When you hear the name Walt Disney, what immediately springs to mind? The Avengers? Star Wars? Of course not.
Sure, the Mouse House owns all of these intellectual properties—plus many more—and regularly promotes them as part of the brand. But despite how big those properties are, they aren’t the first things we think of when it comes to Walt Disney.
That honor goes to all the classic Disney characters and animated movies that have been produced over the past century. And while Disney has gone through slumps, they’ve had many resurgences—like the Disney Renaissance that started in 1989.
Long after Pinocchio and Bambi first captured audiences, Disney gave us an incredible decade full of animated movies that are now considered classics and childhood favorites.
Here’s every animated movie from the Disney Renaissance, ranked from worst to best. How many have you seen?
10. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
A throwback to one of Disney’s better films of the 1970s, The Rescuers Down Under is the film nobody remembers from the Renaissance.
Not because it’s a bad film. In fact, it’s a wholly fun-filled sequel with a great voice cast and slick animation; however, compared to everything else that was released in the era, it does fall short.
It came out a little after The Little Mermaid—the movie that started the Disney Renaissance—and it does hold the distinction of being Disney’s first feature-length animated sequel released in cinemas. But looking at what came afterwards, it’s a blip in history.
9. Pocahontas (1995)
Pocahontas, a tale of Native Americans and British settlers, wasn’t as well-received as the rest of Disney’s Renaissance era output.
While the voice acting and animation is among some of Disney’s more memorable titles, the picture is wayward in keeping a thematic balance through its runtime.
Some have said that the picture lacks fun to go along with the film’s contemporary efforts (which is accurate) and that the story is quite dull (also accurate). Pocahontas, then, is a movie that’s remembered more fondly than it perhaps deserves to be.
8. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is possibly the most overtly scary movie of the era for Disney. It is, after all, a movie that’s permeated by fear, fire, and fury.
Quasimodo’s story of never being allowed to leave the high reaches of Notre Dame’s cathedral, and the adventure he finds when he does, is one of the boldest attempts made by Disney to capture the attention of both child and adult audiences.
The film has good vocal performances from Demi Moore, Tom Hulce, Tony Jay, and Jason Alexander. Unfortunately, the dark tone didn’t sit too comfortably with some, who worried that the film was too horrific for Disney’s traditional audience.
7. Tarzan (1999)
Disney’s take on the classic Tarzan tale is as good as any that have seen theatrical releases. The story is well-thought-out with great script, and the protagonist’s journey is compelling to watch.
The venerated voice cast includes Minnie Driver, Tony Goldwyn, Glenn Close, Nigel Hawthorne, and Brian Blessed. They all contribute to rounding out the film with committed performances, and the animation is the best of the Disney Renaissance.
Tarzan marked the final film in the decade-long acclaimed Disney Renaissance as Disney’s taste in animation started changing toward more computer imagery than hand-drawn traditionalism.
6. The Little Mermaid (1989)
“I wanna go where the people are.”
Ariel’s song as she yearns to meet human beings is whimsical and full of longing, which sums her up as a character. However, beyond Ariel, The Little Mermaid is a genuinely twisted tale of power and evil.
Upon bargaining with Ursula to be given legs so she can go to the surface and meet with Prince Eric, Ariel loses her ability to speak. This means she must communicate with Eric in other ways, all before she’s turned into a shrivelled creature.
The movie is menacing underneath its flowery exterior, but the result is astonishing. It’s rightfully a Disney classic and doubly important for being the movie to kick off the Disney Renaissance.
5. Hercules (1997)
Hercules is Disney’s boldest and most grandiose picture made during the Disney Renaissance. The adapted story of the son of Zeus taken from Olympus to live in the mortal world (and the greatest of Greek heroes) is dark, whimsical, funny, and devastating.
The voice cast is impeccable as Tate Donovan, Danny DeVito, Susan Egan, and Rip Torn stand out; however, it’s James Woods’ Hades that steals the show. His hilarious one-liners combine with his undoubted evil to form one of Disney’s best villains.
4. Mulan (1998)
Disney’s iteration of the fabled female warrior feels ahead of its time, considering it came out in 1998—which is made doubly strange since it’s based on an old Chinese folk tale.
Mulan is the journey of a young woman who pretends to be a man so that she may take her elderly father’s place in fighting the Hun army. The picture is genuinely tense as Mulan is almost caught several times before finally being outed as a woman.
The movie has a great sense of story, and Eddie Murphy’s Mushu steals the show with his hilarious performance. Mulan herself lives on as one of Disney’s most empowering female characters as well.
3. Aladdin (1992)
Aladdin is most fondly remembered for Robin Williams’ game-changing vocal performance as Genie. It was his high-profile casting that allowed other animated movies to justify hiring big names.
As a motion picture, Aladdin is adapted from the Arabic fable about a boy who finds a magic lamp that produces a wish-fulfilling genie. It’s an endearing film that has become beloved by generations, thanks to its edge and jokes meant for adults rather than children.
While Jafar, Princess Jasmine, and Aladdin himself are all great characters, Genie steals the entire show with Williams’ energetic performance. The film was a commercial and critical success and is one of Disney’s finest films to date.
2. The Lion King (1994)
Based on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Lion King is a film that had no right to be as good as it was. Making one of the immortal bard’s greatest plays into an animated motion picture filled with animals on the African savanna? Surely that could only lead to disaster.
However, The Lion King was the exact opposite of a disaster. With its vast vocal talent on offer and the songwriting prowess of Tim Rice and Elton John, the film became iconic. It has spawned various sequels, spin-offs, and even a Broadway show.
While the whole cast is outstanding, James Earl Jones’ Mufasa and Jeremy Irons’ Scar dominate the picture together. There are no weaknesses to the film, and it’s an example of how good Disney has been at its towering best.
1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Beauty and the Beast is the only Disney animated film to garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The movie is profoundly Disney—scary, charming, whimsical, hopelessly romantic.
Taken from a French folk tale, the story follows Belle as she trades places with her imprisoned father after he trespasses on the hideous Beast’s castle. Slowly, the pair fall in love… and the spell that keeps the Beast looking like he does is lifted to reveal a handsome Prince.
The film is about the strength of womanhood and the beauty within, which comes across perfectly in the picture. Other films might be as good as Beauty and the Beast, but none represent the values of Disney better than this one.