Disney Film Eras: How Would You Break Them Down?

Discussion in 'Disney/Pixar Forum' started by ToDandy, Mar 8, 2014.

  1. ToDandy

    ToDandy New Member

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    Disney is a studio that has had it's ups and downs through the years. These patches are typically broken down into "eras". Unfortunately, the only era that people definitively agree on is the Renaissance from the 1990's.

    With Frozen's recent victory at the Oscars--I thought it might be a good time to break down how I think the eras are defined and to hear how others might break them down.


    GOLD ERA:

    Movies: Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi

    Also known as the fast five films, these are the first films produced by Walt Disney and firmly established his company as the reigning king of feature animation early on.



    WARTIME ERA:

    Movies: Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures of Icabod and Mr. Toad

    WWII had kicked into high gear leaving Disney with a smaller budget and a small team of animators. The result was the creation of six package films that featured two or more shorts, rather than lengthy high budget features. These are typically some of the most obscure Disney films.



    SILVER ERA:

    Movies: Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book

    Disney returns to making full length, big budget animated ventures. The silver age features some of the most memorable Disney classics and is one of their strongest runs. The era ends with the Jungle Book, which marked Walt Disney's final produced film before his death.



    BRONZE ERA:

    Movies: The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver and Company

    This age was a time of decline for Disney. It served as a transitional period as the company was still trying to find its sea legs without Walt. It saw a movement away from fairy tales and became progressively darker. It's marked by some of the worst performing and worst received movies in the studios history.



    RENAISSANCE ERA:

    Movies: The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan

    The only universally agreed on era. The Renaissance was Disney's most successful era with renewed interest in the company and a return to the musical fairy tale format. All the films in this Era were marked as being big box office successes.



    POST-RENAISSANCE ERA:

    Movies: Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, The Emperor's New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt

    With rising competition and growing interest in CGI animated films, Disney dipped into a second decline. This era saw the studio's slow shift away from traditional animation and towards CGI films. Once again the musical/fairy tale was phased out. Disney saw many poor box office numbers and reviews for this run.



    REVIVAL ERA:

    Movies: Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen---(in progress)

    The current era we are in. After acquiring Pixar, Disney felt free to return to their own formula. The musical and fairy tale were back in style. They also saw improved performance in box office return. Every film in this era (so far) has seen critical acclaim.




    So that is how I map out the Disney Eras. Agree? Disagree? How would you define them and why?
     
  2. LegoFan224

    LegoFan224 Active Member

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    I'd put Bolt in the Revival Era. Otherwise, I agree.
     
  3. ToDandy

    ToDandy New Member

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    Yeah, the argument of if this era starts with Bolt or Princess and the Frog seems to be a common one. Here is the way I see it.

    The four main factors in the Disney Revival are

    #1- Return to musical fairy tales
    #2- Improved reception
    #3- Improved box office performance
    #4- John Lasseter taking over Disney Animation

    The fact is that although Bolt is higher quality and performed better at the box office than most of the Post-Renaissance films, it was still in production before Lasseter took over the studio. It also suffered a lot of the same production and development problems as other Post-Renaissance film (going through 3 different directors! Yikes!)

    Princess and the Frog on the other hand was a return to form for Disney as a company and the first film Lasseter oversaw from beginning to end. It was also a film that demonstrated Disney's shift back to tradition. Something that was further carried out with the production of Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, and Frozen.


    At least that's my reasoning.
     
  4. Peter Paltridge

    Peter Paltridge Steven Sword!

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    I think you got it -- I don't see much to argue about.

    During their next decline, we're going to hear "THE BEST ANIMATED FILM SINCE FROZEN!" instead of "THE BEST ANIMATED FILM SINCE THE LION KING!" in every ad.
     
  5. Alonso Torrejon

    Alonso Torrejon Member

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    Personally, I wish Disney had gone back to traditional animation (as in pencil and paper) instead of just relying on CGI all the time.
     
  6. ToDandy

    ToDandy New Member

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    Well, out of their last 5 films, two of them have been traditionally animated and Lasseter is trying to push for more hands on animation.

    Also the oscar winning Paper Man short was used to explore technology that will help make CGI-Tradition hybrid animation a reality. This will allow Disney to get the style of a traditional film with all the cost and time benefits that CGI animation has.

    So I hope this new technology works out for them.

    That being said. I really do like the current CGI style they are doing right now. It does have a look that's highly reminiscent of old Silver and Renaissance era designs.
     
  7. wonderfly

    wonderfly 30 Years since Vampire Hunter D!

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    Just discovered this topic.

    The thing about an era is that it usually takes until around the 3rd film to realize "Hey, we're in a new era now..." I remember that by the time "Aladdin" came out (or "Beauty and the Beast", if you do want to count "Rescuers Down Under" as part of the Renaissance), everyone was like "Disney is on to something here!!"

    For me, the "Post-Renaissance" era starts earlier. I think the Renaissance ended with "Pocahontas", or MAYBE "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". You're really going to tell me that "Hercules", "Mulan" and "Tarzan" were in the same class of films as their early to mid 90's counterparts? No, I think general audiences became aware that the "Renaissance" style film had become formulaic, and that movie goers were quickly reverting to thinking of Disney films as "Kids only" bleh...(not that they necessarily were, I'm just talking about perceptions)...Mulan and Tarzan were just not as popular of hits for Disney. To bring this back to my first paragraph above: By the time you got to "Mulan", or definitely by "Tarzan", I remember thinking "We've entered a new era here..."

    So for me, the "Post-Renaissance" era starts maybe around "Hercules", and ends with "Brother Bear/Home on the Range". "Home on the Range" was a total stinkfest (we've gone from showing majestic period pieces in world history - to a story about barnyard animals?!?). After that, Disney realizes they need to really get their act together, if they want to compete with Pixar, so they dive into the CGI landscape and out comes "Chicken Little" in 2005. I consider that the first of the current Disney era (whatever you want to call it). Granted "Chicken Little" was not the huge hit Disney wanted, but it's the start of Disney TRYING to go in a different direction (compare Chicken Little to "The Emperor's New Grove"...). Also, I LOVE "Bolt" and "Meet the Robinsons" and don't want to see them lumped in with the "Post-Renaissance" era... ;) The fact that those two films (and "Chicken Little") are CGI films does seem to make for a good case for seperation from the stuff Disney was putting out from 1997 to 2004...

    EDIT: One possible flaw: Going by my rule of public perception of "Hey, we've entered a new era here" (around the time a 3rd GOOD film comes out), that would make "Bolt" the 3rd film...and much as I love it, it wasn't a game changer. "Princess and the Frog" might be. But definitely by "Tangled" and "Wreck-It Ralph", it was like "Disney's on fire with awesomeness again - we've entered a new era!!"
     
  8. ToDandy

    ToDandy New Member

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    I do agree with this statement. You really can't assign eras unless you are well into one already.

    Remember that this era is the only universally agreed on one. But for the most part, I agree with it, not because each film was fantastic (though most were pretty good), but because the Renaissance saw renewed interest in the Disney title and all the films performed very well in this period (with exception to maybe only Rescuers Down Under). Almost every film made between $300,000,000 and $420,000,000.

    The popularity of these titles saw a decline directly after Tarzan. Out of the films in my Post-Renaissance collection, only Dinosaur and Bolt did within those numbers. And as I said previously, Bolt is not included in my Revival Era due to its similar production problems and the fact John Lasseter wasn't chief creative officer for the entirety of production.

    An interesting way to lump them. You seem to be organizing the eras based on quality. When I think of the eras I'm usually looking at the state of the studio, rather than film quality themselves. (Because all the eras have their good and bad).

    The Golden is the beginning

    Wartime is Disney during WWII

    Silver is their return to feature animations

    Bronze is a transitional era after Walt Disney died

    Renaissance is an era of big budget hits

    Post Renaissance is a second decline

    and Revival is yet another (more recent) resurgence.
     
  9. JShaggy

    JShaggy Completely Out of Character

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    Note: Original post redacted after realizing this was a real thread (thought I was posting in another thread, to be honest).

    Since I'm here, I'll chime in a bit.

    Up until the end of the Post-Renaissance era, Disney had some quality animation in their films. When they started taking an emphasis off of traditional animation in favor of 3D CGI, it just didn't feel the same (not to say CGI is a bad thing, as they have put out some quality films; much of which with the help of Pixar).

    Thankfully, Disney has not abandoned traditional animation altogether in this current era (The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh being the latest examples), and one can hope we will see more like this down the road every once in a while.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 1, 2014
  10. wonderfly

    wonderfly 30 Years since Vampire Hunter D!

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    Yeah, leaving aside "quality", I think there is something to the fact that "Chicken Little" was Disney's first CGI film, and that really does feel like the start of a new era, to me...

    I enjoyed Mulan and Tarzan...just don't know for certain if they belong in the "Renaissance"...I'm not sure "financial success" is enough to classify which films belong in which era either...

    EDIT: I guess Dinosaur was technically the first Disney CGI film (sorta)...looking at your "first three" films for the Post-Renaissance era (Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, the Emperor's New Grove"), you could definitely tell "Yeah, something's different about Disney now..."...but I was already feeling that way by the time we got to Tarzan.
     
  11. Ed Liu

    Ed Liu That's 'Cause I ATE IT!!!

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    If I was going to put Tarzan in the post-Renaissance era, I think it would be because it was the first of the movies in that run that wasn't a musical. Phil Collins got a lot of good songs in it and there is the "Trashing the Camp" sequence, but nobody else breaks into song in that movie. Four years earlier, Pixar had to kick and scream and scratch and holler to keep Toy Story from being a musical, and even then the few music video interludes by Randy Newman were the compromise acceptable to both Disney and Pixar. Up to then, it was a given that animated feature films were supposed to have big singing and dancing numbers in them (and, pretty much after Aladdin and the "Circle of Life" number for The Lion King, I never had much use for those musical numbers and can remember very very few of them).

    I would also say that there's a spirit of experimentation in that post-Renaissance era that really sets it apart from what had gone before. Sometimes that was technical (moving to CGI with Dinosaur), sometimes it was structural (going for straight adventure without musical numbers for Atlantis), sometimes it was in an approach (Lilo & Stitch putting minorities in the starring roles and licensing Elvis music rather than writing their own). Not all of it worked, of course -- audiences didn't care for a few of these films (and what a shame that Atlantis didn't attract more of an audience -- I think the field of American action animation would be very, very different today if it had gotten the audience I think it deserves), and I think the first half of that era is infinitely more successful than the second half, where the experimentation seems to turn to desperate flailing.

    I would also say Bolt is akin to Oliver & Company by serving as bridges between eras rather than sitting comfortably in one or the other. There's a lot of stuff at work in Oliver & Company that they'd refine and improve on when they get to The Little Mermaid, and the very underrated Bolt starts things that they'd really capitalize on in the subsequent films.
     
  12. darkdetective

    darkdetective Active Member

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    Early on, Kalla sings, and then it suddenly switches to Phil mid-song, if I remember correctly (its been years). That exact moment is where the Renaissance ends for me.
     
  13. Toon Master

    Toon Master Active Member

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    The black mark on the entire 90's decade of Disney animated films will always be Pocahontas. My god what a horrible movie that was. Pocahontas is where the Disney Renaissance era of the 90's ends for me. The next two films (Hunchback and Hercules) further cement that fact in my head. Yes, neither one of them are horrible movies and neither one of them got bad reviews (Hunchback has a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes while Hercules has an 84%), but it's just that you could really feel that something wasn't the same. That somewhere Disney executives and greed had taken much of the control away from the crews working on these films. The story was taking a back seat.
     
  14. wonderfly

    wonderfly 30 Years since Vampire Hunter D!

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    I can kind of agree with that. Following Pocahontas (maybe including Pocahontas), with "Hunchback" and "Hercules", it's like they were going through the motions of making a "Renaissance" film, not that they were truly interested in making something original.

    Like "Home on the Range". I guess you could throw in "Chicken Little" as desperate flailing, if you consider (like some do) it to be Disney doing a poor Pixar imitation...

    That's...pretty much a perfect comparison. "Bolt" is to these new films what "Oliver & Company" is to the Renaissance films...

    Still don't know what that makes "Meet the Robinsons". Maybe it's akin to "The Great Mouse Detective"? (the film BEFORE "Oliver & Company")... ;)
     
  15. Ed Liu

    Ed Liu That's 'Cause I ATE IT!!!

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    Yeah, I remember that scene now that you mention it. That never felt like a musical, though, because of that transition. The scene starts with Kala singing a song to soothe her upset child. The transition to Phil Collins' full instrumentation makes the moment bigger and more momentous, but it would have been different if Kala had kept singing. The moment as shot is a moment that utilizes music for its emotional impact, not a movie musical moment. Given your following comment, I'm assuming you didn't think it was, either.

    Was a great, great scene though. One of many in that movie.

    I haven't seen The Great Mouse Detective (it's on the List), but while Meet the Robinsons was kind of fun at times, it's also a big hot mess and a whole lot of the seams are still showing in that film. It's definitely the very start of the upward swing that would fully take hold with Bolt, but I'd still have to lump it in with the rest of the desperate flailing of the latter-half post-Renaissance movies. It's way better than all those other movies by a long shot, but that really doesn't say much. FWIW, I thought Treasure Planet was pretty but another hot mess that truly marked the end of the first Renaissance burst of creativity. I could even be convinced to split that era into Fantasia 2K to Lilo & Stitch as Post-Renaissance (marked by experimentation that was mostly successful critically if not commercially), and then into the Treasure Planet to Meet the Robinsons era as the New Bronze Era, marked by technical prowess serving generally terrible movies (though Winnie the Pooh in the original Bronze era is the exception). The Post Renaissance movies are attempts to try new things and branch out from what a "Disney" film could be; the New Bronze Era films are the ones where they tried doing that while sticking close to the usual Disney formula and those conflicting drives totally undermined the films.
     
  16. Mortimer

    Mortimer Guest

    Sounds like a reasonable division.

    I personally consider Sleeping Beauty and The Black Cauldron to be milestones, both being ambitious failures with darker visuals (both in 70mm widescreen, coincidentally). Disney changed its formula after both films, and the importance of The Great Mouse Detective shouldn't be underestimated in stabilising the animation department.

    I'd reorder the Renaissance like this:
    Proto-Renaissance: The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company
    Disney tried antropomorphic animals and the musical format again here, testing the waters after TBC. This is the foundation of the Renaissance.
    High Renaissance: The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas
    Late Renaissance/Transitional Era: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan
    Continuing the more exotic trend of The Lion King and Pocahontas, with experimentation preluding the following era.

    The era after it is one of experimentation. Following that, Tangled and Frozen are truly the Neo-Renaissance of Disney, following the High Renaissance formula.
     
  17. wonderfly

    wonderfly 30 Years since Vampire Hunter D!

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    I like. :) That manages to distinguish between "Beauty and the Beast" and "Mulan", and yet still call them all "Renaissance"...

    Maybe that would make "Meet the Robinsons" and "Bolt" in turn be "Proto Neo-Renaissance" (aka "Proto-Revival Era").... ;)
     
  18. Mortimer

    Mortimer Guest

    Perhaps it would, yes. As a student of Art History, I'm using a certain set of terms. I've opted for Neo-Renaissance because it really links it to the Disney Renaissance, though I suppose that if Get A Horse has set a precedent Revival will be the only accurate term.

    Continuing from my previous post, I'd start the Bronze Age with "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" rather than Walt's death. Sleeping Beauty flopped, the animation department was in trouble. Xerox photography was now used to save costs, leading to Dalmatians' cratchy animation that Walt Disney disliked.
     
  19. ToDandy

    ToDandy New Member

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    Yeah, I was also considering ending the Silver era with Sleeping Beauty (for the same reasons you listed) but ultimately optioned in favor for Walt Disney's death. I just saw that as being a bigger impact to the studio as a whole and you could really feel them slipping in terms of storytelling and animation quality, a a major shift in direction during that time.
     
  20. wonderfly

    wonderfly 30 Years since Vampire Hunter D!

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    That would move "The Jungle Book" to outside the "Silver Era"? We can't have that...Maybe we could have a "High Silver" and a "Low Silver" period...I mean, yes, it can be said that "101 Dalmations" and "Sword in the Stone" are a stark contrast from the days of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan"...but they all feel like Disney Classics (whereas the Bronze era is composed of films that...ARE NOT Classics).
     

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