The Disney Golden Age

Back in the late thirties and early forties, the Walt Disney company had newly formed and created five classic films: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi. On principle, they are considered perfect masterpieces, but I’m not sure if the average Disney fan actively enjoys and praises these films as much as the ones from the Disney Renaissance in the 1990s (which happens to be my fave era for Disney Animation, followed by the Disney Revival in the 2010s). The ones who do usually sing the praises of the older films tend to reject the newer ones. Well, everyone has their different tastes and favourites, and that’s fine, as long as they aren’t jerks about it.

Anyway, I have to be honest: I’m not a fan of most of Disney’s older works. Blasphemy, I know. I acknowledge that they are good and of course anyone is allowed to like them, but I feel like they’re pretty dated (honestly the movies from the 1990s don’t show their age at all) and badly paced. The newer films have stories and characters (as well as music and visuals) that resonate with me a lot better. But what do I think of each film individually from good old Walt’s Golden Age of films? I’ll do a little breakdown of each film:

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS

The one that started it all, but does it really hold up?

Overall, it does, but I don’t think it’s THE BEST ANIMATED FILM EVER as some movie buffs/critics say. The film has great songs and really wonderful scenes (the finale is one of the greatest and most triumphant endings ever), and of course the characters are endearing (especially Grumpy and Dopey), but the pacing is pretty terrible. It doesn’t feel like a cohesive, connected film: it feels a little disjointed, like a series of vignettes about Snow White edited together for a final film, with the plot taking a backseat most of the time. The animation ranges from good to a little stiff (especially on the human characters). Granted, given how this is one of the first animated films ever, that’s bound to happen, but it goes to show how this movie shows its age.

On a side note, I can’t help but think of an alternative ending to the film had it been made in modern times (or if Disney ever decides to remake it): instead of getting kissed on her lips by her supposed true love, Grumpy wakes up Snow White with a paternal kiss on the forehead or cheek. I feel like that would’ve been a better ending just because it makes more sense story and character development wise.

So ultimately, while I would call it the most IMPORTANT animated film ever made, I wouldn’t call it the BEST.

PINOCCHIO

Disney’s second full-length animated effort feels a lot more like an actual movie, and I think it’s quite possibly Disney’s greatest ever. The animation is absolutely stunning (and takes it to new worlds, like undersea and Pleasure Island), it has an actual plot and motivation for us to see where the characters are going, and has vastly greater stakes. Of course “When You Wish Upon a Star” is a classic onto itself, but all the songs are very good. I can easily see it as a stage musical. Figaro is adorable and expressive and you do feel the love between Pinocchio and his father. Pinocchio is a great character because while he starts off really gullible, he becomes more responsible and resourceful and even becomes a badass at the climax, risking his life to save his father.

While I don’t think it’s really THAT scary, it suffers badly from values dissonance. While the Monstro chase is scary, it’s also exciting, and you want the heroes to get out in time. The whole Pleasure Island thing is really cruel, and heavy-handed on the morality. None of the boys deserved what they got, and they should have been rescued by Pinocchio. There’s also Stromboli, who is a very disgusting stereotype of a Romani man. The rest of the movie holds up so well, but a lot of the values have not, which unfortunately taints it status as a classic.

Also, I don’t really like Jiminy Cricket. I feel he’s really ineffective at his role of being Pinocchio’s conscience. He never actually offers any wisdom or advice, constantly loses track of him or even gives up on him, and doesn’t even help Pinocchio in the climax. I’m not sure why he’s such a huge character in Disney lore, beyond his awesome singing voice.

Other than that, a real masterpiece that I wouldn’t mind seeing remade to correct some of the more outdated elements.

FANTASIA

This is an interesting case. To me, it doesn’t fully feel like an animated film because it often cuts to live action footage and there’s no ongoing plot, it’s just a series of vignettes with music, visuals, and only one instance of dialogue (or rather, lyrics). While I can’t argue with it being anything other than a work of art, I have one problem: the Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria sequence is so magnificent that all the previous scenes feel underwhelming in comparison, at least for me. The other sequences can be great, but really, it’s the last segment that everyone loves and remembers this movie for. Because of this, there’s really nothing else I can say about the film.

DUMBO

Another interesting case, as this movie is just over an hour long and the protagonist is silent. It is much better paced and plotted than the previous films, but it can get very cruel. Barring the fact that wild animals shouldn’t be performing in circuses at all, literally everyone in this film hates Dumbo for no reason other than he looks different. And it’s not like he looks hideously deformed, either! (Though you shouldn’t hate on people who are hideously deformed at any rate.) He’s just a baby, and yet so many things happen to him! That, along with the racism and the fact that the film is overly cartoony/has no basis in reality whatsoever (it got very distracting for me), can be a little hard for me to watch. I also get a little worried about the ending: are Dumbo’s ears going to stay disproportionately large forever? What happens when he grows up? But it does have one awesome thing: the love Mrs. Jumbo and Timothy Mouse (who is a very underrated character) have for Dumbo. It’s so sweet. And that’s not even touching to the heartwarming/heartbreaking “Baby Mine” sequence. So while it has its problems, the basic theme of an outcast finding someone who loves and supports him no matter what and helps him achieve his fullest potential is fantastic.

BAMBI

This film is visually incredible (probably the best out of all of them) but the plot is…bad. There’s really no plot, there’s a lot of filler, and it juxtaposes extreme cuteness with extreme horror that is jarring for me. When I was young I only watched it a few times and it only resonated with me like once. There was only really one sequence that I loved: the “Looking For Romance” song, which is beautiful and haunting. But the rest of the movie is just style but not a lot of substance. I’m not really a fan of talking animal films, so having to sit through a film of talking animals hanging out in nature with no real plot doesn’t do anything for me.

So there you have it. I guess overall these films are GOOD. Very good, in fact. But not my faves. I appreciate their significance for Disney and animation in general, but don’t expect me to leap for joy at the opportunity to watch them all the time.

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Author: Laura Alexander

My name is Laura, I use they/them pronouns, and I'm an autistic college student currently enrolled at the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College. I have a passion for film and animation, social issues, and helping others, all of which will be featured on my blog. "Big Hero 6" is my favourite movie.

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