I’ve been saying for a while now (ever since “Toy Story 2”, if memory serves me right) that we are living in the kind of golden age of animation that we thought had long since gone by. Pixar’s animated films, with their emphasis on story, their intricate visual brilliance, and their sheer magic, are the kind of things that people will remember as classics in a century’s time. Basically, they’ll think of Pixar today the way we think of Disney in the 1930s and 40s.
But since this is the Internet, it’s not enough to make a sweeping declarative statement: We need to turn it into a pointless, absurd comparison! (Woo, Internet!) So let’s go ahead and pit the Disney films of their classic era against the Pixar films of today, and see who comes up top.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves vs. Toy Story: On the one hand, Toy Story is a more densely layered, intricate story with more sophisticated narrative techniques. On the other hand, Snow White is sweeter, as the rivalry between Buzz and Woody is almost too intense at times to be “enjoyable”. And Disney, even in his first animated feature (actually, the first animated feature) already had a compelling grasp of imagery that made for some of cinema’s most iconic sequences. I think that I’m going to give Disney the edge here, even though Toy Story would probably beat most other entries.
Pinocchio vs. A Bug’s Life: Not even a contest in my mind. When it comes to orthoptera, Kevin Spacey’s mesmerizing Hopper easily beats out whiny, preachy, mealy-mouthed Jiminy. As to the rest of the movie, while Pinocchio does have some of the all-time champion scare-the-shit-out-of-little-kids sequences (Monstro the Whale, the kids turning into donkeys) it’s hard to actually root for the obnoxious little wooden dummy. The characters of A Bug’s Life are far more sympathetic and entertaining, and the plot holds together better than the “string of incidences” plot of Pinocchio. Pixar for the win here.
Fantasia vs. Toy Story 2: This is actually a very tough one for me. Both of these are among my favorite animated features (I’m watching Toy Story 2 as I type this) but one of them has to be better. Toy Story 2 earns major points for being a sequel with something to actually say rather than simply rehashing the incidents of the first film, but Fantasia was something never tried before (or, with the exception of Fantasia 2000, since.) It’s a dazzling feature, perhaps one of the purest expressions of art ever attempted by a commercial studio, and I have to love it a little bit more than Toy Story 2 for that. Plus, “Night on Bald Mountain”. Disney wins.
Dumbo vs. Monsters, Inc: Admittedly, Monsters, Inc isn’t one of the strongest Pixar films. Billy Crystal grates as much in animation as he does in live-action, and the sheer irritation factor of his character single-handedly knocks a great film down a notch or two. On the other hand, the crows in Dumbo? Much, much, much more than a notch. I realize that it was a different era, but still…wow. Pixar hands-down.
Bambi vs. Finding Nemo: Eerie parallels here, as both films are about single-parenting in the unforgiving world of nature. Disney’s expertly hand-animated forest is done as well in its own way as Pixar’s CGI coral reef, but I’ll give Finding Nemo the nod for its more involved story and the fact that its ending has not traumatized generations of small children. Those of you who believe that traumatizing small children is, in fact, part of what children’s films are for might choose the other way, but I’m picking Pixar here.
Cinderella vs. The Incredibles: I might be inviting controversy here by skipping films like Saludos Amigos and Melody Time, but I think that this should remain feature vs. feature, and so the Disney anthology films get a miss in favor of the full-length stories. Not like it matters, because this is The Incredibles we’re talking about, and pretty much any Disney movie is going to be steamrollered by it. I remain a comics fan, this remains one of the best super-hero films ever, and compared to it, even a sweet little Disney princess gets booted to the back of the line. No glass slipper for you, Cindy; it’s Pixar for the win here.
Alice In Wonderland vs. Cars: I know that Cars has its fans, but I actually feel like this is comparing two of the weaker entries in their respective canons. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland has the thankless task of adapting a story with almost no narrative drive whatsoever, while Cars is about car racing, a sport so boring that fatal accidents are actually welcomed as a brief respite from the monotony. Under the circumstances, I will choose the blessedly Larry the Cable Guy-free Alice, and give Disney the win on this one.
Peter Pan vs. Ratatouille: It’s interesting, but Ratatouille doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact the way that some other Pixar/Brad Bird films have; sandwiched between the immensely popular Cars and the ground-breaking WALL-E, it’s become sort of a forgotten Pixar film. And sad to say, it continues to get short shrift here, because Peter Pan is one of Disney’s best adaptations, Captain Hook one of its best villains, and Tinkerbell one of its best-loved characters. Which means that in this case, Disney wins. Poor little rat.
Lady and the Tramp vs. WALL-E: Did I say earlier that I gave Fantasia bonus points for trying something new, different, and artistic? Then I have to give WALL-E bonus points, too; not many films have the guts to open up with no human characters, no voices, and still be one of the most heart-warming and affecting character studies in years. Compared to the fantastic animation, the powerful story, and the overall quality of what could be Pixar’s best film, Lady and the Tramp is bound to come up short. Pixar by a country mile, and that’s nothing against Lady and the Tramp.
Sleeping Beauty vs. Up: On the one hand, I do have to give Sleeping Beauty points for what some consider to be the best villain in Disney’s canon, Maleficent. She’s got style, she’s got panache, and she even swears in a kid’s movie. But it also has a dull, passive heroine, a bland Prince Charming, and I’ve never been a fan of the animation style in this one. So it loses to Up on style points. Fair? Perhaps not, but I’m giving this one to Pixar.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians vs. Toy Story 3: Sorry to say, but at this point the rot was beginning to set in at Disney. The budgets were getting lower, the animation was taking short-cuts…even the films were getting shorter (One Hundred and One Dalmatians clocks in at just 79 minutes.) Pixar, on the other hand, seems to be getting stronger with every release; they’re finding more confidence, they’re learning how to do more with computer animation as processing power gets cheaper and graphics rendering becomes more powerful, and they’re established as the top dog at Disney and not worried about interference with their proven system of generating classics. This is where the picks start getting easier, and I suspect it’ll be a while before Pixar loses another head-to-head.
The final tally: By a final score of 7-4, Pixar wins! (I’m sure John Lasseter will covet this far more than the Oscars.)