Now we are over halfway and deep into the Disney Renaissance, the period known for putting Disney back on the map and creating a whole new fanbase for generations to come. Being born in 1993, these films were all the rage when I was younger so they all hold a deep sentimentality as I remember watching when they were newly released and all the hype surrounding them. The Renaissance is usually seen as the threshold for Disney standards today. 2019 alone sees the releases of remakes of Aladdin and The Lion King featuring the likeness and songs from their animated counterparts.
All but two of the major films from the Disney Renaissance won Oscars for their scores or their song (The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules are the exceptions although they both received nominations). The films aren’t without their faults but it seems that the mistakes made are starting to be corrected as seen in more recent Disney films like Frozen and Moana.
For previous posts, you can click thr links below:
Here we go with Disney classic films 31-35:
31) Aladdin (1992)
Disney’s adaptation of Aladdin has been the subject of much love since its release. The story of thief, Aladdin, the local troublemaker and his adventure as he finds a genie lamp and aims to win the heart of Princess Jasmine. My favourite aspect of this film is the genius casting of Robin Williams as the genie. He doesn’t hold back in his eccentricity bringing in impersonations, singing and innuendo galore. It’s a brilliant performance that revolutionised the use of celebrities as voice actors as Williams is often credited with starting this trend. The songs are also great featuring Disney hits such as “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World”. This film isn’t completely devoid of mistakes as the design and character of Princess Jasmine is sexualised, reducing her to mere eye candy for the male characters, particularly antagonist, Jafar. There is also the obvious problem of having a majority white creative and production team which sees a lot of negative stereotypes come into play. The animation itself sees Disney utilising computer animation in the scene where the Cave of Wonders appear. The tiger head style of the entrance of the cave, although dated now, is definitely a look forward into how animation was to progress in the near future. It may not have the same amount of heart as Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid, but the songs and the Genie are what draw me back to this film time and time again rather than its story-line.
32) The Lion King (1994)
Now for a big one in the Disney catalogue. The Lion King doesn’t really need much explaining to be honest. Retelling Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the Africa plains with Simba as the young lion prince who is framed for his father’s death, The Lion King has become a big favourite among fans due to its iconic soundtrack and the heart-breaking scene when Mufasa is killed by his evil brother, Scar. There’s not much more to say about this incredible film but if you haven’t seen it then you need to do so immediately. It’s brilliantly animated with fantastic writing and a starry cast including Matthew Boderick and Whoopi Goldberg. Despite being released 25 years ago, it seems that the hype for this film hasn’t died since its release. Winning Oscars for Best Original Score composed by Hans Zimmer and Best Original Song for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” written by Elton John and Tim Rice, The Lion King has spawned multiple sequels, TV shows and a hit West End musical that incorporates songs from the first and second film. The opening sequence itself is probably the most well-known in Disney history and the celebratory introduction to this world through megahit “Circle of Life” has contributed to the timelessness of this film through its striking animation.
33) Pocahontas (1995)
Probably the most controversial of the Disney Renaissance batch and very loosely based on historical Native American Indian figure, Pocahontas. Disney’s retelling sees Pocahontas fall in love with a white Englishman who has travelled with men whose aim is to dig for goal and kill the Indians. This is probably the most difficult Disney film to talk about because it was the first Disney film that I was aware of being newly released. It also has my favourite animal sidekick, Meeko, an adorable raccoon and the songs in this film are brilliant (most of all the Oscar winning “Colors of the Wind”). The animation is also beautiful with standout scenes including those involving Grandmother Willow, a tree spirit who guides Pocahontas, that looks detailed and stunning as well as the colour palette of the films. Mixtures of peaceful greens and blues are intercepted with bloody reds and regal purples donned by the invaders. The film was rightfully criticised for its depiction of Native American Indians and watching it now is uncomfortable to watch. It is filled with stereotypes but my problem lies more with the inclusion of “good guy” John Smith. The Englishmen who has invaded the land are portrayed negatively as such but it feels that the inclusion of John Smith and making him a love interest and good guy is an attempt by the Disney board to show that not all white people are bad in some attempt to shed some guilt. I think if the love story between Pocahontas and John Smith was cut from the film, then the film itself would have started to bring some interesting commentary on the depiction of Native American Indians in mainstream media as well as showing Pocahontas for the strong female that she really is. I remember watching it when I was younger and being confused that Pocahontas couldn’t understand John Smith despite them both speaking English; however, I learned that Disney initially wanted the Native American Indians to speak in their native language. This would have been such a powerful statement to make by creating a more authentic and true film. It is a shame that we are not given an accurate portrayal of a strong and important woman in American history and I would like to think that Disney learned from their mistakes.
34) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Based on the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame tells the story of Quasimodo, a hunchback who is confined to ring the bells of Notre Dame under the watchful eye of the evil Judge Frollo. Quasimodo sneaks out of the cathedral to join in the festivities of the Feast of Fools and falls for the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda, who befriends him immediately unlike the hateful townspeople. Among the darkest films in the Disney catalogue, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a frightening tale of friendship and differences. Quasimodo’s only friends in the bell tower are three gargoyles who act as light entertainment against the grim backdrop of 15th century Paris. The film explores complex issues such as religion, lust and abuse but due to the studio wanting to get its G rating, the maturity of these themes are often balanced out with joyful singing and dancing. That isn’t to say that there aren’t powerful sequences in the film, particularly Frollo’s conflicting sexual desire for Esmeralda during the terrifying “Hell Fire”. The character of Frollo is really interesting as he truly believes himself to be a man of God but his ideology to rid Paris of “gypsies” and “travellers” sees him set the city ablaze, killing families (children included). There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do to prove that he is God. Although not as iconic as other Disney Renaissance releases, it is by far the most complex film and closest Disney have gotten to discussing mature themes.
35) Hercules (1997)
Showcasing the range of diversity for inspiration in the Disney Renaissance period comes 1997’s release Hercules. Telling the story of the titular character who was born a God with Zeus as his father but accidentally turned human by God of the Underworld, Hades when he tried to have the baby killed, Hercules is a story of how a man becomes a hero without needing to become a God. It feels that after the criticism of the last two films and the darker topics explored in them, Disney tried to go back to its lighter entertainment roots. Filled with more songs and an animation style inspired by Greek art, particularly pottery, it’s a refreshing take on Greek mythology. Hades is a fantastic villain filled with darkness and sarcasm bringing a likability to his character. Combine this with the casting of Danny DeVito as Phil, Hercules’ coach and you have a film filled with even more innuendo than Aladdin. The character development isn’t as strong as it could have been with the love story line involving Meg seeming to come out of nowhere but it is filled with brilliant songs and an array of likable characters such as the Muses who act as narrators. Disney also incorporate computer animation in the Hydra battle scene as it would have been too complex to hand draw. It works brilliantly as a sequence and is filled with suspense and gore when Hercules decapitates the beast. Also, the scenes in the Underworld are brilliantly depicted through its unrelenting disgusting and gore as Hercules’ life is slowly sapped away in a big to save Meg. It’s a scene that scared me when I was younger so naturally, I watched the film on a loop.
Now the bulk of the Disney Renaissance is covered and we’ve looked at some of the most controversial entries in the Disney repertoire. Now for the meantime, it’s time to rank these films.
Here is my ranking:
1) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
2) Fantasia (1940)
3) Beauty and the Beast (1991)
4) Sleeping Beauty (1959)
5) Bambi (1942)
6) The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
7) The Lion King (1994)
8) The Little Mermaid (1989)
9) Alice in Wonderland (1951)
10) Aladdin (1992)
11) The Aristocats (1971)
12) One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
13) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
14) Peter Pan (1953)
15) The Three Caballeros (1945)
16) Pinocchio (1940)
17) Pocahontas (1995)
18) Dumbo (1941)
19) Hercules (1997)
20) The Black Cauldron (1985)
21) The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
22) The Jungle Book (1967)
23) The Sword in the Stone (1963)
24) Cinderella (1950)
25) The Rescuers (1977)
26) Robin Hood (1973)
27) Oliver & Company (1988)
28) Lady and the Tramp (1955)
29) The Fox and the Hound (1981)
30) Fun and Fancy Free (1947)
31) The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
32) Saludos Amigos (1943)
33) Melody Time (1948)
34) The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
35) Make Mine Music (1946)
The next post will look at the last Renaissance offerings, Mulan and Tarzan and we then delve into another Disney dark period that sees Disney struggle to get many critical and commercial hits.
As ever, comment below on what your favourite films are and whether you agree or disagree with my ranking so far!