The Eras of Disney
We all love Disney, but can you name all the eras of Disney animation and films? There are plenty of them, 9 of them to be exact. And each of them plays a different part in Disney history.
Silent Era/Origins (1923-1928)
The Silent Era is where it all began. Walt Disney was working for Laugh-o-gram studios based in Kansas City, Missouri and created a short film titled Alice’s Wonderland. This film would double as the first of the Alice Comedies. Unfortunately, Laugh-o-gram went bankrupt so Walt and his brother Roy headed to Hollywood, creating Disney Brothers Cartoon Studios. They worked out a deal with Winkler Productions to produce Alice Comedies and the brothers would move their studio to Hyperion Street renaming the studio Walt Disney Studios. Alice Comedies was no more, Walt created his first original character-Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Walt produced 26 short comedies featuring Oswald before having a falling out with Mintz who had taken over Winkler Productions in 1928. Legally Oswald belonged to Mintz and his company so he took the character and 4 of Walt’s animators and created a new animation company, Snappy Comedies.
The Pre-Golden Age (1928-1937)
Walt was recovering from his loss of Oswald, but this loss would set the stage for the Disney that we know and love today. Walt collaborated with Ub Iwerks and created a whole new character they originally named Mortimer Mouse. Walt’s wife didn’t like the name so they renamed him Mickey Mouse. Mickey made his first debut in a test screening of Plane Crazy in 1928, but it failed to pick up a distributor. Walt went back to the drawing board and came up with Steamboat Willie which debuted in 1928 and was the first cartoon to have audio synchronized with it. Steamboat Willie is what made Mickey the mascot of Disney and also kick-started a new series of cartoons. The new Mickey Mouse cartoons introduced Minnie Mouse, Pluto, and Goofy. We didn’t meet Donald Duck until Silly Symphonies which was popular because of the innovative use of Technicolor. Walt had successfully bounced back from his hardships in the Silent Era and was paving the way for the Golden Age.
The Golden Age (1937-1942)
The Golden Age was started off in 1937 with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the first full-length film to use traditional animation and have immediate commercial success. During the Golden Age we also received Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi. Although all of these films would become classics, at the time of their release only Snow White and Dumbo were commercially successful. The Golden Age wasn’t just about being commercially successful though, it was also about setting new trends. Snow White was the first fairy-tale inspired story, thus creating “Disney Princesses”. Pinocchio started the taking of well-known literature and turning it into kid-friendly films while Bambi explored the idea of making a movie through the eyes of a non-human character. All the things we love started in the Golden Age. Exaggerated villains, music, the use of comedic sidekicks along with putting very dark scenes between very upbeat and happy scenes which we see a lot of today.
Wartime Era (1943-1949)
Also known as the Package Era. During this time the United States was in WWII which resulted in lower movie budgets and a smaller team of animators. During this time Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time, and The Adventures of Icabod and Mr. Toad made their appearances in the Disney line up. The thing that set these apart from the movies in the Golden Age was that instead of telling one continuous story, it was multiple short films. During the Wartime Era, Disney studios also produced wartime propaganda, which included anti-Nazi commercials and flyers encouraging Americans to support the war.
Silver/Restoration Age and the death of Walt (1950-1967)
During this time we saw the return of many trends that Disney had started. During this time Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, and The Jungle Book were released. What set this age apart from the Golden Age or the Wartime Era? The use of more ornate backgrounds and softer colors. To set the standard a little higher, we saw lighter themes with more complex characters which created some of the well-known characters we love today. Sadly, The Jungle Book was the last movie Walt Disney worked on before he passed in 1966 and closed out the Silver Age when the movie was released.
The Dark Age (1970-1988)
The Dark Age also known as the Bronze Age, was the decline of Disney. The studio was trying to get its footing back after Walt’s death and it really showed. This was a time of trial and error when animators were walking away from traditional storytelling used in the Golden and Silver Ages and went to more dark and secular stories. Films including The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver and Company were released during this time. The Great Mouse Detective was the only film that was both commercially and critically successful, the least successful was The Black Cauldron. Most of the movies from this time in Disney history are cult classics and severely underrated and underappreciated.
Disney Renaissance (1989-1999)
The Renaissance is the childhood of anyone born during these years. A perfect mix of the musical fairy-tale storytelling of the Golden and Silver Ages and the themes and techniques used in the Bronze Age. Our childhood favorites like The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, and Tarzan were in their prime. These films were the first ones that Alan Menken and Howard Ashman worked on, solidifying Disney’s musical success. The biggest take away from this era is the lessons that were taught within the movies. Don’t judge a book by its cover, the importance of making sacrifices, and there is nothing wrong with being yourself and that the circumstances of our birth don’t shape us into who we are.
Post-Renaissance Era (2000-2009)
The Post-Renaissance Era is also know as the Second Dark Age. The Post-Renaissance Era was different from the other eras in the fact that they were marked with having common themes among them, this era was another attempt at a different way of storytelling. From films like Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, and Bolt. In this era, Disney tried a new way of storytelling marketed at the children and more mature content that was marketed at the children that grew up during the Disney Renaissance Era that were teenagers and young adults at the time. Most of the films released during this time were not as successful as Lilo and Stitch which had several sequel movies, a T.V. show and commercial success. Many of the films released during this year had a big rival of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Ring movies which may had something to do with the lack of success. The movies released in the second dark age are noted for their innovation, Dinosaur being the first all CGI animation which would become the new staple for Disney.
Revival Era (2010-present)
Now we are up to date with Disney animation to date. Since the beginning Disney has bought Star Wars and Marvel so there are 2 more franchises that can be expanded on and explored. The Revival Era is also the Second Disney Renaissance. Movies that are released are Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6. Like all the previous era’s some themes were used as building blocks. Tangled used the CGI techniques that were used with Dinosaur. Many of the films have been quite successful like Frozen, which became the highest-grossing Disney film of all time when it was released, and Big Hero 6 which has the highest audience-rating of this era.
I think it’s safe to say that Disney has definitely learned what works for them and what does not. Although we as fans do not have the ultimate say in what is a success and what is not and we all have our opinions on all the movies, at least we can say we have grown with the movies that have shaped us into the people that we are today. Disney has always set the standard high for both theme parks and movies and they will continue to grow those standards as long as they keep pushing the limit for the technology at hand.