We revere the “Renaissance Era: 89-99" of Walt Disney Animation Studios and we’ve dubbed their recent successes “The Golden Age 10-present" but I’m here today to show you what I dub "The Experimental Era 99-09" of the studios. Each on of these violently critiqued and often looked-over films is a charm in its own right and I’m here to tell you why.
1999 - Fantasia 2000 - Fitting enough it starts with a sequel to one of the most experimental animations of all time, Fantasia. This beautiful little continuation is just as charming and unique as the original. If not for the general rejection from audiences a third film had been planned.
2000 - Dinosaur - Experiments with overlaying computer generation with live-action backgrounds. Though often critiqued for its similarity to The Land Before Time (because it was dinosaurs??)
2000 - The Emperor’s New Groove - On top of Dinosaur Disney released a second film, which was one of the first “cartoony” Disney films that focussed on a lot of traditional comic antics but beyond that it created a humorous film about class and understanding.
2001 - Atlantis: The Lost Empire - A film that often felt more aimed at adults than children featured a cast of diverse and interesting characters, including a Italian florist/bomber, a Latina mechanic, a black doctor, an Atlantean princess and several elderly characters that band together for the great of good and to save a dying kingdom from gold diggers.
2002 - Lilo & Stitch - One of the most unique animated Disney films to date, as it showcased the art style of artist Chris Sanders rather than sticking to the “Disney look,” along with beautiful watercolor backgrounds. The comedy was on point as well as an incredibly deep plotline about family and finding where you belong. One of the realest Disney films to date with its inclusion of social services, family death and over-all realistic portrayals of humans and family as well as the lead being a 7-year-old Hawaiian girl put this film as a turning point in the Disney Animation Studios.
2002 - Treasure Planet - The second film of 2002 focussed heavily in the concept of teenage angst and growing up. This film joins Atlantis in Disney’s attempts to create song-less animated Adventure stories.
2003 - Brother Bear - The second Disney film since Pocahontas to find its basis in Native American culture as well as the second since Tarzan to feature songs by Phil Collins. Breathtaking visuals and strong concepts of family and seeing things from someone else’s perspective make this film just as good as the two Renaissance Era it holds similarities with.
2004 - Home on the Range - Not one of Disney’s finest but unique in its plot line being focussed on three female cows and an array of farm animals. Cute and not as bad as its been made-out to be.
2005 - Chicken Little - Their first fully computer-generated film as well as the first to use Disney Digital 3D. It’s cute in its own right but definitely an attempt at getting the hang of CG outside of Pixar. Without Chicken Little we might not have Frozen.
2007 - Meet the Robinsons - The story of an orphaned boy who learns the best thing in life is to “keep moving forward.” Much of the film is based on retro Disney “Tomorrowland” ideas. It’s filled with uniquely designed characters and inspirational messages and is definitely the first CG Disney film to stand out.
2008 - Bolt - The third fully CG film from Disney. Adorable and funny as it follows the stories of three pets, uncovers topics of abandonment and identity crisis’ on a level that children can understand.
2009 - The Princess and the Frog - We close the Disney Experimental Era with the beauty that is The Princess and the Frog. Harkening back to such classic films as Cinderella with as much beauty and grace as Sleeping Beauty, this visual treat is one of Disney’s finest. Beyond that it features a unique soundtrack unlike anything featured in prior Disney musicals, incredibly detailed backgrounds, costume design and an amazing lead character. Not only is Princess Tiana the first Black princess but she is also one of the most realistically written with a dream and a will to make it happen.
And that’s the Walt Disney Animation Studios “Experimental Era.” It deserves far more respect than its been given.