The Disney Movie That Came Out the Year You Were Born
Hi-ho, hi-ho, down memory lane we go!
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Even if you love Disney movies and think they rank among the best movies of all time, you might not know where it all began. Walt Disney started entertaining audiences with his delightful animations a century ago, way back in the mid-1920s, when he inked a deal with Universal and created his first animated character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. But the entertainment icon parted ways with Universal after a brief period, in a less-than-amicable manner, with the studio retaining the rights to Oswald and Disney setting out on his own. This serendipitous turn of events, though, led to Disney’s creation of a new character: Mickey Mouse, who was born out of that separation in 1928 and introduced to the world in the short “Steamboat Willie.”
By the late 1930s, Walt was ready to unveil the first full-length animated movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney movies would go on to steal the hearts of fans everywhere, from kids to kids at heart, with films released nearly every year since. Let’s take a look back at the best of them, as we remember some of the most unforgettable Disney movie quotes and uncover surprising facts about Disney characters.
One of the original Disney princesses, Cinderella made just about every young girl wonder if she could be blessed with a fairy godmother, a beautiful ballgown and a pair of danceable glass slippers, as America headed into a decade of very conventional gender roles in the 1950s. The film’s release marked the 12th of the Disney movies, and the second in the princess genre. Actress Ilene Woods voiced the fair-haired character and was barely 21 when the film hit theaters. That year the films Annie Get Your Gun and Sunset Boulevard were also popular among moviegoers.
1951: Alice in Wonderland
Audiences everywhere fell down the rabbit hole with a very curious Alice, the film’s titular character. Who wouldn’t be fascinated by the likes of the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the Queen of Hearts, among the fantastical land’s other interesting cast of personalities? Actress Kathryn Beaumont, who voiced Alice, should be rather familiar to fans of Disney movies, as she also provided the voice of Wendy in 1953’s Peter Pan. Other classics that came out in 1951 include I Love Lucy, which premiered on the small screen and invited viewers into the fictionalized home of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
1952: The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men
Before we were treated to Disney’s animated version of Robin Hood (which would arrive two decades later, in 1973), the studio whipped up this live-action version starring Richard Todd as Robin Hood and Joan Rice as his lady love Maid Marian. Interestingly, some of the scenes from the movie were filmed in the actual Sherwood Forest, a royal designation located in Nottinghamshire, England. The movie’s release was an auspicious reminder of Merry Old England, as also in 1952 across the pond, Queen Elizabeth II succeeded her father King George VI to the British throne.
1953: Peter Pan
If Walt Disney could have made it happen, Peter Pan likely would have swept all of us off to Neverland, where you never have to grow up. The Darling children (Wendy, John and Michael) had the time of their lives with their green-clothed pal before returning home to London. Fun fact: The song “The Second Star to the Right” was meant to be used in Alice in Wonderland, which was released a couple of years prior, with different lyrics and called “Beyond the Laughing Sky.” But after that song got scrapped from Alice and replaced with “In a World of My Own,” it got to shine instead as the ethereal “Second Star” in Peter Pan. Gracing the silver screen that year along with Peter Pan were the classic films Roman Holiday and From Here to Eternity. In 2022, Peter Pan is one of the many films headed for Disney live-action remakes.
1954: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
This might be one of those Disney movies whose theme park attraction was actually more popular than the film itself. Starring Kirk Douglas as Ned Land and James Mason as Captain Nemo, the film based on the novel by Jules Verne tells the story of a crew sent out to uncover the cause of some mysterious ship sinkings, when they find themselves faced with one very curious submarine. From 1955 to 1966, guests had the opportunity to stroll through Disneyland attractions you never knew existed: the real-life sets used to make the movie. Meanwhile, Disney World opted for a submarine ride named after the movie. That attraction, though well loved, became a discontinued Disney ride in 1994.
1955: Lady and the Tramp
Who knew dogs could be so romantic? Lady and her fella Tramp made us all swoon when they had their iconic date at Tony’s and slurped a piece of spaghetti together, ending in a sweet kiss. Hollywood sweetheart Peggy Lee voiced multiple characters in the animated classic, including Darling, Si, Am and Peg. Disney later produced a live-action version of Lady and the Tramp in 2019. In other doggie pop culture news from that year, Lassie had begun capturing the hearts of TV viewers, and also in 1955, Disneyland officially opened in Anaheim, California, taking the company into the theme park era.
1956: Davy Crockett and the River Pirates
Walt Disney bet big on Davy Crockett in the 1950s, which led to a huge boom in the sale in coonskin caps (one of the things all 1950s kids remember), a popular theme song in “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” and a boost for the legend of the frontiersman himself. This film repurposed the fourth and fifth episodes of Disney’s Davy Crockett television miniseries, in which the classic character heads to New Orleans with his buddies to compete in a boat race and mayhem unfolds, thanks to a group of river pirates. Actor Fess Parker had a string of smaller television and film roles before he landed the plumb gig as Davy Crockett, which made him a household name.
1957: Old Yeller
Brace yourself: Whether you’re a dog lover or not, Old Yeller will make you cry, even 65 years after its release. The sweet dog who forms a tight bond with the Coates family made an impact on audiences and was also a commercial success for the studio. Disney favorite Fess Parker appears in this film, as well as Jim Coates. Based on the 1956 novel by Fred Gipson and one of the best dog movies ever, this culturally significant film was also one of the most dramatic Disney flicks when it premiered; even today, you might want to prepare your kids or grandkids for what’s to come at the end for the titular pooch.
1958: The Light in the Forest
Of all the Disney movies out there, The Light in the Forest is perhaps one of the less well known titles, unless you were a major Fess Parker fan (yes, the actor appears in this flick too!). It shares the story of a young white man, raised by Native Americans, who later must live with his birth family, who he has only known as an enemy to the very people who raised him. Although the film does not adhere to 21st-century standards in its depictions of Indigenous Americans, and is probably an example of cultural appropriation you haven’t thought much about, it’s in keeping with the 1950s-era fixation on frontier life. The film is hard to find today, and the only other Disney feature movie that year was Tonka, also about Native Americans and also out of circulation on streaming services.
1959: Sleeping Beauty
It’s time for another Disney princess to take center stage, with Aurora (aka Briar Rose) having her turn in the spotlight in this animated now-classic. This was Disney’s most expensive project to date, costing more than $6 million, but it was well worth it: The film’s score, based on the Tchaikovsky ballet of the same name, was even nominated for an Academy Award. The noticeably darker themes of the film make it a little scarier for young viewers, but along with the characters of Snow White and Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty makes up the trifecta of original Disney princesses, so it’s still a must-see. The iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland was even named for the heroine. The film’s legacy led to a live-action 2014 film and sequel focusing on the evil witch of the story, Maleficent.
1960: Swiss Family Robinson
Disney produced lots of live-action movies in 1960, including Swiss Family Robinson, Pollyanna and The Sign of Zorro. Swiss Family Robinson, based on the 1812 book by Johann Wyss about a family shipwrecked on an island who build a home in the trees, led to the creation of the famous treehouse attraction at Disney World, which allows visitors to feel like they’re smack dab in the middle of the adventure film. The year 1960 was also the start of a bold new decade in American history, with John F. Kennedy elected the 35th president of the United States.
1961: 101 Dalmatians
One of the most memorable Disney villains, Cruella De Vil certainly made a major impression in 1961’s 101 Dalmatians. Actress Betty Lou Gerson voiced the fur-loving meanie, but this wasn’t her first time working with Disney: She also served as the narrator for Cinderella. The year 1961 was a really fun one for the studio’s films, as The Parent Trap, The Absent-Minded Professor and Babes in Toyland were also released. Disney films provided a respite from a tumultuous and changing world: In 1961, Kennedy took office, the Freedom Riders headed to the South to denounce segregation, 2,000 troops were deployed to Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs invasion occurred.
1962: In Search of the Castaways
After Pollyanna and The Parent Trap, actress Hayley Mills was a certified darling of Disney movies, so it was only natural that she joined the ensemble of 1962’s In Search of the Castaways. In the film, Mills plays the daughter of a missing ship captain who sets out with her siblings and their guardian to find their father, who is believed to still be alive. The 1960s pop culture revolution was beginning, as the very first James Bond film made a splash in cinemas in the U.K. and The Beatles were introduced to the world.
1963: The Sword in the Stone
Disney animation goes medieval with The Sword in the Stone, which follows the magical coming-of-age story of young Arthur, who pulls the infamous sword, left behind by a British king with no heir, from a stone. Arthur would go on to become king of England and the legendary leader of Camelot. The film’s Christmas release came just a month after the assassination of JFK brought America’s Camelot came to an end; Disneyland even closed its doors for a national day of mourning. Fun fact: Although the film’s wizard Merlin is one of the Disney characters you can’t meet in the parks anymore, the sword in the stone remains near the Fantasyland carousel for guests to try their hand at removing.
1964: Mary Poppins
Already a theater star, Julie Andrews dazzled audiences in her big-screen debut as the iconic British nanny Mary Poppins, based on the books by P.L. Travers. At first Andrews was unsure if she should accept the part, as she was hoping to snag the lead in the film version of My Fair Lady, a role she had originated on Broadway. But when that went to Audrey Hepburn (who didn’t even do her own singing!), Andrews fatefully took the role of Mary Poppins—and it won her a Best Actress Oscar. The film was also one of Disney’s biggest commercial successes at the time, as well as the only Best Picture Oscar nomination Walt saw in his life. We can’t imagine another actress playing the character in the original, although Emily Blunt was magical in 2018’s Mary Poppins Returns. Disney also revealed what happened during the making of the movie with the notoriously prickly Travers in 2013’s Saving Mr. Banks, with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.
1965: That Darn Cat!
That Darn Cat! puts Hayley Mills back in the spotlight as the film’s star, playing a bank teller who finds herself kidnapped and enlisting the help of a neighborhood cat to get rescued from robbers. Chaos and comedy ensue when the FBI agent assigned to solve the caper happens to be allergic to cats. The movie was the last Disney flick Mills appeared in, but that wasn’t the only pivotal change that occurred in 1965: Malcolm X was assassinated, Lyndon Johnson was inaugurated as president a second time, race riots erupted in Los Angeles, the Beatles continued their British Invasion and The Rolling Stones toured the world.
1966: Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.
Dick Van Dyke tackled the role of Lt. Robin Crusoe, a modernized version of the classic character Robinson Crusoe, here a navy pilot stranded on a Pacific island. In 1966, Van Dyke, who previously starred in Mary Poppins, was also closing out a five-season run on his very own television series and one of the best classic TV shows ever, The Dick Van Dyke Show. (The series did have a revival of sorts in 1971 as The New Dick Van Dyke Show, in which he played a different character entirely.) In other big pop culture news of 1966, the original Batman TV series starring Adam West debuted on television.
1967: The Jungle Book
The Jungle Book scored one Academy Award nomination, for Best Original Song, thanks to the absolutely catchy tune “The Bare Necessities,” one of the best Disney songs ever. Although the tune didn’t pick up that trophy, the story of Mowgli, based on the Rudyard Kipling tale of a young boy raised in the jungle with animal pals Baloo and Bagheera, is one for the ages. Sadly, this film marks the end of an era, as it was the last animated movie Walt Disney worked on before his death in December 1966. A 2016 Disney reimagining of The Jungle Book used live action, as well as CGI to depict the animals.
1968: Blackbeard’s Ghost
This funny flick is emblematic of the wacky, live-action Disney movies of its time. Blackbeard’s Ghost is a comedy about an unassuming college track coach who mistakenly summons the ghost of, you guessed it, the pirate Blackbeard. Whoops! After teaming up on a variety of good deeds, will Blackbeard be able to enjoy a peaceful rest while normalcy is restored to the college town? Unfortunately, 1968 turned out to be a somber year in many other respects, in contrast to the zany on-screen antics: Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, students across the globe protested the ongoing Vietnam War and Senator Robert F. Kennedy was killed as well.
1969: The Love Bug
The world fell in love with one of the most iconic movie cars, Herbie the Love Bug, with this flick, which became one of the highest grossing films of 1969. Where there’s big dollar signs, there are plenty of sequels to be had, and Disney made many throughout the years, including 2005’s Herbie Fully Loaded starring Lindsay Lohan. The original, however, starred Dean Jones as Jim Douglas, an unlucky racetrack driver who doesn’t know his life is about to turn around when he happens upon the lovable Volkswagen, Herbie. In other 1969 pop culture news, Woodstock brought together a slew of incredible performers like Jimi Hendrix and The Who, and The Beatles recorded their final album as a band, Abbey Road (although their last released album, Let It Be, would come out in 1970). And of course, the imagination of the world was captured with the moon landing on July 20, 1969.
1970: The Aristocats
Ooh-la-la! The animated Aristocats brought viewers to Paris, where a well-to-do family of cats find themselves in a serious pickle after their beloved owner passes away. The kitties are set to inherit the massive fortune, but a greedy butler wants the money for himself and kidnaps the brood. Screen siren Eva Gabor is the voice of Duchess in the film, which is actually based on a true story from 1910, when a real-life family of Parisian cats became wealthy heirs. It’s a new decade, but the movie, Disney’s 20th fully animated flick, was classic Disney magic. Even today, the film lends itself to one of the best cat Instagram captions for your pampered pet: “Excuse me, I’m an aristocat.”
1971: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Angela Lansbury stars in this not-too-scary Disney Halloween movie about an apprentice witch who wants to harness her magic to help England win World War II. She enlists a trio of kids and a conman to, quite literally, make the magic happen. The film won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects and was nominated for four others. One of the soundtrack’s songs, “The Beautiful Briny Sea,” was originally written for Mary Poppins but didn’t make the cut. Another Mary Poppins connection? David Tomlinson, who played Mr. Banks in that film, co-stars here as well (he also appeared as the villain of The Love Bug).
1972: Napoleon and Samantha
Napoleon and Samantha may not be among the more famous Disney movies, but it does include two major Hollywood film stars in its cast. Jodie Foster made her feature film debut as Samantha, a young girl desperate to help her friend Napoleon stay with his pet lion. (Foster had many acting credits prior to this role, but all were television.) The movie also serves as a vehicle for one of Michael Douglas’s earlier roles. But despite this sweet film, we don’t advocate pet lions: Foster revealed she was mauled on set while working with one of the big cats.
1973: Robin Hood
We’re back to that classic Disney animation with 1973’s take on the folk tale of Robin Hood. In this version, all the characters are represented by animals, with both Robin Hood and Maid Marian as foxes. Others are cast as lions, bears and an array of woodland creatures. A song from its soundtrack, “Love,” was nominated for an Oscar but did not win. The film represents a period known as the “Disney Dark Age”—the time after Walt Disney’s death, when the studio was in a creative low point during the 1970s and ’80s—but the movie has since become a fan favorite.
1974: Herbie Rides Again
With a different cast of characters than the original film, this flick has just one that is the same: Herbie, the Volkswagen with a lot of personality. In this story, the VW Bug and some other unlikely friends help an elderly woman keep her beloved home that’s at risk of being demolished by a developer. Outside of Disney, pop culture was thriving: On television, Happy Days premiered and would continue to entertain audiences for an impressive 11 years, and Barbra Streisand scored her first No. 1 hit with “The Way We Were.”
1975: Escape to Witch Mountain
Real Housewives of Beverly Hills fans will recognize one of the child stars of Escape to Witch Mountain as a young Kim Richards. In one of the best witch movies ever, Richards plays Tia, one of two orphans with unbelievable powers who find themselves on the run from a ruthless millionaire. Richards reprised the role three years later in the sequel Return from Witch Mountain, and the franchise got a reboot with the 2009 feature film Race to Witch Mountain featuring Dwayne Johnson. Also in 1975, Jaws hit theaters, introducing the era of summer blockbusters (and making everyone a little wary of sharks in the water).
1976: The Shaggy D.A.
More wacky live-action Disney movies premiered in 1976, including The Shaggy D.A. starring Dean Jones, Tim Conway and Suzanne Pleshette. In this funny flick, Jones stars as an attorney with political aspirations, but a discovery could really limit his chances of getting elected. The year also saw the Jodie Foster–starring Disney vehicle Freaky Friday, in which a teen switches bodies with her mother (later remade as a 2003 feature with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan). Many more great movies premiered in 1976: Rocky, All the President’s Men and Taxi Driver all hit theaters that year.
1977: The Rescuers
Disney sure does have a way of making rodents downright endearing. In The Rescuers, two mice, voiced by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor, set out to find and bring home a young girl who’s been kidnapped. Turns out these characters are part of the Rescue Aid Society, a group of critters at the ready to save the day. But this flick was no doubt overshadowed by the 1977 release of the mega-hit Star Wars, igniting the beginning of a massive cinema franchise that would later come under the Disney umbrella.
1978: Return from Witch Mountain
Tia and Tony are back for the sequel to Escape to Witch Mountain, but this tale sends them out west to Los Angeles. When Tony is kidnapped, Tia must set out on her own to find him. Screen legends Bette Davis and Christopher Lee co-star. The flick had a lot of competition at the box office, including Grease, which also hit theaters in 1978, making every audience member want to become a T-Bird or a Pink Lady. On television, Diff’rent Strokes, Fantasy Island and Dallas all made their way to the small screen.
1979: The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again
Amos (Tim Conway) and Theodore (Don Knotts) may not be the smartest of outlaws, but they sure did do something right to score a movie sequel to the original 1975 flick The Apple Dumpling Gang. It may be a very silly movie, but this comedy western featured the funnyman duo of Conway and Knotts at the top of their game. In 1979 pop culture, the McDonald’s Happy Meal was introduced, delighting a nation of little kids and only costing a dollar; Sony delivered its very first iteration of the Walkman, which cost a whopping $200.
1980: Midnight Madness
A 19-year-old Michael J. Fox made his big-screen debut in this flick, a comedy about college students competing in an all-night scavenger hunt. The film also brings us to the start of a new decade, the 1980s, when excess was everything. This Disney flick might be forgotten now, but Fox wouldn’t be: He would later go on to star in one of the (non-Disney) classic ’80s movies Back to the Future, and its sequels. In 1980, Disney also produced the live-action film Popeye, with the legendary Robin Williams in his first leading film role. In other pop culture news of that year, Kramer vs. Kramer took home the Oscar for Best Picture, David Letterman brought his funny flair to NBC with a morning talk show and Magnum P.I. premiered in prime time.
1981: The Fox and the Hound
Every time an animated Disney movie hits this list we let out a little cheer. The Fox and the Hound charmed audiences in 1981 with its story about the unlikely friendship between a young fox named Tod and a hound named Copper. Can their sweet relationship withstand the test of time (and some serious growing pains)? Well, you’ll have to watch the flick to find out. Movies were a bit overshadowed that year due to another hugely popular cultural event: Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding, with the lavish ceremony televised from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Let’s face it, the ’80s got a little weird, and so did Tron, the Disney cult classic released in 1982. Starring Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner, it’s one of the best sci-fi films ever, a movie of fantastical proportions about a computer hacker who finds himself sucked from the other side of the screen into the digital world. The film was especially notable as the first movie to use CGI in a major way—Disney’s future computer animation studio Pixar likely wouldn’t have existed without it. Disney would later produce TRON: Legacy in 2010, with Bridges reprising his character Kevin Flynn. Elsewhere in the world of movies, Annie proved to be a huge hit, as did E.T. and Chariots of Fire. Television was all about the primetime soaps, with Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest acting as appointment TV for legions of viewers.
1983: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Disney gets a little dark with the obscure flick Something Wicked This Way Comes, based on the novel by Ray Bradbury (which actually originated as a short story titled Black Ferris). Starring Jason Robards, Diane Ladd and Pam Grier, Something Wicked features a small town taken by surprise when a rather peculiar circus with a villainous owner rolls into their neighborhood. In more pop culture happenings that year, Nintendo introduced their Mario Bros. game to arcades across Japan, while kids stateside got their first look at Fraggle Rock, one of HBO’s first television series. Cabbage Patch Kids were the must-have items to find under the Christmas tree—and now they’re toys worth thousands.
1984: Tiger Town
This is the year when it gets a little tricky to separate the Disney movies from the Touchstone flicks. Touchstone is a distribution offshoot of Walt Disney Pictures that allowed the company to produce more grown-up fare—case in point, its first film was the 1984 Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah hit Splash. But keeping things solely as “Disney movies” for this list, we’ll have to go with Tiger Town, notable as the first made-for-Disney Channel TV movie, as there weren’t any major Disney theatricals that year. Tiger Town starred Justin Henry, a child actor who had already experienced big-screen success in the award-winning Kramer vs. Kramer. One of those classic family movies to watch with the kids, it’s the story of a young fan’s love of the Detroit Tigers baseball team. The flick actually did have a limited theatrical run in Detroit in 1984—where, fortuitously, the real-life Tigers won the World Series that year.
1985: The Black Cauldron
Called “the movie that almost killed Disney animation,” The Black Cauldron is one of the most controversial animated flicks from the studio. Looking back now, though, the fantasy epic was also groundbreaking: It was the first animated Disney movie to be rated PG, it used computer animation and it delved into much darker themes than the fluffy fare that had come before. But the film also had the bad luck of being produced just as a changing of the guard was happening at Disney, with Michael Eisner, who would usher in a new era of success at the company, coming in as CEO in 1984. Watch the flick now, and judge for yourself.
1986: The Great Mouse Detective
Don’t get jealous, Mickey, but Disney puts another rodent in the spotlight for 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective. In this movie in the classic Disney mold, it’s a mouse named Basil who serves as the Sherlock Holmes–like detective working on the kidnapping case of a beloved toy maker. After the disappointment of the previous year’s animated film The Black Cauldron, Disney enjoyed more success with this flick, which later received a re-release in 1992 under the title The Adventures of the Great Mouse Detective. It’s one of the best cartoon movies for family movie night.
1987: Benji the Hunted
When Benji finds himself left behind in a forest after an unfortunate accident, his life is at stake while he navigates his new surroundings in an effort to survive. Benji is, of course, one of the most famous movie dogs of both the big and small screen, but this is the only Benji movie produced by Disney. Also in 1987, Full House premiered on ABC (which would later be acquired by Disney), making instant stars of twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and the Simpsons made their debut appearance on The Tracey Ullman Show before getting a primetime series of their very own two years later.
1988: Oliver & Company
This adorable film is basically a retelling of Oliver Twist—with a twist. It follows the story of a little kitten named Oliver and his ragtag canine pals, including Dodger, voiced by Billy Joel, with the flick’s setting changed from London to New York. The film’s signature song “Why Should I Worry?” was also performed by Joel. The cute movie boasts more voice talent, including Bette Midler, Cheech Marin and Dom DeLuise. This is also the year the groundbreaking movie mix of live action and animation, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, premiered under the Touchstone banner—although it’s since become thought of as a true “Disney movie.”
1989: The Little Mermaid
This was a landmark year in Disney history, as the “Disney Renaissance” era of critical and commercial success began with this wonderfully animated movie, full of now-classic songs. The Little Mermaid and its fabulous soundtrack made all of us want to become part of Princess Ariel’s world. In fact, Alan Menken won an Oscar for the work he did on the film’s score, as well as a trophy for Best Original Song (along with co-writer Howard Ashman) for “Under the Sea.” Although it wasn’t nominated for any awards, shockingly Ariel’s signature tune “Part of Your World” was almost cut from The Little Mermaid.
1990: The Rescuers Down Under
It’s always nice to visit with old friends, so it was a delight to reconnect with our favorite R.A.S. agents Miss Bianca and Bernard, with Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart reprising their respective roles in the first Disney animated theatrical sequel. This time the gang headed to Australia to rescue both a young boy and an endangered golden eagle. Although the flick didn’t perform as well as hoped at the box office, it was notable in the technical realm for its use of the CAPS computer-assisted animated process, earning it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first fully digital feature film. In other family-friendly movie news of the year, Dick Tracy (from Touchstone Pictures) and Home Alone had major box office success.
1991: Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast brought more accolades to the winning musical team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who won the Best Song Oscar for the titular track to the movie, with Menken also bringing home the trophy for Best Original Score. Sadly, it was a posthumous win for Ashman, who had passed away at the young age of 41 from AIDS. Beauty and the Beast also made history as the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture—and only three animated films to date have ever been nominated for Best Picture, including Disney/Pixar’s Up and Toy Story 3 (both nominated after the Academy increased its available Best Picture nomination slots from five films to 10 in 2009). Today, Beauty and the Beast remains one of the most beloved films in the Disney princess canon.
Aladdin continued the Disney Renaissance’s streak of animated movies with stellar soundtracks. In this musical comedy about the power struggle among Aladdin, a street urchin and the villainous Grand Vizier over a magical genie lamp, we’re introduced to a cast of characters one can never forget—with a genie memorably voiced by Robin Williams. And who hasn’t dreamed of going on a magic carpet ride? This flick was one of the top-grossing movies of 1992, a year in which the many notable live-action Disney movies included Newsies, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, The Mighty Ducks and The Muppets Christmas Carol. Also that year, Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris, one of our favorite Disney parks) opened overseas.
1993: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Halloween enthusiasts had a lot to cheer about with this movie: a dark, twisty tale that also serves as a Christmas movie for kids. (Or is it a Halloween movie? You decide.) Although originally released theatrically by Touchstone, as it was thought to be a bit too dark and scary for kids (and maybe even some grown-ups!), the stop-motion animation film is now considered Disney. Tim Burton, who got his start at Disney, wrote this tale about Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween Town, who would really like to bring some Christmas traditions into his community. Needless to say, a lot of confusion ensues.
1994: The Lion King
With an all-star voice cast including Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane and Robert Guillaume (just to name a few), The Lion King introduced us to Simba, a young lion who is next in line to be king of his pride after his father’s death. The film’s soundtrack is just as memorable, with Elton John, who wrote the music with lyricist Tim Rice, performing his own take on some of the top tracks, including the iconic “Circle of Life.” It’s hard to believe The Lion King‘s alternate ending imbued the film with even more darkness than the original.
There were two major animated Disney movies released in 1995, the first being Pocahontas as their summer hit and a continuation of a near-yearly Disney animated musical. Second was Toy Story, the first feature film from Pixar, which was released closer to the holidays, to much critical and commercial acclaim. Although it may be one of the most historically inaccurate movies ever, it did feature “Colors of the Wind,” performed by Vanessa Williams, a power ballad that made waves on the radio. On the other hand, Toy Story, a sweet tearjerker about toys that come to life, was nominated for the Best Screenplay Academy Award, the first animated film to score that nomination.
1996: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Sometimes friendships strike up between the unlikeliest of people: Take Quasimodo and Esmeralda, for example. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo sets out to save the beloved cathedral while also bringing Esmeralda to safety. Disney released a slew of movies in 1996, including the live-action version of 101 Dalmatians starring Glenn Close, James and the Giant Peach, Muppets Treasure Island and D3: The Mighty Ducks. Also in pop culture news, Rent opened on Broadway in 1996, starring up-and-coming musical actress Idina Menzel—the future voice of Elsa from Frozen.
In this animated twist on Greek mythology, Hercules must learn how to become a real-life hero without the invincible powers he was born with after they are unexpectedly taken away from him. Can he do the impossible and go “from zero to hero”? Tate Donovan, James Woods and Danny DeVito all lend their voices to this film, one of the ’90s kids movies to rewatch. If Hercules felt overshadowed at the box office, well, there were a lot of massive films in theaters that year, including Titanic. The very first Harry Potter book was published in 1997 as well.
Ming-Na Wen (now starring in the Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett) lent the speaking voice to the courageous Mulan, who secretly joins China’s army to save her father from having to report himself. Broadway star Lea Salonga tackled Mulan’s singing voice in the film, and Eddie Murphy played the scene-stealing dragon Mushu (who didn’t appear in the live-action version of the story released in 2020). Also in 1998, Disney released a remake of the 1961 Hayley Mills film The Parent Trap, this time starring Lindsay Lohan as twins separated at birth who meet and switch places.
1999: Toy Story 2
You can’t keep a good toy down! Our favorite playthings returned to the big screen in Toy Story 2, including Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen). In the sequel, the toys must help rescue Woody, who has been stolen by a toy collector. Viewers are also introduced to some new characters, including cowgirl Jesse, voiced by Joan Cusack. Toy Story 2 took home the Golden Globe for Best Picture Musical or Comedy, something only accomplished by two other Disney movies: Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (the Globes established a Best Picture-Animation category in 2006). But the question remains: What happened to Andy’s dad in Toy Story?
2000: Fantasia 2000
After everyone realized the world wasn’t going to end when the clock struck midnight on the year 2000, we were all free to go back to living our daily lives without panic, and Disney released an updated version of their classic Fantasia. Coming full circle from where the studio began, Fantasia 2000 featured new sequences interspersed with well-known ones from the original 1940 film. Steve Martin and other celebrities served as hosts of sorts, introducing the films’ segments. One last piece of Disney trivia: This film was also the first animated feature to be shown in the IMAX format, as Disney continued its groundbreaking technology into the new millennium.
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