Historians often argue about when the Republic of Rome died. Was it during the time of Marius? Or no, maybe it was Sulla. Better yet, maybe it was when Mark Antony gave the eulogy at Julius Caesar’s funeral.

Anyone who grew up in the 90’s can consider themselves an amateur historian when the subject is the TV shows and movies shown during that time period. You were an eyewitness to movie history!

I grew up on Disney Movies. Specifically Disney cartoons, from back before I knew the “D” in Disney was actually a “D” and not a “G”.  The climax of Disney’s monopoly on the hearts and imaginations of children occurred somewhere between Aladdin and The Lion King. What I’ve noticed, and maybe others as well, is that Disney fell just like Rome’s Republic fell. I just don’t know who’s responsible.

There are a litter of amazing Disney movies that came out between my birth and it’s great fall that are etched into the memories of me and my contemporaries.

  • The Little Mermaid (1989)
  • Beauty and the Beast (1991)
  • Aladdin (1992)
  • The Lion King (1994)
  • Pocahontas (1995)
  • A Goofy Movie (1995)
  • Anastasia (1997)

Not only did Disney bring fresh new material, they remastered classics from decades earlier that captured that original Walt Disney magic.

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  • Pinocchio (1940)
  • Dumbo (1941)
  • Bambi (1942)
  • Cinderella (1950)
  • Lady and the Tramp (1955)
  • The Jungle Book (1967)
  • Robin Hood (1973)

I don’t know who did the writing for the more recent movies, or who did the music, but they must have had a few key people in strategic positions of power in the company that churned out these great and memorable animated films in these two great eras of movie making. Walt Disney died in 1966, but his company kept making great films, and the team they had between 1986 and 1995 was stellar!

Fun Fact: The budget of Aladdin was $28 million, and it’s Box office return was $504 million. The Lion King’s budget was $45 million, and it’s return was $951 million

Then suddenly, the magic that was Disney began to wane, just as soon as it peaked. Films like The Goofy Movie, Tarzan, Hercules, and Mulan still had much of the same traditional artwork that we were used to, but things just became less epic. The music was different. Stories became more modern.

Disney took a dramatic turn with the movie Toy Story. It was unlike anything us young 3rd graders had seen before, and it was good, but it looked a lot more like real life than a grand story that swept you away. Don’t get me wrong though, Toy Story isn’t just good, it’s great! It was also the beginning of a new era at Disney.

What could have happened?

Well for one, someone could have died or retired. We humans don’t stay in one place forever. People move on. Sometimes willingly, sometimes by force, sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly. Maybe the writing team began to age, and the executives were looking for a fresh new direction to engage consumers. Maybe some people got sacked during a change of management. Who knows? All I know is that Disney peaked somewhere around 1995, and it hasn’t been the same ever since.

The last true Disney classic was The Lion King. There was a certain something that disappeared from the films after that movie. It’s time for someone to film a documentary called, “Behind the magic: The Story of the Walt Disney Company.” I’d really like to know what happened.

The New Disney

Two of Disney’s more recent movies that weren’t animated are John Carter, and The Lone Ranger. Just to put this in perspective, these movies were made by the same company that produced Mighty Ducks, Flight of the Navigator, and Honey I Shrunk the Kids. I gave John Carter a chance, only because it was Sci-fi. I thought it was only an “okay” movie, but I applauded the movie’s originality and bravery. Fortunately, they at least made their budget back. It wasn’t looking good for quite a while. The Lone Ranger was a movie I couldn’t even bring myself to watch.

To bring things back a bit, I can’t say Disney hasn’t been a pretty consistent success in other areas. They’ve never wavered when it came to television. I went from watching Arabian Nights, One Saturday Morning (you know what I’m talking about) and The Famous Jett Jackson in the 90’s, to watching Shia Lebeouf in Even Stevens in the new millennium without skipping a beat. That’s a lot of TV evolution, but it was done pretty seamlessly.

In ’08-09, someone in Disney hierarchy decided they needed a black princess, maybe because Obama won, and they tried to recapture that old 90’s magic. I think it’s great that they finally have a black Disney princess. I just wish it was made in 1995, when it at least had a shot at being epic, not in 2009. One thing that really stuck in my mind when I watched the Princess and the Frog was her un-yielding work ethic. At one point she said something like, “If I just dig a little deeper, and work a little harder…. and get a third job,” or something like that… I thought to myself, “Are they making fun of the ‘strong’ black woman stereotype, or are they celebrating it?” I really couldn’t tell, so I’ll just give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s hard to be objective when it comes to women’s rights because you’re not sure who you’re going to offend by your opinion. I’m sure there’s a whole group of women who hate Disney’s classics because of the helpless damsel stereotypes it promoted.

Unfortunately, there will never again be a ’92 Olympic Dream Team, and there will never be another Aladdin or Lion King. Their time has passed, and The Princess and the Frog wasn’t movie magic as much as it was a necromancer’s failed resurrection of an old dead Disney.

Disney of the Future

By the time I have kids, Disney will be well on their way to preparing them for a whole new world, so to speak. A world dominated by Star Wars. Disney’s not one to sit around and expect the world to stay the same, like the oil industry, or newspapers. For that I applaud them. It’s already preparing to evolve again by the purchase of the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas for a cool $4.05 Billion. Maybe my kids will experience a new Disney renaissance only to see it fall again. Let’s see!

Picture Credit: Disney Enterprises, Inc. (The Lion King)

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