Jonny's Initial Thoughts on

The Disney Renaissance


      Tomorrow, as I write this, is the American holiday Thanksgiving. With recent events, a lot of peoples morals are pretty low. Whether you are citizens of the USA or from another country, this is a holiday about family and togetherness. We are all people of this Earth and I hope we can all appreciate our uniqueness and similarities.
      Forgive me for getting schmaltzy. When I feel blue I like to sit back and watch a good classic Disney movie. As I speak of our similarities, I think it's safe to say that we all share a love of Disney. Some people might be huge fans. Some might not like them as much as everyone else. However, I think it's difficult for anyone to really hate them outright. Disney is a part of all our childhoods, and with the recent amazing movies like Tangled, Frozen, and Zootopia; their reach will only continue.
      That being said, it's not secret to anyone that the 1990's was a second Golden Age for the company. That decade has probably influenced everything nowadays more so then the 60 years prior to it. Everyone has their own preferences as to which they like most, so this past weekend I decided to watch every major Disney movie from this era, from my least favorite to what I think is the best of the best. Below are all my thoughts on each movie right after I finished them (I posted them on my personal facebook page) collected in a top 9 list. I just want to reiterate that while I say "least favorite" I can't bring myself to hate or even dislike these films. They are all high productions and a treat to watch. I also didn't bother commenting on the animation because there's no point. This is Disney at the top of their game.
      FYI, I'm aware I missed The Rescuers Down Under. To be honest, I forgot it, which is a shame because it's actually pretty good. If I did include it, it might've been between # 6 and 7.

#9 Pocahontas (1995)

      This movie wouldn't be so bad if the villain wasn't so boring and one note. They could have made him complex but no, he just wants gold. And the message is too hammered in. The songs are nice, though.
      Even though Hercules is technically a way worse train wreck, I ranked it above Pocahontas because at least Herc is interesting and strangely enjoyable in its "WHAT?!" factor. This movie's just a little too boring compared to the other films at the time. But again, "Colors of the Wind" is a good song.

#8 Hercules (1997)

      Oh Hercules, Disney's most confusing production ever. Why gospel, a music genre tied to Christianity, to tell the story of a Greek hero? Why Gerald Scarfe for art design? Why does it have more in common with Superman then Greek myth? And oooohhh the plot holes.
      I now a lot of people in my generation like this film, and I do have a soft spot for it, but it's pretty disjointed and distracting in it's flaws. I think Disney was trying to be more comedic but it doesn't work so well here. With Aladdin, we have a better idea of who the characters are and the comedy doesn't get in the way of the story. With Emperor's New Groove, it knows it's a full fledged comedy and the jokes just keep coming with little-to-no story, but it works there. I think both those movies work better then Hercules because they know what they wanted to be.
      That being said there are some redeeming factors. "I Won't Say I'm in Love" is a good song. Meg is one of the more interesting and complex love interests in a Disney movie (actually more complex then Herc himself). And Hades steals the show as one of Disney's best villains.
      I used to really love this movie as a kid but I think that was because it was the closest we had to a Disney superhero movie. But then The Incredibles came out, and Disney now helps Marvel, which are all better made and complex superhero movies. I won't say it's god awful, but it's definitely not one of Disney's better productions.
      I do hope that Disney in the future tries to do a more serious Greek inspired animated film. Disney animation and Greek art could really work if they took the same care they did with Frozen and Zootopia.

#7 Mulan (1998)

Note: I originally ordered the list as Mulan->Tarzan->Lion King, but I decided to change it so that Tarzan is after Lion King. I'll explain when I get to that movie.

      So in my list I put Mulan and Tarzan as a tie because I had a hard time deciding which one was better. There are things that Mulan does better that Tarzan and vice-versa. Ultimately I placed Tarzan above mostly for personal reasons, as I watched that as a kid first. So now for my quick thoughts on Mulan.
      Where as with the previous two I had big problems with structure and character, this is when the good start to outweigh the bad and these are minor flaws (except for one big one). With Mulan, a lot of my issues come from how the message is conveyed. I like the message, that women can be strong warriors too, but this really hammers it home too much and forces Mulan's character to revolve around it, rather then let it be a small part of her bigger personality. I think I prefer the feminist themes in something like Frozen better because it's more underplayed, and part of a larger story with varying characters and themes.
      That being said, when Mulan isn't focused on the message, i.e. when she is trying to pose as a guy, this is when her character works for me. She's funny, goofy, resourceful, and comforting. The army buddies, too, are great, funny characters and work better as comic relief then Mushu in my opinion.
      The worst thing about this movie is, no doubt, the villain. He has to be one of, if not THE worst Disney villain ever. I can't even remember his name. He's just so boring. He doesn't even have a striking design or voice. He probably has a higher body count then most of the companies baddies, but that makes him being so forgettable even worse. There's a difference between what a villain does and how he does it. It's why guys like the Joker or Dr. Doom are more popular then other more powerful bad guys.
      The music is great, some of Disney's catchiest. Though, have you ever noticed that the songs stop when the village is destroyed. No one sings after that, like the realities of war just hit them. That's really subtle.

#6 The Lion King (1994)

      After a very long rest, I got on to continue my Disney-thon with The Lion King, a movie I have mixed feelings for, which is why it's smack dab in the middle of my list. I should also point out that I didn't really grow up with this movie. I did watch it as a kid but my sister was a much bigger fan of it and watched it more then I did. I struck with the other Disney films so I don't have much nostalgic value with Lion King.
      So what works. Well, the story for one. At least until the end. This is basically a retelling of Hamlet and for a kids movie, it doesn't really dumb the drama down. I really like that most of the movie is the 1st act and allows us to connect with Mufasa before he dies. It makes Simba's struggles more engaging.
      However, the character growth kind of takes a noise dive when Simba learns Scar killed his father. It stops being about accepting your past mistakes and turns into revenge. I can't take too much credit for this, as Doug Walker (Nostalgia Critic) brought it up in his first year Disneycember. But once he said it I can't ignore it. It's a big flaw in an otherwise very adult Disney film.
      That being said, I do disagree with him on the music. I really enjoyed most of the songs in The Lion King. The only one I don't like is "Can You Feel the Love Tonight". It's pretty cliche and awkward, and kinda borders on cringey. "Be Prepared" is the best song, no arguments there. So there's my thoughts on Lion King. I don't think it's anywhere close to perfect but it's hard to ignore it's impact and popularity.

#5 Tarzan (1999)

      So what's good. Really, everything with Tarzan's interactions with the other characters. His frustration and depression from not fitting in with the other gorillas is relatable and organic. And his romance with Jane is one of the best Disney has to offer, as she too is a great fun character. They both have something to offer the other. In general, Tarzan's conflict between staying the the apes or going with the humans is the strongest part of the film, as it should be.
      If fact, this conflict is so good, that it makes the Clayton subplot annoying. Why do we need an obvious villain who wants money and junk. Why a villain in at all. If the movie cut him out and used that time on the inner conflict of Tarzan, we could have had one of Disney's deepest, most adult character studies.
      I must also admit that I'm not a huge fan of the music. I don't have beef with Phil Collins (I think his a pretty good singer), but having him sing all the songs was a mistake. By themselves, the songs are nice, with some good lyrics. But when you here them all at once they just start to sound like the same song, especially when they all have a similar beat and rhythm. And when I'm trying to pay attention to the story and animation, it can get frustrating.
      Aside from those two things, Tarzan is a solid film and still one of the better films of the classic character, as this one does treat with respect and not just a dumb ape man or a bland hero.

#4 The Little Mermaid (1989)

      One of the major factors that went into choosing this list was the songs, as they are a huge part of Disney's identity and charm. With the first two I watched, they only had one song I really liked. Then after that it was movies with a good amount of songs I liked or loved. But the one's in the top four are where I absolutely love every song in the movie, and that's the case with Little Mermaid. The villain song "Poor, Unfortunate Souls" is a close lead to one of Disney's best villain songs, but my favorite song I think would be "Part of Your World". I think it's one of the most relatable songs the company has made as anyone can listen to it and think of that one thing they strive to achieve. EX: me wanting to be one of the greatest cartoonist ever.
      Ariel is a character that people seem to either love or hate, and I personally like her. Her obsession with the outside world is interesting/complex enough, and her curiosity when she gets there is adorable and equally relatable. Her romance with Eric is only 3 days which is goofy, but I don't really like when people say she sold her soul for this guy she just met. She obviously wanted to be a human for a long time and Eric was just the tipping point, so it's not "all for him". (It's an annoyance for me, equal to Belle's Stockholm Syndrome nonsense)
      I do wish Ariel had more to do in the climax and the film should have done a better job of showing that she has changed by the end of the film. But maybe they though the film was going on too long as it is. For what we did get, it's classic.
      I heard they are working on a live-action remake (which seems to be Disney's thing right now) so if they somehow hear this, I think that film should focus more on Ariel in the human world. The majority of this film was the build up as to way she wants to be human. If the remake wants to be different, it should have her interact more with the above water world, not just a montage. I've mentioned in my list that this and the next film Aladdin are ties. That's because while Aladdin has a more satisfying character arc, this one feels more timeless and something that will stand the test of time. But I ultimately chose Aladdin next because of the story and chemistry.

#3 Aladdin (1992)

      In my Hercules analysis, I compared it to Aladdin, saying this is what Hercules was trying to do but failed at. Basically a more modern comedic approach to the standard Disney way of storytelling. It's hard to describe where Aladdin succeeds and where Hercules fails.
      For one, I think the comedy is funnier and better implemented in Aladdin, mostly because every anachronistic joke is made by the Genie. Being all powerful, it fits better that he would be wise-cracking, reference making, shape shifting fourth wall breaker. In Hercules, everything is like this and it's distracting and off putting.
      Second, the comedy doesn't get in the way of the story. This is still a Disney fairy tale at heart with a compelling romance and amazing climax. The relationship with Aladdin and Jasmine feels genuine and they just work. It knows when to cut the jokes and let it be a fairy tale, where Hercules didn't know when to stop.
      Also, the fact that this has some the best Disney songs ever helps too.
      I guess what it comes down to is that Aladdin has a better understanding of what it wants to be then Hercules. Sorry if this was mostly just comparing the two but that's what happens when I think about either movie.

#2 The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

      Disney's version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not a movie I appreciated when I was a child. I didn't watch it much and thought it wasn't as "interesting" as the other films. But Hunchback is one of those films that you appreciate more as an adult then a child.
      Before Zootopia, this was without a doubt Disney's darkest, most mature animated movie. Dealing with bigotry, lust, and religious extremism; this was a bold move for Disney back then. Even now it's a surprise to watch.
      Like with all of Disney's films, it does stray a lot from the source material. It does keep the general themes and drama intact. Though no main good characters die, the fact that Quasimodo does not get the woman he loves in the end still hits just as hard. Some scenes like the public shaming of Quasimodo or Frollo trying to burn a family alive in the own home can be hard to watch. Speaking of which, Frollo is unarguably the most complex and disturbing villain Disney has ever created, and part of that is because there sadly are people like him out there in the real world to this day.
      The songs are strangely somber and depressing compared to the rest of the Disney library. And they mention God, mortality, and damnation more then the entirety of their filmography before. The three that stand out to me the most are the opening ballad "Bells of Notre Dame", Esmeralda's prayer "God Help the Outcasts", and Frollo's descent into madness "Hellfire".
      The only problem Hunchback has is in it's tone. Its mostly a tragic story but there's these strange spurts of goofy comedy thrown in. The comic relief feel out of place as they try to appeal to the kids. I get why they're there (in terms of Disney's demographic) but I still wish they weren't. Zootopia was a movie that didn't follow the Disney formula exactly and it was better for it. This really is an adult's Disney film and we could have done without the sidekicks.
      If it kept a single unified tone, Hunchback might have been my #1 Renaissance-era Disney film, but that's a very small complaint. This is still an amazing and risky film for the company. If you've dismissed this when you were little, please give it a second look with adult eyes.

#1 Beauty and the Beast (1991)

      Much like Notre Dame, Beauty and the Beast is not something I appreciated as much as I do as an adult. Now, unlike the other movie I did watch Beauty and the Beast a lot as a kid. I loved the Beast's design and the songs for the most part, but it was far from my favorite. I think like a lot of men in my generation, my favorites where Aladdin and Hercules because they had battles and monsters, goofy villains, and the "modern" humor. But as I got older my admiration waned because I started noticing the flaws in the structure, the characters, and the jokes.
      But, like Notre Dame, this film actually got better with age. The tagline for this film was "The most beautiful love story ever told" and it's somewhat right. I still think this is Disney's best romance. It's difficult to really describe but the chemistry between Belle and Beast just clicks. As if I have to stated but they don't like each other at first, which was (and still a little is) unique in a Disney fairy tale. But over time they start to open up to each other. Belle helps Beast with his temper and Beast helps Belle feel like she belongs somewhere. There's positives and negatives and both sides (though Beast definitely has the majority of negatives).
      I think the reason that the relationship feels so much more organic and fleshed out then other Disney films is because unlike the others, the relationship is the only driving force in the movie. The other films have stuff like Ariel trying to turn human and Aladdin in the Cave of Wonders. There's so much other elements like magic, royalty, and other friendship, that compete with the romance. It's not a problem in those films, but the fact that Beauty and the Beast spends only as much time as it needs on those other forces and put the most time where it should be, on building Belle and Beast relationship and characters.
      Speaking of which, the main characters are more complex then the standards. Belle, as a Disney Princess, is a bookworm who feels ostracized by the towns people who gossip about her being "weird". She's very intelligent and doesn't take shit from no one. She not afraid to tell the Beast when he's being a dick, or Gaston when he's being a creeper. Gaston, too, is unique as a Disney villain. He doesn't start out or aspire to be evil just to be evil, but he's an egoist who can't stand to not have something he wants, which sadly turns his initial annoying infatuations into destructive lust. And the reason he does become the villain is because he never changes his toxic ways, where as Beast does.
      This is going on long but I could go on for hours. The last thing I'll say is that one of the reason this is number one has to do with Disney's strange obsession with live-action rebooting all it's classic animated movies. With Maleficent and Cinderella 2015, I could see why the did it. They added or expended upon elements from the original that were lacking or nonexistent. And with all the movies I list I could think of many ways they could improve the story in a live-action reboot. But Beauty and the Beast is the one in which I honestly can't think of anything to improve, and it kind of baffles me that they're even bothering with the reboot. Especially when the trailer borrows so many shots and designs from the original. I'm just a little cautious is all. I'm sure Emma Watson will a great Belle, as she is good in everything she's in, but I don't think anything will replace the original. It's a masterpiece and an important part of movie history. It was the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture and it was put into one of the most prestigious sections of the Library of Congress because it was deemed "culturally significant". It's one of Disney's highest achievements and something I'll continue to watch from years to come.

      So those are my thoughts on possibly the best decade of Disney's history. I hope of made my points clear and maybe even convinced you to rewatch some of these films with fresh eyes. I know everyone's list will be different, so feel free to comment on what your favorite is and why. I hope you all have an amazing Thanksgiving weekend as we had on to the Christmas season and the end of another (okay-ish) year.

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