I love movies; films have been an integral part of my life since I can remember walking. I also am a huge lover of animation—both hand drawn and computer—and especially of Disney Animation. But there are two types of animated films produced by the company that defined animated films. You see, there are “Walt” films and “Disney” films.
If you know your history then you know that the Walt Disney Company was founded by a man named Walt Disney. This may seem like an obvious point to make, but there are many people who identify the name with a brand, not a man. Generations of people have grown up being entertained by the stories to the point where it’s simply a genre, and there are people that don’t know this man actually existed (no really, I’ve met some of them). A great many people today simply do not associate the man with the stories or films.
So a “Walt” film is an animated film made by Disney from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to The Jungle Book (1967), while a “Disney” film is an animated feature made by Disney from The Aristocats (1970) to Frozen (2013) and everything beyond. This is not done to demean or lessen the films made after Walt’s passing, but simply to clarify them. Walt Disney holds such a founding position for me that it’s impossible to compare the achievements of Walt’s films with the works of those that came after him. It wouldn’t be a fair comparison, for instance, to place Fantasia against Wreck-It Ralph. One film may be a current cultural darling, but the other is burdened with the weight of history. It wouldn’t be a proper and just evaluation.
Personally speaking, my favorite Walt film is Pinocchio, while my favorite Disney film is Beauty and the Beast. Everyone has their favorite and there is no one film that can be said to be empirically the best (although Snow White clearly started it all, against all the naysayers), so it’s simply a matter of taste. But it helps to divide the films into a categorical before/after listing so as to distance the pioneer from those that benefited from his vision.
This doesn’t even begin to broach the topic of “Golden Ages” when it comes to Disney Animation. The First Golden Age covers the Walt period from Snow White through The Jungle Book. The Second Golden Age lasted from The Little Mermaid (1989) to The Lion King (1994)—the films before and after mark periods of Disney animation proverbially roaming the desert in search of identity. We’re arguably in the Third Golden Age now, starting with Tangled (2010) and now Frozen.
Animation at the company is experiencing a great rebound since the purchase of Pixar Animation Studios and the hiring of John Lasseter (himself considered a Walt Disney type) in 2006. The first few years were a rough period as the company struggled to gain traction with both computer (Bolt, 2008) and traditional animation (The Princess and the Frog, 2009). But after the success of Tangled and Frozen, the company is once again firing on all cylinders. Later this year we’ll have the first Marvel adaptation from Walt Disney Animation Studios (Big Hero 6), and there are several amazing films (Zootopia, Giants, Moana, and a couple of surprises) in the development pipeline.
It’s a good time to be a Walt/Disney animation fan…
Honor Hunter is a writer focusing on the entertainment business of film, TV, games and pop culture all around. The Mouse is his specialty, but not exclusively, as he posts about news, rumors and opinion of the world we all love to know.