Disney’s Second Renaissance: Animation for the Modern Age

Kids these days don’t know how hard it was to be a Disney fan during the 70s and 80s (neither do I but that’s beside the point). After the death of Walt Disney in 1966, the company struggled to find an identity, losing several of its talented animators and facing stiff competition from one of its former veterans in Don Bluth. While Disney was producing mediocre movies like The Black Cauldron (1985) and Oliver & Company (1988), they were losing out to movies like An American Tail (1986) and The Land Before Time (1988) in terms of critical opinion. However, while many consider The Black Cauldron to be rock bottom for Disney during this period, Oliver & Company was successful enough for Disney to put time and effort into producing animated films every year. Thus began a 10 year period known as the “Disney Renaissance”  starting with the release of The Little Mermaid (1989) and ending with Tarzan (1999). My early childhood was entertained by the movies of this era in parallel with the emergence of Pixar who complemented the traditional animation of Disney with a new form of 3D computer animation that was finally becoming detailed enough to be used in feature films such as Toy Story (1995).

Unfortunately the regression to the mean that followed was slow and painful. Dinosaur (2000) while a technical masterpiece that utilized both CGI and real world backgrounds, managed to fail to entertain my 8 year old self with dinosaurs, which is like failing to sell a glass of water to a dehydrated hiker in the desert. After a couple disastrous movies that failed both critically and economically (Treasure Planet (2002) and Home on the Range (2004)) it seemed like Disney would give up entirely on traditional animation in favor of CGI, further supported by Disney’s acquisition of Pixar in 2006. However, this acquisition of Pixar brought aboard two key figures in reviving the company’s animation studio, Edwin Catmull and John Lasseter. With Catmull as the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and John Lasseter as its Chief Creative Officer, Disney once again directed itself towards making movies that audiences would enjoy rather than trying to corner certain markets or showcase technical gimmicks. Starting with The Princess and The Frog (2008), Disney entered a second renaissance, and when Frozen came out in 2013, it seemed as if Disney had conquered the animation world.

I originally planned on creating a single blog post that would feature two films from this time period: the aforementioned Frozen and this year’s latest hit Moana (2016). These films obviously have much in common, strong female leads accompanied by amazing Broadway style music in a story that doesn’t quite follow the old “Disney Princess” formula. However, the blog ended up being way too long to fit into one post, so I decided to give each movie its own review with this post being the introduction. At some point I’d like to review all of the movies from the second Disney renaissance (2008-present) with this post being the hub. But for now, consider this as a background introduction to the upcoming series of reviews.

Frozen Review (coming soon!)

Moana Review (coming soon!)

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