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Disney Renaissance

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See also Modern animation in the United States#The Return of Disney.

The Disney Renaissance (1989–1999) [1] was an era when the Walt Disney Animation Studios returned to making successful animated films mostly based on fairy tales, recreating a public and critical interest in the Disney studios. These animated films include The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan and Tarzan.



Before the Renaissance

During production of The Fox and the Hound, long-time animator Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy, and an additional group of animators who were unhappy at the Disney Studio and eager to set up their own studio and produce movies they felt were more in line with the style and quality of movies that Disney used to make in its golden years [2], left Disney, taking 11 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. Sullivan Bluth Studios later produced The Secret of Nimh in 1982. The studio eventually became Disney's main competitor in the animation industry during the 1980s and early '90s.

In 1986, the Disney Studios released The Great Mouse Detective and Universal released Don Bluth's An American Tail. However, An American Tail defeated The Great Mouse Detective and became the highest-grossing film on its first release. [5] Two years later, the studios released Oliver & Company and The Land Before Time on the same weekend. 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 studio underwent a major shakeup 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 1988, the studio collaborated with Steven Spielberg, a long-time animation fan, 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 gigantic critical and commercial success, winning three Academy Awards and renewing interest in theatrical animated cartoons.

The Renaissance era

Disney had been developing The Little Mermaid since the 1930s and by 1987, after the success of Roger Rabbit, 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 (later made into a feature directed by Frank Oz) became involved in the production, writing and composing the songs and score for the film. The film was released on November 17, 1989 and garnered a higher weekend gross than Don Bluth's All Dogs Go to Heaven, which opened the same weekend. It went on to beat The Land Before Time's record and became the highest-grossing animated film at that time. Little Mermaid was a critical and commercial success and received two Academy Awards.

The Rescuers Down Under was released one year later and is the first of just two canon animated Disney sequels (the other being Fantasia 2000) produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation. The Rescuers Down Under garnered much positive criticism and earned a modest box-office success, but was less successful than The Little Mermaid.

Then came Beauty and the Beast, released in 1991, often considered to be the crown jewel of not just the Disney Renaissance but of all the Disney animated films [7]. It was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, something which no other animated feature had done before or since, although it lost out to The Silence of the Lambs. However, the film won Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) at the Golden Globe Awards and won two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. [8] The film was dedicated to Howard Ashman, who died earlier in the year [9], before the film's release. It became the most successful animated feature in motion picture history up to that time, with domestic box office revenues exceeding $140 million. [9] As of 2009, ties with Disney/Pixar's WALL-E for the record of animated film with most Academy Award nominations (six).

Aladdin and The Lion King followed in 1992 and 1994, respectively. Both films were highest worldwide grosses of their release year [10] [11], but The Lion King became the highest-grossing animated film ever at the time and remains the highest grossing traditionally animated film in history. [12] Along with that, the films won Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score in the footsteps of Beauty and the Beast. Howard Ashman wrote several songs for Aladdin before his death, but only three were finally 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 in The Lion King.

Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame were also in the Disney Renaissance. Despite mature subjects and appealing more towards adults than children both were box-office successes and received general approval and acclaim. Pocahontas received two Academy Awards for Best Score and Best Original Song for 'Colors of the Wind'. Both were successful with songs written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Disney continued on with successes from Hercules with songs by Alan Menken and David Zippel, Mulan with score by Jerry Goldsmith and songs by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel, and Tarzan with songs by Phil Collins.

Post-Renaissance era

By 2000, the Disney Renaissance had come to an end. Disney continued to release small successes such as Dinosaur, The Emperor's New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, but also suffered box office bombs with Treasure Planet and Home on the Range. The other films, Fantasia 2000, Lilo and Stitch and Brother Bear received critical acclaim and were box office successes.

Today, the Disney Studios create primarily computer-animated features. In 1995, Disney partnered with Pixar to create Toy Story, the first computer-animated feature. Today much of Pixar's films have garnered the same box office results and critical acclaim that 1990's Disney Renaissance films had, such as Finding Nemo and Wall-E. 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[13], as did their second CGI feature in 2007, Meet the Robinsons[14]. In 2006, Disney purchased Pixar for US$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[15].

With the success of Pixar, Disney originally intended to end production of hand-drawn Disney Animation classics with Home on the Range. However, after John Lasseter took over the Animation division with the purchase of Pixar, Disney has returned to traditional 2-D animation with the release of The Princess and the Frog.[16]

Critical reaction

FilmRotten TomatoesMetacritic
OverallCream of the Crop
The Little Mermaid90% (49 reviews)[17]86% (7 reviews)[18] 
The Rescuers Down Under60% (50 reviews)[19]79% (10 reviews)[20] 
Beauty and the Beast93% (54 reviews)[21]93% (15 reviews)[22] 
Aladdin92% (47 reviews)[23]100% (8 reviews)[24] 
The Lion King92% (61 reviews)[25]100% (13 reviews)[26]84% (13 reviews)[27]
Pocahontas56% (48 reviews)[28]71% (14 reviews)[29]58% (23 reviews)[30]
The Hunchback of Notre Dame73% (48 reviews)[31]60% (14 reviews)[32] 
Hercules83% (44 reviews)[33]90% (10 reviews)[34] 
Mulan87% (67 reviews)[35]71% (14 reviews)[36]71% (24 reviews)[37]
Tarzan87% (95 reviews)[38]85% (26 reviews)[39]79% (37 reviews)[40]

Box office

FilmRelease dateBox office revenueBox office rankingBudgetReference
PremiereGeneralDomesticForeignWorldwideAll time domesticAll time worldwide
The Little MermaidNovember 17, 1989November 17, 1989$111,543,479$99,800,000$211,343,479#356#365$40,000,000[41]
The Rescuers Down UnderNovember 16, 1990November 16, 1990$27,931,461$19,500,000$47,431,461#11,944[42]
Beauty and the BeastNovember 15, 1991November 22, 1991$171,350,553$206,000,000$377,350,553#143#131$25,000,000[43]
AladdinNovember 13, 1992November 25, 1992$217,350,219$286,700,000$504,050,219#78#68$25,000,000[44]
The Lion KingJune 15, 1994June 24, 1994$328,541,776$455,300,000$783,841,776#19#27$45,000,000[45]
PocahontasJune 16, 1995June 23, 1995$141,579,773$204,500,000$346,079,773#210#168$55,000,000[46] , [47]
The Hunchback of Notre DameJune 21, 1996June 21, 1996$100,138,851$225,200,000$325,338,851#438#188$100,000,000[48]
HerculesJune 15, 1997June 27, 1997$99,112,101$153,600,000$252,712,101#443#276$85,000,000[49]
MulanJune 19, 1998June 19, 1998$120,620,254$183,700,000$304,320,254#320#206$70,000,000[50] , [51]
TarzanJune 18, 1999June 18, 1999$171,091,819$277,100,000$448,191,819#144#95$130,000,000[52]
List indicator(s)
  • A light grey cell indicates information is not available.
  • (A) indicates the budget of the film was estimated by IMDB.

Academy Awards

Nine of the ten films in the Disney Renaissance were nominated for Academy Awards:

YearTitleOscar nominationsOscar win
1989The Little Mermaid32
1991Beauty and the Beast62
1994The Lion King42
1996The Hunchback of Notre Dame10


1989The Little Mermaid326× Platinum
1990The Rescuers Down Under-None
1991Beauty and the Beast193× Platinum
1992Aladdin63× Platinum
1994The Lion King1Diamond
1995Pocahontas13× Platinum
1996The Hunchback of Notre Dame11Platinum


  1. ^ "Disney: Notes on the end of the Disney Renaissance". decentfilms.com. http://www.decentfilms.com/sections/articles/quovadisdisney.html. Retrieved 2008-08-26. 
  2. ^ "Disney Archives - "The Fox and the Hound" Movie History". Disney.go.com. http://disney.go.com/vault/archives/movies/foxhound/foxhound.html. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  3. ^ "Don Bluth Ireland". Cataroo. http://www.cataroo.com/DBireland.html. Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  4. ^ "Biography". Don Bluth Official Website. http://www.donbluth.com/hstry/dnsbio.html. Retrieved 2009-12-05. 
  5. ^ "Don Bluth Biography". http://www.cataroo.com/DBbio.html. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  6. ^ "Don Bluth Land Before Time". http://www.cataroo.com/DBland.html. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  7. ^ "Beauty and the Beast - Film Archives". The Film Archives.com. http://films.estefanfilms.com/beautybeast.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  8. ^ "Beauty and the Beast (1991) - Awards". IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101414/awards. Retrieved 2010-1-08. 
  9. ^ a b "Disney Archives - "Beauty and the Beast" Movie History". Disney.go.com. http://disney.go.com/vault/archives/movies/beauty/beauty.html. Retrieved 2010-1-08. 
  10. ^ "1992 Yearly Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=1992&p=.htm. Retrieved 2010-1-08. 
  11. ^ "1994 Yearly Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?view2=worldwide&yr=1994&p=.htm. Retrieved 2010-1-08. 
  12. ^ "Highest grossing animated films". Box Office Mojo. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=animation.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-24. 
  13. ^ "Chicken Little". Box Office Mojo. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=chickenlittle.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  14. ^ "Meet the Robinsons". Box Office Mojo. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=meettherobinsons.htm. Retrieved 2008-11-24. 
  15. ^ http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=bolt.htm| Bolt's Gross Revenue
  16. ^ ""The Princess and the Frog" Production Notes". Disney.go.com. http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/princessandthefrog/assets/pdf/about/pnf_production_1.pdf. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
  17. ^ "The Little Mermaid". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1012450-little_mermaid/. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  18. ^ "The Little Mermaid (Cream of the Crop)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1012450-little_mermaid/?critic=creamcrop. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  19. ^ "The Rescuers Down Under". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rescuers_down_under/. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  20. ^ "The Rescuers Down Under (Cream of the Crop)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/rescuers_down_under/. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  21. ^ "Beauty and the Beast". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1038728-beauty_and_the_beast/. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  22. ^ "Beauty and the Beast (Cream of the Crop)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1038728-beauty_and_the_beast/?critic=creamcrop. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  23. ^ "Aladdin". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1042582-aladdin/. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  24. ^ "Aladdin (Cream of the Crop)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1042582-aladdin/?critic=creamcrop. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  25. ^ "The Lion King". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/lion_king/. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  26. ^ "The Lion King (Cream of the Crop)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/lion_king/?critic=creamcrop. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  27. ^ "The Lion King: Reviews". Metacritic. http://www.metacritic.com/film/titles/thelionking. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  28. ^ "Pocahontas". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1063809-pocahontas/. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  29. ^ "Pocahontas (Cream of the Crop)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1063809-pocahontas/?critic=creamcrop. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  30. ^ "Pocahontas: Reviews". Metacritic. http://www.metacritic.com/film/titles/pocahontas. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  31. ^ hunchback_of_notre_dame/ "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1073037- hunchback_of_notre_dame/. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  32. ^ "The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Cream of the Crop)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1073037-hunchback_of_notre_dame/?critic=creamcrop. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  33. ^ "Hercules". http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1078028-hercules/. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  34. ^ "Hercules (Cream of the Crop)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1078028-hercules/?critic=creamcrop. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  35. ^ "Mulan". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/mulan/. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  36. ^ "Mulan (Cream of the Crop)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/mulan/?critic=creamcrop. Retrieved 2009-03-11. 
  37. ^ "Mulan: Reviews". Metacritic. http://www.metacritic.com/film/titles/mulan. Retrieved 2008-09-12. 
  38. ^ "Tarzan". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/tarzan/. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  39. ^ "Tarzan (Cream of the Crop)". Rotten Tomatoes. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/tarzan/?critic=creamcrop. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  40. ^ "Tarzan: Reviews". Metacritic. http://www.metacritic.com/film/titles/tarzan. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  41. ^ "The Little Mermaid (1989)". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=littlemermaid.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  42. ^ "The Rescuers Down Under (1990)". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=rescuersdownunder.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  43. ^ "Beauty and the Beast (1991)". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=beautyandthebeast.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  44. ^ "Aladdin (1992)". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=aladdin.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  45. ^ "The Lion King (1994)". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=lionking.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  46. ^ "Pocahontas (1995)". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=pocahontas.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
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  48. ^ "The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=hunchbackofnotredame.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  49. ^ "Hercules (1997)". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=hercules.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  50. ^ "Mulan (1998)". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=mulan.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  51. ^ "Mulan (1998) – Box Office / business". IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120762/business. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  52. ^ "Tarzan (1998)". Box Office Mojo. http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=tarzan.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 

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