Last week, the guys debated which Disney film reigned supreme, and this week they continue the debate in print for your reading enjoyment.

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Chris: So now that this week’s No Right Explanation’s title has got you in a fervor, let me start explaining myself. First off, I don’t believe either of those things, but if Sterling has taught us anything, it’s how to make a title for stuff on the Internet.

On a fundamental level though, the “Best Disney Movie Ever” debate is a literal impossibility when it comes to taste. No one taste can and will be right, purely because each new generation of Disney movies are entirely a product of that era. Looking at Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, we decided we’d pick an obvious fan favorite along with an obvious critical favorite.

And yet, even though we’re over a year into this silly web series and our fans are cooler and cooler every week, we got a glut of “you forgot X choice that is my favorite and therefore the best!” I started facepalming every time someone mentioned The Lion King in a comment and how we either snubbed it, forgot it, or uncharacteristically hated it for no good reason, but by the first hour I was beginning to give myself a concussion, so I stopped.

Those watching, we had ten Disney animated movies on the shelf behind us. All of which are great. All of which we like. Only two of which we picked for this debate. The Lion King is a phenomenal movie, the ramshackle “It’s Hamlet!” cries be damned (you realize Hamlet is at best casually referenced in The Lion King and at worst entirely different, right?). It’s easily in the top 5 Disney movies, and a strong case can be made that it’s the best of all time. But it’s not a definitive first though, since Disney movies are a product of their era.

To me, Aladdin was one of those Disney movies that had the biggest impact from then forward, entirely owing to the Genie being such a powerhouse of a character. The downside is that from then on, there always had to be a Genie somewhere, by which I mean a very obvious comic relief character. The Lion King had Timon and Pumba (awesome), Mulan had Mushu (less awesome but still fun), The Emperor’s New Groove had … actually that movie is damned hysterical, so no complaints here. My point is that the shift in tone from more obviously serious subject matter to more obviously light-hearted comedy was apparent by the time Aladdin‘s credits started rolling.

So let’s go through and say why I didn’t pick some of the other movies you love so much:

The Lion King: The Hamlet analogy doesn’t instantly make it a winner.

The Little Mermaid: Very cute, but very dumb when you look closer.

Mulan: Amazing movie, but it just didn’t hit as hard as Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast.

Hercules: It doesn’t hold up well at all (James Woods holds up great, though).

Lilo and Stitch: They painted Stitch over Mickey on the Disney water tower before the movie was out. I don’t like cocky and I’ve never seen the movie because of it.

The Emperor’s New Groove: One of the funniest, by far, but it felt more like a spoof on the Disney formula than an actual Disney movie. Essentially, it was the Genie taken to an extreme.

Pocahontas: Hahaha, no one liked this movie.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: If I didn’t want to get completely eviscerated by the comments, I would have picked this as Disney’s best, hands down. It’s what a more mature Disney movie looks like, and Hellfire is still easily the best villain Disney villain song. Plus, Quazimodo doesn’t get the girl. Ballsy.

Again, this is all subjective. There’s no denying, despite how you may feel about Disney now, it’s responsible for some of the greatest movies of all time. There are easily more than a dozen films that could have been in our episode and made sense, and for the record, no one mentioned a movie that I actively dislike even a little (maybe Fantasia because my attention span is shot).

I’ll leave with a small taste of my favorite Disney movies by the way. Here they are, my top 5:

5. Robin Hood
4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
3. The Lion King
2. Aladdin
1. The Jungle Book

P.S. If you see me at the Escapist Expo and request show tunes from The Jungle Book, yes, you will get them.

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Kyle: Going in I knew that next to nobody would be happy with our choices. I wish I could say I was sorry. I’m really not.

Those of you foaming at the mouth because we “forgot” the epic masterpiece that is The Lion King, I’ll continue when you are ready to let me … okay, thank you. I love The Lion King, so very much. That movie was a big part of my evolution as a moviegoer and as a fat guy who overanalyzes Disney movies on the Internet.

But the reasons why I do actually believe Beauty is a better film is that it focuses more on the characters, it’s less afraid of being dark and frightening, and it doesn’t take such violent shifts in tone between acts. The Lion King jarred me as a child because Act 1 shifted from nature lessons and a kingdom motif to child murder, coups, fascism, and exile. Then before I could get used to this, we shift to Act 2, wherein we meet the greatest comedy team in Africa and let them test material on us. Then we shift to mysticism and prophesy and justice and rebellion and fire. Lots and lots of fire.
Now that I have that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll get back to the debate that happened. First off, Chris should have mentioned (when we were talking about the antagonists) that Jafar offered more as a villain. He actually manages to win; exile for Aladdin, slavery for Genie, and most likely rape and torture for Jasmine. And he accomplished all the hard stuff and was about 87% to a full win. The stakes were higher. Could you imagine the entire world being overtaken by this psychopath? Lucky for us that he only takes over the local kingdom and then loses focus.

Of course, if Chris had mentioned that, I would be obliged to remind him that Beauty and the Beast is a much more personal and self-contained story arc. Because of that, the third-act conflict is less about the spectacular magical beat-downs and the riddle-me-this tricks that trip up the villain. It’s more about the Shelley-esque horror with which a band of humans will attack that which is different and unknown.

Gaston literally leads a band of mostly upstanding citizens up the mountain with torches, intent on killing whatever they find. Remember, they have no confirmation that a Beast exists. If Beast had fled, and all Gaston found was Belle and some talking knick-knacks, I’m betting he would have burned her at the stake. Because all that mattered to this mob of decent men was destroying that which they didn’t understand. That is much more powerful than any giant snake.

Also, Chris could have mentioned that Aladdin has a scathing commentary on cultural inequalities between men and women. Jasmine is bound by law to be married before her next birthday, and her marriage must be a union of royalty to royalty. Even when the prince-related clause of that law is repealed by the Sultan, there is no change in the misogyny. Yay, “The princess can marry whoever she wishes!” Um…but the law still forces her to marry by her next birthday? What is Disney saying with this message? That male tyranny can sometimes cover its tracks with condescension? I don’t know. But it makes for a movie that I’m still talking about twenty years later.

Of course if Chris had made that argument, I would have countered by stating that Beast has two or three different commentaries on the setting and time period. The concept of feudalist Europe’s grasp on the lower class (servants taking a much worse magical punishment for the crimes of their master), the hostility toward progress and industrialization (Belle’s father is considered insane for the mere act of inventing things), and let’s not forget the duality of man that Chris took so much time to highlight during the “Two-Face vs. Riddler” debate.

Fact is, Aladdin may have had a more lasting impact on us as kids but Beauty and the Beast has more substance and more identity from the other Silver-Age Disney films. That’s why we remember it at all.

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Dan: Your three favorite internet debaters wrote this article in our off time at PAX Prime, so you can all warm your collective hearts to the mental image of me writing this in my Spider-Man boxers. Deal with it, that image is in there. I have to say, with this being my first expo of any type, this is one fun son of a gun on a bun. Pretty cool way to meet people who share similar interests, and debate geek culture with them. It’s like No Right Answer every 10 minutes and I don’t have to do any editing.

How do you define “Best” when talking about Disney films? Is it which one works for both children and adults, girls and boys? Is it which one is both critically acclaimed and entertaining for the masses? Is it in which one Disney decided not to kill a parent figure? We actually asked several groups of people here what their answers were, and the results were identical to the comment sections for the video. Nobody could agree on which was best, mostly because they couldn’t get past their own loyalties to ones they watched when they were young. Perhaps if we interviewed a local group of all the same age clones, we might be able to find an answer, but even then it wouldn’t apply to anyone else. This is one of those debates that really brings out the emotional fight in people, and I love it.

On to the points, before the busty mistress that is PAX calls me back for another round in the sack …

Kyle sang a song and got the first point with the argument of villains. I think one thing everyone can agree on in regards to Disney films is that they know how to make you love to hate. Between Ursula, Jafar, and the myriad of others, Disney knows a fun villain. What made Beauty and the Beast so interesting is that Gaston is not the one stopping Belle from reaching her goals until the very end of the film. He doesn’t even try to hurt the Beast until the last 10 minutes, with the majority of the film showing him dealing with being rejected by Belle and getting his groove back. Beast, on the other paw, is the one who imprisoned Belle at the beginning, yells at her when she disobeys him, and from whom most of the conflict arises. Making a film where the antagonist is also the secondary protagonist is really novel, and shows some storytelling chops.

Chris got the next point because of Robin Williams. Oh, you want more, baby birds? Oh, I’ll feed you. Go onto IMDB.com and flip through the man’s work history. Try to find a film that you think Robin was funnier in than Aladdin. Can’t do it. Now think of a short list of great comedians. Robin is probably on there, right? So if one of the great comedians does his best work in a Disney film where he’s basically allowed to do whatever he wants, it’s going to be a fan favorite. The sequel to Aladdin and TV series didn’t feature him, but the third film did. He actually came back to a series that he had since left because the character what just that good. That’s something special.

Kyle comes back with his Yiddish words and gets another point because I loves me some Yiddish. No … well I do, but that’s not why he got the point. He got it because Beauty and the Beast is absolutely an ensemble piece. Mr. Clock, Candlestick man, the old lady tea pot, Chip … they’re basically what’s left of Beast’s humanity. In that sense, they also function as a main protagonist because breaking the Mcguffin-curse is in their interest too. It should have been called Beauty and Everyone-In-That-Castle. Having a group of people instead of an individual as striving for the end goal makes the story richer. Imagine if Flounder, Sebastian and all of Ariel’s sisters also got turned into mute humans, and everyone was trying to get her to kiss the prince. Different movie, is all I’m saying.

Chris got a point for the shear magnetic pull of every character in Aladdin, which is pretty staggering. People can say that Genie was the core, but think about this: Did you like Carpet? Realizing that Carpet didn’t talk, years before the first half of Wall-E was celebrated for doing the same, having a completely silent character that didn’t even make noises really speaks to the story telling that was going on. You have Gilbert the parrot trying his hardest to out-funny the Genie, you have Jafar being evil yet charismatic, and you have the King being so plush and kind … I could go on. Every character that has lines or don’t brought their A-game. Everyone tried to steal the show and it feels like they all succeeded. We win in that fight for sure.

I didn’t award points for the mentions of music because both movies have iconic songs and they cancel each other out. What did deserve a point is Kyle’s final argument that Beauty and the Beast was indirectly responsible for Pixar. Many of you have commented that it wasn’t the first film to use computer generated effects. While that is true to some extent, Beauty and the Beast was the first to really go all out. By that I mean an entire background and set with a virtual moving camera was used to create a romantic, sweeping musical number that showed the greater viewing audience that this was a new way to animate. Other movies may have had aspects or effects that were made on a computer, but this was the first film that was critically acclaimed for the usage.

Now we have Pixar which, in my opinion, will be regarded as the source of childhood classics for the next generation that these two films are in ours. Now I have to go have my son watch The Lion King, because evidently all of you like it. Why are you so hung up on fathers dying? It’s scary. I’m a father. Do you want me dead? Are you my uncle? I don’t have a brother. No, none of this is adding up.

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.

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