I doubt even Walt Disney himself could have predicted the weight his name would carry in the film industry decades after his lifetime. On the heels of the critically and financially successful “Wreck it Ralph” and “Frozen,” Disney’s new film, “Big Hero 6,” certainly appears to be advancing a triumphant yearly trend for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Ever since “Toy Story” was released in 1995, Pixar Animation Studios had been known as the dominating force in terms of animated features. However, with the recent disappointing releases (in terms of Pixar at least) of “Cars 2,” “Brave,” and “Monsters University,” many fans and critics alike were left scratching their heads. The door has been left wide open for other branches of Disney to live up to the founder’s name. Although the millennium has not nearly produced the sort of quality that their timeless predecessors reached in the mid and late twentieth century, there is no denying that Disney Animation Studio’s legacy is still blossoming. Here are five fairly recent films that prove why.
5. Frozen (2013)
Taking home two awards at last year’s Oscars (Best Original Song and Best Animated Feature), “Frozen” proved that the unbelievable hype surrounding the film may have been warranted after all. Breaking new ground in terms of plot, “Frozen” (mostly) aims its focus on the relationship between two sisters, rather than the typical “princess gets saved by handsome man” scenario that fairy tales usually exhibit. Visually, the film is absolutely stunning. The amount of time that must have gone into creating the snow alone probably far exceeds one’s immediate estimation. As I am sure you are already aware, songs from this musical including “Let It Go”, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”, “Love is an Open Door”, and “For the First Time in Forever” have dominated bedrooms, automobiles, and showers since its release. Last May, in fact, the very first handful of songs played in my prom limousine were from “Frozen.” I anticipate some kid out there will have to experience the same, all because of one fan that refuses to let the enchanting songs of “Frozen” go (I’m so sorry, I couldn’t resist).
4. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
As far as Non-Musicals go, Disney animation arguably had not reached the type of success that “Wreck-It Ralph” gained since 1961’s “101 Dalmatians.” With an original and clever a plot focused on a “bad guy” video-game character traveling between games in an arcade on a quest find a heroic medal, this should not be a surprise. The voice acting performances from the genius comedic minds of John C. Reily and Sarah Silverman drive the film forward, literally and figuratively, as they must build a kart in order to win a race and secure a medal. The jokes zoom by at a mile a minute, but don’t be suspired if you have to wipe your eyes before you reach the finish line. However, the film features an incredible amount of heart as well, increasing the emotional stakes of the film in general pushing the film past generic animated comedy.
3. Lilo and Stitch (2002)
A short lived Disney Channel series and direct-to-video sequels aside, the original “Lilo and Stitch” somehow transforms a story abut an illegal genetic mutation that escapes to Earth into a fantastic family picture. Disney’s animators returned to their roots, using watercolor backgrounds as featured in early films such as “Dumbo” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in order to bring the bright Hawaiian setting to life. Implementing this classic style and pairing it with six beloved Elvis Presley songs, the film achieves a sense of nostalgia accessible for older viewers to appreciate. Overall, I cannot say I have viewed another character quite like Stitch, and although the loveable blue creature can barely string a sentence together, this “hostile being” has an unforgettable voice.
2. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Alongside “Lilo and Stitch,” “The Emperor’s New Groove” is widely considered one of the best Disney films after their unforgettable 1990s “Renaissance era”. Displaying a title based off of Hans Christen Andersen tale, the film’s loose connection to the “Emperor’s New Clothes” essentially ends there. What do not end are the laughs. As the funniest film on this list, I can still remember specific lines that that had my side splitting. Considering I have not seen the film in over ten years, it certainly boasts extraordinary longevity. This is thanks to the voice acting of David Spade as Emperor Kuzco, John Goodman as Pacho, Eartha Kitt as Yrzma, and Patrick Warbuton as Kronk. Speaking of Kronk, a direct-to-video spinoff called “Kronk’s New Groove” was released in 2005. Completely abandoning the satisfying originality of its predecessor, the word “groove” does not deserves to be in its title.
1. Spirited Away (2001)
Five years after the 1996 announcement that Studio Ghibli had signed a deal with Disney to release their films worldwide, moviegoers everywhere were given the opportunity to experience a rare masterpiece. Created by animation mastermind Hayao Miyazaki, “Spirited Away” is the epitome of what makes this medium of film so special. The limitless creativity and imagination that went into every frame of this film is breathtaking. When I say every frame, I mean every frame. Miyazaki himself personally draws thousands of frames by hand, keeping the traditional style of animation alive. The story more than complements this magnificent visual style, which, very simply put, follows the adventures a young girl named Chihiro after her parents are turned into pigs. To the dismay of millions of fans, Miyazaki has announced that his latest film, “The Wind Rises,” would be his last. Nevertheless, his legacy has surely already been stamped into film history with “Spirited Away,” undoubtedly one of the finest animated features ever brought to life.
By Harrison Jeffs