By Ingrid Meilan
Dancing with the Stars judge Bruno Tonioli’s introduction to Disney was from the man himself. “When I was growing up in Italy,” he says, “We didn’t get a TV until the mid-1960s, and there was only one channel.” But that one channel, he says, played the most magical program of all. “We used to look forward to watching The Wonderful World of Disney with Mr. Walt Disney himself introducing the programs!” Tonioli tells D23.
Looking back, the choreographer says he credits Mr. Disney for introducing him to the art of filmmaking. “I have love and affection for [Walt Disney] opening the wonderful world of fantasy and beauty and art to us. Walt was a genius. He was such a great influence to people around the world as a pioneer in this industry.”
Even today as an adult, Tonioli says he’ll always gravitate toward a Disney film. “Disney films have universal appeal,” he tells D23. “The stories they tell have no boundaries. The legacy has been kept alive all these years because Disney does such a great job upholding the standard. The films stay with you forever—because they’re such quality, you never forget them.”
Bruno Tonioli shared his favorite Disney movies with D23.
“Purely from a sentimental perspective, there is one film I’ll never forget and that’s Bambi. It is one of the most moving films ever made. I went with my mother and afterward it was almost embarrassing—people were staring because I was crying so hard! My poor mother didn’t know what to do. Even as a child I was very emotional and I didn’t hold back.”
“Only Disney could put out a film like Fantasia. Imagine, people sitting in the cinema, watching a film with no dialogue, just classical music. Fantasia opened people’s minds to classical music—it’s often considered elitist and this film made the music accessible because of the imagery that went along with it. Creatively and artistically, I just think it’s an unbelievable film. You see something new every time you watch it. I would love if a new installment of Fantasia came out in 3-D with all of today’s technology!”
3. Mary Poppins
“I’m a film lover, and when Mary Poppins came out, nothing like that had ever been seen before. The interplay between live-action and animation was never done so well. What a dazzling achievement. I remember seeing in Italy, dubbed in Italian! When she jumped in the sidewalk painting in the park, it blew my mind.”
“I loved WALL•E. Disney isn’t afraid to take risks. The first half of the film has no dialogue. I love that the animators had such conviction in their idea that they knew that the film would work without characters speaking. You get to see the heart and soul of WALL•E just by the way he’s animated. It’s mesmerizing! The emotions stirred by this tiny little robot are just huge.”
5. The Lion King
“I know it must be on everyone’s list, but I have to mention The Lion King! As a film and as a theater show, it really is the very best of the best. The combination of drama and music and characterization, plus the realization of the story—it really is a masterpiece.”