Disney Movies In Order: Ranking Disney's Renaissance

After getting enchanted by "Encanto," we'll help you keep the Disney magic going as we rank the best movies from Disney's Renaissance.

Matt Lissauer

By Matt Lissauer

Disney Movies Ranked - The cast of "The Lion King"

© Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Grab the kids because we're giving you a proper Disney binge in time for the holidays. Like the Disney movies of the past, "Encanto," is a magical journey that's part fantasy, part musical, part comedy, and all-around fun for the entire family. While the animation style has changed, the core heart of Disney's musical legacy still beats through. So, when you come home from the theater, we'll help you keep the Disney magic going. Here's our comprehensive, but by no means definitive, ranking of Disney's Renaissance, or those original Disney movies from 1989 - 1999 that returned the studio to its former glory.

  • 10

    The Rescuers Down Under

    Miss Bianca (voice: Eva Gabor), Bernard (voice: Bob Newhart) in "The Rescuers Down Under."

    © Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Disney rarely releases animated sequels theatrically. While most follow-ups go straight to video (or Disney+, nowadays), a number has reached the big screen recently. 2019, in particular, saw two, "Toy Story 4" and "Frozen II." In 1990, however, "The Rescuers Down Under" was the first of its kind. Continuing from 1977's "The Rescuers," New York's top rodent extractors head to Australia on a new mission. Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor (in her final film role) returned for the adventure, reprising their roles from the original film. The critical reception for the sequel wasn't so great. It was also a box office under-performer, making this the least successful of the Disney Renaissance era.

    The Rescuers Down Under Poster

    The Rescuers Down Under

    G

    Animated

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  • 9

    Pocahontas

    A scene from "Pocahontas."

    © Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    While it may not be the most well-received amongst critics or Disney fans, this animated historical (yet largely historically inaccurate) musical still finds a place in people's hearts. The main nostalgic heartstring? The Oscar-winning song "Colors of the Wind." Written by Stephen Schwartz and sung in the movie by Judy Kuhn (and Vanessa Williams for the single), "Colors of the Wind" was an unstoppable force during the Summer of '95. Though the single wasn't as big as "A Whole New World" from "Aladdin" (which peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart), "Colors of the Wind" did top off at #4. Coincidentally, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (from "The Lion King") held the same position in the previous year.

    Pocahontas Poster

    Pocahontas

    G

    Animated

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  • 8

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    Tom Hulce (voice of Quasimodo) in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

    © Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Disney has a knack for transforming works in the public domain into something magical. Yet, their choice of adapting Victor Hugo's 1831 novel was very unexpected, especially considering the source material's dark and mature themes. The studio changed certain story elements just enough to ensure a G-rating. But those changes did not please literary fans. Nor did the movie please Christian groups who felt the movie disparaged their religion and values. Despite all the criticism, the movie was well-received by general audiences and film critics, who praised the musical for addressing the adult themes so that children could understand.

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame Poster

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    G

    Animated

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  • 7

    Tarzan

    Tarzan (voice: Tony Goldwyn) in "Tarzan."

    © Walt Disney Co. / Courtesy Everett Collection

    For the final film of the Renaissance era, Disney took the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs story and brought it to life with vivid animation and an Oscar-winning song from Phil Collins. This animated adventure was also the most expensive animated film ever made up until that point. The blend of CG and hand-drawn animation captivated audiences, helping make this one of Disney's most successful movies. And its popularity handily places the titular animated hero alongside Johnny Weissmuller and other great Hollywood Tarzans.

    Tarzan Poster

    Tarzan

    G

    Animated

    June 18, 1999

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  • 6

    Hercules

    A scene from "Hercules."

    © Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Disney followed up the heavy themes in "Hunchback," with a movie of a lighter mood. "Hercules" is a comedic take on Greek mythology and an inspired satire of superhero origin stories before they inundated the cinematic landscape. Playing off the notion that Hercules was a pop culture icon in his day, the screenwriters turned the myth into an adventure filled with self-aware humor and pop culture references. The musical comedy was a hit for both critics and audiences, with James Woods receiving much praise for his witty portrayal of villain Hades. Its song "Go the Distance" even went on to win an Academy Award.

    Hercules Poster

    Hercules

    G

    Animated

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  • 5

    Mulan

    A scene from "Mulan."

    © Walt Disney Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The penultimate release of the Disney Renaissance era is also one of the studio's most divisive movies. Following the success of Disney movies during this period, animators were looking across the globe for inspiration. Hoping to adapt various Asian stories, they settled on bringing to life the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan. As beloved as the movie is now, it divided critics at release. Feminists, in particular, took issue with the fact that the only way Mulan was able to prove herself a hero was by becoming a man. But, despite the criticisms, Disney fans still found much to love, with the songs, the strong female character, and the captivating animation that took viewers into the heart of war.

    Mulan Poster

    Mulan

    G

    Animated

    June 19, 1998

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  • 4

    The Little Mermaid

    A scene from "The Little Mermaid."

    © Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    "The Little Mermaid" kicked off a Disney animation revolution. Believe it or not, but Disney's idea of adapting "The Little Mermaid" dates back to the 1930s as a potential follow-up to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." Four decades later, the movie still might not have happened because of concerns over another film at the studio with a similar setup. This would be the Touchstone property "Splash" and its in-development sequel. Thankfully, studio chief Jeffery Katzenberg had a change of heart. Katzenberg gave "The Little Mermaid" the greenlight only 24 hours after hearing the pitch. Working with songwriter Howard Ashman, the writers and filmmakers adopted a format similar to Broadway musicals, with each song serving as a significant showpiece. As we'll see in the next three entries, this marriage of Broadway-style storytelling, along with vivid animation, brought to life a whole new world of possibilities for Disney to explore.

    The Little Mermaid Poster

    The Little Mermaid

    G

    Animated

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  • 3

    Aladdin

    The genie and Aladdin in "Aladdin."

    © Buena Vista / Courtesy Everett Collection

    There's no doubt that "Aladdin" is one of Disney's most beloved animated movies, not named "Frozen." One of the reasons "Aladdin" resonated so well was Robin Williams and his voicework as the Genie. Disney gave Williams free rein, and the animators worked feverishly to keep up with his mile-a-minute, mostly ad-libbed routine. While the film wouldn't be what it is without Williams and his multitude of pop culture references -- something for the kids and the adults -- Williams was adamant about not having his appearance included in any marketing. When that happened anyway, he was angry about it. The studio eventually apologized, and Williams later reprised his role as the Genie for the direct-to-video sequel, "Aladdin and the King of Thieves."

    Aladdin Poster

    Aladdin

    G

    Animated

    November 25, 1992

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  • 2

    Beauty and the Beast

    Belle (voice: Paige O'Hara), Beast (voice: Robby Benson) in "Beauty and the Beast."

    © Walt Disney Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    It's a tale as old as time. It's also the only movie of the Disney Renaissance era to receive a Best Picture nomination, a milestone not just for Disney movies but for the animated film genre as a whole. Like "The Little Mermaid," the idea of adapting "Beauty and the Beast" also dates back to the '30s, following the success of "Snow White." Drawing inspiration from Jean Cocteau's live-action 1946 version and using the same songwriting team from "The Little Mermaid," directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise transformed the classic French fairy tale into a Broadway-style production.

    As grand as it was, the animated film also was one of the first to use computer-generated imagery (using tech developed by Pixar). This allowed them to film the famous ballroom dance sequence as if the camera was there. As production came to an end, Disney showcased an unfinished version at the New York Film Festival, which received a standing ovation -- a clear indicator of the film's critical (and popular) trajectory.

    Beauty and the Beast Poster

    Beauty and the Beast

    G

    Animated

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  • 1

    The Lion King

    Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa in "The Lion King."

    © Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Here we are, the crowning achievement of the Disney Renaissance -- the "king," if you will. It's also one of the most popular Disney movies, not just of this era but of all time. Could there, after all, be any other #1? Beautifully animated scenes. Thrilling set-pieces and larger-than-life soundtrack take you right into the middle of the African savanna. The idea of casting a Shakespearean tale with lions! The opening scene, where the sage mandrill Rafiki anoints the newborn cub Simba as prince and future king, even works as a short film in and of itself. "The Lion King" certainly has it all. And it still holds up a generation later.

    The film's box office matched its popularity, and it still stands as the highest-grossing 2D animated movie of all time. Sure, maybe they supposedly lifted some ideas from an old Japanese cartoon, but that doesn't diminish what stands as a true feat of animated filmmaking. It's certainly a lot to live up to if you're going to attempt to remake it.

    The Lion King Poster

    The Lion King

    G

    Animated

    June 24, 1994

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Related tags

Encanto

Matt Lissauer

Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.

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