Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.
The Disney Renaissance is the era between 1989 and 1999 in which brought the film industry major blockbusters at the box office. This era includes the following films: The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas, (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998), and Tarzan (1999).
The Little Mermaid (1989)
The Disney Renaissance began with the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989. The film is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. It follows a young mermaid princess named Ariel who makes a bargain with a sea witch in an attempt to become human and win the heart of a human prince.
The Little Mermaid was released to immediate critical acclaim, earning praise for its music, animation, and characters. The film was a commercial success earning $84 million during its initial release and garnered $233 million all these years later.
It won two Academy Awards, Best Original Score and Best Original Song for Under the Sea.
The music in this film is anything but forgettable. The music and lyrics were written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. These two were quite the team creating original songs for Walt Disney Studios and made them so we would sing them for years to come.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991. The film is directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. It follows a young prince who is cursed and forced to spend the rest of days a hideous monster but can break the curse if he finds true love.
The film received widespread critical acclaim for its romantic narrative, animation, and characters, and music. It grossed $331 million on a $25 million budget.
Beauty and the Beast became to the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It went on to win Best Original Score and Best Original Song for Beauty and the Beast.
Walt Disney attempted to adapt Beauty and the Beast in the 1930s and 1950s but he was unsuccessful. Due to the success of The Little Mermaid, Walt Disney Studios decided to take on the project and make it into an animated feature.
In 2017, a live-action adaptation directed by Bill Condon was released in theaters starring Emma Watson as Belle.
Aladdin was released in 1992. The film is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. It follows Aladdin who finds a magical lamp with a genie inside. The street urchin disguises himself as wealthy prince to win the heart of Princess Jasmine.
Howard Ashman first pitched the idea for Aladdin and the screenplay went through an intensive process before getting the approval of Jeffrey Katzenberg, the then-president of Walt Disney Studios.
It was a commercial success. The film was the highest grossing film of 1992. It made $504 million worldwide. Aladdin was met with critical acclaim.
The film won two Academy Awards and became the first Disney feature to win a Grammy Award for Song of the Year for A Whole New World, sung by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle.
In 2019, a live-action adaptation directed by Guy Ritchie was released in theaters starring Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine.
The Lion King (1994)
The Lion King was released in 1994. The film is directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff. It follows a young lion cub named Simba as he grows up and is tasked with saving the throne as he is the rightful heir due to the bitterness of his Uncle Scar.
Development on the film in 1988 while promoting the 1988 film, Oliver & Company.
It is the highest grossing traditional animated feature of all time. It made $763 million at the box office and sold over 30 million VHS tapes (remember those? If you don’t, you may be too young).
The film was met with immediate critical acclaim with praise for its music, narrative, themes, and animation. It won two Academy Awards.
In 2019, a live-action adaptation directed by Jon Favreau was released in theaters starring Donald Glover as Simba and Beyoncé as Nala.
Pocahontas was released in 1995. The film is directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg. It follows an English soldier, John Smith and the daughter of Algonquin chief, Pocahontas, who start a romance with each other as English colonists invade 17th century Virginia.
Unlike the other films discussed above, Pocahontas received mixed reviews from critics. Most praised the animation, voice performances and music but many of them criticized the story. It received polarized responses for its historical inaccuracies and racial overtones.
On a happier note, the film made $346 million in the box office and received two Academy Awards, one for Best Musical or Comedy score and the other for Best Original Song for Colors of the Wind.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released in 1996. The film is directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. It follows a bell-ringer who attempts to assert his independence from a malevolent government minister to help his friend, Esmeralda.
The film is considered to be one of Disney’s darkest animated feature films as it explores themes like lust, damnation, genocide, sin, among others.
It was met with generally positive reviews from critics and grossed $325 million worldwide. The Hunchback of Notre Dame received Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for its musical score.
Hercules was released in 1997. The film is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. It follows the son of Zeus and Hera, Hercules, who is stripped of his immortality and must prove himself worthy to reclaim it.
Critics praised James Woods’ performance as Hades while the animation and music received mixed responses. In comparison to its predecessors, Hercules underperformed at the box office making $252.7 million.
Mulan was released in 1998. The film is directed by Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft. It follows Mulan as she takes her father’s place impersonating a man during a Hun invasion
The film was met with mostly positive reviews praising its animation, plot, and characters. It grossed $304 million in the box office.
In 2020, a live-action adaptation directed by Niki Caro was released in theaters and received mixed reviews with fans of the original criticizing the remake.
Tarzan was released in 1999. The film is directed by Kevin Lima and Chris Buck. It follows Tarzan, a man who has lived with gorillas and must decide whether to live with his kind when he discovers that he is human.
The production team for the film visited Uganda and Kenya to study gorillas.
It received positive reviews from critics who praised the animation, voice performances, and music. It grossed $448.2 million worldwide against a $130 million budget.
Tarzan won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for You’ll Be In My Heart.
Time To Wrap It Up
The Disney Renaissance allowed the company to go back to its roots and make more fairytale-based animated feature films.
This era is my favorite so far. I love all of these films. My favorite Disney film is Beauty and the Beast which happens to be from this era. Watching films from this era brings me back to my childhood as most of the Disney films I watched as a kid came out in the late 1980s and 1990s.
It’s hard for me to believe that Beauty and the Beast turns 30 in November. Times flies.
The crisp and vibrant 2D animation is what I love so much about the films in this era as well as the music because it’s absolutely stellar in all these films. I sing songs from Disney Renaissance films on the daily. Most of them will be engrained in my brain for the rest of my life. I’m sure of it.