It's hard to determine if Disney is currently going through its second renaissance when it comes to its Disney animated movies. Films from Tangled (which is better than Frozen. I will die on this hill.) all the way through Encanto, have proven that the quality has been consistent and amazing for over a decade now, which is actually longer than the first Disney Renaissance, as it lasted ten years and included bangers like The Little Mermaid, which, would you believe, almost didn’t get made, and The Lion King.
For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, the “Disney Renaissance” lasted from 1989-1999 and started with The Little Mermaid, and by all accounts, ended with Tarzan. That said, that would mean that Fantasia 2000 and Dinosaur were not “Disney Renaissance” material, I suppose (Poor, Dinosaur). But, that would also imply that the excellent, The Emperor's New Groove, which came out in 2000, also isn’t a part of the Disney Renaissance, which makes me sad, because The Emperor’s New Groove is amazing.
Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent now. You want to know what the best animated films in the Disney Renaissance are, and I’m going to tell them to you…in song form! Wait, no? The readers can’t hear my song? But, I dragged the piano out and everything. Oh, okay. Then I guess you’re just going to have to read it in word form. I’ll tell you, though, the song I had planned for you was amazing. You’re just going to have to trust me on this. Now, on with the list!
10. Pocahontas (1995)
Pocahontas is the story of the Powhatan woman, Pocahontas, falling in love with the English settler, John Smith. It’s incredibly inaccurate (I have a feeling that Disney didn’t want to get into the icky aspect of Pocahontas being around 10 when she met John Smith), and also deals with racism, but, you know, the songs are pretty good.
So is the animation, but the rest of it just feels really off and incredibly boring at times. It’s also one of the few Disney movies I haven’t shown my daughter yet, mostly because I don’t think it’s very good, but also because of the way it shows racism. I think Zootopia, which is, in my mind, the best recent Disney animated movie, did a much better job of going into that touchy subject.
9. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
A sequel to the 1977 film, The Rescuers, The Rescuers Down Under again features Bernard and Bianca, this time rescuing a boy in Australia, who has been kidnapped by a gun-toting poacher. Fun?
Well, kind of. The Rescuers Down Under unfortunately feels incredibly forgettable since 1) It’s a sequel to a film that I don’t think many people were asking for back in 1990, and 2) it all feels a bit lopsided. For instance, our heroes, Bernard and Bianca, are often off on the sidelines somewhere while side characters take over the story. So, in the end, it’s fine–and the flying sequences are incredible–but overall, it kind of gets lost in the rest of the Renaissance. Oh, well.
8. Hercules (1997)
Tackling mythology this time, Disney’s Hercules is about the demigod who goes from zero to hero, while his uncle, Hades, tries to take him down.
Our very own Alexandra Ramos believes that Hercules is underrated, and yeah, I can definitely see that. The music is great, the story is fun, and the animation is top notch (especially that hydra fight). And, I like it. I just wish it dug even deeper into the mythology aspect.
It also, like Pocahontas, decides to tell its own tale, so Hera is a caring mother in this film rather than a vindictive, scorned wife who wants her husband’s bastard progeny dead. Missed opportunity, if you ask me, Disney. Missed opportunity. It’s fun, yes, but it’s sort of missing something, in my opinion.
7. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996)
Based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is dark as hell. Dealing with the disfigured bell-ringer, Quasimodo, who wants to be down with the people instead of up in his tower, he has to prevent his guardian from getting all touchy feely with a beautiful woman named Esmerelda.
Let’s just be clear: The Hunchback of Notre Dame should not be rated-G. In the very first moments, Quasimodo's mom is chased and dies on the steps of the cathedral, and the evil Frollo wants to drown her baby. At the same time, later in the film, Quasimodo hangs out with some wise-talking gargoyles, and the tone is just incredibly off. The music is probably the best in the entire Disney Renaissance, but the story around it (or at least the tone) could be much sharper. I’m still waiting on that live-action The Hunchback of Notre Dame movie, though. That could be interesting.
6. Tarzan (1999)
The last film in the Disney Renaissance, Tarzan is about a man raised by apes who learns he’s actually human. He meets up with a woman named Jane, and they fall in love. Pretty standard stuff.
But, you know what? It’s much better than it has to be. The Phil Collins soundtrack is exceptional, the animation (Tarzan looks like he’s roller blading on those branches!), and the overall flow of the story is much better than I remembered it being when I saw it as a kid. Don’t sleep on Tarzan if you haven’t seen it in ages. It deserves a re-watch!
5. The Little Mermaid (1989)
A mermaid falls in love with a prince on land, makes a deal with a sea witch to have legs, and gives her voice away just to be with him. Not a poor message for children at all!
Kicking off the Renaissance, The Little Mermaid probably has some of the most memorable music out of all of these films. In fact, when I think of the Disney Renaissance, Sebastian banging on clams is the first image that comes to my mind. It’s a quick-paced film with a good story, but again, that message of a woman giving up everything (even her whole identity) just to be with a good looking dude is really troubling to me. I really hope the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid irons out that message somehow.
4. Mulan (1998)
Not wanting her aged father to be conscripted, Mulan dresses up as a man, and fights in the war in his stead. She also finds romance in the process with a man who wants to make a man out of her. How lovely.
Mulan may not have even been a real person, so I’m not going to touch on the accuracy of this one, but thankfully, I don’t have to, because the story, music, and visuals are all top notch. You’re never bored watching Mulan like you are with Pocahontas, and you feel tension at Mulan’s identity possibly being found out through most of the film. I could have done without her dragon companion, Mushu (Sorry! But I definitely don’t consider it one of Eddie Murphy’s funniest characters), but the rest is great.
3. Aladdin (1992)
A street urchin finds a magic lamp, wishes to become a prince, and literally sweeps a girl off of her feet for a magic carpet ride. What more could you possibly want?
After Beauty and the Beast a year earlier, which I considered a “girl movie” at the time, I was happy to have a male lead and a lot more action. And, what great action it is! Some of the most enthralling moments in the entire Renaissance are in this film. Robin Williams as the genie is also one of the best characters in this ten year period. Add the phenomenal music, and you have one of the best animated movies in this era, by far.
2. Beauty And The Beast (1991)
A beautiful bookworm falls in love with a beast (who basically kidnaps her), and breaks the spell that fell upon said beast due to his cruelty and arrogance.
The first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture, Beauty and the Beast is a visual spectacle that still looks beautiful today. The story also feels “as old as time,” which makes it feel timeless in that way. Adult me can appreciate all the time and effort that went into this Disney masterpiece that would stand at the top of the heap if not for one other movie.
1. The Lion King (1994)
A young lion prince has to take his mantle as king years after he abandoned his position as a child. Yep, that’s pretty much the movie in a nutshell.
I mean, come on now. What can beat The Lion King? The story is the best (it’s basically Hamlet), the animation is godly, and the music is unmatched. I STILL say Hakuna Matata to this day. This movie IS my childhood.
What’s your favorite movie in the Disney Renaissance? For more news on everything Disney, make sure to swing around here often.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.