Within the world of Disney, fans and critics have devised a classification system consisting of seven distinct eras to categorize the company’s animated films. These eras are marked by notable trends shared among the movies of their respective periods, encompassing elements like storytelling and animation style. The initial era, known as the Golden Age, spanned from 1937 to 1942.
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After dedicating nearly a decade to refining his animators’ skills through Silly Symphony cartoons, Walt Disney embarked on a new venture – creating feature-length animated films. His first five endeavors are celebrated as groundbreaking pioneers in the realm of animation. They introduced revolutionary techniques, such as achieving lifelike character movements and employing multiplane cameras to enhance depth perception within scenes. In contrast to later Disney films, those from the Golden Age prioritize emotional impact over logical storytelling, resulting in narratives characterized by their rich expressiveness. Remarkably, these films have maintained their popularity for nearly ninety years since their initial release.
5. ‘Dumbo’ (1941)
The production of Dumbo stands out as one of Disney’s most intriguing chapters. During World War II, Disney faced the challenge of losing its overseas market, and their films struggled to turn a profit. This posed a significant threat to the future of Bambi, and Disney needed a quick financial boost. Complicating matters further, the Disney animator’s strike of 1941 added to the complexity of the situation. However, against the odds, Dumbo managed to secure its release and ultimately succeeded in generating a profit.
When compared to its counterparts from the Golden Age of Disney, Dumbo might come across as an extended Silly Symphony short, featuring somewhat less elaborate animation and a runtime of just over sixty minutes. Nonetheless, these aspects work to the film’s advantage. The more whimsical animation style and vibrant colors align seamlessly with its circus-themed setting, while the concise runtime keeps the story focused and engaging. The decision to portray Dumbo as a mute protagonist allowed animation legend Bill Tytla to showcase his exceptional talent for conveying emotions through facial expressions. Consequently, Dumbo remains one of Disney’s most compelling tales of outcasts finding unity, contributing to its enduring appeal.
4. ‘Bambi’ (1942)
When Walt secured the rights to Bambi, he initially envisioned it as his second feature film, driven by his eagerness to adapt a contemporary story. However, the project proved to be far more challenging than he or his team had anticipated. The original novel carried a somber and melancholic tone, featuring numerous animal deaths and offering a stark but honest portrayal of the natural world. Additionally, Disney aimed to achieve a level of realism in both the appearance and movement of the animals that exceeded their previous work. Consequently, Bambi’s production faced delays, ultimately becoming the studio’s fourth release.
From a financial perspective, Bambi faced challenges due to the impact of the war, marking another financial setback for Disney. However, when it comes to aesthetics, Bambi stands out as one of Disney’s most visually breathtaking films. The animators succeeded in capturing the sheer beauty of nature through the graceful movements of the animals, vibrant and enchanting colors, and the almost otherworldly watercolor backgrounds, masterfully crafted by Tyrus Wong. While the film did temper some of the darker moments present in the original book, it still portrays nature’s unforgiving aspects, notably exemplified in the iconic scene of Bambi’s mother’s tragic demise, a moment that resonates with audiences. Additionally, the climactic sequence featuring hunting dogs was brought to life through the animation talents of Retta Scott, who made history as the first woman to receive on-screen animation credits from Disney.
3. ‘Fantasia’ (1940)
Walt Disney has always been renowned as a pioneering visionary, consistently pushing the boundaries of animation’s possibilities. One of his most audacious undertakings was Fantasia, a groundbreaking project that combined animation with classical music. Its inception can be traced back to one of its eight segments, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” initially intended to rekindle Mickey Mouse’s popularity. However, as the production costs soared beyond the realm of a single short film’s profitability, it evolved into a feature-length endeavor.
Upon its initial release, Fantasia didn’t achieve major commercial success, but it has since garnered recognition as one of the most exceptional animated films ever crafted. Each of its segments stands as a unique masterpiece, characterized by vivid colors and a flawless synchronization with the chosen musical compositions. Some segments even convey their narratives through abstract imagery, exemplified by the opening piece, “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” Among the unforgettable segments, “Night on Bald Mountain” stands out, juxtaposing spine-chilling visuals of fire, brimstone, and demons with the serene melody of “Ave Maria.”
Fantasia’s enduring legacy underscores Walt Disney’s indomitable spirit of innovation in the world of animation. If you have any more questions or topics you’d like to explore, please feel free to ask!
2. ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the film that initiated the Disney animation legacy, is renowned for its tumultuous journey to the silver screen. The production costs continued to surge, leading Walt Disney to take extraordinary measures such as mortgaging his own house and persuading banks to extend more loans. Moreover, there was a prevailing skepticism regarding whether an animated movie could hold the audience’s attention, earning it the dubious moniker, “Disney’s Folly.” Miraculously, the film defied all odds, becoming a resounding success and forever altering the landscape of animation.
Snow White enamored audiences through its commitment to emotional storytelling and endearing characters. While subsequent Disney princesses may have received more extensive character development, Snow White (voiced by Adriana Caselotti) deserves better credit than some contemporary critiques suggest. She stands as one of Disney’s most benevolent and selfless heroines, consistently prioritizing the needs of others over her own, all while maintaining her resilience. The dwarfs, too, have left an indelible mark as some of Disney’s most iconic supporting characters, with Grumpy (voiced by Pinto Colvig) undergoing a captivating character transformation thanks to Snow White’s kindness.
1. ‘Pinocchio’ (1940)
While Snow White marked Disney’s initial success, Pinocchio was the film that truly showcased the company’s artistic prowess. Many of Disney’s Nine Old Men, his top animators who remained with the company until the 1970s, had the opportunity to display their talents in character animation. The film’s pioneering use of special effects was another highlight, employing various levels of detail and foreground-background interplay to create some of the most lifelike hand-drawn water scenes. Despite being impacted by the war, Pinocchio received widespread acclaim and was hailed as surpassing Snow White in every aspect.
Modern audiences seem to share this sentiment, and it’s not hard to understand why. Alongside its more impressive animation, Pinocchio boasts a stronger narrative, featuring proactive characters and robust themes related to growing up, integrity, and the harsh realities of life. Pinocchio (voiced by Dick Jones) excels as a protagonist, embodying innocence and naiveté. He often acts out of ignorance but possesses a fundamentally sweet and caring nature that allows him to learn from his mistakes. Moreover, the film stands out as one of Disney’s darkest creations, portraying a world where villains often evade justice, and the innocent can be subjected to exploitation.