(Welcome to The Greatest Shots in Disney Animation History, a limited series where Disney expert Josh Spiegel selects and ranks the defining moments in one of the greatest, most important, and most influential collections of films ever made.)
This part of the ongoing list covers entries 70 through 61.
70. Melody Time: Beset upon by a snake-like piano
There was a brief time in the 1940s when the thought was that Disney would revisit Fantasia with a follow-up film. Sadly, that wasn’t to be, though as the 1999 sequel Fantasia 2000 notes, there are some pieces of music that were considered for that earlier follow-up. One was “Flight of the Bumblebee,” which was redone and jazzed up as the “Bumble Boogie” sequence in Melody Time. The brief, black-backgrounded section is a fun, snazzy bit of animation with a particularly striking moment in which the protagonist (a bumblebee, naturally) faces down a bopping, bouncing keyboard that appears to be a snake ready to strike. Cheaper package films like this could only have so much experimentation, but moments like this are reminders that Disney animators tried their best even in low periods.
69. Alice in Wonderland: The caucus race
Alice in Wonderland, like its Lewis Carroll source material, is full of “mad people” and intentionally, utterly ridiculous images and ideas. One of the earliest of those, after Alice handles her way through the room with a talking doorknob, comes with the caucus race. The political satire of Carroll’s work is visualized here as a group of talking animals runs around in a never-ending circle in the sand, as the tide rolls in and gets higher around their necks. Alice struggles to get out of the caucus race, the idea being that such pointless endeavors are impossible to escape from. (I will leave it to you to tie this to recent political events.) Anyway, it’s how simply and matter-of-factly the animators bring the caucus race to life that serves as a great table-setter for the madness to come.
68. Make Mine Music: A large opera singer
Make Mine Music, like a few of the package films of the 1940s, isn’t full of truly incredible animation, though there are a number of remarkable sequences. One of the standouts in the 1946 film is The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met, which is all about…a whale who…well, you can figure it out. The whale in the story is inexplicably gifted with a booming operatic voice provided by Nelson Eddy, and the simple, delightful, ridiculous image of Willie the Whale standing tall at an opera house, in full costumed regalia, bowing to the crowd after an aria, is truly unforgettable. The story in which the shot occurs is both charming and a little haunting, but this specific shot is kind of hilarious.
67. Wreck-It Ralph: Ralph squeezing into the penthouse
Wreck-It Ralph just wants to be accepted by the fellow denizens of the Fix-It Felix, Jr. game. (Leave aside why on Earth the other characters in the game would treat Ralph like a second-class citizen, seeing as once he departs the game, it’s clear that there is literally no reason for anyone to play the damn thing without a bad guy around. I digress.) His first attempt to do so in this 2012 film comes when he tries to join the Nicelanders in the penthouse of the building he typically is tasked with attacking, but the building’s not designed for him, as this shot displays, with his lumbering accidentally knocking Fix-It Felix, Jr. out. John C. Reilly does a great job of vocalizing Ralph’s awkwardness in trying to fit in, but so too does a shot like this one.
66. The Sword in the Stone: A heartbroken squirrel
Great shots of animation can often boil down to great character animation. Such is the case with this example from the 1963 adaptation of The Sword in the Stone. The story of King Arthur is largely whittled down here to the story of his youth, leading up to when young Arthur — known as Wart — pulls the eponymous sword and proves his place as the once and future king. At one point in his studies with the wizard Merlin, Wart and Merlin turn into squirrels, leading to a strange little scene in which an actual female squirrel sees Wart and falls for him fast. This, of course, poses a problem since Wart isn’t a squirrel. The problem is visualized when he turns back into a human, and the squirrel is left heartbroken. The scene doesn’t go much further than that, but the visual representation of her sadness is surprisingly affecting and the most memorable part of the film.
65. The Fox and the Hound: Tod and Copper go their separate ways
The Fox and the Hound is not often thought of as one of the great Disney animated films, and arguably for good reason. It was a film with a checkered history — its production was ankled when animator Don Bluth (yes, that Don Bluth) walked out of the studio with a group of animators to start a rival studio. The final film bears the mark of a fractured story, but it does have some remarkably intense sequences, such as the climax, in which a vicious bear attempts to kill off the title characters. Eventually, Tod the fox comes to the aid of his old ex-friend Copper the hound dog, a favor the dog returns when his master tries to kill Tod at point-blank range. After Tod’s master lowers his weapon, the two animals realize it’s time to say farewell. They give each other one last look, a nod of respect that signals the full conclusion of their friendship. It’s bittersweet and heavy with emotion, one of the few moments where the film reaches its full potential.
64. Ralph Breaks the Internet: Ralph faces off against himself
Where Wreck-It Ralph had a villainous tweak on an old-school Disney character, Ralph Breaks the Internet had something entirely different: a bad guy that is eventually visualized as a giant version of Wreck-It Ralph himself. The 2018 sequel is largely about how Ralph has to accept the limitations of his friendship with Vanellope Von Schweetz, but that’s only after he has to face off against a constantly expanding virus that he unleashed within the confines of the World Wide Web. The climax features Ralph against the virus, which is a giant-sized Ralph made up of duplicate versions of the good bad guy. Though the finale’s emotional oomph isn’t quite present, the visual representation of toxic masculinity is kind of stunning to behold.
63. 101 Dalmatians: Dalmatian puppies watching TV
Before 101 Dalmatians, Disney animated features weren’t at all modern. Because these stories were set in the past, they took place in a time when modern inventions weren’t even a wisp of a notion in a character’s head. The 1961 feature changed all that, with its characters interacting with cars, modern fashion, and one lead even working as a commercial jingle artist. One of the film’s most memorable images, both a reflection of the modernity of the story and of the technology that enabled Disney animators to animate a hundred dalmatians, is of the doggos watching TV. Thanks to a process known as Xerography, Disney animators could transfer their hand-drawn work onto animation cels without inking and painting, making shots like this possible. It was a sign of change to come, and an indelible moment.
62. Lady and the Tramp: Lady watches Tramp defend her honor
When the eponymous pooches of the 1955 romance first meet, it’s under mildly acrimonious circumstances. Lady is grappling with no longer being the most important part of her owners’ lives, now that they have a baby. The Tramp, for reasons unknown, is fully aware of what happens to a dog when a baby arrives, and tries to warn her but she doesn’t listen. Soon enough, thanks to a truly awful petsitter, Lady is muzzled and running loose through the city, about to be attacked by larger, more vicious dogs before the Tramp returns to rescue her. Before the two share a plate of pasta, we get this visceral fight, visualized beautifully as Lady, peering out from trash cans with muzzle atop her snout, watches the silhouette of Tramp coming to her aid. The love story starts here.
61. 101 Dalmatians: The Twilight Bark
101 Dalmatians is a very heavily pro-dog film, even though there are other animals (including a friendly cat) in the mix. Once the litter of puppies sired by Pongo and birthed by Perdita are dognapped by the ruthless Cruella De Vil, the parents waste no time in attempting to get their brood back. Of course, they live in London, and their puppies could be anywhere in the United Kingdom at this point. What do they do to figure out the pups’ whereabouts? They call upon the Twilight Bark, which is basically a phone tree for dogs. The result is a cacophony of barks, woofs, howls, and more, visualized in this shot by all of the frustrated home owners who have to listen to the caterwauling. The domino effect of the Twilight Bark is captured so charmingly — it’s a great visual gag.
Part three of this series will run tomorrow. See you then!
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