It's about time I got back into regular blogging, isn't it? Well then, let's start with discussing what all the cool kids are talking about: the new Disney+ streaming service. Have you signed up yet?
Neither have I.
I'm kidding. About you, I mean, not me. I have not signed up yet, but you probably have. I just don't have a lot of time for watching TV right now, so I'm holding off for a while, even though The Mandalorian looks somewhat intriguing. I'll definitely be there for most of the Marvel projects they've got in the pipeline for next year.
That said, I am taking the time to go through the exhaustive list of stuff on Disney+ and give you my recommendations, because #content and clickbait and all that fun stuff.
You ready for my wild and wacky recommendations? Let me warn you, some of these are going to be obscure and possibly a little surprising. If something's not on the list, it means I either don't care for it, kinda like it but don't have enough to say about it, or haven't seen it yet. (I'm also not going to bother discussing all the Star Wars and Marvel stuff here despite the fact that I love a great deal of it, because I think those franchises should be addressed in separate posts.) Regardless, be sure to plug your favorite titles that are missing from my list in the comments.
(Two quick additional warnings: first, this post will be long, because the Disney+ catalog is long. Second, this post will feature opinions which you may not share. Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong so I can disagree with you.)
Here we go, starting with…
The Parent Trap (1961)
I actually don't hate the 1998 remake of this movie…but it's still a bad remake, because it literally lifts its best lines from the original and doesn't really contribute anything new. The 1961 version was blessed with a star-studded cast and a fantastic script, and remains one of my favorite films. Not only is Hayley Mills excellent in her dual roles (minor accent slip-ups aside), but Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara do a terrific job as the titular entrapped parents.
Though I am a fan of Emily Blunt, I have not seen the sequel to this movie thus far because I don't believe it can begin to hold a candle to the original. The only drawback to Mary Poppins, in my opinion, is the over-long animated sequence in the middle, which felt more like Walt Disney showing off than anything else (an opinion that the original author of the Poppins books apparently held as well). Despite that nitpick, the movie is near-perfect.
That Darn Cat (1965)
The original, NOT the horrible remake which is also on Disney+. This movie is a masterpiece. The pairing of Hayley Mills as a starry-eyed cat owner and Dean Jones as a befuddled FBI agent is brilliant. Add to that a terrific supporting cast and a laugh-out-loud script, and you've got a basically perfect movie.
The Ugly Dachshund
I'm sure this title got one of the infamous trigger warnings from Disney, since I recall that it has some very stereotypical Asian characters. However, I remember it as being a fun, if somewhat imperfect, movie. The chemistry of Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette made it highly watchable.
The Love Bug
Kind of a weird movie, but still a good time. The prolific Dean Jones stars again, alongside…a sentient car. And the premise works surprisingly well. The standout for me, though, was David Tomlinson (the father from Mary Poppins) as a very entertaining villain.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Another odd one…this movie feels like a rip-off of Mary Poppins in some ways, except made by the same people who made Mary Poppins, so I guess that description doesn't apply. And despite the very Julie-Andrews-esque character played by Angela Lansbury and the casting of David Tomlinson in a supporting role, this film does manage to forge its own identity in the end. Disney flexes again with another somewhat tiresome animated interlude, but there are still plenty of fun moments to enjoy and some rather catchy songs.
Herbie Rides Again
In some ways, I actually prefer this movie to its predecessor, even though it's not as well-known. Mainly because the casting is really good–Ken Berry, Stefanie Powers, Helen Hayes, and Keenan Wynn do a great job in their roles. Fluff, but fun.
The Apple Dumpling Gang and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again
The first of these movies starred Bill Bixby and Susan Clark in the lead roles with the legendary Don Knotts and Tim Conway as supporting comic-relief characters. The main storyline was good, but forgettable, while the brilliant pairing of Knotts and Conway stole the show. Then Disney made the smart movie of featuring Knotts and Conway as the main characters of the sequel…which still featured a second forgettable storyline, but at least it was the B-story this time. Watch these for what they are–vehicles for the antics of two comedy legends.
TRON and TRON: Legacy
The original TRON is an exciting movie with some fairly deep philosophical stuff under the surface. The sequel was heavily criticized for its poor early iteration of the de-aging technology that's all the rage in today's films (among other issues), but I actually thought it lived up to the standard of the original. The effects didn't really bother me, since they took place in the context of a video game anyway. The somewhat rubbery CGI actually wasn't out of place, in my opinion.
Saving Mr. Banks
This is one of those Pocahontas movies (we'll get to Pocahontas later). It completely misrepresents historical events…but it's still a well-made and engaging movie. I do have some ethical objections to how it represents the relationship between P.L. Travers and Walt Disney, particularly since I don't disagree with one or two of the criticisms Travers leveled at Disney's adaptation. But it's fantastic to see Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks sparking off each other in the main roles, so I can't complain too much.
Shocker incoming…I actually don't care for the majority of Disney's animated films. Maybe that's why I spend so much time rewriting them. But Sleeping Beauty is a very solid entry, despite the fact that it actually didn't do too well critically when it was first released. Unlike other early Disney films, the more cartoonish elements don't completely unbalance the plot. The three fairies are technically the main characters, and they're pretty endearing (which makes their treatment in the Maleficent live-action film kind of unfortunate). Plus, the animation is remarkable, and Eleanor Audley's voice work for Maleficent is legendary.
Yeah, it's not one of the classics…but it's got Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor as globetrotting child protective services mice. I can't not love that.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
This is not a perfect movie, in my opinion. There are some areas in which the live-action remake could improve on the plot and characterization in the original. Ariel's arc has issues. But the voice acting is particularly strong, and Alan Menken's music deserves all the praise that's been lavished on it, so I do still have a soft spot for the film. Plus, more recent Disney movies frequently lack a villain as intriguing and intimidating as Ursula.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
I would say that the only weak links in this movie are the characters of Maurice and LeFou. The remake improved both characters to a certain degree, particularly Maurice, but was still plagued with issues that make the original look near-perfect by comparison. The passionate, dynamic depictions of Belle and the Beast in the animated film, thanks to a combination of breathtaking animation and phenomenal voice acting, were painfully absent from the too-British 2017 version. And it's these characters in particular which give the original film its well-deserved status as a classic.
Yes, Robin Williams is incredible here, and he's all the reason you need to watch the movie. That said…I gotta say, I do prefer the 2019 remake overall. It did a much better job with its entire cast, while the 1992 version would have been forgettable without Williams' genie. But you definitely shouldn't see the latest version without having watched the original.
Aladdin and the King of Thieves
This is actually a surprisingly good flick, despite the lackluster animation in comparison to the original. The plot delves deeper into Aladdin's character in an interesting way, and keeps things exciting. Plus, Robin Williams reprises his role as the Genie.
Yeah, I know, this movie couldn't be more historically inaccurate if it tried. But let's give it props for not being afraid to go dark and eschew the typical happily ever after. Plus, Alan Menken's music for this film is very under-appreciated. “If I Never Knew You” is one of the most beautiful songs he's ever written, and is only beaten out by “I See the Light” from Tangled as my favorite song from him. It's also a very a-typical Disney love song that echoes the more somber themes of the movie.Hercules
LET'S GET DOWN TO BUSINESS…DISHONOR ON YOUR COW…yeah, I don't know if I'm going to be there for the non-musical, non-Mushu remake of this movie. The original is pretty darn brilliant.
The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride
Okay, it's a direct-to-DVD Disney sequel. It's got some cheesy moments that will make you cringe. BUT, there's some very good and very dark stuff in it too. Suzanne Pleshette does a surprisingly good job filling Scar's pawprints as the villain of this piece, and on the whole, the story feels more “adult” than you'd ever expect from one of Disney's blatant cash-grabs. I'd say it comes very close to being a worthy sequel to the original Lion King, and is probably more respectful to the original than the 2019 live-action remake.
The Emperor’s New Groove
Watch. This. Movie. Don't even get me started on talking about how good it is, because this post is long enough already. Just do yourself a favor and watch it. Because YZMA AND KRONK…okay, okay, fine, moving on now.
Lilo & Stitch
Not one of my favorites, but it's got some good moments. I do like this one, though I probably need to watch it again at some point to determine how much I actually like it. Worth adding to your list.
Believe the hype. This really is one of Disney's most underrated films. I'm actually glad it wasn't super-successful, because it didn't become a franchise that got run into the ground over the years.
The Princess and the Frog
Another non-favorite of mine, though I did enjoy it. The brilliant characters of Lottie LaBouff and Dr. Facilier sold me on it in the end. It doesn't quite deliver on the cleverness of its premise and setting, but it's still fun.
There is literally nothing wrong with this movie. At all. Fight me. It's the pinnacle of Disney fairy tale movies. We shall not see its like again, I fear…though there is a pretty amazing animated series following on from it which I will discuss in the next section.
Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension
I'm a big fan of Phineas and Ferb, and this movie is a near-perfect love letter to longtime viewers. I wouldn't recommend watching it before catching up on the series, though, or you'll miss the impact of some of its best moments.
Big Hero 6
It's not in the same class as Into the Spider-Verse, but it's still a very solid animated superhero movie.
There really aren't that many superhero movies, animated or otherwise, which have lived up to the standard set by this film.
It will break your heart and stomp on the pieces, but then it will put the pieces back together and wrap them up in lots of warm and fuzzy bandaids. So yes, watch it.
Toy Story 3
I am very much not a Toy Story fan, and there were some things about this movie I didn't care for, but it's still pretty amazing and far better than the previous two movies.
Whoa, this one got DEEP. But it's still excellent and manages to avoid becoming too heavy. Pixar needs to up its game and make movies like this again.
Hercules: The Series
I actually haven't seen much of this one, but I've loved the clips I have seen on YouTube, so it'll probably be on my watchlist once I finally do break down and sign up for Disney+.
Okay, hear me out–true to the title, this is a super-weird Disney Channel show from the 90's. But it's got some surprisingly good moments. It's like a somewhat-toned-down version of the X-Files, but not so toned-down that it doesn't include some remarkably good storylines and dark themes. It eventually fell apart when it did that dumb thing shows do where they swap out the main character for somebody else, but there's still a lot to like.
I have actually not seen any of this show yet, but I've heard a ton of good things, so it's on my list.
I've seen a few episodes of this one and really enjoyed them. The show seems to be well-written and funny, with strong voice acting.
The Emperor’s New School
Technically, this isn't on the level of the superlative Emperor's New Groove…but it's got Eartha Kitt and Patrick Warburton reprising their roles as Yzma and Kronk, so I'll forgive the weak storylines and sub-par animation.
Phineas and Ferb
This is one of those shows you either love or hate. I love it. The goofy running jokes are my kind of humor, and the sense of innocent fun that pervades the show is infectious. I don't think there's a single episode I haven't enjoyed.
Phineas and Ferb + H.P. Lovecraft. Sort of. A truly remarkable animated series that isn't afraid to make you think or go dark. Watch this one from the beginning, and try to avoid spoilers beforehand.
Tangled: The Series
I may do a whole post on this show at some point. Yes, it's got quite a few filler episodes (which are still very good, just not part of the main story arc), but the writing quality, music, and voice acting are excellent throughout, and there's a captivating mythology built on the original movie. Plus, there are some downright shocking revelations going into the current season which you really shouldn't miss if you love Tangled.
X-Men: The Series (1992)
Very 90's, very cheesy, very good. Still one of the strongest X-Men adaptations, even after a boatload of movies and TV shows.
Spider-Man: The Series (1994)
The best Spider-Man animated series, and possibly one of the best Spider-Man adaptations of all time…is not this show. It's Spectacular Spider-Man, which thus far is not available on Disney+. But despite some weird content restrictions (like countless euphemisms for death…I SHALL OBLITERATE SPIDER-MAN but in a child-friendly, not-remotely-realistic fashion) and general cheese, this is a pretty strong interpretation of the Spidey mythos, and easily outshines many other versions of the character.
Wolverine and the X-Men
One of those “cancelled too soon” shows. Given time, it could probably have outdone the 90's animated series as the best X-Men cartoon ever. But it's still very strong, with a surprising twist on the usual X-Men formula and a cleverly-crafted adaptation of the Dark Phoenix Saga (which is apparently really hard to get right, for some reason).
Whew. I think that's everything. What did I miss? When you need a break from all that TV content, let me know in the comments. And feel free to dissent with all my bizarre opinions.
COMING SOON to the blog: Doctor Who Series 12 stuff/audio recommendations, reviews of my latest reads, a preview of my Black Friday sale, and exciting news for my paperback readers.