The Disney Renaissance is an exciting era of Disney’s history. For those of you who don’t know, the Disney Renaissance is the period of Disney films starting with The Little Mermaid in 1989 and ending with Tarzan in 1999. During this time, Disney films saw a resurgence in their quality and most (if not all) of the films were critical success and mostly financial successes. The Little Mermaid was Disney’s first animated fairy tale since Sleeping Beauty in 1959 and the first Disney animated film to have a Broadway musical feel to it. Alan Menkin composed scores for many of the Disney Renaissance films, working with lyricists Howard Ashman in the early films before Ashman’s passing.
For many kids who grew up in the 90s, this was a fantastic era of Disney films to be a child. Feeling nostalgic, I asked the ladies of Flick Chicks, the wonderful Allie and Jenna, if they would join me in taking a look back at this time of animated film history. They were all too eager to join in! Jenna and Allie review all sorts of films and television series in their unique style you will see below, as well as offer monthly movie trivia. Their love for Disney probably rivals my own. Go give them a visit once you are through here if you don’t follow them already.
The girls and I decided to make our best attempts to rank the films from the Disney Renaissance. There are ten films so that made things nice and round. This is obviously not a definite list since our opinions are constantly changing and all these films are great but we made our best attempts at it. Allie will give her list first. Allie’s contributions are in purple and Jenna’s are in red.
Take it away, ladies!
When Drew dropped us an email asking if we would be up for collaborating on a post with him, we were super excited. When we carried on reading and found out he wanted to rank the Disney Renaissance movies with us, we were a little hysterical! We don’t need to be given an excuse to gush about Disney movies! I am in a great place at the moment because my niece is discovering the old school Disney films for the first time so when that little face looks at me and says ‘Aunty Jenna, can we watch The Little Mermaid’ my face lights up and I proceed to sing and make her dance to every song. Makes my heart happy.
This has been so much harder than we thought, though. I mean, ranking any kind of list is near on impossible for me, but there are movies at the bottom of this list that I love! The Renaissance period between 1989-1999 was undoubtedly one of, if not the best times for Disney movies. I feel like there is an immediate divide between the ones I have watched thousands of times and the ones I have watched only once, there is no in between. It’s the period we grew up in, and I hold these movies very close to my heart. So without further ado, let’s do this!
10) The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
Now, I feel mean putting this one last, but it’s the one I remember the least. I do remember crying though, for sure. I definitely cried when the eagle (I thought it was a seagull haha! Omg maybe it was and I’ve remembered wrong?!) was captured, and I probably cried at the end as well because of how happy it was. There’s definitely a running theme between Disney movies and me crying, ha! I think what I enjoyed the most about The Rescuers Down Under was that it taught me how to treat animals, and that’s stayed with me my whole life.
9) Tarzan (1999)
Again, I feel mean for putting Tarzan here, but in my defence, when I first watched it as a child, I was on a Jungle Book hype, and my child brain only had room to love one jungle-related movie, so this one got pushed aside (I wish I had thought of this excuse!). It’s only really now, after far too many remakes, that I can fully appreciate this version. It was absolutely fine, it was full of adventure, and I really wish we didn’t have yet another version coming out soon!
8) Mulan (1998)
I was so into this when it first came out. I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, and as much as I enjoyed rewatching my favourite Disney princess movies, watching a female become one of the boys and kicking ass was all of my dreams come true. Mushu really captured my heart too, and that developed into a love of all things dragons and knights in shining armor. I only ranked it this low because I haven’t seen it for years, and I don’t know why. I’ll remedy that soon!
7) Pocahontas (1995)
Ugh, isn’t Pocahontas just one of the most beautiful movies of all time? I wasn’t a fan of this one as a child, it’s adult me who appreciates this for what it really is. I think it was released too soon after The Lion King, and suffered because of that. In fact, if anyone hasn’t watched this since they were little, I’d highly recommend giving it another try now. I’ll think you’ll enjoy it much more this time round. How strange, I have actually said that I don’t feel like I appreciated it as a child and I need to give it a go now I’m grown up! Now it’s a must!
6) Hercules (1997)
Oh I can’t believe I’m about to admit this, but I didn’t watch Hercules until this year. I know! I bring shame to myself. I feel guilty even typing this. I don’t even know why I didn’t watch it years ago. Maybe I was studying Greek mythology at school and it felt like homework? Who knows. All I know now is that this movie is so much fun.Just don’t watch it with my fiance. This is his favourite Disney movie of all time and he can repeat every single line, how did I not know this, I feel a Zero to Hero duet for the wedding!!. It’s quite scary actually. He’s going to enjoy Disneyland more than I will, I just know it.
5) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Now it’s getting harder to rank these. This movie made me feel so sad at the cinema, I cried non stop for about ten minutes. It’s one of those movies that I watch and then hate myself for it. It’s so good, but it makes me so sad afterwards, it’s heartbreaking. It’s also got one of the greatest songs in movie history, The Bells of Notre Dame. It gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it.
4) The Little Mermaid (1989)
This is the first Disney Renaissance movie, and definitely kicked the time period off with a bang! It came out when I was born, but it was most likely one of my first Disney movies that I got to watch at home. It’s the soundtrack that made me fall in love with it, and started my childhood obsession with collecting any and all odd objects that I would find throughout my days. I haven’t seen it for years, but thanks to my Mum’s impressions, I can remember clear as day the line Ursula says about ‘body language’! this is my favourite villain line in any Disney movie EVER!
3) Aladdin (1992)
Disney has always been about making dreams come true, but Aladdin brought a much more adventurous way of this, with the help of Robin Williams voicing the Genie, one of the greatest Disney characters of all time, agreed!. This is one that’s still just as much fun to watch as an adult, and the songs are just so catchy. I can’t forget how terrifying the carpet dash out of the cave was either. I had an Aladdin Super Nintendo game, and that cave level still gives me nightmares. I feel like I may forgotten parts of this film, I need a Disney Renaissance marathon.
2) The Lion King (1994)
The Lion King was my first experience at the cinema, a day I’ll never forget. I was that kid who was probably in every screen around the world that year, who started sobbing and asked aloud ‘Mummy, is he dead?’(best cinema story ever!). It took a whole year to get over that trauma I think, but The Lion King rapidly became my favourite movie ever. I had the stuffed toys, I wanted trips to the zoo every weekend, and unfortunately for my poor Mum, I wanted this movie put on every tea time.
1) Beauty and the Beast (1991)
My number 1 spot literally changes every day, but in my heart I know Beauty and the Beast has to come first. Belle was (and is) my favourite Disney princess, she was the one I could relate to the most when I was younger. I had no interest in clothes, or shopping, all I wanted to do was find somewhere quiet to read a book. Just everything about this movie makes my heart ache, from the gripping story, the beautiful romance, the fun characters, and the songs that I still play in my car now. I have found a new love for Gaston (the song) and have blasted it out of my car every day this week on the way to work!
Now Jenna’s turn!
I feel bad putting this at 10, however I have to because I can’t comment on it as I haven’t seen it. Drafting this post has reminded me how little I have actually seen of Disney films or only seen once and can’t remember. I would guess I would like Tarzan and it is now on my watch list but that’s the best I can do!
9) The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This film scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid, I don’t know why I just really didn’t like it. (I can’t argue with you here but for some reason I still love watching it!) I am also not so keen on the story, not that Disney films in general have a great track record for reflecting the real world preferring to focus on fairy tales, true love and happily ever after, but this one really stuck with me. The good guy is supposed to get the girl, not the better looking one!! Maybe in hindsight, this one actually reflects real life moreso than the others with the not so great looking nice guy gets friend-zoned for the good looking jock!
Mulan, the most under rated Princess in all of the Disney-verse, Ariel left her family and whole life to be with a man, Jasmine gave up the throne for a man, Belle gave up her freedom for a man/beast and Mulan…..well she saved CHINA!!! That being said, I’m not that keen on this film, I actually found it really boring and haven’t watched it again since the first time. Admitted, I think I’m a sucker for the happily ever after and true loves kiss!!
Did anyone ever watch this film more than once? I’m not sure when I watched it as a kid I actually understood a lot of it. I will say that it does have a killer soundtrack that I regularly sing full volume in my car. I always remember not liking the animation, it looked so different to the Disney films I had watched before and it always put me off. Plus I didn’t like the love interest, with the likes of Eric and Aladdin to compete with, John Smith had no chance. Maybe I need to give this a go now I’m older and able to appreciate the story a bit more. See, what did I tell you!
6) The Rescuers Down Under
I had completely forgotten about this but I did in fact have it on VHS and watched it until it wore out. I don’t remember much of the story to be honest but I get a warm and fuzzy feeling in my tummy when I see images from the film or clips. I do remember the flying scene on a bird or seagull, I can’t remember the detail but I loved it. Excuse me while I go and watch it again and also having only just realised that this is a sequel, give the first one a go as well!
This is another one that the soundtrack makes the movie. This must be good as I have seen the whole movie but in multiple sittings and all the wrong order and I still love it. Zero to Hero is a singing staple in my car (even though I sing all the wrong words – I think songs are even better when you make up your own lyrics). I really love all the random pop culture references and spot new ones every time, my favourite quote ‘It’s a small underworld after all….’
The Genie, need I say more! This film would have been waaaay down on the list if it wasn’t for Robin Williams comical genius – am I right in thinking he had complete creative freedom and pretty much improvised most of his lines?! Amazing soundtrack (would expect nothing less from Disney) and an action packed fun fest with a genuinely scary bad guy.
3) The Lion King
Oooooh Mufasa (still my favourite think to shout at slow moving cars, Mufasa!), that scene still haunts me, all the feels! I love everything about this movie and I pondered whether to put it at number one, but I was such a princess when I was a little girl that the other two just pipped it. However, this film has some of the best characters, Timon and Pumbaa, such legends. The sing along factor also has to be considered, who doesn’t know the words to Hakuna Matata.
2) Beauty and the Beast
I always wanted to be Belle at any fancy dress party (unfortunately my Mom put me in a red tshirt and a cotton wool beard and sent me as Doc instead!!) and I love the music and would sing along to the video all day. The animation in this is truly stunning, especially the dancing scene in the ballroom, really beautiful. This was really close to being number one but my heart will always be under the sea…..
1) The Little Mermaid
Like Allie my first cinema experience was a Disney film but it was The Little Mermaid for my 5th birthday, I don’t think I moved through the entire thing. I was completely awestruck by the colours and the characters and that feeling has just grown with me over the years. I still get goosebumps during ‘Part of your world’ and I still jump every time King Triton shouts and now I get to watch it with my niece who does exactly the same and it makes my heart melt. I had all the merchandise for this one, lunch box, thermos, Ariel doll, flounder soft toy. You name it, I had it.
10) The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Maybe it’s because I haven’t watched this as many of the other films on this list, but I am not a big fan of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This was one of the first movies I remember watching in the theater and it did not sit well with me. It was very dark for my childhood eyes. As a child, it was hard for me to understand why Frollo acted the way he did toward Quasimodo or the Gypsies. When compared to the other movies from the Disney Renaissance, the music isn’t as memorable. However, the voice cast is great with Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, and Kevin Kline. Maybe if I give this another watch now that I’m older my feelings will change.
9) The Rescuers Down Under
Despite being only ninth on my list, I watched The Rescuers Down Under regularly as a kid. Bernard and Bianca are such a fun pair to watch travel through an unfamiliar place. Especially when Jake gets between them. John Candy as the albatross Wilbur is probably my favorite character from the entire film, though. Candy is such a funny comedic actor and brings those chops to his voice work as Wilbur. The Rescuers Down Under is kind of the odd-man-out compared to the rest of the Disney Renaissance films since it’s not a musical. However, it is an exciting adventure that can still stand with the rest of the films of the era.
The first two films were easy to place but now I’m beginning to move into the part where it becomes more difficult. I think one of the things I enjoy the most about Tarzan is that it was the original songs were done by Phil Collins. Tarzan isn’t a musical per se but it still feels like it a little bit. The characters aren’t the ones singing but it still has many songs. It sounds so different than the other films since Collins is the one singing. Taking place in the jungle, the animation looks great with all the beautiful greens. CGI and hand-drawn animation were in complete sync, a great feat considering the technique of mixing the two had only began little more than ten years earlier.
Pocahontas is probably the most colorful of the Disney Renaissance films. I mean, just look at “Colors of the Wind!” But I think where Pocahontas falls short of the other films is the story. It doesn’t quite have the engaging story that many of the other movies on this list. The music also was good but it wasn’t as memorable. In its defense, it did follow The Lion King, which is a tough act to follow. That said, it still is a lot of fun. Flit and Meeko are a great comedy pair. I really liked Mel Gibson as the voice of John Smith and David Ogden Stiers as Governor Radcliff. I’ll watch Pocahontas if I come across it on TV but it still is one of my least watched movies from the era.
6) Beauty and the Beast
I know what you are thinking, “Beauty and the Beast is only number six?!” I know, I know. Although it is a great (fantastic) film, even being the first animated film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, I just never watched this a lot when I was little. I think that being a boy, I didn’t get into the princess stories as much. My favorite part is the music. “Be Our Guest” is one of my favorite Disney songs of all time. I think “Gaston” is one of the more underrated villain songs next to “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” I love Beauty and the Beast, I just don’t love it as much as the films in the top half of my list.
5) The Little Mermaid
Ah, the one that started it all. The Little Mermaid was more my cousin’s and my sister’s movie than it was mine but I still always had fun watching it. “Under the Sea” rivals “Be Our Guest” as one of my favorite Disney songs. Ursula is one of my favorite Disney villains, if only for her awesome song, “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” I think between King Triton, Flounder, Ariel, or Eric, everyone can find a little bit of themselves in the characters.
I didn’t watch Hercules more than a few times when I was younger but when it got it on DVD, I couldn’t watch it enough. The animation is very unique and makes it look like you are watching a Greek painting come to life. Disney really knows how to do its villains during this time because Hades was an absolute blast. He was a quick and smooth talker. James Woods added a lot to the part. Meg isn’t your usual maiden. She may be a damsel and she may have been in distress on more than one occasion but she is plenty capable of handling herself.
Years and years ago, I was with my mom looking for birthday gifts for my little sister (not the one who loved The Little Mermaid). I came across the DVD of Mulan and told my mom that’s what I wanted to give my sister as her birthday present. She looked at me and said “Are you sure it’s for her and not for you?” Despite my mom being right, I played it off. “No, no. It’s for her. She loves this movie.” I didn’t know if that was true or not but I really wanted Mulan in our collection and being a kid, I figured this was going to be my best chance of getting it. My mom reluctantly bought it and I gave it to my sister a few days later. What happened next could not have played into my little lie any better. My sister loved it! She watched it everyday for probably two months straight. Mulan was to her as Toy Story was to me when I was around her age. I think I thought I managed to trick my mom but I’m pretty sure she knew all along the real reason why I wanted to get it for my sister so bad. I love everything about Mulan. Every song is catchy and awesome. The characters are fun, especially Mushu and Crickey. The story is great and is particularly empowering for girls. This film came towards the end of the Disney Renaissance so it had a lot to live up to and it managed to live up to those expectations and then some.
2) The Lion King
I know that Beauty and the Beast is considered the crown jewel of the Disney Renaissance but I think that honor should actually belong to The Lion King. The Lion King probably has the best story of these ten films, the songs are just as good, if not a little better, and Lumiere and Cogsworth have nothing on Timon and Pumbaa. Not to mention Scar, who might be the best Disney villain. His plan actually works! Let’s think about that for a moment. Out of all the Disney villains who came before, he became king, exactly like he wanted. Sure, you might say he was defeated by Simba but I would come back and tell you that was after what was probably a few years (the time wasn’t really mentioned). He held onto the crown for a decent amount of time. Not many (if any) other Disney villains can make that claim.
If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, it should be no surprise that Aladdin is my number one Disney Renaissance film. It shares the number one spot as the film of my childhood. Aladdin was my go to movie for years (still is sometimes). I couldn’t get enough of it! Although it is titled Aladdin, Genie steals the show. Robin Williams proved that he could do anything. Iago probably is another favorite character of mine. Can I mention Jafar for a second and how menacing he is? That cackle of his gave me goosebumps. More than Belle, more than Simba, more than Ariel, I enjoyed being by Aladdin’s side as he was called a street rat, was tricked into going to the Cave of Wonders, found the lamp and escaped to become a prince, went on a magic carpet ride with the princess, was discovered as a fake prince, and when he finally defeated the evil sorcerer. It was an adventure I was thrilled to be a part of.
And there you have it! Huge thank you to Jenna and Allie of Flick Chicks for taking the time to write this post with me. It was a ton of fun and gave me another excuse to revisit one of my favorite times in cinematic history. It’s exciting to see how much Disney films have influenced our lives, even being among each of our first theater experiences. The writers at Disney truly are master storytellers and know how to affect people across generations, across oceans, and across time.
How about you? What are your favorite films of the Disney Renaissance?
PS, Jenna, I need to see a picture of you dressed as Doc!