6. Aladdin (1992)
A street urchin falls for a princess and is given his chance to impress her when he comes into the possession of a genie in a magic lamp.
Musker & Clements Renaissance movie #2.
Aladdin has energy and humour aplenty, but really is nothing without Robin Williams. Guy Ritchie’s 2019 remake was mostly reduced to imitating this one rather than doing anything different or more interesting – understandable to an extent given how iconic this 1992 release has become.
Animation game-changer: Disney’s first Middle Eastern leads. Disney also doubles down on taking cues from their voice actors’ performances, animators creating elaborate new sequences for the Genie from Robin Williams’ rapid-fire streams of consciousness improv.
Magical moment: The Genie’s fireworks display of an introduction “Friend Like Me” that shows Williams – and the animators tripping over themselves to match him – at their best.
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5. Mulan (1998)
The daughter of a retired Chinese soldier goes to war in his stead against the Huns while disguised as a man.
Mulan is beautiful to look at, but it’s broad. Cultural influences, iconography and principal cast are drawn from all across East Asia, but its all presented very handsomely in the style of Chinese ink paintings. Ming-Na Wen gives one of the best lead Disney performances of the era as Mulan, perhaps second only to Paige O’Hara. It’s also one of the few Disney movies with a real body count, being a war movie of a kind.
Animation game-changer: Disney’s first Asian lead. Disney also started taking influence from art in other cultures in earnest here.
Magical moment: One of the great training montages set to one of Disney’s catchiest numbers”Make a Man Out of You”. It also serves as an essential moment of character growth for Mulan – she proves herself not only to an army of manly men, but to herself.
4. Hercules (1997)
The son of Zeus is cursed to become mortal and must prove himself a true hero to see his immortality restored.
Clements & Musker Renaissance movie #3.
The best song of the Disney Renaissance, “I Won’t Say I’m in Love”, sung by the most interesting character of the era, Megara (Susan Egan). Meg and villainous huckster Hades (James Woods) are the undoubted highlights, it’s just a pity that Herc himself is so dull.
Animation game-changer: The largest team of animators working on one character for the time (12-13 on the Wonder Boy himself). Disney’s art style was heavily influenced by Classical Greek art but also Gerald Scarfe’s cartoons in The New Yorker.
Magical moment: The opening montage establishing the Greek mythology backstory presented in the form of pottery with a killer gospel accompaniment.