A History of Disney Feature Animation


The part of Disney’s unique status in film and animation industry is its appeal to the audiences of different and preferences. Everyone familiar with Disney movies can always find something for themselves and interoperates it in a different manner. Moreover, many of the movies and animations live from generation to generation and become part of the family traditions all over the world. Those movies transgress their time, and people watch them years after they were first released. For example, my own history of relationship with Disney movies also starts from the production that was produced before my time. My own first memory of a Disney movie is the 1985 production of The Return of Oz. It is also important to point out the fact that the movies and animations made in the different years emphasize the significance of the different values and beliefs in society.

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Disney productions from the 1980s

A significant number of the first Disney productions that I remember as the first movies I have seen come from the 1980s and reflect on the issues that were the most important during the decade. One of the examples is the 1989 live-action movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The film narrates the story of the scientist who invented the mechanism that could shrink the objects in the surrounding world and accidently shrunk his children. Among the highlights of the story is the fact that the scientist was afraid to tell his wife about the accident even after realizing what had happened. In many ways, the story reflected the gender relationships in an average American family during that time. Particularly, it underlined the fact that still in many families the upbringing of the children was the prerogative of the women, if not the obligation. Meanwhile, the film demonstrated in an entertaining form that all parents are, in fact, equally responsible for their children. Although the relationships and responsibilities in the family were not in the center of attention in the film, this plotline provided insight into the American society at the time.

Alongside some family films, such as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Disney Studios made a lot of productions in the field of fairy tales and books adaptations and history-related movies. Some of them are among the first films I remember seeing, such as Return to Oz, The Little Mermaid, The Journey of Natty Gann and many others (“Animated Disney Movies” par.1). Those movies also contributed to the outlook of many children by teaching them about literary works and history.

Disney productions from the 1990s

In the 1990s, the focus of attention of the Disney Studios slightly altered because of the changes in society. First of all, both the animated films and the live-action movies began to feature more racially and culturally diverse characters. The examples of such films are Cool Runnings (1993), Pocahontas (1995), Aladdin (1992), etc. (Pallant 112). It signified the positive changes in the American society.

Another popular fad concerned the films about survival in the extreme circumstances. The adventure movie Shipwrecked was out in 1990 and focused on the story of the adventures of two boys on the unknown island after the shipwreck.

Following the similar theme, in 1991, White Fang, the film inspired by Jack London’s novel was released. It featured the story of relationships between a man and a half-wolf. Not only it presented to the younger viewers the story about the hard and adventurous life of both people and animals in Alaska, but also it became an iconic portrayal of the friendship with animals. It is important to highlight the fact that the story often showed the perspective of White Fang, giving the viewers and insight into his character. In my opinion, people of various ages could relate to White Fang because he was vulnerable and different. Therefore, it was even more touching when he was ‘healed’ thanks to his friendship with a gold miner, who was the first person to be kind to him. There are many aspects to admire about this story. On one hand, it humanizes the half-wolf White Fang, showing that the feelings of animals should not be neglected. Moreover, the animals that help people daily, provide food for them, and work alongside them should not be taken for granted. On the other hand, the story of the friendship between the gold miner and White Fang demonstrates that the aggressive behavior of both people and animals can often be the result of the outer circumstances and the way the world treated them.

When talking about the representation of animals in film, it is also hard not to mention The Lion King that was released in 1994 (“Animated Disney Movies” par.1). This animated musical became epic for the whole generation and influenced the attitude towards the animals.

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Another theme of the Disney films in the 1990s was the adaptations of the European fairytales and books. Two most memorable films for me, in this category, were animations Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The first one featured the story inspired by the ancient Greek mythology, whereas the second one was the adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel (Whitley 10). In my opinion, both movies have a great impact in developing the interest to the European culture.

Disney productions from the 2000s

One of the main themes of Disney animations and films in the 2000s was the importance of the family relationships and empathy to other human beings and creatures. Brother Bear, released in 2003, features the story of a misbehaved Inuit boy, who killed a bear and was enchanted to turn into one himself. The main idea of the story extended the theme of what brotherhood is and how important it is to sustain the caring relationships not only among the humans but also with the rest of the natural world.

The family topic is also featured in 2003 animation, Finding Nemo. The story featured in this animation is a metaphor for the relationships between protective parents and rebellious children. On one hand, it manifests the need for a certain extent of freedom for the children. However, on the other hand, it shows how much a loving parent can do to save and protect his or her child.

Disney productions from the 2010s

In the 2010s, Disney concentrated on re-introducing the familiar stories, such as Alice in Wonderland (2010), Waking Sleeping Beauty (2010), Frozen (2013), etc. Many of the recent productions have leading female characters, which addresses the issue of gender diversity on screen.


In my opinion, different themes featured in Disney films and animations are not solely related to following fast-changing trends and fads. The main reason for such pattern is a need to respond to the issues of the society at the certain stages, which makes even the movies made in subsequent decades quite different and allows each viewer to have a personal history of Disney.

Works Cited

Animated Disney Movies 2016. Web.

Pallant, Chris. Demystifying Disney: A History of Disney Feature Animation. New York, New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2011. Print.

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Whitley, David. The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation: From Snow White to WALL-E. Surrey, United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing, 2012. Print.

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