It All Started With A Duck, Part One: Introducing the DONALD System for Ranking Disney Movies

A little more than a year and a half ago, my wife and I took the first tentative steps of what would become a monumental journey. We fired up our DVD player and inserted the disc for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Four months later, as the credits rolled on Monsters University, we had watched every single animated feature film from Walt Disney Studios.

From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to No White and the Six-and-a-Half Dorks
From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to White Background and the Six-and-a-Half Dorks

As a lifelong, dyed-in-the-wool, Disney fan, it had been easy to imagine that I had seen all of the films before. But, as it turns out, I was so, so wrong. Our first watch list had 68 titles: 52 from Walt Disney Animation Studios, 15 from Pixar Animation Studios, and one from DisneyToon Studios.

Because we committed our free time in the evenings and weekends on the films, I decided to use the viewing exercise as an opportunity to wrap my head around the entire Disney movie library. To accomplish this, I created the DONALD* system of movie rankings. This is a set of criteria intended to help a viewer think in critical terms, rather than just falling into the trap of saying: “I love Disney movies, therefore, this movie is wonderful.”

[*This stands for: Disney Opinionated Numerical Animated Logical Determination. It was fashioned in the spirit of Carl Barks’ duck stories, and like his acronyms, is both silly and quite a stretch… Look, I spent more hours than I would care to admit working on it, so let’s all just pretend we like it, and I won’t mention it again, fair enough?]

The system is also appealing in that it offers the veneer of hard data while being – in reality – completely subjective. I also imagined it as something other Disney fans could use, and then combine and average the numbers to give a more thorough opinion than just my own. In other words, feel free to share your own DONALD scores as we go along…

"Vat you haff here is a PRETEND sci-yonce expeer-ument..."
“Vat you haff here is a PRETEND sci-yonce expeer-ument…”

Some notes about scoring:

  • The full ten points of the scale should be used, rather than school-type scoring (five points is an average, middle-of-the-road score when using the full ten point scale – in school-type scoring, an average “C” letter score would be seven out of ten)
  • There are 10 categories worth 10 points each – the scores are combined and totaled out of 100 for the DONALD score
  • The categories can be used as tiebreakers between movies if the overall DONALD scores are the same – I listed them according to my opinion of their overall importance to the film, but your mileage may vary

The DONALD categories, and questions to ask:

1. Story (10 points) — The overall story is central to Disney’s animated movies, and has been from the very beginning. For this purpose, “Story” refers to the quality of the storylines. Are they compelling and interesting? Is the primary storyline nuanced without being difficult to follow? How well do the secondary and tertiary storylines tie in? Is the tone appropriate for a family film — neither too dark, nor too light?

2. Music (10 points) — Music has been a crucial element of Disney’s animated movies since the very beginning. Does it have a signature song (or songs)? Is the rest of the score memorable? Does the music have a regular presence in the Disney parks? Points may be deducted for nonsensical musical pieces that take the viewer out of the storyline.

Nobody needs to tell Sebastian about the importance of music...
Nobody needs to tell Sebastian about the importance of music.

3. Animation Quality (10 points) — Are the characters original and appealing? Do the backgrounds add to the film? With hand-drawn movies, are there noticeable mistakes or sections of animation that were not completely cleaned up? With computer-animated movies, are they distinctive and well designed? The films should be compared against other titles in the time frame, so as to evaluate the art rather than the technology.

4. Memorable Protagonist (10 points) — Is there a meaningful, dynamic arc for the main character? Do they drive the story, or are they just reactive to outside forces? Are they appealing and funny, and likable by the end of the movie? Do you personally identify with them and their journey?

5. Memorable Antagonist(s) (10 points) — The antagonist is often the most nuanced character of Disney animated films, and provides the conflict, the danger, and much of the comedy of the story. In addition, Disney Villains have become some of the most beloved characters from the movies, with a significant presence in the marketing and the theme parks. Is the antagonist a memorable and powerful motivational force in the story? Is the antagonist intelligent and menacing?

6. Script (10 points) — Is the dialogue sharp and interesting? Are there memorable lines that resonate and stay with you after the movie? Are there good moments of drama and comic relief?

7. Supporting Characters (10 points) — Does the protagonist (and antagonist) have good characters around them? Do they contribute to the overall enjoyment of the movie without detracting from it? Points may be deducted for flat or uninteresting characters.

8. Timelessness (10 points) — Does the movie hold up over time? Does it have a presence in any of the Disney theme parks? Does the lesson of the movie make sense to contemporary audiences? Are there dated cultural references that take the viewer out of the movie? Points can be deducted for objectionable content, although preferably within the historical context.

Chicken Little and Abby Mallard were not comforted by their "Timelessness" score.
Chicken Little and Abby Mallard were not comforted by their “Timelessness” score.

9. Voice Acting (10 points) — The voice acting can be either a perfect finishing touch or black mark on the story. Are the voices appropriate for the characters? Do the singing voices match the speaking voices? If they are celebrity voices, are they chosen for their quality or just to put a big name on the movie poster?

10. Charm/Intangibles (10 points) — This category accounts for personal feelings toward the show. If this was a particular favorite growing up, or has significance to a particular dimension of your personal interests, this is where it can be given extra points.


Click here for Part 2, to see the system in action.

6 thoughts on “It All Started With A Duck, Part One: Introducing the DONALD System for Ranking Disney Movies

  1. Pingback: It All Started With A Duck, Part Two: Now Starting With A Bear | Deep Forest Outpost

  2. Pingback: The DONALD Rankings Top 20: #20 Cars – Deep Forest Outpost

  3. Pingback: The DONALD Rankings Top 20: #19 Finding Nemo – Deep Forest Outpost

  4. Pingback: The DONALD Rankings Top 20: #18 Inside Out – Deep Forest Outpost

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