Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Rescuers Down Under’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Rescuers Down Under’

The Rescuers Down Under is the oft forgotten film of the historical Disney Renaissance era. A sequel to 1977’s The Rescuers, the film was released to theaters in 1990, and followed 1989’s The Little Mermaid as the second film in the Disney Renaissance, and is the 29th film produced by Walt Disney Animation overall.

The Rescuers Down Under is one of the few Disney theatrical sequels. While many famous Disney films have received sequels and spin-offs on television and home media, the majority of these were produced by Disney’s smaller production houses like DisneyToon Studios.


Before Pixar became the animation juggernaut that they are today, they actually had a huge role to play in the production of The Rescuers Down Under. Most of the film’s post processing was done using Pixar’s Computer Animation Production System, or CAPS.

This makes The Rescuers Down Under the first film, animated or otherwise, to be pieced together primarily in a digital space. Pixar’s CAPS technology would also be used in 1991’s Beauty and the Beast for the ballroom dancing scene.


The original The Rescuers film was a sweet, heartwarming adventure about two heroic mice and a kidnapped orphan girl. In contrast, the film’s sequel is full blown action-adventure/comedy, and is devoid of even a single musical number.

The Rescuers Down Under may be tonally different than its predecessor, but the narrative actually follows many of the same beats. Bernard and Miss Bianca, two of the most esteemed members of the Rescue Aid Society, are tasked with rescuing a child who has been kidnapped by a greedy adult.



The original film’s villain was Miss Medusa, and she took sweet little Penny to a dark and swampy bayou to look for a fabled pirate treasure, the Devil’s Eye. This time around, the villain and message are much more politically driven, and they display themes not shown by Disney since Bambi back in the company’s Golden Age.

Percival C. McLeach is our antagonist for The Rescuers Down Under, and his favorite hobby is hunting down rare animals for financial gain, and just to have a good old time. Much like Medusa before him, he has a scaly pet with a knack for catching little kids.



Our kid character for the film is a plucky and adventurous boy named Cody, and he spends his days making friends with the local wildlife of Australia. On one particular day, Cody discovers a large golden eagle named Marahute, who is ensnared in a poacher’s trap.

Cody doesn’t hesitate to free Marahute from her bindings, and the present he receives from her puts him on McLeach’s radar. The young boy is promptly kidnapped, and McLeach’s goal is to coerce him to reveal Marahute’s whereabouts. Naturally, Bernard and Miss Bianca don’t waste very much time before they hop on the first albatross flight to the land down under.



For The Rescuers Down Under, the humble and helpful Bernard has one more thing on his mind besides rescuing Cody, and that’s popping the question to Miss Bianca. But everytime he attempts to do so, at least a few inconvenient things get in his way, and one of those things is newcomer Jake, a cool and confident kangaroo mouse.

Although the story hits a lot of the same notes as The Rescuers before it, the comedy and characters do a great job of filling in what may otherwise be a by the numbers plot. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor reprise their roles as Bernard and Miss Bianca respectively, and both actors do a phenomenal job.


The duo’s albatross friend, Orville, is unfortunately absent from this adventure. Jim Jordan, his voice actor, passed away before the film’s production. So instead of finding a new person to replace him, Disney instead opted to retire his character in the film’s story, and introduce his brother, Wilbur (a pretty deliberate reference to the famous flying Wright Brothers).

McLeach isn’t one of the strongest or most memorable villains that Disney has ever written, but he’s by no means bad. George C. Scott does a great job of making the character sound like he loves every minute of his job (bonus points for the southern drawl), and he perfectly fulfills his role in the story.

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While I personally found Penny to be a more enjoyable character than Cody, he actually has a more prominent role in his film’s story. Penny could’ve been any other small child to accomplish Medusa’s task, but Cody actually has an established connection to the goal that his villain is seeking.

The creation of Cody’s character was actually the source of creative differences between the film’s storyboard artist, Joe Ranft, and other members of the team. Ranft wanted Cody to be a native, Aboriginal Australian, as opposed to the blonde haired white kid that he ended up as in the film’s final version.


One major thing that sets this film apart from its predecessor is the animation. Compared to the 1977 film’s simple, but nice animation, The Rescuers Down Under is much grander in scale. The beginning of the film features a totally enthralling flight sequence with Cody and Marahute, and seeing the pair soar above the clouds and skate over the water was truly incredible.

Marahute was one of the trickier parts of the film’s animation process. In addition to being larger than life, the bird has more than 200 unique feathers, and this staggering amount of detail is the reason that she only appears for about seven minutes of the film.


As is customary for Disney, the company put quite a bit of work into presenting an authentic version of Australian landscapes and wildlife. In addition to studying the animals of the San Diego Zoo for reference, the animation team also went on a research trip to Australia to get a better grasp environment. Fun fact, the animation team also enlisted the help of Disney MGM Studios in order to finish the film.

The Rescuers Down Under has quite a bit going for it besides being apart of one of Disney’s most successful eras. Having said that, why is the film not as fondly remembered as its contemporaries?


Well for starters, the film wasn’t nearly as financially successful as any of the other Disney Renaissance films, and didn’t have any songs for audiences to latch onto. It was also sandwiched between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, two of the era’s most beloved films.

In spite of all this, The Rescuers Down Under is still a great adventure film. I think I prefer the story of the original film just a tiny bit more, but I had so much fun exploring the outback with Bernard and Miss Bianca, and it was great getting to spend more time with such lovable characters.


Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Rescuers’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘The Rescuers’

The 23rd film in Disney’s line of animated classics was 1977’s The Rescuers. Inspired by the most famous novels of English author Margery Sharp, The Rescuers was released during Disney’s Bronze Age.

The very first treatment of The Rescuers was done in 1962, and had much heavier political influences than the versions that would eventually be released. For this reason, Walt Disney felt it best to put production of the film on hold, as he wasn’t happy with the story having such a strong political message.

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The film would be revived during the 1970’s, and was initially a part of Disney’s new plan to have two films in production at once. One film would be a more traditional, large scale feature film, and would be headed by Disney veterans, while the other would be a smaller project led by young animators.

One such young animator was Don Bluth, and The Rescuers would be his first time as a main animator on a Disney project. The primary team at Disney had just finished work on 1973’s Robin Hood, and they had their eyes set on adapting American novelist Paul Gallico’s Scruffy, which focused on the apes of Gibraltar during World War II.


The smaller team’s project would eventually be greenlit over the Scruffy adaptation, and was elevated to being the studio’s feature piece. They began work on the next version of the film, and it starred a polar bear voiced by famous jazz singer Louis Prima, who later died after battling a brain tumor. This led to Disney scrapping yet another version of the film.

In spite of the many road bumps along the way, The Rescuers did eventually grace theaters across the world. Internally, The Rescuers was viewed as a return to form for Disney. Many of the films prior to this one were much more comedic in tone, and Disney wanted The Rescuers to recapture the heartfelt stories that the studio became famous for.

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The Rescuers also has a few other interesting bits of trivia. It was the first film that Walt Disney did not directly work on, and was considered by the studio to be their best project without him. Also, Cruella de Vil of 101 Dalmatians fame was initially chosen to be the villain of the film, but the studio felt that this would be a half hearted attempt at a sequel.

The story of The Rescuers centers on a United Nations inspired organization known as the Rescue Aid Society. The RAS is composed entirely of mice from across the globe, and they come together to help anybody in need.

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At the center of the story is a humble little janitor mouse named Bernard. After the RAS receives a letter of distress from a young orphan girl named Penny, a white mouse named Bianca volunteers for the job, and asks Bernard to assist her.

Penny has been kidnapped by a malicious woman named Medusa (who was actually based on animator Milt Kahl’s ex-wife), and she aims to keep the poor girl in the swampy bayou until she retrieves the Devil’s Eye, a valuable diamond.

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The Rescuers’ story is fun and simple, but it does have plenty of heartwarming moments. There are a number of scenes involving Penny that really make you feel for the character, especially one towards the end of the film where Medusa tells her that nobody would ever want to adopt her.

Medusa, her sidekick Mr. Snoops and her two pet crocodiles are great at being unlikeable, and our two leads, Bernard in particular, are characters that you really want to root for.


Aside from the main cast, The Rescuers actually has a pretty decent group of supporting roles. Whether it’s the bumbling, yet dependable albatross Orville, the grandpa cat Rufus or the local residents of the bayou, everybody fits quite nicely into the story of the film.

The animation is fairly standard for the times, but still pretty good stuff. It continues the studio’s use of xerography that started with 1961’s 101 Dalmatians, and everything in the film looks soft and colorful. The soundtrack is also pretty good, and is notable for having songs that are tied more into the story, as opposed to being sung by the characters.


The Rescuers doesn’t get too many mentions when the topic is great Disney films, but it definitely shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s a nice family film with a cute and adventurous story, and is fairly unique in the grand scheme of Disney stories.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Winnie The Pooh’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Winnie The Pooh’

2009’s The Princess and the Frog was Disney’s last major attempt at a traditionally animated film, but 2011 saw the release of a smaller title with much more classic Disney sensibilities and story telling, and that film was Winnie the Pooh.

The 2011 adaptation of Winnie the Pooh is the fifth overall Disney adaptation of the story, and the second one done by Walt Disney Animation Studios themselves, the first one being  1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

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Production on Winnie the Pooh started sometime in 2009, and came as a result of John Lasseter, Don Hall and Stephen J. Anderson wanting to make the residents of the Hundred Acre Woods culturally significant again.

John Lasseter’s leadership brought a feeling of creative freedom back to Disney, and this allowed them to take a chance on a smaller feature like Winnie the Pooh. The film is great, and has plenty of that Disney magic to boot, but it didn’t exactly set the box office on fire.


There are a number of contributing factors to the film’s box office performance. Besides releasing at the same time as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Winnie the Pooh franchise is also one that is viewed as something more suitable for toddlers.

Financials aside, let’s get into what makes this film special. Earlier I mentioned that Winnie the Pooh is much more in line with Disney’s classic films than its contemporaries, but what does that really mean?

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Well for starters, Winnie the Pooh’s runtime matches right up with films like Dumbo and Pinocchio, as it clocks in at just over an hour. And in terms of narrative, there isn’t really a serious storyline going on.

Pooh and the gang are searching for Christopher Robin, as they’ve been lead to believe that he’s been kidnapped by a monster called the Backson. But before we even get to this point in the story, we start with Pooh on a mission for delicious honey, which eventually causes him to run into Eeyore, who is looking for his tail.


The storyline is cute and entertaining, but not really the main selling point of the film. Rather, the focus is squarely on seeing Pooh and his friends interacting with each other. Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo and Owl, all of these lovable characters join Pooh and Christopher Robin for tons of laughs and feel good moments.

Winnie the Pooh himself is easily the star of the show, and Jim Cummings’ performance as the rotund yellow bear is as amazing as ever. His constant tummy rubbing, fantasies about eating honey and overall humorous bits of dialogue really brought out that familiar spirit of the character.


All of the other characters behave just as we remember them too. Piglet is adorable and timid, Rabbit (who is voiced by Tom Kenny of Spongebob fame) is a bit on the stiff side and Tigger is just as eccentric and nonsensical as he’s ever been.

The combination of the great cast and simple story make Winnie the Pooh a perfect fit for small children. They won’t have to keep up with any sort of ongoing narrative, and they can simply have fun and enjoy Pooh’s adventures in the Hundred Acre Woods. But there’s also plenty of fun to be had for older viewers.


Speaking of enjoyable, Winnie the Pooh definitely didn’t disappoint when it came to the visuals. The animation on the characters is fluid and expressive, and the hand drawn, storybook inspired backgrounds are excellently done.

I also really love the film’s live action introduction. It pans over an old timey little boy’s room, showing off various toys, trinkets and picture frames, before finally focusing on the classic book of Winnie the Pooh.


This scene is accompanied by narration from John Cleese, and eventually leads to a lovely rendition of the timeless Winnie the Pooh theme song by Zooey Deschanel, who does a fantastic job I might add.

Winnie the Pooh is a short and sweet little film. It’s definitely more child oriented than most of Disney’s other offerings, but I’m sure older viewers could find a bit of enjoyment from things like the cleverly written dialogue.


I really appreciate the fact that Disney took a chance on a film like Winnie the Pooh, especially considering the fact that they were already fully dedicated to pursuing computer animation. It was super fun revisiting the Hundred Acre Woods, and I hope the film introduced a whole new generation to Pooh and his friends.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Big Hero 6’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Big Hero 6’

The follow up to 2013’s Frozen was a Disney film that was decidedly different than its predecessors, but still retained a bit of that classic Disney charm, and that film was an adaptation of Marvel’s Big Hero 6 comic book. After their acquisition of Marvel in 2009, Disney began researching a number of Marvel storylines for an animated film.

The studio would eventually land on Big Hero 6, and this comic was purposely chosen because of its obscurity. Disney’s version of Big Hero 6 borrows a handful of ideas from the source material, but is largely its own film with its own unique characters and story beats.


As always with Disney films, the team dedicated a lot of man hours to realizing the look of the film. They created unique rendering systems to convincingly represent foliage, city skylines, cars and buildings. Most notably, Disney created the Hyperion system, which allowed them to create realistic lighting effects across the entire film.

With the character of Baymax, Disney wanted to avoid creating a typical robot. Director Don Hall was inspired by a burgeoning technology known as “soft robotics”, which aimed to give safer and more flexible components to machinery. This tech would serve as the inspiration for Baymax’s non-intimidating “marshmallow” body.


As far as superhero film narratives are concerned, Big Hero 6 is pretty standard. Protagonist Hiro’s character arc is a simple, “great power, great responsibility” story, with some personal maturity thrown in for good measure, while the villain is just flat out seeking revenge.

Hiro is a 14 year old prodigy who graduated high school at 13, and spends his time participating in illegal bot fights. After some sly coercing from his older brother, Tadashi, Hiro decides to enroll in the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology.


Hiro and Tadashi’s relationship is the emotional throughline that carries Big Hero 6. Tadashi meets a tragic end pretty early on in the film, and Hiro’s journey with coming to terms with this loss is the motivation for every single one of his actions.

Big Hero 6 did a great job of making me care about Tadashi before he was killed. He served as a responsible mentor figure for Hiro, and did his best to keep him on the right path. Even after his death, he still provides support to Hiro when he needs it the most.

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Hiro starts out a bit rough around the edges, but he eventually matures into a young man reminiscent of the older brother that he looks up to. He went from being fully prepared to have Baymax kill the villain, to simply apprehending him like a model superhero, and I can really get behind character growth like this.

Aside from Hiro, Tadashi and Baymax, there are a few other characters that round out the film’s principal cast, namely, GoGo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Fred. These four characters, along with Hiro and Baymax, make up the titular Big Hero 6.


These characters are charming, but also a bit on the generic side. Taking a look at just about any still image of them will tell you most of what you need to know about their personality, Wasabi being the major exception. GoGo is the tough and edgy girl, Honey Lemon is the hyperactive and enthusiastic one, and Fred is the laid back, comic relief guy.

Although I found myself really liking these guys, they definitely needed more screentime. Hiro meets each of them when Tadashi shows him around the school’s lab, and this scene was a great introduction for them.


But one of the more jarring plot elements of the film is how quickly Hiro and the group become best friends. Aside from their introduction, the group doesn’t have a proper scene with Hiro for some time after Tadashi’s death.

In that time gap, there is one really bad montage that shows snippets of the group helping Hiro with his entrance exam project. Fast forward, and the gang behave as if they have been friends for years.

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We also don’t really get to see the team as actual superheroes for very much of the film. I don’t have any real issue with this narratively speaking, as I felt it showed just how inexperienced they are when they take on their first mission, and it was nice getting to know them just a bit before they suit up.

The one plot element that I actively dislike is the villain’s daughter. Up until the reveal that she is alive, Big Hero 6 did an excellent job of subtly highlighting a parallel between Hiro and the villain, and I felt that bringing her back really cheapened the arc of an already simple villain story.


Big Hero 6 has some truly beautiful scenery. The film doesn’t do very much with the setting of San Fransokyo with it comes to narrative, but it does provide a backdrop for a few really well done scenes, the best of which is Hiro and Baymax’s flight through the city (though special mention goes to the trip through the portal).

Seeing the pair soar through the sky is reminiscent of many classic Disney films, and I really appreciate that the team let this scene breathe and just be visually impressive. It was also really cool how this scene fed into the story, as the whole purpose of them flying was to gain a higher vantage point for Baymax’s scanner.


Though a bit generic at times, Big Hero 6 still displays that Disney magic. The brotherly bond between Hiro and Tadashi, and by extension, Hiro and Baymax, is genuinely touching. The film has a lot of heart, with gorgeous visuals and cool action scenes to boot, and has a very unique spot in Disney’s line of animated classics.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Alice In Wonderland’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Alice In Wonderland’

Walt Disney was a man who never truly gave up on an idea once it came to him. He would simply shelve the thought until he could give it life in a meaningful way. Such is the case with 1951’s Alice in Wonderland.

Walt, like many other children, adored the original Lewis Carroll Alice novels during his early years, and the story was one of the first ones that spoke to him when he originally conceived the idea of a feature length animated film, even before Snow White.

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Funnily enough however, Walt’s original vision for the film was a hybrid of live action and animation. But by 1946, production on the film moved forward as a fully animated feature, with the most commonly cited reason being Walt’s dissatisfaction with Paramount’s 1933 Alice adaptation.

A rough version of the film was completed by 1939, but Walt had a number of issues with both the art direction and the tone of the script. Due to a combination of economic factors such as World War II, and the production of other Disney projects like Bambi and Pinocchio, Alice In Wonderland was once again put on the backburner.

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In spite of its on again, off again development cycle, Alice in Wonderland did eventually see completion. Out of all the classic films in Disney’s canon, this film is one of the more interesting ones to study from a story structure perspective.

The film opens with Alice casually ignoring lessons from her teacher, followed by her singing the wonderful song, In A World Of My Own. A hop, skip and a white rabbit later, and Alice is floating down a hole into the titular Wonderland.

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Wonderland is a place where anything can happen. Everything that shouldn’t be, is, and nothing is impossible (though some things are certainly impassable). This gives the film the perfect excuse to just go absolutely crazy with its scenes and set pieces.

Alice in Wonderland has scenes that are so distinct and drawn out that you could blink, and almost think you’re watching an entirely different Disney film. One scene in particular, the story that Tweedledee and Tweedledum recount to Alice, goes on for minutes without showing our cheeky, blonde heroine.

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Speaking of characters, Alice in Wonderland has an almost staggering amount of them, but the film handles such a large cast in a masterful way. With the exception of the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat and Alice herself, no one character sticks around past their unique scene.

But each and every one of them manages to be memorable because of how interesting their segments are. One of the Wonderland denizens that Alice encounters is a hookah loving caterpillar with a strange habit of emphasizing his vowels, but she also comes across a doorknob who never really gives straight answers.

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The most notable characters are the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, but even they pale in comparison to the infamous Cheshire Cat. Not only is he perhaps the most quotable (and cryptic) Disney character of all time, but he occasionally appears to chat with Alice, sometimes even giving her a bit of helpful advice.

Alice in Wonderland isn’t about some grand journey. Rather, it is the story of a curious little girl. With the nature of the story being simple curiosity, Alice doesn’t need to change or grow very much over the course of the story. Instead, she is the perfect vehicle for the audience to enjoy Wonderland.

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The story aspect that fascinates me the most about Alice in Wonderland is her pursuit of the White Rabbit. This is what sets Alice on her journey to begin with, and also what convinces her to plunge deeper and deeper into Wonderland.

And what intrigues me so much is the fact that she never catches the rabbit. She goes through multiple tumultuous situations, but never claims the prize she was after in the first place. I’m sure there’s some really deep meaning behind that, but I’m not quite smart enough to figure it out.

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My only major problem with the film as a whole is Alice’s breakdown scene near the story’s end. She tearfully laments the fact that she is trapped in such an unsettling place, and desperately wishes to return home.

My issue with this scene is that it had no build up. Up to this point, Alice was an energetic young girl who longed for a place beyond the boredom of the real world, making her tears and sorrow feel forced. This scene was probably necessary to provide context for when she does eventually go home, but there still needed to be a more gradual emotional escalation.

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Alice in Wonderland was far from a critical darling upon its initial release. It was panned by fans of the original Alice stories, and Disney was accused of  “Americanizing” the source material. The film wouldn’t be celebrated for years after its release, and eventually gained quite the following with youth culture due to its association with psychedelic drugs (something Walt himself was unhappy about).

Beyond this fact, Alice in Wonderland was looked upon more kindly by general viewers in the years after its release, and I personally appreciate how bold the film was for how it handled set pieces, as well as the wonderful animation that accompanied them.

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Alice in Wonderland manages to be both whimsical, and stylistically different from its sibling films in a way that makes it almost unsettling at times. Wonderland is such a great setting to explore, and it amazes me that Disney’s team created a place where anything can happen, but nothing ever feels disjointed or out of place.

Alice in Wonderland is a great watch, even if just to see how insane a place like Wonderland can be. Mystery is around every corner, and you never know who or what you’ll run into next. If you ever decide to go, I’d recommend avoiding any cats with big smiles and wide eyes.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Bambi’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Bambi’

Historical facts for this essay were drawn from the bonus features of the Walt Disney Signature Collection release of the film, as well as this fantastic article written by Johnathan North of the Rotoscopers.

The final film in Walt Disney Animation’s Golden Age lineup is none other than Bambi. Bambi was originally released in 1942, but Walt Disney had actually planned for the film to be the follow up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Bambi turned out to have quite the arduous production however, so the project was put on the backburner so that the team could focus on Pinocchio and Fantasia.

Unlike the other Disney films of this era, the original story of Bambi was not a children’s book. Written by Austrian author Felix Salten, Bambi, A Life in the Woods was a distinctly adult novel, making it much harder to adapt into a story that is more in line with the rest of Disney’s catalogue.


Bambi also presented Walt and his team of animators the challenge of accurately representing realistic animal movement patterns. Up to this point, Disney was known primarily for their cuddly and cartoony animals, and not so much for realism. As such, Bambi became the first film to utilize a practice that is still employed at the company to this day, and that is detailed research.

The animation team was given the opportunity to get up close and personal with many of the woodland creatures that are featured in the film. Walt had them study various elements of animal anatomy so that they could better understand their movements. Disney is quite famous for this level of authenticity, as they did the exact same thing with animal walk cycles and fur patterns for The Lion King, as well as the Swedish structures featured in Frozen.


Watching Bambi’s movements in the film really drives home just how dedicated they were to being as realistic as possible. Bambi is just as lanky as any other newly born fawn, and way that the deer leap and bound across the meadows is very impressive.

Bambi was one of Disney’s greatest breakthroughs in what is known as effects animation. Elements like raindrops and lightning were of great importance to the film’s aesthetic. The animation team would spend hours watching water drip and breaking glass, all in an effort to better render these moments in animation.


Another challenging task for the film were the backgrounds. Forests in real life are thick and obtrusive, making them a poor match for Bambi’s more cheerful moments. As such, the team opted for softer, painterly style backgrounds.

Walt himself wanted to the film to have a greater sense of depth than Disney’s previous efforts, and he used the 1937 short film, The Old Mill, as a test bed of sorts for new camera techniques (not unlike what was done during the Silly Symphonies),  giving the film a much more realistic framework.


The story begins with the birth of a young fawn named Bambi. Almost the entire forest shows up to witness the first moments of the soon to be prince of the forest, and Bambi quickly makes friends with a young bunny named Thumper (and later, an absolutely adorable skunk named Flower).

The major narrative themes of Bambi are growth and discovery. Bambi doesn’t embark on some grand quest across the land, he is simply a young fawn learning his place in the world, and of the responsibilities that will one day be his.


Eventually, Bambi is forced to learn the harsh realities of the world beyond his comfy little thicket. Humans are the primary antagonist in Bambi, and hunting season is an especially harrowing time for the residents of the forest. The hunting element is an important footnote in this film’s history, as it was actually disparaged by real world hunting organizations for its portrayal of the sport.

One of the most famous scenes in the film is the death of Bambi’s mother. As she is enjoying spending time in the meadows with her son, she notices the presence of humans. Without hesitation, she instructs Bambi to race towards their thicket, but she is unable to join him.


Disney’s history has no shortage of tragic moments, and this was perhaps the start of them. What I find really interesting about her death is the way in which Bambi reacts to it. As humans, we typically go through a period of mourning for our loved ones. But as an animal, and one with great responsibility, Bambi is forced to continue his growth without the aid of his mother.

Bambi is somewhat of an oddball in Disney’s Golden Age, as it was not as critically lauded as its predecessors. Disney’s audience was conditioned to expect whimsical fantasy stories from the company, but Bambi, although still upbeat at times, was much more grounded than say, Pinocchio or Dumbo.


Bambi was also not financially successful. World War II prevented the film from being released in European territories, cutting off a significant area of profit for the company. And again, many critics did not like that the film was not a fantasy, even Walt’s own daughter!

But Bambi has proved itself to be a film that earned the respect it rightfully deserved. Subsequent re-releases of the film allowed it to become profitable, and in 2011 it was inducted into the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress for its resonant message of nature conservation.

I feel that Bambi was a great film to cap off Disney’s Golden Age. As a fan of animation and Disney history, I really appreciate just how different it was compared to its sibling films, with its greater emphasis on realism. Bambi is a great film, and I’m certain that it paved the way for more mature storytelling and theming in animated films.


Disney Animated Canon: ‘Pinocchio’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Pinocchio’

The Walt Disney Animation company was on top of the world after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film was a technical marvel and a critical darling, and Walt Disney and his team truly showed what animation was capable of. Looking to further innovate in the field of animation, Walt used the profits from Snow White to build a new studio, and upgrade most of his crew’s equipment.

Walt Disney was a man who was simultaneously able to live in the moment, and look forward to the future, so while Snow White was in production, he already had his eyes set on the company’s next feature length film, 1940’s Pinocchio.


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the result of years of experimentation in animation techniques, musical sequences and narrative, all culminating in the first ever feature length piece of animation. It is a historically ambitious film, but the studio sought to achieve even greater heights with their follow up film.

Pinocchio really demonstrates just how much Disney learned about feature length production. Walt specifically encouraged his team to come up with as many ideas as possible, hoping to foster an attitude of unbridled creativity. As such, Pinocchio takes the audience to numerous fresh and exciting locales.

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In the opening scene, Geppetto the craftsman is dancing through an intricately detailed workshop with his latest puppet creation, all while being accompanied by his little black cat, Figaro, as well as Cleo the goldfish. Later scenes will show Pinocchio as a member of a traveling stage show, on a whimsical, yet haunting island and even in the belly of a whale.

Pinocchio’s structure is borderline episodic at times, almost as if you could divide the film up into a mini television series. This is largely because the original story of Pinocchio, written by Italian artist Carlo Collodi, was told in individual trades, until they were later compiled into a single book.

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This is also shown in the number of one off characters that are featured in Pinocchio. The silver tongued Honest John, the ill-tempered and greedy Stromboli, and even Pinocchio’s naughty friend Lampwick, it’s commendable just how well Disney was able to fit such memorable characters into a rather tight story.

Disney’s adaptations are quite famous for hitting many of the high points and key characters from the source material, but softening them up a bit to make them more appealing (though many Disney films do retain the darker elements of the original stories). Pinocchio is the first major example of this.


Collodi’s Pinocchio was a cocky and brash mischief maker, while the Disney rendition is a sweet but naive little boy. As I said before, this was done to make Pinocchio, the character who was the crux of the entire story, more endearing to the audience. This was so imperative that at one point, Walt halted production on the film in order to perfectly capture the look of Pinocchio.

Many of the original characters sketches of Pinocchio were much more rigid, wooden and, well… puppet-like. The character would eventually be given more rounded, human like edges, while still retaining the look of something made from wood.



Another thing that separates the two Pinocchios is the character of Jiminy Cricket. In Collodi’s story, Jiminy was an almost insignificant character, one that Pinocchio actually killed with a brick (he would later return as a ghost). But Disney decided to depict Jiminy as Pinocchio’s conscience, a guiding voice on his shoulder to show him the right way of doing things.

Jiminy doesn’t actually give Pinocchio too much advice, and Pinocchio is usually easily convinced by people like Honest John to do the exact opposite of what he was told. This may seem at odds with Jiminy’s role in the story, but I feel that Disney was aiming not for Jiminy to hold Pinocchio’s hand the entire way, but to represent what it means to be good and virtuous, and I found this to be very effective.


On the surface, the Collodi and Disney takes on the character seem worlds apart, and in many ways, they are. But in actuality, both characters share the theme of temptation. Thematic elements such as fame, fortune, cigars and alcohol are prevalent all throughout Pinocchio, with the pinnacle example being the Pleasure Island segment, (formerly known as Boobyland).

Pinocchio eventually gets swept up with a horde of other little boys, and sent to a seemingly wonderful place known as Pleasure Island. Here, the boys are given unlimited freedom. Cigars and pitchers of beer are easy to find, there are houses that exist exclusively to be torn apart and pool halls are a common sight. However, Pleasure Island isn’t all fun and games. The island’s true purpose is to turn delinquent boys into donkeys to be captured and sold.


The scenes depicting the boys transforming into donkeys are genuinely unsettling. As a child, this was one of the few things that I was frightened of, and as an adult, the animation still manages to elicit chills and beads of sweat out of me.

The look on Pinocchio’s face as he witnesses his friend Lampwick sprout ears really shows the power of an animator’s hands, and I especially love the way Pinocchio discards his cigar and alcohol with utter disgust. As a whole, Pinocchio’s animation is positively breathtaking, so much so that it’s almost hard to believe that only a handful of years separate it and Snow White.


Most of the film’s characters are cartoony and exaggerated, and this gave the team quite a bit more creative freedom. But even the film’s one realistic character, the benevolent Blue Fairy, shows the fruits of Disney’s efforts when it came to animating the character of Snow White.

Pinocchio also has an extremely cool set piece in the form of Monstro the whale. This sequence involved some rather arduous technical skill, as animating water is notoriously difficult. But the team didn’t cut any corners in this regard, as watching this gargantuan whale dive in and out of the ocean, and knocking Pinocchio and Geppetto all over the place was very impressive.

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Pinocchio did wonderful with critics, and was even the first Disney film to be nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Score and Best Song with “When You Wish Upon A Star”. But the film’s critical success did not reflect its box office numbers. Pinocchio was not nearly as profitable as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and it cost about twice as much to produce.

But in spite of its financial failings, Pinocchio is still regarded as one of the best Disney films of all time. The film has no shortage of iconic moments. Pinocchio’s nose growing when he tells a lie, the Blue Fairy, Jiminy Cricket,and especially Pleasure Island *shudders*, all of these moments have managed to stick with audiences decades after Pinocchio was released.

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Pinocchio may not have been the follow up to Snow White that it needed to be in terms of financial success, but it more than made up for it by just how lovingly crafted the entire project is. The film perfectly encapsulates the idea of Disney magic, right down to it’s famous song about wishing upon stars. Anything your heart desires is sure to come to you, so long as you believe with all of your heart.