The Swanpride Award: The Best Animated Movie of the 1940th

Up for Consideration:

Pinocchio (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Dumbo (1941), Walt Disney, Traditional

Mr. Bug goes to Town (1941), Fleischer Studios, Traditional

Princess Iron Fan (1941), The Wan Brothers, Traditional

Bambi (1942), Walt Disney, Traditional

The Singing Princess/La Rosa Di Bagdad (1949), Anton Gino Domeghini, Traditional

When I put this list together, I first got rid of all the propaganda and package movies made during that time. A few movies I would have loved to take into consideration, but I couldn’t simply because they were not available, at least not in a language or with subtitles I understand. This is more or less what was left, though most of those movies are mostly of interest for animation buffs. The Wan Brothers produced the first Chinese Animated movies, and La Rosa Di Bagdad is a nice little curiosity for Italy (which got panned by critics when it was released decades later in the US for its outdated animation). Mr. Bug goes to Town is basically a typical Fleischer Cartoon stretched to movie length. The ones which really withstood time are:

Nominees-1940th

Pinocchio (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional

Bambi (1942), Walt Disney, Traditional

Yeah, this is pretty much an Award for the best Disney movie in this period, but what can I do? Disney was just too far ahead of everyone else. Even if I had decided to add a fourth spot, it would have gone to Dumbo either way. In fact, I was very close to adding the movie to the list after it was nominated by one of my readers. If there had been a second nomination, I would have discussed it in great length, but I have decided to keep it brief. Dumbo is a movie which has a lot to offer, but the quality of the animation doesn’t quite reach the highs of what Disney is capable of. Scenes like the Pink Elephants on Parade or the exaggerated movements of the crows  stick out. As does the fact that Dumbo doesn’t speak a word during the whole movie and you might not even notice, because of some really, really impressive character animation. But the other three movies are across the board fascinating to look at. They are also more daring than Dumbo is. As much as I love the movie (I actually like it way more than Bambi or Pinocchio on a personal level) and as much as I consider it one of the best if not the best movie for little children, it doesn’t really hold up quite as well as a movie for all ages.

So let’s discuss the three movies I picked in the end based on Story, Characters, Music and Animation. Well…let’s discuss mostly Pinocchio and Bambi, while explaining why Fantasia doesn’t really fit in this system.

  • Story: Last time I discussed two movies based on fairy tales, this time around I discuss two movies based on two very different books, and in both cases Disney didn’t really stick close to the source text. In a way those movies are similiar, though. They both show main characters in a formative period, how they develop and finally become what they want to be (or in Bambi’s case, fated to be). Both movies have their issues, though. Pinocchio is very episodic, a hang-over from the similar episodic nature of the source text. And Bambi has serious pacing issues. It is a slice of live story which spends a lot of time showing Bambi’s childhood just to suddenly jump forward to show him becoming a leader in one of the most rushed finals in animation history. In contrast, Fantasia doesn’t really have a story. While most of the segments do have some kind of arc, what is shown is more about emotion and animation than about conveying some sort of plot. But overall, the movie might be a little bit too long to hold the attention of the audience. One segment less might have done this one a world of good.
  • Characters: Neither Pinocchio not Bambi are much of a character. They are both mostly wide-eyed blank slates. That doesn’t mean that they don’t develop or learn from their experience, but they don’t really have any stand-out character traits either. They could be any young child or, in Bambi’s case, young adult – which is quite deliberate. Some of the side characters are a little bit more colourful, though. Fantasia has some really nice designs, though the stand-out character might be Chernabog. The way he is looming over the mountain, controlling his victims is very memorable and often lands him on Top Ten lists for the best Disney Villains, sometimes even on the very top. The other two movies on the other hand have very unusual villains for a Disney movie. The ones in Pinocchio not only did they get away with their evil deeds, they even get what they want. And in Bambi the villain is “Men”, terrifying but also invisible. In short, they are not exactly the kind of villain you would find in a villain line-up, but they certainly are terrifying.
  • Music: Pinocchio’s stand out song is naturally “When you wish upon a star”, the Anthem of the Disney studios. Overall though, the soundtrack is a little bit dated. The songs are not exactly forgettable, but I always have to think a moment to remember them. You wouldn’t find the songs of Bambi on any best lists either, but they are a little bit more interesting, because of the way they phonetically imitate sounds of nature. That is particularly evident in the song “Little April shower”. Fantasia, well, the movie uses some of the best pieces from some of the best composers of all time, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Do I really have to say more?
  • Animation: Pinocchio is often considered as a ground-breaking movie in terms of animation, mainly because it was the first animated movie which put real effort into the background effects instead of focussing on the character animation. Especially the scenes involving the ocean are praised to this day for their realistic feel. But I think one shouldn’t overlook Bambi either. The animation in this movie is often very meditative and laid back. Some frames look as if they are straight from a painting. In Fantasia, the animation varies from segment to segment. It is an interesting experiment with different styles and  in general less bound by the requirements of the story which has to be told.

I honestly would have had a really hard time to decide between Pinocchio and Bambi. Thankfully I don’t have to. The experimental nature of Fantasia allows the movie to stand out even to this day. It is a movie which celebrates animation as an art form, and therefore deserves the title of being the best animated movie of the 1940th.

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5 responses to “The Swanpride Award: The Best Animated Movie of the 1940th

  • The Animation Commendation

    I still am not a fan of Fantasia as it bores me, but I understand its importance.

  • smilingldsgirl

    Fantasia gets my vote! I love it and find it a unique and exhilarating animation experience

  • anii654

    I understand why you chose Fantasia over the other two. It has been a while since I have seen any, but you recapping them definitely reminded me of my issues with each movie.

    Regarding Fantasia, it is one of those rare films that celebrate animation. There has been nothing like that for years now, and instead of animation being celebrated, it is exploited and seen as lesser.

    • swanpride

      Which is a really sad trend. Animation deserves to get celebrated more.
      I quite like The Little Prince though. It didn’t exactly celebrate animation, but I loved how it mixed different methods of animation to great effect.

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