Nostalgia is a risky business. Sometimes, we have to come with terms with the realisation that something that we loved in childhood really wasn’t that great, and that our obsession with a certain television show, musical artist, or film was simply a result of unrefined taste and lack of higher-quality art with which to compare it. For example, the first movie that I ever saw in a theatre without my parents was “The Digimon Movie,” with my best friend when we were in fourth grade. It was the first movie I had ever actually looked forward to being released, and I remember being so excited by the idea of watching a movie without one of my parents sitting next to me that I could hardly stand it. My mother dropped us off at the Cinema 5 at the mall (which was still a cool place to be back then), then left to run some errands, telling us that she’d be back in an hour and a half to pick us up. We thought we owned the world.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to see “The Digimon Movie” again for the first time since that completely awesome day back in 2000, and I jumped at the chance to relive a defining moment of my childhood. Oddly, I could remember the mall and the movie theatre and my best friend, but I couldn’t remember much about the film itself. Much to my dismay, it turns out that the movie that I associate with one of my fondest memories is actually pretty terrible. Of course, I didn’t know what “terrible” was when I was nine years old; all I knew was that I loved “Digimon,” and I was destined to love “The Digimon Movie.”
Ever since that traumatising experience, I have been extremely selective when it comes to revisiting my favourite films from childhood, lest I accidentally murder every pre-“To Kill a Mockingbird” cinematic moment in my life. “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie,” for instance, shall forever remain a distant memory from my five-year-old life, out of fear that the same fate that befell “The Digimon Movie” will claim another innocent and unassuming victim.
There is one group of films that consistently lives up to, and regularly exceeds, my childhood memories of them, however. Like most children in the home media era, Disney Animation Studios was a major source of my entertainment for pretty much my entire pre-adolescence. My parents and grandparents had a collection of about a dozen Disney animated films on VHS, ranging from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) all the way to the latest releases at the time. My younger sister and I used to have to take turns picking which movie we were going to watch because we each had our favourites, and we would fight over which movies were the best ones. Predictably, her favourites were from the “Disney Princesses” series: “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid.” I had a more varied taste, however, enjoying classics like “The Fox and the Hound” and “Dumbo,” as well as the films of the so-called “Disney Renaissance” that was in full swing while I was growing up, such as “Hercules” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
While I enjoyed most of the Disney animated films that I watched as a kid, there were five films in particular that I would watch over and over so many times that my mother would periodically “lose” the videotapes so that we would have to watch something else for a while. These are the five Disney animated films that defined my childhood:
What I loved as a child: Back in the early/mid-1990s, almost every Disney animated film spawned at least one radio hit, much like “Let It Go” from last year’s “Frozen.” In fact, most Disney soundtracks featured a song from the film sang by a relevant pop star specifically designed to be released as a radio single. The single from “Aladdin” was “A Whole New World,” and I can remember the song getting significant airplay for years after the film’s release. Performed by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle, the single version was a #1 hit in the U.S. in 1993, and it was one of the very first songs to which I ever memorised all of the lyrics. I can remember hearing the song on my mother’s lite-rock radio station regularly on the way to and from school until I was about seven or eight years old, and I would sing along every single time.
What it meant: To me, hearing a “A Whole New World” was a chance for me to escape. In the film, Aladdin takes Jasmine around the world on the Flying Carpet, visiting the Great Pyramids of Egypt, Mount Olympus in Greece, and the Forbidden City of China; even though I was sitting in the backseat of my mother’s Chevrolet Cavalier, I could imagine visiting all of these places and more whenever the song came on the radio. Growing up in a poor neighborhood in a poor city in Ohio meant that I didn’t really get the chance to travel much as a kid, but “A Whole New World” made me believe that anything was possible and no place was too far away: Big Ben or the Great Wall of China or Machu Picchu was only a magic carpet ride away.
What I love as an adult: There’s not a lot to dislike about “Aladdin,” even more than two decades after its release. From Robin Williams’ madcap performance as the Genie to the Academy and Grammy Award-winning soundtrack from Alan Menken, Howard Ashman (who died during production), and Tim Rice (Ashman’s replacement) to the absolutely stunning animation throughout the film, “Aladdin” stands up as one of Disney’s finest achievements during its “Renaissance.”
What I loved as a child: Shockingly, “Fantasia” is one of only two of the Disney Animated Classics to feature the studio’s most iconic character, Mickey Mouse, the other being 1947’s “Fun and Fancy Free” (excluding “Fantasia 2000,” which recycled footage from “Fantasia”). Appearing in the segment based on Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Mickey gives his most famed performance, enchanting children and adults alike since the film’s release almost 75 years ago. I watched this segment so many times when I was a small child that my mother recently told me that she doesn’t even remember any of the other segments from the film, and referred to it as “the Mickey Mouse movie.” It didn’t help that the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence scared me so much that I only watched it once or twice until the film finally got a special edition DVD release in 2010.
What it meant: I’ve been musically-inclined for pretty much my entire life, so it only seems natural that I absolutely adored “Fantasia;” it was probably my favourite of all of the Disney films and remains so today. Seeing music come to life the way that it did in the “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” sequence was literal magic before my young eyes, and it was the first time that I’d ever seen music visualised similarly to how my brain reacts when I hear a beautiful piece by Bach or Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. Watching “Fantasia” made me realise that other people see colour and line and form in music the same way that I do; it was one of those experiences as a child that convinced me that I wasn’t weird or crazy, and that I wasn’t alone.
What I love as an adult: “Fantasia” remains one of the most ambitious and influential animated films of all time, and Walt Disney will always have my respect for risking literally everything to make this dream a reality. Combining my two greatest passions – music and film – into a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience, there will never be another film quite like “Fantasia.” It’s also the most beautifully animated of Disney’s classics; watching the magma bubbles burst in the “Rite of Spring” sequence will always bring me immense joy.
The Jungle Book (1967)
What I loved as a child: I absolutely adored the songs in this film, from “I Wan’na Be Like You” to “The Bare Necessities” to “That’s What Friends Are For.” “The Jungle Book” is maybe Disney’s most sing-alongable animated film to date. In fact, I remember having a sing-along tape that featured many songs from Disney films (including, interestingly, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from the film that Disney would rather we forget about, “Song of the South”), and I can still clearly picture the little bouncing ball hopping up and down on the words to “The Bare Necessities” as my sister and I happily sang along.
What it meant: I think that part of the reason why I loved “The Bare Necessities” so much is because the character of Baloo reminded me of my grandfather. Affable and laid-back, he was a complex and intelligent man who strived to live a simple and uncomplicated life, much like the lovable bear in the film. Mowgli looked to Baloo for guidance and wisdom in “The Jungle Book,” and so, too, did I look up to my grandfather; he taught me to be the person that I am today. I recently lost my grandfather, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish that I could live the kind of simple and seemingly carefree lifestyle that he led during the later part of his life. Alas, bills must be paid, deadlines must be met, hours must be worked. Maybe someday I can return to “The Bare Necessities” and be as happy as my grandfather was when he was surrounded by nothing but his family.
What I love as an adult: Honestly, I’m still in love with the soundtrack to this film. It features some of the Sherman brothers’ very best work, and the decision to cast jazz musicians Phil Harris and Louis Prima as Baloo and King Louie, respectively, was a stroke of genius. “I Wan’na Be Like You,” in particular, is so good that I can’t help but want to dance whenever I hear it (and I don’t dance), but the Beatlemaniac in me has to appreciate the homage/parody of the Fab Four that is “That’s What Friends Are For.”
The Lion King (1994)
What I loved as a child: “The Lion King” features one of Disney’s very best cast of supporting characters, and when I was a kid, I adored Timon and Pumbaa, the loveable meerkat/warthog combo that proved that two males are more than capable of raising a child together. “Hakuna Matata” isn’t just a catchy song, it’s a way of life.
What it meant: Mufasa’s death in “The Lion King” was perhaps my first experience with emotion in film. It wouldn’t be until I saw “To Kill a Mockingbird” in middle school that I would consciously realise the power of cinema and its ability to manipulate audiences into caring for characters who never actually existed, but “The Lion King” was probably the first film that made me feel an emotion for a character, helping make me the empathetic film-watcher that I am today.
What I love as an adult: While it does feature one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, courtesy of Tim Rice, Elton John, and Hans Zimmer, I have to say that the opening sequence of “The Lion King” is still one of the most spectacular cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. From the second the sun rises to the African chant at the beginning of “The Circle of Life” until the smash cut to the title card, I have continuous goosebumps throughout the sequence every time I watch it. It will surely go down as one of the finest pieces of animation in film history.
Toy Story (1995)
What I loved as a child: While I loved Buzz Lightyear and Woody as much as the next kid, for some reason, I was completely fascinated by the character of Sid, even when I was four years old. There’s just something about Sid that drew me to him, even though in most respects I had much more in common with Andy than I did with him. Even today, I find myself sometimes thinking about the character and trying to figure out his story: Who he was, why he did the things that he did, what happened to him after the story was over.
What it meant: When I was a few years older, in sixth grade, my best friend reminded me a lot of Sid. He suffered from extreme ADHD, so most people, kids and adults alike, wrote him off as annoying or crazy without ever getting to know him. What those people didn’t realise was that under the hyperactivity that sometimes dominated his personality was an intelligent, funny, caring kid who wanted nothing more than to be understood. Similarly, I think that there’s more to Sid than meets the eye, and I think that’s what drew me to the character so much whenever I watched “Toy Story.”
What I love as an adult: Along with its two sequels, “Toy Story” quite literally defined my childhood. While I was sitting in the theatre in 2010 watching “Toy Story 3” for the first time, I came to the realisation that the films aren’t really about toys at all, they’re about kids growing up. I was four years old when “Toy Story” was released in 1995; by the time the final film was released fifteen years later, I was nineteen, almost the exact same age as Andy throughout the series. It hit me that I was at the most perfect age possible to appreciate one of the finest film trilogies of all time, and I am so thankful that I had that opportunity. The trilogy is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I share only with people the same age as me; it gives us something unique to our generation, something that we can remember and cherish for our entire lives.
While it’s true that nostalgia can be a fickle beast, clouding our judgement with biases that we didn’t even know we had, it’s comforting to know that some of my old favourite films actually live up to the memories I have of them as a child. It should come as no surprise that these Disney Animation Studios films have endured the years, though: The studio has been defining childhoods for eight decades now, and will probably continue to do so for eight more. With the recent successes of “Tangled,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” and “Frozen,” along with the passing of the torch to sister studio Pixar (“Cars 2” and “Brave” notwithstanding), I think it’s safe to say that Disney has found a formula that works for kids and adults alike.
And as long as Disney and Pixar continue to craft quality animated films that tell moving and relatable stories, and combine those stories with stellar soundtracks and strong casts of characters, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that the kids of today will be writing retrospective essays on their favourite Disney films twenty years from now. I can only hope that nostalgia is as kind to their favourites as it has been to mine.Continue Reading Issue #8