Ranking the Disney Renaissance Films

Now that I’ve reviewed all ten films from the Disney Renaissance, what more logical way to follow it up than by ranking them all in a top 10 list? If you’ve read my reviews for the ten films, you may already know where each one ranks based on their numerical score . If you haven’t read them, I’ve included links to said reviews within each entry, so you can get a more in-depth idea of my opinion of them.

Now, let’s roll back the clock to the 1990s. Here are the 10 Disney Renaissance films, ranked from least to greatest.

 

10: The Rescuers Down Under

Rescuers Down Under

While The Rescuers Down Under holds the distinction of being Disney’s first ‘true’ sequel, it also holds the dubious honor of being the weakest movie of the Disney Renaissance. The animation is great, but the story has a notable lack of direction, with the returning characters from The Rescuers feeling shoehorned into an unrelated story. Although there is some fun to be had, The Rescuers Down Under ultimately falls flat as both a sequel and as its own movie, as neither of its two halves can find unity. Read the full review.

9: Pocahontas

Pocahontas

Pocahontas boasts beautiful animation and a great soundtrack, and even some fun characters (that Wiggins!). But Pocahontas and John Smith can be a little on the bland side, the villain never lives up to his potential, and some story elements just feel a little clunky. Pocahontas is a better movie than it’s often made out to be, but it still has some notable flaws that prevent it from living up to the majority of Disney films from its time. Read the full review.

8: Aladdin

Aladdin

Most Disney fans would be ready to form a lynch mob and lay siege to my castle for only ranking Aladdin at number 8.

Aladdin is a fun movie, no doubt. But the majority of its characters and its story are a bit on the generic side. Thankfully, Robin Williams’ iconic Genie is one of the best of all Disney characters, and he, along with the great soundtrack, help liven things up. I might not put Aladdin on the same pedestal as most, but it would be impossible to not be delighted every time that Genie is on screen. Read the full review.

7: The Lion King

The Lion King

If putting Aladdin relatively low on this list would make me a target for mobs of Disney fans, than Lion King’s placement would turn things into a full-on townspeople versus Frankenstein monster ordeal.

The Lion King is one of Disney’s most beloved films, and one of the most popular animated movies of all time. But while The Lion King succeeds in a number of areas – including a great story and some memorable characters – it falls short in others. Some of the comedic characters clash with the movie’s otherwise serious tone, and the songs are a bit inconsistent, and don’t live up to some of the other soundtracks of the Disney Renaissance. A really good movie, but it’s not quite the king. Read the full review.

6: Hercules

Hercules

Hercules is one of the more underappreciated films from the Disney Renaissance era. It produces laugh-a-minute gags and combines them with colorful animation and a pretty good soundtrack. Best of all is its villain. Hades is one of Disney’s best bad guys, as he steals every scene he’s in and runs away with it. It is admittedly a bit formulaic, but Hercules was one of the most fun Disney movies of its time. Read the full review.

5: Tarzan

Tarzan

Another underrated gem, Tarzan ended the Disney Renaissance on a high note. Tarzan boasts exquisite animation that blended hand-drawn and digital visuals in groundbreaking ways. It also features strong characters and emotional moments. If it weren’t for the lackluster comic relief and inconsistencies in its songs, it might rank even higher. Read the full review.

4: The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid is the film that launched Disney’s successful run known as the Disney Renaissance. That already gives it some brownie points. But the best part is that it remains one of Disney’s most entertaining movies even today. The animation is lovely, and the soundtrack is one of Disney’s best. Aside from Prince Eric being an incredibly bland character that undermines the whole love story at the center of the film, The Little Mermaid tells a charming tale and features Disney’s first truly memorable heroine with Ariel, and one of their best villains with Ursula. Read the full review.

3: Mulan

Mulan

Mulan has never been as renowned as the likes of The Lion King or The Little Mermaid, but it was one of the brightest stars of the Disney Renaissance. Mulan features strong storytelling, some good song work, great action sequences, and a unique and vibrant visual style. Best of all is Mulan herself, one of Disney’s best characters, and their strongest female lead until Frozen introduced us to Anna and Elsa. The only downside is the so-so villain. But Mulan remains one of Disney’s better films, carried by one of its strongest characters. Read the full review.

2: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Hunchback of Notre Dame

Yet another Disney movie that doesn’t get the credit it deserves, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was divisive in its day for its mature themes and dark subject matter. But those aspects are the very things that make The Hunchback of Notre Dame such an unique entry in the Disney canon. It boasts great animation and some of Disney’s most powerful songs. It also claims more fleshed out characters than most Disney fair, including one of the studio’s most sympathetic heroes in Quasimodo, and undoubtedly its darkest villain in Claude Frollo. Read the full review

1: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast.

Few Disney films are as iconic as Beauty and the Beast, and it’s with good reason. Few Disney films are as good as Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty and the Beast remains a magical film, with a romantic, heartwarming story, beautiful animation, an absolutely stunning soundtrack, and one of Disney’s most memorable casts of characters. From Belle and the Beast to Lumiere and Cogsworth to Gaston and LeFou, Beauty and the Beast features a strong cast of characters so charming that they are synonymous with the Disney brand itself. It’s everything Disney does, done right. Read the full review.

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Hercules Review

Hercules

Released in 1997, Hercules was another successful notch in Disney’s belt during their Renaissance era. Although not as iconic as Aladdin – with which it shares its directors and a similar tone – Hercules is every bit as fun as its predecessor. Though it lacks the sophistication that made The Hunchback of Notre Dame a standout Disney feature, Hercules remains an entertaining and humorous entry in the Disney canon.

With Hercules, Disney took the most basic elements and figures of Greek mythology, and used them as a backdrop for one of their most energetic comedies. Hades (James Woods), god of the Underworld, plans to overthrow Zeus and take over Mount Olympus by freeing the long-dormant Titans, whom Zeus trapped long ago. But there’s a wrinkle in Hades’ plan, as the Fates foresee his downfall should Zeus’ newborn son Hercules (Tate Donovan) grow up to become a great warrior.

Hades, hoping to ensure his future victory, sends his minions to kidnap the newborn Hercules, turn him mortal with a dark potion, and get rid of him before he can become a threat. Hades’ lackeys succeed in kidnapping the baby and turning him mortal, but are interrupted by some farmers. The interruption prevents Hercules from drinking a last, vital drop, and he retains his Godlike strength.

The farmers raise Hercules as their own child, and although Hercules has a good life with them, his substantial strength makes it difficult to adjust to life among mortals, who don’t take kindly to his differences. After Hercules accidentally destroys a small town, Hercules’ parents tell him how they found him, and he then seeks guidance from Zeus to find out where he truly belongs. Herc then learns that he must become a ‘true hero’ in order to return to Mount Olympus.

It’s a fun plot that combines Greek mythology with the Superman origin story, all wrapped up with Disney style and flair. But it’s the characters who are the real highlight.

HerculesHercules is a likable main character. He’s simple and good natured, with some added naivety and clumsiness to make him more humorous than most of Disney’s leading men. His mentor in heroism, Philoctetes (Danny DeVito) – otherwise known as Phil – is a grumpy satyr who serves as the Mickey to Herc’s Rocky. Hercules finds a love interest in the vivacious Megara (Susan Egan), who is more troubled than your average Disney heroine.

HerculesBut, like so many Disney movies before it, it’s the villain who steals the show. Hades ranks alongside Aladdin’s Genie as one of the great comedic Disney characters. Hades has the slick personality of a Hollywood agent with the fast talking of a used car salesman. James Woods – much like Robin Williams’ Genie – ad-libbed a good deal of his lines, which adds to Hades’ humor and villainous charisma.

There’s also a small assortment of sidekicks, with Hercules’ flying horse Pegasus and Hades’ minions Pain and Panic. Younger viewers might get a kick out of them, but they aren’t as memorable as the main characters in the film.

Hercules also boasts a fun soundtrack. “Gospel Truth” is sung in multiple verses by the narrating Muses, and serves to segue into different chapters of the story, with clever rhyme schemes strung throughout. A similar setup is used for the song “Zero to Hero.” Hercules gets his signature number with “Go the Distance,” which is uplifting and catchy, if maybe not one of the better character songs in Disney’s repertoire. “One Last Hope” works as a training montage for Phil and Herc, and provides some laughs. The best of the lot is “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” which is a unique spin on the Disney love song, in which Megara denies her romantic feelings.

It’s a solid assortment of songs, though they ultimately fall short of Disney’s better soundtracks. Some of the songs end up being a little repetitious (Zero to Hero may as well be another verse in Gospel Truth), and the lack of a villain song is a bit of a downer, given Hade’s exuberant personality.

The animation once again displays Disney at the top of their game. The character designs are fun, working as a sort of caricature of Greek artwork. Fun little details like the swirls at the ends of Megara’s hair or Hades’ flaming mane add to the film’s overall personality. It’s also among the most colorful films Disney has made, with characters and locations so full of colors that ever moment of the film is a joy to look at.

HerculesIn the end, Hercules is a very enjoyable movie, though it plays things safe. By this point in the Disney Renaissance, the structure of Disney films was teetering on formulaic. Whereas The Hunchback of Notre Dame took that structure in a new direction, Herculese – charming as it is – brought it all back. It’s soundtrack also sits somewhere lower on the Disney Renaissance shelf.

But Hercules is an entertaining and funny enough movie that you can largely forgive any shortcomings. It’s sense of humor and appealing characters help elevate it over some of the more popular Disney films of its era. It may not be the best film of the Disney Renaissance, but it does have what it takes to go the distance.

 

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