"Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities, forget about your worries and your strife." — Phil Harris as Baloo in "The Jungle Book" (1967)
I've said it before, and I'll say it again — you just never know what will inspire a list of faves.
This week's prime example? It all started late on a recent weekend night when my wife and I couldn't find a blessed thing of interest to watch on TV, despite more channels to choose from than you can shake an HDMI cable at. My wife's suggested answer to the problem surprised me and provided the theme for this week's Faves.
Her unexpected suggestion was inspired by one of those online lists you see teased on the righthand rail of popular websites like MSN and Facebook — you know, like "Six Reasons the Plot of 'Gilligan's Island' Could Never Have Happened," or "Seven Reasons Tobey Maguire Will Never Play Spider-Man Again." (I'll give you one: He's 43!) This one was "Nine Things You Didn't Know About Disney World."
One of those things, according to the list she happened to be reading to me, was that there's a prominent attraction that every visitor to the park is familiar with that Walt Disney himself would not have approved: The "Partners" statue near the entrance depicting Walt hand in hand with Mickey Mouse. Apparently, Uncle Walt was not a fan of statues, famously saying, "Statues are for dead people." It took quite some persuading for his family to permit that statue's creation and installation even well after Disney's death in 1966.
Maybe that's because a copper sculpture can scarcely do justice to a man whose imagination — not to mention his fabled animation studio and futuristic theme parks — produced priceless memories for generations of youngsters of all ages ever since. Which is precisely the thought that prompted my wife's suggestion — the best Disney movies to watch anytime, but especially when late-night TV fails you.
Her idea was particularly surprising to me, because she's never been much of a fan of animated movies. But she hit the nail right on the head. Nothing perpetuates Walt Disney's legacy like his namesake company's staggering stable of feature movies, especially the animated ones.
Think of the many shared life lessons we owe to classic Disney films:
— When Mom says move it, you better move quick ... or else. ("Bambi," 1942).
— Don't lie; your nose will grow. Well, maybe that's more of a metaphor for the fact that your folks are always gonna know, so it isn't worth the extended sentence. And when they're not around? Jiminy Cricket, kid! Let your conscience be your guide! ("Pinocchio," 1940).
— Don't stay out after midnight. You might end up walking home. Barefoot. ("Cinderella," 1950).
— When a stranger offers you a treat, don't accept it ... and definitely don't put it in your mouth. ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," 1939).
— On the other hand, don't be rude to strangers either. You'll make a beast of yourself. ("Beauty and the Beast," 1991).
And so on and so forth. Even the titles of those Disney songs we grew up on are chock full of such useful messages:
"Whistle While You Work"
"A Spoon Full of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down"
"Hakuna Matata" (if you need prompting, it means "No worries")
"When You Wish Upon a Star"
"Let It Go"
And I will, but you get the idea. But before we get to my faves, I should warn you that only three Disney animated movies have been nominated for best-picture Oscars, and two of those were Pixar productions, which I'm excluding from this list for simplicity's sake (they're a class all their own, just like Disney). No matter. None are among my five faves. Nor are any of the wildly popular Disney princess features. Having introduced most of my six granddaughters to them, trust me, I've seen and appreciated them more than you'll ever know.
But they're not my faves. These are. Any time. No matter what's on at 2 in the morning, I can always count on a psychic hug from:
MY FIVE FAVORITE ANIMATED DISNEY MOVIES
— "The Jungle Book" (1967). This was the last film produced by Disney, and while he did not live to see its release, his imprint on this adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling classic is indelible — from its marvellous artistry to its family-friendly humor to its enduringly entertaining songs. Besides being one of my favorite childhood stories (except for the ending; I always wanted to scream at the screen, "No! Forget the girl! Stay in the jungle!"), it features some of the best character animation ever, inspired by and simultaneously reflecting the voice talents and personalities of Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima, George Sanders and Sterling Holloway — an approach that would inspire modern animators decades later in creating "Aladdin" and "The Lion King," among others. So, yeah, it's no coincidence that the mop-topped vultures kinda look and sound like The Beatles. Blame John Lennon for vetoing that friendly foursome being really Fab.
— "The Sword in the Stone" (1963). Another of my favorite childhood tales, loosely based on T.H. White's "The Once and Future King" but focused mainly on Arthur's childhood training as a squire of his foster brother Kay and a student of Merlin the magician. The film's songs are not quite up to the traditional Disney standard, but the scenes where Merlin teaches Arthur by changing him into various creatures definitely are. As is his wizards' duel with "the magnificent, marvelous, mad Madam Mim."
— "Alice in Wonderland" (1951). Yet one more of my favorite books as a kid, told in the finest Disney fashion such that it is these characters I see now when I think of Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts, the White Rabbit, etc. Not an easy feat to make a successful children's movie based on this work of literature that was intended as an mockery of the folly and madness of the adult world and its instiutions, and yet Disney makes it look easy. And hey! For once, no parents have to die!
— "The Lion King" (1994). Yeah, it's as tough watching Mufasa's death scene as it is Old Yeller's, but the pivotal wildebeest stampede is still one of the most exciting, heart-pounding moments in any movie, animated or otherwise. And it's really pretty essential to a story inspired by William Shakespeare's "Hamlet," another huge challenge for a family-friendly movie that Disney animators mastered beautifully, again by virtue of gorgeous artistry and brilliant character animation, not to mention Elton John and Tim Rice's Oscar-winning musical soundtrack.
— "Aladdin" (1992). Robin Williams as the big blue Genie was casting gold, and the Disney animators made the most of the late comedian's famously manic improvisational comedy by giving him full rein to riff and then animating his character's features to morph right along with his voice. "Ain't never had a friend like me," indeed.