Some Thoughts About Less Popular Disney Movies

less pop disney

Since my previous post, Confession Time: I Didn’t Like Frozen, has received so much attention, I though I would use my powers for good and promote some animated Disney movies that I think are under-appreciated.

Sometimes, for multiple reasons, a movie just does not make a huge splash. Maybe it has poor timing, or maybe it is marketed for the wrong age group (for example, the trailer and promotional material may try to sell the movie to the under-10 crowd when the 14-and-up crowd would appreciate the plot, characters, and jokes the most). The following movies either failed to make a splash or faded quickly from our popular consciousness, and I think that is a terrible loss.

Fair warning: I will be dishing out spoilers like it’s Halloween, so deal with it. For three of these movies, you’ve had over 10 years of opportunities to watch. 

Another fair warning: I kind of got on my soap box about Brave, so just be prepared for that madness. I’m tired of having to defend that movie, but I will never stop doing so.

1. Lilo and Stitch

Lilo and Stitch

Watch this movie again, and I promise you will love it. Boys and girls, adults and teens and toddlers. It’s fantastic. 

Here are some things that this movie does well:

  • Characterization and character development: All of the characters are shown as complex and motivated, and nearly all of the characters undergo personal growth. Lilo and Nani realize how much they love and need each other, Stitch realizes that he is capable of more than just destruction and can be a constructive member of a family even though he was not designed to be such a complex creature, Jumba and Pleakley recognize Stitch’s newfound humanity, and the Grand Councilwoman realizes that sometimes rules have to be bent a little in order to best serve all affected parties. Captain Gantu’s ambition is shown to lead to his downfall, which is pretty standard for these kind of persecution situations. He doesn’t really develop.
  • Music: Holy God Phil Collins, this is a great soundtrack. I recommend that anyone feeling sad just listen to it on Spotify, because it is an instant mood-booster. The soundtrack features a lot of Elvis Presley, plus some truly amazing songs performed by Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu and the Kamehameha Schools Children’s Chorus. Ho’omalu is a Hawaiian chanter, and he recorded one traditional song (“He Mele No Lilo”) for the movie plus one that he wrote specifically for Lilo and Stitch. Also the A*Teens are on the soundtrack. Nobody’s perfect.
  • Themes: 
    • The bond between sisters can be strong and positive (if I have to listen to one more asshole tell me that Frozen is the first Disney movie to feature sisterly love as the most important theme of a movie, I am going to have to turn myself in for murder).
    • Romantic love is best shown through unselfish patience and understanding (I think I speak for everyone when I say that David’s love for Nani is perfect: he understands that she has too much stuff to deal with all the time and doesn’t have time or energy for a romantic relationship, but he doesn’t hold this against her and is instead supportive because he recognizes that her relationship with her sister is more important than dating. He becomes part of the family rather than insist that Nani rearrange her priorities to put him first).
    • Family can be a construction: Stitch is not a blood relative (or even terrestrial), but he becomes family as he and Lilo grow to need and depend on each other. Ohana means family, you guys.
  • Special Note: This movie also successfully portrays different body types and races without making a big deal out of either one. Yay!

2. The Emperor’s New Groove.

emperor

I am not totally sure why this movie didn’t achieve mega-fame. The three main character voices are David Spade, John Goodman, and Eartha Kitt for crying out loud. What else could they have done to make you people happy?

Here are some things that this movie does well:

  • Character development: Obviously,  Kuzco stops being such an insufferable narcissist. It’s not that innovative, but it is very well-done. Both Kuzco and Pacha learn how to interact with someone from a different socio-economic class, which is (again) not very innovative but still very well-done. 
  • Music: The soundtrack for this movie is very sprightly. The musical numbers include Tom Jones, Sting, and Rascal Flatts (nobody’s perfect). Even the instrumentals by John Debney are energetic, since they usually accompany some manic action sequence in the film. 
  • Themes: 
    • The importance of a road trip to truly get to know someone. In other words, first impressions are not always right.
    • The consequences of treating people poorly (Kuzco is repeatedly punished for being a jerk: Yzma turns him into a llama, Pacha refuses to help him, etc., and it is only by setting aside his selfishness and agreeing to teamwork does Kuzco get what he wants). 
    • Women are not helpless. Sure, Pacha’s wife Chicha is pregnant and therefore unable to traipse through the jungle, but she can still use her wits and her weaponized frying pan to protect her household. Also, the movie’s villain is a woman, and she is pretty formidable.
    • The humanity of villains. Yzma is wonderfully vicious, but she is still fully realized. She has her own motivations, and has the agency to try to achieve her goals. Also, let’s talk about Kronk. He’s adorable. Kronk is the huggable lovable giant; he works for Yzma, and so is a villain by association, but he isn’t a bad person. Kuzco even kind of likes him. Way to go to Kronk for showing kids that your enemies are still people, too. 
  • Special Note: This movie is very meta, and quite smart. According to IMDB, “Playwright David Mamet has said he considers the script for this film to be one of the most brilliantly innovative which Hollywood has produced in recent years.” So there’s that. I recently forced my roommate to watch this movie again after she admitted she hadn’t been very impressed with it when she saw it as a child. She laughed her ass off the whole time; I think this movie uses humor too mature for its “intended” audience, in that it uses a lot of sarcasm and storytelling humor (e.g. Kuzco attempts to control the way the viewer sees the progression of events, showing that his selfishness has not completely disappeared because he wants the viewer to see him as a victim of Yzma’s calculations and not as the harbinger of his own destruction. A bouncy five-year-old is just not going to pick up on that the way a jaded 20-year-old will.)

3. Brave

brave

This movie is pretty recent, so it doesn’t suffer from the same kind of memory lapses that Lilo and Stitch and The Emperor’s New Groove experience. Still, it received some pretty mediocre reviews. Kung Fu Panda 2 earned a higher Rotten Tomatoes rating. Really. So did Madagascar 3. And, of course, Frozen. Eheu!

Here are some things that this movie does well:

  • Characterization/ character development: Look, I think that people who claim that this movie has a problem with its male characters are right. They are all caricatures of Scottish males, and they are all stupid. Merida’s father Fergus is at least charismatic, but he seems completely oblivious to what happens in the lives of his female family members from the beginning to the end of the movie. But I don’t think that critics of this movie’s characterization are factoring in other facets of his personality, and they definitely should. Fergus is extremely supportive of the women in his life from the very beginning of the movie, which is more than you can say for the fathers of Pocahontas, Mulan, and Ariel, who all look like Mensa members next to Fergus but are not supportive of their daughters until the very ends of their movies. Sure, he wants her to choose a husband, but a) he only does this to make Merida’s mother Elinor happy and b) he still wants Merida to be happy with her choice and does not try to demonize her objections (I’m looking at you, King Triton). The movie focuses on Merida’s relationship with her mother, and on how both women need to learn to respect the other’s opinion, and by association they need to respect each other as people and family members. This is a great message, and I wish more Disney movies showed healthy female-to-female relationships that may not be perfect but are not violently antagonistic. 
  • Music: Um, yeah, the soundtrack for this movie is incredible. It is mostly instrumental, but has a few stand-out vocal numbers, and captures the flavor of the Scottish Highlands beautifully. It melds perfectly with the scenery, which is also flawless. I have always liked Scotland, but this movie put the region on my Bucket List. You know what they say: mo’ bagpipes, mo’ better.
  • Themes: 

We have already had a lengthy discussion of the family and inter-female relationships in this movie, so I’ll just skip that discussion and instead focus on another issue I have with this movie, which is that (as numerous asshats have noted) it lacks an adventure-oriented plot. By this I mean that the central conflict of the movie is the relationship between Merida and another person, rather than some external problem in which this relationship is either a complicating factor or a source of strength. Most animated movie featuring female leads are the same way: Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid, Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella, Lilo and Stitch, The Princess and the Frog, and probably others that I don’t remember. In contrast, most animated movies with males as leading characters feature some kind of adventure or quest: The Lion King, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, Up, Wall-E, Ratatouille, Tarzan, The Incredibles, Wreck-It Ralph, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Cars, A Bug’s Life, Treasure Planet, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, Shrek, Madagascar, Hercules, Dinosaur, The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis, and others I’m sure. Please notice that literally every single Pixar movie ever made is on that list (excepting, of course, Brave). When we look for titles that feature a female lead going on an adventure in which her relationships with others play only a contributing role at best, we get an emaciated and weak list: Alice in Wonderland, Mulan, Tangled, Enchanted, and I can’t remember any others. The list gets even sadder when you think about the number of films which feature females going on adventures and not falling in love at the end of the movie. Yep, it’s just Alice in Wonderland. Think on that for a minute.

The problem goes both ways. The list of animated movies with male leads whose relationships with other characters do form the major plot conflict is similarly shrimpy: Brother Bear, The Fox and the Hound, and…..? Young boys deserve characters with whom they can identify who work to form healthy and strong relationships with others. This is not a “wussy” plotline by any definition. I’m not even upset that so many female-led movies use relationship conflict as a central conflict. It’s great to teach children the importance of family and friendship. I just see a huge problem in marketing the relationship-fixing movies solely towards girls, and the adventure-having movies solely towards boys, which is what happens when an overwhelming gender occupies one category or the other. A personal example: I love The Lion King. I have always loved The Lion King. I still watch it all the time. I learned a lot from that movie. But did I learn that I can be a great leader if I remain true to myself, lean on my friends for support, and stand up for the truth? No. I learned all of that from Hermione. 

I gave Frozen a lot of grief for its lackluster plot and characterization while praising its message. I feel the opposite about Brave: I think it has a pretty great plot but fails in its attempt to provide a great message due to its woeful characterization of men. Both of these movies have characterization issues, and it so happens that in Frozen these issues are manifest in the poor quality of the actual movie while in Brave they diminish the effect of the takeaway. This is a key distinction that I really want to emphasize: I think Brave is a good movie with message problems and Frozen is a bad movie with a solid message. In the end, I like Brave better and would watch it instead of Frozen any day. I’m kind of used to great Disney movies with message problems, and it’s easy for me to separate my viewing experience from my understanding of how the movie portrays the world and my place (as a female) within it.

4. Treasure Planet

Treasure_Planet

I’m sure that a lot of you have not even seen this movie, because it absolutely tanked at the box office and has not maintained much of a following. I recommend it. I think it has a very innovative take on previously published source material, and the result is quite magical. The story is based on Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, but it is set in a futuristic society that occupies multiple planets in a galaxy and travels through space via 1800s-style wooden galleons and also sometimes wind surfers. It sounds weird, but it is totally awesome.

Characterization/ character development: I’ll keep this brief, seeing as I just wrote a term paper about Brave. This movie features characters that we have all seen before, but they are still endearing. Jim is the classic screw-up with insane amounts of potential that he just does not seem to care about. Dr. Doppler is a lovable nerd/father figure who actually represents a POSITIVE male role model. John Silver is pirate with a heart of gold. B.E.N. is Robot Olaf, and in my opinion he is much more lovable, and he actually has a backstory and aspirations and everything. Captain Amelia is a typical tough-as-nails disciplined Strong Military Female, but she’s voiced by Emma Thompson so I love her. Jim (as per usual) goes on an adventure and learns about himself, that he can be a great man and is more than just a screw-up. FAIR WARNING Jim has hands down the worst hair I have ever seen on a cartoon character. I can describe it in two words:  rat tail. Nobody’s perfect.

Music: The soundtrack is middling- it’s mostly average instrumental with some slightly-better-than-average vocal numbers. I wouldn’t watch this movie for a great musical experience, but you won’t be completely turned off by the soundtrack, unlike some movies I know.

Themes:

  • A loser/screw-up/kid abandoned by his father can become a great person because one’s past does not dictate one’s future.
  • A pirate is an acceptable substitute father figure, especially when the loser/screw-up looks up to him and expects him to be a better person than maybe he is wont to be.
  • Teamwork is good.
  • You can find friends in the most unlikely places. 
  • Science, bitch.

Hmm, I did not think I would talk about Brave that much. Oh well. 

Lilo and Stitch, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Treasure Planet are all available for streaming on Netflix right now. Brave is available via normal (il)leagal means of watching movies. 

Did I miss any movies that you love but that don’t get a lot of love from the world? Do you totally agree with me? Send me an e-mail at p2undecided@gmail.com or comment below. Do you totally hate my opinions and think I should shut the hell up about things that I clearly know nothing about? Send me an e-mail at p2undecided@gmail.com or comment below. I promise not to censure comments that espouse opinions different from mine, but I reserve the right to delete your comment and block you if you get too nasty. 

2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts About Less Popular Disney Movies

  1. Lilo and Stitch is one of the few movies that actually made me cry at the end. Sorely under appreciated, but completely wonderful.

  2. I think another extremely underappreciated movie is Meet the Robinson’s! It’s so good and it makes me cry everytime. Oh and Chicken Little!

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