After the highly successful 1990s, the 2000s saw the Walt Disney Feature Animations enter a decline. Disney's aim had been to increase the quantity of animated films made, resulting in a drop in quality, popularity and profitability. Disney began closing their satellite studios in Paris and Florida, as well as shedding their animators at their main Burbank studio. By the middle of the decade, Disney announced they would now only make CGI films, with the decision taken to abandon traditional hand-drawn animation altogether. Tensions between Disney's CEO Michael Eisner and their more successful ally, Pixar, threatened to destroy their profitable working relationship.
Meanwhile, Disney faced increased competition from rival animation studios DreamWorks and Blue Sky Studios, who were making their own successful animated franchises and consistently out-performing Disney at the box office. Disney instead increased the number of direct-to-video sequels they were churning out.
In the last 75 years, the Walt Disney Studio has released over 50 animated films it has labelled 'Classics'. The first 37 of these were made between 1937-1999, with classics 38-49 made in the first decade of the 21st Century.
38. Fantasia 2000 (2000)
|Plot||Eight pieces of music with accompanying animation|
|Airy Fairy||A fairy-like Mother Nature appears in 'Firebird Suite'|
|Sequel To:||3. Fantasia (1940)|
Perhaps it was inevitable that, following Roy E Disney's office being located in a Sorcerer's Apprentice Hat shaped building, he would plan to make a sequel to the original Fantasia. Walt Disney's original intention had been to make a film that would continually be updated and changed each year, with new musical sequences replacing older ones. The original film flopped, but Roy E Disney, Walt's nephew, felt the time had come to resurrect the idea, and created new sequences around a digitally remastered Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Some of Fantasia 2000's sequences had originally been planned in the 1940s, including Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Respighi's The Pines of Rome. Similarly a storyboard sequence of The Stedfast Tin Soldier drawn 50 years earlier was used to create the sequence, but now brought up-to-date with the use of CGI. As Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring had been a key part of the original, another Stravinsky number was used as the finale. Perhaps the highlight was Elgar's Pomp & Circumstance starring Donald Duck on the ark, with the 'Land of Hope and Glory' chorus playing when the flood is over and the world is reborn.
Fantasia 2000 was released in IMAX cinemas in high quality 70mm on 1 January, 2000, with a general release in normal cinemas shortly after. Like the original film, it flopped.
39. Dinosaur (2000)
|Directors||Ralph Zondag & Eric Leighton|
|Plot||A family of lemurs raise an iguanodon that they found as an egg, naming him Aladar. Yet when Aladar reaches adulthood the island is destroyed by an asteroid, forcing the survivors on a journey through the predator-infested mainland.|
This was the first Disney film with computer generated characters, although the landscape backgrounds were real locations actually filmed. Made following the success of the first two Jurassic Park films and Walking With Dinosaurs, this film is a cross between Tarzan of the Apes with The Land Before Time, only with added lemurs.
While the film is visually impressive, it focuses on the lemurs to the detriment of the titular Dinosaurs. Why Disney executives decided to invest vast sums of money in making an expensive CGI film about animals that can be seen today in zoos and safari parks all around the world and do not hold the same appeal or fascination as prehistoric monsters is a mystery. When Blue Sky Studios began the not entirely dissimilar Ice Age franchise, they did not focus on lemurs and have been incredibly successful as a result.
It was made as a co-production with The Secret Lab. Formerly known as Dream Quest Images, the company had been founded in 1980, purchased by Disney and renamed The Secret Lab in 1996, only to be closed in 2001 following the film's disappointing performance.
40. The Emperor's New Groove (2000)
|Plot||A selfish Emperor is turned into a llama by his chief advisor, and only a peasant named Pacha, who despises him, can help.|
|Setting||Ancient Incan civilisation|
|Fairytale Castle||Kuzco's palace|
|Wicked Witch||Yzma (Eartha Kitt)|
|Songs:||Written by Sting|
|Sequels||Kronk's New Groove (2005)|
|Spin Offs||The Emperor's New School (TV series, 2006-8)|
An enjoyable light-hearted romp. Previous Disney films had featured hardworking princesses, this features the laziest possible ruler. The film's title, but nothing else, was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Clothes. The film is the second Disney animated film in a row not to be a musical although early versions of the film, when it was entitled Kingdom of the Sun, had been intended to be a musical and featured songs written by Sting and included on the soundtrack. One, 'My Funny Friend and Me', was kept for the end credits and was even nominated for an Oscar despite not appearing in the actual film.
41. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
|Directors||Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise|
|Plot||In the Edwardian era, a young man named Milo goes on a search for the legendary lost world, Atlantis. They travel by a fantastic submarine, the Ulysses, and discover the lost land, but is there more to Atlantis than first appears?|
|Setting||Edwardian Washington DC and Atlantis|
|Perky Princess||Kidagakash 'Kida' Nedakh (Cree Summer)|
|Sequels||Atlantis: Milo's Return (2003)|
A story with far too many characters and far too many plot points all leading to an incoherent mess. The film faced stiff competition from Shrek at the box office and struggled to break even. A planned spin-off television that was in production was instead changed so that the three episodes made were joined together to become a direct-to-video film.
42. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
|Directors||Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois|
|Plot||Following the deaths of their parents, young Lilo is being raised by her struggling older sister Nani, who fears that they will be separated by social worker Cobra Bubbles. Meanwhile an escaped aggressive alien menace designed to destroy crashes nearby, pursued by his creator and an alien 'expert' on Earth. This creature is lovingly adopted by Lilo, who calls him 'Stitch', mistaking him for a dog.|
|Setting||Early 21st Century, in Space and on the Hawaiin island Kaua'i|
|Songs:||The soundtrack contains songs sung by Elvis Presley, shown in Bold, as well as other songs associated with Elvis sung by other artists.|
An attempt to make a cheap film, set away from the traditional European fairytales. Like minor Disney films Dumbo and Basil The Great Mouse Detective, Lilo & Stitch became more successful than the more expensive prestigious films it followed and was one of the few successes of the decade.
Unlike more traditional Disney fare about glamorous princesses, the story involves lovable aliens, threatening social workers and believable, hard-working characters. At the very heart, the film is about the music of Elvis Presley and 'ohana, which means family. Lilo is a chunky, exasperated, big-nosed muumuu-wearing girl who lashes out at those around her, not the beautiful, earnest young adults of other Disney films.
Curiously the film's conclusion is an exact retread of a scene in Pete's Dragon (1977). In the earlier film, evil slave-driving characters the Gogans argue that they own Pete, and have a bill of sale to prove it. Lilo uses exactly the same argument at the end of Lilo & Stitch to the Grand Councilwoman to stop Stitch from being taken away, saying that she owns him and has a certificate to prove it1. Disney presumably believes that though enslaving young, intelligent, sentient life forms was rather taboo in the 1970s, it is perfectly acceptable in the 21st Century.
43. Treasure Planet (2002)
|Directors||Ron Clements & John Musker|
|Plot||Treasure Island inexplicably in space.|
|Setting||Space - the final frontier|
|Book Beginning||Yes, with a 3D holographic book of the story of Pirate Captain Flint and his hidden horde on Treasure Planet.|
|Source||Treasure Island (1883) by Robert Louis Stevenson|
|Songs:||By John Rzeznik unless stated:|
In 2000, Fox Animation Studios released Titan AE. This was an animated film set in space about a 15-year-old boy who finds a treasure map and, accompanied by an assortment of aliens, finds a legendary ship. It was a major box office disaster, losing approximately $100 million and resulted in the closure of Fox Animation Studios. Two years later, Disney decided they wanted a go and released Treasure Planet, an animated film set in space about a 15-year-old boy who finds a treasure map and, accompanied by an assortment of aliens, finds a legendary planet. It too was a major box office disaster, losing approximately $70 million and becoming, to date, the 8th biggest box office loss of all time.
The film has very ambitious animation, combining CGI with hand-drawn. Yet despite its impressive appearance and supporting cast, there is no denying that it is a rather bizarre attempt to make Treasure Island in space.
44. Brother Bear (2003)
|Directors||Aaron Blaise & Robert Walker|
|Plot||Kenai, the youngest of three brothers antagonises a female bear, provoking a fight. This endangers himself and his brothers until his oldest brother sacrifices his life to save them. Seeking revenge, Kenai hunts and slaughters the bear, but is himself turned into a bear. His other brother, Denahi, assumes that Kenai was killed by a bear and starts hunting his transformed brother, who is befriended by a young cub who has lost his mother.|
|Setting||Prehistoric Northwest America|
|Wicked Witch||Tanana, the sha,am (Joan Copeland)|
|Book Beginning||Cave paintings|
|Songs:||By Phil Collins:|
|Sequels||Brother Bear 2 (2006)|
A new take on the humans raised by animals films seen in Disney films like The Jungle Book (1967) and Tarzan (1999), in this film a human is turned into an animal and becomes the adopted brother of a young bear cub. The last film made by Disney's Florida animation studio before it was closed as part of a restructuring programme that relocated all animation to California. The film is one of the above average films of the decade, though not as much fun as Lilo & Stitch.
45. Home on the Range (2004)
|Directors||Will Finn & John Sanford|
|Setting||Patch of Heaven, a farm in the old Wild West|
|Source||Poem 'My Western Home' (c 1870) by Brewster M Higley that was adapted into song 'Home on the Range' by Daniel E Kelley.|
|Songs:||Music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater unless stated:|
Another experimental film that was a box office failure. Previously, Disney had been able to get away with making an occasional below-average film, but 2004 was a highly competitive year for animated films and Home on the Range was left behind. Its antiquated, angular animation style lacked the excitement shown in films like Pixar's The Incredibles or The Polar Express, the breath-taking beauty of Howl's Moving Castle or the sophistication of Shrek 2. The story, in which three cows decide to become bounty hunters and capture a yodelling cattle-rustler to save their threatened farm, is simple, but a little disappointing overall.
Following Home on the Range
By this time Michael Eisner, Disney's Chief Executive, was being criticised for the poor performance of the animation department's films, while rival studios Pixar, DreamWorks and Blue Sky were making hit after hit. Disney films were moving away from Fairy Tales when DreamWorks' Shrek films were embracing that genre and proving incredibly successful. Although Disney was sharing Pixar's success, their distribution agreement was due to expire in 2006 following the release of Cars, and Eisner was keen to distance Disney from Pixar. Instead he announced that Disney would form their own division to churn out straight-to-video sequels to the Pixar films they had distributed, as Disney had the rights to the characters. These would be made by a new division called Circle 7 Animation, although it was soon nicknamed 'Pixaren't'.
Eisner announced that from now on, Disney would no longer make old-fashioned traditional animated films, and would exclusively embrace CGI. This meant that all the hand-drawn animators were immediately fired. Unlike Dinosaurs which had real backgrounds, the next Disney animated film would be 100% CGI, and Eisner confidently predicted that when this film was a huge box office success, it would prove once and for all that Disney did not need Pixar. Meanwhile Roy E Disney, Walt's nephew, resigned as Disney's vice chairman, beginning a 'Save Disney' campaign designed to remove Eisner from power and re-open negotiations with Pixar.
46. Chicken Little (2005)
|Plot||A year after being mocked for saying that the sky was falling when it was merely an acorn, much to his father's continued shame, Chicken Little risks derision and his father's disapproval when he is convinced his hometown is being invaded by aliens.|
|Setting||Oakey Oaks, a typical town inhabited by anthropomorphised animals around the early 21st Century.|
|Book Beginning||The introduction mocks previous Disney introductions, including the book.|
|Source||Traditional fable also known as Chicken Licken|
|Spin Off?||Not to be confused with Walt Disney's 1943 adaptation in which Foxy Loxy is a Nazi.|
Though this film received disappointing reviews it made $300 million, which was under half the profit of Pixar's The Incredibles. The film concerns a young chicken trying to share his feelings with his father while his town is being invaded by aliens. The main character, Chicken Little, sounds very similar to the Michael J Fox voiced Stuart of Stuart Little, but the film fails to come up to the earlier film's standards. It was also beaten at the box office by DreamWorks' Madagascar.
This was the first Disney film released in cinemas in Disney Digital 3D.
Following the film's underperformance, in March 2005 Michael Eisner resigned. Roy E Disney returned and cordial relations with Steve Jobs and Pixar resumed. In January 2006, Disney announced it had negotiated with Jobs to purchase Pixar for $7.4 billion, on condition that Pixar remain an independent production company. Pixar's president Dr Edwin Cattmull became president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and perhaps more importantly John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and Disney.
Under Eisner's system, all Disney directors' projects had been accountable to three levels of executives, none of whom had ever made a film. Lasseter instead introduced the system that had worked so successfully at Pixar. From now on, Disney directors, not management middlemen, would control their projects. Art directors, writers and animators were similarly allowed greater creative input. Director Chris Williams described his appointment with the words, we felt we were getting our creative freedom back.
47. Meet the Robinsons (2007)
|Plot||Lewis is a young, orphaned inventor who wishes to learn who his mother was, and invents a memory machine so he would be able to remember her. However a villain known as the Bowler Hat Guy has stolen a time machine to travel back from the future to steal it. Lewis then meets Wilbur Robinson, who has travelled from the future in order to stop the Bowler Hat Guy. Wilbur takes Lewis into the future, where he meets Wilbur's strange, eccentric and endearing family.|
|Setting||Present day and future America|
|Source||A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce|
A surprisingly moving story, perhaps because director Steve Anderson had been adopted as a child. When John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer of Disney this film was nearing the end of its production. Lasseter insisted that many sequences be redone, especially scenes featuring the Bowler Hat Guy, in order to portray him as more sinister. The film was available to view in cinemas in Disney Digital 3D.
The film contains many humorous moments, such as when they are in the future, they fly over Disney's 'Tomorrowland', now renamed 'Todayland'. This is the only Disney film to date where the villain is a hat.
The film was unable to compete against DreamWorks' Shrek the Third, Warner Bros' Happy Feet or The Simpsons Movie.
48. Bolt (2008)
|Directors||Chris Williams & Bryon Howard|
|Plot||An acting dog named Bolt is raised believing that the science fiction television series he appears in is real, and that he has super powers. He is accidentally separated from his owner, a young girl called Penny, and shipped from Hollywood to New York. As he returns he is taught how to be a dog by a scruffy alley cat called Mittens.|
|Setting||Hollywood and New York, early 21st Century|
|Book Beginning||No, with a television sequence instead.|
This was the first film to begin filming after the return of John Lasseter. The original idea, entitled American Dog had been developed by Chris Sanders who had been behind Lilo & Stitch. Sanders and Lasseter clashed over the direction the story should go, resulting in Sanders leaving the studio and making How to Train Your Dragon (2010) for DreamWorks Animation.
The film feels like a return to the classic cat and dog Disney films formula, a welcome relief after Disney's recent attempts to remake the wheel. It does seem like a retread of Toy Story, though, only with a dog thinking he is a superhero rather than a toy thinking he is a space ranger. It was not as successful at the box office as that year's DreamWorks' Animation films, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.
49. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
|Directors||Ron Clements & John Musker|
|Plot||Tiana, a hard-working waitress who dreams of opening her own restaurant, is friends with Lottie. Lottie, the richest and most spoilt girl in New Orleans who wishes to become a princess, and sees her chance when Prince Naveen, a playboy disinherited by his family, visits. But Doctor Facilier, aided by Naveen's put-upon servant Lawrence, uses his voodoo power to transform Naveen into a frog and disguise Lawrence as the prince. When Tiana kisses Naveen, instead of him turning back into a prince, she also turns into a frog.|
|Setting||New Orleans, 1921|
|Fairytale Castle||'Tiana's Palace' is the name of Tiana's dream restaurant, also called 'Tiana's Place'.|
|Perky Princess||Tiana (Anika Noni Rose)|
|Wicked Witch||Doctor Facilier 'The Shadow Man' (Keith David)|
|Airy Fairy||Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis)|
|Book Beginning||At the start Eudora reads The Frog Prince to a young Lottie and Tiana.|
|Source||The Frog Prince, traditional tale popularised by the Brothers Grimm, also adaptation The Frog Princess by ED Baker (2002)|
|Songs:||By Randy Newman unless stated:|
As Meet The Robinsons and Bolt were already in production when Lasseter was appointed, this was the first film to be made start to finish under Lasseter's reign. One of Lasseter's first acts when he was appointed had been to bring directors John Musker and Ron Clements, the geniuses behind The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, back to working for Disney. Rather than getting Disney to hide from its past and go in weird and wacky directions like most of the earlier 21st Century animations had been, Lasseter wanted something that acknowledged and played to the strengths of the Disney tradition.
The directors were allowed to choose whether or not to make the film traditionally hand-drawn or in 3D, and when they chose the former many of the animation staff Eisner had fired were rehired to work on the project. There was at first a question as to how well traditional animation would stand up against CGI in the early 21st Century, and it was apparent that a new approach was needed. In order to trial new software tools to blend hand-drawn animation with digital backgrounds to create the required high quality look, a new short Goofy film, How to Hook Up Your Home Theater was made, designed to resemble the Goofy shorts of the 1940s-50s. This proved that cel-animation was still a valid art and permission to proceed was granted.
Visually the film is stunning, with the hand-drawn animation looking as sharp as any 3D film. The Art Deco 'Almost There' dream sequence is a particular highlight. The return to classic Disney form is evident in the film too, inspired by the look of Lady and the Tramp but with voodoo demons that resemble the spirits of the dead in Fantasia's 'Night on Bald Mountain', while New Orleans is as much a character in the film as New York was in Oliver and Company. Randy Newman, who had excelled for Pixar's Toy Story, provided the songs for a strong musical film with a jazzy setting.
Though overshadowed and beaten at the box office by Avatar and Blue Sky Studios' Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, this film brought the first decade of the 21st Century to a strong end, paving the way for future success with Tangled and Frozen.
Other Animated Films
Enchanted (2007) is a charming and inventive film initially set in an animated fairytale kingdom, before the characters and action are transported to present day New York city, where the film is transformed into live action. This film delights in making fun of Disney stereotypes, with a lead female character that the audience assumes will become a princess, a handsome prince, cleaning creatures, characters bursting into song, poisoned apples and a wicked queen who is a cross between the queen of Snow White and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty.
- The Tigger Movie (2000)
- Return to Never Land (2002)
- The Jungle Book 2 (2003)
- Piglet's Big Movie (2003)
- Pooh's Heffalump Movie (2005)
- Bambi II (2006)
- Tinker Bell (2008)
- Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure (2009)
DisneyToon Studios are an independent animation department that before 2000 had specialised in making direct-to-video sequels. In 2000 they made their first cinema released film for five years, The Tigger Movie, which marked the return of the Sherman Brothers. It was the excellent standard of the soundtrack that convinced Eisner to release the film in cinemas, rather than direct-to-video as had originally been intended. This success encouraged DisneyToon Studios to release two more Winnie-the-Pooh related sequels, Piglet's Big Movie and Pooh's Heffalump Movie.
Other direct-to-DVD sequels to earlier Disney classics including Return to Neverland, The Jungle Book 2 and Bambi II were given minor cinematic releases first. Shortly after John Lasseter was appointed, DisneyToon Studios' president Sharon Morrill, an executive without filmmaking experience, left as Disney moved away from making cheap direct-to-video sequels, which were felt to detract from and exploit the original classics.
Disney Television Animation:
- Recess: School's Out (2001)
- Teacher's Pet (2004)
The success of Paramount's Rugrats Movie in 1998 encouraged Disney to release films based on their most successful television series. Recess: School's Out was a moderate success in 2001, however Teacher's Pet flopped.
- Valiant (2005) - Vanguard Animation
- The Wild (2006) - C.O.R.E
- Roadside Romeo (2008) - Yash Raj Films
- A Christmas Carol (2009) - ImageMovers Digital
With the single exception of Dinosaur, the films that Disney co-produced with other animation departments are not considered to be classics. In 2000 Aardman Animations and DreamWorks had co-produced Chicken Run, a stop-motion animated film about chickens that shared similarities with Second World War Prisoner of War films which became a huge box office hit and remains the most successful stop-motion film of all time. Disney, smelling sweet financial success, decided they wanted to make their own, similar war-and-bird-themed film. They co-produced Valiant with Vanguard Animation, a low-budget film about Second World War pigeons. This, the second CGI film made in Britain, was modestly successful.
Canadian television and special effects company C.O.R.E. made The Wild which was distributed by Disney. The Wild's plot, about a lion and giraffe in New York Zoo escaping into the wild, has been considered to be very similar to DreamWorks film Madagascar. C.O.R.E. made the most of the fact it was a Disney co-production and cleverly marketed the film as 'The 46th Disney Classic', although Disney themselves do not consider it to be. This did not stop it being a box office disappointment and C.O.R.E. consequently collapsed.
Roadside Romeo is a Bollywood co-production with Yash Raj Films, about dogs in Mumbai with a plot similar to Lady and the Tramp.
ImageMovers are an independent film company founded by Robert Zemeckis which had previously enjoyed success with animated mo-cap2 films including The Polar Express (2004), Monster House (2006) and Beowulf (2007) for Warner Brothers, Columbia and Paramount respectively. Disney were interested, and formed a joint enterprise with them entitled ImageMovers Digital. The first film to be released was A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge, in a rip-roaring rollercoaster adaptation of the Christmas classic.
- Monsters, Inc. (2001)
- Finding Nemo (2003)
- The Incredibles (2004)
- Cars (2006)
- Ratatouille (2007)
- WALL-E (2008)
- Up (2009)
Following the success of Toy Story 2, Disney signed a contract agreeing to fund Pixar to make a further four films, with Disney retaining merchandising rights as well as the rights to make sequels based on the characters. This distribution agreement was due to end following Cars, and tensions between Pixar and Michael Eisner were strained, especially when Eisner announced he planned to make numerous direct-to-video sequels to the successful Pixar pictures. Following Eisner's sudden departure, Pixar and Disney merged. One of the terms of merger was that Pixar would remain an independent studio, though owned by Disney.