Editorial: The Two Disney Renaissance’s

I think it’s safe to say that everyone here loves Disney movies.  Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t have gone to see Zootopia in the first place.

Well, when I left Zootopia for the first time, I noticed a pattern in Disney’s movies.  One that could mean good things for days to come, if it holds true, or that could mean another decline from the House of Mouse.

Check out the full theory here or after the break.

As most fans of Disney are aware, the Disney Renaissance spanned from 1989 to 1999. The movies ascribed to it are, in this order:
  1. The Little Mermaid (1989)
  2. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
  3. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
  4. Aladdin (1992)
  5. The Lion King (1994)
  6. Pocahontas (1995)
  7. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
  8. Hercules (1997)
  9. Mulan (1998)
  10. Tarzan (1999)
After that point came several movies that just… weren’t on par with even the worst of these movies (which, in my opinion, were Tarzan and Hercules, but that’s personal preference). Sure, there was the occasional cult hit, like The Emperor’s New Groove or Lilo and Stitch, but for the most part we were given movies like Atlantis and Bolt. They’re decent movies (except for Chicken Little– again, my irrelevant opinion) but they never quite managed to reach the standard set by The Little MermaidBeauty and the Beast, or The Lion King.
Once Pixar was fully bought by Disney in 2006 they started to move more towards 3D animation, stumbling at first with movies like Meet the Robinsons and Bolt. However, it wasn’t until Tangled that what I will call the Second Disney Renaissance truly begins. Why Tangled and not The Princess and The Frog? Well, although Princess and the Frog WAS a fairy-tale princess musical, it seems to mark more of an end than it does a beginning. As far as we know, Disney won’t be doing another big-name movie using traditional 2D animation for quite a while, if ever.
So, beginning at Tangled (and not counting Winnie the Pooh, because it wasn’t a fully original movie for disney) the Second Disney Renaissance, as I call it, goes like this:
  1. Tangled (2010)
  2. Wreck-it-Ralph (2012)
  3. Frozen (2013)
  4. Big Hero 6 (2014)
  5. Zootopia (2016)
  6. Moana (2016)
  7. Gigantic (2018)
  8. ??? (2019?)
  9. ??? (2020?)
  10. ??? (2021?)
What I noticed once Zootopia released was that these two Disney Renaissance’s are following a pattern. In fact, while the movies themselves may be different, the characteristics of the movies released are similar. So similar that I can’t just write it off as a coincedence. Consider:
  1. The Little Mermaid <–> Tangled – Princess movies, musicals, signaled a return of quality in Disney Animation, very popular.
  2. The Rescuers Down Under <–> Wreck-it-Ralph – Action/Adventure movies with some absolutely amazing background and character animation. Considered “love letters” to other forms of media (Adventure Novels and Video Games, respectively.) Considered to be kind of underrated.
  3. Beauty and the Beast <–> Frozen – ENORMOUSLY POPULAR, fairy tale stories, musicals, set new standards for animation
  4. Aladdin <–> Big Hero Six – Action/Adventure movies starring male protagonist, both popular but not nearly as popular as their predecessor, both based loosely on stories that were almost entirely unknown in popular culture.
  5. The Lion King <–> Zootopia – The crowning jewel of the Original Disney Renaissance, and I’d argue that so far, Zootopia fills that role as well. Masterpieces of Animation and Storytelling. Both were under-represented by marketing (which was focusing on the next big Princess Movie) but got enormously popular through word-of-mouth. Modern Animal Fables (Not a single human to be found in either movie, but tell truly human stories audiences of all ages can learn from and enjoy).
  6. Pocahontas <–> Moana – Musicals telling the stories of Princesses Of Color (what? they are!). That’s all I can really say to compare them at this point.
Now, this whole pattern could be thrown off-track by Moana. In fact, I hope it does, because that means Moana would be an amazing movie. Pocahontas was a step backward after The Lion King in several areas, such as animation, writing, and music, and for Disney, it was downhill from there.
(Before you say anything I know that The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mulan were amazing, but they didn’t do especially well in the box office or with critics compared to what had come before.)
So this is the part where I’m sure you expect me to put some theory that explains this pattern. Well, as of the time of writing this, I don’t have one. Either there’s some genius executive at Disney who knows exactly what sort of movies to green-light and when, or it’s history repeating itself, or something entirely different. A likely explanaiton is that the geniuses who were behind Pixar’s brilliance have moved over to Disney Animation Studios (a possibility backed up by the “not-as-good-as-we-expect-from-Pixar” movies like Brave and Cars 2 that have released since the studio was bought).
I don’t know, and I honestly only care out of curiosity. Disney going through a Second Renaissance is something that benefits everyone involved- We get great movies, Disney gets lots of money. I just wanted to write this to point out this pattern that I’m noticing, and see what sort of thoughts you all have on it.
If you like this idea, comment below and let’s see if we can figure out what exactly is going on at Disney.


  1. This is very perceptive. My animation friends and I started a fan club for (mainly) Japanese animation in 1977, a time when animation in the US was pretty much dying. We noticed things began to turn around with the release of The Secret of NIMH, Watership Down and eventually Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It took a while for the cartoon (and Anime) lovers to get through art school and into the industry. This, along with advances in technology (FLASH) and access (YouTube) brought about a true Renaissance in animation. Hopefully this trend will continue. Now, if people (who should know better) would just stop with "animation is for kids" statements that are so common.

  2. Well, something happened in 1994: Katzenberg left Disney. And as Eisner gained full control, Disney started its decline.

    Now, Disney is headed by Iger, who loves to delegate (and *actually* delegates), and the animation division is under the watch of John Lasseter, whose approach to storytelling was VERY unlike Eisner…

    I think the pattern won't repeat.

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