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.

Mulan Review

Mulan

When Mulan was released in 1998, the Disney Renaissance was nearing its close. Pixar was on the rise to prominence, and Dreamworks had started to make a name for themselves in the animation scene. But the 90s Disney films still had some steam left, as is evidenced by Mulan. It was one of the best Disney films of its time, and it has aged gracefully.

 

Mulan tells a story that’s simple in structure, but epic in scope: An army of Huns – lead by the villainous Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer) – have invaded China. In order to gain enough soldiers to fend off the invaders, the Emperor commands that one man from every family join the Chinese army.

In a quieter part of China, a young woman named Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) is trying to find her place in the world. After Mulan botches a meeting with a matchmaker, she is deemed unsuitable for marriage. But Mulan is simply too spirited for the confines that society has put on her, and is destined for greater things.

Mulan’s father is eventually called to join the ranks of China’s army, but he is aged and injured. Mulan, fearing for her father, disguises herself as a man to enlist in his stead. This being a Disney movie, she is joined on her journey a comedic dragon named Mushu (Eddie Murphy).

MulanThe movie works so well primarily because Mulan herself is so appealing. Most of the Disney heroines before her were either helpless damsels waiting for a noble hero to whisk them away, or relatively stronger characters whose romantic interests were nonetheless the focus of their quests. Mulan is instead a strong, independent character who still manages to have some funny moments. Yes, her commanding officer Shang (B.D. Wong) still catches her eye, but it’s not the center of the story. Mulan is all about its titular heroine, and its her strength and spunk that carries the story.

While the presence of Eddie Murphy can make Mushu feel like a simple star-vehicle, Mushu ultimately works, and becomes a humorous foil for Mulan. Mushu may not reach the comedic heights of Aladdin’s Genie, but his energy served as a fun precursor to Eddie Murphy’s role as Donkey in the Shrek series.Mulan

The downside is that Mulan’s villain, Shan Yu, is a rather forgettable foe. He looks intimidating enough, and certain scenes allude to just how evil his actions can be. But you could potentially swap him out for any of the other Hun characters around him and you may not know the difference. The Hun army as a whole has more of a villainous presence than Shan Yu himself.

Mulan features a short list of songs which, although consistently good, are too few and far between. “Reflection” is Mulan’s centerpiece number, and is one of the more underrated ‘princess songs’ in Disney lore. “Honor to Us All” is a fun opener, even if it can’t touch the likes of “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast. “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” is a lively piece with some touches of humor. “A Girl Worth Fighting For” is comedic and catchy, though it followed the “Hakuna Matata” tradition of the comedic song happening at the wrong time.Mulan

The songs in Mulan are all solid, but they are a smaller presence in the film. With the exception of Reflection, you can imagine Mulan working just as well without them.

The visuals of Mulan were a departure from its predecessors in the Disney Renaissance, but are just as lovely. Mulan utilizes simpler designs in its characters and backgrounds. It has a notable watercolor look about it, to mimic Chinese artwork with a dash of Japanese anime.

Mulan ranks highly among the Disney films of the 90s for its well-structured story and compelling heroine. The soundtrack might not match up to some of its peers, and its villain can’t hold a candle to Disney’s better bad guys. But Mulan gets bonus points for its terrific action scenes and unique art style. It borrows some familiar elements from past Disney films, but tweaks them in meaningful ways.

Mulan may not be the most iconic film from the Disney Renaissance, but it is, quietly, one of the era’s best.

8