15 Best Non-Verbal Disney Moments

Michael Bay (Transformers) is doing his best to make us ADHD. And since the 1980s the trend in action movies to have fourteen false-endings keeps us always on edge (or completely annoyed). On the other hand, there's the independent film movement, which trades plot for boring establishing shots or character neurosis. Is it so hard to make a quality movie that has all the elements we as an audience want?

Yes. Yes it is.

Which is why the success rate of Disney is so surprising. They almost never have stinkers (except for the cow-pie that was Home of the Range).

How is it that one studio (I realize that there are many studios in the Disney family, including Pixar), can continue to make such outstanding, and money making animations?

Well, obviously you could say that Disney understands its audience better than anyone else (Marvel being a close second).  You could also say that they encourage top notch writers, directors, animators, CGI, and voice talent (except for Dane Cook who piloted Planes into a nosedive with his non-comedic touch).

But there's something else.

Almost a Disney magic. A non-identifiable quality that makes their movies, just better.  Don't get me wrong, Shrek, A Land Before Time, An American Tale, Anastasia, Ice Age, and the like were all really good movies. They just don't have the magic that makes me want to go back and re-watch them all that often.

And I think some of the magic in Disney is the non-verbal moments. The blocking of scenes. How they can make us feel a plethora of emotions in a two second clip or a two minute montage. Almost like it's live theatre, and we can see everyone's reaction to the drama.

I remember when Wall-E came out, everyone thought it would be the first Pixar flop. Could audiences handle a mostly silent film in 2008?  Could Disney recoup its 180 million dollar investment?

Well, it's currently ranked #59 on IMDB's list of greatest movies (Two spots above North By Northwest, by Hitchcock, a director who truly understood the importance of silent moments and suspense) and grossed over 500 million worldwide. I think Disney (and Pixar) knows what it is doing.

So to add to the ADHD of the masses, I've ranked the top 15 non-verbal Disney scenes of all-time by creating .gif files. (It's my first foray into the GIF insanity).

15. Robin Hood: From a boy's perspective, I don't really care for this movie much. Yeah, the escape scene is really good. Maybe I don't buy the evilness of a wimpy Prince John. However, this is one of the great animal romantic love scenes of all time (better than Lady and the Tramp)

14. Monsters Inc: Now here's a boy movie with substance. And Boo is maybe the cutest Disney child ever created. But when Sully lets loose his frustration on the scare simulator, and Boo watches her cute "kitty" become a ferocious monster...a perfect scene the captures the loss of idolization of loved ones.

13. Frozen: No other scene captures depression, anxiety, and isolation as when Elsa locks herself in her room and the ice explodes out of her, freezing the room in a personal Siberian gulag. This scene takes place right after Elsa's last connection to the outside world, her parents, are lost at sea. To anyone who has experienced grief or severe anxiety or depression, this moment of isolation hits close to home.

12. Mulan: The "decision" montage scene. I usually hate montages, as the 80s made them cheesy, but this moment of self-actualization by Mulan is the perfect counter to Elsa's depression. The moment when you know what you have to do, and fear will not overwhelm you.

11. Toy Story 2:  How to choose from the Toy Story franchise which has many memorable silent moments? Moments like Buzz's failed flying (I Will Go Sailing No More) scene, or the end of the third movie when Andy plays with the little girl, and leaves his toys behind forever...but my favorite sad moment is when Jessie is left for donation (as it leads to her abandonment issues).  The Toy Story movies say so much about the complexities of growing up; yet also entertaining us so easily...ugh...

10. Wall-E: If you want to talk about character, Wall-E has character. A robot with a moral code. Everyone should have a friend like Wall-E.  In a movie full of great social commentary and science fiction elements is a beautiful love story with unconditional commitment. May we all find a Wall-E in our lives.

9. Fantasia: Mickey, the Sorcerer's Apprentice scene.  Who hasn't done a little spell to make house chores become more manageable and have it go slightly out of control (heck, they made 5 seasons of I Dream of Jeannie on this premise). The slow corruption of power is shown beautifully throughout the whole movie. I don't watch this movie often, but when I do, I make sure I have a good HDTV.

8. Princess and the Frog: A well made movie (and sadly the last of the truly animated Disney movies), this movie has many memorable moments, including the killing of one of the heroes, Raymond the firefly, by the villain Dr. Facilier. Disney has always understood the importance of death (except when Captain Hook murders his shipmate for singing and playing his accordion). The characters give Ray a beautiful send-off before Ray is ushered into the sky and becomes the "second star to the right."

7. Lion King: Speaking of death. No words are necessary. This is just beautiful. And sad. Long live Mufasa!

6. Tarzan: I wanted to put Kala's loss of her baby gorilla here, but that's just too much death (also why you won't see Bambi alone in the meadow after his mom is shot).

But this whole scene, when Kala discovers the human home ravaged by the jaguar Sabor (the same jaguar that killed her baby), and finds baby Tarzan in his crib. She realizes on touch, that humans and apes aren't much different. She decides to adopt him. Great moments. The whole movie will almost make you want to adopt a whole Phil Collins CD.

5. Dumbo: Disney loves to separate parents from their kids. Jumbo is punished for protecting her awkward little boy Jumbo Jr. (whom is named Dumbo by horrible audiences), and gets locked away in a cage for wild animals. Dumbo is allowed to see her just briefly, and it's heart wrenching scene (another is when Jumbo doesn't get a package from the stork at the beginning).

4. Little Mermaid: And if being locked away from our children is emotionally disturbing enough, there's Ariel. She doesn't like her species. She wants legs to be a human, because she saw Eric, once. Dad, King Triton, in what must be the most lamentable, but selfless act, allows his daughter to go her own way. People love Ariel. But Triton is the real hero of this story. What an amazing dad.

3. Up. The whole beginning of this movie is just plain amazing silent story telling. Pixar has learned to do so much without wasting dialogue. Usually kids have a hard time relating to older protagonists, but by giving Carl's whole life at the beginning...we (including kids) totally understand where Carl's coming from when young, slightly awkward Russell, interrupts his "swan song." This scene, though...I dare you to not cry at the beginning...

2.  Tangled: Speaking of crying. This scene happens 18 years after Rapunzel is kidnapped by Gothel,  another dust-in-the-eye moment. Behind closed doors, we see the difficulty of being the face of the nation, the pain of losing a child and yet holding out hope, in the face of unbelievable realities.

1.  Bambi: Twitter-pated. Maybe dated in it's artistic styling, or cheesy moments, but who cares. It was a landmark movie, and this scene personifies the movie (more than the death scene).  Yes, there are sounds during this scene, but no true dialogue...and it captures my memories of first love completely.  

Maybe not the true #1 scene.  But didn't want to end on a bummer (and it was Walt Disney's favorite).  

Narrowly missing the cut: Prince Phillip fights Maleficent, Genie being freed (for actually shutting Robin Williams up for a second), The Queen becomes a hag in Snow White, The Beast gives Belle the library, and Cinderella's reaction to her torn dress. What did I miss? Let me know.  


  1. This reminded me why I love Disney movies so much. I always sob during that part from Dumbo, and ditto during the beginning of Up. I love Sleeping Beauty (artistically beautiful + Tchaikovsky), as well as Beauty and the Beast (a nerdy, bookish heroine spoke to me for obvious reasons). I just love most of them, I guess, for different reasons. And I can't wait to see Frozen! Waiting for my local video store to carry it...
    This was a fun post. :)

    1. Well, it was my wife's idea. Remember, I'm the guy who wrote the blog about not like Disneyland.

      But I gotta give credit where credit is due (besides to my wife). Disney knows what they are doing and the results show in the details.

  2. These are fantastic! I especially love the Monsters Inc scene, Toy Story 2 w/Jesse's face through the box. I can't even WATCH the beginning of the movie UP, I have to fast forward through it. Screw that noise!
    Great post.

    1. Up is tough. I Braved (see what I did there) my way through it the last time. Nary a tear, maybe some watering...but no tears. I'm like Mulan.

  3. Love this collection! I just wish Beauty and the Beast had made your list. :)

    1. Maybe the scene where Belle refuses to go to dinner with the Beast, and the Beast almost loses it, and points to the door as if, "see, they're uncontrollable!" (Thanks to my friend Janet for that one).

  4. UGH...that Lion King scene makes me tear up every time!