In 2016, we have the great opportunity to enjoy two new releases from Walt Disney Animation Studios. We just enjoyed its latest film, Zootopia, and have Moana to look forward to in November. This will be the 56th feature film from WDAS and to celebrate the occasion, we here at Rotoscopers thought it would be fun to take a look at and review all 56 of these films. So over the next seven months, we will be posting reviews of each WDAS film starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and ending with Zootopia.
Before this starts, we thought it might be helpful to clarify what the Disney canon is and the different films that are included.
First, let’s talk about the different types of Disney animated films.
To begin with, you have the Walt Disney Animated Studios classics or canon. These are the 56 films that have been produced by the main hub of Disney animators. Disney refers to all of these films as ‘classics’ even though some of them are generally not highly regarded such as Chicken Little or Home on the Range.
Then you have the DisneyToon Studios. This is the smaller studio that generally makes direct-to-DVD films such as the Disney Fairies or Planes movies. They are also responsible for the Disney sequels in the late 90s and 2000s. In general, these films are lower in quality than the WDAS Canon films and have minimal marketing (although some like Pirate Fairy, Goofy Movie, and Planes do get theatrical releases).
Next, you have the Pixar films, which are an entirely separate studio in a different location than the Disney animators. Disney and Pixar officially merged together in 2006, but they always have had a relationship since the first Toy Story film. In the case of Pixar, Disney is more than a distributor, but creatively the two are quite separate.
There is also the Studio Ghibli films out of Japan that had a distribution deal with Disney until 2013. With some Ghibli films, the English dubbing was handled by Disney, but the animation from concept to completion is entirely separate. Since 2013, the Ghibli films have been distributed by GKIDS.
Finally you have smaller groupings that Disney distributes for such as the Tim Burton style of stop-motion animated films like Frankenweenie and Nightmare Before Christmas, and you have the Image Mover motion capture films like Christmas Carol and Mars Needs Moms.
The WDAS Canon films are generally divided into 7 eras. These eras are sometimes debated (particularly the Revival Era), but this is how we have decided to divide them. To read up more on each of the eras, click on the hyperlink for each section.
This is the era where Disney started to get back on its feet again after the war. Many fan favorites are here. Generally, it is viewed as less bold artistically but more commercially accessible than the Golden Era. This is also the era that Disneyland opened (1955)
This includes Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, and The Jungle Book.
The death of Walt Disney in 1966 brought on a rough era for WDAS financially and artistically although there are still some well-loved films. It marked the final shift of the studio from hand-inked films to the Xerox technology which gave strong black lines to all the films.
This includes The Aristocats, Robin Hood, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver and Company.
Probably the most popular era for most Rotoscopers readers. This era marked the return of Disney to musicals and the embrace of new computer CAPS technology. It also brought Disney its first and only nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars with Beauty and the Beast.
This includes Little Mermaid, Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan.
With the success of Pixar’s Toy Story, Disney started to experiment more with computer animation and had a rough time both with critics and at the box office. This is generally thought of as the worst era in Disney animation.
This includes Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, and Bolt.
With the arrival of John Lasseter to the animation division of WDAS, things started to improve in the films. They began slowly with both 2D and CG films and then transitioned to only CG. Many of these films have done very well at the box office with Frozen and Zootopia being the highlights.
This includes Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, Wreck-it Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and Moana.
So there you have it! We hope you enjoy the reviews. Expect to see them on Monday and Friday each week until Moana comes out in November. We are excited for this challenge and look forward to your feedback.
Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic that has loved animation since she was a little girl belting out songs from 'The Little Mermaid'. She reviews as many films as she can each year and loves interviewing actors, directors, and anyone with an interesting story to tell. Rachel is the founder of the popular Hallmarkies Podcast, and the Rachel's Reviews podcast/youtube channel, which covers all things animated including a monthly Talking Disney and Obscure Animation show.