Disney Animation went through major changes at the start of the Disney Renaissance, but which films caused major changes in the studio?
The period of films released by Walt Disney Animation from 1989 to 1999 is often considered a major highlight of American animation history and is referred to as the Disney Renaissance. However, the period didn’t suddenly come without warning, with the successes and shortcomings of his earlier films heavily affecting him. Three films in particular helped set the stage for the animation studio’s revival.
Adapted from The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron was meant to appeal to an audience older than Disney fans at the time. In it, the heroic Taran and Princess Eilonwy try to prevent the Horned King from raising an army of the undead via the titular Black Cauldron. Among the artists working on the film were veteran animator Mel Shaw, aspiring The Little Mermaid director Ron Clements and budding animator Tim Burton, who briefly appeared in the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty.
Despite the ambition and budget put into the film, which Slate reported was the most expensive animated film of all time at the time, the film’s reception was seen as a loss, with mixed box office and critical reviews. The Black Cauldron has even been called by some, as reported by Slate, as the film that “almost killed Disney Animation.” One of the film’s vocal critics was Jeffrey Katzenberg, then Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, who found the film too dark. As further explained in Waking Sleeping Beauty, Disney Animation was then forced to move buildings and adjust their plans for their next film — leaving Disney Animation developing in unexpected ways.
Great Mouse Detective
Genius mouse detective Basil spends the film working with Dawson, a former soldier and new acquaintance, to help a young woman, Olivia, reunite with her father, who has been kidnapped by Basil’s nemesis, Ratigan. with the short development window and tight budget imposed on them from a studio that was cautious. after the recent finances. failure.
As Waking Sleeping Beauty points out, there was some behind-the-scenes tension with Katzenberg, but the production was smoother than The Black Cauldron. The Great Mouse Detective is also the first Disney Animation film to fully use CGI in the film, with the climactic battle inside Big Ben featuring various computer-generated clock mechanisms. The film was a critical and commercial success, and during production, Clements and Musker began work on what would become The Little Mermaid — a staple of the Disney Renaissance.
Oliver & Company
Following the box office failure of The Black Cauldron, Katzenberg and Walt Disney Feature Animation CEO Michael Eisner allowed animators to pitch all their ideas. This includes story artist Pete Young, who adapted Oliver Twist centered around dogs. Catching Katzenberg’s attention, the film was approved, according to the New York Times. Centered around a lonely cat named Oliver who lives in 80s New York City, Oliver ends up under the wing of a cool street dog named Dodger, who introduces him to another dog gang.
In many ways, Oliver & Company can be seen as a forerunner of the style of film that Disney Animation would increasingly create during the Disney Renaissance. Unlike other Disney Animations of the time, Oliver & Company performed lavish musical numbers, paving the way for bombastic tunes in future films. The film also uses contemporary stars as voice actors, with Billy Joel, Bette Midler, and Cheech Marin all playing key roles. It will be a big part of many future animated films in general, especially from Disney in the coming decades. It also marks Disney’s full return to the box office — with the film outperforming box-office rival The Land Before Time in terms of gross revenue.