Movies are a big deal in my household. They become ingrained into our everyday conversations; our references ranging from Sling Blade to Back to the Future. They are part of how we communicate and make one another laugh. It’s not a wonder why I love film and television so much; it’s a part of who I am.
It’s hard to narrow down my favorites, especially in animation. I’ve seen a great deal of them; chances are, I’ve seen your favorite movies. There are so many to love and cherish for all kinds of different reasons, whether it be the character or the storylines, or both. Childhood movies are my go–to when I need to detoxify from anything stressful in my life. They remind me to see the good in the world, and it replenishes my energy, allowing me to take on the next challenge.
Without further ado, here are my favorites. Feel free to share your favorites with me in the comments!
Finding Nemo (2003)
This movie was a big deal when I was in elementary school. I remember seeing it in theaters, hearing the kids in my class talk about it, and funnily enough, our class stuffed animal was a clownfish. I don’t recall if we had him before or after the movie came out, but we did call him Nemo. Each kid got to take Nemo home for the weekend, and then come back on Monday, excitedly telling the class what they and Nemo had been up to all weekend. It feels like we watched the movie a thousand times anytime we had a class party or something, too. It was just that popular.
What fascinated me about the film was learning about the ocean and the creatures that lived in it. I also loved the fact that Australia was the setting–I’ve long wanted to visit the country. All the marine characters were brought to life in a great way, with their wonderfully diverse and comedic personalities. Who came up with “fish are friends, not food” for the sharks? How creative is that? They, alongside easygoing Crush and forgetful Dory, are awesome characters.
As an adult though, I can better appreciate the story between father and son, as Marlin learns to let go and Nemo learns to listen to his father more. Their drastic separation ultimately changed their relationship, and their lives, for the better, and in a way, allowed them both to shed the aftereffects of the tragic fate of Nemo’s mother and siblings. Befriending sharks and sea turtles is pretty cool, too.
The Swan Princess (1994)
Odette and Derek have one of the best love stories of all time. It’s their chemistry that drew me in from moment one. They initially despise one another, but they grow to truly love one another. It takes a dastardly sorcerer to truly bring the two together, but jointly, Derek and Odette are virtually indestructible–there’s nothing they can’t overcome.
Odette can be a bit of a damsel in distress, but she’s not afraid to fight for herself. She’s not afraid to stand up to the villain, and she does manage to escape her prison on a couple occasions, allowing Derek to finally find her. Derek made a vow of everlasting love long before he actually made it; his search for Odette, his refusal to believe she had perished in the attack, and his dedication to her prove that she already had his vow all along. Saying it in the film’s end just made it a little more official.
The Swan Princess seemed to be on television often when I was a kid; I never missed a chance to watch it. A prince and princess, a love story, a villain, and a cast of fun characters like Jean-Bob, Speed, Puffin and Bromley, were all part of the film’s appeal, and it remains a classic in my book. It’s because of Odette and Derek that I believe in everlasting love.
101 Dalmatians (1961)
Okay, I had a tough time listing either this or The Little Mermaid…but since 101 Dalamatians contains the eccentric villain Cruella De Vil, well, that kind of made the decision for me.
The animation is stunning. The characters are perfect. The story is compelling. Yet, my favorite thing about the film, though, has to be Cruella. I consider her one of the best villains of all time–if not the best. As Roger’s song goes, “if she doesn’t scare you/no evil thing will.” The lyric is brutally honest, given the woman has two goons kidnap Pongo and Perdita’s puppies, intending to kill them and use their pelts for dog–skin coats. Cruella has to have her way, and resorts to simply awful means to get them. Jasper and Horace, her hired help, don’t seem so threatening because they’re both inept and bumbling in their own ways, but Cruella is another story entirely.
I was never scared of her, or particularly horrified by her as a childhood. Granted, she’s an awful person, wanting to kill puppies for her own financial gain, and I would never condone it. The thing is, when you’re watching her, you can’t help but overlook the bad and appreciate the masterpiece that she is. Her looks, her walk, the way she talks–it’s like a spell, and it makes you forget for a bit who she really is and what she’s after.
She’s insane, definitely. Every time I watch the scene in which she tears her car apart, her eyes wide and crazy as she drives after the truck carrying the fleeing dogs, it makes me burst out laughing. She’s truly something else, on her own level of madness. It’s funny because of the way she looks and acts in that scene, but also because she fails miserably, hit by her own hired help and sent off the road. The puppies are now safe, and Cruella blames Jasper and Horace, who no longer care what she has to say. Audiences never know if Cruella was brought to justice for what she did, but I hope she was. Nonetheless, the last we see of Cruella, she’s having quite a bad day, so karma did catch up with her.
The Jungle Book (1967)
This is still one of my favorite Disney movies to date. As a kid, my mom tells me this was my most-requested movie. I’d watch it on a daily basis after lunch. Just as it did then, it brings me joy now. I’m not usually a fan of musicals, but the soundtrack in this film carries a vibe that just makes me want to dance and sing along anyway.
The animation captures my attention, too. The jungle is so beautifully vibrant and brought to life; it makes me feel like I’m there alongside Mowgli. It makes living in the jungle look like nothing less than an adventure—although the reality is something different entirely, of course. The look of Mowgli’s home is enough of an explanation as to why Mowgli wants to stay; it’s an adventure, there’s so much to explore, and so many characters to meet. It’s everything he knows, making it that much harder for him to leave, even if it’s for his own safety.
The characters of Bagheera, Baloo and Kaa are my personal favorites. Baloo’s easygoing nature, Bagheera’s wit and sarcasm, and Kaa’s misfortunes (“he’s got a knot in his tail!”) are all very different but each make a significant contribution for the story and in Mowgli’s life.
The message I take away from the film is embodied in the song, “Bare Necessities.” The lyric “forget about your worries and your strife” is especially meaningful. It’s about shedding concerns and just living in the moment, appreciating what you have, and knowing that what you need will come to you.
Balto was based on a true story, but the movie’s depiction was quite different. Nonetheless, the movie remains one of my all-time favorites.
Balto is an outsider. Half dog, half wolf, he can’t seem to fit in anywhere. He lives in Nome, Alaska, with his adoptive father, a snow goose named Boris, and two polar bears, both voiced by Phil Collins, named Muk and Luk. Both the dogs and humans in Nome are awful to him–except for Jenna, and her owner, Rosy, a young girl.
Despite the constant abuse, Balto never loses his kindness or desire to help. Unlike Steel, a champion sled dog who only wants attention and admiration from his peers, Balto helps because he has a genuine desire to do so. His good deeds would make him look better in the eyes of the other dogs and humans and get them to trust him too, but that’s just a bonus.
Balto’s character struck chords with me. Despite being different from everyone else, he still came out strong. He used his differences as his strengths, and he saved Nome’s children from succumbing to diphtheria by bringing the antitoxin they needed. He found Steel’s team and led them home when no one else could, with the added challenge of a petty Steel trying to throw him off-track.
The journey to bring back the medicine is what got Balto to embrace his wolf heritage, and to finally be happy with who he was. He expected nothing in return for leading the team and bringing the medicine; he just wanted to save lives. That’s the kind of character I admire most, and that’s why I love Balto so much. He taught important lessons, from embracing what makes you different to doing the right thing.
Balto found a happy ending as he was finally accepted by the other dogs and humans, but he didn’t forget the family he already had in Boris, Muk, Luk, and of course, Jenna and Rosy, who loved him from the beginning. Jenna’s gesture of using the broken bottles (as Balto had taught her) to form the Northern Lights, hoping it would help Balto find his way home, is one of my favorite scenes in movie history. The Northern Lights are a symbol of home, but also love and faith.