The Top Three:
Fantasia (1940), Walt Disney, Traditional
Beauty and the Beast (1991), Disney, Traditional
Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli, Traditional
I think you could give each of those movies the award without any argument. But I do have to pick one, and this time, I’ll go mostly for personal taste in my decision. At this point the movies in questions are too close together quality-wise and too different in structure to do otherwise.
My least favourite of those three is easily Princess Mononoke. It is a movie I appreciate, but I don’t really connect to it on an emotional level. I also have some trouble with the way gore is portrayed in the movie. This might sound strange, but it is a little bit too artsy. How can you really get the point across if the violence shown looks that, well, good? It kind of undermines how dire those situations are.
Now, neither Beauty and the Beast nor Fantasia are perfect. I already mentioned the high number of animation snafus in Beauty and the Beast, but I didn’t mention the fluid timeline. The movie always leaves the impression that Belle and the Beast spend a lot of time with each other, a notion which is underlined by the fact that the movie goes from green pastures to winter in just a few frames. But the whole movie actually happens within a couple of days, maybe four or five tops. In a way, though, it is an impressive trick which makes the relationship between Belle and the Beast more believable. Even though they barely spend time with each other it feels as if they know each other for ages.
The big downside of Fantasia is the pacing. This sounds like a strange complain concerning a movie which consists of a number of segments which could be exchanged at will, but, well as much as I like Fantasia, I always had trouble to sit through the Rite of Spring segment, which is considerably longer than the others. And while I think that Fantasia is wonderful love letter to animation, it sometimes doesn’t go far enough for my taste. I once ranked all the Fantasia segments which Disney ever made and only one of the top three were from the original Fantasia. Even though the movie also provided half of the top ten segments, I can’t help but thinking that Fantasia while good could have been even better. Still, it is one of those “one of a kind movie” (despite its sequel) which will always stand out.
In the end, there is only one decision I can make. The winner of the Swanpride Award for the best movie of the 20th century is:
Yes, I go with the obvious choice, the movie which was also picked by my readers. In multiple rounds of voting, Beauty and the Beast was the one movie which never got a single vote against it. And it is to this day the only traditional animated movie which ever got an academy award nomination for best picture and it will always the only animated movie which was honoured this way before the academy expanded the list from five to ten.
There were a lot of movies on my way to this final choice, which were endorsed more by me than anyone else. Sometimes because the movie in question wasn’t that well-known (honestly, how many people can claim that they actually saw “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” the way it should be seen, in an old-style movie theatre with a live-orchestra?), sometimes because I ignored the more popular movie in favour for a more challenging one. But Beauty and the Beast is one of the few movies which has everything. It is a movie which pleases the audience while still having a meaningful story to tell. It is a technical achievement which is not all about the new gimmick. It is the kind of movie which will withstand the test of time, because it will always be as meaningful as it was the day it was created.
And I guess it is time to explain why the movie works as well as it does – at least regarding the soundtrack. I am not sure how long I’ll need to finish writing it, but expect one long article about why Beauty and the Beast has maybe the best soundtrack of all musical-style animated movies, soon.