The Swanpride Award: 1991-1992


Taken into consideration:

An American Tail: Feivel goes West (1991), Amblin, Traditional

Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

Only Yesterday (1991), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

Aladdin (1992), Disney, Traditional

Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992), Kroyer/Fox, Traditional

Well, this is fairly easy. An American Tail: Feivel goes West is better than one would expect from a sequel but it is more serviceable than good. And while Ferngully: The Last Rainforest is not the worst movie I have ever seen and it does have its fanbase, but, yeah, I wouldn’t consider it particularly good either. Which leaves three movies for the nomination list (btw, I really love the new style Disney picked for their posters in the 1990s).


Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional

Only Yesterday (1991), Studio Ghibli, Traditional

Aladdin (1992), Disney, Traditional

Well, I guess we know which movie would have won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film if it hadn’t existed back then. But let’s examine the three movies nevertheless.

  • The Story: Okay, we have two fairy tale adaptations by Disney in the mix. Both allow themselves a reinterpretation of the source text. Beauty and the Beast delves really deep in the themes of outer beauty vs inner beauty, just like the original tale did, but the Disney version does manage to comment stronger on it by putting Gaston into contrast with the Beast. The initially terrifying looking Beast becomes better looking the more he acts like a human. The admired Gaston turns step by step into a monster. This structure gives the story additional depth.The “You shouldn’t lie” story in Aladdin doesn’t work quite as well, nor does the contrived plot. I will be frank: It always frustrated me that every person in Agrabah is apparently face blind. How is it possible that neither Jafar nor Jasmine recognize Aladdin immediately? And when Jasmine eventually does, why doesn’t she ask herself why Jafar lied to her about killing Aladdin? And those are only the two more obvious questionable plot points I have to overlook while watching the movie (and some more minor ones I rather don’t want to think about it…I mean, what happens to all the dancers when Genie’s spell ends? Did he create them? Do they know what they are?).  It is also less timeless than the usual Disney movie, because it is full of pop cultural references.

    Only Yesterday is a totally different movie. But also one which frustrates me. I actually like the idea to write a story about a woman travelling to the country and remembering her childhood. It’s not a terrible exiting plot, but it doesn’t have to be. I like the laid back and nostalgic feel about the set-up, I like most of the memories, even though I have the feeling that I am missing some details which would be a given for a Japanese. But whenever I become immersed in the movie, it starts to preach. Relentlessly. It is not as if I necessarily disagree about the points which are made or that I think that the problems which get addressed aren’t important. But the movie has the subtlety of a brick. I really hate it when movies talk down to the audience.


  • The Characters: How can you not love the characters of the Beauty and the Beast? Belle is one of the most popular princesses for a reason (and yes, one day I will write an article about her to explain in detail why this is the case) and I already pointed out how cleverly the Beast and Gaston are used. But it would be amiss not to point out the colourful side-characters. Plus, I love Angela Lansbury in every shape, even as a teapot.Aladdin…well, Aladdin has Robin Williams in one of his most famous performances. He makes the movie as popular as it is. The other characters are good, but not great, and yes, that includes the villain. I know that Jafar is very popular but to me he always looks like a less threating copy of Maleficent. The way he plays around with his staff a variation of her gestures. She turns into a dragon, he turns into a snake. The parallels are too many and too obvious for me to overlook.

    The characters in Only Yesterday are very…normal. There is no more fitting way to describe them. Those aren’t characters which go on big adventures, but the kind of people we meet in our everyday life, flawed but also were likable. The main character is perhaps a little bit too introspective for my taste. Or, to be precise, I don’t mind that she spends all he day remembering her childhood, but it is a little bit odd how she shares those stories with more or less everyone, and everyone acts as if she had just told them the most compelling story ever. It makes a little bit sense in terms of the romance, but in general, well, let’s put it this way: are you excited when someone really wants to show you his vacation pictures?


  • The Music: I said it before but it bears repeating: Menken’s best work are the soundtracks he created together with Howard Ashman. Who died before Beauty and the Beast was released in theatres. While he worked on Aladdin too, Beauty and the Beast has the more thought out soundtrack overall. I would even go so far to say that it might be the best soundtrack of all the musical-style movies by Disney.Only Yesterday has a nice, laid-back soundtrack which fits the movie perfectly. Nothing which really stays with you, but not every soundtrack has to be that dominant. Sometimes a movie needs music which allows the story to breath.


  • The Animation: In this case it is Beauty and the Beast which frustrates me. Because the movie is nearly perfect, the animation in itself was ground-breaking back then but, well, it is full of snafus. Some smaller ones, but also a lot of bigger ones, too. For example, Gaston is apparently able to shoot arrows out of his riffle. It’s not something you would necessarily notice during the first watch, but if there is one fault with Beauty and the Beast than that the movie might have needed a little bit more time to smooth is out a little bit.Aladdin is a similar mixed bag. It is one of the few Disney movies which aged terrible. Some of the flying scenes are so obviously CGI that I keep wishing that they had waited with using the technology until it was perfected. But that is thankfully not the whole movie, but isolated scenes. In general, the animation is just as good as what Beauty and the Beast has to offer.

    Only Yesterday is less ambitious, but there is nothing to complain about in terms of animation. It’s fitting and undeniable beautiful.

Well, that was a nice exercise. But I don’t think that there was ever any doubt which one should win. It is easy to forget nowadays how acclaimed Beauty and the Beast was back then, and I think it deserved every bit of praise which was ever heaped on it. It might not be the best animated movie of the 20th century – that is a question I will ponder later – but it certainly does deserve a place on the shortlist.



8 responses to “The Swanpride Award: 1991-1992

  • smilingldsgirl

    Interesting observation. Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast are both on my top 50 animated countdown. Beauty and the Beast being number 2. I have seen it so many times and never noticed those animation problems. I guess I’m so caught up in the story that it doesn’t bother me at all. There are some plot holes but I don’t really care about that either.

    Aladdin I think sails on the strength of the writing. The dialogue and the story and the improv by Robin Williams is great. I honestly think the Genie is one of the best side characters ever live action or otherwise but I do agree when the Genie is gone it suffers a little bit and Jafar is kind of bland. I wish they had given him a real villain song. I also wish they had tried a little harder to make it an Arabian story and not such a white version of the story but I do really enjoy it.

    Only Yesterday I actually haven’t seen yet but it is getting its first American big screen release next year so I am looking forward to that.

  • anii654

    Before I even clicked on the blog, I knew who was going to win. That isnt a bad thing though.

  • Chow Kim Wan

    Well, I am for Aladdin. Musically, Aladdin is superior in my opinion, after analyzing and scrutinizing important sections of the score in detail. Alan Menken handles the style and motifs better in Aladdin for sure. Of course, all of this is based on technical knowledge of music; there is a reason why Aladdin can win 4 Grammy Awards, the most for a 1990’s Disney film. As for appeal, I still love Aladdin’s music more, but I can see why more people are in favor of Beauty and the Beast. From a non-technical point of view, Beauty and the Beast is slightly more accessible to both the public and film critics (who are generally not very musically inclined).

    I note your point about the CGI in Aladdin. I don’t think it is very distracting even after watching Aladdin 200+ times and knowing that it is CGI. Also, Beauty and the Beast had CGI in the title song scene as well. It was pretty much the same technology.

    Just my humble opinions on this. I’m perfectly fine about Beauty winning (it is my next favorite following Aladdin), though I clicked Aladdin for the vote. Thanks for writing this!

    • swanpride

      Personally I think that the score of Aladdin is very well used but mostly forgettable, but that is not even the reason why I consider the soundtrack of Beauty and the Beast better. It’s the way the songs are used. I judge those songs not just by the music, but also by content (see my article about The Little Mermaid to see what I mean by that). In Beauty and the Beast, every single song moves the plot forward and the texts work on multiple levels (which is why I used Belle as an example for an exceptionally well done “I want” song). In Aladdin, there are a lot of songs which are only there to fill time and the texts are very on the nose. I wouldn’t fancy myself to be an expert in music, which is why I tend to judge soundtracks more on their purpose and on the question if they elevate the movie or if they are at worst distracting.
      Thanks for commenting. It is certainly interesting to see how others see the music. (Yeah, I know that Beauty and the Beast used CGI in that sequence…as I said, the animation is the weakest point of the movie (as much as it has a weak point). This will come up again as soon as I get really nit-picky. I saw both movies in the theatres, though, and I remember how impressed I was by the Tale as old as Time scene back then (and I saw Beauty and the Beast Trice!), and I also remember as how distracting I perceived some of the CGI in Aladdin even during the first watch. Perhaps it was Disney’s marketing campaign (they made a big deal around carpet being the first CGI character).

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