I love all kinds of movies, but there are two kinds in particular that I love, watch, and write about the most.
The first movie I ever remember watching was Disney’s Aladdin (1992). I was a year old when it was released, and I most likely saw it when I was two or three, at home on VHS. My VHS collection was/is comprised of Disney’s 90s Renaissance and Pixar’s early films, films I watched repeatedly but had never seen in theaters. I don’t have a lot of memorable theater going experiences from my childhood, but I had always wished to see movies like Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Mulan as I believed they were meant to be seen; on the big screen.
Gradually, as I grew older, that love of all things animated began to wane. But I found new movies to fall in love with.
In 2007, the American Film Institute (AFI) aired one of their specials on TV, a list of the 100 greatest films. At 16 I was hardly a movie buff, but I knew that I loved movies. I was excited to see that list because I was so sure I’d seen at least half of the movies. (And probably more; 70, at least!) To my utter disappointment, I’d only seen five.
“What kind of list is this?” I scoffed. “No Lion King? No Jurassic Park? I’ve never even heard of Citizen Kane!”
AFI could be forgiven somewhat for including Toy Story though. (All the way at 99…)
The “old movies” on AFI’s list were the ones I was most keen to discover, since I made it a mission to watch all or most of the 100 greatest films ever made. They were almost mythic, these movies from a faraway time, yet still beloved. I was really curious. Later that same year, I found out we had the old movie channel, Turner Classic Movies (TCM). How fortuitous! It would soon become a permanent fixture in my film watching, film discovery adventures, spanning a multitude of genres and eras.
Plenty of the old movies I watched were featured on AFI’s list and plenty weren’t. It didn’t matter to me whether these films I loved made it onto some arbitrary list, but I do credit that list anyway. It transported me to a new world filled with stories that constantly tugged on my imagination. These old movies, thrillingly new to me, made me feel like that little kid acting out scenes from Disney and Pixar movies again.
I found my way back to animation two years later. The way it happened was as random and unexpected as it was when I watched the AFI list.
I got to attend a free preview screening of Toy Story 3 in my sophomore year of college. I distinctly remember all of us cheering when Luxo bounded across the screen. It had been quite awhile since I had seen the Pixar logo, but cheering was the right thing to do. Pixar had shaped all of our childhoods and belonged to us millennials. That screening made me return home, fully confident in Pixar’s abilities to make a second sequel, and watch Toy Story for the first time in years.
Since I was so eager to rediscover Pixar, my sister bought Up on DVD. Its previews hadn’t impressed me, but the movie was so stunning that I was kicking myself for skipping it when it played in theaters. Up was life changing for me. It’s the quintessential movie about life and adventure. It turned me into a Pixar superfan and I haven’t looked back ever since.
Up also made me remember how resonant animation can be. I’d had a steady diet of animation growing up, but now I was appreciating them as an adult. (Or something like that, I’m still 5). I returned to Disney along with Pixar. Not just the former’s 90s Renaissance, but the films from Walt’s era that I loved even more than the ones from my childhood. I also discovered the beauty of Hayao Miyazaki + Studio Ghibli’s films, and plenty more gems.
Classic Hollywood taught me how to dream. Although it’s rare to see people who look like me in the lead roles, I still fantasize about dancing with Fred Astaire, getting swept off my feet by Van Johnson and Peter Lawford, and drinking martinis with Bill Powell and Myrna Loy. Likewise, animated films inspire me to create magic and have me wishing always, for that great wide somewhere.
There’s a lot of overlap between animation and classic film history. No wonder then, that I have such an affinity to both.