I haven’t done a straight Disney post for a while and I thought it might be fun to go through the decades of Disney and pick one movie I think is overrated, and one underrated. The overrated movies are not bad movies (except for 1). I like all Disney movies to one level or another and there are only 4 that I have no desire to ever see again. (Any guesses?)
1937-1942 Early Era
I don’t think any from this era are overrated. They are all great. That said, I like Pinocchio. It is brilliant, a masterpiece, but it is so dark and scary that it is not one I want to rewatch much. I would give it an A where most people give it an A+ so only a small difference (I had a B in my original review but I’ve thought on it and would give an A now). It’s a morality tale and sometimes that can be a little heavy handed and the Pleasure Island sequence is especially chilling particularly the kids turning into donkeys for the salt mines (holy crap that’s scary!). However, I LOVE the music, animation, and heart! I appreciate a lot more now as an adult than I did as a child but unlike Hunchback which goes too far IMO this is still watchable scary for kids. Just not a favorite of mine even though I recognize its many great qualities.
Dumbo I think unfairly has a reputation as being racist and so people stay away. The crows are a caricature but I never found them demeaning or insulting. Perhaps I am not culturally sensitive to that group but they are happy and cheerful, nothing childish or patronizing. Even if you fast forward the crows (a small scene) the rest of the movie has such heart and teaches about accepting others with differences- just the message some fear the crows are against.
I love the relationship between Timothy Mouse and Dumbo and Mrs Jumbo and her son. The artistry is also simple but beautiful.
1942-1949 Package Era
Overrated- Fun and Fancy Free
None of the package movies are really rated very highly but I got a lot of pushback on my Fun and Fancy Free review because people have nostalgia for Mickey and the Beanstalk. I wonder how many have really seen it recently? It is pleasant and Crazy Donald is cool but it is also predictable and kind of slow. But it is harmless enough. What I really didn’t care for was Bongo- the story of a circus bear who learns how to slap people to show them how much they love them. What a great message for kids!
I am also not a big fan of the interruptions from Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen at a little girls birthday party. I know they are legends but it didn’t make me laugh and felt a little awkward.
Underrated- Melody Time
I find Melody Time to be one of the more palatable of the package films because although it has 7 shorts it focuses mainly on 2 longer segments- Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill. Appleseed I love but may be less agreeable to non-Christian viewers. It looks like it was picked up off a Grandma Moses painting and the story is sweet and music lovely. Pecos Bill is also beautiful to look at and a very funny Western tall tale.
1950-1959 Post War Era
Overrated- Peter Pan
I like Peter Pan but unlike Dumbo I think people have a right to complain about the Redman song. It is pretty bad and long. Plus, everyone is so mean to Wendy and she doesn’t really do anything worthy of the ill treatment. It also resorts to slapstick a lot. Most of it I think is funny but it gets a little old after a while. Still, the artistry is lovely and music great. It’s a solid, entertaining movie, just not a favorite of mine.
Underrated- Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland isn’t for every taste so I think that is why it gets a bad rap. If you can just take off your normal linear storytelling hat and appreciate something different you will be dazzled. It is supposed to be nonsense, not have a plot. The movie is Alice being introduced to a variety of unusual creatures and I think it is brilliant. The artistry is so much fun with the great Mary Blair’s visual style and the music is wonderful too. Even after seeing it many times I find myself curious for what Alice will find next on her journey. It’s great!
1960-1979 Sketch Era
Overrated- Sword in the Stone
This is another film I think a lot of people have a fondness for out of nostalgia more than it actually being a good movie. I was honestly being generous when I gave it a C-. I hated the way it looks. Everything looks like it has been painted over with blue and gray and feels dirty. But most importantly none of the lessons Arthur goes through teach him anything about being a King or make him qualified to take the sword out of the stone. Let’s see- he learns to be saved as a fish by Archimedes, make a squirrel cry as a squirrel and have Merlin battle Madam Mim as a bird. How does any of that relate to being a King? The songs are fun I will grant it that.
Underrated- Robin Hood
The movie even Disney is embarrassed by because of the recycled animation. I’ve thought about it a lot and decided I don’t care about that. It’s just a technique like CG, hand drawn, stop motion, and if the story is good than the technique doesn’t matter to me. Not that Robin Hood is a perfect film. I think it is one act too long and gets a little too melancholy in the 3rd act. But I love the dry English wit and pithy dialogue. It’s funny with a great villain and solid music.
Overrated- Fox and the Hound
Fox and the Hound is a fine movie but I’ve seen it pretty high on some lists and it is far too corny for me to take seriously. I mean there is an extended poem with violins playing in the background. If that’s not corny I don’t know what is? And the characters are kind of one note although the message about friendships changing is a good one. I hate the female characters who are just man (or dog/fox) candy. I am not a fan of the dopey music and the bear scene while striking feels like it belongs in a different movie.
Underrated- Great Mouse Detective
Those of us who are in the animation fandom may think I’m nuts for saying Great Mouse Detective is underrated but I think if you asked the world at large many are unaware of The Great Mouse Detective. It’s not a perfect movie and is pretty scary for little tikes but the energy of Basil and Dawson and the great performance by Vincent Price as Ratigan make it thoroughly entertaining. The scheme is over-the-top like a Bond villain and the animation is lush including the terrific use of computer animation in the clocktower segment. The only part I dislike is the stripper song at the bar which I fast forward.
Overrated- Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hunchback of Notre Dame is kind of the opposite of Great Mouse Detective. The hardcore Disney fandom loves it, where most normal moviegoers I know greatly dislike it. We’ve hashed this out a million times on this blog but my main issues are the tonal shifts it takes between obvious appeals to children to adult-appropriate cruelty and messaging. The movie is visually striking but I found myself either disliking or feeling ambivalent towards every character. The change of Frollo to a judge from the Archbishop actually makes the church look worse by being inattentive and enabling a madman. The music is wonderful and it is some of Disney’s best animation but I just can’t get over that tonal see-saw and the cruel imagery for a film marketed and made for children. They should have just gone all adult and I would have gone for it.
Underrated- Rescuers Down Under
This movie hits a couple happy buttons for me. I love action adventure movies with treasure hunts and clues. To me RDU tapped into that formula and was so much fun. I also love scenes in movies where characters fly and this has stunning flying sequences with Marahute. I also had extremely low expectations because I hate the first one. RDU tempers the meanness of the first by only having McCleach in the movie for about 12 minutes and Cody is rarely alone. There is way more hope throughout and John Candy is hilarious as Wilbur the albatross who is operated on by crazy mice doctors (still one of the funniest scenes in all of Disney!).
2000-2009 Post Renaissance
Overrated- Brother Bear
Finding an overrated movie in this period is hard and Brother Bear has a bad rotten tomatoes score and is at the bottom section of most people’s list so how can it apply? Well, I guess this is degrees. I thought it was total junk. I disagreed with literally every decision they made. Most people give it a ‘stupid but harmless’ pass but I hated everything about it- the voice acting, predictable story, terrible character designs, awful background songs, strange singer choices, unlikable characters, annoying side characters, humor that doesn’t work (most jokes aren’t even jokes, no punchlines given…), ending is unbelievable and it had potential which made their terrible choices even more maddening. I would way rather watch Brave than this and I am not a big Brave fan but in the world of Disney turning into bears movies this is by far the worst. It was nominated for an Oscar I remind you!
Underrated- Meet the Robinsons
Meet the Robinsons is not a perfect movie by a long shot but I think many were so upset by Chicken Little they didn’t give this a fair shot. It’s a lot of fun and very clever. It is too cluttered but it is also kind of a puzzle I had fun putting together. The Bowler Hat villain is creepily drawn and you will never guess his surprise! The characters are engaging and fun and the story has a lot of energy, zipping around all over the place. And I almost always like a time travel story so this just worked even with its flaws. Give it another shot and I bet you will find some things to like.
2010-Present Revitalization Era
Overrated- Wreck It Ralph
Sorry guys. I like Wreck-it Ralph but it is an average Disney for me not a top tier film. I love the setup. I love Ralph but I do not like Vanellope or Sarah Silverman’s vocal performance. The villain is very clever but they spend way too much time in Sugar Rush and I’ve seen lots of worlds that look like Sugar Rush. After a while it kind of looked like one of the new Care Bears movie backdrops. I love the music, and what they were going for but it loses me. It should have been more like The Lego Movie or Monsters Inc in the door scene and skipped between lots of the games. That would have been much more entertaining to me. Again, not terrible. I like it. I own it. I just don’t think it is the masterpiece others think. Plus, the other movies in the era are in my top 10 except for Winnie the Pooh which I love and Princess and the Frog which I feel is perfectly rated.
Underrated- Winnie the Pooh
I don’t know if I think any of the films from this era is underrated but like Great Mouse Detective I think 2011’s Winnie the Pooh has been largely forgotten by the general public despite getting good reviews and praise of many hard-core fans. This is a movie that takes its target demographic of little children under 3 seriously and is gentle and sweet and I loved it. Aside from a few of the voice actors and Christopher’s eyes it is lovely story of the gang trying to find Eeyore’s tail and prepare for the coming of the Backson. I love the music and the animation is wonderful. I love that this movie was made for little children with no attempts to wink at adults and even the short running time is perfect for the attention span of toddlers.
And please save your conspiracy theories. This was not a carefully constructed film to justify the closing of the 2D department. That is so asinine. If Disney can make money on 2D guess what they want to make money. That’s what a business wants to do…It’s not as good as the original but a worthy sequel in spirit and feel- an lovely homage you might say.
So there you have it. I’m sure you will have lots to say. Remember I like all of these movies except Brother Bear. I love Disney movies! Share with me what your over/under would be for the eras I mentioned? Always be respectful and we can have a spirited debate. Thanks!