Ok, I promise this is the last soppy “my favourite” post I’m gonna do for a while, but I’ve been on a nostalgia-cruise since last week, one that I haven’t even brought up.
I’ve been bingeing on old Disney Movies. Not all of them, mind you, just my favourites, the films that hit me in the black lump in my chest some may call a heart.
Not every film by House of Mouse has narrative themes and music that speaks to me on a personal level, but the ones that do make me weepy every time. I don’t know why I’ve been going for those films lately, especially knowing the state I end up in after watching them, but I have, so let me tell you about them.
I don’t have a definite favourite Disney film. Must as with games, books and other motion pictures, I have a long list, but to make this post simple, I’m going to talk about one favourite per category:
- Emotion: The films that make me cry, or at least bring me to the edge of tears. They have beautiful, haunting or simply tender moments powerful enough to crack my icy shell.
- Humour: I love a good giggle and these films just crack me the hell up!
- Music: Self-explanatory, I think. It has memorable and catchy tunes.
- Story: Maybe it’s not emotionally powerful, but the story is fantastic.
- Darkness: A subset of the previous category, this is for those really grim Disney films. There are quite a few of them to be honest, but to me there can only be one…and yes, I created this category just to mention that film, shut up!
So, let’s get to it!
Emotion: Lilo & Stitch
I love this film with every fiber of my being it gets me weepy every time. Someone just has to mention “Ohana” and I’m bawling.
What I love about it is that behind the comedy and alien shenanigans lay powerful family and growth stories. Stitch’s arc is all about finding his place in the world, not just where he belongs but also what he should be. As someone who’s moved countries more than most in search for that elusive sense of “belonging,” this resonates with me on too many levels.
The family dynamics between Lilo and Nani are also very powerful, particularly the sheer desperation in Nani to keep their small and broken family afloat so they don’t separate them. I’ll confess I can’t relate to their exact circumstances, but I too have had those periods in my life where I’ve desperately clawed at any shred of hope to keep myself and my dreams afloat.
Also, that scene at the end gets me every time:
This is my family. I found it, all on my own. It’s little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.
Runner-up: Mulan – It’s another story of self-discovery, but with a focus on breaking from what people expect from you. It’s about carving your own path, even if it means you’ll hurt hose you love. You don’t want to, but you can’t let them hold you back.
And much like Lilo & Stitch, there is a final scene about family that gets me every time.
The greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter.
This one is easy. I love Robin Williams and his Genie makes me laugh every single time. It doesn’t matter how much time passes, that man’s genius will continue to make me giggle. But it’s not just him. The very situation we are presented with, a poor man dressed as a prince, stumbling his way through propriety and nobility only to realise that the person he’s in love with couldn’t care less about that and just wants someone real.
I’ve met too many people that pretend to be someone they’re not to impress someone else, and it always makes me laugh. It confuses the hell out of me, sure, but it also makes me giggle. And Aladdin presents that same situation with plenty of style, many heartwarming moments and a good dollop of humour.
Runner Up: Hercules – James Woods kills me every time with his portrayal of Hades. Zeus and Phil are also hilarious!
It’s Phil Collins. I don’t need to say more, have I? Most Disney films have different musical moments where the characters sing, but only Tarzan has a single musician doing the work. What I really like though is that his songs are as much part of the story and exposition as the animated characters.
Son of Man is all about growth, about taking your time and learning, to acquire the strength and wisdom you need. And how in doing so you’ll find your place among those you love. This shows on screen as the growth montage for Tarzan, how his human clumsiness gives way to ingenuity and agility, making him a fierce hunter, a fast climber and pretty much a beast master.
Then you get to Strangers like Me, and it’s about the character finding an instinctive connection to the other humans and almost begging to learn from them, to know more about humanity, about what makes them who they are. There is a line that speaks volumes: “It all means something, and yet nothing to me,” and you see this in Tarzan’s gaze, how he recognises human things without truly understanding them.
Phil Collins’ music in Tarzan goes with the story without interfering in it. There is no break for the characters to sing a tune. They keep moving, the story keeps advancing, and the music fills in the blanks for you.
Runner Up: Hercules – The music is just wonderful, particularly the Gospel-like songs of the Muses. Also, I love Meg’s “I won’t say I’m in Love” song more than I should admit.
I love mythologies. I think I’ve mentioned that in the past. Now take one of the classic Greek myths and give it a Disney twist and a good few handfuls of anachronisms, mixed with some Gospel choirs and you know you have something special.
What I like about Hercules is the pacing. From the start it keeps you hooked, beat after beat. But that’s not why I like it the most. The reason for that is how human the story is. It’s one of the classic stories of Greek Myth, the mighty Heracles, but it’s less about the conquests and more about the man, his insecurities, his hopes and dreams. There is heartache and love in there as well.
There may be gods and monsters, but it’s a story of people. Even the villain has very human motivations.
Runner Up: The Lion King – It’s Shakespeare with Lions. Nuff said.
Darkness: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
There has never been a story more sinister and heavy than that of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the only Disney film that has clear evidence of all Deadly Sins, with Lust and Envy embodied by Frollo. A man willing to commit genocide if he doesn’t get what he wants, who he wants, and even preparing to kill that person regardless.
Frollo is the darkest of all Disney villains, because there is nothing redeemable about him. Even the relationship with Quasimodo proves to just be another manipulation on his part just so he can have another tool at his disposal.
There’s violence, death and it’s just dark, man. It’s a very heavy film, one I really can’t watch as often as the rest.
Runner Up: Sleeping Beauty. Sure Bambi is the childhood killer, but Sleeping Beauty shares something with Hunchback and it’s the despicable nature of its villain. Maleficent is purely evil and the setting is very dark.
So there you have them. I’m probably gonna end up doing a bingeing marathon of all these films this bank holiday, because just watching clips online just isn’t doing it anymore.
What are your favourite Disney films and why?