Ranking Disney Dark Age Films
Disney’s Dark Age came at a time when the studio really struggled both critically and at the box office. It was after Walt’s death and all the way up to the Disney Renaissance of the nineties. All of the feature films here were released from 1970 to 1988. However, I included The Rescuers Down Under on this list too as, even though it is a 1990 movie and counts officially as a Renaissance entry, I myself disagree with that notion as the film is a sequel and revolves around animals and all of the Renaissance entries are exactly the opposite from that. Plus the movie isn’t that great in terms of quality either. But even though most of these movies are criticized for their quality and truly they usually can’t compare with Disney’s earlier and later efforts, not one of them is truly bad in my opinion as most are very underrated and some are even great. So without further ado, here is my ranking of all nine Disney Dark Age films where I tried to be more critical than personal with a few exceptions.
9. Oliver & Company
Yes, this one is undoubtedly the worst of the nine films on this list and is actually one of the weakest Disney films of any age. It isn’t without its strengths as the soundtrack truly is memorable and is actually one of the best of this period with Why Should I Worry? And Once Upon a Time in New York City being such great songs. But the film has too much action, a weaker animation and the characters, although solidly developed, are highly typical and the plot is as basic as it can possibly be. It starts off really well, but the third act is quite weak and the film isn’t bad, but it just isn’t good either and is a passable, barely engaging diversion that is one of the studio’s slightest.
Now even though Robin Hood comes this low on my list, I actually changed my mind about this film upon second viewing. Whereas I at first considered it to be barely okay, now I consider to be quite solid and I bumped its rating from 3 to 3.5. The songs here are really good and very fitting to the time period with The Phony King of England and Oo-De-Lally being underrated gems. The film is also quite funny and even charming in a way, but the problems here arise in the technical aspects with the animation being very subpar and even derivative as it steals from previous Disney films. And I found it to be too foolish and silly at times and the tone here is very unevenly handled.
The Aristocats is quite similar to Robin Hood in terms of quality. It is a movie that is definitely solid and pretty charming in some areas, but you can’t deny its slight plot and typical characterizations. It has a couple of pretty solid musical numbers, but it also has one of the stupidest Disney villains ever in Edgar. I liked the film quite a bit and there are some genuinely charming moments to be had here along with its fine setting, but you can see that this movie was the first to come after Walt’s death as the originality and the energy just isn’t there anymore and it signaled the beginning of the Dark Age.
I stated above why I included it on this list, but now let’s talk about the movie itself. It is a perfectly solid adventure film that actually serves wonders in that genre with a very adventurous spirit to it plus some beautiful and interesting locations. As a sequel, it really is stupendous and you get again memorable characters and humor. Of course the highlight is the flying sequence accompanied with some of the best score that Disney ever created. However, it is still inferior to the original movie as the plot is weaker and it has way too much action here. But the biggest problem is that it feels way too much like a product of its time and it is unfortunately one of the most forgettable Disney flicks.
5. The Black Cauldron
Coming in right at the middle of my list is one of the most underappreciated Disney films of all time which is The Black Cauldron. The film is obviously flawed and mostly in terms of characterization as the characters are so flat and forgettable that they really hurt the movie, but it still has a lot to offer, not the least of which are its technicalities. The animation is simply gorgeous and the score is absolutely magnificent. Above all else, it is a very dark and unique Disney film that differentiates itself from all of the others with such a genuinely frightening villain, a very good mythology and a creepy, highly memorable imagery. Whether you like it or not, you at least have to respect it for its authenticity.
4. The Great Mouse Detective
Now The Great Mouse Detective isn’t the most memorable Disney movie and it surely isn’t original at all, but it’s still a rather good Sherlock Holmes retelling with a couple of things that really stand out – one is the music which is quite good with The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind being one of the best songs of this period and another are its characters with Ratigan being superbly voice acted by Vincent Price and he’s one of the best Disney villains of all time in my opinion. This flick has a big heart, a genuinely dark tone at times and many great action set pieces and all of those quite successfully overcomes its problematic pacing and a familiar narrative.
Yes, the nature of this film isn’t the greatest as it is basically a package film, a compilation that consists of three previously released shorts. But the movie is still surprisingly well connected despite its origin and it doesn’t feel like a package film as much as Disney’s wartime efforts felt. Everything concerning Winnie the Pooh is childish and this movie is very childlike, but more often than not, that is its strength as it has a big heart and such a charming feel to it. I liked all of the characters here and the plot is quite solid, but the soundtrack, although consisting of too many songs, is pretty good overall and the ending is particularly memorable – it’s heartbreaking, resonant and filled with a beautiful imagery and heartfelt dialogue.
2. The Rescuers
Whereas The Rescuers Down Under is a solid sequel, the original Rescuers is much better. The film doesn’t have the best developed protagonist and the songs are too sad in tone, but the animation is charming and the highlights are Miss Bianca and Bernard who are two of Disney’s best characters during this period and they topped my character list. Such a charming duo that lifted this movie a lot. The film works as a rather pleasant adventure flick that is quite emotional at times, but mostly really well executed in action and drama. It garnered the best reviews of all of Disney Dark Age films, but to me it comes in second place as the first slot has to go to…
1. The Fox and the Hound
This is it, the very best that Disney animation had to offer during the seventies and eighties. This is one of my childhood favorites and I love it to this day. It features the best message of probably any Disney film, some very likable characters and watching Tod and Copper as friends and then as enemies was an emotionally devastating journey. The film is one of the most tragic Disney films ever and it destroys me every single time I watch it. But it is also very well made with good animation, some very good voice performances and a solid, if not the greatest soundtrack. The Fox and the Hound is not only the best film from this period, but it is also one of my ten personal favorite Disney movies, their most underrated and one of their most emotional and mature movies. An underappreciated classic that deserves the first place here as it is so much better than any other movie on this list.