Greatest Shots in Disney Animation

(Welcome to The Greatest Shots in Disney Animation History, a limited series where Disney expert Josh Spiegel selects and ranks the defining moments in one of the greatest, most important, and most influential collections of films ever made.)

This part of the ongoing list covers entries 60 through 51.

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Disney Plus Free

Impossible though it may be to believe, we’re just one year removed from the first day that Disney+ was made live to the general public. Yes, it’s true. One year removed from the first episode of The Mandalorian, one year removed from Disney+ including generalized language warning parents about potentially inflammatory content, and one whole year removed from the fad known as MacLunkey. (Remember MacLunkey?)

A year later, Disney+ has become one of the most powerful streaming services available, though partially for reasons entirely outside of its control. The pandemic has made it so the service vastly surpassed even its highest ambitions for subscriber counts in just a year, with over 60 million worldwide. Disney+ has also become, due to the pandemic all but wiping out the movie-theater experience across the world, the place that you can go to watch new Disney content, from the current season of The Mandalorian to the filmed version of the trailblazing musical Hamilton to the upcoming streaming exclusive of Pixar’s Soul.

But there’s always room for improvement, and Disney+ is no different. So today, as we celebrate the streaming service’s first birthday, here are five ways that Disney+ can improve in Year Two.

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Greatest Shots in Disney Animation

(Welcome to The Greatest Shots in Disney Animation History, a limited series where Disney expert Josh Spiegel selects and ranks the defining moments in one of the greatest, most important, and most influential collections of films ever made.)

This part of the ongoing list covers entries 70 through 61.

Read More »

(Welcome to The Greatest Shots in Disney Animation History, a limited series where Disney expert Josh Spiegel selects and ranks the defining moments in one of the greatest, most important, and most influential collections of films ever made.)

Walt Disney Animation Studios has, over nearly 85 years, created 58 animated feature-length stories that have encompassed a vast swath of ideas, characters, and worlds. What began as a way to visualize some of the most well-known fairy-tale myths in Western literature is now a proving ground for ambitious stories, and equally ambitious ways to visualize those stories. 2020 marks an important anniversary for two of the studio’s oldest and most beloved films: Pinocchio and Fantasia both turn 80 this year, with Pinocchio’s American premiere on February 23 and Fantasia’s on November 7. (Let’s not forget Cinderella, which turned 70 on February 15.)

I have, in the last few years at /Film, been extremely fortunate to honor the legacy of Disney’s animated films in a few ways. I’ve ranked all of the songs in Disney and Pixar films. (How many songs, you ask? Oh, just 368.) I’ve ranked the films of both Disney and Pixar. For Pinocchio’s 80th anniversary, sure, I could have talked about the movie itself earlier this year for the anniversary — it’s my favorite animated film ever. But I figured I would zig instead of zag. Or, if you like, I felt like being ambitious/insane with a new list.

In honor of the Pinocchio and Fantasia anniversaries, here’s a ranking of the 80 best shots in Disney’s animated films. This list is limited, to note, just to the 58 Walt Disney Animation Studios titles (not Pixar), and not every title is represented. But it is ranked, and I’ve got proof in the form of GIFs and YouTube videos. So, let’s dive in.

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Rarely is it a good sign when a feature film opens with a dictionary definition, especially when the word being defined is pretty familiar to most viewers. Perhaps the best that can be said about the new Norwegian-American thriller Mortal is that after defining the eponymous word, the film mostly avoids being quite so thuddingly obvious. (Did anyone out there need to be reminded what that word means?) But the disadvantage for a film such as this, attempting to deconstruct the superhero mythos in dark fashion, is that it arrives so late in the superhero craze that it adds nothing to the conversation that films such as Chronicle did nearly a decade ago.

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What Happened to Robert Zemeckis

Nine days before Halloween 2020, with very little pomp or ceremony, the streaming service HBO Max released a new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel The Witches for the hopeful viewing pleasure of its subscribers. The film boasted Academy-Award winning talent both behind and in front of the camera. Playing the Grand High Witch, that nefarious sorceress who wants to turn the children of the world into mice, there was Anne Hathaway chewing the scenery up and down with a blonde wig and an accent located somewhere north of Transylvania. As a feisty grandmother, there was Octavia Spencer dishing out tough love with some CGI mice hanging around her jacket pocket. 

But you can be forgiven for missing out on The Witches. This film, like so many others in 2020, was originally intended to be released theatrically before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and upended the plans of so many mice and men. Instead, at the beginning of October, HBO Max announced the arrival of The Witches to its streaming shores and then, poof, there it was. Watching The Witches is a traumatic experience. For the 1990 version directed by Nicolas Roeg, it’s traumatic because the film’s special effects, camera tricks, and Anjelica Huston performance scarred so many children. For this version, it’s traumatic because the film is…well, pretty terrible. It’s worth noting here is that the remake came from a pretty impressive source behind the camera, making the film’s poor quality all the more frustrating: Oscar-winning writer/director Robert Zemeckis.

It’s a song you’ve heard before, though, with Zemeckis: a filmmaker so focused on the perceived possibilities of special-effects technology that he misses the CGI forest for the character-driven trees. Zemeckis’ career is defined by his adoration of technological breakthroughs, but it often has come at the expense of good filmmaking. Here’s the rub: it all started with what is arguably the best film he’s ever made, and arguably one of the most important and influential films of the last 50 years: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

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(Welcome to Out of the Disney Vault, where we explore the unsung gems and forgotten disasters currently streaming on Disney+.)

As they’re sometimes wont to do, Disney made news a couple weeks ago. For once during the pandemic, the news was unrelated to the theme parks, their continued closure in California, or their stripped-down operation in Florida. Instead, the news focused on where Disney began: its earlier animated and live-action features. More specifically, the news focused on the dark side of where and how Disney began, acknowledging its racially and sexually insensitive material in films like The Aristocats, Dumbo, and The Jungle Book

If you’re a Disney+ subscriber and play those titles now, you’ll see a generic message letting you know that the film you’re about to see has something offensive that was treated as unproblematic upon release but is now correctly seen as Not Great, Bob! The message also encourages the viewer to visit a website that’s intended to explain how stories matter – stories of all kinds and shapes, highlighting the diversity that Disney is trying to achieve now while also describing and calling out the films they released that failed to represent diverse cultures effectively.

Most of the titles receiving this treatment are old-school animated classics. (Even though I strongly dislike The Aristocats, I feel slightly bad for the 1970 animated feature because no one at Disney realizes they have excluded the word “The” from the title.) But another film getting this title card is our column’s subject: the 1960 adventure adaptation Swiss Family Robinson.

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In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • Disney California Adventure is partially reopening its doors.
  • Epcot’s first 2021 festival has been scheduled.
  • And more!

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Disneyland reopening

In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • Layoffs sweep through the Walt Disney Company.
  • Entertainment is being scaled back at Walt Disney World.
  • And more!

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Cool Posts From Around the Web:

Clouds Review

The new film Clouds is perfectly harmless, which feels almost required to mention up-front. The true story on which the film is based, derived from an online phenomenon, feels like it belongs to a different era of the Internet, when people could spend a day or two on social media focusing on nothing more than a feel-good story. And those involved in the making of the film have uniquely close ties to the subject of the story, a teenage boy stricken with cancer who turned his terminal illness into a way to provide inspiration to others through song. Clouds is nice and well-meaning, but also very much like its title, wispy and transparent and easy to look past.

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