These are films we all return to again and again because of their impact on The Walt Disney Company. Here are some my favorite characters, scenes, and elements in a Disney 1990s Animated Films Showdown.
Best Lead Character (Male)
They’re heroic, daring, and kind gentlemen, but who takes the top honor? The king in this category is not Simba, nor even Tarzan, a “king of the jungle.” I believe The Hunchback of Notre Dame‘s Quasimodo, as voiced with such compassion by Tom Hulce, demonstrates one of Disney’s most developed and complicated leads. As a recluse who exhibits bravery in emerging from his comfort zone and eventually saves Paris, Quasimodo obtains this highest prize in my book.
Runners up: Beast and Simba
Best Lead Character (Female)
It’s a tie! Disney’s heroines come from all walks of life, whether it be the palace walls of Agrabah or the forests of early Virginia. Accordingly, the two greatest Disney animated female characters of the 1990s are from two opposite ends of the world. Belle from Beauty and the Beast, voiced with much warmth by Paige O’Hara, “wants adventure in the great wide somewhere.” This French bookworm-turned-spellbreaker possesses grace both internally and externally. Meanwhile, Chinese legend Mulan protects her country and family honor. Ming-Na Wen is a powerful presence as the selfless savior.
Runners up: Pocahontas and Jasmine
Every protagonist needs a buddy – or two or three – to assist him or her in various endeavors. The sidekicks provide moral support and laughter in abundance. There is no question who wins this category. Robin Williams‘ defining vocal role as Genie from Aladdin cemented him in the “hall of fame” of voice performances. The insanely funny, devoted, and heartfelt blue guy with a constantly amorphous state is one of Disney’s best characters ever devised.
Runners up: Timon and Pumbaa
Could this be a tougher category? Let me name all of the contenders. Percival C. McLeach (from The Rescuers Down Under), Gaston, Jafar, Scar, Ratcliffe, Frollo, Hades, Shan-Yu and Clayton. Though several of these could be removed immediately, I am left with a dilemma. Which baddie deems worst of all? In my eyes, no brute is worse than Scar, voiced brilliantly by Jeremy Irons, as this jealous lion kills his own brother. That’s pretty awful and his dictator-like presence produces chilling sensations.
Runner up: Frollo
Best Featured Song
First, let’s define “featured song.” This serves as the protagonist’s (or protagonists’) main melody that embodies central themes and emotions. For instance, Hercules‘ “Go The Distance” shares the young hero’s ideals. It can even capture the point of the entire story, a la “Circle of Life.” There are many excellent selections from 1990s Disney animated films, but the one I return to again and again is none other than “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. The instantly catchy lyrics, accompanied by the lush instrumentation, showcase the winning mix of singers Brad Kane and Lea Salonga, as well as the music and lyrics of Alan Menken and Tim Rice, respectively.
Runners up: “Out There” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas
Best Villain Song
Luckily for this category, the options are more limited. Clayton and Shan-Yu, among others, do not break out into song at any point in their respective films. Give it up for “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast then! The eponymous song, of course, is a bombastic waltz with clever lyrics and fun written all over it. While it lacks the menace of “Be Prepared” from The Lion King or the tyrannical nature of “Mine, Mine, Mine” from Pocahontas, it adds to the vain guy’s character development. “Ten points for Gaston!”
Runner up: “Hellfire” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Best Musical Score
Hans Zimmeris the man! His African-inspired orchestration for the powerfully deep and raw Lion King trumps everything else. It garnered multiple prestigious awards and, subsequently, the victor of this category.
Runner up: The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Alan Menken and Mulan by Jerry Goldsmith
Below is a video by the Disney Facts YouTube channel of Zimmer describing his Oscar-winning score.
Best Inspirational Scene
The Lion King takes another win, as Simba’s talk with his deceased father in the clouds at night steals our hearts with its poignancy. Mufasa encourages his distraught adult son to “remember who you are” and reclaim his place as the king of the Pride Lands. Followed immediately by the slow montage of Simba running across the savanna to follow his dead dad’s words of wisdom, Lion King reaches a climax with audience members enraptured.
Runners up: “Colors of the Wind” sequence from Pocahontas and Belle acknowledging her love for Beast in Beauty and the Beast
Funniest Comedic Scene
When Aladdin met Genie, a new friendship emerged. The first few minutes of Genie’s reveal to the audience involves a multitude of celebrity impersonations and jokes that catch the young man off guard. After all, this is ancient Agrabah, not Las Vegas. Genie’s introduction in Aladdin is straight out of a comedy club sketch and one of the funniest animated moments ever put to film. Thanks, Robin.
Runner up: Hades from Hercules discovering Pain and Panic with Hercules merchandise
Most Tearjerking Scene
I acknowledge that when Simba loses his father gets me misty-eyed as much as the next guy. But what gets me most? It’s a small moment at the very end of The Hunchback of Notre Dame when Quasimodo reveals himself to the outside world and the little peasant girl walks over to the shy young man and rubs his face. She nonverbally communicates that he is accepted and loved by everyone. It may not be as depressing as a lion losing his parent, but these from Hunchback produce happy tears.
Runners up: The aforementioned Lion King scene and John Smith’s near-execution in Pocahontas
Best Special Effects Scene
The “ape man” swinging through the jungle pinnacled the seamless integration of computer-generated imagery in traditional animation. Even more of an advancement than the monumental stampede scene in The Lion King, the moments of the jungle inhabitant sliding on vines and leaping around is a technical triumph. Inspired by animator Glen Keane’s son’s interest in extreme sports, Tarzan took on the personality of an adrenaline seeker. This translated to one of Tarzan‘s most defining elements.
Runner up: Avalanche scene in Mulan
As an aficionado of memorable lines in films, I could not narrow this down to just one. Therefore, I have selected one inspirational, funny, or unforgettable quote from each of Disney’s animated feature films from the 1990s.
The Rescuers Down Under: “Miss Bianca, from now on, can’t we just take the train?” – Bernard
Beauty and the Beast: “He’s no monster, Gaston, you are!” – Belle
Aladdin: “”No matter what anybody says, you’ll always be a prince to me.” – Genie
The Lion King: “I’m surrounded by idiots.” – Scar
Pocahontas: “Well, I haven’t had this much excitement in 200 years.” – Grandmother Willow
The Hunchback of Notre Dame: “Life’s not a spectator sport. If watchin’ is all you’re gonna do, then you’re gonna watch your life go by without ya.” – Laverne
Hercules: “I’ve got 24 hours to get rid of this bozo, or the entire scheme I’ve been setting up for 18 years goes up in smoke… and you are wearing his merchandise?” – Hades
Mulan: “You stole your father’s armor, ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, deceived your commanding officer, dishonored the Chinese Army, destroyed my palace, and… you have saved us all.” – Emperor of China
Tarzan: “Close your eyes. Now forget what you see. What do you feel?” – Kala
Below is a video from the Oh My Disney YouTube channel featuring some other great quotes delivered by Hades in Hercules.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth on Geeks of Doom.