The best films of the Disney Renaissance

The best films of the Disney Renaissance
Those who have lived it remember it well, and in some ways it is still a great source of inspiration. We are talking about the Disney Renaissance, the period between the end of the Eighties and the beginning of the 2000s in which the Mickey Mouse house was able to recover after the very difficult Eighties. Thanks to a different kind of creativity, which contaminated animation with a strong musical streak, Disney not only returned to the crest of the wave, but left an immortal imprint in contemporary animated cinema.

On these pages we have talked about it extensively, dedicating extensive specials and insights that have investigated the history of Disney in the Nineties on and off the screen. But today we want to offer you something slightly different: a selection of the most interesting films of that period. A review without the presumption of being exhaustive, but with the ambition to guide you in those films that are perhaps less "famous", but still worthy of attention; you can find them all on Disney +.

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The best Disney Renaissance movies

The Little Mermaid The Lion King The Hunchback of Notre Dame Mulan The Emperor's New Groove The Treasure Planet

The Little Mermaid - the initiator of the Renaissance Disney

We could only start from the film credited as the initiator of the entire Disney Renaissance. With their first director, John Musker and Ron Clements begin their journey among the most close-knit pairs of directors in Disney's recent history (they would have directed Aladdin and Hercules, and among their latest works there is also Oceania). Taking up an idea from fifty years earlier, in which adapting Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid was slated as the second classic after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Little Mermaid was a very ambitious project. It was so not only for the people and the economic effort (it cost 40 million dollars at the time) but also because it was precisely the plastic materialization of that change of mentality in the study and in the way of working.

The idea musical numbers and sung songs that acted as narrative “stages” would have been the fortune of the story of The Little Mermaid. Even today, we are thrilled to see the superfine details of the animation and above all the enormous productive effort in making an underwater environment credible, from the millions of bubbles to the rendering of moving elements such as the hair of the beautiful Ariel. This film was also the debut of the profitable collaboration between Disney and composer Alan Menken, who would sign one of the most remembered soundtracks of the 1990s and beyond. A classic to rediscover, to understand how genuine the spirit of change was in Walt's studio at the time.

The Lion King - the epic

Just go alone a few years later and here we find those that many consider as "the best of all": The Lion King certainly needs no introduction, but we include it in this review because it is another great ambition. The film directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, as well as pushed by then producer Jeffrey Katzemberg, is a path of growth towards the age of majority, as well as an original story inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet and the biblical story of Moses.

Through the traditional animation of realistic lions, a simple but grandiloquent epic is accomplished, made up of boundless landscapes and suffused choirs, veiled in tribal. With even the first hints of computer graphics, present in the famous sequence of wildebeests. A considerable production effort, but paradoxically not born under a lucky star: expectations were in fact placed more on Pocahontas. But where the commercial success of both was unquestionable, it was The Lion King who surprised everyone, rated much more positively by critics too.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - the silent giant of the Disney Renaissance

If you like, the first two films of this review were the "discounted", that is the two that everyone has seen and that everyone remembers. After 1994, however, things change, and the production of the Renaissance turns towards different and "atypical" shores: the symbol and beginning of this is precisely The Hunchback of Notre Dame of 1996. Adaptation of the novel Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo and directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise (former directors of Beauty and the Beast in 1991), it was and remains one of the darkest, gothic and grown-up classics ever made by Mickey's studio.

The Struggle of the Deformed Ma Quasimodo good to be accepted in the Paris of the fifteenth century is in fact a work that, more than to the child, speaks to the adult who accompanies it. The magnificence of Notre Dame Cathedral is accompanied by gloom and the unspoken, from the composed evil of Frollo to the infernal contrast between naive and lustful love. Up to touching delicate issues such as ethnic discrimination, the meaning of prayer and injustice disguised as authority. To complete it all again the great soundtrack by Alan Menken, which this time is overcome by inserting Gregorian chants. A classic to be looked at and rediscovered, given its ability to grow and bring out ever new meanings according to the age of the viewer.

Mulan - the great ambition

A couple of years after Quasimodo here is that Disney dared again, distributing the atypical Mulan in theaters. A film that is still one of the greatest (if not the greatest) unicum in the history of the Mickey Mouse house. In fact, Mulan is not only the first real attempt to break through in China, but it is still the only Disney animated film that has war among its main elements.

Despite having had at the time significantly less successful than the films of previous years, also thanks to the fact that the film did not have the approval of Chinese censorship, it has been widely re-evaluated in recent years. The adaptation of the Chinese legend of Hua (Fa) Mulan remains a simple but profound story, which delicately tells an ancient China rendered in an iconic and mythological way. A calm fervor that finds breath in the musical numbers and comic shoulders, which hide unsuspected cultural references (Mushu is a helper because in Asian folklore the dragon is a benevolent being and a symbol of prosperity). A work different from what you are used to from the more "traditional" Disney animation, but for this very reason even more precious.

The Emperor's New Groove - l'unicum

We are approaching the end of the review, and conversely also the final years of the Disney Renaissance. One of the latest ideas of such a "progressive" period was The Emperor's Follies, which we talked about in a recent dedicated special. Born as a classic "traditional" pre-Columbian setting entitled Kingdom of the Sun, it was first discarded and then resurrected as something different.

Le Follie dell'Imperatore is indeed a buddy movie where the pre-Columbian setting acts only set design, but it is also an incredible repository of comic gimmicks. A laugh that moves on multiple tracks, from slapstick comedy to double entenders, to the breaking through of the fourth wall and self-satire towards Disney and its "big serious hits" of previous years. Aided also by an Italian dubbing that further amplified the cabaret vein, Le Follie dell'Imperatore is still considered one of the funniest animated films in contemporary history.

Il Pianeta del Tesoro - il underrated

And finally, let's close in every sense: The Treasure Planet is in fact the film that unofficially closed the Disney Renaissance. The “official” conclusion is in fact to be dated back to 1999, the year of Tarzan's release. Released in 2002, Il Pianeta del Tesoro represented at the time the completion of the rift started by Hercules in 1997. This work, long desired by Musker and Clements, proved to be one of the greatest flops of all time, capable of collecting only 109 , $ 6 million against a budget of 140.

Over time, fans and critics alike have tried to imagine the reasons for this failure, including out-of-control costs to a marketing campaign built on a bombast that doesn't really exist. Robert Louis Stevenson's space adaptation of Treasure Island follows the same theme as the original novel, namely the adventure in search of treasure as a "journey of initiation into life" for young Jim Hawkins. In the face of this issue, however, there is also the enormous work done on the psychology of the characters. An ambition that relaunches the pirate Long John Silver along an unexpected and pleasant redemption, in the animated realization of "whoever finds a father finds a treasure". An underrated film and probably released even in the wrong era, but one that certainly deserved much more attention: luckily, Disney + saved it from oblivion.

Human animation

This review of the best films of the Disney Renaissance was neither exhaustive nor too objective. This is because, despite each having its strengths and weaknesses, all the films of that era deserve an honorable mention. What we wanted to do on this occasion was to guide you to the rediscovery of those lesser-known classics, which were able to start from the canons set at the end of the Eighties to tell something different through the medium of animation.

Dalle space opera to the stone spiers of a cathedral, from a distant world threatened by war up to the Aztecs and Incas, the Disney Renaissance has been able to win for its ability to speak to a transversal audience: not only to children, but also to adults that accompanied him. But he was able to survive in the hearts of all those who lived through it because he was able to put the human being at the center of his work: that is, exactly what the other Renaissance, the historical one, did. And our wish, especially in these holidays, is to rediscover it thanks to Disney +.

Do you want to make yourself a huge gift? Here you will find the giant box with all the Disney classics in Blu-Ray!

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