Living with a (soon to be) 3 year old has meant that I’ve been fully up to date with all things Disney. This decade alone has seen some of Pixar’s finest work with releases such as Toy Story 3 and Inside Out. Sequels such as Monsters University and Finding Dory have been perfectly enjoyable and with forthcoming followups to The Incredibles and Toy Story it’s not looking likely that Pixar will be putting a foot wrong.
I’ve generally held the opinion that Pixar’s productions were superior to those of the Walt Disney Animation Studios. Pixar successfully managed to continue forward with the baton as the Disney Renaissance began to wind down in the late 1990s. After the unstoppable collection of releases in the 90s (and the thoroughly enjoyable Emperor’s New Groove in 2000) the Disney Studio Animated features became rather stagnant once more. Whilst Pixar were picking up Academy Awards, Disney were churning out unmemorable productions such as Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons and Bolt. It wasn’t until 2009’s Princess and the Frog that they really got things going again. Disney animation is currently in the midst of a second resurgence (in my opinion) with Tangled, Frozen and Moana now rivaling some of classic Disney musicals and other productions such as Wreck-It-Ralph and Big Hero 6 successfully managing to hold their own against Pixar’s latest.
I seem to have revisited everything Disney have ever done over the last 3 years, and (being born in 1987) it may just be my nostalgia speaking but I definitely feel the 1990s was Disney’s most memorable period. With consecutive smash hit movies in quick succession, all star voice casts, amazing video game tie ins and award winning soundtracks, I really do feel the 90s will never be topped in terms of consistent quality. I’ve subjectively ranked all of the Walt Disney Animation Studio productions from 1989 – 1999 and here’s what the list shapes up like:
11. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
I’ve not really got anything against the film, it’s just tremendously unremarkable. It’s the last release of Disney’s “80’s phase” and when compared to the subsequent releases from the 1990s the film looks terribly old hat. It’s not really comparable to any other 1990s releases as it’s not a musical and it’s a sequel. It seems to exist purely for financial reasons, as the original Rescuers movie from 1977 performed rather well at the box office, however, of every Disney film ever made up until this point, I’m not sure why they felt The Rescuers warranted a cinematically released sequel.
10. Pocahontas (1995)
There’s been quite a lot written about the historical inaccuracies in the film, but none of that particularly bothers me. It’s essentially a family-friendly animation and I feel the filmmakers are allowed to take as many liberties as possible to make the most entertaining movie that they can. The fact that this is my least favourite of the Renaissance musicals is that there is a distinct lack of fun in the film. When compared to other Disney films of the 90s, it’s slightly uneven and not one of the most memorable of the decade.
9. Tarzan (1999)
Similarly to The Lion King an ‘adult contemporary’ artist was drafted in to drive the film musically. Phil Collins didn’t quite deliver a collection of tunes that would be as celebrated as Elton John’s were, but Tarzan is still a perfectly enjoyable adventure. The last film of the Renaissance era and a pretty solid entry to the Disney back catalogue. Not quite as memorable as the early 90s releases, and possibly lost a bit in the cinematic landscape of the time. Released within the space of 5 years there had been a live action remake of The Jungle Book, George of the Jungle, Jungle 2 Jungle, Jumanji, Congo, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Anaconda and Jungle Boy. I can’t help but feel audiences might have been a tad bored with Jungle Man movies by the time Tarzan came around.
8. Mulan (1998)
Just to give you an idea of how great the films on this list are, an absolute classic like Mulan is way down at number 8. Quite revolutionary for Disney upon release as it saw a female lead kicking a bit of arse. It’s now fairly standard for Disney films to have really strong female characters, but at the time, seeing a Disney heroine straying so far from the princess formula was rather subversive for a mid 90s animation. Eddie Murphy follows in Robin William’s footsteps providing the A-List comic relief and firmly establishes himself as a top-rate voice over artiste.
7. Fantasia 2000 (1999)
A rather obscure and personal choice this one. Originally released on December 17th 1999, the film just scraped into the list. I absolutely adore this updated take on Fantasia despite it being the most unrecognisable movie on the list, and probably one of the least seen of all the “modern” Disney releases. Part of the reason I have so much fondness for this film is that I think George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is one of the finest pieces of music ever written and the movie dedicates an entire 17 minute segment to the song, accompanied by beautiful animation. Fantasia 2000 will never been as celebrated as the original, but for me, it did exactly what the original did. Experimented with animation, music, colour and story and it definitely contains enough Disney magic for me to consider it as one of my favourites of the time.
6. The Little Mermaid (1989)
The launch pad for the Renaissance was this 1989 classic. A fantastic voice cast / story and collection of songs saw The Little Mermaid cement itself into legendary status. It’s very hard to put the remaining films in to some kind of working order as there’s no real weak links to choose from, but The Little Mermaid just misses out on a top 5 spot for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I used to work in a Sea Life Centre aquarium, and over expose to the song Under the Sea (which was on a loop all day) wasn’t particularly pleasant. Also the villain Ursula is, for my money, the most creepy, scary and horrible baddie in the Disney roster. At least, she’s the only villain I ever remember affecting me as a child and making me genuinely upset.
5. The Lion King (1994)
I know right? Only at number 5. I’m quite sure that objectively this film would be at least in the top 3 of most lists and in a lot of cases would be at number 1. However, this is a subjective list and I’ve had to go with my instincts. I do really love this film and remember what a monumental occasion the release was. I’d have been 7 at the time, but I still remember The Lion King just being absolutely everywhere in terms of marketing. The soundtrack alone was all over the charts, winning Oscars, Grammy’s and various other accolades. It’s legacy continues on 23 years later with the stage show still being performed on Broadway. It’s iconic in terms of animation and in terms of Disney releases, but there’s a few more that I prefer.
4. Hercules (1997)
One of the most underrated films in the Disney back catalogue for my money. Hercules is an absolute gem. Definitely one of my favourite voice casts featuring Rip Torn, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Bobcat Goldthwait and Tate Donovan in the titular role. The songs are great, the animation is top notch, the tie in Playstation game was ridiculously entertaining and the comedy is laugh out loud funny. I think, for me, I find Greek mythology a lot more interesting than most fairy tales and I think it’s for that reason that Hercules has the edge.
3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Speaking of underrated…. Such a unique entry in the collection, is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Compared with its sister films it’s a lot darker thematically. The gothic visuals are breathtaking and the universal message of acceptance in a lot more relevant than some of the more fantastical films in the series. That’s another brilliant aspect to the piece. Aside from the talking Gargoyles (that could be argued are a figment of Quasimodo’s imagination), it’s a very real story. There’s no anthropomorphic animals, no magic or feats of the impossible and the drama all takes place in a real life city from a real period in history. This adds to the film’s dark undertones as the emotion and situations within the movie are all very human. It’s a really wonderful film.
2. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Already regarded as one of the all time Disney classics, Beauty and the Beast receives the same kind of plaudits as other heavyweights in the Disney collection such as Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. And deservedly so. It really is a wonderful wonderful film, rich with enchantment, romance and superb music, the movie is as timeless as the title song suggests. Since being nominated for 6 Academy Awards (and winning 2), the legacy of the film lives on through an adapted Broadway musical and a live action re-make that was released earlier this year.
1. Aladdin (1992)
A very nostalgic choice for the number 1 spot. 1992’s Aladdin has been my personal favourite of the era for a long time, and I think it boils down to a number of factors. It’s always been a special film for me as it was the first (or at least first I remember) time I’d seen a film at the cinema. It’s definitely one of the funniest Disney films to date. Robin William’s essentially reinvented Disney voice acting and injected so much of his own zany personality into the role that after the great success of Aladdin it would soon become the norm to feature supporting characters voiced by comedians and comedy actors. The Lion King – Rowan Atkinson, Mulan – Eddie Murphy, Hunchback – Jason Alexander, Hercules – Danny DeVito. Tarzan – Wayne Knight etc etc. The song’s are absolutely tremendous and in most cases add to the humour, particularly the one’s featuring the Genie. The tie-in Sega Megadrive game was one of the finest games produced for the console and on a whole Aladdin is definitely my favourite Disney feature of the Renaissance era and possibly of all time.