Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs didn’t just change the face of animation back in 1937; it changed the face of movies forever. What wasn’t possible before the release of that film was suddenly a feast of possibility, with Walt Disney jump-starting a medium that would provide a wealth of glorious movie-making for the next eighty years to come. Let’s look back at the five best Disney animated movies, excluding the Pixar collection and any short films…
5. The Lion King (1994)
There were three Golden eras in Disney animation. There was the initial era from 1937 to 1942, the beginning period of feature-length animation that included five classic films. The second era took place in the ’50s, starting in 1950 with Cinderella and ending in 1959 with Sleeping Beauty. The third golden era of Disney animation started with The Little Mermaid in 1989 and ended with The Lion King in 1994. This third golden era provided four of the richest, most entertaining, and most emotionally satisfying animated films Disney, or any other studio, has ever made. This fifth place slot can really almost work as a tie between The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, two magical films, but the final yard touchstone has to go to The Lion King. It’s terrifying, it’s touching, and it’s still an absolute knockout.
4. Cinderella (1950)
The best film of the second golden era is, again, kind of a tie between Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. While Sleeping Beauty wins technically, with its supremely detailed, eye-poppingly rich widescreen animation, Cinderella pulls ahead because of its more charismatic array of memorable characters. How can anyone forget that stepmother Lady Tremaine, so deliciously evil the way she treats Cinderella, yet so droll in her appearance. The mice are great fun, the fairy godmother is a hoot, and the surprise that occurs after the stepmother breaks the glass slipper marks one of the great, uplifting Disney movie endings.
3. Aladdin (1992)
The more subversive, funny entry in the third golden era of Disney animation, Aladdin is just as awesome today as it was to young audiences back in 1992. It’s not exactly emotionally complex, but boy is it fun, with one crackling scene of entertainment after another. The screenwriters did everything right, first off making the genie a wise-cracking motormouth, voiced by the late genius Robin Williams. The animation has moments of awe, particularly the escape from the Cave of Wonders on that magical rug. Nothing beats the many joys of one of Disney’s best, Aladdin.
2. Pinocchio (1940)
Consider this one last tie, this time between Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. While Snow White is clearly the more important, groundbreaking film of the two, Pinocchio took all the great elements introduced in Snow White and pushed them five times further, with a story that’s more immediate and darker than its predecessor. Pinocchio is the classic Disney masterpiece, and it still holds up as a wondrous piece of animation seventy-six years later. It’s shocking to think that this movie wasn’t a huge success back in 1940, because audiences wanted a story more cuddly and familiar to Snow White. Clearly, as is the case with all movies, time put Pinocchio in the light it deserves.
1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
It’s the quintessential Disney animated movie. Everything works in Beauty and the Beast. The story, characters, songs, animation — everything — make up the best work Disney has ever done and will probably ever do. It’s one of those rare movies when all the pieces come together to form absolute perfection. The screenplay moves at crackerjack speed, and the songs are so good that three of them got nominated for Academy Awards. Oh, and speaking of Academy Awards, this film remains the only animated feature film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, when there were just five nominees and no Animated Feature category. Even the Academy members, who for many years liked to treat animation as mere kids stuff, had to admit there was something special about this landmark movie. Beauty and the Beast is pure delight from beginning to end.
Watching Like a Writer
There are so many takeaways from Beauty and the Beast for a fiction writer, but one I always go back to is that the protagonist is allowed to be a strong, confident woman who is far more interested in books than she is the hunky guy in town. I think it’s always compelling in a story to feature a heroine who’d rather curl up with a good book on the couch then go after a man.
Look at the main female character in your work-in-progress and write down three traits that make her unique.