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.

Pocahontas Review

Pocahontas

When Pocahontas was released in 1995, it proved to be something of a turning point for the Disney Renaissance era. While Disney gave themselves a huge pat on the back for making their first film inspired by historical figures and events, it ended up being something of a black sheep to audiences and critics, who found it disappointing compared to its predecessors. Today, Disney seems to market the Pocahontas character more than the film itself, a possible sign that the film has even fallen out of favor with Disney themselves. Although many of the critiques are justified, Pocahontas is a better movie than it gets credit for.

Disney’s interpretation of Pocahontas sees the film’s namesake heroine (Irene Bedard), a young Powhatan “princess” who crosses paths with Englishman John Smith (Mel Gibson), as the English make their way into the new world.

PocahontasPocahontas and Smith form a friendship, and later romance, that leads Smith to reevaluate his beliefs of the native people. Meanwhile, tension between the Powhatans and the English is brewing, as the conniving Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) – who is leading the English expedition – plans to ravage the new world of its riches by any means necessary.

Much has been said about the historical inaccuracies of the film (though the presence of a magic, talking tree probably indicates Disney wasn’t aiming for accuracy), but when taken for its own merits, it’s actually a pretty solid story, if maybe not a groundbreaking one.

Pocahontas herself, while maybe not the most unique heroine in terms of personality, is at least a strong enough main character to carry the story. John Smith is similarly unremarkable in personality, falling into Disney’s usual ‘Mr. Perfect’ archetype. But at least he learns a lesson or two before fully surrendering to the trope.

PocahontasRatcliffe is a fun, though terribly underutilized villain. He has a little more purpose for his evil deeds than most Disney villains (he’s described as a “failed social climber,” with his current expedition being his last chance to prove his qualities), but he never gets much time to interact with the heroes. It almost feels like Ratcliffe is part of a sidestory of the film, instead of its primary antagonist.

True to the Disney form, a group of comedic sidekicks are involved, to add a little more humor and personality to the film. Pocahontas is often joined by a raccoon named Miko and a hummingbird named Flit who, along with Ratcliffe’s dog Percy, provide some fun, cartoonish antics. But it’s Ratcliffe’s naive and well-meaning manservant Wiggins (also voiced by Stiers) who is probably the film’s funniest aspect.Pocahontas

The soundtrack to Pocahontas is probably the one piece of the film that even its harshest critics can appreciate to some degree. I would argue that the film’s centerpiece number “Colors of the Wind” is better than any one song from The Lion King, as it sums up the film’s message in one beautiful musical piece. “Just Around the River Bend” isn’t quite as good, but nonetheless catchy. “Mine, Mine, Mine” serves as Ratcliffe’s obligatory villain song, and it’s actually a pretty fun one, until John Smith strangely gets a verse in it and it loses some of its villainous charm. “Savages” serves as the film’s climactic musical number, and is effectively frightening in its lyrics.

PocahontasThe animation is another highlight. The characters in Pocahontas were animated to look a little more realistic than the other Disney film’s of the 90s (with the exceptions of the sidekicks and Ratcliffe, who retain a more cartoonish look to magnify their roles in the story). The characters have detailed facial expressions and a richness in their movements that give Pocahontas a distinct animation style among Disney films. It’s all the more eye-popping during the musical numbers (Colors of the Wind adopts a painting visual style, while Savages utilizes aggressive color schemes).

Despite the visual and musical heights, Pocahontas still has a few bumps in its story. Some elements, such as Pocahontas magically learning to speak English by “listening to her heart,” are a bit too convenient. The overall message, while certainly well intentioned, can be a little too loud for its own good. And as previously stated, Pocahontas and John Smith aren’t particularly interesting, and Ratcliffe, while a fun villain, could have used more screen time.

Pocahontas may not quite live up to its revered siblings of the Disney Renaissance, but it still provides a good piece of Disney entertainment brought to life through lovely animation and songs.

 

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