Can Disney Recapture the Magic?

By Gigi Peccolo on January 31, 2013

When we were all growing up, almost every animated film we watched came from one company—Disney. The Mouse House ruled the kids’ entertainment industry in the 90s, achieving critical and commercial success year after year after year. Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules, all that good stuff.

The films were part of the “Disney Renaissance,” a creative reimagining that started with 1988’s “The Little Mermaid” and ended near 1999’s “Tarzan.” But these movies weren’t just movies: they were pop culture phenomena. Every kid had the merchandise: the lunchboxes, the T-shirts, the costumes. Every kid knew the songs: “A Whole New World,” “Hakuna Matata,” “Go the Distance.” Every kid grew up with Disney. (If you didn’t, we need to have a movie marathon ASAP).

But that was over ten years ago. CGI is the new normal, and Pixar has become the new standard in animation, a position they highly deserve. They’ve managed to tell extremely compelling stories in a new medium, and make a lot of money with it to boot. Unfortunately, a lot of other companies think they can piggyback on this CGI success by churning out a movie every year and slapping the phrase “Now in 3D!” on it. Disney’s guilty of this too (I will see The Lion King in 2D if I want to, damn it!) traditional animation has been essentially erased.

Granted, it’s a different time. Maybe kids don’t want to sing along with anthropomorphic animals anymore. Maybe kids want a worldview that isn’t so sugar sweet. And I could accept that, if not for one thing.

Disney’s “Tangled” garnered critical acclaim for its nostalgic callback to princesses of yesteryear. Photo via Flickr user x1brett

Every time I see a glimpse of old Disney, and I’m talking the quintessential 90s films we all grew up with, I’m seized by that same sense of wonder I had when I was a kid. Yes, I’m a decade older than I was when I first watched these movies, but my heart still leaps when that trademark castle shows up on screen. To be honest, I’d probably be more excited to watch these movies than the average kid today.

Why do these movies still have such a strong impact? There’s three things. What made a hallmark Disney film was the music, the animation, and the story. Lack one of those and you could still make a good movie, but not a great one. Not one (or several) that could define the childhood of a generation.

This isn’t to say that the films Disney’s making now aren’t good. Critics loved “Tangled” and its callback to the princesses of yesteryear. Critics loved “Wreck-It Ralph” and its strikingly colored video game characters (188 total, for those of you keeping track in the theaters!) But they loved them mostly because of one thing.

They’re starting to make films like they used to.


(Be sure to check out Paperman, Disney’s newest digital animated short, here).


I'm currently a sophomore at the University of Denver majoring in journalism. I write for the school paper but I also love writing for entertainment, specifically TV and movies, and ULoop is a great outlet for that. In my free time, you can find me doing newspaper layouts or taking a nap to make up for all the sleep I've missed.

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