Tim: Hi, Matt, and welcome back to the closest I think we’ve come to an actual podcast in a long time. We almost fired up Audacity for this.
Matt: Maybe there will still be one of those, who knows. We’re back with something that “demands” a lot of space so……stay tuned for our 10-part series on ranking the Disney/Pixar catalogue.
Tim: We only have so much content, and when we have it, we gotta milk it.
Matt: I’m reminded of the “milk through the nose” test of a Conversation yore.
Tim: When we’re famous that’s going to be our Ewing Theory.
Matt: So what brings us to this fine endeavor, Tim? You should probably get the runway here.
Tim: Righty-o. Whenever I finish a big writing project we chat about it here, and the first writing project of the summer (and maybe the only one that gets finished before fall? I hope not) is a list ranking every Disney and Pixar movie from 1 to 77. It does not include Toy Story 4, and when Frozen 2 comes out later this year, that’ll be sort of a bummer for my list, but whatever. Funny enough, this was actually meant to be done before Ralph Breaks the Internet came out last year, but just about the time I was foodling with the list in some medium stages, Filmstruck announced its cancellation and my world kind of stopped. But long story short, we’re here now, those seventy-seven movies are ordered, and we’ve gotten to the part where we expend as many words on the list as there are in the entries.
Matt: And God save the right. Of all the things we do, this might actually be the most contentious topic. Does that seem right? I guess besides our audacious “Best Rock Song Ever” bracket, but that has a knowing wink to it. This sort of ranking starts futzing with people’s childhoods.
Tim: Why, did people remember how to shoot during their childhoods or something? Oh, lol, thought that said “fultzing.”
Matt: Way to make a joke that only I will get out of anyone who possibly reads this.
Tim: There are a lot of people who hurt for all kinds of reasons. Yeah, the Rock Song bracket got some actual listener response, but there’s no way anyone could actually do the work for something like that. As long as there are only so many Disney and Pixar movies, and as long as people are familiar with a number of them, and have been for a long time, that’s bound to create some animosity. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t set up one of those Google Form polls for this project…when you say “Best American movie” or “best Best Picture winner,” people tend to interpret that in the sense it’s meant, or at least close to it. I have no doubt that if I asked for “best Disney/Pixar movie,” I would get favorites on favorites. Maybe this is deeply patronizing, but I also don’t think I’m wrong. Which is more patronizing.
Matt: You’re wrong. Glad I could clear that up.
Matt: You’re saying the whole list, nothing wrong?
Tim: No, I’m saying that if I asked people for their five best Disney movies, they would respond with their five favorites and not think about it.
Matt: Careful there, you don’t actually know what my list is yet. No that’s not wrong, most people would. Sorry, I thought you were about to be on some megalomaniacal trip there for a second.
Tim: I’m not the Bret Stephens of lists, thank the Lord. (Starts thinking of lists that Bret Stephens belongs on.)
Matt: (Punchable faces) That’s why I was worried, I know you aren’t. But anyway, I got jumpy, continue.
Tim: We were chatting earlier about this idea that people latch onto the Disney movies from their childhoods particularly, but maybe it’s just the ones they’re most intimately familiar with, I dunno, and they are likely to overrate them. I think this is true even when you talk about movie critics, who I’ve done some reading up on in this genre, and it’s interesting how many of these movie critics from, say, the ‘70s and ‘80s, the ones who were old enough to grow up on Snow White and Pinocchio and so on, and they strongly favor those older movies over the newer ones, even when they have good things to say about something like Fox and the Hound or Robin Hood. I’ll grant that there’s more artistry in Snow White, not that that’s the whole ballgame or anything. And from people in our own generation…I appear to be as guilty of this as anyone, but how many people between 20 and 35 do you think have a Disney/Pixar movie not from 1989-2009 as their number one “best?” Can there be many?
Matt: I can think of one person offhand but not more. Although I do suspect Coco has a deeply sentimental place in some people’s hearts, so there’s that. But the general point being, yes for our generation the 90’s are supreme. (As long as you’re clarifying best, because my favorite is practically ancient). It’s the same thing with music, too. The stuff you prioritize and that really speaks to your heart is what you like in adolescence. Your tastes shift and adapt, of course, and you can easily discover and like new or more things, but there’s always something that pulls you back to what you really liked when you were young and not falling apart. The common wisdom on SNL is the same too. Your favorite cast is the one you had in high school, generally. It’s an impressionable age and has a big hand in shaping your cultural tastes.
Tim: And I think that’s true beyond formative years as well. It took me a long time to work myself out of a problem I had evaluating musicals. The first cast I heard I would find myself preferring to all the other casts, even the ones that were probably better on the whole, and it took years for me to actually punch my way out of that line of thought. And I still slip into every now and then if I’m not paying attention to it. That way we have of seeing the first thing as a default, when it was never actually a default, is awfully tricky.
With all that said, my top ten for this Disney/Pixar list has seven movies made between 1991 and 2008. I still think I’ve got the right idea about this list, but like, that’s still a really concentrated amount of time!
Matt: We’ve all been hoodwinked. Disney is smarter than us. I’m being mildly glib, but really it’s a great way for them to maintain priority of conversation. They know how to keep reaching generations and keep this grand conversation alive. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with favoring the stuff that released during a certain period of your life, but you should know that’s what’s at play.
I’m 8/10, by the way.
Tim: This is something that interests me – does having extra familiarity with a movie give you more room to decide if it’s better or worse? I’m assuming that you revisit the movie as an adult a couple times so you can judge a little better, but like, I didn’t watch Dinosaur a million times as a kid, even though I’m the right age to have done so. I’ve seen it once. Am I missing something by not having that word-perfect familiarity I have with Emperor’s New Groove?
Matt: I can see it both ways, honestly. A movie I’m not super familiar with, it’s probably easier to focus on the cracks and seams. But there’s also something to be said for being so familiar that you could dissect every piece of it. I think the real difference is the ones we have an engrained fondness for we’re going to find ways to defend, or more righteously defend at any rate. For example, there are some higher on your list that I could say “yeah, it’s good in those ways” but feel largely indifferent because they don’t stir me in the same way or I’ll just focus more on some weaker bit. But with ones I have ranked higher I can go “sure that’s not great, but what if we look at this nuanced bit.” So that was a nice, long non-answer.
Tim: It definitely matters more for the movies that we’d otherwise think are bad. And to some extent it matters more for movies that have some good in them but which aren’t stunning on the whole, and maybe you need another go-round or two to talk about them. By now I’ve seen all of these (again, except TS4 which is not on the list anyway), and I dunno, maybe I’d have Make Mine Music higher if I’d had that at home instead of Tarzan.
I really don’t know that there’s another set of movies where this is such a problem. Maybe Star Wars or those movies you can see on TBS once a week, but even those don’t feel quite as potent.
Matt: Star Wars is potent but it’s different…much worse, really. There aren’t generally good reason behind Star Wars fandom preferences. Cartoons in some large scale, in a way. Obviously “cartoons” is not a unified whole let alone one show, but you get similar conversations about what the best cartoons are, and along similar lines as Disney/Pixar for obvious childhood reasons. Disney/Pixar has a certain regular longevity that not much else really has.
Tim: And the branding. So much so that little people look at a style of animation and say “Disney movie” no matter which studio made it. Though maybe that’s less of a thing now than it was in the ‘90s?
Matt: I think people are better informed about that now. Internet. Honestly Shrek kinda feels like a big moment there too, thinking of the 90’s as a flash point anyway. That movie comes out and suddenly Dreamworks has a real heavy hitter. Not that good or popular non-Disney animated stuff didn’t exist beforehand (I see you, Land Before Time tapes I wore out – and Brave Little Toaster! God I love that movie)
Tim: Can we talk for a sec about how I think Shrek broke Disney movies?
Matt: I love good Shrek talk.
Tim: Something I have complained about in Moana is that line about how Moana is a princess if she does x, y, and z, and it’s not the first time that Disney has sort of pointed at itself and chuckled. But it’s also only funny if you think that like, the Wendy’s Twitter account is funny. It’s such an obviously and surgically created moment to chortle about the brand, and it makes it harder for us to be in the movie and care about Moana being this salvific figure who’s also trying to navigate, ha ha, her own life, when we have to work through the Disney princess thing. And that seems to me to be entirely the fault of Shrek, because that movie starts with the title character literally wiping his butt with fairy tales, and then those Shrek movies printed money while Pixar movies which were also sort of wry and ironic printed money and Disney movies did squat. And now every movie seems to have these little Easter eggs or fourth-wall breaking comments, and it’s such a bad move because the rest of the movie doesn’t work on that level. Moana and Frozen are earnest movies. Shrek is an earnest movie too, but it gets away with pretending it’s not.
Matt: Two things: 1) I would argue (and I think I have on the podcast) that actually starts with Hercules, which is a big reason I don’t really like Hercules even if it’s entertaining. 2) You have me two seconds from talking about Jameson and Baudrillard.
I think what Shrek is doing is reversing that glibness to some degree, though. Or at least playing with it from beginning to end. The standard in Disney movies now is just to toss it in like “oh yeah, we know you know the formula.” That moment is at least telling of Shrek as a character, some immediate character development. In Moana, it just purposefully places her as another stock. I’m not really here to argue the merits of Shrek versus other Disney movies, but that does feel different to me. (Of course, now we’re like 5 Shrek movies in and it’s the same business model as Disney).
Tim: That’s the funny part, for sure. And what annoys you annoys me most about it, too. In Shrek it’s meaningful, in Moana it’s like, a thing for people over fourteen to laugh about and say “Disney has a sense of humor about itself!” which it definitely does not, and it’s the reason a surprisingly huge amount of Ralph Breaks the Internet just goes full bore into making a host of Disney princesses supporting characters.
I think that aside made me surprisingly tired. Is it time to ask the question we’ve been dodging, or at least I’ve been dodging, about why this is a Disney/Pixar list?
Matt: Yes. You mentioned in our “prep” that the internet doesn’t usually combine the two. I reckon you’ve seen more of those lists than I have, why do you think that’s the case?
Tim: “Prep.” I think the biggest thing is that they’re two separate entities…even if one has owned the other for a while, they’re just not the same. Historically there’s an interesting question about what “Disney/Pixar” means when (does math) like, sixty percent of Disney’s output precedes Toy Story. I think what I said in my introduction boils down to “In 2019 you can’t talk about one without the other,” and I believe that, and at the same time I definitely get the case for why people at Buzzfeed and Time Out and Vox have all separated the companies. Also, let it be known that Vox published their Pixar rankings just days after I completed this list, which is further proof that I am the shadow king of content.
Matt: It’s further proof that Toy Story 4 came out.
Tim: Boooooo shadow king booooo
Matt: So we have done several things merging the two together (that lovely character bracket comes to mind first), and this is a genuine question rather than some leading interviewer type one, why do we do that?
Tim: I really wonder if our age is showing here. That may be the entirety of my answer. Followed by a quick reiteration that I really do think that those two studios are just tied together. I mean, if we were to rank every movie by Universal Pictures (lol), there’d be nothing wrong with including movies from Focus Features.
Matt: So the merger happens in ‘06, yeah? We’re 15. So we’ve been alive when the two were separate but they’d been flirting with each other before that I think so how much our lives is an overlap between knowledge of business practice and the two being separate? [puts on Marx beard] We’re also just way too chill about corporate mergers.
Tim: I also want to note that Toy Story was distributed by Disney, like the other Pixar movies pre-merger were. So it’s not like I made a list including movies that had absolutely no connection between studios. All the same, it’s also not like Pixar is the only studio that got distributed by Disney, so…definitely business practice plays a serious role here. Maybe even the primary one. Which I think I’m fine with because there’s not an obvious artistic through line between Disney movies and Pixar movies other than “They’re animated” which, who cares.
Matt: Animated does still connotate either for children or juvenile (in the same way graphic novels do) so people may not explicitly care but you’ll get a lot of general viewers caught in that trap.
Tim: I just watched A Scanner Darkly today, which is one of the raaaare examples of “animation explicitly for adults” in this country, and even that’s rotoscoped and thus blatantly different.
Matt: I’m thinking you have stuff like Simpsons and South Park too. And, honestly, all of these CGI remakes that aren’t really for the children. In an academic sense, yeah that doesn’t matter. Disney Studios and Pixar are, blessedly, their own thing for the most part in terms of artistry. Which, does that make ranking them together harder for you?
Tim: I think it made it easier. Like, it was more work, but the reason I got to this point at all was because I was doing these Disney rankings and it just felt so empty without the Pixar movies, and then it started to click a little more once they were involved.
Matt: Without Pixar the top of the thing feels even more predetermined.
Tim: I think the biggest difference is in that 31-40 range. There are seven Pixar movies in the top twenty, but there are five movies in that 31-40 range alone. One of the things I learned from this exercise is that Disney’s middle class, fittingly, is not all that strong.
Matt: Where’s the rough cutoff for you where it becomes movies you just don’t really care about all that much?
Tim: After Mulan (9) I don’t know that any of the movies left pass the Milk Test for what could be the best Disney movie…after Snow White (22) I think we’re starting to get into “not ever a great movie, and which really relies on the brand name to sell it,” which sounds harsher than I mean it, and then somewhere in the fifties, maybe after Cars (54), I’m at the point where I really don’t think the movie is much good at all. There’s another cutoff at Sleeping Beauty (62) where, unless you’re a very small child or formulating a list, there’s a good case you’re flat wasting your time with the movie. Or a movie historian. Those package films from the ‘40s are just absolutely fascinating as long as you’re not like, expecting a good movie.
Matt: Our full lists would look different, but I think what I’ve realized is that even if I enjoy some after 35 or 40, that’s about as far as I can get with movies I actually am interested in revisiting at all. Your tiers there are much more specific, but I didn’t realize before how not that far down that goes for me.
Tim: I am interested in your disinterest.
Matt: Disinterest might be too strong? Like there are definitely some below that I would watch if they are on, but I think there’s only lets say half that I will actively seek out at different times. I’ve seen them all, I’ve had fun. I guess some just aren’t sticking with me as I get older.
Tim: Is now a good time to talk about how the intended audience of these movies makes a person in his late twenties ranking them seem odd? Or I dunno, maybe that it’s quixotic is a better way to put it. One of my running comments in those bad movies which weren’t package films is something along the lines of “It’s clear where this is going and getting there is exhausting,” which is not the case for the six-year-old this movie was made for. Bolt feels like a real winner there. I’ve got that second-to-last, the South Carolina to Chicken Little as Mississippi, and that’s a movie that I can see a second-grader just adoring.
Matt: I think Florida and Alabama would like a word with you.
Tim: I didn’t realize there was a Wikipedia article about this.
Matt: I saw the remake of Aladdin a few weeks ago and my immediate assessment was “this probably works really well for kids.” Which, is mild shade but also functioning well in that lane is not a bad thing.
Tim: I’m going to be the tool who inserts a snarky comment about “superhero movies are made for sixteen-year-olds, and we still talk about those like they’re real movies.”
Matt: I’m not sure what it is though, because there are definitely newer ones that jump into that “I want to revisit this” lane for me even in my mid and late twenties, but some stuff has fallen away. I watched Sleeping Beauty a ton as a kid. I don’t care about it now. So at least to some degree you’re right, but I’m also wondering how newer ones still hit me in various ways. I guess it’s that a lot of these do have “adult” moments and themes and I’m just connecting with those now rather than only “look at the big dragon and fun music.”
Tim: Something I tried to give the movies some credit for was good animation and/or production design, even if the rest of the movie isn’t much to talk about. Two of the movies I’m a little worried are too low are One Hundred and One Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp, which are neither one of them terribly interesting, but there’s some absolutely fantastic work on the way they look. I will also say that as people our age, the world of movies is so much bigger than Disney/Pixar and I don’t blame someone for deciding that like, Brother Bear isn’t worth a second go-round.
Matt: One Hundred and One Dalmatians is actually one I like rewatching Lady and the Tramp not so much. We have so much stuff and not much time, so yeah, revisit what makes you happy too. There’s the academic part of me that will actually rewatch any of these and see if anything new strikes me. But at a gut level, so to speak, a lot just aren’t going to move me. I’m old and cynical now, so that’s a tougher task anyway. Which is to say the movies aren’t solely good or bad based on how they can affect me, but that a list from me does reflect that to some degree.
Tim: I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t really like my American movies list from two years ago, which is healthy, but all the same there are only three movies here that I’d seriously consider for a list of the top 100, 150, 250 American movies. There’s more to go on out there.
Matt: We should probably make our way into the actual rankings. I know you’ve dropped a couple, and I’ve been teasing some difference, but let’s give the people what they came for, yeah?
Tim: Blood? …revolution?!
Matt: REVOLUTION!!! But also mostly Flaming Death.
Tim: Fair warning: when we get Josh on board for the second part of this, we’re going to get into “best Disney/Pixar scenes” and anything Flaming Death related is going to make noise.
Matt: That movie always, rightfully, makes noise when you and I are together.
So I’m a slacker and have a quickly sketched top 25 and some vague ideas of where things outside of that might land. You obviously have a total written about list. But, what entries outside of the top 25 have a weird or special place in your heart? Any that you like but can’t justify ranking that highly? Or are there none like that and we should just go to what we have?
Tim: Emperor’s New Groove comes in at 26, and there’s one I really have a soft spot for that I think is sort of anomalous.
Matt: Wow you went literally right next to the top 25. But yeah, talk to me about ENG, which I will say the college students go absolutely nuts for.
Tim: It sort of stands alone among the movies of that species you’re asking about, because there’s another set that I saw for the first time, or saw for the first time in a while, and those are interesting because they’ve forced a reevaluation either of what I thought before or what everyone else said that influenced me.
Matt: We’ll return to that question. This is mostly a reminder to me. (Lol Tim tried to make his name the trademark symbol. Pompous ass.)
Tim: Word processors are maybe a little too helpful these days. New Groove is this interesting movie which I think, as far as the rumors go, was supposed to be a much more standard Renaissance movie, sort of a spiritual sequel to Tarzan set in a distinctly non-USA locale with a male protagonist and music by a guy who performed at Live Aid. I really want to say something off-topic. Okay, so just really fast, Dire Straits had the best set at Live Aid, not Queen, and I don’t think it’s all that close. Next!
Matt: The riffage abides.
Tim: Self-editing is for people who get paid. The thing then about New Groove is that it belongs to this class of Disney movies which only recently has started to get some credit, namely the straight comedy without songs, and it’s not a particularly interesting movie in its visuals. For this movie to work, the jokes and the setup have to be absolutely spot-on, and my case is that the jokes and the setups are by and large pretty great! Most of my entry about it was about how spectacular Patrick Warburton is as Kronk, and I stand by that, not like I think I’m fending off a lot of people on that hill. It’s a movie that’s funny if you’re a kid or if you’re an adult with a reasonable tolerance for stupid people and slapstick, which is a lot of adults. And then there’s Kuzco, who learns something but it doesn’t feel preachy, which is sort of a minor miracle. If the standard is “good solid comedy,” New Groove hits that mark.
Matt: What about Yzma? The college kids love her and I’m not sure I totally get it. She’s fun, but am I missing something there? I agree in general that its a good comedy with fun dialogue and slapstick. The kitchen scene where they keep passing each other in the double door always gets me.
Tim: It requires such delicate timing, and it also requires Kronk to be absolutely at ease with this diner, which of course he is. It’s a winning example of the school of “Well, let’s just do this because the movie needs it,” which more movies could stand to do. I think Yzma is part of that subgenre of Disney villain who is there to be funny and also the bad guy, and sort of toggles between the two. The highs aren’t as high as Hades, but she’s not all that far off in effect from like, Prince John. Out of the four major characters…she’s fourth? That sounds weird, but she’s not essential to the movie.
Matt: I’m interested in how high you have The Good Dinosaur (35) too, because the conversation around that movie seemed more or less to be “eh?”
Tim: Good Dinosaur is in the same boat as: Bug’s Life, Winnie the Pooh, Atlantis, Brave, Treasure Planet, Cars 3, and those package movies based on that conversation of “eh?” that swirls around them. I think Good Dinosaur is a fairly brave movie. There are so many animated movies about dinosaurs or prehistoric critters, and Good Dinosaur does something different than those movies when it decides to imagine that dinosaurs didn’t get obliterated by that asteroid. It’s attractive, it’s got solid characters, and it’s tight. It has interesting supporting characters but it’s not tied up in them the way bad Disney/Pixar movies are. The relationship between Arlo and Spot develops, it has stakes, it has work to do so Arlo can learn to forgive, it has that killer scene at the end where Arlo gets Spot to go with the people…I just think a lot about the movie functions at a consistent level.
Matt: I feel like I often see that one near the bottom of Pixar rankings but people never really have much to say about it. Maybe that’s a function of being kinda high-floor/low-ceiling? That’s not fair, necessarily, but I sort of wonder if that’s the phenomenon.
Tim: I think I said something in the entry about how people were floored by Inside Out and then Good Dinosaur came out the same year and everyone just did a collective meh at it.
Matt: If I remember correctly it got caught in some production hell too, which I think pushed it back? The timing certainly didn’t help its perception.
So, before we move to the top 25, I want you to tell me how I managed to also not put Rescuers Down Under that high. What am I thinking? You have it at 51, I would probably put it in high twenties or low thirties. Returning to the idea of best scenes, Wilbur getting surgery still kills me.
Tim: I dunno, man. That’s one of those movies that’s more interesting in the abstract to me than in the actual watching. The environmental aspects work, and the scenes with Cody and the eagle are almost all winners, but the parts with the mice are…tired. That’s the word I’m going for.
Matt: I think I like the side characters in that one more than you, too. It always fascinates me as the sort of lost movie at the beginning of the Renaissance. It’s obviously not like the other ones, and it just sits between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. It also tanked in theaters. I like that it’s trying to take on ecocritical stuff in a pretty straightforward way, making the theft of other species (eggs, which will literally be another species) the crux of the evil. And McLeech is sort of deliciously mean, if that makes sense. He’s chewing scenery in fun ways. The scenes in the animal jail too I always think are good. The Koala (whose name I can’t remember) is the foil for Frank, and we all know they’ll get out eventually, but the dyspeptic attitude of the former isn’t not taken seriously, which I sort of appreciate. Jake is superficially fun but it’s just Crocodile Dunmouse, so I hear you there.
Tim: I know that is one you’re carrying a torch for. It deserves another rewatch for me one of these days, if for no other reason than my well-established belief in The Rescuers.
Matt: Which I know you believe in as a sort of anthology series, too. Or to some degree anyway.
Should we move to the “top”? Groups of five and talk about whatever stands out? I will tell you readers that Tim doesn’t know what mine looks like, so there’s some suspense built into this.
Tim: Throw your top ten at me.
Matt: Oh that direction. Okay.
- Toy Story
- Beauty and the Beast
- The Incredibles
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- Fox and the Hound
- The Lion King
- Monsters, Inc.
Tim: This is amusingly close.
Matt: Our differences, which still aren’t that much, become more evident after that. The very top is maybe the closest we’ve ever been on one of these?
Tim: It is a really near thing. For those not inclined to like, open another window: we share the same top 10, except I’ve got Bambi and Mulan and he’s got Hunchback and Monsters, Inc. And both of those are in my top 15. Wow!
Okay, this sounds like a weird place to start, but when did Ratatouille get to be this consensus (hrmf) top-four Pixar movie?
Matt: Your iconoclast heart is breaking. It’s just a super solid movie. There’s not really a weak link in the movie to me. And there’s parent/mentor relationships in there and it’s broadly about acceptance, so not uncommon territory there, but for me the way it approaches those feels unique and…sort of genuine? I think I mean it doesn’t ever feel contrived. The movie moves me along with it instead of me noticing “ah yes, here’s that bit” or “here’s how I should feel here.” The lens about artistry and criticism also appeals to me, because, ya know, not unrelated to what I do. I think you mention this in your write up, but Anton Ego doesn’t shift wildly to “anyone can be anything” and I appreciate that restraint.
Tim: I think what fascinates me about the Ratatouille reevaluation is that a lot of people have started to come around to that perspective you just explained. It’s really genuine! And it does have a thoughtful relationship between the artist and the critic! And I think right now Ratatouille has outlasted Finding Nemo and Up and Inside Out, all of which were getting the kind of breathless appraisal that Ratatouille hasn’t ever really gotten but which haven’t kept those positions.
Matt: I think Ratatouille is less immediate, in a sense. But it also is one that, for us anyway, hit when we were 15(?) and has a lot of ideas that don’t manifest themselves as quickly, not until we’re older and writing about these movies like this. There’s a certain way in which you have to grow with the ideas in Ratatouille, not that that’s not true of other ones (I’m thinking both Inside Out and Up here) but not to the same extent.
I don’t know if this is unfair, but I also honestly wonder if people just weren’t ready for a rat in the kitchen. Which is dumb, but I have that thought sometimes. Disney and Pixar movies teach us what we can and can’t do, and Ratatouille embodies that in a unique, earnest way.
Tim: I think it’s very easy to set that one down as “fish out of water story” and then just sort of leave it there without really getting into the meat of the story further, which isn’t fair. And I think people have watched it as more than just a goofy fish out of water premise in the very recent past.
The Game Theory podcast has sort of made a bit out of overanalyzing the Harrison Barnes signing in the past couple days, and I feel like that’s what we did. Is there another story we should talk about? I’m sort of enjoying the vindication that Fox and the Hound being up here for you gives me. I was starting to worry I was just totally out of my tree.
Matt: Maybe we fell out together, but sort of like Ratatouille that movie is just so so good. And very touching, which always matters a lot to me.
Tim: Genuine is a good word for this one too. Are you with me on the “they see Appalachia without getting room to blame people from there and they check out” train with me? I think I’m a little ornery about that, but I can’t help but sense that’s got something to do with the sort of sour evaluation.
Matt: You mean people want to blame Appalachia when they watch? The whole backwards hillbilly thing?
Tim: The ol’ Deliverance, yeah. Or maybe they’re just like, “Appalachia is boring,” which is nuts in its own way. I dunno.
Matt: As someone from Appalachia (as a father with daughters) – though to be clear I didn’t grow up on a farm like in Fox and the Hound – I’ve never felt judged by that movie. And I find the setting to be great! It crafts a story with the details of its setting in mind, so Appalachia is never window dressing or simply code for hillbillies. You find good and bad there just the same as anywhere, but the particulars of that world seep into motivations, and that makes for great character work.
Tim: I spent a loooot of time writing about the characters in that movie, so I won’t reiterate all that, but you are very correct. Anything else about Fox and the Hound, or should we talk about how we have the same top three?
Matt: Bigmommadinkyboomer (always remember)
Tim: Yes yes yes.
Matt: I honestly don’t really know what to say besides yes we do have the same top three. I’m not totally surprised? I thought you might put WALL-E first, but otherwise this seems to jive for us.
Tim: I thought about putting WALL-E first this time out based on the high points. And then I thought about dropping it below Beauty and the Beast for being a movie which, all things considered, is still a little more interesting as a theoretical movie than a movie on the screen. And then I decided not to do anything with it.
Matt: Balanced, as all things should be. There’s an increasingly not-small part of me that really wishes WALL-E would not let the humans come back to Earth. I’m not holding that against the movie (honestly maybe in a few years), but that impulse is there. Even if I have that ideological issue, the movie itself is spectacular.
Tim: I think it’s the ending that makes sense for the movie that is. I also think that in 2008, that was the right ending. In 2019 that would be a bad ending. In 2028 that would have been a tone-deaf ending. I’m curious if that’s going to drive that movie down for some people, because I think WALL-E is more or less unquestioned as a top-two Pixar movie right now and has been almost since it was released.
Matt: We knew most of the same stuff in 2008. Not the extreme degree to which we’re fucked, but we knew. There was even more denial. If they did the different ending in ‘08 it probably would have tanked and then risen up rankings to about the same place now anyway.
Tim: So it goes.
Matt: But I do worry a bit there’s a lot of people like me who watch that ending now and feel saccharine. It doesn’t take away from what all that movie does very well, and those high points still exist, but it sticks in the craw to some extent. But, maybe we need something kind of naively hopeful like that (I really don’t mean that part as a pan, but it is mild critique).
Tim: The part of that movie that’s always bugged me is the “I don’t wanna survive: I wanna live,” as if he’s not going back to Earth to die except for the fact the credits roll that way which implies they’re all going to live.
We’re going to wait for Josh to address why the two of us have Lion King “low?” (As if having a movie fifth out of fifty-seven Disney movies could be “low.”)
Matt: We only live when we can colonize.
We are duty-bound to wait for Josh to really hash that out. A lot of lists have that as top two, no?
Tim: (the sound of me checking)
Matt: My sense/guess is that Lion King and Beauty and the Beast are usually 1 and 2 in some order. I don’t know what else pushes those away, except maybe Fantasia, Aladdin for a particular type of ranker, or Snow White for some classicist.
(sound of Tim checking continues)
Tim: (sound of Tim reporting) So I went back to some of those lists I mentioned in that Fox and the Hound diatribe I wrote, and: Collider 7th, Buzzfeed 3rd, Time Out 18th. I wanna talk to the staff at Time Out.
Matt: Those are the Lion King placements? I was way off! Good for Time Out having the guts to do what I couldn’t. Should we talk about Lion King at all or just save it? My general read is very fine technical aspects and thematically infuriating.
Tim: I really don’t think we can understate how impressive that movie is technically.
Matt: That’s why I couldn’t bring myself to not have it top-10.
Tim: However, let’s understate it by leaving it for Josh.
I’d say we should chat about why we have Hunchback and Monsters Inc and Mulan and Bambi scattered, but like, I don’t have that much distance between your top 10 interlopers, and I’m willing to bet you’ve got Mulan pretty high?
Matt: 15th. Which is your Hunchback spot? …. No, you have Hunchback 14 and Monsters Inc 15. I have Bambi….not anywhere near where you do.
Tim: Bambi kind of sits in that same “let’s watch this for the first/second time and see how we change our minds” zone, except I watched Bambi and I was just blown away with how gorgeous it is.
Matt: It is a beautiful movie. I never much connected with it as a kid either, and still don’t. I’m willing to say it’s my particular brand of cynicism, but that movie has never gripped me. Not even gripped me to say bad things like Lion King does. I just feel sort of inert watching it, which is really weird to say about the pinnacle of parent-death movies. I think it’s because I don’t really like the characters all that much?
Tim: It reminds me of Malick.
Matt: [sound of Matt clearing runway for Tim to do this]
Tim: I’ve been holding this take back, and I think it’s going to be disappointingly short. But aside from the spectacular visuals, there’s some really interesting thematic…circle of life…kind of stuff going on. Tree of Life has that perspective, Thin Red Line has that perspective. Thin Red Line is sort of interesting because it looks at Nature with that same kind of cyclical eye, the ability to see the forest beyond the trees. Bambi has the seasons, the replacement of the Great Prince with Bambi, destruction and rebirth…it just sort of works for me. I also think there’s more to it than the “cute animal” movie that a lot of people sort of leave it with. Not you, clearly, but Thumper is only in so much of this picture.
Matt: The perception of it is mostly Thumper and “twitterpated” and that angle. Which is not the best lens to read that movie. I would like it even less if I thought it were supposed to be just a cutesy animal movie. That said, the take of the visuals is some cutesy scenes. It’s a movie and I can watch and look at and go “yeah, there’s good stuff there” but then not feel much beyond that. Though what you say about the grander vision of it is interesting. Would you say it handles a “circle of life” thing better than Lion King?
Tim: Oh yeah. For one thing it doesn’t have to say “circle of life,” so that’s nice. But the entire structure of the movie is built on this idea that seasons follow one another in sequence, that we die and something replaces us in kind. It’s so pure it’s almost comforting.
So how about this… unless there’s more to say about our top tens, let’s see the next ones you have, in increments of five, and then choose one thing to talk about? (I’m sure there will be more, but let’s start with one good one.)
11) The Great Mouse Detective
13) Alice in Wonderland
Tim: Four of these I have in the next five down, and then the other one I have in the next five up, so that’s fun. What stands out to me is the Great Mouse Detective ranking I don’t have the gumption for.
Matt: This series of five for me really demonstrates how important I find being viscerally entertained to be. I think The Great Mouse Detective is a very smart, tight movie with some great character work. It’s also a lot of fun. And, as you mentioned in your post, letting it ebb and flow with Basil’s moods is a really clever choice and gives the movie some pizzazz a more standard interpretation of Holmes wouldn’t necessarily have. Ratigan and Fidget are fun and genuinely creepy when they need to be. The one song is a trip. The climax always has me riveted. I believe in that movie. What holds you back from my level of gumption on this one?
Tim: I’m a bigger believer in other movies, basically. I also have a similar feeling with this one that I did with Emperor’s New Groove, which is that it’s a really nice amuse-bouche that does everything right but doesn’t scream brilliance.
Matt: I sort of like that though because I don’t think Great Mouse Detective is reaching like, say, Lion King. And not everything needs to reach like that. This movie knows what it is and executes that perfectly.
Tim: I’m there with you.
Matt: Also Dawson in that undersized sailor outfit slays me. Which is probably rude of me in some ways but I always laugh during that scene. How’s Ratigan as a villain for you?
Tim: I’ve always thought he was really satisfying. He’s got enough juice as a bad guy that the ultimate transformation he undergoes makes sense, but it’s in a suave, groovy little package for so much of the movie that it’s not over-the-top. Even though his plans are just ludicrously over-the-top. He’s got some proto-Scar in him.
Matt: There’s a great postcolonial reading to do with Ratigan too that I’m not going to ramble on about here, but know that it’s there and probably informs part of why I’m so high on this movie.
Tim: I mean, we have space.
Matt: I don’t have it fully plotted out. Basic idea, he’s marked as savage in his true identity, over-performs being a mouse (British) as a result, which in turn makes his rat self (savagery) worse when it does come out. I’m just always so intrigued that the movie went the route of the bad beast character performs this super erudite Britishness, which is also clearly marked as dangerous and maniacal.
Tim: The movie doesn’t get into “Is he like this because people challenge him to trying to pass?” or “Is this his nature,” which, when they make the photorealistic version in 2027, I expect they’ll spend at least one post-credits scene on. Seriously, though, the movie has an eye on the issue without being silly or anything.
Matt: Right, and I think it allows for that reading I suggested without trying to answer it, or at least not in some contrived, neat way. Ratigan is allowed to be, as are all the characters from Basil’s petulance to Olivia’s stubbornness, and we get to watch them act and then see the consequences. I think it does well making the characters feel like real people. I also thought hard about putting it in the top-10.
Any other movies from that set stand out to you? Or are ones you want to give some shine to? Are we oddly high on Alice or is the consensus moving that way?
Tim: My guess is that we’re both higher on Alice than consensus, though I bet we’re both there for different reasons.
Bad guess! Time Out has it 20th, Buzzfeed has it eighth. Collider has it 29th, which is honestly what I would have guessed most folks would put it at.
Matt: Go Buzzfeed! I thought for sure I was higher on it than just about anyone, pleasantly surprised that not so much.
What are the different reasons?
Tim: For us or them?
Matt: Sorry, us. You said you think we’re high on it for different reasons.
Tim: My guess is that you like the oddness of the characters and the sort of madcap goofiness, and my placement of it is primarily for the way it pushes the limits of the world through the animation. I may be overstating what you like about it.
Matt: You aren’t, I love those things. I just don’t see those two lines of reasoning as all that separate. I get there’s a tonal and technical consideration between them, but the two inform one another. Alice honestly does one of the best jobs of making me feel engrossed and, really, happy to be watching. Like Sherlock, this character and story are everywhere so there’s that broad familiarity for sure, but there’s something about how this version doubles down on the zaniness of it all and then achieves that world with some truly impressive and distinct animation. No other Disney movie really looks like this, at least not more than a stretch of it.
Tim: it’s unique. I agree that the tone and technique support each other, but this is not a movie I’ve ever been able to like all that much. I admire it a great deal. Heck, in terms of how different it is from the movies immediately preceding it, it’s got Fantasia vibes.
Matt: I’m not sure I’m so bold as to call it the best scene in Disney, but the Mad Tea Party might really be my favorite. The verve and play, it speaks to me. The whole movie isn’t quite to that level, but the playfulness of all of it stays. And I do often feel like the March Hare conducting the tea pots.
Tim: I talk about that half a cup of tea every time I write about this movie, but it’s pure genius. That’s the same level of “the movies are just artifice but it’s artifice that we believe in” that we see in Singin’ in the Rain and Mulholland Drive, and let it be known that Alice hit theaters before both.
Matt: It’s a genius moment, and illustrative of how well the animation and style fits the story here. Carroll’s book invites us to question imagination and play, and sees those things as vital. This version of Alice buys into that and stays there.
Should I dump my next five, or do you want to talk about something else in this set?
Tim: I think we’re saving Aladdin. What’s next? (I have an expectation.)
Matt: Saving for Josh? Feels sort of wrong to talk about Williams without him. I’ll just say I think that movie is incredible fun and that’s why I have it this high. It has a number of issues.
Tim: I made sort of a histrionic case for Williams’ voice acting and then another one for the Menken-Ashman-Rice score, so I’m still sort of exhausted.
16) Toy Story 2
17) The Jungle Book
18) The Rescuers
19) The Little Mermaid
20) Sword in the Stone
Tim: There it is. I’m actually surprised it’s this low.
Matt: I’m being good. My heart says different.
Alright, look. We all know Sword in the Stone is my favorite and I could wax rhapsodic forever. But here’s what I want to do. One of the biggest complaints lodged against it is that Arthur is a weenie. And he is! He’s milquetoast! And they couldn’t be bothered to mix the three voice actors with anything close to convincing effect. But what if I suggest that this is fundamentally a movie not about preparing Arthur, but about education writ large? And, thus, it’s a movie about Merlin and Archimedes and merging hindsight with foresight, theoretical with applied, and book with field. It’s not about Arthur, he’s incidental. That’s why it ends with a joke about the round table and a truly comical bellowing of the crowd and not real deference to Arthur. Merlin gets the last word.
Also the squirrels are the most convincing love story in Disney, don’t @ me.
Tim: Do people not like weenie Arthur? Wait, are people doubting the squirrels? These are nimrods.
Matt: Yes and yes.
Tim: Nimrods! Fops! Unpersonators!
Matt: The latter is indefensible. The former is because they’re conditioned to think that role should be the important part. Which, I get it. But that’s part of why I think this movie is so clever. It wants us to look elsewhere. Not just literally because Merlin has the magic, but in terms of who it’s about and whose journey we’re really tracking. I have never been bothered that Arthur isn’t terribly exciting. He’s also like 12! 12 year old you was a weenie too!
I can’t even talk to the people who doubt the squirrels any more. There’s no hope for them. That scene still takes me through 8 different emotions.
Tim: It makes me so uncomfortable and I laugh so much.
Matt: That buxom squirrel…my god I want to meet whoever thought that up.
The songs here, are they on the Disney pantheon? No, but they’re fun. “Hockety Pockety” is a jam. And I find this movie to be endlessly quotable. And Merlin and Archimedes is the best tandem. And the Sisyphean Wolf!
Tim: It’s a movie which is fun a lot of the time. I like it more than Alice, certainly. But I’ve never thought it landed its punches.
Matt: Which punches don’t you think land? It’s not as visually compelling as Alice (besides the wizards’ duel, maybe) but I think it can be just as playful. The wolf, for example. Literally climbs up a mountain only to watch the thing he’s following roll back down. I love that gag. Most of the movie has that playful foot in the door of Western mythos but avoids becoming a sanctification of Arthur specifically.
Tim: It just loses me at the part where Arthur comes back to Ector. The fun I was having just sort of disintegrates, and the fun is really the reason this movie exists.
Matt: Which time he goes back to Ector? After the duel you mean?
Tim: Yep. Even the duel is sort of a drag for me, although I can appreciate why one would feel otherwise.
Matt: It’s certainly not as playful after that. But that part sort of cinches for me that it’s really about Merlin and Archimedes. They’re the ones going through changes there (or vacations with funny board shorts). And it gets us to the echoed sentiment “One big Medieval/Modern mess,” which I think is important. Locates everything in the present, which is the central push and pull between Merlin and Archimedes (and Vonnegut…). I get that reading, you’re not wrong, but I do think that bit is important to some extent. Although Mim is just wonderfully extra, so the duel does it for me.
Tim: I think that may have been the only movie I was…not curious, precisely, because I am familiar with your Sword in the Stone positions, but like, that was the one that stands out for sure. We almost have Jungle Book in the same spot, which is funny because I think we both like it more than that.
Matt: Barring something weird, Sword in the Stone will always be my favorite.
Tim: Did I mention Frozen 2 comes out this year?
Matt: Did I mention…..all I have are a bunch of curses but I feel like we try to keep this somewhat tame?
Tim: Cheers. I am pleasantly smug.
Matt: You can kiss Bofa.
My heart has Sword in the Stone much higher but I recognize other movies have better technical aspects and are tighter and so on and so forth. I just think Sword in the Stone is such a rich movie, way more than it gets credit for. I digress. Jungle Book. I was actually surprised you have it as high as you do. I have an old plate with a Jungle Book scene on it that I still keep, it’s a movie close to my heart.
Tim: I discovered as I was doing this that movies which are basically just a series of vignettes don’t really catch my fancy, but Jungle Book really does feel different. I don’t think there’s any question it’s the best of that bunch. There definitely isn’t any question about my inability to handle that little plot that Bagheera tries to cook up while Baloo is just absolutely getting his groove on.
Matt: That scene is one of the purest joys. And the source of one of my favorite meme templates. These vignettes feel like they fit together in a way that many other movies like that don’t. Most of the characters move in and out to some degree, I think that helps. And it does help the feeling that Mowgli is being tossed to and fro with no real control. Plus I enjoy all of the characters, there aren’t really any dull spots in Jungle Book, which is impressive.
Tim: I wrote about the first part, but like, it’s incredible that there are no boring places in Jungle Book. The rest of the movies of that type have boring parts, but Jungle Book is good every time out. If there isn’t a song, there’s a good character or two, and usually they’ve got both. I feel bad having it as low as it is, even though it’s not like, low. Somehow I think the “Bare Necessities” sequence is underrated?
Matt: I think that one suffered from overplay for awhile. I love it. The wordplay is tangibly fun. And that Phil Harris’ purr. The whole soundtrack is plain good too. Who’s your favorite character in Jungle Book?
Tim: …I thought I had an answer to this, and I really do not. My gut response is the vultures, I empathize deeply with Bagheera, I like everything George Sanders does and thus I dig Shere Khan…I’m sure I’m missing someone.
Matt: I don’t think Kaa is my favorite but I always enjoy Kaa. The “oh you’ve got me in such a knot” bit and then the accordion as he shuffles off. Who you’re forgetting is Colonel Hathi and Son.
Tim: I thought about the son. I was afraid mentioning the former would mean I was a cop.
Matt: You are a cop though, so it’s good. His wife steals the end of that scene though, and I love her too. I think Bagheera is my favorite, I just really feel that struggle. Although I know I have bouts of madcap Baloo in me. The vultures are every group of friends I’ve ever been in. Should we talk about King Louie or just move ahead?
Tim: What do you have in mind?
Matt: I don’t. I know you like his song though. Which is a great time. Still a little skeevy that the ape is scatting and saying he wants to be human. There’s much worse in the Disney catalogue, but that moment always feels slightly icky afterward. I know Prima is Sicilian though. I hold this critique more against the music industry than anything, honestly.
Tim: It’s one of the reasons I’m sort of indifferent about it…the guy voicing him is white, he was famous for the sort of Dixieland jazz…compared to a lot of other stuff Disney does, and a lot of it way more troublingly subtle, this one is lower on my list. They almost got Louis Prima for another movie, but for the life of me I can’t remember which one.
Matt: He was purposefully set up (not by himself, necessarily) as “ethnic” for even being Sicilian, and operated in worked in a notoriously thorny genre. Again, it makes me think more of the music industry than anything. It’s a mild thing, but a thing. I think part of this is also informed by my “screw the humans” ethos. Live your happy, jazzy life, King Louie. What was even after Jungle Book that he would have fit in? The Aristocats?
Tim: I’m not sure they didn’t want him for the role that ultimately became Scat Cat.
Matt: That would make sense. Putting him and Harris together again would have been really fun. Want my last set of 5?
Tim: Let’s do it.
21) Princess and the Frog
22) Inside Out
24) A Bug’s Life
25) Finding Nemo
Tim: So two that I think are surprisingly absent, or at least would be surprising for most people: Toy Story 3 and Coco. Unless you’re an old fart, and then you’re surprised that you’ve left out four out of Disney’s first five movies. (Looks at personal list, finds self such a fart.) Where do you want to start?
Matt: I would say I probably have Toy Story 3 and Coco in the next 5-10, as well as Snow White (largely for achievement rather than interest). I think we should start (or maybe we should end?) with why you won’t let your love of A Bug’s Life count for more.
Tim: Bug’s Life is actually one of those movies that a lot of people are still reacting a little negatively to, and I don’t know why. Between other early Pixar and Antz, is there too much to compare it to? It’s a genuinely good movie. It is at least as good a cover of Seven Samurai as any of the other covers. And something I really appreciate about this movie is the way it allows it’s supporting characters to all have really distinctive voices without it ever needing to cover up the protagonist. Flik is kind of doofy, but it’s a necessary quality. One of the lessons I took from making this list is that it’s so so difficult to balance your spunky, more fun supporting characters against your lead, and I think this movie does it pretty well.
Matt: Flik is recognizably doofy within the world of the movie, and that plays with what all the other characters are like. Everything meshes pretty well in A Bug’s Life. And there are all sorts of characters but the plot itself is pretty straightforward. The movie uses tasks well to keep everything moving while allowing the characters to have moments and push each other. And no other movie has P.T. Flea or the Pillbugs (our Marxist heroes).
Tim: There’s a general rule in this movie, which is not foolproof, that the smaller a character is the more fun s/he is. Again, this does not account for Dot or Slim, but otherwise this manages to incorporate the Pillbugs and P.T. and Francis pretty well.
Matt: The smaller ones certainly pack more fun per ounce, I think.
Tim: Slim isn’t quite my favorite. But I do like him an awful lot. I like just about everyone an awful lot. I like Mr. Soil and whichever small ant yells DIE DIE DIE over and over again.
Matt: That ant knows what’s up.
Tim: The one ant with student debt, probably. What are we missing about this movie? Why are other people so down on it?
Matt: I’ve never really understood why. Like, not just I don’t get the reasons but I don’t actually know what the reasons are. Is it just that they don’t like Flik? Or that it’s between Toy Story 1&2 and Monsters Inc so people just sort of forget about it? Or they just hate fun.
Tim: Maybe the doofiness rubs some people the wrong way. People can only stand a certain kind of earnestness.
Matt: It is somewhat more deliberately uproarious than those other early Pixar movies. And it’s not tackling something like (im)mortality. I don’t know, I just think those people can’t handle good fun.
Tim: I think this is what happens when you rely on Pixar to be your fix for like, a sixth of the good new movies you see in a calendar year, I dunno.
Matt: I was thinking something along the lines of A Bug’s Life is actually better at showing how an ensemble can work than Toy Story. The latter is more generally memorable, but A Bug’s Life has them interact and work in fun, real ways. The circus thing helps.
Tim: Okay, I was thinking that a few minutes ago and decided to shelve that take and now I’m slightly mad you said it. But like, in a fun way.
Matt: Ha! Good to know we’re still in near total sync. More to say here?
Tim: Just want to report on the Pixar rankings. Vulture and Vox both have Bug’s Life sixteenth, Variety has it nineteenth, The Ringer has it twelfth.
Matt: And all of those rankings are foolish. I think they do underestimate how important it can be to just have a fun, slick, interesting movie that’s not going for like Big Adult Theme. I, and I think you, can appreciate both of those avenues equally. And the character work here is great.
Tim: The groupthink on Bug’s Life is real, and let it be shouted from the rooftops that I’d rather have fun and interesting done well than Big Adult Theme done anything less than really well. I think Incredibles 2 has that problem…when it’s fun and interesting, it really is, but the Big Adult Themes are so muddled and it just casts a pall on the whole picture.
Matt: My biggest problem with Incredibles 2 (which can be deliriously fun, and we all know the scene I mean) is that it basically forgets all the character growth from the first one and redoes it. It’s muddled and samey.
Tim: I want to talk Princess and the Frog and Tangled as a double feature kind of thing, but that’s the Neoclassical thing I want Josh around for. I will say that rewatching them I gained some admiration for the former and lost some for the latter, which is why I’ve also got them pretty close but pretty clearly in that order.
Matt: We can wait. Tiana does a whole lot for me. I think that movie is good and fun in general, but she’s one of my favorites. Now if only she weren’t a frog for most of it….
Tim: Gets my goat too.
So I think we probably owe some sort of mild explanation for Toy Story 3, Coco, and I dunno, maybe old Disney movies, and then let’s see where we are. Coco is the one that really interests me, because that movie is stunning but the story does not hold up its end of the bargain. It’s one of the three or four movies that I had to weigh between “A twelve-year-old could tell where this is going” and “But it’s made for kids a little younger than that.”
Matt: The visuals are incredible. When I remember that movie I remember colors and sort of impressionistic scenes. I don’t remember much story wise besides broad strokes. And it has some really touching moments, too. But it feels kind of loose overall. Seeing it in theaters was a treat though, it really is beautiful.
Tim: Toy Story 3 spent such a long time being overrated, and (more checking sounds) well, according to us it still is. Vulture 6, Vox 9, Variety 4, The Ringer 7. So much of that movie, almost everything up until they get to the dump…I guess it’s slightly heretical of me to say that it’s really quite stale, but I don’t think that’s even a slightly hot take.
Matt: I still like Toy Story 3, but most of it is overshadowed by that big moment in the garbage disposal. There’s some fun stuff happening (Baron Von Shush, Mr. Cucumberhead, Ken and Barbie kinda gets me), but the movie is in some ways the climax. Although the biggest impact of the movie on me is that we are Andy’s age, and watching it from that lens with 1 & 2 in mind always adds some oomph for me.
Tim: The last twenty minutes really work. And what comes before it is just sort of lightweight.
I realized we kind of talked around the majority of the pre-VJ Day Disney movies already, so I don’t know that we owe any extra explanations. What’s left?
Matt: Any movie we haven’t talked about that you think the people should hear about? Or some gross miscalculation in my list (to which the correct answer is obviously no)?
Tim: Have you seen the new Winnie the Pooh?
Matt: I assume you mean the newest animated and not the Ewan McGregor? Either way yes.
Tim: Ha. What do you think about the animated one? It’s the one movie on this list I found myself saying, “Yes, this is emphatically and uncomplicatedly for children, and they did it splendidly.”
Matt: That seems right to me. It has some Three Stooges lite vibes. I always have a weird time with Pooh movies because I love the spirit but not necessarily all of the characters, which sounds really mean-hearted when I say it. I like the older one (Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh) more.
Tim: Many Adventures is 25 for me, and the new one is 37. It’s not as good as the old one, but I always want to pump up any kids’ movie that doesn’t have a villain or scares or violence or crudeness or anything like that. They don’t all need to be squeaky clean, but certainly some of them ought to aspire to it. It’s the same basic principle as My Neighbor Totoro.
Matt: There’s something very heartening about a movie that can pull of conflict without it being mean or scary. Friends solving a simple mystery in the woods does just as well. And it lets the personalities shine a little more. And small kids certainly benefit from that.
Tim: All right…last one. Which of Atlantis, Cars 3, and Big Hero 6 interests you most? Or if not one of those, do you have one that we just haven’t talked about which needs a shoutout?
Matt: Ooh, good question. Not Cars 3. I like Atlantis and Big Hero 6. I probably think Atlantis is a better movie but Baymax could make me watch a lot of things.
Tim: He is the only watchable part of that movie.
Matt: I don’t go that far but it’s also not a movie I’m particularly eager or ready to jump on the stump for. I had a fun enough time with it but it’s not ever going to be a favorite.
Tim: There was enough good press about Big Hero 6 when it came out that I thought it was going to be good, and then it was totally transparent and sort of annoying and I was kind of annoyed.
Matt: Atlantis has problems, but it’s more consistently interesting. (I think I’m also surprised we haven’t mentioned Zootopia).
Tim: Let’s do this, because I can think of no better way to close off 12,000 words about Disney movies than to talk about a mediocre movie from the early 2000s that I don’t think most people think about at all, when we also haven’t talked in any serious way about Little Mermaid, Monsters, Inc., Hunchback, Zootopia, Pinocchio, Dumbo, The Incredibles, etc. Take that part about The Incredibles with a grain of salt, gentle reader.
Matt: Also listen to “Jawn Voyage.”
Tim: We really don’t have that much of it left…whoosh. Anyway, submarine movie with international cast of brigands seeking weird technospiritual island with offshoots about linguistics, World War I, and like thirty other things. Boy that movie is sort of a mess.
Matt: And I love a good thematic mess! It’s trying to do way too much and I appreciate that but it also hurts the movie. I also have to believe a lot in the B-level characters to really consider an argument for this movie being great.
Tim: They are not, for the most part. A lot of one-liners doing a lot of cover-up.
Matt: Mole and Cookie get me, but they are sort of the biggest culprits of one-liners covering stuff up. Or theirs stick out anyway.
Tim: It makes me wonder about an alternate Disney that leans more heavily into sci-fi aimed at slightly older viewers. It’s not necessarily a better product, but those scenes with the submarine, the trek to Atlantis in that pseudo-cave jawn…they’re pretty good. They’re shot adventurously, they have fun steampunk design…I also think that this movie looks better on the whole than Tarzan, even though they’re both doing the same basic thing in terms of their animation style and technology.
Matt: I would love if Disney tried more sci-fi stuff. That would be exciting. And give them new ground to tread so they don’t have to fall back into the bad metadiscourse we talked about earlier. You can only animate human societies (and I’m including the animal ones meant to look human here) so many ways, taking us to different worlds would lead to new, adventurous style considerations. I think Atlantis is, by and large, a movie of good ideas that’s badly populated.
Tim: Which loses steam, too. Not that Atlantis is boring, but I’m still a little amazed that finding a lost civilization could be so anticlimactic.
Matt: Especially when it’s in the title.
Tim: Any parting thoughts we need to drop on our reading friends? I was going to preview some of the stuff I hope to talk about with Josh in the future, but other than that I didn’t have anything, so you should go first.
Matt: I don’t think I have much. Watch the stuff that makes you happy. Although what was the hardest movie for you to rank, Tim?
Tim: Maybe The Little Mermaid? That’s one I rewatched really recently, and after I watched it I dropped it out of the top ten. It’s a tricky movie to sort of get your hands around because it has some high points in music and humor and supporting characters and even with Ariel, but then it’s got some animation that’s not terrific, a plot that sort of speeds by without much heft, characters who never feel like they matter much…and like Snow White, which I also found sort of difficult to place well, it’s got a historical angle that I try to dodge but that most people don’t because they call it the first movie of the Disney Renaissance and I disagree.
Matt: That movie always feels like it stutter-steps along to me. It has fun moments and elements, but the seams are there to see. There’s always less to the movie than I remember.
Tim: That was the biggest problem I had, I think. That’s well said.
Matt: Wanna leave the people with a preview?
Tim: So the plan whenever we get Josh, who is busy doing good work while the two of us fritter away our time, is to cover a lot of the stuff we didn’t have time to get into here. I’m thinking much more talk about Disney Renaissance and Disney Neoclassical and some more highly ranked Pixar, a chance for him to get some good words in about his favorites and highly-ranked movies, he can tell me while I’m wrong about stuff while Matt murmurs “Pillbugs” over and over again, and hopefully some time to talk Disney futures? I don’t know that that last needs to take up a lot of time, but I was sort of inspired by our quick hit on Atlantis. Also probably racism. That’s cheerful.
Matt: Welcome to America, it’s all racist. And now that you’ve pegged me as murmuring “Pillbugs” over and over I am going to become the Hodor of this operation.
Tim: I mean, at least you get to do it after penning half of this screed.
Matt: We know I will also be muttering “Magical Negro”
Tim: For reasons! We promise for reasons!