It's now home to Marvel Studios and the Star Wars franchise, but the most iconic Disney films will always be the studio's animated classics - Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, The Lion King, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Frozen and of course The Black Cauldron.
Hitting theatres this week is Tomorrowland, possibly the most 'Disney-ish' live-action film ever made by the studio, and not just because it's named for the Disneyland theme park's most popular area.
Disney is arguably the only movie studio brand name with specific connotations for the general film-going audience. The brand is currently stronger than ever, and with Marvel and Star Wars now under their umbrella, is assured to get even stronger going forward. Disney will probably own all of our souls by 2065 or so.
Although it is the cartoons that we all primarily associate with the brand, Disney's been releasing successful live-action films since 1950 (Treasure Island), and Tomorrowland got me thinking about the best examples.
Here I will cite what I consider to be the ten best live-action Disney films, based on the degree to which they best embody the potential of what a "Disney film" can be in its most idealised sense - i.e. family-friendly entertainment of the highest order.
N.B. I've included for consideration here films Disney has released via their various distribution arms over the years - Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures et al. These labels were set up to release movies once considered by the studio to be too grown-up for the Disney name, but some of their most Disney-esque movies ended up coming out via these streams.
10. Arachnophobia (1990)
Few films have combined family-friendly entertainment with genuine thrills as successfully as this domestic horror, which in many ways feels like the last film of the '80s. Features a Kiwi supporting cast.
9. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
A flop on its initial release, this troubled adaptation of Ray Bradbury's 1962 book remains a fascinatingly paradoxical film. The disturbing creepiness on display freaked out audiences (and executives) expecting a Disney film, yet it is never quite able to outrun its own Disney-ness.
8. Mary Poppins (1964)
I was just young enough when I first saw this to be swept away by its magic without questioning the aerodynamics of Mary's flying device.
7. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)
Somewhat overshadowed by the contemporaneous efforts of Ray Harryhausen, which have aged a little better, this nevertheless remains a benchmark for grand cinematic fantasy and high-end production design. It's a direct antecedent to the next entry:
6. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
A severe case of franchise fatigue hasn't fully dimmed my memory of how exciting the first Pirates movie was upon first viewing. That it was based on a theme park ride came across a little bit crass in the early noughties (it was a less cynical time), but the result was one of the most dazzling blockbusters in years, and promised much future greatness. Little of which was ever delivered upon.
5. Tron (1982)
Like Albert Brooks' 1978 film Real Life, which hilariously riffed on reality TV tropes decades before the medium existed, Tron was simply ahead of its time. Less than a box office success upon its release, the influential film garnered an instant cult status that only grew, resulting in a highly anticipated 2010 sequel reboot which according to the comments found under this article, was actually enjoyed by some people.
4. Never Cry Wolf (1983)
Director Carroll Ballard followed up 1979's The Black Stallion (which Disney probably wish they made) with this stunning film about a lone biologist tracking wolves in the Canadian wilderness. There's simply no other movie like it. Also: Brian Dennehy.
3. The Rocketeer (1990)
The generally unfashionable 'positive' connotations of the Disney brand never found a better vehicle than this modern cult classic. It's a very nice film, but also a very awesome film. Tomorrowland takes a lot of inspiration from it.
2. Return To Oz (1985)
This late-arriving sequel to 1938's The Wizard of Oz traumatised an entire generation of kids - it's possibly the creepiest family audience-targeted film ever made, and definitely the darkest thing Disney ever released. I love it. And so does everyone else it traumatised.
1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
This counts as live-action right? Its placement here betrays just how intrinsic animation is to what Disney represents. Plus there simply hasn't been a live-action film released by the company since Roger Rabbit that has generated remotely as much undying, across-the-board, family-friendly, four-quadrant goodwill and love. This might be the most universally beloved non-sequelised film of all time that isn't E.T. Heck, even E.T. has its detractors. Roger has none. I hope Pete's Dragon is good.
Special mentions: Swiss Family Robinson (1960), The Black Hole (1979), Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989), Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Enchanted (2007).
• Agree? Disagree? Do you think it's a cop-out to put Roger Rabbit in the top spot? What do you think the most Disney-ish Disney movies are? Sorry for not including Cool Runnings. Comment below!