There's just something about the quality and authenticity of an old family movie that can't be replicated nowadays.
Disney produced a looot of great live-action and hybrid movies over the years, but they always seem to get overshadowed by the animated ones. (Not to knock the animated movies, I have a list of those on the way too.) Here are my top 10 live action and hybrid classics, for that good old fashioned Disney feel:
#1 - Candleshoe (1977)
Starring: Jodie Foster, Helen Hayes, David Niven, Leo McKern, and Vivian Pickles
Casey Brown is a parentless delinquent living in Los Angeles with a foster family who sells her to a con man for a few hundred bucks. The con man plans to use her to search an English manor named Candleshoe for hidden treasure, by convincing the sweet old lady who lives there that Casey is her long-lost granddaughter.
Candleshoe was part of a two-movie deal that Jodie Foster signed with Disney, and is often overlooked in favor of Freaky Friday. Freaky Friday is also a great movie, but I'll get to that later.
Candleshoe has been in constant competition with Bedknobs and Broomsticks as my #1 favorite Disney movie since I can remember, but at the time of writing, Candleshoe wins. Casey Brown, played by a teenage Jodie Foster, is one of my favorite characters ever. She's tough, she's smart, she takes no guff, and even accidentally discovers that she has a heart in the end. The young actors in the movie all worked incredibly well together, and it was very easy to believe that this odd assortment of people could become a real family. I love the butler, Mr. Priory, and his unwavering dedication to Lady St. Edmund. And sorry, action movies, but Candleshoe's big fight scene between three teenage girls is better than yours.
#2 - Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Starring: Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Roy Snart, and Cindy O'Callaghan
Eglantine Price is an aspiring witch who is forced to take in three refugee children from London, sent to the safety of the countryside during WWII. The children discover that Miss Price is a witch and attempt to blackmail her, but she ends up striking up a deal with them when she needs them to travel to the city with her (via flying bed) to confront a professor about cancelling her witchcraft course. Once they locate him, the group sets out on a mission to find a spell to give life to inaminate objects, which Miss Price believes will help in the war effort.
Like Candleshoe, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is also overshadowed by a similar film - this time, Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks share a number of similarities - a popular British actress in the lead, David Tomlinson, and they are both live-animation hybrid musicals. B&B even uses a few songs left over from Mary Poppins, but in my humble opinion, B&B is a zillion times better.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is special to me because other than the Wicked Witch of the West, this was one of my first experiences with witches, which turned out to be a lifelong fascination. Witches can be good! (Sorry Glinda, I still find it hard to think of you as a witch with that big pink bubble-mobile and all.)
B&B features a great cast, good music, out-of-this world animation sequences including an underwater dance and a mega-violent soccer game, and the always hateable villain: Nazis. And let's not forget, this was made in 1971 - no easy CGI fixes. That makes it even more special, in my ancient mind. Portobello Road is one of my favorite dance scenes ever. The music is fantastic, although I must admit, I always skip "Nobody's Problems." It was added in the DVD release, but was not featured in the VHS version I memorized as a kid. I've watched the DVD version hundreds of times as a teenager and adult, and the beginning of this song still throws me off every time. You were not part of my childhood, "Nobody's Problems"! Leave me alone!
#3 - Old Yeller (1957)
Starring: Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, Dorothy McGuire, and Fess Parker
Travis Coates is a teenager in Texas in the late 1800s who must become the man of the house when his father leaves on a cattle drive. He is left with his mother, wild little brother Arliss, and an unwanted visitor in the form of a big yeller dog who scares their mule, wrecks their place and eats their dinner. Old Yeller is nothing but a thorn in Travis's side until he saves Arliss from a bear, then becomes a best friend to both of the boys... until that whole rabies thing.
I think this is how love goes. You resist as long as you can. You give in. You become inseparable. And then one of you dies. A cheery movie for the whole family, this one.
I loved this one as a kid, as I loved all animal movies, but I fell even harder as an adult. As a child, I was invested in the story and the characters, but as an adult I'm more appreciative of the the details in the set, the wardrobe, and the way it was filmed. Again, no CGI. This was 1957, and those were expertly trained animals and very carefully timed camera work. There may be a few above Old Yeller on my personal favorites list, but I do believe this simple story about a boy and his dog is one of the greatest movies of all time.
#4 - Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Starring: John Mills, Dorothy McGuire, James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, and Janet Munro
A ship bound for New Guinea is chased into a storm by pirates, wrecking and leaving a family stranded on an island. They make due with supplies and animals left on the ship and build a life (and the coolest treehouse ever) on the island. Facing the elements, unfriendly wildlife, and the return of the pirates, the family sticks together and fights for their happy ending.
If you have the chance to watch this with the cast commentary, do it. The movie itself has always been a favorite, because who wouldn't want to get away from everyone and live in a beautiful island treehouse? But the commentary. Oh, man. Prepare for more amazement at the way movies used to be made. Remember that scene with the giant snake? That was a real snake. If you can see the actor's face, the actor was there. Holding on to an anaconda for dear life. The details in the treehouse are mind-blowing. (The sink with running water has always been my favorite detail.) This family built a dream world and constructed a series of traps for those filthy pirates worthy of a Kevin McAllister dream, all on their own. Self-sufficiency, movie-making, and a loving family at its best.
#5 - The Parent Trap (1961)
Starring: Hayley Mills, Hayley Mills, Maureen O'Hara, and Brian Keith
Two enemy lookalikes at summer camp stop trying to sabotage other long enough to discover they're twins, then become best friends and use their creative powers to get their parents back together and eliminate Dad's new fiance.
His and Hers kids. In the big picture, that sucks, but how cool would it be to find out you have a twin? And then, of course, do everything in your power to ruin their life before actually realizing that she's your twin. Being a wicked child myself, I always thought the pranks were the best part of the movie. I mean, yeah, yay for Mom & Dad getting back together, but the the PRANKS. (The girls upped their game in the re-make, and it was a dream come true for Young Me.)
#6 - Pollyanna (1960)
Starring: Hayley Mills, Jane Wyman, Richard Egan, and Kevin Corcoran
After her father dies, an obnoxiously optimistic young girl named Pollyanna is sent to live with her rich aunt in the very unhappy town she basically owns. Pollyanna's sunny outlook on life eventually infects everyone else, and they end up bringing the joy to her
when tragedy strikes in the end.
I always kinda thought Pollyanna was an annoying character as a kid, but it was one of my Mom's favorite movies, so I ended up watching it a fair amount of times. Pollyanna has grown on me throughout the years. I'm still a pessimist known to growl "cram it, Pollyanna" at people who try to drag me to the bright side, but it's a good movie to watch when you need a perspective shift. Even if it doesn't stick for more than a few hours.
#7 - Freaky Friday (1976)
Starring: Jodie Foster, Barbara Harris, and John Astin
On Friday the 13th, a teenage girl and her mother wish to switch and show the other that she's
the one who has it easy.
Again with the perspective, Disney. Annabelle and her mom Ellen both think the other has it easy - all Annabelle has is school, and what's Ellen have to do, laundry and a little cooking? The switch is funny at first, but by the time the characters decide they want their own bodies back, I'm always kind of desperate for it to happen. Both Annabelle and Ellen are in over their heads, and being very familiar with the feeling, I want it to be over for them. That feeling aside, it's still a funny movie with a great cast and a life-swapping plot we've probably all thought about. Just don't say it out loud on Friday the 13th.
#8 - So Dear To My Heart (1948)
Starring: Bobby Driscoll, Beulah Bondi, Burl Ives, and Luana Patten
A boy named Jeremiah dreams of owning a champion racehorse, but settles for a black sheep, much to the dismay of his grandmother. That darn sheep causes nothing but trouble, but the boy loves him so much, Granny can't bring herself to serve him for dinner.
This is a hybrid film, and contains a fair amount of animated fantasy sequences. What's interesting about the hybrid element of is that the animation doesn't have much interaction with the live-action. It adds an element of fun and lightens the tone of the movie, but if you took out the animation completely, the human story would still feel complete.
So Dear to My Heart is dear to my heart (ha) because I'm a sucker for a good old fashioned hybrid movie, and the characters and setting feel very real. The Kincaid family isn't perfect. They get angry, they get annoyed, but they all pull together for a happy ending - with lots of love, fun, and daydreaming along the way.
#9 - Run, Appaloosa, Run (1966)
Starring: Adele Palacios, Walter Cloud, Wilbur Plaugher, and Jerry Gatlin
A trick rider named Mary Blackfeather rescues a young colt named Holy Smoke from a river. She raises him, but is forced to sell him when her tribe needs money. Holy Smoke goes through a few undesirable owners before being reunited with Mary, who continues his training and competes in the Hell's Mountain Relay with him.
Run, Appaloosa, Run was part of the Wonderful World of Disney show in the 60s, so it's a TV movie. This is one of my all-time favorites, and one of my first favorite movies about a girl kicking ass. Mary rescues Holy Smoke twice - once from a river, and once from a humiliating life in the rodeo. Mary saved her horse's life and his dignity, and worked hard with him to win an epic race and become a champion. You go, Mary and Holy Smoke.
#10 - Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
Starring: Ike Eisenmann, Kim Richards, and Eddie Albert
Tony and Tia, orphans with a shady past and special abilities, are adopted by an "uncle" and taken to his boss, who plans to use them for financial gain. Tony and Tia are showered with gifts, but they escape when they figure out what the old jerks wants from them. They follow a map to a place called Witch Mountain, with their cat and a cranky old man they meet along the way.
Hitching a ride in a strange old man's RV is not a good idea, guys. However, since Escape is a Disney movie and it all worked out for the best, it was the right call for these kids. =P It's an epic quest to find where you belong, with awesome powers, unlikely friends, and a happy ending. (But do not watch the sequel.)
Honorable Mention: The Three Caballeros (1945)
Starring: Donald Duck, Jose Carioca, and Panchito
Donald Duck receives a big box of film from his bird friends down south as a birthday gift.
This is a bunch of shorts mostly about birds in South America, so it's a great movie for the attention-span challenged. I watch this one maybe once a year, and there are a few bits I look forward to, and others I'm always surprised by, because I forget they're there. My favorites are the hyper little bird with the obnoxious badapadapadap song that is now stuck in your head (sorry) and the cactus dance, which is just a great piece of animation.