon.  It isn’t until the 90s we get such a great Disney villain.

Best Song- When You Wish Upon a Star- Pinocchio

I could have also picked ‘A Dream is a Wish’ from Cinderella but it is very similar in message to When You Wish.  They are both great melodies and have words about hoping for goodness and happiness in life.

Worst Song- Say it with a Slap- Bongo from Fun and Fancy Free

Here’s a great message for kids- when you really love someone slap them as hard as you can… (Red Man song from Peter Pan is probably the worst but the melody is actually catchy, just the words super uncomfortable)

Best Original Score-  Bambi

Clearly Fantasia should be the winner but since it is using classical music, Bambi wins because it’s music actually becomes a character within the story.  It animates the forest with wind, rain, and other sound effects in the score.

 Saddest Moment- Dumbo- Baby Mine

Bambi’s mother dieing is very sad but we haven’t gotten to know her very well and it all happens quickly, not giving us much time to process it before we are moving on to love in the Spring.  Dumbo’s encaged Mother singing him a lullaby is a long scene, a beautiful song and a tender moment.  It’s sad but not in a bad way.  Dumbo is such a satisfying picture because it has moments of all different emotions- fear, anger, laughter, sadness etc.

Funniest Moment- Peter Pan- Hook and the Crocodile

I had forgotten how much slapstick is in Peter Pan and it is all done very well.  I laughed throughout the film.

Most Romantic Moment-  Lady and the Tramp- Spaghetti

I think spaghetti became romantic food because of this scene.  Great song, and about as romantic as dogs could be.  Such a lovely little movie.

Most Underrated- Melody Time

Melody Time is the strongest of the package films.  Make Mine Music is entertaining in a ‘so bad it’s good way’ but I genuinely liked Melody Time.  The Johnny Appleseed short is sweet with nice songs and Pecos Bill is fun, if a little bit too long.  It was tough for me to find but if you can hunt it down give it a watch.  It’s gentle and sweet and I liked it.

Most Overrated- Peter Pan

There is a lot to like in Peter Pan.  Don’t get me wrong.  I just wasn’t as enamored with it this go-around for some reason.  I don’t like the way Wendy is treated, especialy by the other female charcaters when she hasn’t done anything wrong.  The slapstick is funny but nothing too memorable.  The artistry and music aren’t great.  Love Tinker Bell and Hook but other characters are kind of bland.  It’s a lot of fun but not the masterpiece I remember it being.  Plus, we have the awkward Red Man song.

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Trippiest Movie- Alice in Wonderland

This movie is so trippy it doesn’t even worry about a plot.  It just introduces Alice and the viewer to character after character and I love it!

Conclusion

I enjoyed watching every single one of these movies.  And more importantly I learned a lot along the way.  Even a movie I didn’t love like Three Cabelleros was interesting because of it was requested by the US Government, and it was quite effective in winning the loyalty of the South American countries to our cause.  It makes the choices made in the movie interesting.  So, there is always things to like about any Disney.

Mostly I love the artistry.  I love movies but I think animation has a special ability to combine mediums and challenge the limitations of human actors in live action.  You can have a child turning into a donkey where in live action the scene would be very expensive.

I also feel inspired by Walt Disney to take some risks and try new things.  He was certainly willing to leverage years of hard work over risky propositions and I admire that.   Of the first 16 films what are your favorites and have my reviews made you curious to watch any of the movies?  I hope you do and let me know what you think!

Coming Up Next

Now on to 60’s and 70’s.  Both of these periods would be less productive for Disney.   In 60s Disney made and released 3 films:

1. 101 Dalmations

2. Sword in the Stone

3. Jungle Book

1970s

1. The Aristocats

2. Robin Hood

3. Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

4. The Rescuers.

So that will be my upcoming reviews.  Thanks for reading!  I’m having a blast!

8 thoughts on “Best and Worst of Disney 1937-1959

      1. Yeah, I would, at least in terms of my favorites. ‘Home on the Range’ still manages to keep me interested and somewhat entertained.

        ‘Fantasia’ just makes me wanna fast-forward until “The End”.

        But in terms of quality, I’d say that the WORST film in the Disney Canon is ‘Chicken Little’, although I do like it.

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      2. I actually havent seen chicken little but will be watching it in my series. I thought as a child fantasia was boring but when I thought of it like going to a symphony I loved it in a different way than most movies. More of a performance art experience.
        But it takes all types!🙂. Thank you for reading

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