Tim: This is the story of something that began nine months ago, something that Matt and I conceived, you might say, and now we’re adding a third person to make our duo a trio. I am very proud of this introductory statement, and a little horrified that we’re getting back to the Disney conversation we promised with Josh literally nine months after the first half.
Josh: Really missed the opportunity to use “threesome” up there.
Matt: That would make the joke illegal.
Tim: Double plus ungood. So nine months ago, Matt and I covered a number of topics, a lot of them more broad than I imagined they’d be, frankly. Here’s the link, but if you want the short version or you’re just here for Josh, the general list of topics went something like this: best Disney/Pixar movies against favorites and why that’s tough for a lot of people to differentiate between…why someone’s age seems like a basically insuperable obstacle to ranking the Disney/Pixar movies of someone else’s childhood highly..why we’re ranking those two together when they are not the same…Matt’s top 25, compared to Tim’s, and which was like, strangely similar. Today we’re going to be more specific. Probably. Now that we do have Josh along, I thought it would be good to get into the naming conventions of different Disney time periods, which is to say, talking about the Disney Renaissance and whatever it is this period of Disney movies are called, because I’ve been calling it Disney Neoclassicism and I recognize that is a very mixed metaphor. Does everyone here agree with me that everyone else is wrong about which movies belong in the Disney Renaissance?
Matt: Depends on which movies you or others think belong to it…
Tim: The general consensus is that it goes from The Little Mermaid to Tarzan, where I contend that it should begin and end one movie earlier and later, which is to say, Oliver & Company to Mulan.
Josh: I would say The Little Mermaid to Mulan, excluding Rescuers Down Under. Personally speaking.
Tim: Do we get to exclude things? I guess it’s more like a years business from me, call it 1988-1997.
Matt: Tim, I’m confused. Mulan is ‘98. Which is already one year earlier than Tarzan.
Tim: 1998 it is! Argue between yourselves for a minute, I think I have to put the cat in some IKEA furniture and put him on the porch.
Josh: Well that’s a weird sentence. Also, the reason I exclude Rescuers Down Under is two-fold: First, it doesn’t fit the format of the rest of the films in the Disney Renaissance, as in a hand-drawn musical with multiple numbers sung specifically by the characters. And second, I didn’t grow up watching it, so don’t have the same childhood nostalgia for it that I do for the rest of the movies 89-99. Tarzan I view as a sort of an in-between movie, because it marks the first time Disney relied heavily on computer animation for most of the film and also because the songs are (for the most part) sung by Phil Collins, though they do heavily reflect and move forward the action of the film.
Matt: Mark that one on your Josh bingo card!
Tim: …nostalgia or Phil Collins? (The cat and I are on the porch together, and he’s in a “Kvistbro” with a little blanket on the bottom. I’m not a psychopath. He’s not in a Billy or something.)
Matt: The latter. Also I’m very much bristling at this idea that we can just exclude things from an era, especially based on personal nostalgia. Eras are already a fraught concept as it is.
Josh: The nostalgia thing is just an honest admission, the main point is that it doesn’t fit the genre, the format, the style of the other films of that time period. It looks way more like The Rescuers, which of course it does, but it also doesn’t fall in the same category. It was certainly made during the Disney Renaissance time period, but I don’t know that it’s a Disney Renaissance film, because it’s continuing the plot, style, and substance of a previous film from another era.
Matt: I’m not saying the film isn’t different, it is. But we can’t just axe inconvenient data.
Tim: I would say 1) I’ve got the Disney Renaissance as a stretch of years more than a subgenre, 2) I think it looks a lot like the other Disney Renaissance movies, and 3) I think people who worked on these movies matter in the way that the artists of the Renaissance (not conflating the two in terms of quality or history, clearly) made the Renaissance. And Rescuers Down Under is a movie with a lot of future names from the movies from the next few years.
Matt: It’s part of the production lineage. Granted, it is a film I view more fondly than most. But it’s an interesting addition to the Renaissance and deserves consideration, fondness or no.
Tim: The Belgium of the Disney Renaissance.
Tim: So whether or not we are excising pictures from the middle, it sounds like there’s not a lot of argument that Tarzan doesn’t belong. I think that movie looks and feels a lot more like Atlantis than it does Mulan. With the caveat that there is no Phil Collins in Atlantis.
Josh: Tarzan is honestly just a weird film from an animation standpoint. The artistry looks and feels so different from Mulan, but it also feels smoother and better than many of the computer/hand drawn animation combos that succeed it, up until I think Treasure Planet. Which is an extremely underrated film, but which I don’t think we’ll get to on anyone’s top 25 list.
Tim: Fifty-sixth. Honestly not bad. So Tarzan we have dumped. I confess to being sort of at a loss as to why Oliver & Company doesn’t fit into a lot of people’s conceptions of the Disney Renaissance…is it because it’s bad? Not enough songs? Too animal, not enough people? No princess?
Matt: The Little Mermaid just has a bigger and stronger place in people’s hearts, I think. People forget about Oliver. I’m saying that anecdotally, to be fair. Also it’s…not that good. It definitely fits the model though.
Tim: It is really not good. Like, really not good at all. I had that sixty-sixth, which is Home on the Range territory. I think where Disney Renaissance signifies “good” to a lot of people, that would make Oliver & Company suffer, but then again, Pocahontas isn’t exactly burning up the charts either.
Josh: I’ve always had a soft spot for Oliver, but I will admit it’s not great. I think another reason it doesn’t go with the Renaissance is that it looks and sounds different. There are songs, but they don’t follow the formula of the 90s movies, and honestly are closer to Tarzan. The animation is a lot less smooth, with sharper angles, more lines, and just busier scenes altogether.
Tim: I don’t think I’ve thought about that before, but you are right that there’s a busy-ness to Oliver which kind of works against it. If you assume that Disney is always working about ten years behind, like Canada, then the New York story it’s telling fits in much more neatly with a lot of the movies of the previous decade.
Josh: Or movies of two decades later. Zootopia and Big Hero 6 both manage to nail the big city look and feel, and are incredibly busy movies, animation-wise, but the computer animation techniques lend themselves much more cleanly to that effect than the hand-drawn of Oliver.
Tim: So with a timeline basically decided on, I think, that brings us closer to the present day, and here’s where I am asking for help, because I don’t quite know where I’d say it starts and I don’t think it has an ending. It’s the Disney movies where they decide to get back to musicals and princesses, in several cases but not all, but these are also heavily computer animated rather than 2D. And from there I don’t quite know what they ought to be called, which is its own thing.
Josh: Oh that’s easy. Starts with Princess and the Frog.
Matt: After the disaster of Bolt.
Tim: I figured. I was not looking at a timeline, but that seems like the logical beginning. Also. Bolt. That movie is a slog, man. So bad.
Josh:Gosh Bolt is bad. But yeah, Princess and the Frog. Which is funny to say, because it was a very clear ploy to trade on the nostalgia of the millenials who grew up in the Renaissance and were now in college, paying for movies on their own. And they did that by making a very hand-drawn animated film, relying minimally on computer animation. Which, it turns out worked ok but not super great, box-office wise. And so, with Tangled I say they officially began the new era, by making a computer animated film in the formula of the Renaissance films with 2010s (somewhat) empowering sensibilities.
Tim: So one of the things that interests me about this is that there’s still a lot more variety in what Disney’s doing since Princess and the Frog in ‘09 than there was in the Renaissance. For those of us keeping track at home, that’s Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Frozen II. Looking at that, we have a definite princess/musical theme, and then on the other hand there are five movies, just as many as there are princess musicals, which barely cohere unless they’re sequels.
Josh: I think one of the big things that ties these movies together is the visual style. They look like 2010s Disney movies, which sounds vague but if I were to show you a random scene from any of those movies you’d be able to tell me when it was made.
Matt: Well….yes. But could you show it to someone not as familiar with Disney as we are, along with something from the Renaissance, and them be able to spot the immediate difference? My more precise question is what constitutes a 2010s Disney movie then? Because the ones listed made whatever that vibe is.
Also, should we be talking about Winnie the Pooh more in general, because that little guy fits into about every era.
Tim: A brief interruption to say that I am constantly talking about Winnie the Pooh. Anyway.
Matt: Winnie Poof!
Josh: Clean 3D computer animation of characters with small faces and giant eyes. Also, have y’all seen Christopher Robin? With Ewan McGregor? Because I love it so much. It’s great.
Tim: Still whiffing on it.
Matt: I saw it. It’s cute. And I’ll watch McGregor in pretty much anything. Wouldn’t say I loved it, but I had a fun time.
Tim: I think that style is very clear even across people and animals, but that still sort of leaves out some of the earlier pieces. Is it too easy a question to ask which of those halves of this new Disney period are better representatives of it? It’s gotta be the Frozen/Moana half, right?
Josh: Yes, in short. But all of the films with the exception of Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh use that style, to the point that even the animation of Moana looks very like Wreck it Ralph, which looks very like Big Hero 6. Three movies that should, stylistically and plot-wise, look different, but don’t. I will also say that these movies, and really everything after 2010, relies heavily on Pixar’s technology and story-telling. The stories that Disney is telling now feel more intimate, more personal, in a way that Pixar has always been the master of. Pixar’s movies, meanwhile, have been able to increase their production value with Disney’s budgeting and so can include scenes like the city of the dead in Coco or the intricacy of the mind in Inside Out. The buyout of Pixar by Disney in ‘06 took time to show up in the movies, but the two studios have irrevocably influenced one another, I think generally for the better for both.
Tim: So you’re saying that whatever this era is is probably a stronger reaction to Pixar than it is to the Disney Renaissance.
Josh: I think so, yeah. But even that is a sort of a reaction to the Renaissance, because Pixar started making movies in 1995, right around the time Disney’s started to decline.
Matt: It took them so long to make movies at first though that Pixar really didn’t take off until the Renaissance was over. I know Toy Story was a hit, so I don’t mean commercial. I just mean it’s not until 2000 that Pixar starts pumping out a movie a year.
Tim: (The Shrek of it all, I think, ought to be noted if not delved into right this second.)
Josh: (Agreed. Dreamworks was king for a very brief period following the release of Shrek, in between the dominance of Disney and then of Pixar. They fell of quite quickly after that, but have somewhat returned to form with How to Train Your Dragon)
Matt: (Let’s make music together!)
Tim: Talk about an alligator drive-thru.
Josh: (We are not bringing the Bluth films into this, other than to say they were Disney’s only true competitor in the 90s).
Matt: Which doesn’t negate your point, but it leads to a question. What would you say is Disney’s influence on Pixar, besides money? I know Toy Story, the plotting and story, were purposefully reacting against the Renaissance musical model.
Tim: I don’t think I have ever thought about this before, so I am curious to hear your thoughts too.
Josh: Besides money? Not much.
Josh: Production value, the ability to explore larger sets and create more impressive scenery, perhaps. I would argue perhaps that their storytelling has broadened slightly while Disney’s has shrunk, but then again Tim wrote an entire article about the slow decline of Pixar.
Matt: But is that influence, really? It’s more resources. In other words, why can’t we see it as Disney’s resources allowing Pixar to follow more of their already existing impulses? I agree that Disney Animated movies are trying to incorporate some Pixar elements, but I’m less sure about the other way. I was talking with someone about this a week ago, oddly enough. She had just watched Brave with her sons and we discussed Brave and Frozen. At one point I suggested Disney makes movies explicitly for kids with adult asides, while Pixar movies are really for adults but have enough to keep kids invested and interested. Then when they (we) grow up those films grow with us.
Tim: See, the thing that stands out to me is how much safer I think Pixar has gotten in the past few years, and that’s not just me griping about endless sequels (although one assumes those are related), but there’s a lack of adventure in a lot of Pixar’s movies in the past decade that reflects some of the typical ideas in Disney movies. A lot more focus on adult-child conflict, rather than following characters which are basically adults, or if not adults very much on their own (basically whatever Remy is). One of the things that annoys me about Coco is the switcheroo that Disney has been doing in their movies so consistently that I think it may be the single greatest indicator of the era. Or second to the style that Josh discussed.
Matt: That’s a fair point. They have been able to follow more impulses production wise. But is the effect of money and Diseny’s “parentage” (the ultimate parent-child conflict) twofold in that while it allows for more visual muchness, it makes the Pixar staff less worried about financial disaster, or, relatedly, Disney puts marketing pressure on for safer? I guess all I wanted to tease out originally was if we can remove this from market pressure and find any creative/intellectual way in which Disney Animated has fundamentally altered Pixar’s model. (As a Marxist, of course I believe it’s all markets)
What do you mean by the switcheroo?
Tim: The introduction of the villain as a benign character, who then turns out to be the villain later on in the movie, which by now I can’t imagine is even surprising the elementary schoolers. Every Disney movie since Wreck-It Ralph has done it, and if you wanted to take it back to Winnie the Pooh I’d hear you out. I guess this is Pixar’s fault too, in a sense, because Up, if you want to count it as one of those, and Toy Story 3 do it…but even then, those feel different. I mean, in TS3 that last for about ten seconds, so maybe not a great example, but I can’t help but look at those and feel like someone in the Disney brain trust said, “Ah ha!”
Also, the reason these aren’t podcasts is being evidenced for me presently, because all three of us are typing at one time here.
Josh: One thing I will say to this villain point (which is a good one) is that Pixar films, on the whole, have strayed away from having true villains. Some of the strongest of Pixar’s oeuvre are the ones (WALL-E, Finding Nemo, Inside Out) are about the character’s struggles against life, or apersonal conflicts. But, to your switcheroo point, Toy Story 2 is the first Pixar film to do a switcheroo villain with the miner, then Monster’s Inc with the bossman. Up does it with the adventurer as well.
Matt: There’s a distinction to draw here, I think. Between the audience switcheroo and the narrative switcheroo. Simba thinks Scar is a nice uncle, if sort of creepy, for awhile and has the rug pulled out from him. But we, as the audience, know Scar is bad. Tangled gives us Gothel, who we get vibes from before Rapunzel. After that it becomes more them trying to hoodwink the audience too.
Josh: Hunchback of Notre Dame fits this narrative switcheroo model as well. Honestly, most of the Renaissance goes for this model. As I think about it more, actually…all of the Renaissance?
Tim: I wouldn’t say so…Sykes, Ursula, George C. Scott, Gaston, Jafar, Scar, Fat the Goatee (Radcliffe, yeah?), Frollo, Hades, Shan Yu…I mean, I don’t think there’s ever a question that those characters are the bad guys, even if some of them are sort of amiable for the first ten minutes or so. But most of them are just not good from the start.
Matt: That’s the distinction I was trying to make. Some of those characters seem okay to their movie’s protagonist, but there’s never really a doubt for us as audience. We know they’re bad, but we’re privy to an omniscient view that, say, Ariel isn’t with Ursula. Or that Quasi isn’t with Frollo (and, ya know, deep trauma)
Josh: That’s what I was thinking, Matt. Only Shan Yu and George C. Scott, and Sykes are known bad guys to the protagonists.
Matt: Right. But I think Tim resents, and I agree, when the movie tries to fool us too and goes beyond having a naive or traumatized protagonist who must learn. It’s a difference of implied narrative voice.
Josh: Right. So we’re differentiating between “audience switcheroo” and “narrative switcheroo”. We all have gotten tired of the “audience switcheroo” and prefer the “narrative switcheroo”.
Matt: Okay, yes. We’re adopting my terms, and I see you said that above now. We’re on the same page. Well, “prefer.” Either can work. I think the audience one is just much harder to pull off.
Tim: “Resent” is a good word, speaking of terms. To Matt’s point: I think there’s something near to profound about those stories where it turns out that the people near us are actively harming us. I’ll take more of those. I think there’s something (evil cackle) Nolanesque about this idea that to confuse the audience into appreciative shock near the end and to use that shock as a replacement for story, or character, and I can’t say I care for that very much.
Matt: I’d agree with that. I wasn’t supporting the attempted hoodwinking, just trying to diagnose. Though the villains in WALL-E are humans.
Tim: To Josh’s: that is a good call on Pixar doing it for the years after 9/11, which is a very dramatic way to put it, but also…I dunno, blame 9/11 or something. I think that also goes back to saying that Pixar has by and large been better when they aren’t hanging out too close to Disney’s skirts..when was the last time you watched a Disney animated movie and felt like there was something even moderately effective in its intangibles? If Toy Story 2 makes Stinky Pete an honest-to-goodness villain because of how much social distancing he’s been doing, then fine, but it’s also a movie which is really not hinging on whether or not he’s a villain but whether or not he’s right that it’s better to live forever than live fully.
With that little segue managed, that means there’s another term that I feel like we need to coin so people will take us seriously…what do we call the 2009-present time in Disney movies? Is it Neoclassical, because like the Renaissance it’s hearkening back to something out of living memory (for the children it’s aimed at, certainly) which is supposed to be finer and better than what we have now? Or is the right move to suggest that this is like, Baroque or Rococo? Gotta say that the Pixar of it all definitely throws the terminology for me a little.
Matt: Purely historically, it would be Early Modern, no? Not saying that works, just in terms of progression.
Tim: From a historical perspective, I think so. In the artistic sense that might be too broad.
Matt: Almost certainly too broad.
Tim: I think in the art sense it goes Renaissance-Baroque-Rococo-Neoclassical. Which means that if this is Neoclassical then we’re about to have a really interesting Disney movie in a couple years called Jack O’Bin.
Matt: Mannerism is in there. After Renaissance I think. Very excited for Jack O’Bin. It’s definitely not Rococo, but Baroque or Neoclassical I would listen to.
Josh: Idk about terms, but I do think we can see a clear delineation of when the two studios began to affect one another, and it’s 2008-2009, two to three years after Disney bought Pixar and put Lasseter in charge of all animation studios. And, coincidentally, when our timeline for the newest era of Disney films start. This is when Pixar made Brave, its first and to date only princess film, and when Disney made Princess and the Frog, a movie whose main climax is one frog and one voodoo shadow man in a graveyard, and that’s it. A very intimate sort of conflict scene from the studio that had Prince Eric stab Ursula with a shipwrecked boat in front of all of the merfolk.
Matt: As was his right, god save it.
Tim: I watched the second half of that a few weeks ago, and boy, that scene does not get any more normal the more you see it.
So what’s next? Do we feel like pestering Josh about his top 25 Disney/Pixar movies? Or do we want to follow this trail somewhere Pixar related?
Josh: I’m happy to put my list here if we like.
Tim: Let’s do it the way Matt suggested we do it, which is the opposite of the way we actually did it. So in other words, give us 21 through 25 and then we’ll continue going backwards. Oh! Ha! Yes! Okay, I wrote down my top 25 and Matt’s top 25, and I will put them in here real quick so the good folks reading this can have some comparison…although “real quick” probably does not adequately account for formatting…Remember, kids, Matt and I hashed this out at the link from, once again, literally nine months ago, and because I like to keep busy with dumb things, I have everything from Snow White to Ralph Breaks the Internet ranked in a different series. Anywho.
Tim’s 25 –
1) Toy Story
3) Beauty and the Beast
5) The Fox and the Hound
7) The Incredibles
8) The Lion King
11) Toy Story 2
12) The Little Mermaid
13) The Rescuers
14) The Hunchback of Notre Dame
15) Monsters Inc
17) The Great Mouse Detective
18) The Jungle Book
20) Alice in Wonderland
22) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
23) Finding Nemo
24) Inside Out
25) The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
1) Toy Story
3) Beauty and the Beast
4) The Incredibles
6) Fox and the Hound
9) Lion King
10) Monsters Inc
11) The Great Mouse Detective
13) Alice in Wonderland
16) Toy Story 2
17) Jungle Book
19) Little Mermaid
20) Sword in the Stone
21) Princess and the Frog
22) Inside Out
24) Bug’s Life
25) Finding Nemo
- Beauty and the Beast
- The Lion King
- Toy Story
- Toy Story 2
- Toy Story 3
- The Fox and the Hound
- Finding Nemo
- The Incredibles
- Monsters, inc.
- Inside Out
- The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
- The Jungle Book
- Robin Hood
- The Emperor’s New Groove
- Sleeping Beauty
- Frozen 2
- Lady and the Tramp
Tim: Boy, we are so bad at these slow reveals. Josh was right that his is not at all similar to ours, but I think the surprise here is actually at the top.
Matt: Nope, not similar. The top is the juicy bit here.
Tim: Phrasing, anyway, Josh – what happened?
Josh: You mean how I formatted them so they’re on the same page and I’m awesome? Or you mean my list?
Tim: (Let’s not tell him that when this turns into something on the blog the columns are definitely not going to translate.) I think Matt and I mean the heel turn.
Josh: (Just copy that as an image then and paste it in, bc it is a thing of beauty)
Matt: (There are many a numbered list out there…)
Josh: Starting with not Toy Story?
Matt: Starting with not Lion King
Josh: Ah. Well, since y’all’s last convo had a long thing about favorite vs best, I put Beauty and the Beast ahead of Lion King, because I think it’s a better movie.
Matt: Tim! We have influence!
Tim: Where’s the Handsome Boy Modeling School link when you need it…
Matt: I thought you might have meant this one.
Josh: I don’t know that anyone but me reads these, but yes, you have influenced me. My “Favorite Disney/Pixar Movies” list would be very different from the one above.
Tim: All right, so we can come back to the Lion King of it all.
Matt: I’m adding “the ___ of it all” to Tim’s bingo card.
Josh: As you should.
Matt: I invoked Marx earlier. Forgot to tell the people to check that one off for me. Anyway…
Tim: Instead of trying to go through every movie and hearing the justification, I say Matt and I pick a movie that stands out for its place in the ranking and go back and forth until we’re bored? Want me to start?
Josh: Go for it.
Tim: I would not have guessed that you would be the low man among us regarding Hunchback (me 14, Matt 5, Josh 17). I guess the two of us aren’t so far away, but is there something about it that drags it down for you?
Josh: That may be some self-doubt on my part. It is one of my favorite Disney films, and I think the soundtrack is phenomenal, but it has a darker tone and a certain amount of self-righteousness about it (which is ironic) that turn a lot of people off to it. And if people don’t want to see it, then it loses its effect some. I think also some of the stories told by the movies I ranked above it are stories that need to be told more.
Tim: I’m looking back on my own rankings, and I have reminded myself that I’m not impressed with its comic relief – is that on your radar or no?
Josh: I always personally loved the gargoyles, but they are admittedly annoying and way over the top. The small jokes like “Achilles, heel” are way better and done quite well. Casting Kevin Kline was also inspired, because he pulls off that humor and that voice so well.
Tim: Kevin Kline is one of my great joys in voice acting…that guy almost singlehandedly makes Road to El Dorado good, not that I’m going that far. Matt’s turn.
Josh: (I like Road to El Dorado, but I’m a sucker for all of Dreamworks traditionally animated movies. Except maybe Sinbad. That movie is quite bad. Got Brad Pitt’s voice though, which is fun.)
Matt: The caveat here is that Tim and I ranked ours before this movie, but, Josh, why do you think Frozen II is good?
Tim: I love how this question is phrased.
Josh: I mean, fair, I assumed one of you would jump on that. I like it better than the first because it feels a little more complex, and it tries to address some relevant issues (not saying it succeeds wonderfully, or that I don’t think it would be more interesting if Anna and Elsa weren’t literally a bridge between the indigenous tribe and the colonizers), but mostly I like the mythology and world building work that it does. I’m not used to this level of world building in my Disney movies, and I like it.
Matt: But it just plunges Anna and Elsa back to where they were in the first movie. Same basic conflict, really. And the spirit stuff rips Moana.
Josh: In the words of Cory Matthews: “How can we learn so much every week and still be so stupid?” People make the same mistakes and fall into the same patterns in real life. The movie doesn’t say that Anna and Elsa are totally changed people because they went through the experiences of the first film, but it also shows a progression in their relationship. They are both trying more than they were, but they still have the same instincts. Also I expected more Olaf to annoy me greatly, but he didn’t.
Matt: First, bingo.
Tim: Yes, yes, definitely bingo.
Matt: Second, ELSA DISAPPEARS TO THE POLAR ICE CAP AFTER ANOTHER SONG ABOUT NEEDING TO WORK ALONE. There’s a difference between character traits and same movie beats. Frozen II barely tries to update any relationships. Why am I watching these sequels if the same stuff keeps happening?
Josh: Do you enjoy the Back to the Future films?
Josh: Sequels, threequels, series, whatever, they often do this. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 both have Woody feeling like he’s been replaced or devalued, and he hasn’t really worked through those feelings of the first movie by the time they get to the second.
Matt: Okay, the sequel thing is appeal to hypocrisy. And the Toy Story movies grow in situation. Anna and Elsa aren’t fighting a new iteration of their feelings, it’s just new plot details. Woody deals with and accepts Buzz. Then wants to be immortal. Then deals with Andy growing up. Woody is meant to start as a bad “person” and grow. Yes his inclinations come back, but they grow in situation. Frozen II is about Arendelle more than any of the characters. Which could be interesting! But it’s trying to sell us on the characters.
Josh: See, I think it is a new iteration of their feelings, because their world has expanded to include conflicts and struggles that they hadn’t previously imagined. Elsa in the first film was scared and insecure because she didn’t know how to feel about her power as an ice-wielding person. Elsa in the second film has accepted her powers, but is now questioning what she is supposed to do with them, and questioning idk, her destiny? Also Frozen was very much about Anna, and Frozen II is very much about Elsa.
Matt: She’s wrestling with hearing spirits, which is an extension of her power though. The plot doesn’t appreciably change if Elsa isolates (again) or if she and Anna just work together on a supposedly stronger relationship after the first movie. The major results of the plot anyway. And that bugs me. I don’t know anything new about these characters.
Tim: I also think the plot of this one is muddled? I realize that’s not really what you guys are talking about, but Casey and I watched this and were just…not confused, precisely, but it’s sort of disconnected even within the subplots. Like, what Elsa’s doing for half of this movie is really bizarre.
Josh: It does try and go in a few different directions at once, yeah. I’ve also now watched it twice, the second time like two weeks ago, so it is very fresh on my mind. Also, listening to “Lost in the Woods” again.
Tim: I went through all the movies for the scenes thing to come, spoiler, and that was pretty easily the nominee for Frozen II. Matt, do you have more questions about this one?
Matt: Nah, I’m good. You got another movie?
Tim: What am I missing about Sleeping Beauty? I appreciate the animation on that one a great deal, but it is definitely pretty beige for me.
Josh: Maleficent is pretty much it for that one. The self proclaimed “Mistress of all Evil”. She’s a badass villain for that time, one of the scariest villains and most iconic. I really don’t like the movie all that much, but it does a good job of atmosphere like, every time she’s on screen. Also the turning into a dragon scene is great
Tim: I am probably not giving the dragon fight enough credit, although when I did my rankings a while ago I think the majority of what moved it up at all was Maleficent. Matt’s turn again.
Matt: I have a similar “what am I missing” question, and it’s for Robin Hood. I think that movie is amusing, but it’s never been as good to me as other people seem to think. What am I missing?
Tim: This is a good one to ask about, because I imagine I am between the two of you and I am curious as well.
Josh: Honestly it’s just a really charming film, in terms of characters. And secondly, this is a more technical thing, but the amount of animation that they reused to make that movie is truly impressive. A good ⅓ or so of that movie is recycled animation from Aristocats, Snow White, and Jungle Book, and like half the voice cast shows up in either Aristocats or Jungle Book. The fact that they could make a charming and amusing film that still stands up to this day as one of the most defining Robin Hood adaptations ever put to screen by reusing as much as they did and using the actors they already had contracted is just really impressive.
Matt: What would you say to someone who thinks the reusing is lazy, rather than impressive? (I’m not making this case, because it’s not a fact I often think of, but I’m curious)
Josh: Normally I would be the one saying it’s lazy, so I get it. I think what makes it impressive is that while you can notice it when you pay attention, it still feels natural to the movie. It’s not like the Transformers scenes where Michael Bay just uses the same ten second shot of a robot floating through space with different dialogue, every scene that is reused has been changed to fit the movie you’re watching, and it looks like it belongs in that movie. Even if Little John dancing with Madame Cluck looks a lot like Baloo dancing with King Louis.
Matt: LADY Cluck! You philistine.
Josh: Please forgive me.
Matt: Actually it’s Lady Kluck. So I’m a philistine too. Speaking of her (sort of), who’s your favorite character in this movie? I often remember it as a series of amusing characters but not much movie.
Tim: This has a stellar set of voice actors…like, they’re in that weird position where some of the cast is so good that it’s a little out in front of the movie, which, on my rewatch, definitely had less going on than I remembered.
Matt: Also, I think your take on the animation is fair, Josh. The characters feel very vivid and lived-in, so to speak. It’s an excellent cast. If they made it again today with those same people and gave it more time, it could be a super interesting attempt at having sheer cast chemistry and banter carry a movie.
Josh: So, I’m second-guessing myself but I think Robin Hood is my favorite character. Others are more colorful or have more fun voices and characterization (Little John, Lady Kluck, Sherriff), but Robin is just so suave and charming. It feels so much like what you imagine Robin Hood in the Pyle stories should be like, this charismatic outlaw who everyone but the authorities really loves. I will say I’m a big fan of Alan a-Dale, though, and find myself singing “Not in Nottingham” on the reg. Gonna listen to that one now.
Tim: So I can imagine what got you to Toy Story 3 at seven, which is the highest ranked movie that neither Matt nor I have on our top 25 that you’ve got. But Coco is right after it, it’s not on either of our lists, and the further away I get from that movie the less I understand what people find really moving about it. Thoughts?
Matt: (This is the bingo marking aside where I make a cultural disclaimer. Using primarily Shea Serrano as my evidence, Coco is very important to swaths of the Mexican/Mexican-American community. I’m not proferring an argument here, just adding that. Doesn’t make it inherently a good or bad movie.)
Josh: Gah I love that movie. It would be higher on my list of favorites. The focus on Latin (specifically Mexican) culture and values and history is so well done, in part because the cast, director, screenwriter, is all Latinx or Latin-American. As Matt notes above, this doesn’t make it an inherently good movie. The machete films and movies of that universe also have massive Latin-American influence. But I think Disney manages to honor the culture it’s portraying without co-opting it (not for lack of trying). Aside from all that, I absolutely love the songs and especially the voice acting of Gael Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt to a lesser degree; much like Robin Hood, Hector is charming in a vagabondy, down on his luck sort of way, and his dialogue is so very natural to the character. (I’m thinking specifically of all the times he yells out “Hey, chamaco!”). And then I think it’s telling a very interesting story about immortality, memory, family, while managing to walk a line between following your dreams and being loyal to your family. In some ways it’s talking about the same motivations that Brad Pitt goes on about in Troy, about how you can live forever in memory, and how that is the most important thing. This movie touches on that, but says “you can live forever in your family’s memory, and that is the most important thing because your family is where you come from”.
Tim: For me this movie is much more interesting when it’s about death than it is when it’s about family, in part because it just lets death happen as a fact of life (and of death, too), without muting the urgency of what that is. But I think it really flounders in its choice to have Miguel chase around Ernesto as long as it does…it delays and delays and then the payoff is real weak because it dithers around too much.
Josh: The concept of “the final death” that Edward James Olmos’s character goes through is a really interesting concept, and that scene is beautiful if emotionally manipulative. And I think while you have a point about delaying so that the payoff is weak is fair, but the scene of Hector and Miguel figuring it out, despite being not a very surprising or twisty twist, I feel is earned because it feels so right and so “finally they put it together”.
Tim: I almost had the final death of Chicharron as my best scene of that movie. I think so highly of how it makes death and forgetfulness work together without being corny.
Josh: It’s such a short scene, and really quite inconsequential to the story, but it does so much work in building a world with consequences if Hector is forgotten. Watching that scene now.
Tim: I think that makes three for me. Matt, do you want one more?
Matt: I don’t have another big one, I don’t think, but just a few small things. I’m amused by how we almost all had Jungle Book in the exact same spot (18, 17, 18). It makes me happy to see Tangled so high for you, but I guess I wonder why you think it’s that high. And sort of a similar half question with Lady and the Tramp, which I haven’t watched in awhile but would not touch my top 25. So I guess Lady and the Tramp is the discussion point here and the other two are observations.
Tim: I’m going to let Josh talk Jungle Book and then I’ll give a short Lady and the Tramp digression, if we’re open.
Matt: We welcome most digressions here, I think.
Josh: Sounds good. Jungle Book just has this seemingly universal appeal, across age ranges in a way that I don’t know that a lot more era-specific movies do. You talked about our status as millenials having an undeniable effect on our rankings, which I agree, but Jungle Book is one of those movies that I feel like people appreciate at all ages. The songs are great, the characters are compelling and fleshed out, even if they fit very well into settled stereotypes. As for Tangled, I just love it. I think it’s an underrated film, which makes me want to put it on the list, but also I like all of the characters and how they are slight twists on what we expect. The handsome and charismatic prince, for example, is an actual criminal. The heroine believes that the villain is actually her mother, the scary bad guys in the bar are actually tenderhearted, the horse is smarter than all of the soldiers combined, and the heroine ends up rescuing other people way more often than she gets rescued. Also “Now I See the Light” is one of the best love ballads since “A Whole New World”.
Tim: I appear to be lowest on Tangled out of this group, but it’s definitely one I like a whole lot. Just rewatched it a month or so ago, and it’s a joy. My Lady and the Tramp bit is fairly short, but if people are going to praise something like Blade Runner 2049 (which is a perfectly good movie on its own merits) for having those screensaver beautiful shots, then they need to find some space to do the same for Lady and the Tramp. That movie has some shots in transition from scene to scene which are absolutely lovely, and then there are plenty of scenes in there which are beautiful in their own right. It’s not a story that I’m all that invested in, and the characters are kind of meh, but based on the quality of animation alone it’s really outstanding. With that said I had it forty-second out of seventy-seven movies, but definitely not without merit.
Josh: As for me, Lady and the Tramp is a lot of fun and a cut above the other movies released at the same time. Tramp is that charismatic rogue trope that worked so well in Robin Hood, and it works well here too. And with Flynn Rider. Maybe I just have a type of hero that I find particularly compelling. It’s also a movie that does atmosphere and characters well, with the very notable exception of the siamese cats. Also go back and listen to “He’s a Tramp” and tell me it’s not delightful.
Tim: Got a weird giant Russian dog fan over here, apparently.
All right, so we have given Josh a mildly hard time, but not that hard a time. Is it time to give me an adequately hard time? Or it might be the opposite, actually, seeing as in the notes I have made for this I am referring to these twenty-five scenes as “purposefully disruptive.”
Josh: Sounds like a plan
Tim: For those of us not staring at my notes, I took some time yesterday and decided to name the best scene from each of the seventy-nine movies that Disney and Pixar released before Onward, a movie I have not seen and which no one seems to care about all that much. Upon choosing those seventy-nine, I then pulled the top 25, which was hard, because my second draft got me to 35, and the last ten cuts were particularly tough. It is worth noting at the outside here that although one could easily choose multiple scenes from one movie – I’m thinking you could have “Circle of Life” or the wildebeest stampede or “Hakuna Matata” – I have purposefully limited this to one scene per movie for representation and also my own sanity.
25 – Snow White – dancing with the dwarfs
24 – A Bug’s Life – FLAMING DEATH
23 – The Great Mouse Detective – “We’ll set the trap off now!”
22 – The Good Dinosaur – Arlo sends Spot off with the humans
21 – Dumbo – “Baby Mine”
Matt: Two of my favorites in here.
Josh: One of my favorites. Not the same as either of Matt’s two.
Matt: I’m guessing The Good Dinosaur for you? I, of course, am all in on the hilarity of FLAMING DEATH and anything Great Mouse Detective related.
Josh: A good guess, but no it’s “Baby Mine”. And I assumed both of those for you, so, point to me I think!
Matt: I’d give you a point if mine weren’t obvious. “Baby Mine.” Discuss.
Actually, also, Tim, what is 26th?
Tim: My last cut was the scene from Emperor’s New Groove where Kronk takes on the duties of short-order cook. It was such a hard cut.
Matt: I love that scene! That brand of comedy will get me every time.
Josh: Anything from Kronk will get me, though I think my favorite is “You’ve got me. By all accounts it…doesn’t make sense”. The best one liners in all of Disney canon are in Emperor’s New Groove and Atlantis.
Matt: That movie in general has a lot of great small scenes, Kronk in particular.
Josh: Anyway, “Baby Mine” is one of the saddest moments of all of Disney. It’s a really early film and, along with the death of Bambi’s mother, really leans into the sadness the character is feeling in a way that early Disney did super unflinchingly.
Tim: I dropped “Baby Mine” at the last minute and I don’t know that that was necessarily a wise choice. That scene is absolute simplicity. In other news, “Pink Elephants” would have placed, but I’ve got a similar scene higher up the list anyway. Other thoughts on 21-25? I imagine this is likely to get testier as we move up and get more context.
Josh: I generally think Snow White is always overrated, but I don’t know what the rest of the list looks like, so I’m fine with this for now.
Tim: It’s joyful in a sort of unsophisticated, unironic way that works really well, and that no one who actually makes Disney/Pixar movies would know what to do with if they had to try it on their own.
Matt: I’d go in on Pink Elephants but I know what scene you mean so I get it. I would like to pour one out for our beloved Pill Bugs.
Tim: When in doubt I went longer rather than shorter…God, so many good pillbugs moments.
20 – Tangled – “I See the Light”
19 – The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad – The Headless Horseman
18 – The Rescuers – “Someone’s Waiting for You”
17 – Ratatouille – Ego writes his review
16 – Bambi – Bambi fights for Faline
Matt: I’m surprised you personally have “Someone’s Waiting for You” this low.
Tim: I was trying to be good, maybe. I think part of it is that I did try to give a lot of weight to the quality of the animation where I could, and “Someone’s Waiting for You” is really good without being technically exceptional. But definitely a superior version of “Baby Mine.”
Josh: Does the Fox and the Hound sad song make it on this list at some point? Because I put it in the same vein as those two.
Tim: Is it cheating to tell?
Matt: No spoilers. Though, anyone who knows you…
Tim: Other things stand out here, or more context?
Matt: When you say The Headless Horseman. Doesn’t he show up a couple times? Or am I remembering the wrong version of Ichabod?
Tim: I’ve got this as the scene where Ichabod leaves the party, it’s dark and creepy and kind of funny for a second, and then he pops up and chases Ichabod across the bridge.
Matt: Ah, yeah, I’m tracking now. I don’t have bones to pick, yet. Maybe once it’s clearer what’s getting top billing for you.
Josh: I don’t love Bambi fights for Faline this high, but I also get that it’s a classic and beautiful scene. Though honestly I’m curious why this scene from this movie and not Bambi’s mother’s death or Bambi and the Great Prince fleeing the forest fire?
Matt: Why isn’t twitterpated number one!?! (I’m very much kidding, friends at home)
Tim: I’ve got this here because it’s the most intense moment of the movie, and because it’s got the most remarkable animation. It’s boiled down the two deer to silhouettes so far that it’s impossible to tell who’s who, and all that remains is combat lit up in these unnatural colors. It’s very unlike the rest of the movie, which is not necessarily an improvement given where I’ve put it, but it’s a stunning set of visuals that definitely move the story forward. There’s a lot of impersonal violence in this movie, but this is, as far as I recall, the closest we get to it being personal.
Josh: Ok, all good reasons.
Tim: 15-11…probably starting to get clearer that some stuff isn’t going to make it at this point, I’d imagine.
15 – Toy Story 2 – Stinky Pete convinces Woody to come to Japan (“last forever”)
14 – Alice in Wonderland – Tea party
13 – Mulan – Mulan singlehandedly defeats the Huns on the mountain
12 – The Hunchback of Notre Dame – “Heaven’s Light/Hellfire”
11 – Toy Story 3 – Everyone holds hands at the edge of the incinerator
Matt: Hey Tim?
Josh: That’s your choice for Toy Story 2?
Tim: There it is. Yes, Matt.
Matt: Did you know today is your unbirthday? Why, it’s mine too! And Josh’s!!
AAAAA VERY MERRY UNBIRTHDAY [rock flies through window, strikes in head]
Josh: Wait, unbirthday is a part of tea party right? You can’t tell me it’s not.
Tim: I was certainly operating under that assumption.
Matt: Of course it is. Who said it isn’t? Anyway, I’m going to hum that in my head and bounce around, you two fight about Toy Story 2. (I’m beginning to suspect I’m going to be very mad at you for another reason, Tim, one you can guess, but we have to wait to find out.)
Tim: No spoilers! I think the only other scene I’d think about putting on here from Toy Story 2 is when they drive around in the Pizza Planet truck. I think Woody discovering the memorabilia probably would have ended up between 26-35 if I’d done that.
Josh: Jessie’s backstory? That doesn’t merit a mention?
Tim: Lower on my depth chart. Sad, I think, but ultimately not one of the arrows the movie pulls from the quiver. Toy Story 2 is all about the meaninglessness of immortality, about how the stakes are gone if there’s no urgency, and that scene where Woody, in a moment of total delusion, opts for immortality and meaninglessness is, I dunno, it might be one of the last really bold moments I’ve seen in a Disney/Pixar movie. There haven’t been many that ring so clearly. Or, sticking with the metaphor, find their target.
Josh: Humph. Fine. Doesn’t stick with me as strongly as Jessie’s story, but whatever. Absolutely love the choices for Hunchback and Toy Story 3, though personally I’d say Heaven’s Light/Hellfire is a toss up with God Help the Outcasts. Now there’s a song for today’s time, what with building walls on our southern border and leaving our grandparents to die of coronavirus.
Matt: And Demi Moore pretending to be a gypsy. Honestly, I might have Heaven’s Light/Hellfire higher, but I also know I’m forgetting some stuff. It’s such an arresting song and scene.
Tim: I’m cheating vaguely by putting two scenes next to each other like that, but everyone is reacting so well to it that I feel fine about it. Yay for me.
Matt: My reasoning is that the songs always appear together like that on albums, so to me they read as a cohesive scene. But, in a very literal way, you aren’t wrong.
Josh: Yes, what Matt said. They are kind of two opposing sides of the same coin.
Tim: Outstanding. Moving right along:
10 – WALL-E – “Define dancing”
9 – Aladdin – “A Whole New World,” but this was almost “Friend Like Me”
8 – The Jungle Book – “Bare Necessities”
7 – The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – “Heffalumps and Woozles”
6 – Toy Story – “Falling with style,” where Buzz shuts his eyes and “flies” around the room
Matt: I’m offended that the WALL-E choice isn’t MO freaking out and the handshake.
Tim: I probably jilted MO a little bit. Which is the name of our little robot vacuum/mop thing we have, because he was born on MO’s feast day.
Matt: I don’t think it deserves that name after this jilting.
Tim: He is very cute.
Matt: I actually kind of expected you to pick “Friend Like Me” for some reason. I’m not quite sure why. What stopped you?
Tim: It was more procedural than anything else…I’ve spent enough time saying how good “A Whole New World” is as a song that it felt weird saying that it wasn’t the best part of its own movie, especially for a different number. But I only decided that it should be “A Whole New World” like, as I was typing it. The energy of “Friend Like Me” is exceptional.
Matt: The song “A Whole New World” stands out, and is still so good. And everyone remembers Aladdin and Jasmine flying around. “Friend Like Me,” that’s a visual and lyrical journey, it’s like it’s own world with that energy. Narratively “A Whole New World” is the better moment. Just on its own, “Friend Like Me” might have it though. We shouldn’t be removing the scene totally from its narrative, that’s just an observation.
Josh: We all know my love of Robin Williams should sway me in this moment, but I do agree with Matt, and might take it even further and say A Whole New World is more important to the film. Which might be what he was saying, though in reverse I suppose. “Friend Like Me” does have an energy and bop about it that, combined with the sheer number of voices and characters the Genie performs in like 3 minutes makes it a visually and aurally stunning scene.
Matt: Tim? You know what I’m about to fuss at you about right?
Josh: Is it about Jungle Book?
Matt: Yes it is!
Josh: I don’t know specifically, but I’m glad I got that.
Wait! Is it that it’s not King Louis?
Matt: No it is not!
Before though, Heffalumps and Woozles, great choice.
Tim, why didn’t you choose “Not yet, Baloo!”
Tim: Because that is a line, and not a scene. Albeit a perfect line.
Josh: Ok, I was sort of right. “Not yet, Baloo” comes in King Louis’ scene.
Matt: Yes but I don’t mean the song at all. Just the scene of Bagheera yelling that and Baloo emerging in a coconut bra.
Josh: “Baloo, are you even listening?” “What? Oh yeah, yeah.”…… “Man, what a beat”
Tim: I mean, I feel bad that it is not there, because I will always laugh at that. “Bare Necessities” just edges it, though. There’s something very unaffected about what’s going on….also he looks exactly like Slavoj Zizek. I’m a little unnerved by how much he looks like Slavoj Zizek.
Matt: Don’t get me wrong, I love “Bare Necessities,” it’s a wonderfully playful song and scene. I’m very glad to see it this high. Jungle Book has always been very close to my heart and I feel like it went through sort of a, not forgotten but underappreciated phase and is now returning in the critical eye. I love the movie. And “Bare Necessities” makes me as happy now as it did when I was young, which is no small feat.
Our next thing is Disney characters and the philosophers they resemble.
Tim: Speaking of next things, I’ve got five left, and historically I like to drag these out as long as possible. Which movies provided scenes for the top five?
Matt: I have some guesses. The Incredibles, Fox and the Hound, Inside Out, Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast.
Josh: Lion King better be up here. And then yeah I agree with Incredibles and Beauty and the Beast. After that I don’t know. Matt, are you mad if Sword in the Stone isn’t in here? I want Up to be here, but that’s probably just me.
Matt: If I’m right about what you’ve omitted, I have to kill you, by the way.
Tim: …it was like, twenty-eighth.
Matt: You whore.
Tim: Is there anything you would like to say in honor of the lusty squirrels
Josh: I was right! Yes.
Matt: Josh. If anyone who knows me didn’t know I was angling at Sword in the Stone there then they’ve forgotten everything about me.
Josh: Yes, but…I just never know how much you can separate your passion for that film from your critical view of movies in general.
Matt: If I couldn’t then it would be much higher in my ranking, which it is not.
The lusty squirrels scene is a complete arc within the movie, and still one of the genuinely most affecting scenes in Disney. Archimedes’ encounters with the mother bird and Merlin, complete with mustache, dealing with the madam of the squirrels are hilarious moments. But Arthur and the young girl squirrel, it breaks your heart. In a movie staged around moments and arcs of advice, it’s dealing with love (“Stronger than gravity?” “Well, yes, possibly the strongest force of all.”) and heartbreak is moving and realistic. We don’t all get the fairy tale ending, hearts get broken, people aren’t who they seem to be and it tears us apart. Bless that squirrel.
Tim: …I feel like we’re burying the lede here after reading that explanation.
Matt: Also the Wizard’s Duel, “Mad Madam Mim,” the wolf, “Hockety Pockety.” Everyone go rewatch that movie. And justice for the squirrels. I dissent.
As you were.
Tim: Nothing but respect for my president.
5 – Fantasia – the “Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria” sequence, which is grandfathered in by the fact that we allowed “Heaven’s Light/Hellfire” in. And also by the fact that they introduce them together in the movie.
Matt: Oh, right. Fantasia exists. Whoops.
Tim: The reason that’s here has more to do with “Ave Maria” than Night on Bald Mountain, and I still feel kind of basic for including it, but I also kind of think it would be cheating to include all of Beethoven’s Sixth, which is like, an enormous stretch of the movie’s runtime, proportionally speaking, and would have been way longer than anything else included.
Matt: Yeah that’s not a scene so much as an act.
Tim: Even then it’d be hard to pick out one part of it…I guess it’d be the part where the centaurs fall in love with their appropriately colored centaurs, and what’s that, I see a distraction
4 – The Fox and the Hound – Copper stands over Tod’s body. Interestingly, not what I think is quite possibly the single saddest two minute stretch in Disney/Pixar history, but this scene is so moving.
Matt: That actually shocks me. What is the saddest for you? (It shocks me that it isn’t for you specifically, I mean)
Tim: It’s the scene where Widow Tweed drops Tod off in the rain. I would hear other takers, and of course it’s not as serious as Ellie dying on Carl in Up or Mufasa dying in The Lion King, but man, that one just gets to what personally eats me up.
Matt: Counterpoint –
Tim: That is a lonesome squirrel. I just couldn’t not have Copper protecting Tod in that sign of solidarity. Just a hugely powerful moment, and as much as I think that movie is incredibly thoughtful, it requires such an ending to make the movie work at the level I think it works at.
Matt: It’s the, for lack of a better word, obvious choice to include here. And I don’t mean that as a slight, it’s a moment that sticks with you, in a very profound way.
Tim: 3 – Up – Carl looks through the scrapbook. I don’t know that I even have the whole house cleaning and chair placing here, I think it’s just the act of reading through it.
Matt: I thought you’d try to be “edgy” and omit this one! Glad I was wrong. Though I guess rather than edgy I assumed this would be the feather in your cap of Up hate. I remember watching this for the first time, with a friend in high school one random summer day, and we had to pause after this and just sit for a minute mumbling “what the hell.”
Tim: It’s perfectly done. I think the scene is so surprising, because especially the first time around we’re acting more or less like Carl, and assuming that this is about him and that it really should be about him, and of course the trip was always supposed to be about them. This is, according to this list I dashed together, the most effective scene that Pixar has ever done, and I don’t feel bad about saying it.
Matt: I think that’s right. Everyone remembers this scene, and I think basically shot for shot honestly. It’s one of those moments a lot of people remember exactly where they were when they first saw it. At least I don’t think I’m alone on that. It’s such a beautiful and, really, harrowing meditation on grief and memory, and I can’t imagine kids really getting that at first. Sure they know it’s sad, but when I said earlier the best Pixar moments tend to grow with us, I was thinking of this. It’s a scene that takes on new meaning with each stage of life you reach. Largely because it reminds us that we’re lucky to have reached each stage, and that we carry the lives of others with us. (Matt invokes Ondaatje and Tennyson. Double bingo!)
Josh: So, I’m having a brief moment of confusion. This is the scene in which Carl is looking at the scrapbook towards the end of the movie and seeing that Ellie did actually map out all of their adventures, yes?
Tim: Yep. After he’s basically abandoned Kevin and Russell to whatever would happen to them.
Josh: Ok. Cool. I thought so, but wanted to make sure. The only thing I will say to this then is that Up is one of my favorite Pixar films, I love this scene so much, and the ten minute love story that begins the movie and introduces us to that haunting musical theme was the perfect set up for the perfect payoff with this scene. Also that first ten minutes of Up may be my favorite sequence in any animated film ever, and I will always unabashedly love it.
Tim: For me it wasn’t ever a debate, really, about which one I’d have to represent Up. That movie is more than ten years old now, lol, and I think there’s something about the staying power of that scene that has helped it to remain in hearts and minds and guts more than the early one, even though that one got out to a big start. I think that one might have squeezed into the top 25 if the one with the scrapbook didn’t exist, theoretically?
Matt: Are you saying it would only without this scene? Or that it would if there wasn’t a one-per-film restriction?
Josh: Or both of those things?
Tim: That if the movie were different and Carl realized he were doing the wrong thing without having to find the scrapbook, thus negating that scene’s existence, I would probably have gotten that silent sequence into the top 25, but it wouldn’t be a guarantee. Obviously the two are sides of a coin and one doesn’t work so well without the other.
Josh: Ok. See, for me the silent scene is just hauntingly beautiful, and the two of them work together as a sort of bookends, so that I think perhaps the reason the scrapbook scene works so well is because of the silent story at the opening.
Matt: So the easier way to say this is that for you, Tim, the montage at the beginning only works as well because of the scrapbook scene? And Josh it’s the opposite for you?
Tim: I guess so?
Josh: Yep, for sure.
Matt: Where would the montage be, roughly, as is? Like, with Up as it is and not worrying about one-per-film order.
Tim: I mean, if movies could get multiple scenes in I don’t think the montage would be in contention.
Josh: What about, like, outside of the top 25? Because I’m imagining that several of the Renaissance films get at least two scenes, the Toy Stories get a few apiece, etc?
Tim: That’s what I mean. You all will notice that Lion King has not made an appearance yet, which is okay, because I’m still trying to figure out which scene is going to get the nod here. Without having a big napkin in front of me, I would say that if there were a top 100 list of Disney/Pixar scenes, the montage would make it, but if there were a top 50 I’d be nervous for it.
Matt: All I’m really trying to figure out is why you frame it as if the scrapbook scene didn’t exist rather than saying what you just did, that the montage isn’t top 25 material for you. I mean, there’s clickbait here too because many people won’t agree with you, but I’m on a pedantic mission.
Tim: Because I was playing by the one-movie-one-scene rule. If it is one scene from one movie, then the silent sequence doesn’t actually come to my mind, but if I can take as many scenes as I’d care to from as many movies, then that’s a big data dump I haven’t adequately charted.
Matt: So then, regardless, the point here is that the montage isn’t that high for you, but it is for Josh, and I’m resisting rating it? (not totally consciously on my end, I just seem to be)
Tim: Ahh, that is quite possible.
Josh: (Sidenote, new project idea: what Disney/Pixar film is objectively the best based on how many of it’s best scenes rank in the best scenes of Disney/Pixar film history as a whole. This would in fact require going through a very big data dump and adequately charting it.)
Tim: (I think this is fraught because there are movies with a lot of good scenes which also have scenes which would, like, subtract points. Also I’ve done points before and they give me ulcers.)
Matt: (Movies can have many great scenes but not work as movies. Robin Hood feels this way to me for example. Funny moments, not the best movie.)
Tim: (I was going to say Tarantino, but yours is definitely more on topic.)
Matt: (I was going for topical but he did spring to mind.)
Josh: (Still an interesting thought experiment, though point well made.)
Tim: (Once every few months I think, “Maybe I should do a movie writing project based entirely on scenes,” and then I have to like, shake myself out of it when I think about what a load that’d be.)
2 – The Lion King – and after a lot of internal debate, I have to go with “Circle of Life,” which is not as viscerally satisfying as the wildebeest stampede and what it brings about, but it feels like the right answer.
Matt: I cede the floor to Josh.
Josh: I was actually wondering where you were going to come down on this, and Circle of Life versus Mufasa’s Death were the two scenes I was imagining you were struggling between. I think overall it’s the right choice. Stampede and Mufasa’s death is the most affecting scene of the movie in terms of like, drama and action and grief, but there’s something truly iconic about Circle of Life.
Tim: It has grandeur. I don’t know that there’s anything harder to pull off in an animated movie than grandeur, which I think requires this sense of something which is pushing on the edge of reality in the sense of disbelief rather than, for lack of an easier term, unreality. Animation is unreal, but there are some shots in “Circle of Life” that are just absolutely unbelievable. The birds over the waterfall, the ants in focus ceding to the zebras in the background…it’s spectacular.
Josh: Also the movement of sound, the rising and falling, crescendo and decrescendo, speeding up and slowing down, it is all so perfectly paced and written and performed. It strikes me as really one of the best marriages of song and animated sequence ever. Which, come to think of it, is something the stampede and Mufasa’s death also does astonishingly well, with such a sense of urgency and impending disaster followed by those soft quiet notes of grief and despair.
Tim: I think the music in the stampede scene is better, actually. The best work of Hans Zimmer’s career.
Josh: I don’t think you’re wrong, though I’m personally a sucker for the music underlying cloud Mufasa and Simba’s return.
Tim: I think the single best shot of the movie is following Scar as he follows the stampede below, with the dust coming up and creating that mysterious, evil shimmer around him. More points for that. This is why I had a very hard time deciding, and it’s possible that if I were to allow multiple scenes per movie for this, The Lion King would have #2 and #3. Things we’ve missed, Matt?
Matt: “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts,” chiefly.
Josh: You know while there is a lot some corniness to it Cloud Mufasa is also technically a very well done scene, and emotionally quite effective.
Matt: No don’t change that. It’s a lot.
Tim: I think when Matt and I envisioned this conversation, it had a lot more magical Negro trolling in it, but perhaps we are facing a time crunch which would limit that particular line of thought.
Matt: I thought about it just now. So it’s here in spirit.
Josh: “Because you are a baboon…and I’m not.”
Matt: He’s a magical negro. No quotes will get around that.
“Ah yes, the past can hurt…But, the way I see it, you can either run from it…or…(swings stick) learn from it! So, what are you going to do?” “Well first, I’m gonna take your stick.” “No no no, not the stick!! Hey! Where are you going?”
Tim: The Incredibles is not the host of the #1 scene. (I am ignoring the talking diorama above me.)
Tim: Oh, yeah, that’s what it should have been. Well, that makes the next question I was going to ask moot.
Matt: Did you seriously forget Edna?
Tim: May have whiffed on that, yes.
Matt: Woosh. What is #1? I’m assuming Beauty and the Beast?
Tim: 1 – Beauty and the Beast – “Tale as old as time.” I mean, apologies to Edna, but.
Josh: No, you’re right. This is #1.
Matt: It’s a scene well worth the #2 slot. It does hit my soft spot everytime I watch the movie, which is pretty amazing. It’s fairly simple but so emotionally touching.
Tim: The simplicity of it is what works for me, I’d say. Not that the setting is simple, or that the animation is simple, because there is a tremendous amount of work laid into that scene, but it is, and I say this in the most emotional way I can think of, efficient. It has to do an awful lot of work in the movie. It has to make us buy that Belle can love the Beast, and it is, forget the library, the clearest sign we have that he loves her, and without it the entire edifice crumbles.
Josh: The candles/candelabra alone were at the time the single most technologically advanced thing Disney had done in an animated movie to that point. That takes away from the emotional punch you’re going for above, but just thought it worth the mention. Sorry. Otherwise you’re right. Also having Mrs. Potts sing it was freaking perfect…
Tim: I’m glad you mentioned it, really. I think in it’s own way it’s a comparable technical achievement to what was happening in “Circle of Life.” Or would happen, I guess. Time is hard. I think you’re also right that having a supporting character sing something which is clearly of the moment in the movie but also, just from the way it’s shot, outside of what Belle and the Beast are hearing is part of what gives it that ethereal loveliness.
Matt: When I say simple I mean it doesn’t need a, how do I say this, grandeur of physical scale. Its grandeur is the emotional and narrative weight it carries. It’s absolutely a technical feat. But it’s not zooming through the savannah. Does anyone besides Lansbury make that work?
Tim: Pre-maimed Julie Andrews, but it is a short, short list outside of that. Part of the magic of having Lansbury in that part is in how unusual, and I suppose somewhat inelegant, her singing voice is. Even though that is a nasty key to sing in…definitely a much more difficult vocal performance than I think we’re inclined to credit it as.
Josh: I think, and I don’t know how to phrase this in a way that doesn’t make it sound rude, part of the magic is in the fact that her singing voice is old. She sounds like a character who has seen the tale as old as time. How can we fix the obviously problematic phrasing of that, do you get what I’m getting at?
Tim: I do. I mean, she has an old voice. She had an old voice when she was playing Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, or when she was in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It’s flutey, kind of meek and squeaky all at once, but entirely pleasant.
Matt: It sounds like the wizened, motherly, firm yet tender character she is playing. The only role that could properly and efficiently guide us through the heft of that moment, which is a keystone to the whole movie.
Tim: I am very excited to report that she was 66 when this movie was released, which explains a great deal about the tone of her voice.
Josh: Tying this film to the previous one on the list, would you consider it incorrect to say that her voice in this role is as iconic in its own way as James Earl Jones in the role of Mufasa?
Tim: Seems fair to say. That sounds like its own list, honestly.
And…I think that makes twenty-five. Plus wherever Edna would be. Man, that is a real boner.
Josh: Justice for Edna. Honestly, that’s more Matt’s line than mine, but I will say it.