Poem: “Bated Breath”

Loneliness seeped in this night

Same as how I started this year

Yet no love waits after the loneliness left.

It’s all myself now with my guard down

With bated breath staring out in the world.

A world by myself once more wandering

Under the glimmer of stars, over the sea looming large and the mountains afar. 

I’ll wait this time. Let them chase me. Let them hunt. 

Let them find me under the stars. 

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Serg Beret’s Best Disney Animated Films – #1 Fantasia (1940)

After twenty-four marvelous forays into what makes our choices the best and worth of the list, one film had always been in mind as the best out of the entire Disney Animated Canon. To this day, these films have inspired or been inspired by this one film and measured to it. Even films outside of Disney animation have been trying to get past the reputation and stakes set by this one film that is still hailed as a masterpiece, even if Walt Disney was personally burned by its box office failure, the money put into it and never truly coming close to it again. Yet, it is less about the behind the scenes factors of the film and more so about the film itself. Without further ado, the number one film in our Best Disney Animated countdown…Fantasia.

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Story Direction by Joe Grant and Dick Huemer

Fantasia is arguably the best film of the entire Disney Animated Canon for breaking so many of the rules set out and delivering a collection of stories without dialogue and only the music to guide each segment. The film goes more in the direction of a concert hosted by our master of ceremonies Deems Taylor in live-action set-ups in between scenes with the orchestra shown in silhouette to help set the scene in its slight Art Deco layout. The audience are then told by Taylor that tonight the images about to be shown are from the artists’ interpretations of the work at hand and what images pop into the head of those watching as the music plays. It’s only seven segments that are played out before the screen and each segment deserves their own review to sum up the whole.

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, directed by Samuel Armstrong

In this segment, the Philadelphia Orchestra as conducted by Leopold Stokowski perform the piece by Johann Sebastian Bach as abstract lines, shapes and shadows forming as the music plays. It’s intricate as it starts off on an abstract level making one wonder what is going on until full figures start to form ending on a sunset coming into view. It’s a gorgeous mix of the abstract and the norm.

The Nutcracker Suite, directed by Samuel Armstrong

This segment is the animators letting loose on their interpretation of the classic Tchaikovsky suite with no resemblance of Christmas but rather a collection of snowflakes, flowers and mushrooms to go along with the stunning piece. One highlight in the segment is when the snowflakes dance and spin in the air as the piece builds and builds. There is also the meticulous choreography of the “Russian Dance” which delights and dazzles. It combines beauty of Snow White and the spectacle of Tchaikovsky’s master work.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, directed by James Algar

Mickey Mouse stars in this segment using Paul Dukas’ piece as a young apprentice for the sorcerer Yen Sid (Disney backwards if you could not tell). This is a classic not just for the film, but for Mickey Mouse in general. This brought him back to the mainstream eye and attention. The story comes to life with brilliant imagery and dazzling moments of intense fighting against the magic brooms and Mickey conjuring magic across the stars. It is the most memorable segment and the one most of the public conscience remembers.

Rites of Springs, directed by Bill Roberts and Paul Satterfield

Evolution into the prehistoric age is show to us from the birth of the universe, the first cell in the sea transforming into life on the surface with Igor Stavinsky’s piece. When I was younger, I was not the biggest fan of this segment at all, but I’ve sense warmed up to it for being able to take a harsh look at the world of back then. It’s gritty, dark and pulls no punches on showing the harsh reality of that time period.

INTERMISSION

Following this is an intermission that goes on for a tad. If one wants to, just pause at this part for ten minutes to have the true intermission experience. The band returns after and the soundtrack of the film is shown via a line. As the band plays, the line starts to swirls and swivels. Think of it as a Richter scale on the screen harnessed by music.

The Pastoral Symphony, directed by Ford Beebe, Jr.,  Jim Handley and Hamilton Luske

With Beethoven’s work as its backdrop, this dives into the Greek myths even better than Hercules at times. It allows itself to be free and closer to a giant gathering of centaurs, Pegasus horses and other beings at the time to celebrate the god of wine until Zeus decides to interrupt it. For me, it always felt like one of the weaker segment and seems to still be one of the weakest segments out of the film despite the beautiful animation.

Dance of the Hours, directed by Norman Ferguson and T. Hee

This is just a cartoon on steroids with a collection of dancing ostriches, hippos, elephants and alligators running amok. It’s fast-paced mayhem that even the composer Amilcare Pochelli could not fathom if he saw it. This where the Silly Symphonies slightly make their way back into the works of Disney, even if it for a small instance. It is vibrant and loud adding to the chaos that is unfolding.

Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria, directed by Wilfred Jackson

In this thrilling final segment, the battle of good and evil is shown with Mussorgky and Schubert’s colliding pieces. Chernabog (aka the Devil himself) reigning over the quiet village at night harnessing the ghosts and demons from hell for a party until the dawn comes in to stop the darkness. As the dawn comes, church goers walk through the village to the church in the woods to bring calm via “Ave Maria.” It is a fascinating contrast between both of the pieces and the animation. It goes from the macabre yet vibrancy of satanic imagery that is stunning to the somber blue and white hues of peace returning to the earth.

The film ends. No credits or bombast, just go home and enjoy the rest of the night.

Fantasia is the pinnacle of Disney excellence and the greatest film they have done that can stand next to the likes of the greatest films of all time. It broke barriers the other films had set. It takes a strong risk without any dialogue in its cartoons letting the animation and music do the talking. It is the measuring stick for every film in animation released after it and before. It also encompasses something that Disney has done since the beginning.

It shows off the imagination of the mind, the creativity of dreams and the wonders of the world, be it on paper or drawn. It draws us to the various worlds they create from the jungles of India, the streets of London, the modern metropolis filled with zoo animals or above the world that shines, shimmers and is splendid. It reminds us about why we love this animation and why we love Disney. It allows us to escape the world and invest our time into a world that is not ours. Disney is one of the mainstays that anyone can relate, drift to and come back to see what is new. It’s a home for all of us all and has been there since the beginning of our lives. Fantasia is a great reminder of why this animation studio has stood the test of time and will continue to do so.

And we all lived happily ever after.

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Critic’s Quote: “Mr. Disney said himself the other night that there are many problems he has yet to lick, that “Fantasia” is a frank experiment. Perhaps so, but it is also the most original and provocative film in some time. If you don’t mind having your imagination stimulated by the stuff of Mr. Disney’s fanciful dreams, go to see it. It’s a transcendent blessing these days.” – Bosley Crowther, New York Times, November 14, 1940

Signature Moment: The Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria segment make the film complete with a powerful end.

Serg Beret’s Best Disney Animated Films – #2 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

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Directed by David Hand (Sequences Directed by William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce and Ben Sharpsteen)

The one that started it all. The fairest of all time. One of the greatest animated film in the history of Disney animation. These are three common ways to describe this movie and they all work because without it, the Disney company would not continue making feature-length animated films nor would they be able to take the risks they took. With all the risks put into this one behind the scene, it is startling to even figure that this was once dubbed to be “Disney’s Folly” for if it failed, animation and cartoons would have nothing to thank and would have faded with no respect left from the public eye. Fortunately, “Disney’s folly” was not a folly and became a monster of a hit at the time.

Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom lives an Evil Queen a.k.a. Grimhilde (Lucille La Verne) obsessed with her vanity. She approaches her Magic Mirror (Moroni Olsen) and asks who is the fairest in all the land. When he says the fairest is Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) who is recently visited by an unnamed prince (Harry Stockwell), she flips her lid and has Humbert the Huntsman (Stuart Buchanan) take her out into the woods to have her killed and her heart delivered. When he tries to do so, he stops and cannot do it while urging her to run into the woods and never look back. She runs and finds a cottage that is inhabited by seven dwarfs: Doc (Roy Atwell), Grumpy (Pinto Colvig), Sleepy (Colvig), Happy (Otis Harlan), Bashful (Scotty Mattraw), Sneezy (Billy Gilbert) and Dopey (Eddie Collins). She befriends them, washes for theme and lives with them. Meanwhile, the Evil Queen asks her Magic Mirror again and finds that Snow White is still alive. She disguises herself as a old hag and heads to the cottage with a poison apple in tow. She offers Snow White the apple and she falls to her death, but only true love’s kiss can break the place. This is left in the hands of the prince and the dwarfs to see if she may wake up once more.

I genuinely love this movie from start to finish. This film knows what it must provide and it provides it with simple storytelling (a recurring theme in this countdown) and delivers a movie reliant on the viewer’s attention and investment. It captures the hearts of those watching it by roping into a story filled with joy and happiness, so that when the thrills and sadness creep in, it genuinely gets them to either be terrified or cry your eyes out. I once watched this film in complete silence from beginning to end and noticed a tear drop at the end when the prince comes and saved her. I was hooked throughout and ready for the happy ending. the film is genius in making the viewer work for the happy ending by allowing their time to be spent in this world waiting for happily ever after to come. In fact, isn’t that what all cinema truly in the end? The viewer constantly trying to get to the end result hoping for a true resolution, good or bad. This is Cinema 101 and it gets an A+ for even getting to that point.

The animation is top notch as it is the literal interpretation of a painting come to life on the big screen. Every frame, every cells and every line of water color and paint is on display to show the world what a work of art it is. It adds a realistic layer to itself, thanks to the introduction of the multi-plane camera to separate cels and give the illusion of scope and camera zooms and pans. It was innovative to see that in animation as opposed to the flatness of previous short cartoons and such. It gives that extra layer not just to the design, but the performances of the actors. They come to life with the true-to-life animation and exceed what Disney was capable at the time. Snow White herself stands out by capturing a sweet nature girl constantly in fright, showing off utter happiness and the power of song. Speaking of which, the music is timeless with “Someday My Prince Will Come” getting me every time. The humor in it is great to sticking to comedic slapstick, wordplay and clever sight gags galore. It is a culmination of their greatest work with Silly Symphonies into one film and proved that Disney was ready to continue on taking a chance with animation and getting broader with their studio. The studio is all about risks and seems to be a recurring theme. Their biggest risk was yet to come…as our number one film.

Critic’s Quote: “Nothing quite like it has been done before; and already we have grown impolite enough to clamor for an encore. Another helping, please!” – Frank S. Nugent, New York Times, January 14, 1938

Serg Beret’s Best Disney Animated Films – #3 Pinocchio (1940)

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Directed by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske (Sequences Directed by Bill Roberts, Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson and T. Hee)

The second film produced by Walt Disney is perhaps the one that seemed to make Disney start to take risk. with the success of Snow White years prior, Disney decided to tackle Pinocchio along with the same team that helped bring that film to life and what was brought to the screen was a Disney take on a dark story. Pinocchio paved the way for what the Disney company would be become and certain aspects the company would continue to embrace.

Gepetto (Christain Rub) is a woodworker by trade in his wood shop. One day, Gepetto feeling alone despite having his trusty pet Figaro the cat and Cleo the goldfish decides to make create a wooden puppet named Pinocchio (Dickie Jones). Having made his creation, he wishes to the star above for Pinocchio to become a real boy. The Blue Fairy (Evelyn Venable) decides to do just so, only he is still wooden and will only become human if he is unselfish, honest and courageous. With this, she lets Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) be Pinocchio’s conscience and his guide.

Gepetto wakes up to his new wooden boy ready to get him started on his new life only to be distracted by a fox named Honest John (Walter Catlett) and his cat friend Gideon tricking him to join the actor’s life. From there, Pinochio meets the wicked puppeteer Stromboli (Charles Judels) where he must prove to be honest, collides with the Coachman (Judels) and his terrors on Pleasure Island nearly turning into a donkey and having to face off against the horrific whale Monstro in order to save and be reunited with his father. Through these obstacles, his bravery, honesty and selfless nature are tested to prove that he can be a real boy of flesh and blood.

It was only the second full-length animated feature for the company and it nearly exceeds what Snow White had brought to the table with precision and style. It is a remarkable take on the genre by allowing itself to risk all and get downright dark at times. This movie pulls no punches in what it wants to show. It shows what it is like to be kidnapped, what it is like to be tricked and the bad things that can happen if one does not stick to their true self. Even the imagery is menacing with the Coachman’s grin being startling, kids drinking and smoking to transform into jackasses and even Monstro himself being a terrible sight. Many in the audience at the time where terrified during these parts and it is no wonder because it is generally creepy as hell. To this day, I still get chills when Lampwick begins to turn into the jackass he admittedly was.

It takes what was established in Snow White and comes into its own by defining what made that film work and testing the waters with it. Even the music follows the same lead as the previous effort, but one would be lying if they knew every song besides “When You Wish Upon a Star” brilliantly sung by Cliff Edwards and opens the film. It’s a gorgeous song and basically the theme to this day for Disney when their films open up, be it for MoanaFinding Nemo or D2: The Mighty Ducks (a bit of a reach, but hey, it’s there). It is Disney’s mantra and has been since the film’s release encompassing the wishes of everyone and the thoughts we all have when we are younger. Luckily, we all know we still have to work hard to make them come true and not rely on a simple hope. In fact, this film actually shows Pinocchio working to make it a reality, so The Princess and the Frog may have been forward about it, but Pinocchio took the subtle approach with their message. Good job, Disney. To be able to accomplish such an idea is remarkable. Anyway, Pinocchio is one of the best, even if it isn’t the one that started it all…that’s a story for our next entry.

Critic’s Quote: ““Pinocchio” is a parable for children, and generations have grown up remembering the words “Let your conscience be your guide” and “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.” The power of the film is generated, I think, because it is really about something. It isn’t just a concocted fable or a silly fairy tale, but a narrative with deep archetypal reverberations.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, November 22, 1998 as part of his Great Movies Selections (Ebert, you picked a great one.)

Signature Moment: When Pinocchio finally becomes a real boy. It’s hopeful and beautiful in how rewarding it is.

Serg Beret’s Best Disney Animated Films – #4 Beauty and the Beast (1991)

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Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

This film is not only one of the greatest animated movies of all time, but I dare say, one of the greatest movies of all time. This was the Disney Renaissance encompassed into one film and was Disney in their prime. The more I look back on it and think about it, Beauty and the Beast is the ultimate achievement and is still, to this day, the only traditionally animated film to receive an Oscar Nomination for Best Picture. That is a remarkable feat in itself, but let’s get to the story first before the gushing goes further.

Belle (Paige O’Hara) is a beauty, but a funny girl living in a village in France and constantly hounded by the handsome, but all around creep Gaston (Richard White), which no one seems to be like, and his sidekick LeFou (Jesse Corti). One day, Belle’s father Maurice decides to go off to the fair until he comes across a castle going the wrong way. This castle harbors The Beast (Robby Benson) and his enchanted servants, Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) and her son Chip (Bradley Michael Pierce). The Beast was cursed by an enchantress for deeming her ugly as an old maiden begging to come in from a storm. He was turned into a foul beast to represent his arrogance and would have the spell broken if he were to find true love. Cut to Belle coming to find her father and take her rightful place in the circle of life, I mean, the plot of the film. During her stay, Belle and the Beast struggle to talk, keep it together and build a romantic bond. Meanwhile, back in the village, Gaston is ready to save her from the wicked beast and propose to her whether she likes it or not. What follows is a story of romance, the acceptance of one’s heart over appearance and one hell of a fantastic musical.

First things first, the music by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken is some of the greatest collections of songs ever put in a Disney film. Every song, and I mean every song, is memorable and there is no dud. From the ensemble opening with “Belle,” the boastful hilarity of “Gaston,” the showstopper “Be Our Guest” and the soft and somber “Beauty and the Beast,” these are classics that are still remembered to this day. “Be Our Guest” is the one that may stick out the most with Orbach giving his all and the wonders of Disney animation coming to make a splash on the number. It’s extraordinary and the score to accompany the songs is brilliant as well with a touching score toward the end of the film as the Beast’s true form is finally revealed.

The characters are likable, even the villain despite being the biggest ass on the block. Belle is a charming independent woman more focused on what she wants, yet falls in love in the process for seeing what the Beast truly is. The Beast is one of the best designs of any character mixing up a grand scale of animals ranging from the buffalo to lions in order to make his appearance. His eyes make the character as he is so expressive with them to show his humanity, be it when he is yelling, sad or in utter happiness. It’s gorgeous to look at. Gaston is without a doubt a favorite villain of mine next to Maleficent for just being the definition of a cocky bastard. He is big, brawny and a dimwit, but that melts away when he becomes a killer and meticulous in trying to get to the Beast.

The animation is the highlight through and through with a rich scope harnessed in classic Silver Age and Golden Age films and brought to the new era at the time. This is taken to the extreme by brilliantly combining CGI and traditional in the famous ballroom sequence. The Great Mouse Detective used it for the great clock tower scene, but this perfected it by creating a lush space of marble and gold to make this characters come even more to light. It never has a dull moment and the animation shines from expression to movements. It’s absolutely perfect because this film is perfection, even if the next films are a bit more perfect than usual, but that’s okay. This is a tale as old as time and now forever.

Let’s just pray the live-action remake does not ruin the legacy.

Critic’s Quote: ““Beauty and the Beast” reaches back to an older and healthier Hollywood tradition in which the best writers, musicians and filmmakers are gathered for a project on the assumption that a family audience deserves great entertainment, too.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, November 22, 1991

Signature Moment: See the featured image? Yeah, it’s the ballroom scene.

Serg Beret’s Best Disney Animated Films – #5 Cinderella (1950)

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Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske & Wilfred Jackson

The Silver Age of Disney kicked off with a bang and Cinderella lead what is arguably one of the best eras for the company ever. This film saved the company from their struggles and financial struggles that plagued them throughout the 1940’s and became one of the crowning jewels for the company from a return to their roots while showing off what would be there design and direction for the next decade and a half and for good reason.

Cinderella (Ilene Woods) is treated as lesser than her evil stepmother Lady Tremaine (Eleanor Audley) and her evil stepsisters Anastasia (Lucille Bliss) and Drizella Tremaine (Rhoda Williams). She constantly cleans, picks up and works around the house and is locked in her room with her window out looking out to the castle of Prince Charming (Williams Phipps). Meanwhile, Charming is busy trying to throw his ball in order to find a woman to marry under the rule of his father the King (Luis Van Rooten) and invites every available single woman in the kingdom to come along.

Cinderella, dreaming of one day going to the castle, sees this as opportunity until her evil stepmother puts a stop to it and embarrasses her by ripping the dress her mice friends, including Jaq and Gus (Jimmy MacDonald), help make. In the wake of her sadness, the Fairy Godmother (Verna Felton) hears her cries and grants her the wish her heart made on one condition: she must come home before Midnight. She does so and is in love with Charming, but leaves a glass slipper behind in the wake. It is up to Charming to search the kingdom far and wide to see who can fit the slipper and who is his wife to be.

Cinderella is not a hard film to talk about because it is very simple, but what it does to make up for the simple storytelling is wonderful. The design of the kingdom and the animation takes some of the crisp style seen in some package films i.e. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, even the design of Cinderella had a test run of sorts as Katrina in The Legend of Sleepy Hallow segment. Their is some simplicity in it as well, but it comes back to having live-action reference as the animators (more specifically the Nine Old Men) help bring fluidity and realistic moments. The dance sequence during “So This is Love?” remains a highlight to harness the artistry of this film. The art direction and design was done by Mary Blair, one of the greatest art designers in the history of animation, shines brightly in the design of the castle with rich minimalist design and sleek Art Deco-inspired architecture. It’s a sight to see.

The music is rich and memorable from the infectious “The Work Song” to the wonderful “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.” One of the most memorable scenes with music is the opening with Cinderella singing “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Make” allowing the audience to understand what she wants. She is someone longing for a dream and do what they want despite their entrapment by her ultimate foil to the horrendous Lady Tremaine. She is absolutely terrifying from that great voice (Audley was also Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty) and she merely has to look and stare to make those feel weak. There is one shot of her in particular that looms in my mind is when it just has her staring and as the camera fades to black, her eyes are still visible to show her menace. It’s a carefully crafted work of art and a landmark in animation that stands the test of time, even past midnight.

Critic’s Quote: “As the Fairy Godmother puts it ‘Even miracles take a litttle time.’ For Mr. Disney and his craftsmen have brilliantly splashed upon the screen a full-blown and flowery animation of the perennially popular fairy tale.” Bosley Crowther, New York Times, February 23, 1950

Signature Moment: “So This Is Love?” is a wonderful sequence of great animation, scope and beauty.

Serg Beret’s Best Disney Animated Films – #6 Bambi (1942)

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Directed by David Hand (Sequences Directed by James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Graham Heid, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield and Norman Wright)

For those wondering where the other “first five classics” of Disney are, they have been in the top spot. Not really a spoiler to the list because those reading this do not know which spots they are in and the first one in the top ten is BambiBambi came out in the tail end of the Golden Age of Disney in a time where the company suffered financially and it did not help that America was ready to enter World War II at the time. People were less concerned about the life and times of a deer and more concerned about the war effort at the time. Though a failure and leading Disney to make cheaper and less costly films in the bland “Wartime Era” or “Package Films” era. Luckily, Bambi ended the Golden Age with sticking to the risks and boundaries Disney was taking at the time.

The film is easy to talk about due to the simplicity on the surface. Bambi (Donnie Dunagan, Hardie Albright & John Sutherland) is born into the world as a fawn destined to take his father’s place as the Great Prince of the Forest. He meets his friend Thumper (Peter Behn, Tim Davis & Sam Edwards) and Flower (Stan Alexander, Tim Davis & Sterling Halloway) and goes about his life with his mother (Paula Winslowe). From here, the audience sees Bambi grow from his first word, his first steps and his first time exploring the world where Man has a dangerous presence in. One day while in the meadow, Bambi’s mom is kill by man and must grow up and fast inheriting his rightful place as the Great Prince. He then must prove his worth to the forest as the guardian and protector that his father was.

This is a marvel for Disney capturing their years of researching how animals move and the reality of nature. There is love and care put into each frame with meticulous design from the lush green of the meadow, the pure white innocence of winter time, the countless number of trees and the stark red and oranges of the fast moving fire toward the end of the film.  The animals move close to their real life counterpart, but have the Disney expressions and heart added to them to make the audience aware of what they are feeling at a moment notice, especially with the main character of Bambi. The reason one is invested is his approach to the world as we take a look of his forest life through his eyes. Yes, other characters are shown and we get a glimmer, but it is Bambi who we must follow.

It’s this that leads to the underlying theme of death and growing up. It is a theme that Lion King is more famous for, but Bambi handles with a more mature understanding. Death seems to loom largest of all throughout with Man always lingering in the forest. Much like the realistic notion of death, Man can strike at anytime, but life will still go on. There is a stark contrast with a transition that proves this. After Bambi’s mom is killed, Bambi is looking for her and is taken in by his father ready to help him grow in the absence of her. The next scene immediately jumps to birds singing in spring happy as heck with Bambi already in his young adult years setting the tone that despite her passing, everything has gone on and smoothly. It is a hard concept for most younger audiences to understand, yet at the time, this was geared toward the adult audience and it shows tremendously. In recent years, I personally thought the second half of his adult life was boring. However, after watching it recently, I realized it was not and only added to his story by becoming deeper to show how far Bambi has come. I’ll even go as far as to say that I now love this movie and that adds to the power this movie has.

Critic’s Quote: “The fun and fear, the silliness and heartbreak, are taken to vivid extremes by Walt’s entwining of high art and what snobs will always deride as Disney-kitsch.” – Andrew Osmond, Empire Magazine, January 11, 2011

Signature Moment: Bambi meeting the Great Prince for the first time after his mom has just passed. It is a moment of silence and pure tragedy unlike any other.

Serg Beret’s Best Disney Animated Films – #7 The Lion King (1994)

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Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

In 1994, this film hit the big screen bigger than anyway the company had anticipated. They expected a modest success at best working on this film as more of a side project next to Pocahontas, yet this film broke the box office record of highest grossing animated film at the time and set the bar high for the animated films to even come close to reaching that milestone. Now, it’s been broken countless of times, but it was still ridiculous for a film such as itself to be that massive of a hit. It was the Frozen of the 90’s and is actually the first Disney film my mom took me to see at age 2, so my memory is vague on that front. IT was a smashing success and it’s not surprising why because it is another risk the company took.

Following a plot based upon William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Simba (young version voiced by Johnathan Taylor Thomas) is the heir to the throne of Mufasa (James Earl Jones) ready to show him what it takes to be king and the grand circle of life he is part of. Simba longs to be like his father and rule the Pride Lands, but his uncle Scar (Jeremy irons) does not like that one bit. After setting a trap for his father with Simba stuck in a stampede with he help of his hyenas Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg), Banzai (Cheech Marin) and Ed (Jim Cummings), Mufasa saves Simba, but is killed when Scar pushes him off the cliff he climbed to his death. Simba cries over his father’s body as Scar tells him he must blame himself and Scar overtakes the throne saying that Mufasa and Simba are dead. He runs away and never returns, bumping into Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) who introduce him to the phase “hakuna matata” that means “no worries.” Yet, the Pride Land is suffering under the tyrannical rule of Scar without food or water that an old friend of Simba’s (adult version voiced by Matthew Brodrick) named Nala (Moira Kelly) stumbles upon him in search of food. Simba refuses until Rafiki (Rebert Guillaume) tries to convince him otherwise. It’s up to Simba to combat his fears and see if he can find his path in the path unwinding.

First off, this movie reputation has changed over the year from animation marvel to overblown garbage, yet I feel that it is far from it. It’s shares the same backlash Frozen had with countless comparisons from its style of animation and its story being similar to Kimba the White Lion which, to be fair, is quite similar to. Taking away from the modern internet backlash and the cynics, it is a beautiful and charming movie to look at and be wrapped in. The opening sequence of “Circle of Life” shows the beauty and wonder of the world by giving the audience these gorgeous moments of animals racing to Pride Rock and the scope the movie is about to be presented in. I saw this film when it was released in 3D and, by god, it was gorgeous to see the layout and designs on the big screen and be in the moment. Not a frame is wasted and Disney knew what they were doing with this film.

The music and score is simple bombastic and marvelous. The score from Hans Zimmer adds to the layers and size the film gives the audience and creates an air of frights, thrills, tension and hope throughout. Elton John and Tim Rice delivered with the infectious “Hakuna Matata,” the sheer power of “Circle of Life” and the ultimate villain song with “Be Prepared.” They paid close attention to Disney’s previous efforts and exceeded them with sticking to a style. The humor of the film balances out the dark undertones lying throughout. It’s a strong tale of redemption, maturity and what it means to be a leader. It also shows what happens if one constantly runs away from their problems and the ramifications of what can happen when one does. It is a powerful and strong message to get across even in animation without coming off too strong and cheap about it. This is Disney at their pique and pinnacle box office wise, reigning supreme over the competition then and still reigning now.

Critic’s Quote: “A certain blockbuster and a future classic, The Lion King is a scrumptiously delightful moviegoing experience.” – Daune Bryce, The Hollywood Reporter, June 15, 1994

Signature Moment: The entire “Circle of Life” sequence. ‘Nuff said.

Serg Beret’s Best Disney Animated Films – #8 Lady and the Tramp (1955)

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Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske

Directly in the middle of the Disney company’s Golden Age, the Lady and the Tramp strayed away (no pun intended) from the average Disney film at the time. It did involve the typical talking animals a la Bambi years prior, yet it tackled another side of the animal world in Disney: the romantic side. Bambi did have that, but that was only a small portion of it’s whole. No, this story is the typical girl meets boy story, except with dogs and turns out to be one of the best romances on screen.

A cocker spaniel named Lady (Barbara Luddy) is the prized pet of her family of Darling and Jim Dear with everything given to her. One year when Darling gives birth to their new baby, she is treated lesser than she was before going from roaming around the house to having been struck, feeling out of place. She decides to hang about with her friends Jock (Bill Thompson) and Trusty (Bil Baucom) who help comfort her until Tramp (Larry Roberts) comes to deliver some hard turth and knowledge. Lady is taken aback knowing that nothing truly bad will happen until Aunt Sarah (Verna Felton) takes care of her. After being blamed for attacking her cats Si and Am, she sends to get muzzled and is made lesser once more. Fortunately, Tramp comes in to save the day and show her the free side of life that she has been missing out. With a new found bond and some spaghetti involved, the two hit it off to see if they can become more than what they are.

This is unique in the way it is presented because this is the first animated film presented in CinemaScope. Most would wonder why waste the time and effort on a film like this, but by god, is it gorgeous. This is set in the height of American in Connecticut and it shows from the Victorian houses to the streets of brick and stone. The winter layouts and the night sky sparkle throughout the film becoming a true highlight of the artistry of Disney at the time. It’s the closest one can get to Disney’s Main Street U.S.A. on the big screen before Saving Mr. Banks anyway. It takes advantage of its scope just like Sleeping Beauty will four years after the release of this film.

The overall story is simplistic and is a very nice romance. It sets the two up as unlikely if ever to get together being from opposite sides of the coin, yet even by the voice performances, the chemistry is felt. The animation adds to it covering the emotion in their faces and their happiness. It also covers the naive and serious nature of lady and the fun loose style of Tramp. I love Tramp all around from his constant expressions, his smoothness and generally not being a horrible dog. One can see why Lady would fall for him because he is the ultimate “manic pixie dream” come true.

The best moment of the film’s performances and animation is the scene every one knows and loves and that is the “Bella Notte” sequence. It’s iconic in every way with Lady and Tramp eating a bowl of spaghetti, sharing a smooch and Lady looking up at the night sky with a glimmer of hope in her eyes. It’s absolutely terrific. There’s a reason why its the featured image. Another terrific piece is the climax of the film. It is dark, ominous, filled to the brim with crackling lightning and absolute chaos. It gives a film that was joyful a chance to have tension and stakes involved. It’s a wonder why this film was panned by critics at the time (as seen in the Critic’s Quote below). Lady and the Tramp is a classic through and through and perfect for any bella notte.

Critic’s Quote: “”Lady and the Tramp,” we might mention, is not the best he has done in this line. It is a coyly romantic story, done with animals. The sentimentality is mighty, and the use of the CinemaScope size does not make for any less awareness of the thickness of the goo.”- Bosley Crowther, New York Times, June 24, 1955

(Damn, Bosley, who took a shit on your Eggs Benedict?)

Signature Moment: The “Bella Notte” sequence is the centerpiece for the classic for all the obvious reasons.

Serg Beret’s Best Disney Animated Films – #Aladdin (1992)

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Directed by Ron Clements & John Musker

The final of the Ron & John directed classics on the list, Aladdin is the leadup to what would be the pique of the Disney Renaissance. Coming hot off the heels of Beauty and the Beast, this film needed to have the same memorable structure, storytelling and spectacle what that film. What was given certainly holds its own by finding itself in a story about no longer being trapped and finding freedom with some phenomenal comedy sprinkled in here and there courtesy of the master of comedy at the time Robin Williams.

Aladdin (Scott Weinger) is a diamond in the rough of Agrabah roaming the streets, stealing food and being shunned by society as a “street rat.” He doesn’t by that as he longs for more than just his life. Meanwhile at the palace, the Sultan (Douglas Seale) is looking for a suitor for his daughter Jasmine (Linda Larkin) while his royal visor Jafar (Johnathan Freeman) is looking for a lamp in the Cave of Wonders, but needs someone of good heart despite their exterior. Along with his sarcastic bird Iago (Gilbert Gottfried), they find and use Aladdin to get the lamp until he gets stuck with the lamp and uses the Genie (Williams) to escape the cave. Aladdin gets three wishes from rubbing the lamp like so and wishes to be Prince Ali Ababwa to win the heart of the princess, but Jafar has other plans to rid Agrabah of Prince Abubu by becoming the greatest sorcerer of all time.

Aladdin covers the bases of the classic formula of the time and breathing a new life into them with a modern-at-the-time style. It certainly set in the word of ancient Persia, but feels closer to Broadway and Las Vegas entertainment except without the overpriced tickets and all-you-can-eat buffet. It is an entertaining trek hitting all the right notes with the spectacular songs by Alan Menken and Tim Rice from the delectable sweetness of “A Whole New World,” the charming boasts of “Price Ali” and the absolute show stopper that is “Friend Like Me” to name a few. In fact, most of the songs in the film can get stuck in my head for days after viewing. There is also elegance in the art direction and design with a beautiful use of curvatures and angles that stun the eye. It captures the art of the Middle East and the calligraphy of the Arabic language. Every character also is not wasted and shines equally with the evil of Jafar looming over as a affable, but menacing villain and his foil of the charming suave of Aladdin in constant cahoots.

Now, let’s be honest, this film would be lower if it was not for the Genie. This is arguably one of the greatest characters ever created by the Disney company. He stands out in his bright blue form and his gorgeous design by Eric Goldberg bringing an Al Hirschfeld aesthetic to him with his curves and smile on his face. Just add Robin Williams and it is a dream come true and that’s what they did. Williams’ performance in this film is nothing short of fantastic. When I think of Williams’ work, this is the standout for me. He leaves a lasting impression by doing impressions, adds levity to the film and brings a film that could have been slightly mediocre, but pretty to a marvel to behold. He even looks like his voice actor and can show a deeper emotional side as well. Genie is the heart and soul of Aladdin besides, well, Aladdin. Overall, this film is remarkable on every level and a whole new world to experience for any Disney fan.

Critic’s Quote: “Robin Williams and animation were born for one another, and in “Aladdin” they finally meet. Williams’ speed of comic invention has always been too fast for flesh and blood; the way he flashes in and out of characters can be dizzying.” – roger Ebert, November 25, 1992

Signature Moment: The first appearance of the Genie leading to the phenomenal “Friend Like Me” brings the movie from run-of-the-mill to true classic.