Once upon a time… well, in 1989… it was a time of great change for Walt Disney Animation. The former masters of the form, completely dominant of big screen animation since the 1940s, were in a rut. But, thanks in no small part to the creative minds of John Musker and Ron Clements, they were finally about to see an end to two decades of creative drought and financial disappointment. Ten years of new classics were on the horizon – innovative, complex and instantly iconic, with more unfulfilled teenagers, camp villains wearing purple and animal sidekicks than you ever thought you needed.
Honourable mention: A Goofy Movie (1995)
While my fellow millennials might feel a bit sore that A Goofy Movie isn’t included on this list, here’s the rationale…
While it was produced during Disney’s Renaissance period, it was made by Disney’s B team as a follow-up to Goofy’s TV series and did not have the studio’s full creative weight thrown behind it, nor the budget. It’s still a cute and heartfelt movie about growing pains and daddy issues, but not a game-changer like all the other films on this list.
10. Pocahontas (1995)
Very loosely based on historical figures, the daughter of a Powhatan chief falls for an English soldier and must chose a side in a war against her people.
I think they were going for earnest with Pocahontas, but unfortunately they ended up coming across as patronising. John Smith really is the worst isn’t he?
Quite aside from how unpalatable a personality Gibson has become over the years, his character here mansplains the concept of civilisation to an indigenous woman. That’s much worse than the actual villain who’s just egotistical and greedy.
The animal sidekicks are cute, but this ends up being stuck halfway between merchandisable entertainment and aiming for prestige.
Animation game-changer: Disney’s first lead character from an indigenous people and their first story inspired by the lives of real people as opposed to fairy tales.
Magical moment: Pocahontas’ efforts to humble the arrogant John Smith and his narrow worldview with undeniable earworm “Colours of the Wind” is gorgeously animated, transitioning between vignettes of nature in harmony linked by living watercolour.