With Planes having just released in theaters, a brighter spotlight is shining on DisneyToon Studios than usual. DisneyToon is a studio separate from Disney Animation and Pixar, and makes spinoff films based on existing Disney Consumer Products franchises. Most of these releases are direct-to-video, though Planes being a theatrical outing means that DisneyToon is getting a lot more attention than most of their new releases typically do. Planes is the first time that many people have heard of DisneyToon, though it’s probably not the first time they’ve experienced one of the studio’s movies.
To commemorate Planes, I thought it’d be fun to highlight some of DisneyToon’s past successes with a Top 10 countdown. Granted, there are a few technicalities that make things cumbersome. DisneyToon began as a division of Walt Disney Television Animation, whereas today is exists under Walt Disney Animation Studios. Additionally, throughout DisneyToon’s 20-year history, it’s gone by multiple names and has seen satellite studios in no less than 3 continents. Today, everything functions under 1 roof in Glendale, California. However, that was not always the case, so all of the movies on this list were not made by the same exact group of people under the same leadership… but they do share a common studio name (kind of) and purpose: to extend Disney’s legacy characters for the next generation.
Acknowledged by many as dismissive and passable, most of DisneyToon’s features aren’t regarded very highly. However, there are some definite gems in its roster.
10.) Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure, 2001
I haven’t seen this one in years, but I remember adoring it as a first-grader. (So much so that my brothers and I would play Scamp vs. dogcatcher in the backyard… yeah, we were the cool kids.) Scamp’s Adventure takes advantage of the “opposite motive” theme that was common to many DisneyToon sequels: instead of yearning to be loved by a family like his parents, Scamp wants freedom without a collar. His journey to find it leads us to some fun new characters and rather impressive songs. It of course comes nowhere close to trumping its predecessor, but it’s worth watching.
9.) The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, 1998
I find it hard to believe anyone working on a Lion King follow-up could think they could top the powerhouse original that rocked the animation world and turned it upside-down in 1994. That being said, I don’t think anyone would expect Disney to sit idly and not cash in on The Lion King‘s success while it was still fresh on audience’s minds. Simba’s Pride, again, goes for an opposite: instead of Simba wanting to be king, his daughter, Kiara, wants nothing to do with the royal life. The film’s plot points and new characters mirror the first film a little too closely, but we do get a few great songs out of it. “He Lives in You” from The Lion King‘s Broadway show is borrowed for an admirable opening, and Rafiki’s new tune “Upendi” is particularly catchy.
8.) Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas, 1999
Imagine if a handful of the best Disney Afternoon shows from the early ’90s were each given a belated Christmas special, which all aired back-to-back-to-back, and you’ve got yourself the basic premise of this film. It’s comprised of 3 stories, each highlighting a different group of characters from the Toontown universe. They’re not billed as their Disney Afternoon titles, but they might as well be, because the same tone as those shows prevails. The DuckTales crew makes up the first story, the Goof Troop gang the second, and Mickey and Minnie the third. (The mice never actually had their own TV show, but we can’t expect them to be skipped over.) I’m a bit biased here, as the vintage cartoon shorts starring Mickey and pals are my favorite bits of animation ever… so anytime the characters are used, I get particularly excited. And I gotta say, they’re treated well in this film. A follow-up with a similar concept, Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas, released in 2004, though it packs in 5 stories with different paces (rather than 3 equal-length segments) and feels a bit more disjointed.
7.) The Tigger Movie, 2000
Most DisneyToon films head straight to video, but sometimes Disney will give them a theatrical run (like with Planes) if they have exceptional quality or particular marketable potential. The Tigger Movie marked the third full-length Winnie the Pooh film, and the first to head to theaters since the original The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1977. (Just for completion’s sake, the one in between them was Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin in 1997.)
Perhaps the most prolific aspect of The Tigger Movie to warrant a theatrical engagement is the inclusion of brand-new songs written by the Sherman brothers. Robert and Richard Sherman, who penned the classic Pooh tunes decades earlier, made an extremely rare and unprecedented return to Disney for The Tigger Movie. The new songs include the fun “Whoop-de-Dooper Bounce” and the emotionally resonate “Your Heart Will Lead You Home,” the latter of which was co-written with the Sherman brothers by Kenny Loggins.
(As a side note, you can hear our interview with Richard Sherman in last week’s podcast.)
6.) Kronk’s New Groove, 2005
It’s a gamble whenever a sidekick is given the main billing in a sequel, but it works wonderfully in Kronk’s New Groove. The witty style of The Emperor’s New Groove already, in a way, makes fun of its own existence, so it’s only fitting that that trend continues with Kronk’s New Groove. It’s almost as if the filmmakers are blatantly telling us they know when things get too sappy or super cheesy, and that’s the difference that flips them from being mundane to brilliant. There’s a lot to enjoy in this sequel, including the best Lion King reference in any movie anywhere.
5.) Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, 2010
I was very skeptical when Disney announced their plans to give Tinker Bell a voice and launch her as the lead of her own movie series. However, as the films have progressed, the character/story development have gotten better and better, and Great Fairy Rescue is really the point where I see this series really begin to gel. Everything clicks. The filmmakers know their characters well enough at this point to bring us a story that hits on all of their personalities and relationships to one another without missing a beat …it’s a quality that wouldn’t have been possible without the two preceding (in my opinion, lesser-quality) films to pave the way. The movie involves the Pixie Hollow gang rescuing Tink from a human home, where she’s trapped and about to become a scientific specimen, monarch butterfly style. It’s the best Disney Fairies film thus far, and the one most primed as an example of the series being able to entertain a broader demographic than you’d think.
4.) Bambi II, 2006
This film cleverly serves as a midquel, filling in the gap between when Bambi’s mother died and when Bambi grows to become a full stag. In a way, it’s really more of a remake of the original Bambi for the current generation, rather than a follow-up. It introduces the same characters, concepts, themes, and morals as its predecessor, but does so with pacing and style that’s better suited to a modern audience. I don’t say this about many Disney classics, but I feel Bambi just doesn’t hold up very well for the current generation as well as its other aged animated siblings do. Bambi II allows those characters and that world to still be relevant, and it does so with a surprising amount of depth and charm. And–trivia time! (note to self: never say “trivia time”)–the voice of Bambi in Bambi II is Alexander Gould, the same young actor who provided the voice of Nemo for Pixar.
In some countries (but not the USA), Bambi II was released in theaters, lending itself to this gorgeous poster:
3.) Return to Never Land, 2002
Another title that was placed in theaters, Return to Never Land is a celebration of all things Peter Pan. Carrying a similar tone to 2011’s The Muppets, it sets out to honor and rejoice its heritage rather than try to best it. We’re sent on a voyage with Wendy’s daughter, Jane, as she does just what the title infers. Our return to this place where nobody grows up is everything we wish it to be, complete with all the nostalgic emotions that go with it.
2.) The Lion King 1 1/2, 2004
What makes this film so brilliant is that is straight-up KNOWS it cannot compete with The Lion King in any way, shape, or form, so it sets out to be a joke. We see the original Lion King from Timon and Pumbaa’s perspective, and the results are hysterical. Much of the emotional weight and depth of the story is obviously removed in favor of humor, but that’s the point here. It’s wonderful from start to finish. Particularly amusing is the duo’s attempt to foil Simba and Nala’s cuddle sessions during “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
1.) A Goofy Movie, 1995
This is it. The cream of the crop. DisneyToon’s first theatrical film is also its best: a wacky romp that shows us what it’s like to take a road trip with Goofy, one of animation’s most iconic characters. The movie takes the premise of the TV series Goof Troop but jumps ahead a few years, smartly choosing to have Goofy’s son, Max, as a teenager rather than an elementary-schooler. This provides a perfect comedic contrast for Goofy’s offbeat, genuinely unaware personality. We really do feel poor Max’s plight as he is continually embarrassed by his dad, but we also understand Goofy’s yearn to simply take a fun trip with his son. It’s a riot. (I just want to know who Max’s mom is, though.)
To listen to the Rotoscopers’ Animation Addicts podcast episode highlighting A Goofy Movie, click here!