Disney fans! Be sure to read about Alex's visit to Walt Disney World!
When Alex began to grow tired of his favorite Sesame Street Video his next discovery was Disney's Toy Story, which he continues to refer to as "The Pig Movie" after one of its lesser characters. Toy Story eventually led to The Jungle Book, then Peter Pan, and so on and so on. Here we'll give a brief description of 14 Disney films that Alex has enjoyed to one degree or another, offering the perspectives of both a child and a parent who have enjoyed, and endured, repeated viewings of these classic films.
While Sesame Street, for example, is certainly more educational than any Disney movie, the films are beneficial in another important way. They stimulate the imagination. The Disney collection has introduced Alex to pirates, mermaids, enchanted castles, giant whales, jungle adventures, and so much more. There's more to learning than knowing numbers and letters, and Disney's films provide a sense of wonder that Sesame Street can only hint at.
The Disney Films
People fall in love quickly and easily in Disney movies. Often all it takes is to see somebody of the opposite sex singing a song, and true, eternal love is the immediate result. That trend begins in Snow White, as she sings a song with a handsome goofball near a well, and she's head over heels. This prince of hers apparently does nothing but roam through the forest singing love songs. Ah, well. We're told that they live happily ever after. Snow White is actually a bit of a drip herself, so perhaps they were made for each other.
Disney's first movie is among Alex's favorites. He seems to particularly enjoy evil characters, and Snow White offers the "wicked queen" and the "scary witch." The film's climax effectively manipulates Alex's emotions. After Snow White has bitten the poisoned apple, the dwarfs, thinking she is dead, weep in sorrow. Alex, who knows the names of all seven dwarfs, narrates mournfully: "Happy is sad. Grumpy is sad. Dopey is sad. The animals are sad. They're sad outside." Then, once the "handsome prince" comes, and, as Alex puts it, "kisses on" Snow White, Alex is every bit as joyful as the dwarfs are.
Pinocchio has not managed to get a footing among Alex's favorites. He enjoyed learning to pronounce the title character's name, and any movie with a large whale can't be all bad. It's a classic film, to be sure, but since Alex has not given it much attention, we won't either.
One day, when Alex was suffering from a fever and ear infection, he watched Bambi three times. Any parent who has to watch Bambi three times in one day has probably been pushed to the brink of insanity. Okay, maybe it's not quite that bad, but this is one dull movie where very little happens. Disney's animators show off their considerable skills, setting thunderstorms and gentle rain showers to music in long, and ultimately boring, sequences. Bambi is the story of a deer who is born, learns to walk, and then grows up. There's a little bit of action, but it's mostly a deer frolicking around with a rabbit and a skunk.
The most poignant scene is where Bambi's mother is killed by hunters. Bambi's father appears in the swirling snow and says, "Your mother can't be with you anymore." It's unfathomable how any child could see this movie and grow up to be a hunter. Of course, in the very next scene, it's back to fun frolicking. Bambi, it seems, never gives his murdered mother another thought.
Alex's favorite scene is near the end, when the scary dogs come and chase Bambi. As we'll see, other films have scary dogs, and Alex enjoys them every time.
Cinderella was one of Alex's later discoveries. He seems to like the funny little mice (though their squeaky voices grate on his mother's nerves) and the nasty cat, Lucifer. It's a far better movie than Bambi, but that's not saying much at all.
For weeks, Alex wanted to watch nothing but "The Alligator Movie," officially known as Peter Pan. He would get most excited when Wendy, Michael and John stepped out of their bedroom window and flew over London. "Look!" he'd shout. "They're flying!"
For the longest time, Alex referred to Peter Pan's nemesis Captain Hook as "Fireplace." Nobody knows for sure how Hook got this name, but theories abound. Such an endearing and puzzling misnomer couldn't last, however. "Fireplace" eventually became "Kevin Hook" and then, finally, "Captain Hook."
There are a few elements in Peter Pan that might be considered disturbing by some. Captain Hook casually murders two of his men in cold blood. (One he shoots for singing in the crow's nest, the other he throws overboard for saying, "No splash, captain?") Also, the portrayal of American Indians is blatantly racist. (Check out the musical number "What Made the Red Man Red?") If any other ethnic group were treated this way, this film would have quietly disappeared, much like Song of the South has.
All things considered, Peter Pan is a charming, entertaining, and imaginative movie. After about fifty viewings, though, Alex's parents began to find it a bit tiresome.
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
This is one of Alex's favorites, too. He sometimes goes into a hypnotic trance when "Darling" sings "La La Lu." There are scary dogs (a term always pronounced with emphasis) that chase Lady. He enjoys the scene where the nasty Siamese cats wreck the house and get Lady into trouble. He likes the scary rat who appears at the beginning and the end of the film. And, thanks to an early line by Jock, the schnauzer, every dog collar Alex sees, on the screen or in person, is a "bonnie new collar."
One of the most memorable scenes from Lady and the Tramp takes place in an alley behind an Italian restaurant. While Lady and Tramp savor a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, they are serenaded with the movie's theme song, "Bella Notte." Alex twists his mouth and purses his lips when crooning "Bella Notte." He knows all the lyrics, and he knows when to hit the high notes. It's quite a performance!
It's easy to tell by the look on Lady's face that she is falling in love with Tramp while eating that plate of spaghetti. Tramp certainly helped his cause by nudging the last meatball, with his nose, over to Lady's side of the plate. It would be so nice if dogs exhibited such nice table manners in real life! Imagine, if you will, the same scene with Lady and Tramp behaving as real dogs would when presented with a platter of spaghetti and meatballs. They would scarf down the food at an amazing pace. There would be plenty of gagging and snarling. And long after the food was gone, they would both be licking the plate, in a desperate hope that there were some microscopic spaghetti particles remaining.
Perhaps it for the best that the folks at Disney presented the scene the way that they did.
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
This is Disney's best fairy tale movie, and perhaps its most under appreciated animated feature. The animation is stylish and the backgrounds are extraordinary. And the evil queen, Maleficent, is about as wicked as anyone Disney has dreamed up.
The story is, in many ways, similar to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, where, to break s spell, a handsome prince "kisses on" a sleeping maiden. But Sleeping Beauty's Prince Phillip is far more worthy than the simpleton that won Snow White's heart. Phillip had to escape Maleficent's prison, fight his way through a number of obstacles, and slay a dragon before he could get within kissing distance. We're confident that Prince Charming, had he been similarly imprisoned, would have simply sat in his cell and sung songs about his lost love.
Here's Alex's four-word review of Sleeping Beauty: "It's a good movie!"
101 Dalmatians (1961)
How could any kid not like a movie with so many dogs? In addition to all the Dalmatians, there are several dogs of other breeds as well. Alex laughs out loud when he sees the cameo appearances by several of the characters from Lady and the Tramp. (During the "Twilight Bark" we see Jock barking up a drain spout, then we see Peg and the bulldog in a pet shop window. Moments later, in the shadows, we see Lady and Tramp themselves watching a car drive down the street.)
Alex is also spellbound by Cruella De Vil (if she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will). He loves the scene where she splashes ink all over Roger and Pongo. Cruella is a fun character to watch, but her manners leave a little something to be desired. And she should probably consider taking a defensive driving course.
101 Dalmatians almost certainly uses the word "idiot" more than any other animated feature. One item on Alex's mother's "To Do" list is to count how many times the word is heard through the duration of the film. To save her the trouble, if anybody out there has counted the "idiots", or would like to, please let us know the total. Thank you!
Another big time favorite of Alex's. The Jungle Book is little more than a threadbare plot and a bunch of snappy songs. And it works. It can't possibly be at all faithful to Rudyard Kipling's classic story, but when you have marching elephants and singing orangutans, who cares? "Bare Necessities" is one of Alex's favorite songs to sing, and he enjoys marching around the dining room table to the Elephant Brigade's marching songs:
It's a fun movie, but be warned: After a few viewings, it's very hard to stop those songs from running through your head.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
After what seemed like twenty years of Rescuers movies, Disney returned to its glory with The Little Mermaid. It's not as good as some of the earlier classics, but it's a lot better than any of its more immediate predecessors. Alex's favorite scene comes at the beginning of the film, where the scary shark chases Ariel and Flounder around a sunken ship. Alex also enjoys the scary octopus lady. The film features a lot of colorful, musical fish, and what kid doesn't like musical fish? The song "Under the Sea" is a show stopper.
Beauty and the Beast is yet another film with scary dogs, which, of course, Alex can't get enough of. In an early scene, Belle's father has a bad run of luck. A swarm of bats causes his frightened horse to run off. "Poppa" is then chased on foot by a pack of wolves to the Beast's castle, where he's imprisoned. Alex just loves this sequence. He even told a waitress in a restaurant about it. There are also a lot of cleverly animated household objects, led by a clock, a candle, and a teapot. According to Alex's mother, Beauty and the Beast is the best of the recent Disney films. It's an observation that's hard to dispute.
Alex calls Aladdin "The Genie Movie." It never really became a favorite. The giant stone lion that emerges from the sand was, perhaps, a bit too frightening for him. While he enjoys seeing "scary" things, this was a little too intense.
Aladdin probably won't age as well as most of the other Disney films, since it's full of topical references that people just won't "get" twenty or forty years from now. It's already dated, as there's a reference to Arsenio Hall, who virtually nobody remembers.
The Lion King (1994)
Alex is fairly indifferent to Disney's biggest hit ever. He's attempted to watch it only a couple of times, and never made it through a complete viewing. Alex's grandmother doesn't like The Lion King very much either. She says that Simba is "a little brat."
Toy Story (1995)
"The Pig Movie," as Alex calls it, is one of the most original and entertaining children's movies in a long time. This isn't a full-fledged Disney movie - a company called Pixar pioneered the computer animation. It's a kid's movie that adults can genuinely enjoy. The brilliant animation received a lot of attention, but it's backed by a solid story and great characterization. There's a sequel due to be released around Thanksgiving 1999, and Alex's father, for one, can't wait to see it. Alex will enjoy it too. He's never seen a movie in a theater, and Toy Story 2 may turn out to be his first.
It's easy to tell that Toy Story struck a chord with Alex. One of his first sentences was "To infinity and beyond!" You never know when he'll interrupt a conversation to yell, "YOU... ARE... A... TOY! You're not the real Buzz Lightyear! You're an action figure! A child's plaything!" (For those of you who haven't seen Toy Story a thousand times, he's quoting Woody, as voiced by Tom Hanks.)
We can go on and on about how good Toy Story is. But we won't. Buy it or rent it, and decide for yourself.