As we exit Disney’s Silver age, we enter into one of the least popular eras in Disney history. The Bronze Age, also known as Disney’s Dark Age, for those with a much more pessimistic view, is an age full of uncertainty and experimentation, and for some, a much lower standard of artistic integrity, as the Xerox method was still heavily relied upon, and there were many instances of recycling animation.
After Walt’s death in 1966, the studio seemed to have lost its focus. The films they produced during this time period were all over the map in terms of tone, and very few of them are remembered as Disney classics. The first film of the period, The Aristocats, was approved by Disney, but he did not have much more to do with it than that. The characters are all likable, there is a sense of classic Disney charm about it, but the story just doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the films that came before it.
Following The Aristocats, the company went on to put their own spin on Robin Hood. Originally intended to be another story entirely, Reynard the Fox, a European fable, it was originally scrapped by Disney himself, who felt that Reynard was an unsuitable choice for a hero. After his death, the company put it back into production, but decided to use everything they had already worked on, to tell the story of Robin Hood instead. This was met with mixed reviews, but in the years since its release, like quite a few films from this era, it has amassed a sizable fan-base.
After Robin Hood was met with a less than stellar reception, the company decided to do another package film, this time using three Winnie the Pooh shorts, most of which had previously been created while Walt was still alive. This would make The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh the last film that Walt Disney himself had personally overseen production on. It also received a semi-mixed response, but for different reasons, as the detractors were mainly displeased about the differences from A.A. Milne’s original stories. Aside from those, critics did enjoy the film.
The film that is probably regarded highest from this period is The Rescuers. It was both a critical and financial success, and even broke the record for largest opening weekend for an animated film, a record which it held onto for almost 10 years. It was followed up with The Fox and the Hound, which, while not as successful as The Rescuers, still did decently enough, and has also amassed a decent fan-base in the decades since its release.
The Black Cauldron was probably the lowest point in the company’s history. While it was in good company with most of the films in this era, receiving mixed to low reviews, it was the only one to also be a complete commercial failure.The Black Cauldron was their most expensive animated film to date, and its failure almost completely bankrupted the studio. Had their next feature, The Great Mouse Detective not been an instant hit, both critically and financially, the studio probably would have folded.
The Bronze Age came to a close with the release of Oliver and Company. While it too received mixed reviews, it was still a commercial success, and the money brought in by The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company fueled the studio long enough to usher in the next great era in Disney animation, the Disney Renaissance.
While the Bronze Age doesn’t have nearly as many beloved classics as other eras, it still has quite a few films that have become cult classics, and have developed their own fan-bases. The Rescuers went on to receive Disney’s first official sequel, (If you don’t count The Three Caballeros) and Robin Hood may have even contributed to, or directly influenced the development of an entire sub-culture. But that’s a debate for a whole different kind of article.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring this lesser known era in Disney’s history. Come back tomorrow as we continue our Disney Canon Countdown, starting with The Aristocats!