I have quite a few fave Disney directors (mainly Rich Moore, John Musker and Ron Clements, Don Hall and Chris Williams), but I think Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise are my ultimate faves. Why? Because I absolutely adore all three of the films they directed at Disney, and they all resonate with me very strongly. Those films are Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
All films are absolutely gorgeous spectacles to behold. Each one of them has a compelling, awe-inspiring climax, a compelling and complex male lead, a beautiful and strong female lead, and a realistic but threatening villain. Here are brief words of love to their three films.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
A masterpiece. The main reason why I love this film so much (besides the striking visuals and the wonderful music and songs) is because of Belle, the Beast, and their relationship. I resemble Belle in so many ways: we look alike, we both love reading and stories, we don’t entirely fit in socially but love our families, we refuse to handle any crap, and we have an affinity for monsters. Belle is great because she’s kind and inquisitive but is not afraid to stand up for herself, but is also willing to admit she’s wrong. I love how she is also beautiful without being either overly sexualized or overly infantilized. The Beast is, in my opinion, the first official Disney Prince that people started caring about; he was well-defined, sympathetic, layered, went through a lot of character growth throughout the movie, and his love for Belle is so pure. So of course, seeing these two misfits get together and find true love in one another despite all odds was really rewarding.
The film is not just a simple fairy tale; it’s a story about social exclusion and self image and how to overcome it. Gaston is a truly terrifying villain because he’s so real: he starts out as a standard misogynist with ego issues but develops into a cold-blooded killer when he doesn’t get what he wants. A true and well-deserved classic and one of my ultimate faves.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
Another masterpiece that is slowly getting the recognition it deserves. The film is truly revolutionary by how it’s so different and radical for Disney and a lot of other animated family films. It’s not afraid to touch serious, dark, complicated issues with bigotry, racism, abuse, isolation, religion, and corruption of power in a powerful, intense, but ultimately uplifting way. Quasimodo is one of my fave leads because he’s disabled and has gone through a lot of hardships but ultimately won’t let it define him, is well-developed and likable, and finds true friendship and is recognized for the hero he is. Esmeralda is beautiful and cares about social justice, and Frollo is one of Disney’s most terrifying, evil, and realistic villains. While the gargoyles probably needed less screen time and they should have brought in actual Romani people to be involved with the film, for what it is, it’s a really important movie about standing up against injustice and prejudice. It’s dramatic, it’s gorgeous, it has some of the greatest soundtracks in Disney history, and is simply wonderful.
ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE
An underrated gem. The animation is stunning, the characters are a lot of fun (with a truly badass and beautiful female lead with Kida and a nerdy but likable male lead in the form of Milo), and it is an action film that pulls no punches. It also has set up a truly unique and creative culture and world of Atlantis. The villain isn’t just a mustache-twirling sociopath; he’s just greedy and morally bankrupt. It’s an adventure story of a young man finding his place in the world and a woman who saves her people and becomes a queen. They both share a mutual love of the culture and for each other, but without the relationship being shoved down the audience’s throat. It’s a fun, creative film, and it deserves more credit.
Gary Trousdale is now working for DreamWorks, and Kirk Wise has been keeping a lower profile but apparently he has a new film in the works. I hope one day these two can make another movie together. I’m sure it will be great and I’d love to see it (and hopefully, lots of people will too).