The decade of Disney- 90s’ animation still proves impactful

Photo courtesy of Disney

Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer

When thinking of our favorite Disney movies, we often look to the classics released in the 1950s. “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Peter Pan,” “Lady and the Tramp” and “Alice in Wonderland” are films we all grew up watching. However, be less obvious to note that many other of the best known Disney movies all came from another decade: the 1990’s. Despite some hits like “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” or “The Jungle Book” released from the ’60’s to the ’80’s, this three-decade time period was a slump for Disney animation. However, the ’90’s acted as a renaissance for classic films that audiences grew to know and love, giving us many movies that are being revived and remade today. Here’s a look back at some of the best Disney classics that the ’90’s had to offer.

The Little Mermaid

“The Little Mermaid” was technically released in November 1989, but it was the catalyst film for a decade of Disney achievement. The film brought Disney back to its roots by introducing a new princess in Ariel, a mermaid whose desire to live as a human on land and love for Prince Eric cause her to exchange her voice for legs. The Little Mermaid was an instant classic, winning two Academy Awards for best original score and best song for “Under the Sea.”

Beauty and the Beast

Disney released another instant success with 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast,” the tale of a young woman who becomes prisoner in an enchanted castle after taking her father’s place. She ultimately falls in love with the Beast, cast away as a hideous creature as a result of his past cruel actions, but transformed into a prince by the end of the film. The storyline and characters of this movie have become iconic, and the story has been released as a popular Broadway play and remade as a successful live action film starring Emma Watson. “Beauty and the Beast” was the first animated movie nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards and won best original score and best original song for “Beauty and the Beast.” Laguna Beach, Calif., sophomore Ashley Shelton’s favorite Disney film from the ’90’s is Beauty and the Beast due to its memorable cast of characters and the imaginative world created for the story.

“I think a lot of original Disney movies like “Beauty and the Beast” from this time period are still impactful because they allow children to see and know an imaginary world where anything is possible and dreams can come true,” Shelton said. “The movies allow us to escape reality and teaches us bigger lessons in life.”


1992’s Aladdin has been one of Disney’s most all-time successful movies, with a popular soundtrack and sense of humor brought by Robin Williams’ free-talking Genie. The film is a type of rags-to-riches story, following free-spirited Aladdin as he wishes to become a prince and win the heart of princess Jasmine. Aladdin won best original song at the Academy Awards for “A Whole New World” as well as best original score. The film has been made into a successful Broadway show and a live-action remake starring Will Smith will be released this May.

The Lion King

This 1994 film is often regarded as one of the best Disney films of all time, telling the story of young lion Simba, heir to the throne of his father’s kingdom, until he is forced into exile after being convinced he is to blame for the death of his father. Helpful friendships and life lessons that Simba develops on his journey lead him to defeat his evil uncle Scar and reclaim the throne. The Lion King is known for its strong themes and character development, as well as its iconic soundtrack. Three songs were nominated for best original song at the Academy Awards — “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” won — and the film won best original score. The Lion King is also a popular Broadway show and is becoming a live-action remake being released this July.

Toy Story

1995’s “Toy Story” is the first Disney film released through Pixar Animation Studios, and the first full-length solely computer-animated movie. The story follows a young boy whose toys come to life when humans aren’t around, particularly the rivalry and ultimate friendship that form between Woody, a cowboy doll, and Buzz Lightyear, space ranger toy. The film is one of Pixar’s most successful, leading to two popular sequels and “Toy Story 4,” which will be released this June. “Toy Story” was also nominated for best original screenplay, best original score and best original song — “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” — at the Academy Awards. The film also won a special achievement award. Naples, Fla., junior Lauren Mulford appreciated growing up with the “Toy Story” movies.

“I am really excited for “Toy Story 4” — I remember watching the first one over and over when I was younger,” Mulford said. “Watching the following sequels, it felt like Andy was growing up with me too. I think the Toy Story movies offer an entertaining experience with humor and emotions that both children and adults enjoy.”

Pocahontas, Mulan and Tarzan

These three films released in 1995, 1998 and 1999 respectively were also incredibly popular films in the ’90s and today. Mulan in particular is praised for its strong heroine and memorable soundtrack and is rumored to become a live-action remake within the next few years. Mulford’s favorite ’90s Disney film to grow up with was Mulan because she stood out from other female disney characters.

“My favorite film from this decade is Mulan because of her bravery,” Mulford said. “She joined the army in disguise to protect her father and become a great hero. Her boldness to do what was right for her family and country is inspiring to me.”

Pocahontas and Tarzan both won Academy Awards for best original song (Pocahontas’ “Colors of the Wind” and Tarzan’s “You’ll Be in my Heart”). All three films are examples of classic Disney animation and contain popular storylines, songs and characters.

Honorable Mentions

Other popular animated Disney films were released in the ’90s, including “Hercules,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Toy Story 2.” Several live action films have also stood the test of time, including “Halloweentown,” “Hocus Pocus” and “The Parent Trap.”

Whether it be the catchy soundtracks, relatable characters or attention to detail in animation, ’90s Disney films prove to be some of the company’s most successful and memorable, setting the stage for popular movies to come over the next decade. Mulford remembers these films from childhood as possessing courageous characters and containing lessons about finding your way and growing up.

“These classic Disney films tend to frame around a character who overcomes great challenges with confidence,” Mulford said. “They harness the spirit of adventure and being true to yourself. The life lessons learned in them are still powerful.”