While Disney may seem like an unstoppable juggernaut today, there was a time that this was not the case. During the 1980s, the studio released films to lackluster box office performances. Films like The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron failed to meet expectations, and the studio was in jeopardy.
And then, in 1989, Disney released The Little Mermaid, which started the decade now known as The Disney Renaissance. During this time, Disney produced ten of their biggest hits. Of those ten, nine were nominated for Academy Awards, and all were considered commercial successes. While many of these films are now beloved classics, there are some that truly manage to shine and rise above the others. Therefore, let's see which of the Disney Renaissance films has managed to stand the test of time.
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10 The Rescuers Down Under
Released in 1990, The Rescuers Down Under is the first canon sequel to a previous Disney film. Set in the Australian outback, the film showcases Rescue Aid Society operatives Bernard and Bianca (both of whom are mice) saving a boy named Cody from poachers. The film gained recognition both for being the first Disney sequel and the first film to be created completely digitally.
Unfortunately, the film massively underperformed. While it made a profit, it ultimately made a fraction of what other Disney Renaissance films would make. The story was convoluted, and the film hasn't held up well during the intervening years. It was also the only film of the Renaissance not nominated for an Oscar or an Annie Award. As such, this film has gone down under to the bottom of the list.
The 1995 film may not have aged well, but at the time Disney put everything that had into its production. Produced at the same time as The Lion King, Disney was confident that the animation style, messaging, story, and songs would make Pocahontas the more dominant of the two.
That was sadly not the case. While the film meant well, it handled the story poorly. The pacing is uneven, and the film is both preachy and tedious at the same time. However, the animation and music are still captivatingly beautiful twenty years later. Hopefully, Pocahontas served as a lesson to Disney on how to tell their stories about diversity better.
Released in 2000, Tarzan is the last of the Renaissance films. Despite the character dating back to the early days of film, Disney's version was the first time Tarzan would appear in animated form. The studio poured an enormous amount of resources towards the film in order to create its computer-generated background. The film emerged as a pioneer in animation, earning high praise for its art style and the Phil Collins soundtrack.
While being the third most successful financially of the Disney Renaissance, it was not as fortunate critically. Although the artistic style of the film was praised, the story and the characters were hit or miss for many critics. Compared to the other Disney Renaissance films, it falls short of what one would come to expect. Through no obvious fault or flaw, the film just doesn't capture the same magic that most of the previous nine had.
7 The Hunchback Of Notre Dame
Starring the titular hunchback Quasimodo, the 1996 film told a tale of acceptance and love in the face of hatred and indifference. The animation used in Hunchback would go on to become industry standard for Disney. The Gothic atmosphere and realistic characters are among the most realistic and fresh of the entire Disney Renaissance.
What the film, unfortunately, struggles with is its adult story. Critics and audiences were alienated by the themes of the film. Many found it too dark to be a children's movie, while others didn't think it serious enough for adults. The mixed messaging hurt the film, with some religious institutions calling for a boycott on Disney. Fortunately, the film has garnered more interest as time has passed, and its theme of acceptance has given many of its fans sanctuary over the years.
Disney's Hercules helped prove that the studio had gone from a zero to hero. Based on the mythological tales of Heracles, the 1997 film has become one of the most popular in the entire Disney franchise. The film received praise for its colorful art style and for organic and lifelike characters. The film proved successful enough to launch a two season television show.
While Hercules is considered a classic, the film left a few critics feeling like the studio had missed the mark somewhat on the story. The film suffers from a fairly large plothole (how exactly does the God of Death not know someone isn't dead?), and the pacing of the film is a little off compared to modern standards. Still, the film is beloved and hasn't aged badly in the subsequent years, making it Godlike indeed compared to some of the other Renaissance films.
5 The Little Mermaid
When Disney was at its darkest hour, The Little Mermaid was the film that helped revitalized the studio. Released in 1989, the film was the first to usher in the Disney Renaissance classics that would follow. Setting up a formula that Disney has stuck too doggedly ever since, The Little Mermaid was considered a smash hit when it was released. From the Broadway-style songs to the overarching story, critics and fans quickly fell in love with the film.
While the movie is undeniably wonderful, some of the animation has not held up particularly well over the years. The film was the last to be done via hand-painted cels, and it unfortunately shows. The movie is grainy and flat compared to what we're used to today; while it's a nit-picky point, it makes the film less impressive as time goes on. However, credit where credit is due. We would not have had twenty years of amazing films were it not for the success of The Little Mermaid.
With Disney's Mulan, there is no denying the effort and power of the Disney Renaissance. The second-to-last of the Renaissance films, the movie came out in 1998 to enormous praise. Mulan's character is still considered an inspiration for young girls today, and the film's story is considered spectacular. The songs of the film are immensely popular, and the story and action scenes are among Disney's best.
While the film did not launch a large franchise like other Disney Renaissance films did, Mulan is still beloved by many. The upcoming live-action film has many purists apprehensive due to changes the film is proposed to have taken from the animated version, mainly the decision to cut out some songs. Hopefully it does well, lest it anger the fans who will demonstrate the swiftness, force, and strength they've learned from years of singing along to "I'll Make a Man Out of You".
3 Beauty And The Beast
Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991, and was an instant hit. The film's animation, story, and characters were all highly praised by critics and audiences alike. It also has the distinct honor of being the only animated film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The movie spawned a hugely successful Broadway musical in 1994, and paved the way for other Disney Broadway hits.
Beauty and the Beast has since become the tale as old as time from the movie's titular song. While The Little Mermaid began the Disney Renaissance princess story, Beauty and the Beast perfected it. The film has become one of the most profitable of the Disney franchises, and prompted a live-action remake in 2017. While the film did well, it showed that the magic of the animated film could not be duplicated or broken.
The second-largest grossing of the Disney Renaissance, Aladdin's success cannot be disputed. Following the footsteps of Beauty and the Beast, the movie was released in 1992 to universal acclaim. The film is the highest rated of the entire Disney Renaissance, and for good reason. The animation and story are among some of the best Disney has to offer. Robin Williams' performance as the Genie is considered legendary, and the film won two Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song ("A Whole New World).
The film launched an enormous franchise, with two direct-to-video sequels, a three-season animated show, and a Broadway musical. The upcoming live-action film is a sign of the film's popularity, although many fans would easily give a wish to maintain the integrity of the beloved animated classic instead.
1 The Lion King
From the very first moments of the film, The Lion King manages to hold and grasp the audience's attention in a way few films ever do. The 1994 film is the highest grossing out of the entire Disney Renaissance, having earned more than the four lowest grossing movies combined. With music by Elton John and a star-studded cast, the movie has become one of Disney's best.
The plot of the movie is among the best out of the entire Disney Renaissance. With two direct-to-video films following the success of the movie and two separate spin-off shows, it also easily has the largest franchise to extend past the film's release. Also sporting a Tony Award Winning Broadway play and an upcoming live-action film, The Lion King has proven its popularity and showcased its position as King of the Renaissance for over twenty years.