History of Disney Animation Part 2: The Dark Age (1970-1988)

by martinjacob49 | created - 03 Mar 2014 | updated - 03 Mar 2014 | Public

A list of the Disney cartoon features released during the era where Disney Animation wasn't doing so well critically or financially, mostly because the studio had no idea what to do after Walt's death. I'll also share my opinion on these films, whether they're good films or not.

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1. The AristoCats (1970)

G | 78 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

66 Metascore

With the help of a smooth talking tomcat, a family of Parisian felines set to inherit a fortune from their owner try to make it back home after a jealous butler kidnaps them and leaves them in the country.

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman | Stars: Phil Harris, Eva Gabor, Sterling Holloway, Scatman Crothers

Votes: 80,200 | Gross: $55.68M

While this film has its fans, The Aristocats is mainly a forgettable Disney film. For one thing, the story is a mixture of 101 Dalmatians (with missing kittens instead of missing puppies) and Lady and the Tramp (kindness between rich animals and poor animals). Aside from the O'Mally cat, the villain, a drunken goose, and the two country dogs, the main cats weren't really that interesting, the animation is so-so, and the songs aren't really that memorable (with the exception of "Everybody Wants to be a Cat", which is one of my favorite Sherman Brothers songs).

2. Robin Hood (1973)

G | 83 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

57 Metascore

The story of the legendary outlaw is portrayed with the characters as humanoid animals.

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman | Stars: Brian Bedford, Phil Harris, Roger Miller, Peter Ustinov

Votes: 100,893 | Gross: $32.06M

This take on Robin Hood could have been extremely terrible, especially when the classic characters are all animals, but Disney's animated take on this classic story is fun, entertaining, and underrated. There's quite a bit of recycled shots from other Disney films that gets quite annoying after a while (as Disney wasn't doing to well financially), but the film is so fun that I can forgive Disney for being so cheap here, especially when you have Peter Ustinov voicing Prince John and Andy Devine as Friar Tick.

3. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

G | 74 min | Animation, Comedy, Family

A collection of animated shorts based on the stories and characters by A. A. Milne.

Directors: John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman | Stars: Sebastian Cabot, Junius Matthews, Barbara Luddy, Howard Morris

Votes: 28,977

This is actually the three classic theatrical shorts released in the 1960's combined into one feature film (Walt being alive in releasing the first short). This film is the version I grew up with, and whether it's a short or a movie, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is an essential classic in the world of Disney Animation, perfectly defining the word childhood. Along with Mickey Mouse, Pooh is one of Disney's beloved characters in their library, and the end result is funny, touching, and heartwarming.

4. The Rescuers (1977)

G | 78 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

74 Metascore

Two mice of the Rescue Aid Society search for a little girl kidnapped by unscrupulous treasure hunters.

Directors: John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, Art Stevens | Stars: Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor, Geraldine Page, Joe Flynn

Votes: 51,083 | Gross: $71.22M

Like Robin Hood, when first looking at the premise, it sounds kind of stupid, especially when the plot revolves around two mice who go on a rescue mission. But like with the genius films when Walt was alive, The Rescuers does what Walt intended to make in the first place; by taking something meant for children and making it entertaining for all ages. While the animation isn't Disney's greatest, the characters are delightful and the villain is awesome.

5. The Fox and the Hound (1981)

G | 83 min | Animation, Adventure, Drama

65 Metascore

Two childhood friends find themselves forced to become enemies.

Directors: Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Art Stevens | Stars: Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Pearl Bailey, Jack Albertson

Votes: 75,003 | Gross: $63.46M

Disney does an excellent job at coming-of-age stories, from Dumbo, Bambi, and The Lion King. The Fox and the Hound is no exception. There's some issues in the cheapness of Disney's animation, but the story is fantastic, about a fox and a hound that find it difficult to become best friends due to the nature of what they're supposed to do. It's one of the most moving Disney films ever made, especially when the film's climax involves an out-of-control bear.

6. The Black Cauldron (1985)

PG | 80 min | Animation, Action, Adventure

59 Metascore

A young boy and a bunch of misfit friends embark on a quest to find a dark magic item of ultimate power before a diabolical tyrant can.

Directors: Ted Berman, Richard Rich | Stars: Grant Bardsley, Freddie Jones, Susan Sheridan, Nigel Hawthorne

Votes: 26,650 | Gross: $21.29M

I know this film is one of the most hated in Disney's library, as it's creepy visuals scarred many 80's kids for life. But looking at it in 2014, The Black Cauldron is actually an underrated Disney adventure. While some of the characters are a little underdeveloped, the adventure is exciting, the animation is as stunning as Sleeping Beauty, and the best part, the creepy visuals that scarred everyone for life. Seriously, The Horned King and his skeleton army are some of the best designs in a villain character, alongside Chernabog and Maleficent!

7. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

G | 74 min | Animation, Adventure, Family

73 Metascore

Basil, the rodent Sherlock Holmes, investigates the kidnapping of a toy-maker and uncovers its link to his arch-enemy, Professor Ratigan.

Directors: Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, David Michener, John Musker | Stars: Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Susanne Pollatschek

Votes: 39,451 | Gross: $38.60M

Another film that has a premise that sounds ridiculously awful, this time a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes, but I can't deny that I am a huge fan of The Great Mouse Detective. From the stylishly dark visuals, to Vincent Price's terrifically evil performance as the rat Ratigan, to the awesome climatic sequence that featured the earliest use of CGI, The Great Mouse Detective is certainly the most underrated film in this era of Disney's illustrious film history.

8. Oliver & Company (1988)

G | 74 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

58 Metascore

A lost and alone kitten joins a gang of dogs engaged in petty larceny in New York City.

Director: George Scribner | Stars: Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin, Richard Mulligan

Votes: 38,399 | Gross: $74.15M

Like Robin Hood, if this film was made by someone else, this film would have been completely awful, especially since the story is a modernized version of Oliver Twist set in New York City and starring dogs, cats, and a broke pickpocket, plus the fact that it features appearances from some of the biggest celebrities in the 80's, such as Billy Joel and Bette Midler. While this film doesn't hold up as some of Disney's other films, as I don't believe that this story will appeal to Disney's core audience, especially since the story involves a broke pickpocket trying to survive in the grittiness of NYC, but I have a soft spot for Oliver and Company; the animation is good, the voice casting is good, the story is fun for what it was, and the best part; it's soundtrack, which was awesome, especially Billy Joel's "Why Should I Worry", which makes up for its flaws.

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