This is a post that might not interest anyone else, but, as a Disney fangirl, I have researched the Disney timeline quite a bit and I need to put it all in one place… So, here it is: The Ultimate Disney Timeline
THE GOLDEN AGE 1937-1942
FILMS: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942)
In 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became the first ever full-length animated feature and it received unprecedented success, both critically and financially (it was briefly the highest grossing movie of all time). This film set off the Disney “Golden Age,” in which Walt Disney Studios established itself as a leader of animation filmmaking as well as giving itself a trademark of creating movies that are fariytale-based, literature-based, and animal-based.
Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi were not successful in the box office, as opposed to Snow White and Dumbo; however, all five films were groundbreaking and are considered some of the best animated films of all time.
THE WARTIME ERA 1943-1949
FILMS: Saludos Amigos (1942), The Three Caballeros (1944), Make Mine Music (1946), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), Melody Time (1948), The Adventures of Icabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
World War II put the creation on full-length animated features on hold after Bambi due to small budgets and lack of staff available. Therefore, Disney started making “Package Films,” which involved lots of short films with no link to each other in one movie package. Disney also created some war propaganda shorts during this time, with 95% of their output being for the military.
The package films are widely disliked and put the entire company on the brink of bankruptcy.
THE SILVER AGE 1950-1959
FILMS: Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), The Sword in the Stone (1963), The Jungle Book (1967)
Cinderella is well known for single-handedly saving the studio from closure. Disney put all it’s remaining money into this film and it proved to be a big box office success, allowing Disney to continue in making animated features and starting a new wave of classics in the “Silver Age.” The films during this time show a rejuvenation of the Golden Age trends (fairytale, literature, animals) and were mostly critical and commercial successes (Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty both underperformed in the box office).
Sadly, this restoration period ends with Walt Disney’s death: The Jungle Book being the last film he worked on, though he died during post-production.
THE DARK AGE 1970-1988
FILMS: The Aristocats (1970), Robin Hood (1973), The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), The Rescuers (1977), The Fox and the Hound (1981), The Black Cauldron (1985), The Great Mouse Detective (1986), Oliver and Company (1988)
The Aristocats was the last movie that Walt himself developed and whilst he never worked on it, this film was a critical and financial success, yet it is still considered the start of the “Dark Age” of Disney. This is a time of chaos after Walt Disney’s death and the films of this time are often criticised for lacking exploration of bigger themes and not having an enduring effect.
They also shifted from hand-inked to xerography in this time, which saved both time and money, but at the start, only black lines were possible for this process resulting in “Stratchy Films.” Overall, it was just a time of experimenting and trying to find their footing after the Walt guidance was taken away.
Similarly to The Aristocats, The Rescuers was a huge success during this time period and broke the record for highest gross for an animated film.
The Black Cauldron was the true failure of the Disney Dark Age to the extent that the next release, The Great Mouse Detective, literally saved Disney from bankruptcy.
THE DISNEY RENAISSANCE 1989-1999
FILMS: The Little Mermaid (1989), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998), Tarzan (1999)
Probably one of the most epic comebacks in the world, Disney brings it all back with these musical classics we all know and love. It all started with The Little Mermaid returning us to musical fairy-tales (which we hadn’t had in almost twenty years). Broadway songwriters, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, were brought in to revive the sensation of a timeless, lasting classic.
[Warning: About to go on a The Rescuers Down Under side story] While The Rescuers Down Under appears to be an anomaly of the incredible Disney Renaissance, there is a lot of importance to this film. It was Disney’s first ever sequel and is still currently Disney’s only theatrically released animated sequel, this is probably due to the fact that it was a box office flop. However, it was also Disney’s first film to use the Computer Animation Production System (or CAPS), which goes on to have a huge affect on the rest of the Renaissance films. CAPS also created the partnership between Disney and Pixar, which in turn lead to Disney funding and distributing the first ever theatrically released 3D computer animated movie in 1995, Pixar’s Toy Story. And all this started with The Rescuers Down Under… crazy.
With the advantage of CAPS, Disney could now create breath-taking sequences such as the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast, the massive wildebeest stampede in The Lion King, the army riding down a mountain in Mulan, and swinging through the jungle in Tarzan.
Aladdin established the idea of getting mega stars (Robin Williams) to voice characters and therefore, make those characters more iconic. The Lion King was the peak of this period (and often considered the peak of Disney overall) and is still the highest grossing traditionally animated feature of all time.
The films after The Lion King are considered a low point of the Renaissance (with the exception of Mulan) and are not held to the same standard as the previous films. In many ways, Pocahontas marked the beginning of the end of the Disney Renaissance.
DISNEY’S SECOND DARK AGE 2000-2009
FILMS: Fantasia 2000 (2000), Dinosaur (2000), The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), Lilo and Stitch (2002), Treasure Planet (2002), Brother Bear (2003), Home on the Range (2004), Chicken Little (2005), Meet the Robinsons (2007), Bolt (2008)
If you were born in my generation, your childhood may have consisted of the Disney classics, mainly the Renaissance ones, and Pixar (or Dreamworks) movies. That is because we weren’t going to get anything out of Disney Studios during this “Second Dark Age.” This period was the start of the big 3D animation boom, with Shrek and Monsters, Inc. coming out in the same year and being massive critical and commercial successes, setting off a large decline in the success of 2D animation.
With the exception of Lilo and Stitch, Disney’s 2D animated features (The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear) did terribly at the box office and were criticised for poor storytelling as well. Disney took this to mean that the world was finished with 2D animation forever and Home on the Range marked the official ruling from then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner that Disney will never produce 2D animated films again.
However, even with the entrance into 3D animated features, Disney was still failing recapture it’s Renaissance magic and create critically successful films. Home on the Range, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, and Bolt were all losing out to the heavy competition of Pixar, Dreamworks, and Blue Sky Studios.
I would argue that this was Disney’s darkest time as it’s the first time they had true and threatening competition and, further, it was clearly not the transition from 2D to 3D that was the issue; these were just bad films.
THE REVIVAL ERA 2010-Present
FILMS: Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled (2010), Winnie the Pooh (2011), Wreck it Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), Big Hero 6 (2014), Zootopia (2016), Moana (2016)
With Michael Eisner now dismissed, Disney had its last return to the traditional 2D animated feature, The Princess and the Frog. Whilst Disney still went on to only pursue 3D animation, this film was a return to the classic, timeless storytelling and finally gave Disney a critical success. Tangled continued this re-established musical fairy-tale route and it was a massive critical and commercial success and grounded the idea that Disney was on the rise again.
It’s very clear that Frozen shook the world, as it became the highest grossing animated film of all time and a cultural phenomenon, taking in over $1.2 billion worldwide. The Oscar for Best Animated Feature was introduced in 2001, and as we saw Disney was in no position to compete for that at the time. Frozen marks the first time Disney has ever won this Oscar and it was also the first film to win Best Original Song since Tarzan, showing that the second Dark Age is truly behind them.
Zootopia and Moana have also brought amazing success, trumping Disney’s current competitors. There’s no stopping Disney’s current rampage of triumphs! (Sadly, Pixar seems to be currently in a Dark Age, but I’ll save that for a future post!)
By: Freyja Pakarinen