Disney Renaissance

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The Roy E. Disney Animation Building, opened in 1995 as the new location for Walt Disney Animation Studios.

The Disney Renaissance is the period from 1989 to 1999 during which Walt Disney Feature Animation returned to producing critically and commercially successful animated films that were mostly based on well-known stories, much as the studio did during the era of Walt Disney during the 1930s to 1960s.[1][2] The resurgence allowed Disney's animated films to become powerhouse successes at the domestic and foreign box office, earning much greater profit than most of the Disney films of previous eras.[3][4][5]

The animated films released by Disney during this period include The Little Mermaid (1989), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998), and Tarzan (1999).[5]

Background (pre-1989)[edit]

The original Animation Building at the Walt Disney Studios, which the animation department left in 1985

After the deaths of Walt and Roy O. Disney (in 1966 and 1971, respectively), The Walt Disney Studios were left in the hands of Donn Tatum, Card Walker, and Walt's son-in-law Ron Miller. The films released over an 18-year period following this change of management did not perform as well commercially as their prior counterparts. An especially hard blow was dealt during production of The Fox and the Hound, when long-time animator Don Bluth left Disney to start his own rival studio, Don Bluth Productions, taking eleven Disney animators with him.[6][7] With 17% of the animators now gone, production on The Fox and the Hound was delayed. Don Bluth Productions produced The Secret of NIMH in 1982 (whose story had originally been rejected by Disney for being too dark), and the company eventually became Disney's main competitor in the animation industry during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Disney made major organizational changes in the mid-1980s after narrowly escaping a hostile takeover attempt by Saul Steinberg. Michael Eisner, formerly of Paramount Pictures, became CEO in 1984, and was joined by his Paramount associate Jeffrey Katzenberg, while Frank Wells, formerly of Warner Bros., became president. In 1985, to make more room for live-action filmmaking, the animation department was moved from the main Disney lot in Burbank to a "temporary" location in various hangars, warehouses, and trailers about 2 miles (3.2 km) east in nearby Glendale, where it would remain for the next ten years. Thus, most of the Disney Renaissance (in terms of where the films were actually made) actually took place in a rather ordinary industrial park in Glendale, the Grand Central Business Centre.

After the box office failure of the 1985 PG-rated Black Cauldron, the future of the animation department was in jeopardy. Going against a 30-year studio policy, the company founded a television animation division (now Disney Television Animation), which produced such shows as DuckTales. In the interest of saving what he believed to be the studio's core business, Roy E. Disney persuaded Eisner to let him supervise the animation department in the hopes of improving its fortunes.

1986: The Great Mouse Detective vs. An American Tail[edit]

1400 Flower Street in Glendale, where several films immediately predating the Disney Renaissance were partially produced.

In 1986, Disney released The Great Mouse Detective, while Don Bluth released An American Tail. The latter outperformed Mouse Detective, and became the higher-grossing film on its first release.[8] Despite An American Tail's greater level of success, The Great Mouse Detective was still successful enough (both critically and commercially) to instill executive confidence in Disney's animation department. Two years later, Oliver and Company successfully outgrossed The Land Before Time (in the US market—globally the roles were reversed), launching an era of increased theatrical turnout for the studio.

In 1988, Disney collaborated with Steven Spielberg—producer of An American Tail and The Land Before Time and a long-time animation fan—to produce Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a live-action/animation hybrid that featured animated characters of the 1930s and 1940s from many different studios together. The film was a critical and commercial success, winning three Academy Awards for Technical Achievement, and renewing interest in theatrical animated cartoons. Other than the film itself, Spielberg also helped Disney produce three Roger Rabbit shorts. Disney moved to first place in box office receipts by 1988, with Roger Rabbit being the summer's biggest hit.[9]

The Disney Renaissance was prompted by competition with Don Bluth's animated productions, along with the evolution of overseas animation, most notably the Studio Ghibli anime productions from Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.[10] His Lupin the Third film adaptation, Castle of Cagliostro (1979), influenced the climax of The Great Mouse Detective, which in turn paved the way for the Disney Renaissance. The two-minute climax scene used computer-generated imagery (CGI), making it the first Disney film to extensively use computer animation, a fact that Disney used to promote the film during marketing.[11][12] Glen Keane, a leading animator for Disney films such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, has also credited Miyazaki's work as a "huge influence" on Disney's animated films ever since The Rescuers Down Under.[13]

Timeline (1989–99)[edit]

1400 Air Way in Glendale, where several films of the Disney Renaissance were partially produced.

1989: The Little Mermaid[edit]

Disney had been developing The Little Mermaid since the 1930s, and by 1988, after the success of Roger Rabbit, the studio had decided to make it into an animated musical, much like many of its previous animated movies, but with a more Broadway feel to it. Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, who worked on Broadway years earlier on productions such as Little Shop of Horrors, became involved in the production, writing and composing the songs and score for the film.[14]

Released on November 14, 1989, The Little Mermaid was a critical and commercial success and garnered a higher weekend gross than Bluth's All Dogs Go to Heaven, which opened the same weekend,[15] eventually breaking The Land Before Time's record of highest-grossing animated film.

It won two Academy Awards for Best Original Song ("Under the Sea") and for Best Original Score, earning an additional nomination for Best Original Song for "Kiss the Girl".[16]

1990–91: The Rescuers Down Under and The Beauty and the Beast[edit]

The Rescuers Down Under was released one year later and was the first sequel produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. The film garnered mainly positive reception, but was not as financially successful as The Little Mermaid.[17]

Beauty and the Beast followed in 1991. It was the first animated film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and remains the only animated film nominated for Best Picture when that category had only five entries (1944–2008). Beauty and the Beast did win the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) and two Academy Awards, for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.[18][19] Beauty and the Beast also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound, as well as two additional nominations for Best Original Song.[20]

1992–94: Aladdin and The Lion King[edit]

Aladdin and The Lion King followed in 1992 and 1994, respectively, with both films having the highest worldwide grosses of their respective release years.[21][22] Aladdin was the highest-grossing animated film at the time of its release, but later became second after being surpassed by The Lion King, which became the highest-grossing animated film at the time and remains the highest-grossing traditionally animated film in history.[23]

Howard Ashman wrote several songs for Aladdin before his death, but only three were ultimately used in the film. Tim Rice ultimately joined the project and completed the score and songs with Alan Menken. Rice later went on to collaborate with Elton John and Hans Zimmer for The Lion King after ABBA had turned down the offer to write songs for the film. Both films won Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.[20][24] Aladdin also earned an additional Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song and nominations for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing, for a total of five nominations.[20] The Lion King earned two additional Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song, giving it a total of four Academy Award nominations.[24]

622/610 Circle 7 Drive (the Hart-Dannon Building), where several films of the Disney Renaissance were partially produced.

Between the two in-house productions, Disney diversified in animation methods and produced The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) with former Disney animator Tim Burton.[25] Thanks to the success of the early films of the Renaissance era, Disney management was able to allocate sufficient money to bring Feature Animation back from its ten-year exile to Glendale. A 240,000-square-foot building designed by Robert A. M. Stern opened across the street from the main Disney lot in Burbank on December 16, 1994.

1995–97: Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hercules[edit]

In 1995, Disney partnered with Pixar to create Toy Story, the first fully computer-animated film. The next Disney animated film, 1995's Pocahontas, opened to mixed reviews, though it still earned $346 million worldwide and garnered two Academy Awards for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score and Best Original Song for "Colors of the Wind".[26] The following year, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Disney's first animated film produced at a budget over $100 million, opened to better reviews than Pocahontas, but a lower total box office of $325 million. Both films feature composer (now serving only as lyricist to Menken's music) Stephen Schwartz.

When Hercules, released in 1997, earned $252 million—$73 million less than Hunchback—at the box office, news media began to openly suggest that Disney animation was on a downward trend of their animated film releases. Although it gained more positive criticism than Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it was still vulnerable to competition from companies such as DreamWorks and Pixar.[27][28] All three films featured songs by Alan Menken.

1998–99: Mulan and Tarzan[edit]

Disney's next film, Mulan (1998), with a score by Jerry Goldsmith and songs by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel, earned $304 million at the worldwide box office, restoring the commercial and critical standing of Disney's output.

The release of Tarzan is retrospectively seen as the end of the Renaissance era.[29][30] With songs by Phil Collins, Tarzan won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "You'll Be in My Heart",[31] and became Disney's most commercially successful film since The Lion King, earning $448 million at the box office and widespread positive reviews. Tarzan was also Disney's most expensive animated feature to that date at $130 million, much of which went to developing new processes such as the computer-assisted background painting technique known as "Deep Canvas".[32] It was also the first film since the start of the Renaissance era that was written, developed, and produced at the studio's new home in Burbank; all the other films had either been made entirely in Glendale or had started development in Glendale and moved with the studio to Burbank.

Success in television animation (1985–1997)[edit]

While achieving success in animation motion pictures, Disney created huge strides in television as well during this time period. After 30 years of resisting offers to produce television animation, Disney finally relented once Michael Eisner, who had a background in TV, took over. The first TV cartoons to carry the Disney name, CBS' The Wuzzles and NBC's Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears, both premiered in the fall of 1985. Breaking from standard practice in the medium, the productions enjoyed substantially larger production budgets than average, allowing for higher-quality writing and animation, in anticipation of recouping profitably in rerun syndication. While The Wuzzles only lasted a season, The Gummi Bears was a sustained success with a six-season run.

In 1987, the TV animation division adapted Carl Barks' Scrooge McDuck comic books for the small screen with the syndicated hit DuckTales. Its success spawned a 1990 theatrical film entitled DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp and an increased investment in syndicated cartoons. The result of this investment was The Disney Afternoon in 1990, a two-hour syndicated television programming block of such animated shows as Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers (1989–1991), TaleSpin (1990–1991), Darkwing Duck (1991–1993, also airing on ABC), Goof Troop (1992–1994, also airing on ABC), Bonkers (1993–1994), and the critically acclaimed and still-popular Gargoyles (1994–1997). TV animation also brought some animated feature film characters to Saturday morning, including The Little Mermaid and Aladdin both on CBS.

Reception[edit]

Critical and public response[edit]

Most of the films Disney released in the Renaissance era were well-received, as in the film critic site Rotten Tomatoes, four out of the first five—The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King—have the best critical reception (with over 90% positive reviews) and are referred to among critics as the "big four,"[33] while Pocahontas has the lowest reception of Disney's Renaissance films (with 55% of positive reviews).

Film Directors Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic CinemaScore
The Little Mermaid Ron Clements
John Musker
93%
(8.1/10 average rating) (69 reviews)[34]
88 (24 reviews)[35] N/A
The Rescuers Down Under Hendel Butoy
Mike Gabriel
69%
(6.2/10 average rating) (26 reviews)[36]
70 (19 reviews)[37] N/A
Beauty and the Beast Gary Trousdale
Kirk Wise
94%
(8.5/10 average rating) (115 reviews)[38]
95 (22 reviews)[39] A+[40]
Aladdin Ron Clements
John Musker
95%
(8.1/10 average rating) (73 reviews)[41]
86 (25 reviews)[42] A+[40]
The Lion King Roger Allers
Rob Minkoff
93%
(8.4/10 average rating) (128 reviews)[43]
88 (30 reviews)[44] A+[40]
Pocahontas Mike Gabriel
Eric Goldberg
55%
(6/10 average rating) (56 reviews)[45]
58 (23 reviews)[46] A−[40]
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Gary Trousdale
Kirk Wise
71%
(7.1/10 average rating) (56 reviews)[47]
74 (28 reviews)[48] A[40]
Hercules Ron Clements
John Musker
84%
(7/10 average rating) (55 reviews)[49]
74 (22 reviews)[50] A[40]
Mulan Barry Cook
Tony Bancroft
86%
(7.5/10 average rating) (74 reviews)[51]
71 (24 reviews)[52] A+[40]
Tarzan Kevin Lima
Chris Buck
89%
(7.6/10 average rating) (105 reviews)[53]
79 (27 reviews)[54] A[40]

Box office performance[edit]

Film Release date Revenue Rank Budget Reference
United States Foreign Worldwide All time domestic (A) All time worldwide
The Little Mermaid November 17, 1989 $111,543,479 $99,800,000 $211,343,479 585 585 705 $40,000,000 [55]
The Rescuers Down Under November 16, 1990 $27,931,461 $19,468,539 $47,400,000 2,757 2757 2757 $27,000,000 [56]
Beauty and the Beast November 22, 1991 $218,967,620 $224,033,956 $443,001,576 158 134 251 $25,000,000 [57]
Aladdin November 25, 1992 $217,350,219 $286,700,000 $504,050,219 164 101 139 $28,000,000 [58]
The Lion King June 24, 1994 $422,783,777 $545,700,000 $968,483,777 22 19 39 $45,000,000 [59]
Pocahontas June 23, 1995 $141,579,773 $204,500,000 $346,079,773 381 381 363 $55,000,000 [60]
The Hunchback of Notre Dame June 21, 1996 $100,138,851 $225,200,000 $325,338,851 623 623 314 $100,000,000 [61]
Hercules June 27, 1997 $99,112,101[62] $153,600,000 $253,712,101 629 629 450 $80,000,000 [63]
Mulan June 19, 1998 $120,620,254 $183,700,000 $304,320,254 444 444 347 $90,000,000 [64]
Tarzan June 18, 1999 $171,091,819 $277,100,000 $448,191,819 228 228 179 $130,000,000 [65]
Total $1,460,027,535 $1,924,668,539 $3,384,696,074 N/A N/A N/A $635,931,000 N/A

List indicator(s)

  • (A) indicates the adjusted totals based on current ticket prices (calculated by Box Office Mojo).

Impact on other studios[edit]

The success of the Disney Renaissance attracted the attention of many animation studios and film studios. Major film studios established new animation divisions such as DreamWorks Animation, Fox Animation Studios and Warner Bros. Feature Animation to replicate Disney's success by turning their animated films into Disney-styled musicals.[66] However, most attempts met with largely mixed to negative reviews from critics and poor box office results, with Thumbelina, Quest for Camelot, A Troll in Central Park and The Swan Princess being major examples. On the other hand, a few films did come close in terms of matching the critical and financial success. Examples include Anastasia (produced by Fox Animation Studios) and The Prince of Egypt (produced by DreamWorks Animation).

Awards[edit]

Nine of the ten films in the Disney Renaissance were nominated for Academy Awards, most notably Beauty and the Beast which became the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture, six of which won at least one Academy Award; and eight of the films were nominated for Annie Awards, with seven of them winning at least one:

Year Film Academy Awards Annie Awards
Nomination(s) Win(s) Nomination(s) Win(s)
1989 The Little Mermaid 3 2 0 0
1991 Beauty and the Beast 6 2 2 2
1992 Aladdin 5 2 3 1
1994 The Lion King 4 2 3 3
1995 Pocahontas 2 2 7 4
1996 The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1 0 13 0
1997 Hercules 1 0 6 4
1998 Mulan 1 0 12 10
1999 Tarzan 1 1 11 1

Music[edit]

Soundtracks[edit]

All soundtracks were initially released under Walt Disney Records in the format of CD and cassette.

List of soundtracks, with selected chart positions and certifications
Title Release date Peak chart positions Certifications
US AUS AUT BEL
(Vl)
BEL
(Wa)
FRA GER NL NZ SWI RIAA MC
The Little Mermaid October 19, 1989 32 25 6× Platinum 3× Platinum
Beauty and the Beast October 24, 1991 19 18 25 21 3× Platinum Platinum
Aladdin October 27, 1992 6 15 71 29 3× Platinum
The Lion King April 27, 1994 1 3 4 16 5 1 7 6 1 1 Diamond
Pocahontas June 1, 1995 1 19 35 32 11 79 8 36 3× Platinum 4× Platinum
The Hunchback of Notre Dame May 7, 1996 11 12 Platinum
Hercules May 27, 1997 17 28 Gold
Mulan June 2, 1998 25 20 Gold
Tarzan May 18, 1999 5 40 9 32 28 9 6 51 34 11 2× Platinum
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Singles[edit]

List of singles, with selected chart positions and certifications, showing year released and soundtrack name
Title English-language performer(s) Year Peak chart positions Certifications Album
US US
AC
AUS UK
"Under the Sea" Samuel E. Wright 1989 The Little Mermaid
"Beauty and the Beast" Celine Dion & Peabo Bryson 1991 9 3 17 9 RIAA: Gold Beauty and the Beast
"A Whole New World" Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle 1992 1 1 10 9 RIAA: Gold Aladdin
"Can You Feel the Love Tonight" Elton John 1994 4 1 9 14 RIAA: Platinum The Lion King
"Circle of Life" 18 2 60 11 RIAA: Gold
"Colors of the Wind" Vanessa Williams 1995 4 2 16 21 RIAA: Gold Pocahontas
"If I Never Knew You" Jon Secada & Shanice 108 51
"Someday" All-4-One 1996 30 14 RIAA: Gold The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Eternal 27 4
"Go the Distance" Michael Bolton 1997 24 1 14 Hercules
"I Won't Say (I'm in Love)" Belinda Carlisle
"True to Your Heart" 98° & Stevie Wonder 1998 73 51 Mulan
"Reflection" Christina Aguilera 19
"You'll Be in My Heart" Phil Collins 1999 21 1 43 17 Tarzan
"Strangers Like Me" 10
"Son of Man" 2000
"Two Worlds"
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

See also[edit]

  • Waking Sleeping Beauty – 2009 documentary film chronicling the beginning and success of the Disney Renaissance from 1984 to 1994

References[edit]

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External links[edit]