How many times have you been talking about Disney movies and someone says that their favorite is An American Tail? Or when talking live-action movies another friend raves about how well Disney did with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?
You see the problem here, right? Neither of those movies were made by Disney. So why do people think they are? Possibly because they assume if an animated movie is successful, it must have been done by Disney. Or if a live-action classic is still around today and shown on television once a year, it must have been done by Disney.
This is a definite tip-of-the-hat to the reputation of Disney but not something the other competing studios likely appreciate! But it does bring up a good topic for discussion. Which non-Disney movies really should have been, or could have been, released by Disney?
I’m going to focus on live-action movies that have become children’s classics. None of the movies in my Top 5 List will be from Disney, so I will provide the name of the actual studio responsible. For the sake of this exercise, I will assume that Disney has acquired the rights to each movie listed, as that is how it seems to most people anyway:
Acquisition Number Five
Dr. Dolittle: 20th Century Fox (1967)
Containing no less than 14 songs and a host of real and puppetry animals this movie has become a children’s classic that most have forgotten. It did poorly in theaters when first released but has gained a cult following of sorts.
Synopsis: The movie follows the adventures of Dr. Dolittle (Rex Harrison) as he transitions from a regular physician to a veterinarian. He is helped in this by a talking parrot who teaches him animal languages, thus enabling him to actually talk with the animals, ‘grunt, squeak, squawk with the animals’! This gets him into trouble with a local magistrate and sentenced to an insane asylum which he quickly escapes from. Now free, he embarks on a quest to find the Great Pink Sea Snail, which he finds near a traveling island. Stuff happens and he finds true love and is able to return to his home.
The highlights of the special effects are the Push-me-Pull-me lama-like creature and the Great Pink Sea Snail, which is huge and actually sails on the ocean!
Think of a man doing for animals what Mary Poppins does for children. Now that’s Disney-like!
Acquisition Number Four
The Sound of Music: 20th Century Fox (1965)
This is a no-brainer as it stars Julie Andrews who also played the part of the very Disney-like Mary Poppins.
Synopsis: Maria is a free-spirited young Austrian woman studying to become a nun. Her love of music and the mountains, her youthful enthusiasm and imagination, and her lack of discipline cause some concern so she is sent off to the villa of retired naval officer Captain Georg von Trapp to be governess to his seven children. They sing many songs (My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, Climb Ev’ry Mountain) have fun adventures, endure heartache, and eventually fall in love, get married, and then escape from the Nazis by climbing over the mountains. Just your average story!
The facts that it is based on a true story, and is played on television every year, makes this an enduring classic worthy of being considered a Disney movie!
Acquisition Number Three
The Wizard of Oz: MGM (1939)
The oldest movie on this list but perhaps one of the most well-known. There is a whole section devoted to this classic in The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios but I don’t think anyone believes Disney did this one. But he should have! In fact, the Disney Studios did obtain the rights and released Return to Oz in 1985, but Walt was interested in this property much earlier and even planned a live-action movie starring the Mouseketeers.
Synopsis: Dorothy (Judy Garland) lives in Kansas with her family and her dog Toto. A tornado sweeps her off to Oz where she accidentally kills a wicked witch which understandably angers the witch’s sister! The movie plays out as Dorothy meets the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow, and together they save Oz. Short version.
Wicked Witches. Funny side kicks. Flying Monkeys. And the Wizard of Oz. No wonder Walt wanted in on this classic!
Acquisition Number Two
Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: Paramount (1971)
This is one of the best children’s musicals of all time! Forget the Johnny Depp remake and go back to the 1971 Paramount version for a stunning adaption of this wonderful series of books by Roald Dahl. Starring Gene Wilder as Wonka, there is just so much to love about this movie!
Synopsis: Willie Wonka realizes that he can’t care for the chocolate factory by himself forever and so goes about finding a replacement among the children of the world. He issues golden tickets and Charlie gets one. Of all the children tested for the job only Charlie shows the right stuff and wins the day!
A magical factory. Oompa Loompas. And chocolate and candies galore. Add a dash of songs like ‘The Candy Man Can’ and ‘Pure Imagination’ and you have a very Disney-like non-Disney movie! Oh, and Disney did do another Dahl adaption with James and the Giant Peach in 1996.
Extra: Read my review of the Commemorative Edition LIFE magazine about the life and career of Gene Wilder.
Acquisition Number One
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: United Artists (1968)
Dick Van Dyke without the cockney accent. Music by the Sherman Brothers. A flying car. Wacky characters and villains. This was the follow-up to Mary Poppins that Disney hoped for when the studio did Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Synopsis: The children of Caractacus Potts (Van Dyke) talk him into buying an old race car which he restores to better than new. And to even better than he thought as it turns out it can float on water and fly in the air! Along with love interest Truly Scrumptious and the children, Potts ends up in the far-off kingdom of Vulgaria where they have many adventures. In the end, they return home, and it was all just a story-like dream. Or… was it?
The real standouts in this movie are the music and dance numbers! From the title song to classics like Me Ol’ Bamboo, Toot Sweets, and Hushabye Mountain, Walt’s boys were in fine form!
Conclusion: A good Disney movie has a fantastic storyline, engaging characters, uplifting music, and great special effects. The five movies on this list have all of these things in spades! No wonder many people think they actually are Disney movies.
So why not put aside your Disney Movie Night and have a Non-Disney Disney Movie Night instead?