Disney | Buena Vista Pictures | Shutterstock

Disney’s Renaissance Age Movies, Ranked

The Renaissance Age of Disney animated films is what childhood is made of.
Article Tags
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on pinterest
The Latest
Tonic Topics
Join the Convo on Facebook!

The ’90s saw some of the best movies from Disney. We’re talking about Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and more.

This period, from 1989 to 1999, is known as the Disney Renaissance Age. After a period of experimental animation techniques and unusual storylines, the studio returned to musical fairytale storytelling — and it paid off.

Related: 25 Fun Facts About Beauty and the Beast

The Little Mermaid kicked off the Renaissance Age, as Disney returned to the ornately drawn musical fairytales they were known for. It was a critical and commercial success and ushered in an incredible era packed full of memorable hits.

All ten animated films from Disney’s Renaissance Age are wonderful. Do you remember all of them? Which one is your favorite?

The ranking here is entirely subjective. I don’t have any fancy point systems, and I’m not basing it on box office performances, either. But it’s fun, so let’s do it!

10. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Did you forget about The Rescuers Down Under? That’s okay if you did, because plenty of other people have, too. This could be partially due to the timing. This film came out only one year after The Little Mermaid, and one year before Beauty and the Beast. In other words, these little mice were bookended by very big princess movies.

Unlike any of the other movies that came out during the Renaissance Age, this one was a sequel to a pre-Renaissance film: 1977’s The Rescuers. This time, Bernard and Bianca came back to save an Australian boy named Cody. It holds the distinction of being the first animated film sequel released by Disney. It’s also the first feature film to be entirely created digitally.

The Rescuers Down Under also struggled a little at the box office. It hit theaters on the same day as Home Alone. Although the movie’s unfortunate timing did a number on box office sales, making only $3.5 million during opening weekend, The Rescuers Down Under went on to make $47.4 million worldwide.

9. Pocahontas (1995)

I loved Pocahontas and her friends Meeko and Flit, but I wish they would have been given a better movie. There, I said it.

Pocahontas was loosely based on an actual historical figure by the same name. But let’s be honest, having the same name is about where the similarities end. Critics and several notable Powhatan Renape leaders disapproved of Disney’s “interpretation.” Aside from historical inaccuracies, there was also a noticeable lack of signature Disney humor or fun, and it felt bland and uninspired. It left us with a visually pretty but thematically dull movie.

Pocahontas did give Disney a hit song, though. “Colors of the Wind” was performed by Judy Kuhn in her role as the singing voice of Pocahontas, but Vanessa Williams recorded an adult contemporary cover that was released as the lead single from the soundtrack. It peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and no. 2 on the U.S. Hot Adult Contemporary chart.

Can we petition Disney for a Pocahontas remake, already?

8. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame stands out from other Disney movies – not just in the Renaissance Age films, but most other animated films from the studio. As one of Disney’s more mature features, it’s definitely darker than most. Changes were made to secure a G-rating, but it still touches on subjects like lust, genocide, sin, infanticide, and even anti-Romani sentiment. Hunchback was definitely an ambitious attempt to capture the attention of kids and adults at the same time.

Did you know that software was created specifically for this film’s production? Headed by Kiran Joshi, the CGI department created software called Crowd that produced large-scale crowd scenes. While most of the movie was animated the old-fashioned way, it was going to be a huge undertaking to get hundreds of people in a crowd. The computer-generated software made several character templates, which were used dozens of times with different hairstyles, outfits, and movements. Voila! Large 3D crowds in a fraction of the time.

See Related: Disney’s Silver Age Movies, Ranked

7. Mulan

Mulan is a wonderful movie, so it’s hard for me to see it kind of low on a list. However, it is up against some serious heavy-hitters here. Regardless of its position on the Renaissance Age-specific list, this 1998 film is definitely one of the greats in terms of Disney animation.

This movie managed to create memorable characters and catchy songs, set against an artful backdrop. It’s not exactly true to the legend of Mulan, but it is a vibrant, animated adventure featuring a lovable dragon sidekick voiced by Eddie Murphy. And while some criticized it for sticking to that ol’ Disney formula, it is a Disney film, after all.

It was pretty well-received by many, grossing $304 million worldwide and becoming the second-highest-grossing family movie that year. Mulan has managed to remain relevant and beloved, over 20 years later. It was even recently given a live-action remake.

6. Tarzan (1999)

1999’s Tarzan was the final film in the decade-long Renaissance Age. It’s a good one to go out on. Tarzan featured a great script, a well-thought-out story that is compelling to watch, and visuals that brought the jungle to life. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the film stars voices from Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Glenn Close, Rosie O’Donnell, and more.

Although the film uses 2D hand-drawn animation like other Disney animated classics, it notably made extensive use of computer-generated imagery. The combination gave the film a unique feel and pushed the envelope of animation.

Tarzan also handled music differently than many other animated movies during this era of Disney animation. Instead of having Tarzan and other characters break out into song, the music serves as a sort of narration. Phil Collins performed songs in the soundtrack and ended up winning Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Awards.

5. Hercules (1997)

It’s a little odd to me that 1997’s Hercules underperformed during its theatrical release. Now, it certainly wasn’t a financial failure or anything, but it didn’t earn what was projected. In fact, Disney shareholders considered it a disappointment, and the company’s stock price slipped. For comparison, Hercules earned $58 at the box office during the first two weeks; Pocahontas had pulled $80 million during the first two weeks, and The Lion King grossed $119 during the same time frame.

Like literally everything else Disney does when adapting existing stories and legends, they didn’t exactly stay true to Greek mythology. Still, it’s a fast-paced and funny movie. Hercules has a fun ensemble of characters, and James Woods as the hot-headed Hades definitely steals the show with his one-liners.

I definitely think that this movie was underrated when it came out, simply because it was just so different from everything else Disney had been doing. It was certainly no Beauty and the Beast – but it didn’t want to be.

Related: Hercules and Other Classic Disney Cartoons Getting a Live-Action Remake

4. The Little Mermaid (1989)

What better way to launch the Renaissance Era than with The Little Mermaid? When it was released, critics praised the animation, music, and characters. It’s not hard to see why it has earned a lifetime gross of $235 million. The film even won two Academy Awards. It’s a little ironic that a film centering on creatures that live underwater would breathe life back into Disney, right?

Disney handled the release of The Little Mermaid in a somewhat “controversial” way, too – but now it’s just the way things are done. The film was released on home video six months after its theatrical debut. Before this, Disney’s animated movies made profits by hitting theaters every few years. The move proved successful, with the film becoming the top-selling title on home video and contributing to a total revenue of $1 billion.

Obviously, Disney now releases animated films to home video soon after their theatrical runs. But The Little Mermaid is the one that started it all.

3. The Lion King (1004)

Raise your hand if you cried when Mufasa died!

Turning William Shakespeare’s Hamlet into an animated coming-of-age story involving talking animals on the African savanna… sounds wild, right? I’m sure there were plenty of employees and execs at Disney that figured this was an experiment that was liable to fail. They were wrong.

The movie is a perfect balance between powerful emotions, tragedy, and humor. Dare I say, they did the Bard proud with this kid-centric cartoon rendition.

The animation was done in a way that really humanized the animals and made them very expressive. The colorful cast was complemented with a soundtrack of catchy tunes, and audiences ate it up. With an initial worldwide gross of $763 million, The Lion King was the highest-grossing film of 1994.

2. Aladdin (1992)

It was really hard for me to decide between The Lion King and Aladdin. Robin Williams was just enough to inch Aladdin into the no. 2 spot by a hair. His performance as the Genie is incredible. And in case you were wondering why it was such a perfect fit, the role was actually created with Williams in mind before he was ever approached about it.

The music in Aladdin is wonderful, too. “A Whole New World” became the first and only (so far) Disney song to win a Grammy Award for Song of the Year. It also became the first song from a Disney animated film to hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it took no. 1 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart, too.

Aladdin grossed $19.2 million during the opening weekend, and eventually surpassed Beauty and the Beast as the most successful animated Disney film. It ended up becoming the most successful film of 1992 and is now the third-highest-grossing traditionally animated feature worldwide.

1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Choosing the absolute best of the best Renaissance Age films for the no. 1 spot on the list was incredibly difficult, but Beauty and the Beast came out on top. Why? This romantic fantasy was the very first animated film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the very first animated film to ever win the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture.

At the time of its release, it was the most successful animated Disney film, and the first animated film to ever reach $100 million on its initial run.

The film made use of Computer Animation Production System (CAPS), a newly developed system that replaced transferring images to cels or using xerography. It gave Disney an unlimited color palette and the simulation of multiple planes, which gave the illusion of depth. CGI was also used for the waltz sequence.

Of course, the story itself is quintessentially Disney. It’s whimsical, thrilling, and hopelessly romantic, all at the same time. Central characters feel like they were written with depth, and the whole thing manages to appeal to both kids and adults.