The Best Disney Villains

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I  tried to whittle the list down to 10 but I ended up with 16 and I figured why not include them all?

So, here goes- the 16 best Disney Villains as determined by me.

16. Man with the Bowler Hat (Meet the Robinsons)- This was such a creative villain.  Everything about him surprised me.  I love his look and that he is a reminder even the most innocent of us can turn to a life of villainy if we aren’t careful (and get enough sleep!)

Bowler-Hat-Guy-Goob-disney-villains-2321212-320-20915. Yzma- Emperor’s New Groove– One of the funniest villains.  She’s got style and is a spazz.

yzma14. Prince John- (Robin Hood) It kind of pains me to have him so low but there are so many great villains.  This is another funny villain who is constantly sucking his thumb and crying for Mommy.  And yet he’s incredibly ruthless to all the people.  He’s probably the villain who does the most harm for the greatest number of people (Gaston, for instance, pretty much only hurts Belle and The Beast).   He’s also got that great English dry wit

prince john and hiss213. Shere Khan and Kaa (Jungle Book)-  Really the success of these villains has to do with the voice talent.  Sterling Holloway plays against type as the hypnotizing Kaa who oils his way around the room and Shere Khan voiced by George Sanders is very creepy and deeply voiced villain.

shere khan and kaa12. Evil Queen (Snow White) Another one that pains me to see it so low because she is so great but there are 11 I like even better.  Her transformation is amazing and she is so vain even being queen isn’t enough for her.  She isn’t content until she is better than everyone else in every way.

SW_Queen11. Ratigan- (Great Mouse Detective)-  the most James Bondlike villain of any of the Disney villain.  Not satisfied with a simple solution he makes everything as complicated as he can.  Amazing voice performance by Vincent Price, one of first great villain songs and hilarious to have a villain named Ratigan who becomes enraged when called a rat.

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10. Devil (Fantasia)- I know the devil should be higher because he’s the Devil! But it is a short sequence so I thought 10 seemed a good spot.  The artistry in Night on Bald Mountain is amazing.  The demons and spirits that the Devil rules over are gorgeous especially compared with the light and peace of the Ave Maria section.  It’s as stunning a depiction of good vs evil as in any Disney movie (or any movie for that matter).

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9. Captain Hook (Peter Pan)-  Another funny villain. The slapstick with the crocodile is the highlight of the movie but Hook steals every scene he is in.  He is sniveling, snide and extremely manipulative.   The way he interrogates Tinker Bell is intense.

peter-pan-1953-peter-pan-and-captain-hook hook and smee

8. Coachman, Stramboli, Monstro (Pinocchio)-  For my money the Pinocchio villains are the scariest because there is no sense of justice or retribution.  There is no humor or lighter side to them.  Just despicable, greedy, awful, terrifying people.  For the morality tale it is, they work perfectly.  I certainly wouldn’t want to sin if I knew they were at the end of every bad choice.  I mean the coachman turns little children into donkeys to work in salt mines for money?  Does it get more evil than that?

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7. Mother Gothel- (Tangled)- A woman willing to manipulate her ‘daughter’ and basically ruin her life for her own greed.  Make her a prisoner and brainwash her into believing she is doing her a favor.  That’s pretty bad.  I love Mother Knows Best because it takes the nurturing maternal nature of mothers and turns it on its head, uses it for bad not good.   It’s perfect.  She’s the closest Disney has come to having a true sociopath as their villain

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6. Gaston- (Beauty and the Beast)–  It seems to low but again there were simply 5 I like even better, but I love Gaston.  He is an interesting villain because in the minds of most people he’s the hero.  But like the Evil Queen in Snow White his lack of control over one person causes him to descend into madness.  He probably has the funniest villain song; although World’ Greatest Criminal Mind is a close second.  It’s not even really a villain song.  It’s just everyone telling him how great he is.  No wonder he thinks he should have his way!

5. Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)–  Otherwise known as The Wicked Stepmother, Lady Tremaine, gets 5th spot from me because she is so duplicitous even to her own daughters.  She plays the part of genteel and kind and then proceeds to make Cinderella’s life a living Hell.  She locks her up when she worries Cinderella’s foot will fit and she encourages the girls to rip off her dress, despite pretending to keep her side of the bargain.  She is like that women at work who makes your life a nightmare but then always tries to claim the high ground.  I love how her eyes are yellow with disdain.  She also has a cat named Lucifer!

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4. Cruella De vil (101 Dalmatians)- I love how her name has both cruel and devil in it but I still love her.  She is perhaps the most shallow villain.  All she cares about is looking good with her dalmatian furs.  That’s just hilarious and over-the-top but it feels believable in the story.  Her driving, the way she throws her hands in the air and even yells through the phone are all totally chilling and funny. I’m no animal lover but anyone who wants to kill 101 puppies just for her wardrobe gets top honors on the villainy tribe in my book.  Such a funny character and I love how she mocks Roger ‘Roger’s songs…’

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3. Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)- Aside from the Devil, Maleficent is the closest Disney got to a pure evil character.  She has horns for goodness sakes!  She is basically a She-Devil with all of his powers to create thorns, thistles, demons and pronounce curses on people who don’t invite her to parties.  That’s got to be the best part of Maleficent is that she curses Aurora to death for getting snubbed at the christening.

There are arguments for subtle villains who have good and bad but there’s also a case for going all the way in a fairytale.  Make your characters, the heroes, stand up against the ultimate evil.  That’s what made Harry Potter so good is there was no chance of redemption for Voldermort.  That bridge had already been crossed and he was evil.  I haven’t seen the new Maleficent yet but am highly skeptical.  By softening her it could take away what is the most special about her.

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2. Scar (Lion King)-  I remind you I gave Lion King #13 spot on my final rankings but Scar is a fantastic villain.  He’s smart, disdainful and murders his own brother with glee.  He may actually be Disney’s 2nd sociopath.  He’s convinced what he is doing is right even though it clearly isn’t.  He is completely selfish and has surrounded himself with people he can control.  (How brilliant to make hyenas who laugh his cronies).

What puts Scar so high though is Jeremy Irons voicework.  It is dripping with disdain as if he is condescending to talk to everyone at all times. His villain song, Be Prepared, is one of my favorites, both the actual song and the animation.  It’s the best part of Lion King and completely gripping.

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1. Ursula (Little Mermaid)-  As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog Little Mermaid was my favorite movie growing up and Ursula is a big part of that . She is so unique.  In a movie full of fish and mermaids, she’s an octopus with tentacles that cover the screen with their blackness.  She’s overweight and speaks like a chain smoker and is perfect.  I love how she looks like a combination of a drag queen and a truck driver.

And her villain song is brilliant.  Poor Unfortunate Souls is funny, manipulative and the perfect song to trick a 16 year old lovestruck girl.  She also equally villainous when she turns into Vanessa and for no good reason, she just is evil with those yellow eyes!

She also has a dishy motive of revenge on Triton.  She’s been banished and when the two spare off it is classic.

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Final Disney Rankings

So what you’ve all been waiting for! My ranking of the Disney Canon!

I will add in Big Hero 6 when I finish that review but here are my current rankings.  I’ll go least to best

54.  Dinosaur– slow, predictable, looks ugly, CGI is awful, attempt to be thoughtful ends up stupid, the writing was maddeningly bad

dinosaur poster53. Chicken Little– mean spirited, frenetic, unfunny, none of the episodes connect, animation underwhelming. Feels like they didn’t even try

chicken little52. Brother Bear– every choice was wrong.  Badly animated characters, strange voicework, predictable and unbelievable story, unlikable characters, underwhelming music, strange singing choices. The humor never works. Huge disappointment.

poster51. Home on the Range– Trots out tired ‘save the farm’ storyline, terrible puns, strange voice choices, underwhelming songs, jokes and illusions to westerns don’t work,  some of the animation is ok and the yodel song was well done. Otherwise skip.

poster50. Three Cabelleros– 2 ok shorts surrounded by lots of Donald shouting and chasing women around Rio.  Watch Saludos Amigos instead.

TheThreeCaballeros1944FrontCover49. The Rescuers- some nice animation but shrill,  mean spirited villain overwhelms the picture.  Not enough hope makes film feel depressing and cold.  Watch sequel instead

Rescuers_Poster_HQ48. The Aristocats– lazy mismash of 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp but with cats.  Duchess feels apathetic and bored. No sense of tension in the plot and chemistry between her and Thomas nonexistent. Designs and backdrops underwhelming and strange voice work. Lame villain who’s actions don’t really make sense. Some alarmingly bad animation where the mouths don’t quite match up with the vocals.  Ok songs.

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47.  Fun and Fancy Free–  Bongo is well animated but strange message and oddly paced, Say it with a Slap is one of worst Disney songs, Mickey and Beanstalk is Ok but feels kind of lazy and slow.  I like crazy Donald.  In between live action segments feel strange and unnecessary.

fun and fancy free poster46. Pocahontas– Savages is the films saving grace.  A wonderful number but Pocahontas is kind of an unlikable character.  She doesn’t listen and has no chemistry with John Smith.  The animation is boxy and too geometric and the villain with all his GOLD is so boring. Plus, it’s a real story, important to a people, which makes it more insulting.

pocahontas poster45. Hunchback of Notre Dame– Some good elements but the attempt to combine an adult story with juvenile elements creates a tonal mess.  Very frustrating. A man tries to dump a baby down a well after killing his mother, he sings a song about wanting to rape and kill another woman and he lights a house on fire containing a family inside.  And we have singing gargoyles! What was Disney thinking…

The_Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame-_199644. Fantasia 2000– Takes the original concept of concert films and turns it into a cheap celebrity clip show.  I hate the CGI. The music choices are strange.  Whole thing feels second rate except for Rhapsody and final number

Fantasia2000_Poster43. Sword in the Stone– The film everyone else likes but I don’t.  Arthur does nothing to prove he should be able to pull the sword in the stone.  None of his ‘lessons’ actually prepare him to be king.  On top of that it looks blue and gray and ugly throughout. Madame Mim isn’t introduced till end and it’s Merlin not Arthur that takes her on.  I don’t get why it’s so popular. Sherman Brothers songs are ok and duel is fun but again doesn’t have anything to do with the story and Arthur.

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42.  Bolt– Forgettable but enjoyable film. Decent vocal performance, fun story but nothing to spectacular.poster

41  Oliver and Company- A mess of storytelling, terrible villain, but some of the visuals of New York are nice, cool subway scene at the end and 2 dynamite songs.

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40. Make Mine Music– one of the strangest entertainment experiences of my life.  Kind of ‘so bad it’s good’.  Each of the segments in this package films feels so strange especially the story of the Whale Who Sings Opera, who they kill off and send to whale heaven for no reason except to teach kids that miracles don’t exist and people hate goodness and light (strange message). It’s so odd but oddly entertaining.

make_mine_music_poster39. The Black Cauldron- A lot of problems but I liked the villain and Gurghi’s sacrifice.  All in all I enjoyed watching it, even with issues.  It looks beautiful and score is fantastic. Terrible voicework throughout, and kind of unlikable characters with weak motivation but enough to keep me mildly interested.

the-black-cauldron-198538. Saludos Amigos– Disney’s goodwill mission to South America spawned this movie and it is better than Three Cabelleros.  First of all, it is shorter (45 min).  It has more segments and they are all pretty good.  Live action is tough to sit through but again it is short. Generic but entertaining.

saludos amigos

37. Meet the Robinsons– Nutty time travel story with a convoluted but entertaining plot.  Great and surprising villain.  A little cluttered but I enjoyed it. If you have a kid who likes things that are a little bit out there I bet they will love this movie.

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36. Treasure Planet- Beautiful steampunk look, but feels slow and story is the same old story from grade school we’ve seen a million times.  Unpredictable looks but predictable story. Plus, some of the world doesn’t make sense so it is hard to feel suspense or tension.

poster 35. Wreck-It Ralph– Fun premise of bad guy in video games who gets tired of being bad is fun but they spend too much time in Sugar Rush and some of the voice performances are annoying.  Could have been much better but still enjoyed it. A good villain.

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34. Fox and the Hound– A sentimental soapy flick if there ever was one but it embraces that soap so I enjoyed it. Bear scene very good but intense for small kids.  Friendship and forgiveness nice messages.  Music and female characters super bland

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33. Princess and the Frog- Looks beautiful and a wonderful lead character, Tiana, who works hard, sets goals and has a unique dream for a princess.  Dwells too much on occult, cluttered, shouty and underwhelming lead man and songs. Villain good but not my cup of tea

The_Princess_and_the_Frog_poster32. Peter Pan- Probably my biggest disappointment in rewatching the Canon.  It’s not bad but slower than I remember it mixed with slapstick that is pretty good.  The songs are ok except for Redman and You’re Mother is a snoozefest.  People are very mean to Wendy throughout especially the other female characters.  Still, it’s charming in it’s own way.

poster 31. Bambi- Beautifully drawn and I love how the score is the sound effects creating rain and fire so effectively.  Great voice work but the story is meandering and is basically a year in the life of a baby deer. Not enough to grip me although the death of Bambi’s Mom is traumatic, we haven’t gotten to know her very well and she is quickly replaced by a bland Faline. Still, I own it and enjoy watching it. It’s very good. (Bambi is our first B graded picture so I like all from now on a lot.  That’s 30 films with a B or higher!)

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30. Lilo and Stitch– LOVE, love, love the Nani and Lilo sections and Ohana themes.  Love Hawaii backdrop and the watercolors.  I love the Elvis music.  I do not love Stitch.  I wish they had gone more ET and less cockroach.  He’s too mean, takes it too far and looks too gross. But the stuff I like I really love

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29.  Winnie the Pooh– A worthy entry in the Winie the Pooh series.  Lovely, simple story for young children.  Not too scary and nice message.  Beautifully drawn and enough humor to entertain adults.  Voices are a little off but I enjoyed it. Love the music.poster

28.Hercules– a guilty pleasure of mine.  Disney’s first attempt at a super hero movie and I enjoy it.  I love the gospel muses and the music.  The villain is dry and funny and Megura is sassy and a lot of fun to figure out.  Pain and panic are very funny too.

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27. Tarzan- Looks gorgeous. The flow and feeling of Tarzan surfing on the trees looks great.  Jane is a lot of fun too and not always the damsel in distress we expect. Sidekicks are lame and villain a bore. Songs especially You’ll be in my heart are great.

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26. Melody Time– Aside from Ichabod and Mr Toad, my favorite of the package films.  Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill are lovingly drawn with good music and tightly written scripts.

melody time movie poster25. Pinocchio– I know some will be shocked to have this so low on the list but it is so grim and sad with no sense of retribution or punishment for the wrong doers.  I guess the kids just stay as donkeys.  Some of the story and design choices don’t make a lot of sense but as a morality play on film it works well and Pinocchio and Geppetto are both likable and the music is classic especially When You Wish Upon a Star.

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24 Robin Hood– Great dry wit and folksy music save this recycled animation cash grab.  It’s very entertaining and has some fun action sequences too.  It goes on for one act too many and becomes a little repetitive. Great villain.  I love it!

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23. Lady and the Tramp– Lovely Norman Rockwell style animation with an appealing dog couple (may be Disney’s best romance ever filmed…hmm).  Siamese song is a little insensitive but brief and then we never see them again which is strange.  They could have been more important to the story? Great side characters of Trusty, Jox and Trixie.  Fun jazz inspired score and songs by Peggy Lee. A little too predictable and syrupy to be in top 20 but close.

Lady-and-tramp-1955-poster22 Atlantis- A fun treasure hunt with eclectic cast of characters who are funny and surprised me from time to time. I enjoyed seeing an original land, language, culture.  Looks great.  Kind of like a cross between anime and comic books with a bit of steampunk thrown in.  In the minority on enjoying this picture, but I thought it was an entertaining adventure. Kida is a weak character but as she isn’t one of the core group it doesn’t matter too much. This is the first A of the list so the rest are all very strong.

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21. Emperor’s New Groove- More laughs crammed in than any other Disney movie and they worked.  Very funny script and appealing enough characters to support the humor.  Great villain, good voice performances.  Especially when you know the troubles they had making it, it’s a wonder it produced something so entertaining.  Creative story too.

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20. Aladdin- One of Disney’s best characters and certainly the funniest single character.  The Genie (aka Robin Williams) is hilariously spastic and full of energy.  Nice chemistry between Aladdin and Jasmine and she has more spunk than a typical princess. Jafar is an ok villain.  Animation is ok.  But nice messages throughout, great songs, and a very entertaining picture for both boys and girls (and parents!).

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19. Great Mouse Detective- Fun Disney take on Sherlock Holmes.  Ratigan is hilarious villain with a over-the-top scheme to take over England.  Basil and Dawson are very well done. The kidnapping scene at the beginning is pretty scary for young kids and the bat in the toy shop is a scary sequence.  The saloon song I could do without but all in all a very fun movie. First extended use of CGI is very effective.

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18. Rescuers Down Under- One of the rare sequels that is infinitely better than the original.  Much less of the villain.  Much more hope for Cody.  Bernard and Bianca are back and a lot o f fun. John Candy is hilarious.  Flying sequences gorgeous. Some of the CGI doesn’t hold up but for the most part a great adventure story.  Like Indiana Jones for little kids.  Underrated score by Bruce Broughton.

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17. Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad- Don’t really think of it as a package film but definitely the best of that era. 2 American stories Wind and the Willows and Sleepy Hollow are done very well.  Both dark in different ways.  Toad more of a morality tale and Ichabod a classic ghost story.  Basil Rathborne and Bing Crosby great as narrators.  Beautifully drawn with scares and humor balanced out perfectly.

Ichabod_and_Mr_Toad16. Snow White and the 7 Dwarves– Still holds up amazingly well.  Animation is beautiful especially in scenes like the transformation of the queen and the haunted forest.  Some humor and emotional scenes too.  Not a huge fan of the voice work and especially the high pitched singing.   Great villain who isn’t satisfied unless she is the best at everything. 2 leads are pretty bland but ok.

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15.  Big Hero 6– Maybe recency bias but I loved Disney’s first Marvel super hero movie.  It’s got heart, action and a script that surprised me.  Plus, it looks gorgeous and has a unique world with very likable characters.  I just loved it!

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14. Mulan– Love the character of Mulan who joins the army to save her father.   Li Shaang and rest of army appealing and fun.  Eddie Murphy very good as Mushu.  Completely forgettable villain given no nuance or subtlety.  A few minutes after couldn’t remember his name.  It also could be a hair shorter but I love it.

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13. Lion King- A lot of pop music in both the songs and pacing.  Draws you in.  Very entertaining.   Terrific villain and villain songs.  Mufasa’s death is heart breaking.  I love the message and story.  The humor can be a little annoying but I still love it.  Amazing Hans Zimmer score. Animation is stunning.

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12. Dumbo- Such a sweet movie about accepting differences and how they make us special.  A wonderful friendship between an unlikely pair of Timothy Q. Mouse and Dumbo.  Pink Elephants on Parade is brilliant.  Love the watercolors and simple backgrounds and feel of the circus.  I don’t think the crows are all that racist and it’s just a lovely little movie with huge heart.

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11. Alice in Wonderland- Not for everyone but if you can handle non0linear storytelling you will enjoy it.  It’s basically Alice meeting a bunch of eclectic characters in Wonderland.  It’s bright and colorful and clips along nicely.  Only part that didn’t work for me was the Walrus segment.  It stalls the story and I kept wanting to get back to Alice.  So much better than Tim Burton versoin.  Mary Blair drawings are stunning, bright and geometric.  It’s nutty and weird and you will love it.

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10.Sleeping Beauty- Gorgeous literary style animation.  It feels like paper dolls in segments.  One of most dynamic Prince in Disney.  Amazing villain who should have been invited to the party!  The fairies are fun.  The alcoholic fathers I could do without and Aurora is too perfect and bland but the Tchaikovsky’s ballet as the score is neat, the battle between Phillip and Maleficent is awesome.  A great movie!

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9. The Jungle Book- All comes down to the music and villains.  I hate the ending but Shere Kaun and Kaaa are very good villains.  All the voice cast is fantastic and it is edited so well.   Hardly a minute goes by without some action or a song.  It clips a long so well and is consistently entertaining.  Sherman Brother’s best music aside from Mary Poppins.

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8. Frozen-  A movie that showed a different kind of love- love of friendship and of sister.  The voicecast features the best singers of any Disney movie.  The songs are great.  The message of not being who you are raised to be is moving and powerful.  The animation is gorgeous.  Just enough humor.  I love it.

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7. 101 Dalmatians- Best of the sketch films by far.   Terrific and tense adventure.  Fabulous villain with Cruella Deville.  Lots of great characters and puppies are so cute.  The scene where they get to the truck disguised is a nail biter. All the side characters on the journey and the twilight bark are a lot of fun.  Roger and Anita are one of my all time favorite Disney couples.  I love it101 dalmations6. Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh– 4 lovely stories of our friends at the Hundred Acre Woods that are just about perfect.  Full of humor, great songs, and a little bit of zany scares with the Heffalumps and Woozles.  The ending is perfect and really moved me.  Winnie the Pooh symbolizes childhood and this movie is like a big hug.

The_Many_Adventures_of_Winnie_the_Pooh5. Fantasia- A stunning concert experience.  It’s like combining the best symphony and gallery you’ve ever been to into one experience.   The music is gorgeous.  The inspiration they get from the music inspires me to be more creative.  It’s not a movie in a traditional sense but an experience like Tree of Life.  I like all the segments but probably enjoy Sorcerers Apprentice, Nutcracker Suite and On Bald Mountain the most.   If it feels long divide it up and watch it over a week. Nothing wrong with that.  .  Those who hate this film probably aren’t the biggest classical music fans and wouldn’t find going to a symphony or art gallery very enjoyable. I loved it.

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4. Tangled-  Proof that Disney brilliance isn’t only in the Golden Age and Renaissance.  I LOVE the villain an villain song.  The idea of a mother manipulating her daughter for her own selfish desires is so evil.  The side characters including Maximus are great.  Rapunzel is so kind and likable.  We all know someone like her who is indecisive and naïve but charming.  Flynn is a wonderful narrator and a complex, funny character.  The animation is stunning especially the lantern scene in 3D.  It’s Disney’s first attempt at a romantic comedy and they totally pulled it off.

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3. Cinderella-  Just about a perfect movie.  Cinderella has warmth and kindness.  She works hard and tries to be optimistic.  Lady Tremaine is a fantastic villain who’s soul purpose seems to be to control Cinderella.  The scene tearing the dress is devastating because we saw how tenderly it was given to her by her friends. The mice are cute and loyal friends.  Small characters like Lucifer, Bruno, Archduke, and the King all have fun personalities.  The Fairy Godmother is perfect and the music sublime.  A Dream is a Wish is a favorite of mine and Bibbity Bobbity Boo a classic.  The Prince is bland and they fall in love at first sight but at least we have gotten to know him a little bit through the King.  It’s a great movie!

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 2. Little Mermaid– Truly my co-#1. I love Ariel’s journey to find out who she is and where she belongs.  I love her curiosity and determination.  I love Ursula and her drag queen crossed with a truck driver persona.  I love the music especially Part of Your World and Under the Sea.  I love the look of it and all the bubbles and colors.  It’s so well paced and the characters, even the Prince, have real heart.  They are all trying to do the right thing in their own minds.  It is also very funny with Les Poissons a hilarious slapstick number.  It was the most magical experience I had at the movies as a little girl and I just love it.

Movie_poster_the_little_mermaid1. Beauty and the Beast– and co #1 goes to Beauty and the Beast.  A perfect movie.  The music is stunning.   Belle is a fabulous heroine who we would all want to be friends with if given the chance.  Gaston is hilarious and his journey to madness very interesting.  The Beast is such a monster and yet he does change and grow until you are almost sad to see him turn into a human.  I could listen to Angela Lansbury sing the title song all day.  She is great in it.  Jerry Orbach as Lumiere is perfect.  I loved the broadway play and the movie is so entertaining.  The animation looks amazing.  The computer graphics hold up and still look fantastic.  It’s a stunning picture that will entertain the whole family no matter the age or sex.Beautybeastposter

Here is a video version if you prefer that.  If you are on youtube I would love a few likes.

Movie 33: Pocahontas

pocahontas posterA few days ago I did an informal poll amongst my friends asking ‘which Disney Renaissance movie is your least favorite?’.  While it had a few fans, the overwhelming choices were Pocahontas and Hunchback of Notre Dame and I’d  probably be right there with them. We will see what I think of Hunchback next but Pocahontas is not a strong film.  In fact, if I was going to give an F this might be it.  I’ll think about it while I’m writing this review.

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It’s kind of a mystery why Pocahontas doesn’t work with all the resources that were thrown into it.  As I mentioned in my last review after Aladdin the Disney team split into two projects with some going to Lion King and a larger share going to Pocahontas.  Most of the big names like Alan Menken, Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg, Glen Keane, Joe Grant and Chris Buck all went with Pocahontas because they thought it was  a more promising project.

While nobody is going to a Disney film for a history lesson it is at least worth noting the long list of things they got wrong in their first attempt to tell the story of a real person.

pocahontas inaccuraciesMost of these inaccuracies I don’t care about but the one I find most confusing is why did they age Pocahontas?  It’s a Disney movie.  Wouldn’t it be better to have it be about a little girl who jumps on the fire and fights for peace over war?  That sounds very interesting. Instead they took the Titanic route and made a by the numbers romance inspired by Romeo and Juliet more than what actually happened.

The reason I believe they went the way they did is the project was started in 1990 and what was a big hit in 1990?  Dances with Wolves.  A film that has not aged particularly well with the stoic natives teaching the white man the true way to live…

But it was a huge hit back then both critically and financially so it makes sense Disney would want to create Dances with Wolves Jr and that Pocahontas being a well known folk-lore it is a natural choice.

The story went through a lot of rewrites, which is why it took so long to make.  At one point it was to be a comedy with the animals talking and John Candy playing a turkey.  I loved him in Rescuers Down Under so I would have been curious to see what he could have done with it.  Unfortunately he died in 1994 so a new direction was taken on the film.

The voice cast is interesting.  I like that they got a number of Native American actors to do the tribe-members but I wish they had coaxed better performances out of them.  Russell Means is a wonderful Native American actor but his line readings to me felt very stale, like he was reading off of cards not having a real conversations.

I felt the same way about Irene Bedard as Pocahontas but Judy Kuhn is stunning as her singing voice.  One of the best in all of Disney.  Mel Gibson is fine although why they didn’t have him do a British accent I will never know (we know he can do accents from Braveheart).  It makes no sense to have an American with the Jamestown settlers…

I tried to look into why they made the animation choices they did but didn’t find anything good.  Everything feels very geometric with hard lines and shapes.  This can work in a fantasy world like Alice in Wonderland, but for a movie which is supposed to be a real world setting I found it very distracting.

Even the design of the characters is very geometric.  Governor Radcliffe is a giant rectangle:

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Pocahontas looks like 2 triangles and her face is very rectangular.  I found all the characters to be unpleasant to look at.  Some have also said all the indians have too almond shaped eyes and look more like Southeast Asian than Native American. I can see their point. She does have a Laotian, Cambodian,  Malaysian look about her more than Native American.

pocasidebarThe music was done by Alan Menken and new to Disney lyricist Stephen Schwartz who would go on to write the mammoth hit Wicked. My favorite of the songs is Savages about the prejudices of both the white and Indian groups but the rest are fine but kind of forgettable.

Native Americans, in general, were not happy with the film.  Chief Roy Crazy Horse of the Powhatan tribe wrote a piece called ‘The Pocahontas Myth’ which is worth reading.

http://www.powhatan.org/pocc.html

He says:

“In 1995, Roy Disney decided to release an animated movie about a Powhatan woman known as “Pocahontas”. In answer to a complaint by the Powhatan Nation, he claims the film is “responsible, accurate, and respectful.”

We of the Powhatan Nation disagree. The film distorts history beyond recognition. Our offers to assist Disney with cultural and historical accuracy were rejected. Our efforts urging him to reconsider his misguided mission were spurred.”

If you watch the Behind the Scenes Disney makes it seem like they are doing a noble thing by sharing this great story and culture when in reality those of that culture, for the most part, felt it was a denigration to their history.  I understand films need artistic license but when a true good story exists and they choose to veer so far away from it than I have an issue.

At the very least it is disheartening to hear the tribe’s offer to help  was rejected.

The Story-

The movie begins with our introductions of the ship and crew leaving the new world.  I like the immersion into the painting and the aerial pan and zoom to the boat.

I wish more was made of the crewmembers families we see in these opening shots.  It would have given so much more heart to the scenes that come.

Next we see a storm which evidently reused some of the shipwreck scenes from Little Mermaid but it is very effectively done so I don’t mind.  John saves Thomas’ life creating a bond between the two.

Thomas-from-Pocahontas-Saved

We also get our first taste of Radcliffe and our first mention of ‘gold’.  I read they were starting with Gaston as their mold for Radcliffe and I wish they had kept on that vein.  Gaston works because he isn’t bad at first, just conceited.  As his vanity is wounded he grows more and more mad until he is a monster and murderer.  Radcliffe starting from the first sentence about savages and gold is like wearing a ‘hey look at me villain hat’.

He literally has a line where he says “This new world is going to be great.  I’m going to get a pile of gold. Build a big house and if any Indian tries to stop me I’ll blast him”  It took 5 years of rewrites to come up with that bit of subtle writing? Sigh…

Next we get our first introduction to the tribesmen and women.  The men have returned from battle and guess who is off scampering around the forest?  Why Pocahontas of course. We get a preposterous dive off of a waterfall for no reason but to prove she’s headstrong.

pocahontas diveIt’s Pocahontas the super woman!

Now I can hear a few of you saying “wait, Rachel. You love Little Mermaid and she’s super headstrong”.  Here’s the difference.  Ariel is 16, a mermaid and is legitimately not at home in her own body. Pocahontas is a grown woman and she hurts a lot of people in her quest to stay the same as she is at the beginning.  Ariel wants change.  Pocahontas doesn’t.

Anyway, Powhatan wants her to marry the great warrior Kocoum. Pocahontas doesn’t want to because ‘he’s too serious’.  He just got back from war.  Shouldn’t we do a little more to establish such a trait before he is discounted as an ineligible mate?  He has like 2 lines of dialogue in the whole movie.

kocooum

So Pocahontas sings about what could be coming for her but again she really doesn’t want change.  She wants to remain as free and prancing as she is forever. It’s a pretty song though.

Next the settlers land and I’m not kidding you right off the boat start digging for gold and sing a song called ‘Mine, Mine, Mine’.  Again, way to be subtle why don’t you!  Why not establish some of the actual reasons for conflict and hunger the settlers faced.  Why not make them a tiny bit sympathetic and give the story some wonder and mystery?  As it is, it is so predictable.

We also get introduced to Grandmother Willow- a tree that gives Pocahontas advice.   It is strange that only this tree talks and yet none of the animals or other trees?

willow tree

She is supposed to be the conduit for our modern audience like the Genie in Aladdin but it comes off as trite and silly.

The thing that is strange is they have a Shaman in the story who isn’t used.  Wouldn’t it be natural for Pocahontas to seek guidance from him?  Why not make him the spiritual core of the movie?  Strange choice

shaman

There is also Pocahontas’ friend Nakoma, who I liked but is underused.  She has to make harder choices than Pocahontas and is a more interesting conflicted unpredictable character.  I wish the movie was about her.

friend

Next John Smith and Pocahontas meet in a very cheesy scene with Pocahontas appearing out of the mist like a ghost.

mist

For literally 2 lines of dialogue they can’t talk to each other but then that’s done with and she’s busy teaching him why his ways are wrong and loving nature is good…Groan.

gold

There is also a major ridiculous moment where John teaches Pocahontas about gold. These are characters which now speak the same language.  Certainly a woman like Pocahontas would be familiar with valuable items used for commerce such as beads, stones, and other forms of currency  used by most tribes.  It’s just another moment where the whites love gold (gold is the 4 letter word of this movie) and the pure natives don’t need such superficial things….Double groan.

Like I said, subtlety is not this movies strong point.

Our next scene is back at the fort (which appears overnight) and Radcliffe shoots Manatuk causing Powahatan to prepare for war.

powhatan

There is also a moment where Radcliffe tells Thomas ‘Learn to use a gun properly”.  Hmmm wonder if that is going to prove prophetic…

We get a little comic relief here with Meeko the racoon, Percy Radcliffe’s dog and Flit the hummingbird.

pocahontas-and-john-smith

John and Pocahontas have one of Disney’s best kisses

kiss

Unfortunately both Thomas and Kocoum see their kiss and Thomas shoots Kocoum.  This is a pretty good scene with great sound effects.  If feels like two people fighting

Then we get the best number in the movie called Savages.  Some take offense to it but it isn’t approving of the views of the characters but merely saying that’s what some people think of others. I actually think it is a good thing for children to understand and be watchful for as racism and hatred will always exist.

The geometric graphic style in the picture also works well for Savages.  Great scene!

Then we get to the climatic moment we all know is coming but it is gone and over so fast it is a little deflating.

sacrifice scene

Pocahontas tells the people “this is the path that hatred has brought us”.  I don’t think that is true.  Thomas didn’t hate anyone.  Neither did Kocoum.  They were just trying to defend their friends.  You could make the argument ignorance or a lack of understanding created this scene but hatred I don’t know if that’s been established except for Radcliffe.

Radcliffe ends up shooting John by mistake and his men turn on him and in the end decide to take John Smith back to England to recover.  Pocahontas has the chance to go with him but she chooses to stay where she belongs.

I like that ending.  Not the happy ending we might expect.

backdrop

Movie Review/Conclusion-

So clearly this is not my favorite Disney movie; although I don’t think I can give it an F because Savages is a good number and I do love Judy Kuhn’s voice.

It’s just frustrating because they had an opportunity to take actual events and make them into a great movie.  Instead we got more of the same in a predictable story told by boxy characters with wooden vocal performances.

beautiful scenerySome of the backgrounds and scenery is nice.  I will give it that.

Most tribes have pretty thick skin and for the Powhatan chief to say:

“It is unfortunate that this sad story, which Euro-Americans should find embarrassing, Disney makes “entertainment” and perpetuates a dishonest and self-serving myth at the expense of the Powhatan Nation”.

Need I say more?

You also have a heroine who is infallible and doesn’t want to grow up or change her behavior unlike Belle and Ariel who will do anything for a change.  A lot of people are hurt by Pocahontas’ selfishness but I don’t see real growth or change in her.

Radcliffe and the ‘gold’ is such a lame villain. There’s no nuance or depth to him.  Nothing that makes him different or unique.  He just wants gold…

Kocoum, Nakoma and Thomas are all more interesting than John Smith or Pocahontas but I barely remembered their names they are so briefly used.

The dialogue is not well written in almost every scene and every action is completely predictable.

The music is fine but the animation is boxy and unappealing.  They create characters like Grandmother Willow that doesn’t need to be there when a character like the Shaman already exists within Pocahontas’ culture.  Imagine how insulting that must be for a tribesman to see their true spiritual guidance tossed aside for a tree…

I know the movie has fans but I’ve watched it 3 times and don’t get its appeal.  To me at best it is bland and at worse it paints caricatures of a whole race of people, which is not okay in my book.

If you like it that is awesome just not my cup of tea, and got to keep it real on this blog or no point in my reviewing them at all.

Overall Grade- D-

Movie 24: Fox and the Hound

poster vintageAnyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for a sentimental tale about romance and friendship.  I have been known to snuggle up to the 25 days of Christmas on Hallmark and whatever syrupy story is coming out of ABC Family.

That said, Fox and the Hound lays it on almost too thick even for me.  One thing is for sure if you are at all averse to that kind of message you will hate the movie.  As for me, I liked it but it bore on me after a while.

foxandthehound2mc-08

Production-

Released in 1981 (year I was born!) The Fox and the Hound had a very dramatic time in production (took 4 years and 12 million).  Based on a novel by Daniel P Mannix, it was initially started by the legendary 9 Old Men of animators with Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, in particular, taking the lead in the early storyboarding and concept development.

However, at the same time Disney had a school of animators and such big names as John Lasseter, Tim Burton (who knew right?), John Musker, Ron Clements and Brad Bird all had graduated and began work on the Fox and the Hound.

Don Bluth, who had been a part of Disney animation since Sleeping Beauty,  led a contingent that felt Disney had ‘grown stale’ and wanted to do edgier things with the material.  Mid-production Bluth quit and took 11 animators with him, 17% of Disney’s staff.  I’m sorry but to me that is just wrong.  Finish out the project and then severe ties.  I mean can you imagine someone doing that on a regular motion picture?  Like if Brad Pitt and Christopher Nolan didn’t get along or agree with the direction of the movie so they just bolted?

What makes it worse is then Bluth went on to be a competitor to Disney.  Early on Bluth’s movies were stiff competition to Disney with Secret of Nimh (1982), An American Tale (1986) and Land Before Time (1988).  To be fair this competition I believe made Disney better and led to the renaissance but it was still a dirty move to leave mid-project and take animators with him.

This change in leadership led to a few rocky moments in Fox and the Hound such as the bear attack that feel disjointed and episodic which is to be expected since the film was  probably drawn and conceptualized in episodes by different men.

However, at least the animation is gorgeous.  It was getting close to the art pieces of the 30’s and 40’s and I enjoyed Fox and the Hound on that level very much.

Look at this intro.  For a second I thought it was the beginning of Bambi.

The voice cast is very strong with everyone from Kurt Rusell (Copper), Mickey Rooney (Tod), Pearl Bailey (Big Mama), Paul Winchell (from Tigger fame as Boomer) and more.  Everyone does a good job with the voices although at times it was a little distracting because I kept thinking of Tigger when I’d hear Winchell’s voice.

The music is a mixed bag.  It’s not that it is bad.  It’s fine and the score by Jim Stafford is great.  The strange thing  is most of the songs don’t really feel like songs at all.  It feels like the songs start and then get interrupted by talking or activity. It’s a shame in a way because I liked the songs if I could have heard them all the way through.  I wonder if they were just over time at 83 minutes so cut down the songs?

The movie opened to mixed reviews but it made 63 million at box office.

Story-

Kind of like with Lady and the Tramp the beginning we get to meet baby Tod and baby Copper and they are uber-cute.

copper littlebaby todCopper is owned by Amos and Tod is adopted by the Widow Tweed.   It’s interesting because there are no children in this film.  All older adults.

amos and widowThere are an array of side characters including Big Mama owl, Boomer (woodpecker) and Dinky (canary), and Chief who is owned by Amos.

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Tod and Copper meet when they are too little to know that foxes and dogs are enemies and hunt each other.  Like I said, if this kind of sentimentality makes you roll your eyes and groan this is not the movie for you.

One day when trying to play,Chief see’s Tod and chases him off the property, which angers Amos,and he shoots at and threatens Tod and the Widow.  As a result, she keeps him inside but it doesn’t matter because Amos is taking Copper away for a winter hunting trip.

Our next scene is Tod and Copper all grown up.  Copper knows how to hunt and he tells Tod they can’ t be friends any more.

tod-copper

In between these tense scenes we get some comic relief from Boomer and Dinky as the chase a caterpillar.

Tod and Copper end up getting involved in a scuffle involving a train that injures Chief. The segment with the train is very well animated.

Feeling that Tod has injured Chief Copper vows revenge and he and Amos chase Tod and the Widow in a fun car scene.

Eventually the Widow decides it is for Tod’s own good to take him to back to the woods.  I don’t mean to be harsh but she sing/talks one of the worst poems I have ever heard (and I know poetry pretty well). It’s discount greeting card bad.

“We met it seems, such a short time ago.
You looked at me, needing me so.
Yet from your sadness, our happiness grew.
Then I found out, I need you, too.
I remember how we used to play.
I recall those rainy days, the fires glowed, that kept us warm.
And now I find, we’re both alone.
Goodbye may seem forever, farewell is like the end.
But in my heart’s a memory, and there you’ll always be.

I mean yikes…

So Tod is forced to make it on his own in the forest.  He meets a mean badger and then finds a friend in a porcupine played by John Fielder of Piglet fame.  Then we meet my least favorite character in the movie.  One of the worst in all of Disney- Vixey the female fox or vixen (clever name there…).

vixey

Voiced by Sandy Duncan, Vixey is the cooing, fawning, giggling, idiot female character I hate in Disney.  And of course we get the instant love trope like we do in every Disney movie but this one is one of the worst for sure.  Why couldn’t it have been like in the Lion King where they meet in some way as little foxes and then meet up again later?  Or anything but the instant love twitterpated scene from Bambi all over again…She reminds me of an idiotic Michael Bay woman in fox form.

What makes it worse is that Tod behaves like kind of a pompous moron when they meet but one song from Big Mama and she’s back on board the ‘oh well. He’s so pretty…’ train.  Urgh…At least in this movie we have Big Mama and the Widow but seriously why does every other Disney woman have to be a complete twit? Thank you Renaissance for changing that at least a little.

Moving on.

Amos decides to set traps and Tod and Vixen come upon them.  That leads to a chase with the climatic bear scene.  It is an amazingly animated scene but for a movie that has been kindergarten aged friendly the bear is too scary.  My nieces all bolted at the bear in Brave, and I know they would be terrified of the bear here too.

 

Tod eventually comes to Copper’s defense so when Amos is about to shoot Tod, Copper steps in, the two realizing they really are friends at heart.

foxandhound

We get an ending back at the farms where all is back to normal and Copper thinks about those early days and we hear the voice over ‘Tod, you’re my best friend’…

Conclusion/Movie Review-

Another mixed bag for me, and I think recommending the picture entirely depends on the type of movie-goer you are.  If you don’t mind the ooey-gooey messages laid on very thick than you will eat this up! I went with it for most of the way.  It eventually wore me a down a little bit and I HATED Vixey character just as much as about any character in Disney ever.

There are a lot of good messages for kids but the bear scene is very scary (and the train fight too).  I guess it just depends on the kid in question.  Like I said, I know it would be too much for at least my youngest niece.  And it is kind of a long scene so if you fast forward it you are missing story and a lot of the movie (plus, it is animated very well).

It was so nice to see animation from Disney that looked pretty.  For once I am liking a Disney movie more for the animation than the music and story.  That hasn’t happened since Bambi!

It is not up there with the greats.  I’d put it smack in the middle of Disney films.  It’s not terrible.  It has a nice message.  The comedic scenes work and the action is good.  So if you can handle the script you will probably like it!

Overall Grade- C+

Movie 15: Lady and the Tramp

Lady-and-tramp-1955-posterNext we may be talking about the cutest Disney movie they have ever produced, 1955’s Lady and the Tramp.   While I prefer Disney’s more ambitious, riskier endeavors I have a place in my heart for the sweet and sentimental pictures too.

I mean I am not a dog person but your first glimpse of Lady is pretty adorable:

baby ladyProduction-

In the 1940s and 50s dog pictures were very popular for families.  Film series like the 3 Lassie movies (and TV show starts in 1954), and a series called Kirby Grant Chinook the Wonder Dog were very successful.

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It also should be obvious to anyone who has been to Disneyland that Walt Disney had a fondness for turn of the century wholesome small town Americana.  Lady and the Tramp was released a month before Disneyland opened and we can see it’s influence in the film and perhaps the films influence on Disneyland.

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Joe Grant, a Disney animator, had an English Springer Spaniel and he was telling Walt about how the dog had been shoved aside a little bit when they had their first baby.  He then worked on sketches of this idea for nearly 20 years from the 30s through the 40s, but Walt Disney didn’t like any of the projects presented to him because there wasn’t enough action, enough for the characters to do.

Then Walt heard of a book called Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog by Ward Green.  The only dog in the book is the Tramp, but Walt liked it and combined it with Joe’s idea and began work in earnest on Lady and the Tramp.

The artistry in Lady and the Tramp isn’t abstract or different but it is beautiful in it’s own way.  It looks like a Norman Rockwell cover for the Saturday Evening Post.

jim dear and darling

The fir also looks great on all of the dogs and they all look adorable while still looking like their obvious breeds. I say that knowing very little about dogs.

Lady-and-the-Tramp-2The voicework is excellent.  I particularly like Jock and Trusty.  Jock is a scottish terrier voiced by Bill Thompson in a full Scottish accent and Trusty is a bloodhound voiced by Bill Baucon

Lady and the Tramp is the first movie to be released by Disney in Cinemascope and it was a huge hit for them.

The soundtrack was also one of Disney’s most successful with songs written by Peggy Lee.  She  sings in He’s a Tramp, La,La,La and Siamese cats .  There is a jazzy feel to the whole soundtrack that I love.

The Story

The story begins with Lady being given as a gift from the male owner (Jim Dear) to his wife (Darling) as a Christmas gift.  The beginning zoom in on the window with the Christmas tree is right out of Currier and Ives scene.

Lady is petted and pampered until a baby comes into the picture and she is warned by a mongrel called The Tramp that this will lead to no good. She ignores it but starts to get nervous when she see’s some changes.

Then one Sunday the Darlings decide to go away and Aunt Sarah comes to take care of the baby.  She is voiced once again by the amazing Verna Felton; although, this is a smaller role for her.

aunt sarah

Aunt Sarah is well meaning but she does not care for Lady and brings 2 rather disagreeable cats.

siameseI don’t know what cats ever did to Disney but he seemed to have it out for them!  I guess Figero in Pinocchio was a nice cat.  Still not many!

The strange thing about the Siamese cats is they come in, sing their creepy song, and then you hardly see them again in the movie.  The end of the movie the rat is the villain not the cats which seems strange.  Why not use a villain if you’ve already got them set up with a song.

I also think it is the first time a villain actually sings a villain song.  Something that would become a Disney staple later on.

Like almost anything Hollywood did in the 50s with Asian characters the song does fall prey to stereotypes and is a kind of creepy but not always in a good way.

It doesn’t bother me the way the Red Man song in Peter Pan did because it is brief and the characters are standard villain.  It doesn’t try to explain the Siamese race like Red Man does.

If it bothers or offends you I totally understand but it is easy to skip over.

However, I do like the cats slithering, slimy nature.  I’d be nervous if they were around me slinking around (although doesn’t take much for me to be uncomfortable around strange animals).  That’s why it is such a surprise they aren’t seen again in the movie.

So Lady protects the baby from the cats and Aunt Sarah takes her to the pet store to have a muzzle put on.

Curious_Lady_MuzzleI mean the inhumanity!!

She runs away and meets Tramp.  He helps her remove the muzzle and they end up eating some Italian food in one of the most famous scenes in all of Disney:

However, after their romantic night (feel funny saying that about dogs!) Tramp looses Lady and she ends up going to the pound.  Terrified she meets an assortment of characters that are a lot of fun.

But it starts out very sad and if this doesn’t pull at your heart strings you may want to examine yourself… 😉

She also meets Trixie who tells Lady all about The Tramp:

Now that is a great song!  Peggy Lee is wonderful and what a neat way to introduce kids to the whole idea of jazz music.

Learning about all of this Lady breaks up with Tramp when she see’s him and Aunt Sarah chains her to the doghouse.  There’s a cute scene where Jock and Trusty propose to Lady to keep her safe.

That night Lady see’s the rat going into the baby’s room.  Sarah tells her to stop barking but The Tramp hears her and goes after the rat, upsetting the room while he does it.

When Sarah see’s it she sends The Tramp to the pound but Trusty and Jock race after the cart, saving the day.   Luckily Sarah see’s the rat and Jim Dear and Darling come home and everything is made right in time for another Christmas. (This is definitely the most holiday themed Disney movie)

Movie Review-

Lady and the Tramp is kind of a like a popsicle in the summer.  It’s sweet and sticky but you love it anyway.  Everything about it is so well done.  The backgrounds are picturesque and pretty, voice work is great, dogs are super cute, jazz soundtrack is fun, and there is that great spaghetti scene.

It’s not the Disney which is going to challenge you or frighten younger kids.  It’s just a sweet simple story told with a lovely color pallet and a lot of charming dog characters.

I do think 101 Dalmatians is a little bit better because of Cruella but it is also a lot scarier for very young kids.  This is the Disney movie you can watch with kids under 5 and I’m not sure you can say that with any of the others.

So yes I know it isn’t perfect but I like it.

Overall Grade B+