They started regularising and incorporating songs into scenes. Songs drive the plot forward (Broadway centric music), Protagonist were more active in wanting achieve their goals. The Disney Formula (Introduction usually through song, setting the scene immerse the audience, Want Song, overlays what the protagonist wants, usually this is where we rout and fall for the protagonist Realistic mixed with the fantastic. Magical Realism. With the release of “the Little Mermaid” in 1989 ushered in one the the greatest eras in Disney history and reinvented the entire genre and form of animated movies. The Disney Renaissance, broke the stereotype for animated features being playful movies for children to watch and enjoy, as it appeals to all genders, races and ages. Consisting of 10 movies namely; The Little Mermaid, Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, one released every year for 10 years, the Disney Renaissance is now being called called the Golden Age of Disney, as each movie on its own was successful, audience beloved, critically acclaimed, all of the movies destroyed the box office, and each movie being so memorable and adored that they are still being referenced to this day with most receiving live action remakes.
It’s no wonder Disney made their comeback with these 10 movies. They accomplished so much in the world of animation and film making in so little time in the categories of story, art style and direction, music and many more factors. Here, I plan to analyze one of the specific features any good film should have, its characters. I will go through some of the main protagonists of the movies and look for their tropes, quirks and features to see why they are so appealing and their movies are so great and cherished by many. Any good story must have a protagonist equally as amazing to follow through with the flow of the movie, since the whole plot and structure of the movie revolves around them as well as most of the events that happen throughout the movie are being told in their perspective with their emotions being visually represented on screen. The main characters are the backbone of any film and Disney made sure that these characters remained memorable, resonating in people’s minds even after watching the movie, eventually making the movie that they are in memorable. Since for the longest times most cartoons were exaggerated caricatures of something that no one could relate to, and usually over the top for humor purposes to entertain children and not lose their attention, Disney movies during the Renaissance created more relatable and realistic characters for audiences to fall in love with that still made us tune in and delve into the protagonist’s world, their character development and story arc. Making the character’s more personable, having realistic emotions, making audiences want to get to know them more as they got invested into their movies.
Most of the main protagonists within the Disney Renaissance have very realistic counterparts in the world we live in today even if some are set in fictional settings, standing as metaphors for traits and virtues. For, example Quasimodo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame may be depicted as very ugly and it is seen in his own character design, that he is different and unattractive in comparison to other characters like Esmeralda. Yet, it is through his indifference labeled by society and unappealing character design are we able to fall in love with him and be enthralled with him as the story progresses. Audiences love rooting for the underdog and Quasimodo truly is one, and for me he stands for a personified version of our doubt, weakness and self-confidence or lack of thereof. That is why his flaws are so exaggerated, it for us to see it, and it also makes a good story. An innocent character with this earnestness and fascination within the outside world even if he is scared of it fascinates and speaks volumes for many. We not only empathize for him and his flaws, but sympathize for him as well for we too feel what he is going through caring so much of what people think of us, and for Quasimodo this means hiding in isolation inside the chapel of Notre Dame because of Frollo telling him that the outside world will hate his appearance. We want Quasi to get the girl, we want him to be accepted by society not only because the movie though many devices, makes sure that we do, but we ourselves want him to succeed because we can relate to him. Picking up on the discussion of rooting for the protagonist.
Most or almost all of Disney’s protagonist during the Renaissance are underdogs. The traits and characteristics that make them overall unique in society is also why society ridicules them. Belle, even with the introductory song “Belle” going around the town, she is kind and greets everyone she sees. Yet, in this joyful and inviting song, shows how the town is mocking her for her intelligence and love for reading calling her a “funny girl” Saying: I’m afraid she’s rather odd Very different from the rest of us She’s nothing like the rest of us Yes, different from the rest of us is Belle! And through the context of the movie, and the lyrics throughout the song. Belle is not admired and thought of brilliant yet she is seen as an oddity to what women were suppose to be in the village.
Disney also made sure that their characters, were persons of moral and virtue, people audiences can look up to, most especially since the greater part of their audience are children. This as well as the opportunity to both entertain and educate Mulan, was one of the Renaissance characters that redefined what it meant to be a woman in Disney films, and gave insight on feminism to many young girls watching the film. The film portrayed the perfect woman to be “quiet and demur, graceful, polite, delicate, kind poised…” and in the song “A Girl Worth Fighting For” a pale skin woman who can cook for her man. Mulan showed audiences that this isn’t necessarily so, that women can act for themselves, and be a strong as a man and should be deemed as there equal. Yes, Mulan is defiant and outspoken most especially to her father, but she only does this in love him. He was old at the time, he was not fit to go to war so in his place, Mulan went instead. Throughout the movie Mulan embodied and exude female empowerment, being as good as the men showing that gender does not confine you in a box that limits should not be constructed by society. She was heroic, chivalrous and brave, characteristics that at the time never associated with women. Mulan was different, but she was better than most women in terms of love for her family, courage and will power. She reinvented what it meant to be a Disney princess. In fact, most Disney princesses in the Renaissance had active roles in their films, that they did things for themselves, the events that subsequently happened throughout the movie was based on their actions. Ariel worked so hard to gain legs and meet with her love Eric, Belle was smart, intelligent and wanted more than her provincial life.
Pocahontas fought for Jon Snow even if that meant standing in the middle of war between her tribe and the British. The Disney Renaissance not just had princesses, but had active heroines who can inspire and motivate instead of the passive damsels in distress like Cinderella and Snow White waiting for things waiting for things to happen to them. For the characters in these Disney films, each of them go through a lot, yet what all of them have in common is that they have this “super want”, this specific goal they want to attain, and for the rest of the movie, we fall in love with these characters because we are so developed with their story as we the audience root for these characters to succeed and reach their goal they set out for.
I now want to introduce the concept of a “want song”. A want song is a musical number, usually a ballad performed by the main protagonist, as they step away from the on screen noise and slip away from all the commotion as they explain through singing, what they want out of the movie based on the situations they have been put in and the problems they are and will face. And it is in that specific moment where they show their vulnerability do they win over audiences. Some examples of want songs would be “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, where Ariel discusses her father’s thoughts of the surface world. She goes through her collection of various objects found on land and are intrigued with. She has her collection, yet filled with a sense of curiosity and discovery she wants to experience more of what the human world has to offer singing lines like “But who cares no big deal (talking about her treasure trove), I want more” as well as “wondering free, wish I could be Part of that World. ” She longs for the freedom to go on land and live her life based on how she wants it, not by her father. This soon is the standard and structure for most of the Disney Renaissance movies after “The Little Mermaid”, using song to allure the audiences into loving the main protagonist. Some other examples, would “Just Around the RiverBend” from Pocahontas, “Proud of Your Boy” from Aladdin, and “Out There” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Disney writers themselves say that they purposely put this in the start of the movie, because it is through this are where most people hooked onto the character that through the power music has to impose emotion, do we feel for the protagonist. Timing here is also key since this usually happens right after the setting has been set-up and we have a slight intro to the main conflict of the movie.
In the Disney Renaissance movies, characters were no longer flat and lifeless, we no longer looked and asked for more from them. For in the Disney Renaissance characters were truly alive in our eyes. They had depth, caused by traits, characteristics and quirks unique to them and make them stand out, and the fact that they were ridiculed by society made them more likable and appealing to us. This made the movies they were in more interesting as well, since a character had so much content and personality in them, writers had so much they can work with to perfectly mend a corresponding story to for character development.
Because of Disney’s success in animation, various studios have popped up and rivaled the achievement of Disney as people have discovered there is wealth and prosperity in animation. One of those animation studios is still known until today and it is Pixar Animation Studios. Pixar approached animation in a different way and that is through CGI animation which was a relatively new concept at the time. Disney saw the success of Pixar’s Toy Story and wanted to replicate their technique but this led to many downfalls and flops. It was their first time to use CGI animation and were very experimental with it and were testing the waters. Therefore there was no specific formula as this era was a test run of the new way of animating. Despite Disney trying to compete with Pixar, it was a losing battle as Pixar had more experience with the technology and during this time they lost their Chairman of Walt Disney studios, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who founded his own animation company, Dreamworks SKG. Thus, this brought more direct competitors against Disney Studios. Disney was at a low point and at a decline as new animation studios appeared to rival them and with the chairman gone, they are at a disadvantage.
Films that some do not think Disney made were done in this era like Treasure Planet, Dinosaur, Home on the Range, etc. Usually these films are unheard of or most have not seen before. The trend of talking animal films are still making it on most of the films but this was not appreciated by the audience and the film market as most of the films were not at par with those made in The Disney Renaissance Era.