The first decade of the new millennium (2000-2009) brought a wide range of live-action productions from Disney. At one end of the spectrum are modern classics, including The Princess Diaries and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The other end is full of duds, such as Underdog and The Santa Clause 3. Here comes a showdown of the best of the best in various categories to determine what films, performances, technical elements and moments merit praise and further viewings.
Welcome to the 2000s Disney Live-Action Films Showdown, everyone!
Best Action-Adventure Film
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl sailed into theaters in July 2003 with major Disney fanfare, including a premiere at Disneyland, but accompanied by much speculation by the press. How could a Disney attraction be translated into a hit film? After all, remember The Country Bears? But Disney restored a genre with its take on swashbuckling adventurers. Directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp, once relegated to smaller-scale pictures, Pirates defined a generation of moviegoers craving a different type of action-adventure. Complete with campy quotes, fun action sequences, and exceptional characters, this ride-turned-film picture earned much kudos (and many sequels).
Best Sports Film
Disney’s The Rookie is not only my favorite Disney sports film of this decade, but perhaps of all time. As opposed to focusing on a team – a typical trademark of this genre – this true story concentrates on an accomplished thirty-something man who defies the odds. High-school science teacher Jim Morris reached close to achieving his dreams of being a professional baseball player, but that failed to materialize. Until now. Dennis Quaid plays the accomplished athlete in a mesmerizing performance set to a “keep your hopes alive” theme. The motivating movie does not play maudlin nor bitter. It is one of re-evaluating reality with inspiration and commitment.
This calls for a tie. Two films (one a remake, the other based on a book, and both starring a pair of actresses) represent Disney’s prowess in delivering delightfully droll movies. The new take on Freaky Friday with Jaime-Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, as well as 2001’s The Princess Diaries with Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews, stand as two films I can watch numerous times with no loss of novelty. The hilarious scenes are in abundance. The unfettered comedic talents of all four actresses cannot be denied. The films cause us to think about the value of our relationships while also inducing us to laugh hysterically.
Runner-up:The Santa Clause 2.
Ready to curl up on the couch with your best canine friend? You’ll need some support from a dog (or another human) when watching Eight Below, the 2006 tearjerker that is a showcase of the contemporary Disney drama with roots of what it has always done best: entertain. As I have said before about this picture, it glues you to the screen with its focus on survival and promise.
Best Overlooked Movie
First, how you define “overlooked?” In my book, it can mean any combination of factors. For instance, it receives little attention in the media and, probably, low box office results. Its under-the-radar status may result from a lack of star power and a more modest budget. Those all factored into these two – yes, another tie – films that debuted during the same year. 2005 was known in the Disney film world for releasing the first of the Chronicles of Narnia pictures. But that does not get me excited like Sky High and Ice Princess.
I know what you may be thinking. “Really, films starring teen superheroes and ice skaters?” But these films are awesome for what they offer. Sky High incorporates fun elements of ’80s teen movies (including some songs of that era) and relatable characters, even if they have otherworldly abilities. And Kurt Russell is simply cool! As for Ice Princess, Michelle Trachtenberg‘s bookworm-turned-athlete teenager is a force of beauty. She, along with Joan Cusack, Kim Cattrall, and Hayden Panettiere, comprise a solid cast with strong performances in this film about the triumphs and cost of investing time in endeavors that truly matter.
As indicated on my list of the best Disney scores of the past few decades, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl by Klaus Badelt (and Hans Zimmer) is among the best of all movies in general. Certainly, for a live-action score, this stands toe-to-toe with any fantastic action blockbuster. Its sequels all belong in the same company, as they carry the identifiable themes and integrate new monstrous melodies that befit those films.
Give the prize to Anne Hathaway in the first Princess Diaries movie. No other female performer from a Disney live-action film of the first decade of the 2000s quite captured the essence of the trials a teenager discovering she is royalty. It was a breakout role for the young actress who has since garnered an Academy Award. Her warmth is apparent in scenes with Andrews, and her comedic abilities prove more than competent when she has an unfortunate state dinner experience. All hail Hathaway as Princess Mia in a performance that seizes your attention and heartstrings!
Runner-up: Jamie-Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday.
Of course, Johnny Depp is the victor here. No question. My support for his performance and career has already been articulated. Another male performer who should be in his company may come as a surprise. Bruce Willis, who has understated comedic chops, was worthy of at least a Golden Globe nomination for his role in Disney’s The Kid, a 2000 film where a 40-year-old image consultant meets an 8-year-old version of himself. It’s a smaller movie with major heart and laughs.
Runners-up: Dennis Quaid in The Rookie and Kurt Russell in Miracle.
Best Memorable Scene
There are all too many to mention in this edition, but suffice it to say, many of the aforementioned films are recognizable for their hilarity, drama and compelling nature. Among my favorites are Nicolas Cage stealing the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives in National Treasure, Mia’s makeover in The Princess Diaries, Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and Norrington engaging in a rolling sword-fight in Dead Man’s Chest, and the men’s hockey team winning the gold medal in Miracle. Check out that victorious moment at the end of the trailer below.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth on Geeks of Doom, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month.