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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The Hunchback of Notre Dame Review

Hunchback of Notre Dame

Released in 1996, The Hunchback of Notre Dame marked a notable deviation from the rest of the Disney Renaissance films. Heavier, more dramatic, and considerably darker than its peers, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was one of the best Disney films of its era, and certainly the most underrated.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame tells the story of Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), who was born physically deformed. As a baby, his mother was murdered by Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) on the steps of the Notre Dame cathedral. The cold-hearted Frollow, repulsed by the baby’s appearance, was ready to drown the child, until the church’s archdeacon warned Frollo of the eternal punishment for his actions. Frollo, in a rare moment of fear, decides to raise the child within the cathedral, in order to save his soul from damnation.Hunchback of Notre Dame

But Frollo is a cruel “master” to Quasimodo, reminding him regularly of his “ugliness” and that he is a “monster” that society can never accept. Quasimodo is nonetheless hopeful that one day, he can leave the walls and bells of Notre Dame and join the outside world, if even just for a day.

Quasimodo eventually decides to sneak out into the city of Paris in disguise, to celebrate the festivities of the Festival of Fools. But, after a fleeting moment of happiness, he is exposed, humiliated and beaten by a mob (under orders from Frollo), until he is saved by the beautiful gypsy Esmerelda, who befriends Quasimodo and ignites the ire, and lust, of Frollo.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame remains one of the more unique entries in the Disney canon, noteworthy for the story’s darker elements and themes. Like Beauty and the Beast before it, it’s also one of the few Disney films where the characters feel more fleshed out, instead of merely serving as a means to carry the plot from one point to the next.

Hunchback of Notre DameThe film’s core relationship – also unique for Disney – is that between its hero and villain, Quasimodo and Frollo. Quasimodo is a likable protagonist, kindhearted and sympathetic to the point that you kind of forget about his supposed ugliness. Meanwhile, Frollo is perhaps the darkest Disney villain, and certainly one of the more complex. He is a cruel, sadistic, bigoted man who believes his piety and religious standings absolve him of all wrongdoings.

There’s also the interesting dynamic between Esmerelda and how the other main characters interact with her: Quasimodo has an innocent affection for her, the heroic Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline) loves her as an equal, while Frollo’s lust for her drives him to utter madness.Hunchback of Notre Dame

The characters and their relationships are a bit more fleshed out than in most Disney movies, though some comedic sidekicks, while effective in ways, can feel a tad cliche. Quasimodo’s three gargoyle friends (who may or may not simply be a part of Quasi’s imagination) Victor (Charles Kimbrough), Hugo (Jason Alexander) and Laverne (Mary Wickes), provide some fun humor at times, but at others the comedy feels a little bit out of place. Thankfully, their humor never drags the film to the extents that Hakuna Matata did in The Lion King. But given the rest of the film’s tone they can come off as a bit inappropriate.

The soundtrack remains one of the most underrated in Disney’s library. The film’s opener “The Bells of Notre Dame” is extravagant, and starts things off on a powerful note. “Out There” serves to properly introduce audiences to Quasimodo, and his relationship with Frollo It’s not the catchiest character introduction, but it’s nonetheless effective. “God Help the Outcasts” is one of Disney’s more earnestly beautiful pieces. “A Guy Like You” is sung by the gargoyles, and like the characters who sing it, is the odd-duck of the bunch. It’s funny by its own merits, but misplaced not only in the film, but the otherwise dramatic segment it takes place in. Meanwhile, “Heaven’s Light” is a gentle melody that expresses Quasimodo’s love for Esmerelda.

Hunchback of Notre DameUnique among Disney films, it’s the villain’s musical piece that serves as the film’s iconic song. “Hellfire” is one of Disney’s single greatest sequences, as it delves into Frollo’s psyche and madness as his lust for Esmerelda puts his “righteousness” into question. It’s unquestionably the darkest Disney song ever, and also one of their best.

The animation is also Grade A Disney, with the character designs and visuals being fittingly more realistic and grim than in the other Renaissance era Disney movies. The film looks more dramatic than its predecessors, but it’s still just as vividly animated.

To date, The Hunchback of Notre Dame remains one of Disney’s most standout films for its ambitious story and its daring to go places that Disney would normally shy away from (a segment such as ‘Hellfire’ has not been attempted from the studio since). Some of the comedic aspects do clash a bit with the otherwise serious story, holding the film back ever slightly. But its uniqueness and thematics have ensured that The Hunchback of Notre Dame has only gotten better with age, making it one of the highlights, and the unsung hero, of the Disney Renaissance.

 

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