The 1990s were a glorious heyday for the Disney animation studios. Following the 1980s, where a certain Disney movie (The Black Cauldron) performed so badly it actually lost money for the first time in history, the 1990s are often referred to as the Disney renaissance.
Disney found its first big hit in years with The Little Mermaid in 1989, and continued to perform strongly at the box office for the majority of the next decade. Some of the most beloved Disney films of all time were released in the 1990s — but how do they stack up against each other?
Check out our ranking of the 1990s Disney Animated Classics, from Worst to Best.
9. The Rescuers Down Under
The Rescuers Down Under is truly an underrated film with beautiful music and ground-breaking animation. Plus how cute are Bernard and Bianca? But, and I cannot stress this enough, there are so many good movies in the ’90s that this ends up in the lowest spot on our list. Tough break for the cutest little mice we ever did see. (Besides Mickey and Minnie of course.)
FUN FACT: Did you know the score is part of the Epcot background music? You can hear it predominantly play during the Fountain of Nations water ballets.
8. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
I may be in the minority here, but I actually quite like this movie. For starters, it has multiple noteworthy songs. “Out There” just might be one of the most
beautiful Disney songs ever written, along with “God Help the Outcasts.” Plus “Topsy Turvy” is a whole lot of fun. And speaking of fun — the gargoyles ( most notably Hugo, who’s voiced by Jason Alexander) are huge comedic relief and great sidekicks.
But heavy religious overtones don’t exactly scream family fun, and thus why it lands as second loser.
Here’s where the list starts to get really dicey. (That didn’t take long did it?)
Tarzan is another ’90s hit with a fantastic soundtrack, thanks of course to Phil Collins. The movie also did considerably well at the box office and
still has a presence in the parks at Tarzan’s Treehouse and the new Rivers of Light: We Are One. We love Tarzan, but the plot isn’t quite as well mapped out as others. Also the villain (Clayton) and the sidekick (Terk) aren’t as memorable as others on our list — and we all know the villain and the sidekick tend to make the movie.
FUN FACT: Tarzan is voiced by Tony Goldwyn, who played President Fitzgerald Grant on ABC’s Scandal.
Pochahontas may not be historically accurate, but man, is it fun. Meeko, Flit and Percy are delightful sidekicks — which is especially notable considering they don’t talk. The music is one again amazing (you KNOW you love “Colors of the Wind”!) and Pocahontas is a strong female figure — one of the strongest, if not the strongest to date at time of release. If Pocahontas had come out in another decade, it would likely be on the medal platform, but alas, it’s competing with some of the best movies of all time and therefore lands at number 6.
What an underrated treat this is! Hercules is hysterical — like, adult jokes I didn’t get until much later in life. Hades is a top villain for so many reasons, but mostly because he’s literally the Lord of the Dead and wonderfully witty and sarcastic. The music isn’t *quite* as iconic as Tarzan (thanks again, Phil) but “Zero to Hero” and “Go the Distance” are winners with a capital W. Hercules is the sleeper hit of the ’90s, and for a lot of my generation who grew up in the decade, this lands as a favorite of all time.
Aladdin didn’t crack the top 3? Trust me, I’m as shocked as you are. And honestly, spots 3 and 4 flip-flopped back and forth several times. Aladdin is iconic in so many ways, most notably for Robin Williams’ portrayal of the Genie. But truthfully, the Genie is who makes the film — without him, it wouldn’t rank near as high for me… no matter how much I love the song “A Whole New World.” But luckily for all of us, Genie IS in the movie and dazzles throughout the story of charming street rat, his strong princess love interest, and the sassy sorcerer.
Man, this is hard…
At first you might not think the soundtrack is that noteworthy — but I’m sure you’re forgetting about two little songs called “Reflection” and “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” And maybe you think Mulan’s sidekicks aren’t that great — but are you forgetting Eddie Murphy’s Mushu the Dragon. (“Not lizard. I don’t do that tongue thing.”) And while Shan Yu might not be the funniest villain (not even a little funny), he may darn well be the scariest. I remember SCREAMING the first time I saw the movie and his hand popped out of the snow (like daisies!). When you think about it — Mulan has it all. Hilarious sidekick? Check. Amazing soundtrack? Check. The most kick-butt female character in all of Disney history? BIG OL’ CHECK. I mean, she LITERALLY saves China. Is it just me who cries every time the Emperor bows to her at the end? What more could you ask for in a movie?
2. Beauty and the Beast
The Tale as Old as Time takes the silver medal handily. And you could argue it deserves gold. Spots 1 and 2 could swap and I’d still be happy. They are truly in a league of their own.
Beauty and the Beast is the first animated movie to be nominated for the Academy Award for best picture, and Belle is arguably one of the most, if not the most, popular of all the Disney princesses. The music is iconic thanks to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Gaston is also one of the best Disney villains — just ask him yourself next time you’re at Magic Kingdom. Beauty and the Beast is Disney magic at its finest — who else could make you fall in love with a teacup and a clock?
1. The Lion King
The king of the jungle is also the king of our list! The Lion King is, in a word, perfect. You want a scary villain? You got it, and he’s got a perfect Villain song. You want quippy sidekicks with a snappy motto? Alrighty, done. You want a wise baboon to teach you life lessons? You know it has that, too! You want to cry hysterically over a cartoon lion? Grab the tissues.
The Lion King is a true masterpiece in every sense of the word. The animation is stunning — the animals move just like their real counterparts. Elton John and Tim Rice’s music and Hans Zimmer’s score are absolutely beautiful. The story is poignant and the characters are loveable. The Lion King will make you laugh and cry (a lot). It’ll warm your heart and make you think. At the end of the day, nobody does it better than The Lion King.
But this is just my list — what’s yours?! We welcome opinions and friendly banter in the comments!
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