The 1990s was a golden age for Disney animation. Ahead of the upcoming remake of Aladdin, Jenna Guillaume rewatches all Disney flicks from the 90s and ranks them from worst to best.
Much is made of the Disney renaissance – that time when the studio churned out hit after hit of animated classics. It began in the ‘80s with The Little Mermaid, but it was the ‘90s that saw the true golden era. Nostalgia for these movies is now so potent that Disney is much less focused on creating new animated films, and much more into rehashing their own stories through live-action remakes.
With the latest of these – Aladdin – about to be released, let’s take a look back at what made the originals so great, and what made others less successful. Here is the definitive list of Walt Disney Animation Studios movies of the ‘90s, ranked from worst to best.
9. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
I’m not quite sure what about Victor Hugo’s gothic classic – which is full of lust, violence and brutal deaths – Disney thought would make for a delightful children’s movie. Even with the watered-down plot and the much (MUCH) happier ending, it’s still not a very fun tale. And I couldn’t even tell you what a single song from the soundtrack is called.
8. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
The Rescuers Down Under has some beautiful action sequences, and it was one of the only touchstones Australian ‘90s kids had for representation of our country on international screens (outside of that one episode of The Simpsons). Too bad it’s not exactly accurate (I mean, what’s with all those American accents?!). It’s also basically a copy + paste of the first The Rescuers movie, only far less good.
7. Tarzan (1999)
Tarzan is a fine Disney movie. But the ‘90s was a decade for great Disney movies. Tarzan just doesn’t measure up to the others on any front – character, plot, or even music (sorry Phil Collins). I’m not saying these aspects of Tarzan are terrible! They just aren’t as good.
6. Mulan (1998)
Like Tarzan, Mulan came out at the tail end of Disney’s renaissance. Its strength is in its characters, particularly its fierce, brave heroine and remarkably non-toxic leading man. The music is great as well. But the movie just doesn’t quite reach the soaring heights of its predecessors.
5. Pocahontas (1995)
It’s hard to look past the culturally appropriative aspects of any non-white narrative in the Disney canon these days, and Pocahontas is perhaps one of the worst offenders. But in the ‘90s it made such an impact, and it still remains visually and musically stunning (except that “Savages” song, eek). Pocahontas herself is a wonderful character, and the lack of a “happy” ending is pretty surprising and refreshing – even if my romantic 9-year-old self was disappointed.
4. Hercules (1997)
I actually think Hercules is one of the most underrated movies of Disney’s golden era. Maybe it’s the ~quirky~ animation that puts people off? But Hercules is so funny and entertaining. Hades is one of the best Disney villains, and Megara is a gloriously snarky leading lady. I even love Hercules himself, the hunky dork that he is. Plus the Hercules soundtrack is one of the greatest in the Disney canon (shout out to all my fellow “I Won’t Say (I’m In Love)” devotees).
3. Aladdin (1992)
The best Disney movies – much to the despair of many a parent, I’m sure – are endlessly rewatchable and endlessly quotable. And Aladdin is certainly both of those things. A large part of its appeal is in Robin Williams’ irrepressible Genie, although Aladdin has his own underdog charm, while Princess Jasmine’s determination not to be a damsel in distress is awesome – even if the movie does unfortunately reduce her to this. The songs, of course, are wall-to-wall fantastic, and some of the action sequences are downright magical.
2. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Are there problematic elements to the romance in this movie? Sure. Do I love it anyway? ABSOLUTELY. Belle is a smart, caring and well-rounded heroine who yearns for adventure – and finds it. The Beast, well, he gives her a library as a gift and instantly becomes the best romantic hero of any Disney movie. The animation is gorgeous, the story is well-paced, and the songs are classics for very good reason. Beauty and the Beast also has some of the least annoying sidekicks in Disney history, which is a plus.
1. The Lion King (1994)
Where Disney failed to make The Hunchback of Notre Dame palatable for kids, they succeeded with Hamlet and The Lion King. With talking animals to boot! I’m just gonna say it – forget the Disney backlist, The Lion King has to be one of the greatest movies of all time. It’s hard to find a ‘90s kid who wasn’t forever scarred by Mufasa’s death, and yet we all kept going back for more. The Lion King is both tragic and hilarious, balancing light and shade in a lovely ~circle of life~. You can’t help but love (or love to hate) every character, and the musical numbers are nothing short of spectacular.