Disney is a name recognized around the world, synonymous with optimism and dreams. Some have come to think of Walt Disney as the father of childhoods, young, and old, inspiring the undying power of the imagination in all of us. Walt Disney World Resort, the Happiest Place on Earth, is the epicenter of that imagination, where stories get told, come to life, and are experienced ad infinitum. It is no surprise why characters like Mickey Mouse have had such a long legacy. From amusement parks to feature-length films, Disney continues to share the magical joys of possibilities with everyone.
Of course, not everyone is a self-proclaimed fan of the man behind Steamboat Willie or the timeless attractions that cost a lot of waiting time and money to enjoy. The Disney franchise is no stranger to controversy either. Sexual secret messages and images hidden by animators in plain sight, like the word “sex” in The Lion Kingor a female’s bust in The Rescuers. Pushing for mature content on Disney+ for older audiences. Its mixed representation and support of the LGBTQ community has led to recent protests in Florida and California as well. The Walt Disney Company is a company at the end of the day, so the magic is hard to see once Pinocchio becomes a real boy. Art is also still art, and for art’s sake, there are Disney movies anyone can enjoy without being proselytized by the House of Mouse.
When people think of animated movies, they think of the unavoidable and seemingly random musical numbers. fantasy is not a musical, but a musical anthology. Eight animated segments were inspired by classical orchestrations to create a live-action cartoon concert. The film also doubled as a return in popularity for the Mouse, but non-Disney fans can come for the spectacle and stay for the soundtrack.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Tim Burton’s classic poem about the commingling of Halloween (Hocus Pocus) and Christmas (The Santa Clause) is made into a stop motion dark fantasy. It was also made for people who cannot decide which holiday they like better. Joking aside, this musical has the charm of Disney and the unease of a graveyard at night. Touchstone Pictures, a Walt Disney Studios label for adult audiences, originally released the film thinking it was too scary for children. The Nightmare Before Christmas is now a rite of passage, being many children’s first (and adult’s favorite) horror film.
James and the Giant Peach (1996)
Nothing says family entertainment like an orphaned boy raised by two abusive aunts. If that was not enough trauma, the death of his parents was brought on by a killer rhino-cloud. A wacky tale about magical crocodile tongues, a giant peach, and finding yourself and friends in a cynical world, James and the Giant Peach is a miraculous film with both live-action and stop-motion, made shortly after the original author’s death, the scrumdiddlyumptious storyteller, Roald Dahl. Fun fact: director Henry Selick (who first directed The Nightmare Before Christmas) used the stop-motion figure of Jack Skellington in the movie as Captain Jack.
A Goofy Movie (1995)
The heartwarming coming-of-age classic between father and son. Goofy struggles to reach his son, Max, who loathes the idea of turning into his dad. Before Max becomes his own adult, Goofy takes him on a road trip to bond, thwarting Max’s attempts at rebelling and finding out who he wants to be. With so many Disney archetypes, A Goofy Movie stands out (cue Powerline) as one of the best examples of treating characters as deeper than their signature traits.
Juvenile prisoners of a correctional camp are forced to dig holes in the dried-up Green Lake where legend has it that a curse protects lost, buried gold from an Old West outlaw. Based on the novel by Louis Sachar, this serendipitous nostalgia trip makes for an uplifting piece of historical fiction. The nicknames of the delinquents are fun too; where else are you called Caveman or Armpit? What really makes you want to go and dig those holes, though, is the film’s theme song “Dig It.”
Pirates of the Caribbean Series (2003-2017)
Looting and pillaging has never been done better than Pirates of the Caribbean. The writing is marauding, well-fitting to a salty swashbuckler. The sword-fighting is fierce and unforgiving, capturing the dueling worlds of the civilized and carnal. Amidst the seven seas is Captain Jack Sparrow, the pirate’s pirate, slippery and savory with every breath he takes and takes away. There are six films in this saga, but the first three are a timeless treasure trove.
National Treasure (2004)
National Treasure taught us two things: history is fascinating, and Nicolas Cage is the only man who can steal the Declaration of Independence and kidnap the President of the United States without being convicted. The lore of history, the undiscovered truths and lost stories, the potential to rewrite history as it was meant to be written, makes National Treasure an artifact worth finding and preserving.
Spirited Away (2001)
A joint venture between Walt Disney Pictures and Miyao Miyazaki, director of the Japanese animation giant, Studio Ghibli, brought us one of the most celebrated films of all time. the fear and uncertainty of growing up, the motivation of greed and deception, selling yourself to the material world over living your higher purpose, knowing your true identity, Spirited Away is a movie about childhood and adulthood, how we lose and keep our innocence.