When I think of Disney Animation films I think of films that are targeted towards children. Those that we (mostly) watch during our childhood. Most of us have seen a Disney Animation film during their childhood. And we usually end up favoring one. Because of… reasons.
Ask a child why Frozen is his or her favorite film and try to find out if there is a solid reasoning behind their favoritism or that it was just that Disney film that happened to be released at the time. Or the one with that catchy song.
Favoritism is about context. In this case: the context of accessibility to the medium and specifically Disney Animation when growing up. When I was little VHS was the king of home media. And with parents who were no regular theatre visitors and were restrictive with the time I could watch tv my accessibility to the medium was limited.
When I grew up Disney Animation released 14 films from 1988 (Oliver & Company) until late 2000 (Emperor’s New Groove). And when you consider the probable target audience of 7 or 8+ years children* I can narrow it down to 9 films that could be my childhood favourite. This is because I aged 13 in the year 2000. A proper age where many boys considered themselves ‘too old’ for a Disney Animation film.
Also, the films released the next two years that could be interesting to me weren’t that big hits respectively (Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet and Brother Bear**). So there was nothing that could lure me back into watching Disney films.
From this list of 9 I can leave out a couple more because of my interests at the time.
This leaves us with: Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback of the Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan and Tarzan.
But there is another gateway element present here: parents and social environment. While the Disney accessibility is nowadays far greater due to services like Netflix, that wasn’t the case in the (early) nineties.
While Beauty and the Beast wiggles itself in this list because we had the VHS. The rest on the current list of 6 are all possible favourites due to release.
Only this last mentioned gateway into Disney content proves the biggest, since we only had the VHS of Beauty and the Beast, Lion King and Hunchback. We also had the VHS of Cinderella and Dumbo, but these are too old and I didn’t watch them enough when growing up. They are possible candidates because of accessibility. But please note that Cinderella is, like Beauty and the Beast a proper fairytale, but with less scarier elements which would fascinate my younger self. Dumbo is just plain trippy at times besides being a product of its time. So I rule those two out because of above reasons and the lack of proper role models in those films. Not to mention that the themes probably didn’t resonate with me as much***.
So this leaves us with three candidates: Lion King, Hunchback of Notre Dame and Beauty and the Beast. If you would’ve asked me to rank these when I was younger my guess now would be: 1 Lion King, 2 Beauty and the Beast and 3 Hunchback of Notre Dame. Here’s why:
The Lion King is a cinematic epic. From it’s opening to closing shots we are treated by the rich and colourful palette of the African continent. It is a film that still is visually stunning to watch. The sheer amount of movement created by early computer technology and the artistry in this film remains a beautiful sight. Not to mention the clever way big story elements are introduced with visuals and the beautiful soundtrack. It all fits together. Combined with a story about growing up and you have a guaranteed entry into this little boys heart.
I was bananas about this film. For all of the reasons above including the way Simba made the best out of a depressing situation. For my younger self the best part of it all was: it turned out alright. The land healed like the Circle of Life mentioned. What else would you want?
Beauty and the Beast
I’m not sure about this, but I guess Beauty and the Beast was my little secret. My guilty pleasure if you will. I recently rewatched it, and I think it’s a timeless classic. Besides the classic fairy tale setting and scenery, it also boasts some great and worthwhile songs on the soundtrack. Even at my younger age, it probably was an out of this world love story which was understandable at a basic level while knowing there was more that I didn’t understand. Only now, after rewatching it I see that it somehow never left me. It has message of curiosity and openness to other people, no matter how different they look. And it builds the characters so cleverly towards small victories and to the final, big pay-off. In hindsight, this remarkable film is is something I always carried with me.
Hunchback of Notre Dame
After rewatching it I think Hunchback is not really a film for younger kids. It is dark: People are obviously getting killed; the music is bombastic and the people are just very, very real. Which is also the appeal of the film. It is a well told story about real people. It has all the elements of a A-list animation film: beautiful animation, a stunning soundtrack but most of all: a sense of urgency. Even my younger self could understand why some characters did what they did, and why it was important to them. It also has a great balance of beautiful light and dark moments in the film to make it more watchable for the audience. But because of it’s timeless dark story, still a film which I do not recommend fully for younger kids to watch. So in conclusion a bit of an off pick for a young kid to watch due to the dark and realistic story, but a very good film to watch nonetheless.
What Animation Taught Us.
When we grow up we always have a bias towards certain media. With limited access to video, because I was a lot outside and the earlier mentioned social context, I also read a lot of books. So it is natural I would pick the thing that would be the most inspiring and beautiful to watch when I would watch a Disney film: The Lion King. A beautiful film that I believe is a big part of the groundwork of my deep rooted love for animation.
When Mikey Neumann released his essay: “What Animation taught us” earlier this year it got me thinking. His question on what animation taught me send me on an exploration through many different series and films of my youth. And I still feel Disney was a big part of it.
The Lion King taught me to have ownership and that you can find beautiful things where you don’t expect it. Beauty and the Beast taught me curiosity and openness and Hunchback of Notre Dame taught me to stand for your friends, and for the things you love. Powerful lessons that I still carry with me today.
But when I started asking myself these questions I also asked: what changed?
You see, a different question that came up when exploring what animation taught us was: why did I stop watching the Lion King but more importantly: “why do I have hesitation to rewatch it?”
You’ll find the answer in part 2. Because this post is already long enough. What was your favorite Disney film when growing up? And what are the lessons that animation taught you?
* (this is my personal estimation because you want a basic comprehension of the things that happen on screen)
**As a personal recommendation: please go watch Treasure Planet, since this is a beautiful film. If you are not sure, please watch this video first. I haven’t seen Atlantis yet, so I don’t know about that one.
*** There is a lot of bullying in both films, so I’m not sure why we were exposed to these when we were young.