9. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
Adapted from the books by Margery Sharp, we follow two mice of the international Rescue Aid Society who accept a mission to rescue a missing child kidnapped by a poacher in Australia.
An outlier in the Renaissance, the only cinematic Disney sequel until the 2010s, and a follow-up to a bizarre film about mouse secret agents, Rescuers Down Under is certainly a curio. All the other Renaissance movies were aiming for critical acclaim to one extent or another, but this is just an undemanding environmentalist adventure romp for kids. There’s nothing wrong with being just that, but it really isn’t anything more.
Animation game-changer: This was the first feature film to be fully computer-animated, with some contributions from nascent computer graphics company Pixar.
Magical moment: Poacher McLeach and his pet monitor lizard Joanna in an extended sight gag as the reptile tries to sneak eggs out of her master’s lunchbox.
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8. Tarzan (1999)
A man raised by gorillas discovers his true heritage when English explorers arrive in his jungle.
Tarzan is probably a lot better than you remember it. The Disney Renaissance’s most detailed and dynamically animated feature has a lot of positive attributes from pristine character and background animation to its flowing pace and action. You can tell this was the Renaissance winding down, but it’s still good, twangy Phil Collins soundtrack aside.
Animation game-changer: The development of the “Deep Canvas” animation technique, allowing for 2D characters to convincingly inhabit 3D environments with the illusion of depth.
Magical moment: The silent (save for Collins) opening montage that records the tragic fates of baby Tarzan and his parents in a poignant fashion.
7. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Mermaid princess Ariel dreams of becoming human and strikes a bargain with sea witch Ursula to see her wish granted.
John Musker and Ron Clements are easily Disney’s most successful writer-director team. This is Musker & Clements’ first Disney Renaissance movie.
The character animation is expressive, the underwater environments and effects are gorgeous and the musical numbers eclectic (everything from Gilbert and Sullivan riffs to cabaret and calypso party numbers). Ariel (Jodi Benson) is the prototypical Disney teenage dreamer which every subsequent protagonist would borrow from.
Animation game-changer: Disney’s return to filming actors as they recorded voice lines and songs to inform character animation. The undersea setting stretched the studio’s special effects animators to breaking point, requiring outsourcing to get every bubble and lighting effect finished on time.
Magical moment: While everyone loves “Part of Your World” and “Under the Sea”, the key scene is Ursula’s temptation and dark contract with Ariel in “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.