In the 1990’s, Disney had an era of nothing but hit after hit. However, Disney had not been very popular since the 1950’s so this new revival has been coined the Disney Renaissance. Recently, Disney has started to produce a new era of hits. Which begs the question: which decade is better, the Renaissance versus the Modern Disney movies?
Disney has never been a constant success. They have had decades where they were on a roll, and then, long periods of mediocrity. Renaissance movies like Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King were global accomplishments, whereas Treasure Planet or Atlantis: The Lost Empire were not. Then, Disney’s magic came back with films such as Wreck-it Ralph, Tangled and Frozen.
What are the pros to the Modern Disney films? There has been a big push nowadays to have strong female protagonists. After years of films where the girls were just damsels-in-distress or eye-candy, Disney is finally creating protagonists who are active. They can be funny, quirky, strict, driven, adorable, insightful, curious, and action heroes. Belle from Beauty in the Beast or Princess Jasmine from Aladdin did not have clear motivations. They wanted to be free, but had no idea what they wanted with that freedom. Ariel from Little Mermaid sacrificed her voice so she could be with a boy.
On the other hand, Rapunzel from Tangled wanted to be free in order to explain her origins. She had been separated from her parents at birth, and her motivation is to find out where her true origins lie. Anna from Frozen risks her life not for the affection of a boy, but to rescue her sister. In some ways, Queen Elsa from Frozen and Rapunzel are more relatable for today’s young audiences than any of the Renaissance protagonists. Both of them are supernatural beings who are recluses. There is nothing physically stopping them from leaving their homes, except for their own agoraphobia. This could be translated as a metaphor for young people today staying at home instead of going outside to interact with the world. Elsa and Rapunzel are avatars for Disney’s message of not being afraid to explore, to make mistakes, learn from them, and to embrace one’s differences. These themes are more relatable to teenagers than the themes of racial purification or religious sacrilege that The Hunchback of Notre Dame had.
Renaissance does have its perks, though. For example, the Renaissance Disney was more inclined to trust younger viewers with mature elements versus their modern films. The Renaissance films were not afraid to show scenes that could traumatize even adults. Only a heartless person would be unmoved at the sight of Mufasa’s corpse in The Lion King. One of the most intense and epic openings to a movie in cinematic history is the scene from The Hunchback of Notre Dame where Judge Frollo is chasing down Quasimodo’s mother through the streets of Paris and brutally killing her.
Nowadays, Disney would never even think of showing anything that explicit. They treat their audiences with baby-gloves. The most traumatic scene Modern Disney has created is the death of the parents in Frozen. Audiences do not even get to see the parents die. They just see some ship, which the parents are aboard, in the background tumbling over in a massive storm.
Another great thing Renaissance did was it started trends, not follow them. The 90’s kicked into full gear the comeback of the animated blockbusters. Other studios were trying to do the same, but could not keep up. Movies like Fox Studios’ Anastasia were trying to capitalise on this Disney trend. Today Disney seems to be following trends instead of making them. Disney tried to revive the 2D animation with The Princess and the Frog. Unfortunately, the movie did not do as well as they hoped. They gave in and decided to make 3D movies because it was cheaper and that is what people are into nowadays.
Though Modern Disney is fine, none of it is iconic. The villains in Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Wreck-it Ralph or Frozen are not much of a threat. The villains are killed-off incredibly easy compared to the climatic battles of Aladdin fighting the all-powerful magician Jafar, or Simba having to get through an army of hyenas to get to Scar. Renaissance Disney had tons of catchy songs: Be Our Guest, Friend Like Me, Hukana Matata, Colours of the Wind, Tale as Old as Time, Arabian Nights, Under the Sea, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, and many more. Modern Disney only has two catchy songs: Let it Go and Friends on the Other Side.
This article is more biased towards liking Renaissance versus Modern Disney films. Some readers may find other reasons why Modern Disney is a better era. It is in Disney’s power to make films that are as good if not better than the Renaissance. They can learn from what people enjoyed about the 90’s films, apply that into the newest films, and add what young people are into. It is not over yet, Modern Disney has only just started, and soon enough people will be able to make a better judgement on which generation is better.
Opinion By Ignacio Gatti
Animated Film Reviews