The release of The Little Mermaid in 1989 would put Disney animation in the golden age of the Disney Renaissance. For the next decade, Disney's films would define animated musicals and dominate both the box offices and Academy Awards. Their success was so great that other companies were quick to release their animated films to share in it.
Although dozens of new animated features were available in the 1990s, many of them failed to stand out from Disney. One reason is that they tried too hard to emulate Disney's formula, leaving little room for their own creativity.
'An American Tail: Fievel Goes West' (1991)
Don Bluth's story about a family of Jewish mice who immigrate to America is now on his own, attempting to escape the West for a better life. After overhearing a plot by cats to exploit the mice for labor before eating them, Fievel encounters an old gun-slinging legend.
The main flaw in the film is that it foregoes an in-depth look into immigrants' lives for a more traditional kid's story. It substitutes western cliches and comedic villains, including a spider cowboy played by John Lovitz. Even the animation is a step-down, substituting Bluth's distinctive detail and movement for something much more comparable to Disney's.
'The Princess and the Goblin' (1991)
The film is based on George Macdonald's book of the same name. Curdie discovers the goblins and becomes involved in their plot to kidnap Princess Irene. Irene is aided by her great-great-grandmother's spirit and they must convince the king of the threat.
The film, which was made by a Welsh and Hungarian team, was not released in the United States until 1994. By that time, Aladdin and The Lion King were out, making the film a popular choice among western viewers.
'Ferngully: The Last Rainforest' (1992)
In Australia's rainforests, a colony of fairies inhabits the place. One of them, Crysta, accidentally uses magic to reduce one to her size. As they go to Ferngully to get help from Crysta's teacher, the other loggers accidentally release a nasty spirit of destruction.
The Last Rainforest is a decent environmental story, but it didn't have to be an animated musical. Only three songs are sung by the actors, although the villain song is the only one worth mentioning. Tim Curry is a very good diet-Disney villain.
'Once Upon a Forest' (1993)
A car accident on the highway releases toxic gas into the nearby woods. Michelle, a young badger, breathes it in and becomes fatally ill. Her three friends venture outside the woods to discover rare herbs, but only if they can avoid predators and the hazards of urbanization.
Once Upon a Forest is a decent kids' film. The environmental message is handled fairly well and Phantom of the Opera star Michael Crawford gives a decent performance as Michelle's uncle. It's pushed aside by its main characters, who feel like someone wanted to make a film where Disney side characters were protagonists.
Jodi Bensona is a thumb-sized girl who falls in love with a fairy prince on a late-night flight and attempts to return home. Unfortunately, every male animal she meets is enraptured by Thumbelina and wants to marry her.
Because Disney paid for Ariel's voice actor as a curious red-head with singing abilities, the film's romantic and musical numbers exist. The fairy prince is equally underdeveloped as the prince from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and none of the songs are good, despite coming from Barry Manilow. One of these, "Marry the Moel," became the first animated film to win a Razzie.
'The Swan Princess' (1994)
Prince Derek and Princess Odette were promised to one another from their childhood. However, Odette is kidnapped by a devil sorcerer who wants her father's kingdom. As Derek tries to track her down, the sorcerer turns Odette into a swan to persuade her to marry him.
Richard Richgot his start at Disney, and it shows. The film has everything you can expect from a Disney remake, including musical numbers, funny scenes, and animal sidekicks. The Lion King film went wild at the box office, but it sold well enough on domestic video to create eight direct-to-video sequels.
'The Pagemaster' (1994)
Richard Tyler, an overtly cautious and statistician, is trapped in a library during a storm. While looking for a telephone, he is swallowed by a sea of paint, becoming an illustration. With three anthropomorphic books that represent adventure, horror, and fantasy, Richard seeks for a return while also gaining strength.
The film is a noble effort to get children interested in reading, but it's hampered by a bleak paint-by-numbers script and too many ideas fighting for time. Many well-known literary figures are introduced to Richard and his friends, but they come and go so quickly that there's no time to talk about their personalities or themes. Patrick Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, and Frank Welker are some of the better Disney side-kick clones.
Balto tells the story of a wolf-dog hybrid living in Nome, Alaska. A team of sled dogs is sent to retrieve antitoxin to save the children's lives when the team is caught in a storm.
Balto was upgraded from a purebred Siberian Husky to a wolf-dog, which is likely why Disney's 90s protagonists were excluded from the film. By this point, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin were released, so viewers had better choices. Still, the animation is beautiful, and Disney-veteran Jim Cummings does a decent job portraying the film's villain.
Quest for Camelot (1998)
When a griffon steals Arthur's sword, Excalibur, the Kingdom of Camelot is thrown into ruin, and a young lady named Kayley sets off to discover it. She is joined by a blind hermit and a two-headed dragon in the quest to save the kingdom and demonstrate that anybody can be a knight.
The song "The Prayer," which has been covered by many artists, is a compilation of Disney cliches drawn from better films. Bell's realism is a ripoff of Aladdin's humor, and the musical numbers, while good in isolation, try to resemble Howard Ashman and Alan Menkin's size.
'The King and I' (1999)
Richard Rich joins forces with Quest for Camelot writers Jacqueline Feather and David Seidler to direct the Rodgers and Hammerstein play of the same name to younger audiences. It chronicles Anna Leonowens' journey to Siam and her encounter with King Mongkut, the evil ruler of Siam's son, in hopes of deposing the king as a dictator.
The film is brimming with cute animal sidekicks, including a monkey, a baby elephant, and a panther who help save the day. It is also forced to reduce many of the mature elements from the original play and 1954 film, including a happy ending rather than a bittersweet one.