Monday, August 19, 2013

4 Forgotten Disney Movies (That Are Totally Awesome)

Everyone's got a basic idea of what constitutes a Disney classic. Aladdin, The Lion King, The Beauty and The Beast, and that stupid one with the mermaid all sit comfortably on the figurative shelf of childhood nostalgia. But then there are the Disney movies that time forgot, and we don't mean the ones that came out in the 1940's that only pretentious snobs and animation students have the patience to watch and discuss.

If "Make Mine Music" is your favorite Disney movie, you are a hipster, and there's little hope for you.

There are Disney films released in the past two decades that you probably forgot about even though you totally saw them. Somehow the marketing people at Disney have grown powerful in their ability to absolutely bury films they don't really want attached to their brand, favoring the way overdone "pretty princess" paint-by-numbers storytelling style and, in turn, abandoning some of their most original movies to be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Seriously though, how great was this movie?

These are the forgotten films of Disney, each worthy of the praise so often heaped upon the other less imaginative and less deserving films in the Disney Canon.

#4 The Great Mouse Detective

The Great Mouse Detective has more action packed into its plot than perhaps any other movie in the Disney library. There really isn't a dull moment throughout the entire movie, and considering "The Rescuers" was somehow deemed a success despite being painfully slow-paced, you'd think Disney would be all about promoting another movie starring heroic anthropomorphized mice. Most Disney movies can't hope to match scenes as awesome as the toy store escape scene, and in The Great Mouse Detective, that's like only the third-best scene (behind the mousetrap escape scene and the final confrontation inside the Big Ben).

This was also the first movie in what would become a longstanding Disney tradition to feature the villain so heavily, which might not sound like a big deal, but imagine the impact of having anyone but James Woods voice Hades years later; Hercules very well could have bombed, and that would've been tragic. Also, some guy named Jeremy Irons voiced Scar in Lion King, and without any precedent for major actors landing villainous roles in Disney films, that may not have come to pass.

By the way, you know how earlier we mentioned a few of the 90's classics you know and love? Well, without this movie Disney Animation Studios was looking at no longer being a profitable branch of the Disney moneymaking machine. Fortunately, it did well enough that "The Little Mermaid" got the go-ahead and made big bags of money, and the animation studio survived to create some of the most memorable animated movies in existence, and arguably one of the greatest films of all time.

#3 Aladdin and the King of Thieves

Technically, Disney chooses to just ignore all their awful direct-to-video sequels and pretend like they aren't part of their company's catalogue, so even though they have produced at least one terrible low-budget sequel for every one of your favorite Disney classics in order to make some extra cash at the expense of appearing a tad greedy and having no standards whatsoever, as a brand they continue to pretend like they only make original high-quality family-friendly memories.

Disney gets away with their misguided money-grubbing projects 
by bashfully stating "Uh yeah, that totally wasn't us..."

What Aladdin and The King of Thieves accomplished was nothing short of miraculous; not only was it a direct-to-video sequel, but it's not even the first sequel tacked onto the original's success in cruddy sequel form. Aladdin Two: the one nobody saw was your standard crap Disney ripoff of the original, lacking every single element that made the first so good (including Robin Williams). However, in this surprisingly impressive third installment they got Robin Williams to reprise the Genie, wrote original music for it, and whipped up a plot that's actually pretty awesome-

A prominent royal couple is about to be married, but before the wedding can be completed the legendary forty thieves unleash a stampede on the festivities and use the distraction to loot the palace's treasury room in search of a powerful staff which unlocks an omnipotent oracle- So far, so good.

The oracle reveals that trapped within the ranks of the forty thieves is the hero's father. Shocked to hear his father is alive at all, our protagonist tracks the thieves to their secret mountain hideout only to discover his father is the leader of the marauders, and the only way he can escape the hideout alive is to join the ranks of the forty thieves by defeating this guy in single combat:

It's revealed that the thieves are searching for an ultimate treasure hidden on a legendary vanishing isle, a city that sinks into the sea and never surfaces in the same place twice. We won't go into any more detail because seriously if you haven't seen this movie you need to go take care of that. But turn that plot into a live-action film and you've got a pretty successful summer blockbuster on your hands. The music throughout is solid, the animation on par with the original Aladdin film, and one could argue it's actually better than the original since there are less scenes about Jasmine and more fights to the death and Indiana Jones-esque treasure hunting.

#2 The Black Cauldron

You knew this was coming.

The Black Cauldron was supposed to be an epic animated adventure based on "The Chronicles of Prydain" by Lloyd Alexander, and maintained a darker tone than past Disney movies. It was made in the 80's when Disney was still trying to be creative instead of just pushing princess crap on all us 90's kids. When a brand new snot-nosed studio chairman named Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered that it be edited beyond recognition because he didn't like it, literally everyone was like "Um no, it's almost all done, buddy" and Katzenberg personally started chopping it to bits before Disney's CEO finally made him stop. The damage was done, and the ticked-off animators later said the finished product lacked "the humor, pathos, and the fantasy which had been so strong in Lloyd Alexander's work. The story had been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it was heartbreaking to see such wonderful material wasted."

However, due to Disney's unwillingness to acknowledge the film's existence and the fact that the movie is still extremely cool, it has become the underground cult classic Disney film for all the kids who wanted to be different and needed an opinion that stood out from the crowd. 

Lloyd Alexander himself had this to say regarding the adaptation of his work:

First, I have to say, there is no resemblance between the movie and the book. Having said that, the movie in itself, purely as a movie, I found to be very enjoyable. I had fun watching it. What I would hope is that anyone who sees the movie would certainly enjoy it, but I'd also hope that they'd actually read the book. The book is quite different. It's a very powerful, very moving story, and I think people would find a lot more depth in the book.

So despite its failure to capture the depth of the story it's based on, the movie is still worth watching. Much like The Great Mouse Detective's overlooked contributions to what would eventually become Disney's formula for success, The Black Cauldron was the film that established the importance of a terrific film score, the significance of choosing a project with fascinating source material, and--most importantly--was the first Disney film to use that totally awesome slow-approaching undead army clip.

#1 Atlantis: The Lost Empire

By all accounts, this movie was a success. Released in 2001 with excellent usage of CG animation at a time when that was starting to be all the rage (Emperor's new groove was released six months prior, Lilo and Stitch would be released the following year), Atlantis was supposed to have its own spin-off TV show and an underwater attraction at Disneyland until that all got cancelled because critics were accusing it of having an "unclear audience" and its "absence of songs". So, this action-adventure movie which uniquely separated itself from the entire decade of films that preceded it and featured a fantastically brilliant comic-bookish visual style and intense storytelling was buried because it didn't match the rest of Disney's childish sing-along crap.


Atlantis is an awesome science-fiction movie with everything you'd want in a adventure film, and what's more- you can still enjoy it today because it's watchable for audiences over the age of 9, unlike some other movies we could think of.

We really can't sum up just how great this movie is, and how unfairly it's been treated ever since Disney decided to stick with awful childish movies like Lilo and Stitch. To really get a feel for what this movie's about, here's the totally rad trailer:

More awesome in the first 15 seconds of this trailer than all 74 minutes of "Oliver and Company"

This movie has an award-winning soundtrack, the voice talents of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, and Leonard Nimoy, and several epic action sequences that simply leave no time for a special musical number. It's unfortunate that Disney disregards this movie as a winner simply because critics didn't like that it wasn't geared towards little girls, since that's actually the best part about it. It even has all the staples of a Disney product; establish the main character as a sympathetic figure with something to prove in the first five minutes? check. Milo chases down some fatcats with his theory regarding the submerged civilization and is utterly shut down. Side characters that steal the show? Also check.

There really isn't anything wrong with this movie. It's fun. It's got good characters, good action scenes, an ancient mechanical leviathan, and this girl is the movie's princess:

Seriously just go watch it, and support the great Disney movies that get swept under the rug. 


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