Disney Renaissance

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Disney Renaissance
Date 1989-1999
Location International

The Disney Renaissance refers to an era beginning in 1989 and ending in 1999,[1][2] during which Walt Disney Animation Studios returned to making successful animated films mostly based on well-known stories, restoring public and critical interest in Disney.

The animated films released 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).


Before the Renaissance[edit]

After the deaths of Walt and Roy O. Disney, Disney Studios was left in the hands of Donn Tatum, Card Walker, and Ron Miller. The films released over an eighteen-year period following this change of management either failed commercially or lacked the magic of past films. An especially hard blow was dealt during production of The Fox and the Hound when long-time animator Don Bluth left Disney, taking eleven Disney animators with him,[3] to start his own rival studio, Don Bluth Productions.[4] 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 idea Disney had originally rejected 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 1980s after narrowly escaping a hostile takeover attempt from Saul Steinberg. Michael Eisner, formerly of Paramount Pictures, became CEO in 1984, and he was joined by his Paramount associate Jeffrey Katzenberg, while Frank Wells, formerly of Warner Bros., became President. After the disappointing box office performance of the 1985 PG-rated feature The Black Cauldron, the future of the animation department was in jeopardy. Going against a thirty-year studio policy, the company founded a TV animation division which was much cheaper than theatrical animation. 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.

In 1986, Disney released The Great Mouse Detective. Don Bluth's An American Tail outperformed Mouse Detective, and became the higher-grossing film on its first release.[5] 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, Disney released Oliver & Company on the same weekend that Universal released Don Bluth's The Land Before Time. The latter's opening weekend gross of over $7,526,000 broke all records, becoming the top grossing opening weekend for an animated feature. The film out-grossed An American Tail and became the highest-grossing animated film at that time.[6]

The Renaissance era[edit]

In 1988, Disney collaborated with Steven Spielberg, a long-time animation fan and producer of An American Tail and The Land Before Time, to produce Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a live action/animation hybrid which featured animated characters from the 1930s and 1940s from many different studios together. The film was a critical and commercial success, winning three Academy Awards for technical achievements and renewing interest in theatrical animated cartoons. Other than the film itself, Spielberg also helped Disney produce three Roger Rabbit shorts.

Disney had been developing The Little Mermaid since the 1930s, and by 1988, after the successes of Roger Rabbit and Oliver & Company, the studio had decided to make it into an animated Broadway-like musical. 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.[7] The film was released on November 14, 1989 and garnered a higher weekend gross than Don Bluth's All Dogs Go to Heaven, which opened the same weekend.[8] It went on to break The Land Before Time's record of highest-grossing animated film. The Little Mermaid was a critical and commercial success. It won two Academy Awards, for Best Original Song and for Best Original Score ("Under the Sea"), earning an additional nomination for Best Original Song for "Kiss the Girl."[9]

The Rescuers Down Under was released one year later and was the first canon sequel produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. The film garnered mainly positive reception, but was not as financially successful as The Little Mermaid.[10]

Beauty and the Beast, often considered to be one of the greatest of all Disney animated features,[11] followed in 1991. It was the first animated film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, losing to The Silence of the Lambs. Beauty and the Beast did win the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) and two Academy Awards, for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.[12][13] Beauty and the Beast also received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Sound, as well as two additional nominations for Best Original Song.[14]

Aladdin and The Lion King followed in 1992 and 1994, respectively, with both films having the highest worldwide grosses of their respective release years.[15][16] Aladdin was the highest-grossing animated film up until that time, but was later surpassed by The Lion King, which became the highest-grossing animated film ever at the time and remains the highest-grossing traditionally animated film in history (second overall in history after additional gross from a successful 2011 3D re-release, behind Toy Story 3).[17] Both films won Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.[14][18] 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.[14] The Lion King earned two additional Academy Award nominations for Best Original Song, giving it a total of four Academy Award nominations.[18] Howard Ashman wrote several songs for Aladdin before his death, but only three were ultimately used in the film. Tim Rice joined the project and completed the score and songs with Alan Menken. Tim Rice went on to collaborate with Elton John and Hans Zimmer in The Lion King.

The next Disney animated film, Pocahontas (1995), opened to mixed reviews, though it still earned $346 million worldwide and garnered Academy Awards for Best Score and Best Original Song for "Colors of the Wind."[19] 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 had songs written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. When Hercules (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 was a good movie and gained more positive criticism than Pocahontas, it was still vulnerable to competition from companies such as Dreamworks, and Pixar.[20][21] Hercules featured songs by Alan Menken and David Zippel.

Mulan (1998), produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios Florida with a score by Jerry Goldsmith and songs by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel, earned $304 million at the worldwide box office, and restored the commercial and critical standing of Disney's output. Tarzan (1999), with songs by Phil Collins, won an Academy Award for Best Original Song with "You'll Be in My Heart"[22] became Disney's most commercially successful film since The Lion King, earning $448 million at the box office and positive reviews. Tarzan was also Disney's most expensive animated feature to that date at $150 million, much of which went to developing new processes such as the computer-assisted background painting technique known as "Deep Canvas".

The success of the Disney Renaissance attracted the attention of other animation studios, many of whom tried to replicate Disney's success by trying similar styles. However, most attempts met with mixed to negative reviews from critics. Anastasia from Fox, The Prince of Egypt from DreamWorks, and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut from Paramount were the only films that achieved significant critical and commercial success.

Post-Renaissance era[edit]

The release of Fantasia 2000 is retrospectively seen as the end of the Renaissance era. Though Disney did continue to release lesser successes such as The Emperor's New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, they were all not as well-received critically or commercially as the earlier films of the 1990s were, and the studio also suffered significant box office losses with Treasure Planet and Home on the Range. Dinosaur, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear were seen as the only major box office successes during this time, with Stitch as the more prestigious film of the three. In addition, Disney found itself facing a new more competitive period beginning with the rise of DreamWorks Animation as a potent sustained rival with its successful Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and How to Train Your Dragon series.

In 1995, Disney partnered with Pixar to create Toy Story, the first fully computer-animated feature. Today, many of Pixar's films have garnered the same box office results and critical acclaim that the '90s Disney Renaissance films had, such as Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Up. With the success of Pixar, then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner decided that public tastes had changed, and that it was time to get out of hand-drawn animation altogether ending with Home on the Range. In 2005, Chicken Little, the Disney Studios first full CGI animated feature, received mixed reviews from critics though it performed well at the box office,[23] whereas their second CGI feature in 2007, Meet the Robinsons performed poorly.[24] In 2006, Disney purchased Pixar for $7.4 billion and promoted Pixar's co-founder, John Lasseter, to oversee all of Disney's animated projects. In 2008, Disney's first CGI feature made after the Pixar acquisition, Bolt, was released to critical acclaim and modest box office success.[25]

The Revival era[edit]

When John Lasseter took over the animation division with the purchase of Pixar, Disney announced they would return to traditional animation with the 2009 release of The Princess and the Frog, which was largely well received by critics and audiences alike and a financial success (grossing over $270 million).[26][27] In 2010, Disney released its 50th animated feature Tangled, which marked a new direction for the studio, blending 3D CGI animation with traditional techniques. Following the tradition of the 1990s animated films, Tangled was a musical fairy tale loosely based on the story of "Rapunzel." The film was a highly critical and commercial success, earning more than $500 million worldwide and reigniting interest in Walt Disney Animation Studios. Winnie the Pooh followed in 2011 and was critically acclaimed, but received modest returns at the box office. In 2012, Wreck-It Ralph was released to similar critical and commercial success. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars and the Golden Globes. In 2013, the Walt Disney Animation Studios musical film, Frozen, loosely based on the fairy tale The Snow Queen, was released to widespread acclaim and broke box office records during its first weekend of release.[28][29]


Critical reaction[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), while Pocahontas has the lowest reception of Disney's "renaissance" films (with 56% of positive reviews).

Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic
The Little Mermaid 92%
(8.2/10 average rating) (56 reviews)[30]
The Rescuers Down Under 68%
(6.2/10 average rating) (25 reviews)[31]
Beauty and the Beast 93%
(8.3/10 average rating) (93 reviews)[32]
Aladdin 94%
(8.1/10 average rating) (52 reviews)[33]
The Lion King 90%
(8.2/10 average rating) (110 reviews)[34]
83 (14 reviews)[35]
Pocahontas 56%
(6.0/10 average rating) (52 reviews)[36]
58 (23 reviews)[37]
The Hunchback of Notre Dame 73%
(7.1/10 average rating) (51 reviews)[38]
Hercules 84%
(7.0/10 average rating) (49 reviews)[39]
Mulan 86%
(7.5/10 average rating) (73 reviews)[40]
71 (24 reviews)[41]
Tarzan 88%
(7.6/10 average rating) (102 reviews)[42]
79 (27 reviews)[43]

Box office performance[edit]

Film Release date Revenue Rank Budget Reference
United States Foreign Worldwide All time domestic All time worldwide
The Little Mermaid November 17, 1989 $111,543,479 $99,800,000 $211,343,479 #457 #507 $40,000,000 [44]
The Rescuers Down Under November 16, 1990 $37,931,461 $29,500,000 $67,431,461 #1319 N/A N/A [45]
Beauty and the Beast November 22, 1991 $218,967,620 $206,000,000 $424,967,620 #106
#160 $25,000,000 [46]
Aladdin November 25, 1992 $217,350,219 $286,700,000 $504,050,219 #112
#112 $28,000,000 [47]
The Lion King June 24, 1994 $422,783,777 $564,700,000 $987,483,777 #11
#18 $45,000,000 [48]
Pocahontas June 23, 1995 $141,579,773 $204,500,000 $346,079,773 #282 #241 $55,000,000 [49]
The Hunchback of Notre Dame June 21, 1996 $100,138,851 $225,200,000 $325,338,851 #558 #266 $100,000,000 [50]
Hercules June 27, 1997 $99,112,101 $153,600,000 $252,712,101 #564 #388 $85,000,000 [51]
Mulan June 19, 1998 $120,620,254 $183,700,000 $304,320,254 #393 #296 $90,000,000 [52]
Tarzan June 18, 1999 $171,091,819 $277,100,000 $448,191,819 #197 #146 $130,000,000 [53]
Total $1,631,119,354 $2,220,800,000 $3,851,919,354 N/A N/A $598,000,000 N/A
List indicator(s)
  • (A) indicates the adjusted totals based on current ticket prices (calculated by Box Office Mojo).

Academy Awards[edit]

Nine of the ten films in the Disney Renaissance were nominated for Academy Awards, six of which won at least one Oscar:

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


Year Film US RIAA certification
1989 The Little Mermaid 33 6× Platinum
1991 Beauty and the Beast 19 3× Platinum
1992 Aladdin 6 3× Platinum
1994 The Lion King 1 Diamond
1995 Pocahontas 1 3× Platinum
1996 The Hunchback of Notre Dame 13 Platinum
1997 Hercules 17 Gold
1998 Mulan 25 Gold
1999 Tarzan 5 Platinum

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Disney: Notes on the end of the Disney Renaissance". decentfilms.com. Retrieved 2008-08-26. 
  2. ^ Puig, Claudia (March 26, 2010). "'Waking Sleeping Beauty' documentary takes animated look at Disney renaissance". USA Today. Retrieved July 6, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Don Bluth Ireland". Cataroo. Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  4. ^ "Biography". Don Bluth Official Website. Archived from the original on 2009-03-03. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  5. ^ "Don Bluth Biography". Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  6. ^ "Don Bluth Land Before Time". Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  7. ^ (2006) Treasures Untold: The Making of Disney's 'The Little Mermaid [Documentary featurette]. Bonus material from The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition DVD. Walt Disney Home Entertainment.
  8. ^ "1989 Yearly Box Office for G-Rated Movies". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  9. ^ "The 62nd Academy Awards (1990) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011-09-28. 
  10. ^ Hahn, Don (2009). Waking Sleeping Beauty (Documentary film). Burbank, California: Stone Circle Pictures/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. 
  11. ^ "Beauty and the Beast - Film Archives". The Film Archives.com. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  12. ^ "Beauty and the Beast (1991) - Awards". IMDB. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  13. ^ "The 64th Academy Awards (1992) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011-09-28. 
  14. ^ a b c "The 65th Academy Awards (1993) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011-09-28. 
  15. ^ "1992 Yearly Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  16. ^ "1994 Yearly Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  17. ^ "Highest-grossing animated films". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-12-24. 
  18. ^ a b "The 67th Academy Awards (1995) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011-09-28. 
  19. ^ "The 68th Academy Awards (1995) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011-09-28. 
  20. ^ http://www.deseretnews.com/article/604591/Is-Hercules-a-weakling-Not-by-a-long-shot.html?pg=all
  21. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/1997/07/10/business/hercules-is-too-weak-to-lift-disney-stock.html
  22. ^ "The 72nd Academy Awards (2000) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2011-09-28. 
  23. ^ "Chicken Little". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  24. ^ "Meet the Robinsons". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  25. ^ http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=bolt.htm%7C Bolt's Gross Revenue
  26. ^ Adams, Guy (2010-01-18). "Leap of faith: The Princess and the Frog". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-01-29. 
  27. ^ ""The Princess and the Frog" Production Notes". Disney.go.com. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
  28. ^ Zuckerman, Esther (November 4, 2013). "Is 'Frozen' a New, Bona Fide Disney Classic?". The Atlantic Wire. Retrieved November 4, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Weekend Report: 'Catching Fire,' 'Frozen' Set Thanksgiving Records". boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved December 2, 2013. 
  30. ^ "The Little Mermaid". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 11, 2008. 
  31. ^ "The Rescuers Down Under". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 23, 2009. 
  32. ^ "Beauty and the Beast". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 23, 2012. 
  33. ^ "Aladdin". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 11, 2008. 
  34. ^ "The Lion King". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 11, 2008. 
  35. ^ "The Lion King". Metacritic. Retrieved July 19, 2008. 
  36. ^ "Pocahontas". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 11, 2008. 
  37. ^ "Pocahontas". Metacritic. Retrieved July 19, 2008. 
  38. ^ "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Retrieved October 11, 2008. 
  39. ^ "Hercules". Retrieved October 11, 2008. 
  40. ^ "Mulan". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 19, 2008. 
  41. ^ "Mulan". Metacritic. Retrieved September 12, 2008. 
  42. ^ "Tarzan". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 19, 2008. 
  43. ^ "Tarzan". Metacritic. Retrieved July 19, 2008. 
  44. ^ "The Little Mermaid (1989)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 10, 2009. 
  45. ^ "The Rescuers Down Under (1990)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 10, 2009. 
  46. ^ "Beauty and the Beast (1991)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 4, 2012. 
  47. ^ "Aladdin (1992)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 10, 2009. 
  48. ^ "The Lion King (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 24, 2012. 
  49. ^ "Pocahontas (1995)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 10, 2009. 
  50. ^ "The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 10, 2009. 
  51. ^ "Hercules (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 10, 2009. 
  52. ^ "Mulan (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 10, 2009. 
  53. ^ "Tarzan (1999)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 10, 2009. 

External links[edit]