Everyone uses different ways to cope during a crisis. For me the last few months was diving deep into childhood nostalgia. With the advent of Disney+, for the first time ever, the entire Disney catalogue is available for streaming. I have a deep love for Disney animation, growing up in the Renaissance era. I decided to keep my mind preoccupied, I’d give myself the project of watching every Disney 2d animated theatrical release and rate them.
As you can see from my rankings, I’m a big fan of the Golden and Renaissance era of Disney movies. I’m also a fan of the more musical oriented movies. While I’m not a big fan of live musicals, animated musicals seem to work much better. It’s much easier to suspend disbelief when animated characters are singing, and the musical numbers tend to be more entertaining.
Before I dive too deep, I’ll quickly go over the different eras of Disney films. The animated movies are often broken into the Golden, Silver, Bronze (or Dark Age), Renaissance, and Revival Eras. There is also the Wartime Era which I mostly skipped and the second Dark Age era when Disney was struggling in the 2000s.
The Golden and Renaissance Era is my favorite collection of films. The Golden Era started with Disney’s first full length film, Snow White. That movie still holds up incredibly well and has amazing animation. Golden Era also includes classics like Pinocchio (my favorite), Dumbo, Bambi, and Fantasia. I have deep nostalgia for all these films having seen them as a child. There is a real artistry to these films, especially Bambi and Fantasia. Fantasia I would definitely recommend watching under the influence to really get the full effect.
The Silver Era is also solid and includes some other of my favorite films like Jungle Book, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland. I also love Sleeping Beauty for its incredibly stylized animation and the best Disney villain of all time, Maleficent. The battle with Prince Philip and the Dragon at the end is still one of the most iconic moments in Disney history. The era ends with Jungle Book, the last film Walt Disney was directly involved with before his death.
The Bronze Era (or Dark Age) is a collection of films that span decades where people say Disney lost their way. The animation studio’s budget was cut, and they used the cheaper xerox animation style, which gives the art a sketchy look. There are still some great films in here, including The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Robin Hood. Many of the films during this era were absent of music and had a darker tone to them. None darker than the Black Cauldron, a masterpiece of animation that was butchered by Jeffrey Katzenberg’s meddling. Later films in this era were a huge jump in animation like The Great Mouse Detective and Olive and Company brought the musical numbers back although not a fan of Billy Joel as the protagonist.
The Renaissance Era, which I would consider the peak of Disney animation, was ushered in with The Little Mermaid and includes many of my favorite films like Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King. Someday I might go into more detail why these films resonate so well with audiences. I also enjoyed films like Hercules which didn’t have the gravity of the earlier films but was super fun and The Hunchback of Notre Dame which had one of the most evil and human villains in Frolo (and one of the best villain songs to boot in Hellfire). This era closed with Tarzan although I would have lumped the comedic Emperor’s New Groove in there.
The next era saw Disney steering away from the musical films they were known for, with the pulp adventure film Atlantis and the sci-fi Treasure Planet. Both movies had amazing 2D animation which also incorporated 3D very well. Then we had middling movies like Brother Bear and Home on the Range which people say killed 2D animation. To be fair, the industry was moving towards 3D animation with studios like Pixar and Dreamworks paving the way. Disney would begin tackling 3D with Dinosaurs and Chicken Little. You also had the fantastic Lilo & Stitch during this era, and Princess and the Frog which felt like a lost Renaissance film.
Disney would eventually come back in the Revival Era with 3D animated films like Tangled, Zootopia, and of course Frozen. The last 2D animated movie they released theatrically was Winnie the Pooh. It’s been 10 years since then.
Revisiting all these classics was fun and gave me a lot of insight into what made these films such classics in the first place. It was also pretty easy to pick up patterns between the movies and even reused animation references (Lil John in Robin Hood is just Baloo from the Jungle Book).
I’m planning on continuing my 2D animation odyssey with films from Don Bluth (Secret of NIMH, American Tail, Land Before Time) and other random classics like Ferngully. These films inspired me as a child, and most of them still hold up. As an adult, I also see many of them with a different perspective. Many of these classic fairy tales dive deep into human psychology if you just look below the surface.
What is your favorite era of Disney films? Better yet, put together a tier list of your favorite Disney movies and share them in the comments!