When we talk about eras of Disney feature animation, there are only two terms that are universally accepted: the Disney Renaissance and the Post-Renaissance era. Both of these are used to describe the modern era of Disney Animation (1989 to the present). However, another term gets thrown around: the Dark Age, which refers either to the era right after Walt Disney’s death or to the period after the Disney Renaissance. I personally feel that this is an unfair assessment to both of those eras. Calling these films “the Dark Age” immediately puts a negative concept towards them. Though the films from 1970 to 1988 were not the top grossing animated films they are still memorable and important to the history of animation. Throughout its over 70 year history, Disney has produced great films that are critically acclaimed. Though beloved, some did not perform as well as earlier films or were panned at the box office. So I’ve decided to try and find names that fit each era without any negative connotations.
The Walt Disney Era (1937-1967)
The first era of Disney feature animation is marked by Walt Disney’s direct involvement in each film. This era is distinguished by the adaptation of many fairy tales and children’s stories. The Walt Disney Era is also marked by the most rapid development of animation technology in any one Disney era. The films of this era is further categorized below.
The Beginning Films (1937-1942)
The following films are the films with the most involvement from Walt Disney and made many dramatic advances in animation.
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
- Pinocchio (1940)
- Fantasia (1940)
- Dumbo (1941)
- Bambi (1942)
The Package Films (1942-1949)
These films are distinguished by their combination of numerous short pieces into one feature-length picture. These were produced with smaller budgets and crews than previous pictures because during World War II the European markets were essentially lost. An animator’s strike at the studio also forced Disney to cut costs.
- Saludos Amigos (1942)
- The Three Caballeros (1944)
- Make Mine Music (1946)
- Fun and Fancy Free (1947)
- Melody Time (1948)
- The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Return to Features (1950-1967)
Beginning with Cinderella, this era marks the return to full-length films with one central story after World War II. Starting with 101 Dalmatians, the studio began photocopying the animators’ sketches onto the animation cells. This marked the end of the Disney Ink and Paint Department.
- Cinderella (1950)
- Alice in Wonderland (1951)
- Peter Pan (1953)
- Lady and the Tramp (1955)
- Sleeping Beauty (1959)
- One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
- The Sword in the Stone (1963)
- The Jungle Book (1967)
Reitherman Era (1970-1981)
Wolfgang Reitherman, a Disney animator, became a major force in studio after Walt Disney’s death. Reitherman produced all of the films during this period and directed all but The Fox and the Hound. This era is distinguished by its use of animals as the main characters in all of the films, with humans appearing in a supporting role.
- The Aristocats (1970)
- Robin Hood (1973)
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
- The Rescuers (1977)
- The Fox and the Hound (1981)
The Pre-Renaissance Era (1985-1988)
The three films listed here mark Disney’s early use of computer animated graphics in animated films. The Black Cauldron was the first Disney film to use computer generated graphics. When Oliver and Company was released three years later CGI was even more in use. These films paved the way for the Disney Renaissance Era by giving the fledgling animators a chance to develop their personal animation styles. Though not the box office power houses as the films that followed each one is charming and original in their storytelling and styles.
- The Black Cauldron (1985)
- The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
- Oliver and Company (1988)
The Disney Renaissance Era (1989-1999)
This era is marked by a return to fairy tales. The Disney Renaissance Era saw an increase of computer effects, a more Broadway musical-like story structure utilizing songs to move the plot and (excellent) character development. The Disney Renaissance Era films brought Disney back into relevance and importance in Hollywood and in homes worldwide.
- The Little Mermaid (1989)
- The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
- Beauty and the Beast (1991)
- Aladdin (1992)
- The Lion King (1994)
- Pocahontas (1995)
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
- Hercules (1997)
- Mulan (1998)
- Tarzan (1999)
The Post-Renaissance Era (1999-2008)
Computer animation takes a leading role in all of the films from the Post-Renaissance Era. More computer-generated special effects are used than ever before, and the first Disney computer animated film, Dinosaur, is released. Another hallmark of this era are the original ideas and unique, creative ways used to tell old stories.
- Fantasia 2000 (1999)
- Dinosaur (2000)
- The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
- Atlantis: the Lost Empire (2001)
- Lilo and Stitch (2002)
- Treasure Planet (2002)
- Brother Bear (2003)
- Home on the Range (2004)
- Chicken Little (2005)
- Meet the Robinsons (2007)
- Bolt (2008)
The Neo-Renaissance Era (2009-Present)
Renaissances in Disney always seem to be marked with a return to fairy tales. The Neo-Renaissance Era shows a return to musical adventures, hand-drawn animation, original ideas, and all-around ‘classic Disney.’ The films are critically-acclaimed and were popular at the box office.
- The Princess and the Frog (2009)
- Tangled (2010)
- Winnie the Pooh (2011)
- Wreck-it Ralph (2012)
- Frozen (2013)
My ask box is open for responses, comments, or questions!