The Swanpride Award: The Best Animated Movie of the 1950th

Before we start, there is something I noticed: I was wondering why nobody voted in the polls I put at the end of every article. I then realized that the polls don’t show up when you look at the article in the reader for whatever reason. I can’t figure it out. But in any case, if you want to vote, head over directly to the website and then access the articles. Then the polls are visible (not that I expect a lot of votes, but there was some interest expressed in having the opportunity and I would love to match up the polls against my own picks in the end). Bet let’s take a look at the next decade for now.

Up for Consideration:

Cinderella (1950), Walt Disney, Traditional

Alice in Wonderland (1952), Walt Disney, Traditional

Peter Pan (1953), Walt Disney, Traditional

Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy (1954), RKO Radio Pictures, Stop Motion

Animal Farm (1954), Halas and Batchelor, Traditional

Lady and the Tramp (1955), Walt Disney, Traditional

Sleeping Beauty (1959), Walt Disney, Traditional

I really, really would have loved to take the work of Jiří Trnka into consideration too. What I have seen from him, especially the short “The Hand” is pretty amazing. But his movies are (like a lot of Czech productions, including Karel Zeman’s The Treasure of Bird Island) are currently not easily available. There were also a lot of animated features made in the Soviet Union during this period, but they didn’t qualify because they usually had a length of 40 to 50 minutes. So I ended up (again) with a list which was mainly dominated by Disney.

When I tried to make my picks for nomination, I took a really, really hard look at the two non-Disney features. But it didn’t feel right to put them on the nomination list. While none of them are bad movies, they are entirely relying on the strength of the source text and don’t really have to offer a lot in terms of animation. In the case of Hansel and Gretel, the decision to use stop motion actually works against it, since the source is actually not an Opera, but an Operetta, and has a couple of dance sequences which are lost in the movie due to the unwieldiness of the puppets. You can watch the movie, but you are better off watching the actual Operetta (which I highly recommend if you want to convince your children than there is more out there than movies). For Animal Farm the use of animation does make sense, but the quality is just okay, and I am not sure if it really hits the themes of the book that well.

That left me with five Disney movies, and I decided to cut the number down to four:


Cinderella (1950), Walt Disney, Traditional

Alice in Wonderland (1952), Walt Disney, Traditional

Lady and the Tramp (1955), Walt Disney, Traditional

Sleeping Beauty (1959), Walt Disney, Traditional

smilingldsgirl more or less confirmed my decision to leave out Peter Pan by nominating exactly those four movies from this decade.

Cinderella might be the most important of them, because it was the movie which rescued the animation studio, and Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty, offer the most in terms of artistry. But let’s start, as usual, with the plot.

  • Story: Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are your typical fairy tale movies. The approach to the source text is very different though. Cinderella is kind of tongue in cheek. The movie outright says that love at first sight only happens in fairy tales and how stupid the notion is that a shoe would fit only one maid in the whole kingdom. Sleeping Beauty on the other hand is more straightforward and works more on a symbolical level, emphasising how evil will always be defeated because the good will never fight alone.  What makes the movie stand out is the climax, which might be the best Disney ever delivered.
    Alice in Wonderland might be the best adaptation of this particular book. Now, I am not a friend of those kind of stories, but there is no denying that Disney did manage to capture the nonsensical spirit of the book and successfully resisted to do what all current adaptation did wrong, adding some sort of arc which goes totally against the very nature of Wonderland.
    But I think the clear winner in this category is Lady and the Tramp. This is one of the most daring movies Disney ever did. Just replace the dogs with humans in your mind and you end up with the story about a daughter from a good family running away with a tramp, spending a night with him (which apparently resulted in a pregnancy), ending up in prison where she spends times with prostitutes and sees a criminal being put down by the state and finally being shunned by society with the exception of her two older friends who offer her marriage in order to protect her honour. But since it is a Disney movie, the Tramp is straightening up and we get a happy end. But still, the whole story is quite ballsy for the time the movie was released.


  • Characters: Every single of these movies is strong in this category, but in different ways. Alice in Wonderland offers a large cast of scurrile characters, but since none of them stick around for that long (with the exception of Alice herself naturally), they aren’t much more than that. Sleeping Beauty mostly sticks out due to its memorable villainess and the three fairies which take her on. Maleficent is not just the ruler of all evil, she is also one of the greatest Disney villain of all time, and part of the most iconic scenes of all time. She even beats out Lady Tremaine, who already is a great villain in her own right (and spoken by the same voice actress). But Cinderella has one of the most popular heroines in the Disney line-up. However you stand to the Disney Princesses, Cinderella is to this day considered their leader, even though she wasn’t the first. Lady and the Tramp might be the most balanced in terms of cast. There are no true stand-out characters, but even the ones which turn up only shortly have some layers (the exception is the rat). In addition, this is the only one of those movies which offers two equally strong leads in Lady and the Tramp, which results in one of Disney’s better written romances.


  • Music: This one is a little bit easier to judge. Alice in Wonderland is full of music pieces, none of them being bad, some of them being memorable, but the soundtrack overall is just as fractured as the story the movie tries to tell. Lady and the Tramp has one of the big Disney songs and some really talented singers, even though the number of songs is not that high for a Disney movies. And the ones which are there, are all pretty memorable (though I guess the Siamese Cat Song is one of those you either like or hate). Cinderella has some really beautiful songs, but next to no score pieces. Though what is there is used to great effect. But I think Sleeping Beauty beats all of them out, even though it isn’t an original score. But, as I already pointed out in my article about the best Disney composers, the work Bruns did in order to connect the work of one of the greatest composers of all time with the movie is really impressive. It is like watching an animated ballet (with a lot of speaking parts).



  • Animation: This is the era of Mary Blair, and it shows. Every single of those movies has something unique to offer. The large scales of Cinderella, the play with light and shadow in Alice, the Christmas Card feeling of Lady and the Tramp, each of those movies are a delight to watch. I said it before but I’ll repeat it here: This is artistically the strongest era of Disney by far. But the Magnus Opus certainly is Sleeping Beauty. Disney tried again and again to create a movie which looks like a moving picture book, and this is the one in which the studio hit the mark. The backgrounds are incredible detailed, which is even more impressive if you consider that this movie was still hand-inked.

In the end, this comes down to Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty. And boy, this is a hard decision, because while Lady and the Tramp is a nearly perfect movie, it doesn’t have that many special moments. The one it has (the spaghetti meal) is one of Disney’s greatest, though. Sleeping Beauty is more flawed but what is good about this movie is not just great, it is outstanding. It is a unique movie in that nobody will ever again put that much effort and money in an animated movie (even though Sleeping Beauty was one of the highest grossing movie of the year back then, it failed to generate the enormous budget which was needed to realize the movie). And I admit, I always have a soft spot for ambition and movies which are not following the norm. I therefore declare Sleeping Beauty the winner.




12 responses to “The Swanpride Award: The Best Animated Movie of the 1950th

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