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.

Tarzan Review

Tarzan

When Tarzan was released in 1999 it marked the final chapter in the Disney Renaissance era. The critical and commercial success Disney attained with The Little Mermaid in 1989 that continued throughout the 90s would soon give way to the booming scene of Pixar, Dreamworks and CG animation. For the next decade Disney would enter another slump, only regaining their dominance in animation in recent years. So while Tarzan marked the end of an era, it can at least boast that it ended that era on a high note.

 

Tarzan’s story takes place in a rainforest on the coast of Africa, where a couple and their infant son have taken refuge after escaping a burning ship. The couple is eventually killed by a leopard called Sabor, but the infant is saved by a gorilla named Kala (Glenn Close), who raises the human infant as her own. Kala lost her own child to Sabor, and immediately becomes attached to the human child, who she names Tarzan.

Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn) grows up among the apes, accepting them as his own kind and adopting their behavior, even though the troop leader Kerchak refuses to accept him as one of their own. But Tarzan’s world is turned upside down when a trio of humans, including the beautiful Jane Porter (Minnie Driver) and plotting Clayton (Brian Blessed), make their way into the jungle.

The film tells a good, well-paced story that benefits greatly from its hero and his interactions with the two worlds that come into his life.

TarzanTarzan himself is one of Disney’s better male heroes, with his curiosity and interest about the world around him making him just as curious and interesting to viewers. His relationship with Jane feels more earnest than a lot of Disney romances, since it’s built more on their fascination with each other, instead of the usual ‘pretty girl meets pretty boy’ setup of Disney fare. But it’s the love Tarzan shares with his adoptive mother Kala that provides the film’s most moving moments.

Clayton is an underappreciated villain. He doesn’t always have the strongest presence, but the moments where he manipulates Tarzan’s naivety make him an effectively despicable member of the Disney villain canon. And the booming vocals of Brian Blessed help enrich his villainous personality.Tarzan

On the downside, Tarzan’s two sidekicks, a gorilla named Turk (Rosie O’Donnel) and an elephant named Tantor (Wayne Knight) feel a bit tacked on. The filmmakers seemingly added them since, well, that’s what Disney films do. But the movie could have done just fine without them.

Tarzan has a good soundtrack, even if it’s the only film from the Disney renaissance (besides The Rescuers Down Under) that doesn’t even attempt to be a musical. None of the songs are sung by the characters (with the exception of a single verse in its centerpiece number), instead being performed in the background by singer Phil Collins.

“You’ll Be in My Heart” is the film’s defining musical piece, and is a sweet lullaby that expresses Kala’s love for her son Tarzan. “Two Worlds” and “Strangers Like Me” are more upbeat and not quite as good, but follow the trend of briskly moving the story forward without distracting from it. “Trashin’ the Camp” on the other hand, is a bit of a mess, as it attempts to be the ‘fun’ song of the movie, but lacks any real lyrics or a catchy melody in order to live up to the rest of the tracks.

TarzanHowever, it’s the animation that might be Tarzan’s biggest highlight. By this point in Disney’s successful run, the studio was able to deliver their finest visuals. Tarzan is exquisitely animated, with complex, fluid character movements and backgrounds so lavishly detailed they come close to Studio Ghibli’s work.

Tarzan also proved something of a breakthrough for animation, as computers were used to enhance the hand-drawn visuals in such a way to give a greater interaction between characters and environment. The scenes with Tarzan surfing across trees are absolutely stunning in motion. In terms of its complexity and execution, Tarzan may rank as Disney’s best-looking hand-drawn animation.

When all is said and done, Tarzan was a fitting close to the Disney Renaissance, with only a few bumps in its soundtrack and sidekicks. But its story provides strong entertainment and emotion, complimented by some of the most captivating visuals Disney has ever conceived.

 

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