Disney revival films: my rankings

Joseph Caddick ranks the films belonging to Disney's Revival era.

Joseph Caddick
25th June 2020
After a few troublesome years, Disney was finally able to return to glory, and this era saw them produce their final 2D films as the transition to 3D became finalised.

With this change, a more consistent style developed which was unlike any of the Experimental Era’s films. Fairy tales were also returned to for more traditional, princess-focused films, but some creative films in the vein of the Experimental Era were also released during the Revival. Something that occurred recently (given that this period is still ongoing) was giving sequels to its earlier entries, with theatrical sequels not being done since The Rescuers Down Under.

I managed to watch all the films from this period, without exceptions for once. Like before, I saw most of them for the first time, but I had seen caught a few on TV before, and actually watched one in the cinema. I ranked all the films based on how much they appealed to me, which obviously means that this is not an objective list at all.

8. Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

For a Wreck-It Ralph sequel, it really wasn’t what I expected. The more I think about it, the more I dislike it. It was such a large divergence from the original, both in premise and characterisation. Established characters like Felix and Calhoun barely get any screentime, despite their subplot having way more potential than the main story. The new characters are okay, but this film lacks the heart of its predecessor. Some weird directions are taken with the story too, Ralph particularly is tough to root for, and actually the closest we have to a villain this time, undermining his arc from the first film. Vanellope also made some odd decisions that came seemingly out of nowhere, which undermined the first film’s emphasis on ‘going Turbo’ being the worst thing a character can do. That being said, the Disney Princesses absolutely shine here, and to me they’re the clear highlight. The post-credit scenes are hilarious too. That’s pretty much all the comedy I enjoyed, however. Everything else was dated two years before the film came out.

7. Big Hero 6 (2014)

Even though it’s low on the list, I still think Big Hero 6 was decent. The setting is great and really unique, and I think Baymax is adorable. That being said, my main problem is the villain, the ‘twist’ didn’t seem so surprising because the red herring was so obviously set up to be a red herring. Granted I’m older now so these things are much easier to work out, but I feel like twist villains are generally less interesting because you don’t get to see them embracing how evil they are in the way so many normal villains are able to. What amplifies this is the fact that they’re often present in the first part of the film, suspiciously absent throughout the middle and then the big reveal happens in the climax. Villain aside, there’s still more than enough good things about the film – including a couple of emotional moments – that definitely make it more than just your average film as well. And it even has a nice post-credits scene, like pretty much every superhero film these days.

6. Winnie the Pooh (2011)

This was Disney’s final 2D animated film, tough it felt more like a TV special because it was under an hour long (excluding credits). I had a fun time with this one. I’ve never watched anything Winnie the Pooh related that I can remember. Consequently, I definitely felt like I was too old for it now, but there’s a lot of jokes that actually made me laugh. The songs weren’t the best, but there was plenty of charm in everything else. I really liked how they played with the fact that the source material was a book, so the letters would fall into scenes. It was really creative. The animation also looks great too, like a modernisation of the ‘70s Disney style. I also really like how wacky and cartoony the characters are, it definitely works for something like this. And Eeyore is so relatable it hurts (especially in the current circumstances). All in all, this was enjoyable, and it’s sad that no more films used 2D animation after this, but it was a nice note to end it on.

5. Frozen (2013)

I admit that I’ve seen Frozen before, on Christmas day a couple of years ago, but I missed the intro. 'Let It Go' is obviously the breakout moment of the film, and the song itself is iconic enough to stand with Disney’s Renaissance classics. The characters are enjoyable too, I think Anna’s the more lighthearted one, but that doesn’t make Elsa any less interesting. I like Olaf as a comical sidekick too, his jokes made me laugh, and his weird snowman structure made for some interesting cartoony animation. Where Frozen falls flat for me is its villain. Twist villains just don’t do it for me, especially when there’s no real foreshadowing (outside of a few easily forgotten lyrics). Elsa being the villain as was planned in early story drafts had much more potential than what we got. And although it’s the whole point of the film, the snowy visuals lead to a lack of colour when it could have been even a little more vibrant. Even with these flaws it’s still a great film and I enjoyed watching it.

4. Frozen II (2019)


Unlike Ralph Breaks the Internet, this is a good sequel. This film actually builds on some of the less explored parts of its predecessor, like what happened to Anna and Elsa’s parents. These developments fit in with that world too. Granted, it’s not perfect, a lot of characters were introduced but didn’t do much outside of a scene or two. Olaf is also a bit more annoying in this one, and so is Anna. The funniest bit in the film was Kristoff’s song, which was a spoof of ‘80s power ballads – right down to their cheesy music videos – and I loved every second of it. There were some amazing visuals too, like the water horse and the forest’s autumnal colours, which was a nice change from the first film’s constant whites and blues. There is also no real villain (in the present, at least), which works in a more character-focused story like this one. As far as the latest pair of sequels would go, this one is the superior one by far.

3. Tangled (2010)

Like Frozen, I saw this on Christmas Day one year, and I also missed the first few minutes. Tangled takes a bit of time to get going, but once Rapunzel leaves the tower the slow start is easily forgiven. Mother Gothel is a great villain who is controlling, cruel and callous, and almost a complete opposite of the princess that she kidnapped as a baby. This is another case of a villain really elevating the film. Compared to the other Disney musicals, Tangled’s songs weren’t as memorable for me, even if they’re still perfectly good in their own right. I didn’t get as strong an emotional reaction as some of the other films, but there’s some powerful moments and I really enjoyed the characters, Rapunzel is definitely one of my favourite Disney Princesses too. Somehow, Maximus the horse was the funniest character in this one. I did really enjoy Tangled, even if it wasn’t the first time I’d watched it. The horse. On a side note, I really liked the style of the credits and would love to see a 2D animated film like that, even though it’ unlikely.

2. Moana (2016)

Out of the 3D princess films, Moana has to be my favourite. Part of that’s because of the style of the animation. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, but to me it feels like the closest Disney has come to capturing the old 2D style in the third dimension, it just looks stunning. Moana and Maui are great characters as well, with an interesting dynamic. It’s also got some great humour, including some meta jokes about the previous Disney Princess films, and as a sucker for that sort of thing I couldn’t help but laugh. The soundtrack was great too, featuring some of the catchier Disney songs from the past few years. You’re Welcome is definitely my favourite song here, but 'Shiny' (Tamatoa’s song) is also fantastic. I feel like one character’s change of heart near the end was a bit out of the blue given what they’d said earlier, but other than that this was a great film all around.

1. The Princess and The Frog (2009)

Disney’s Revival era started with this film, and after years of... okay films, this was a real return to form. Not only is the animation gorgeous, but it’s the last time a Disney Princess film was 2D animated. It’s safe to say that they pushed the animation to its limits here as well, especially with 'Friends on the Other Side', which sported some fantastic visuals. Tiana’s a great role model who works as hard as she can to achieve her dreams, and her dynamic with Prince Naveen is great too, I really like the pair of them. There’s some genuinely dark moments as well towards the end of the film, including a funeral and the expected comeuppance for the villain (who I thought was pretty entertaining) which makes it feel like the older 2D films. The soundtrack’s pretty good too, so it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed this film.

It’s impossible to say when the Disney Revival will end, though it’s possible that a new era is on its way given the common divisions between each period is normally around every 10 or so years, a milestone we reached last year. At the same time it’s possible it could do on for much longer, as Disney seems to be doing really well right now, and who knows if that’ll change any time soon? Either way, I’m sure there’s going to be countless more engaging films like the ones they’ve produced so far, even if there’s a few duds along the way too.

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