Top 10 Best Opening Scenes in Disney Movies

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Top 10 Best Opening Scenes in Disney Movies

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Jason McLean
The best opening scenes in Disney animated movies left us eager for more.
Transcript
Disney is great at grabbing your attention and immersing you in the story right from the start. Welcome to MsMojo and today we’ll be counting down the Top 10 Best Opening Scenes in Disney Animated Movies.

For this list, we’ll be looking at intros from animated films released only under the Disney name. Sure, Disney’s animated Pixar movies have some great openings, too, but they deserve their own list.

#10: Jiminy Cricket / “When You Wish Upon a Star”
“Pinocchio” (1940)


You may recognize the song “When You Wish Upon a Star” from the opening titles of every Disney movie released in the past few decades. An instrumental version of the song has been fully integrated with the Disney logo, which runs at the beginning of the Walt Disney Pictures films. We first heard the tune, though, at the start of the 1940 animated classic “Pinocchio”, but this time it had lyrics. Jazz vocalist and vaudeville veteran Cliff Edwards sang it in character as Pinocchio’s conscience Jiminy Cricket and then segued into an opening narration, speaking directly to the audience. The rest is, as they say, history.

#9: Perfect World
“The Emperor’s New Groove” (2000)


This opening has everything a comedic animated fantasy film could ask for. There’s sarcastic narration courtesy of funnyman David Spade in character as Kuzco, trying desperately to make the audience focus on his previous life as Emperor while admitting that he is currently living as a llama. There’s a very upbeat musical number performed by none other than Tom Jones in character as the Theme Song Guy. On top of that, there are also plenty of comedic beats and vibrant animation that add to the song. While this film was mostly praised for Eartha Kitt's performance as Yzma, the fun starts right at the beginning before she even hits the screen.

#8: Attack on the Great Wall
“Mulan” (1998)


Talk about not wasting any time and jumping right into the action! Just a few moments after the title sketch of the Great Wall of China fades into the film’s animated version of it, the wall is attacked, the signals are lit and China during the Han Dynasty is fighting off a Hun invasion. While Mulan features plenty of singing, it is one of only of the only movies produced during the Disney Renaissance (which took place between the late 80s and 90s) not to open with either a song, a narrated prologue or some combination of the two.

#7: The Legend of Maui
“Moana” (2016)


This 2016 film is based on an ancient Polynesian legend also shared by some other cultures. Disney starts the movie with Moana’s Gramma Tala telling the creation story of the heart of Te Fiti and the demi-god Maui to a group of children, but we don’t see them or her until the end of the tale. Instead her opening narration plays over tribal imagery that gives way to beautiful and stunning 3D computer animation the moment Maui, as a bird, enters the scene. It is an eye-catching way to throw the audience into the story and introduce a main character we won’t see until later in the film.

#6: Two Worlds, One Family
“Tarzan” (1999)


This opening beautifully juxtaposes the experiences of Tarzan’s human family in the jungle with those of his future gorilla family right up to the point Kala finds him. Both families experience happiness and loss at the same time and are clearly on parallel trajectories. This animated visual storytelling is set to Phil Collins singing about the broader theme of interconnectedness while indirectly referencing what is happening on the screen. It’s an intro that proves you don’t need traditional spoken or sung narration to set the stage for the rest of the movie.

#5: “The Gospel Truth”
“Hercules” (1997)


While Disney movies aren’t known for breaking the fourth wall, Hercules does right at the start when the Muses cut off the traditional stuffy narrator mid-sentence and take over. What follows is a fun, upbeat gospel-type musical number taking us through the story of Greek mythology. One of the things that makes this opening scene particularly creative is how the Muses use the piece of pottery they were painted on as well as those around them in the museum as their stage, props and visual aids. The Muses return several times in the movie from this intro, and we can see why.

#4: “Arabian Nights”
“Aladdin” (1992)


This catchy opening song by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is accompanied by animation that introduces us to the fictional kingdom of Agrabah and the desert surrounding it quite well. While a solid and memorable opening, it was also a controversial one back in 1992 when the film was released. This was due to the original lyric “Where they cut off your ear/If they don’t like your face” After protests from groups like the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Disney changed it for the movie’s home video release and all subsequent releases.

#3: “The Bells of Notre Dame”
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996)


This animated movie starts with a song as a prologue, but as as far as songs go, this is a dramatically epic yet sombre one. The mood is magnified by the bleakness that comes across in the animation from the moment we leave Clopin’s puppet show. It sets up the sad backstory of the film’s protagonist, Quasimodo, and introduces us to the villain Frollo at his most arrogant and devious. It takes the archdeacon threatening eternal damnation for him to not throw a baby down a well. While the rest of the movie is a little more upbeat, this intro is memorable for not pulling any punches.

#2: The Beast Prologue & Belle
“Beauty and the Beast” (1991)


It’s fitting that a film that strives to contrast its two main protagonists, Belle and the Beast, starts off by doing just that. First we get the Beast’s prologue, which is presented like a classic fairy tale narration accompanied by several still images. It’s bleak and quite lonely, just like the Beast himself. Then immediately following the title card we’re introduced to Belle with full animation singing a song. It’s lively, and quite vibrant, just like she is. Also, unlike the lonely Beast intro, this song involves the whole town. We already know who these characters are and the movie has only just started.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

The Play & Fair
“Zootopia” (2016)

Classic Fairy Tale Book Intro
“Cinderella” (1950)

Prince Eric’s Ship / “Fathoms Below”
“The Little Mermaid” (1989)

Experiment 626
“Lilo & Stitch” (2002)

#1: “Circle of Life”
“The Lion King” (1994)


This probably doesn't come as that much of a surprise. Not only does this opening number introduce us to the world where Simba's story will take place, but it’s also a stunning work of art in and of itself. The song written by Elton John and Tim Rice and performed by Carmen Twillie and Lebo M. is a perfect accompaniment to the animation, which is Disney at its best. The slow build of various groups of animals congregating leads us to the start of the story on Pride Rock just as the music hits its soaring crescendo. It makes us want to keep watching, which is exactly what an opening should do.
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