Hey everyone, looks like there are going to be two posts today. I’ve been thinking about legacy, and how films can impact studios but in a positive or a negative impact, which inspired this blog post. Since most people like talking about the negatives first, I decided to make the Top 10 films that negatively had WDAS change their formula and film making in any way, shape or form. This mostly involves the reception when these films were released; not necessarily how they are received nowadays. Of course I will end up making another list that explains how the films changed WDAS in a positive context soon enough. I plan to do this for Pixar and DreamWorks as well.
The Sword in the Stone managed to make it on the honorable mentions for the opposite reason of why most of the films on the list end up being there. The critical reception of the film, and the lack of confidence the studio had regarding it actually ENCOURAGED executive meddling. The middling response to it (especially compared to One Hundred and One Dalmatians) caused Walt Disney (who has not been heavily involved in a project since Peter Pan) to oversee and make a large quantitative of demands in The Jungle Book.
This is representative of all 6 of the package films in the 1940s. It is on the honorable mentions because despite all of the bad reception they have currently, they kept the company afloat through that decade. It managed to make it on the list because the company did not like working on these, the public did not care for it much, and in a way, it was making their financial state worse. It was a short-term solution to a problem that made things worse for the company.
The studio was riding the rave that was Tarzan‘s shocking success, and the new millennium started roughly when Fantasia 2000 flopped in the theaters. This film signaled the Post-Renaissance era, where things only got worse, and the studio was in financial trouble. Plans to make this an ongoing franchise was cancelled abruptly, and there was not much gain of this film for the company, or the audience.
I wanted to put this on the list, but compared to what was on the list, the shortcomings of this film was not as monumental as the others for the company. Atlantis tried to be the Anti-Disney film, in response to the performances of some of the late Renaissance films, and…… yeah. It suffered from what many of the boy-centric animated films went through in the early 2000s; poor performance in the box office, and mixed reviews. It caused the directing duo of Wise and Trousdale to leave Disney, was the moment where DreamWorks officially beat them, and gave Disney a wake-up call of how drastic their situation has become. Like I said earlier, the shortcoming of some of it’s successors pushed this film to be an honorable mention.
10. Alice in Wonderland
I was debating about whether to add this to the list or not, which is why it is at number 10. As we all know, this film was a box office bomb when it was initially released, and took away from the victory that was Cinderella. If that film was not the success that it was, it was well-predicted that this film would have took out the company. The bad taste in the company’s mouth was so strong that it was never re-released for over 15 years, and only gained a revival (after Disney’s death) due to the psychedelic era. When it was released, a majority of the people did not like it, and left a bad taste in their mouths. Of course history has done it well, and the under-performance of this film did not change as much, regarding the company.
This was another one I debated putting on the list (thus its low placement), but I ultimately had to. This film shares a lot of commonalities with a few others that is very high on the list; it was the A-project for the studio, which means that the budget for the film was significantly high, and it was not recouped. Bambi did not make back its budget when it was released in 1942, and caused the studio to solely produce package films for the rest of the decade. Finances were already running thin at the company, and despite the B-project Dumbo improving the scenario, Bambi put them under the negative once again. Of course, it managed to become a classic, and it did not have as much impact as the other films higher on the list.
This one is a very easy one, and there are a lot more implications that were changed due to the negative aspects the film had on the studio. One of them is that it was the start of the end of the Disney Renaissance, failing to make as much as it’s immediate predecessors, though it still made a good chunk of money, and won the same amount of awards. It is the only film in the Renaissance that was not well-received by the audience and critics, and this affected the studio with how they made their future films. Projects like Emperors, Treasure Planet, and Atlantis (even Mulan and Tarzan to a lesser extent) were changed, and some of them had the complete opposite ideas of the “typical Disney film” due to the performance and reception of this film.
7. Chicken Little
I will get the one positive that Chicken Little brought to the studio; it was a financial success that the studio needed, after the several financial failures that preceded it. Despite that, this is one of the only WDAS films to be critically PANNED, and is often cited to be the worst Walt Disney Animation Studios film in the entire canon. Critics and audiences saw this film as Disney trying to replicate the formula of DreamWorks Animation (which was hit or miss anyways), and failed; claiming that Disney finally hit rock bottom. Clearly, the studio had to do more than transition over to CGI to get out of their rut, and was partially the reason why Pixar was purchased. This was around the time where Michael Eisner left the company, and Pixar completely restructured the company after this atrocity.
6. The Princess and the Frog
I had to add this film to the list, and I think everyone will understand why very soon. Despite this being the return to traditional animation, the studio was expecting this film to be a HUGE hit, and it……. only ended up being a middling success, as it was a financial disappointment to the studio. They claimed that it was because the title was very female-centric. How did this affect the company? It eventually caused them to back out of making traditionally animated films (which people expected to perform poorly), and it changed how Disney marketed their animated films. Title changes like Tangled and Frozen were to make it more gender-neutral, and the female characters are barely in the trailers of their movies to attract the male audience.
Fantasia was not the first film that flopped in Walt Disney Animation Studios, but Pinocchio barely flopped, and had much better reception than Fantasia did at the time. The main reason why I put this on the list is because it lost A LOT of money for the studio, and had to recapture the money lost from the film specifically for years afterwards. All of the technology that was added to make into theaters proved to be a challenge for the studio and the theaters in itself. Like most of Walt’s work, it did become a classic, and made more than it’s money back in future decades (which is why it garnered a sequel).
4. Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty suffered the same fate as Fantasia did almost 2 decades prior, but to a larger magnitude. A large part of why this film ended up flopping in theaters was due to its EXTREMELY large budget (which was over twice as large as its predecessors). Even if you take away the budget aspect, its successors also made more money in comparison. The financial under-performance of Sleeping Beauty (as well as the under-performances of the other Disney product released in that year) forced the studio to change their animation permanently, as it was changed to Xerography to save time on cost and production. Films in the studio were never made the same again after this film, much to their chagrin.
3. Home on the Range
Home on the Range is the one film that most people seem to agree is where Walt Disney Animation Studios hit ROCK BOTTOM. Despite many of its predecessors within the last 4 years underperforming either critically, financially, or both, this film was the culmination of all of it. It was released during the time where Eisner was heavily involved in the production of these films, and they wanted to do ANYTHING to recapture the audience they lost to Pixar, DreamWorks, and even Blue Sky. Many people predicted that the film would flop due to it’s ridiculous premise, and were proven to be right, as it not only failed to make it’s budget, but gave the company a $100 million writedown. It is also one of the worst-received movies in the entire canon, and it was completely snubbed regarding Award season. Literally; I looked on the Wikipedia page, and there is nothing regarding accolades.
2. The Black Cauldron
This is no shock to anyone that it lasted this high, though if people aren’t shocked, it’s probably due to it not being #1. The Black Cauldron was seen by the production crew as the “revival” of Walt Disney Animation Studios, and a generation-defining piece of work. Countless production issues caused the film to be in production for over a decade, and the infamous editing scandal, where they cut out 12 minutes of the film at Katzenberg’s demand. The Black Cauldron made half of it’s budget when it was released in 1985, causing the studio to make a large writedown, and heavy restructuring to be made. Heavy consideration was put out regarding whether they needed to shut down the animation division or not after this film, and the reception was so bad that a VHS was not even released until over a decade after this film’s release.
- Treasure Planet
I was going back and forth about what to put as #1, but I had to put this here, as my gut was the strongest regarding it. Treasure Planet was a pet project to the two directors, and after it was finally greenlit, the studio saw this film to be a generation-defining film; just like The Black Cauldron was. When the film was released in 2002, it became one of the biggest flops in Cinema history; not just animation history. It’s reception was mixed-positive, but the failure of this film caused Disney to pull back from traditional animation, and made a writedown of $74 million. It continued the trend of boy-centric, pre-teen animated films flopping during the early 2000s. It also put Musker and Clements on a hiatus of recovery for most of the decade as well.
12 thoughts on “Top 10 MOST IMPORTANT Walt Disney Animation Studios films (in a negative context)”
Great post! Interesting to learn that some of the films really didn’t do very well. Especially Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty as I remember watching them so many times when I was a kid. Also Pocahontas being released and having an outfit made for a Christmas present that year!
If it was up to Walt, neither film would have been re-released, but they needed revenue in the late 60s and 70s, so they re-released a lot of their material. It sucks that the industry changed so much that they can’t do that with their animated films nowadays.
Sleeping Beauty was one of the highest grossing movie of the year…it was really the long production time and the overly high budget which did it in. But it actually has been quite rentable for the studio on the long run.
Treasure Planet didn’t deserve to flop, and I partly blame Disney for releasing it at the wrong time and pulling the marketing way too early.
The long production (especially on the animation) definitely was the main factor in the underperformance of Sleeping Beauty. At least its reputation changed for the better.
Treasure Planet is still a mystery as to why it made so little money. A part of it definitely was the release date (it probably would have done better in summer or fall of 2003), and I feel like a lot of others felt like it was going to be another “Atlantis”. What is interesting about the Post-Renaissance films is that a lot of them did really well in VHS/DVD, so some probably bailed on the theaters to just buy it.
Wow, never really seen a list like this before! But you’re right, there are so many films that made Disney better their game.
Very interesting list. Sometimes I feel bad for Walt. His really bold artistic films didn’t do very well when more conventional stuff like 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp did great. The woes of the artist!
It is very saddening. Even with films like Treasure Planet I feel bad about because there was so much money and effort put into those films, but they gained little profit. Thank you.
Will you do a top 10 most important Disney movies in a positive context?
Yes. It should be posed within the next day or two.
Amazing idea for a post. I wonder…do you consider that Aladdin had a negative impact in WDAS as it indirectly created the Disneytoon Canon?
I never thought of it that way, but it definitely taints its reputation a little bit. That, and the fact that it was the film that caused an increase in celebrity casting and pop culture references). Of course, the catalyst of that is Shrek more so than Aladdin.
Why Treasure Planet failed at the box office is the pirates space concept which is bizzare. It was also opened on the third weekend of Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets which came from a popular franchise & got even better reviews.