Throughout the years, Disney has changed its animation style, as well as its method of storytelling. Currently, Disney films try to stay relevant to how women and men are treated in society. They have included additional characters of color, even making one of the Disney princesses African American. Recently, Disney has been acclaimed for its focus on telling stories of cultures outside of the United States, hence the renowned success of Moana.
History of Disney
In 1928, cartoonist Walt Disney created a cartoon series featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character Walt had created, after the success of his silent shorts entitled Alice’s Wonderland. After losing the rights to the character, Walt created a mouse character named Mortimer Mouse, which would later be changed to Mickey Mouse. The black and white cartoon titled, Steamboat Willie, started the success for the character, thus launching the Mickey Mouse Club.
In 1932, Disney signed with Telecolor to produce their animated feature shorts in color. The first colored animated short was titled Flowers and Trees, which was released in 1932. The continuation of animated shorts featuring Mickey Mouse, helped create Disney’s first feature-length film, Walt Before Mickey, based on the book with the same name by Diane Disney Miller. The film featured a historical account of Walt Disney and his studio. In 1937, Disney released its first animated feature-length film. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The Golden Age
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) was the first feature-length film to use traditional animation. Snow White became known as the first Disney princess film, covering a classic faerytale of Snow White.
Capitalizing on the film’s success, Disney used other literary tales with the release of Pinocchio (1940). By bringing the wooden puppet to life with magic, Disney turned to other outside the box concepts, and focused his films on animals. With the release of Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1945), to narrate the story through an animal’s perspective.
The Silver Age
Disney’s Silver Age is also known as the Restoration Age. Disney continued the use of faerytales, animals, and classic literature for their characters. They included more elaborate background sets drawn by artists to bring the story’s environment to life. Lighter themes were also applied to the stories told in the Disney films.
Notable films released during this era, were Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1951), Sleeping Beauty (1955), One-Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), The Sword in the Stone (1963), and The Jungle Book (1967). The Jungle Book was the last feature-length film, Walt Disney worked on before his death in 1966.
The Bronze Age
During this time, the studio went through a trial and error, trying to continue releasing Disney films without Walt. They tried featuring darker stories without much financial success. The only animated film that had commercial success during this era, was The Great Mouse Detective (1986).
Critics assumed other films during this era were only created to keep the studio afloat.
The Aristocats (1970), Robin Hood (1973), The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), The Rescuers (1977), The Fox and the Hound (1981), The Black Cauldron (1985), and Oliver and Company (1988).
The Disney Renaissance
With the Disney Renaissance era, Disney returned to using faerytales in their stories, while creating new worlds, like exploring the ocean with The Little Mermaid (1989). Disney used animals again The Rescuers Down Under (1990) and The Lion King (1994). Both Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) showed characters that weren’t faerytales, yet taught the importance of not judging others by their appearance.
Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995), and Mulan (198) introduced audiences to Japanese, Arab, and Native American cultures that those in the United States may have never seen before. Hercules (1997), and Tarzan (1999) were the last movies created during the era. Although, the renaissance era did bring in musical artists Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to write and produce the songs for these films.
The Post-Renaissance Age
Disney tried different methods of storytelling just like during The Bronze Age. They tried targeting their films toward children and teens, hoping to bridge the gap between younger audiences and older generations who grew up watching Disney films.
Films released during this time were Fantasia 2000 (2000), The Emperor’s New Groove (1990), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), Treasure Planet (2002), Brother Bear (2003), Home on the Range (2004), Chicken Little (2004), Meet the Robinsons (1990), and Bolt (2004). did not receive high commercial success except for Lilo and Stitch (2002). Dinosaur (2000) was the first Disney feature-length film, that used computer generated imagery (CGI) for their animation.
Disney Revival Era
After each dark period, a light period seems to follow for Disney. The use of faerytales in storylines returned in Disney films, including purchasing the rights to Marvel Studios and Lucasdilm Studios. These studios reduced competition, as Marvel and Star Wars films are quite popular.
A shift in animation style occurred with the release of Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled (2010), Winnie the Pooh (2011), Beave (2012). Wreck it Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), and Big Hero 6 (2014), and Moana (2016). Disney is still profiting from the huge success of Frozen, which was given a sequel and a musical Broadway adaption.
My Love of Disney
I have always loved the imagination and magic channeled with their characters and unique universes. A part of me refuses to believe that there is no magic in the world, yet I am willing to acknowledge that mermaids and faeries aren’t real, or have they not been discovered yet? The Little Mermaid has always been my favorite Disney film. I wondered what it may be like to live under water and be a mermaid.
Furthermore, over the years, Disney has been able to expand their universe introducing us to new worlds and creatures that exists in our own world and from literature. Despite the renaissance period releasing the best films, I will continue to enjoy the films Disney releases.