40. Meet the Robinsons
While not approaching the heights of the Disney Renaissance, this is a marked improvement over the previous few films in Disney animation. The story is a bit smarter and the characters are more relatable. It’s still not quite up to the high standards of top-tier Disney films, but it shows the studio working to get there again.
39. Fantasia 2000
As a showcase for the diversity of Disney animation styles, including advances with CGI, Fantasia 2000 is a worthy successor to Fantasia. Elements like celebrity introductions do make this feel more of-its-time than Fantasia did with its singular host.
38. Alice in Wonderland
I prefer to think of Alice as a connected series of incidents than as one large story, because if thought of in the latter manner, it’s wildly incoherent. As it stands, there’s a charm to it, and some of the animation is insanely wonderful, but there’s little to hook into while watching. Alice is largely reactionary, so each segment of the story depends on the other characters present.
It’s not that the Disney Renaissance comes to a screeching halt here, exactly. But it does suffer a blow. Disney sometimes garners criticism for “Disney-fying” a story, and this is a prime example of taking a true story and twisting it in so many ways to fit a formula. On the plus side, the animation is truly gorgeous, and shows animators taking some chances with different techniques. It also does tackle some pretty weighty themes. Other villain songs may be more memorable, but few are as terrifying and hate-filled as “Savages.”
36. The Jungle Book
The last film largely made during Walt Disney’s lifetime contains some of the catchiest songs from the Sherman Brothers, and a story that’s the best example of the style the studio pushed during the Reitherman era. It’s fun and catchy, and the primary villain, Shere Khan, is built up well throughout the film.
The Disney Renaissance ends on a solid note with Tarzan. While the overall tone isn’t dark, it does contain some of the darkest sequences in Disney’s animated canon – Clayton’s ultimate demise in particular is rather chilling. After a decade of musicals, Tarzan takes most of the music away from the characters and places it with Phil Collins, which proves a smart choice. The use of CGI, highlighted by having Tarzan glide on trees instead of swing from vines, does date the film, since the CGI doesn’t blend into the rest of the animation.
34. The Fox and the Hound
It’s not one of Disney’s more notable stories, but The Fox and the Hound is a solid entry made during one of Disney’s darker times as a studio. The relationship between Tod and Copper is one of the sweeter friendships in the canon, making it more difficult to watch as the two grow older. The final product is slight but sweet.
While not a complete return to form for Disney, Bolt does mark a significant improvement in the studio’s output. The character designs are a little more unique to Disney, and the story, while rather basic, does contain a lot of heart. As the studio seemed to learn by this point, that heart is a vital factor to Disney as a brand. Bolt also contains a great deal of humor that works – those last two words making a significant difference from its immediate predecessors.
Honey, you mean Hunkules. While a weaker entry in the Disney Renaissance era, Hercules distinguishes itself thanks to its unique character designs and shift away from Broadway-styled musical numbers in favor of gospel-tinged numbers. The film as an overall work does age less well than others from the era, largely due to a number of anachronistic elements that date this to the 90s. Also, while CGI had been used for over a decade in Disney films at this point, the Gorgon may hold up the worst of such elements across the studio’s features. And the less said about the Disneyfication of the characters, not to mention the blending of Greek and Roman mythology, the better.
31. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
As the last film of the Package Era, this is also by far the strongest. The connecting tissue between the two stories is solid and presents a legitimate way for these two stories to tie together. The two stories were each considered for full-length adaptations before being trimmed for inclusion here, and it’s for the best. They’re both entertaining stories that would feel strained if lengthened to an hour or more each.
30. The Princess and the Frog
Even though Home on the Range had once been announced as Disney’s final traditionally-animated film, incoming president (and Pixar head) John Lassiter made it his mission to make a space for Disney’s signature art form at the studio. The first step? A throwback to the Disney Renaissance’s most successful features, with a twist: Disney’s first black princess. The result is something that feels appropriate for the latter part of the Renaissance era, which is still better than most of what came out after the era ended. It’s also the first real step into the Disney era of today.
29. Treasure Planet
Does Treasure Planet qualify as steampunk? Maybe not, but the unusual hybrid of space technology and 18th century attire does make this adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island stand out. While the initial setup of the film lags a bit, things kick into gear with the introduction of John Silver. The story is familiar (there have been so many adaptations of Treasure Island over the years, including a few from Disney), but the visuals are breathtaking.
28. Wreck-It Ralph
The current era of Disney animation cements itself creatively with Wreck-It Ralph, a delightfully unique story. The film has a great story driver – the idea that Ralph can be more than he was made to be (in his case, a bad guy). Add in the video game setting, which combines classic arcade-style gaming with more modern examples of arcade gaming, and throws in a ton of characters already established in real games, and you get a game that can reach a broad audience.
27. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
To date, The Hunchback of Notre Dame may be the most “adult” Disney film in terms of themes. Religion, lust, imprisonment and racism all come into play here. While the source material has been adapted for Disney’s younger-skewing audience, the only elements that suggest something kid-friendly are the talking gargoyles and most of the musical moments. Not all of them, though – “Hellfire” in particular is strong, but aimed toward an older audience.
26. The Rescuers Down Under
There are any number of reasons that The Rescuers Down Under is not one of the more notable Disney films. Financially, it was a bomb. It’s a sequel to a film from a different era. It’s the lone non-musical in the Disney Renaissance. But make no mistake – The Rescuers Down Under is a worthy entry in the Disney canon. The story itself is on par with The Rescuers, while exploring a new world for Bernard and Miss Bianca. The lack of music this time enhances the story, while McLeach makes for a more menacing villain than the original’s Madame Medusa. Plus, the film has the advantage of superior animation, which it utilizes in some of the most gorgeous scenes in the studio’s history. My biggest strike against it? A film that’s set in Australia where the human protagonist and the villain, both presumably Australian, have American accents.