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Golden Reels
Take a trip down memory lane as we explore the different eras of Disney animated movies. Learn about old gems and rediscover classics in our guide.

Find tales as old as time with our guide to Disney’s animated movies

We’re coming up on nearly 100 years of Disney animation. Journey with us as we take a trip down memory lane to discover Disney animated movies’ different eras. Luckily in 2021, you can binge-watch your way through all the different eras on Disney+. Discover some forgotten gems and rewatch old favorites with our guide to Disney animated movies. 

The Fab Five era – 1928 – 1937

We can’t talk about Disney animation without the pre-golden era. While the least talked about, the pre-golden era is the most recognizable era in Disney animation. This Disney animation era created Mickey & Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald Duck – later known as the fab five. 

Short films dominated this era. These early animated films would play with newsreels before feature films. It wasn’t until 1937 that we got the first feature-length animated film. 

Mickey Mouse was the Walt Disney Cartoons’ first success. Even though Steamboat Willie is highly regarded as the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Mickey Mouse first appeared in Plane Crazy as a test, but ultimately was a flop.

The Golden Era – 1937 – 1942

The Golden Era begins in 1937 and concludes in 1942 – a year into the U.S.’s involvement in World War II. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs opens the Golden Era and includes Pinocchio & Fantasia in 1940, Dumbo in 1941, and Bambi in 1942. 

Why was it golden? Because it came first. Despite the Golden Era distinction, this era of Disney animated movies wasn’t very golden. Only Snow White & Dumbo were financial successes

The era is better known as the Tar and Sugar Era for its very dark scenes sandwiched between two very light ones. The storytelling technique was used to engage every human emotion in a short amount of time. 

The Wartime Era – 1943 – 1949

World War II was a weird time for Walt Disney animated movies. With most men drafted into the military, it left the Walt Disney Studio with a small team. Most of the films during the Wartime Era were short compilations and were very inconsistent because of this. 

Many of the animated movies from the Wartime Era have all but been forgotten to the Disney vault. However, all but one of the films made its way over to Disney+. The most famous movie in this era was The Three Caballeros

The Silver Era – 1950 – 1967

Many of the Disney animated movies we know and love today come from Disney’s Silver Era. It makes up what we find iconic about Disney. These films include: 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

Animators made the beautiful backgrounds look like paintings and turn ordinary cities like in Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and One Hundred and One Dalmatians seem magical and otherworldly. 

However, tragedy marks the end of the Silver Era. Walt Disney’s death in 1966 brought the Walt Disney Company to a screeching halt. The Jungle Book was the last film Walt worked on before his death. It’s honestly a testament to his work ethic, considering he was hard at work on Walt Disney World at the time while battling lung cancer.

The Dark Age – 1970 – 1988

If you thought the Wartime Era had no direction or focus, buckle your seat belts because the Bronze Era was wild. A new xerography process dominated the look of Disney films during this era. New animation processes dominate the underperformance in specific eras. The xerography process made dark lines stand out and made the animation look scratchy.  

The Bronze Era consists of: 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. The films were less grand than other eras and moved away from fairytales for darker, secular stories. 

The most mind-boggling film during the Bronze Era is The Black Cauldron. If you thought the Golden Era had some dark scenes, the animated film is probably the darkest film in Disney history. It’s worth checking out on Disney+ for just how tonally different it is for a Disney movie. 

The Disney Renaissance – 1989 – 1999

After nearly two decades of floundering following Walt Disney’s death, Walt Disney Animation got their s**t together. We don’t need to spend too much time on the Disney Renaissance because all the movies here are iconic, with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King leading the way.  

The only one that sticks out is The Rescuers Down Under as it’s a sequel to a Bronze Era film. 

The Post Renaissance Era –2000 – 2019

What followed the Disney Renaissance was a transitional period in Disney animated movies. Disney was still trying to produce hand-drawn animation while computer animation began dominating the industry in the 2000s.

Most of the animated movies during the 2000s were unpopular for their lack of a central theme. The company also bought out Pixar in 2006, which was becoming the studio’s biggest rival. 

There were a lot of movies released in this span and most of them were flops. However, the most beloved films from the Post Renaissance were The Emperor’s New Groove, Lilo & Stitch, Atlantis, and Treasure Planet.    

The Revival Age – 2010 – today

Disney animated films are going through a revival. They might not be on par with the Disney Renaissance era in the 1990s; however, they are what we expect from Disney. Disney returned to fairytales with Tangled & The Princess and the Frog, and they began creating new and interesting stories like Wreck-it Ralph, Big Hero Six, and Frozen. 

What’s your favorite Disney animated movie? Which era is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

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