Super Dog

Bolt barked the end of Disney’s long experimental Post-Renaissance era. Although John lasseter was around when Meet the Robinsons was being made, Bolt is really where his influence came in. Elevating Walt Disney animation into something that made greater use of its computer animation. Fur, environments, and lighting are far crisper with backgrounds made to look like paintings. Like more than half of the movies released in the era, Bolt is totally original. The story for Disney’s forty-eighth feature was always about a TV star dog, but it was originally titled American Dog. Lasseter took the idea and gave it the old Pixar charm. Despite the near critical acclaim and Best Animated Feature nomination Bolt received, the box-office performance was still average. Bolt was a major stepping stone for the subsequent Revival era, but I wouldn’t consider it to be the start of it.

Bolt unfortunately faded into obscurity. Something that happens to most non-musical animated Disney movies. I was part of the problem since my brother and I didn’t see Bolt in theaters for whatever reason. I guess at 13 years old, I thought it seemed a bit mainstream. We absolutely loved Bolt when we saw it of DVD not long after. Ironically, we didn’t see the first movie of the Post-Renaissance in theaters either. Proof of how spotty that era really was. Bolt is a little like The Truman Show in how it portrays a celebrity who doesn’t know they’re on a TV show. Bolt the Superdog is the hottest thing on television, but the heroic White Shepherd doesn’t know that. He thinks his person Penny is really in danger of a cat stroking green-eyed villain called Dr. Calico. Which is all a gimmick to boost ratings for the true villains, sleazy Hollywood agents.

He’s an odd choice, but John Travolta brings a lot of personality to the confused canine. Casting Miley Cyrus as Penny was obvious commentary about her role on Hannah Montana. Both Cyrus & Travolta contribute a strong original song titled “I Thought I Lost You” for the movie. When Bolt thinks Penny is still in danger, he inadvertently winds up in the real world without the powers he thinks he possesses. While lost in New York, pigeons direct him to a feral cat that he assumes is working with Calico. Streetwise cat with a past Mittens is dragged on Bolt’s mission to get back to Penny. The cross country trip to Hollywood is filled with clever misunderstandings and fun animal humor. The comedy really kicks in when Bolt fanatic Rhino the hamster roles in with his hamster ball. They make an unusual trio that learn an expected lesson about what’s truly important in life. Without sacrificing Bolt’s true heroism in the end. Bolt is a super, heartfelt treat, and a crucial piece in Disney’s renewed success moving forward.

73. Bolt

Bolt protects Penny

Keep Moving Forward

Meet the Robinsons offers an optimistic look at the future. You don’t see that often. Meet the Robinsons was the forty-seventh Walt Disney Animation Studios film and the first one under that banner. Since Pixar was purchased by Disney at the time, John Lasseter was named the head of both studios. Meaning Disney could receive the computer animation help they didn’t get for Chicken Little. The 3D animation for Meet the Robinsons isn’t overly polished, but it is a step in the right direction. With more charming colorful visuals than before. Along with good futuristic pop songs. Meet the Robinsons is based on a 1990 children’s book titled A Day with Wilbur Robinson. A picture book about a kid meeting his friend’s wacky family one by one in an effort to find lost teeth. I neither read nor heard of the book, but it’s more the spirit of the book that was adapted.

Meet the Robinsons is actually the first movie my brother and I saw by ourselves. We were 14 and 11 respectively and our parents trusted us to go to the theater without supervision. Not that we needed it since it was G. So I have a strong attachment to the underrated Post-Renaissance film despite not watching it too often. In the movie, the role of the kids are expanded and given a lot more unexpected depth. Lewis is a computer animated boy genius with weird hair most people forget about. He’s a gifted young inventor who just wants to be adopted. When that doesn’t work out, he works tirelessly to build a device that scans memories in hopes of finding his mom. Even at the expense of his drowsy roommate Goob. His machine is sabotaged by an evil mustachioed Bowler Hat Guy. A seriously underappreciated Disney villain. Wilbur Robinson travels to the past in order to ensure Lewis’ future. The future is bright and whimsical with instant buildings, bubble travel, and time machines all invented by Wilbur’s dad Cornelius.

A man who lives by the important motto to “Keep Moving Forward.” Which is also the motto Walt Disney lived by. The movie briefly follows the book when Lewis meets Wilbur’s oddball Robinson family. Consisting of a golden robot, a goofy grandfather & grandmother, a couch potato uncle, a train loving aunt, an uncle married to a puppet, a cannon firing uncle, a planateering pizza delivery uncle, a painter cousin, a strangely dressed cousin, two cousins living in flower pots, an octopus butler, and Wilbur’s mom Franny. She teaches frogs to sing like crooners. Most of the humor is reliant on their wacky antics which vary in effectiveness. The Bowler Hat Guy shakes things up by controlling a T-Rex and things go awry when the truth is revealed. There are several unexpected twists I wasn’t expecting, but I won’t give them away. I’ll just say that the solutions to problems are extremely simple. Leading to a heartwarming ending that makes Meet the Robinsons a real understated gem.

72. Meet the Robinsons

The Robinson family

The Sky is Falling!

Chicken Little is Disney’s lousy first attempt at full computer animation. Since Home on the Range effectively shut down Walt Disney animation’s 2D division. The studio was already heading in that direction anyway. Considering all Post-Renaissance movies relied on computer animation to enhance visuals. Dinosaur doesn’t count since it was part CGI, part live-action. Chicken Little is really where animators had to learn a new medium. Their forty-sixth animated film is partially based on the mass hysteria fable Henny Penny. All I’ve ever known about the story was the trademark exclamation “The sky is falling.” Chicken Little was previously adapted by Disney as World War II propaganda. The movie was originally meant to focus on a paranoid female Chicken Little at camp, but they added aliens instead. Basically Disney’s only solution to appeal to kids at the time.

After years of ambitious storytelling, Chicken Little throws it all away by appealing to the lowest common denominator. There’s an abundance of pop culture references, covers of pop songs, and mostly juvenile humor. That didn’t stop it from becoming a box-office success however. At 10 years old, I very briefly thought it was a Pixar movie, but I learned the differences very fast. The computer animation ended up being kinda ugly without their assistance. Chicken Little was the last Disney movie my dad took my brother and I to see in theaters. I know it’s probably Disney animations worst movie, but I can’t bring myself to hate it. I ate up pop culture stuff when I was a kid I’m sorry to say. The movie centers on a small male Chicken Little who causes a panic in his town by saying the sky is falling. Like the fable, all citizens are anthropomorphic animals with mostly rhyming names. Except their world isn’t all that creative or sensical. You can tell a lot of animals are just copy and pasted throughout the movie.

Plus there’s a strange sense of cynicism throughout Chicken Little. Townspeople and bullies like Foxy Loxy taunt Chicken Little relentlessly after his seemingly crazy declaration. Only embracing him after he manages to win a baseball game for them. Then they shut him out again when he says it’s aliens. The falling sky is really a piece of a cloaked alien ship with aliens that resemble troll hair inside War of the Worlds machines. If that wasn’t bad enough, his own father Buck Cluck is part of the problem. His only friends are also outcasts: self help obsessed Abby Mallard the Ugly Duckling, nervous Runt of the Litter, and helmet wearing Fish Out of Water. Voices like Zach Braff, Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn, and Garry Marshall are there, but not always given the best material. Although I’d be lying if I said some jokes weren’t pretty hilarious. Especially the Adam West movie ending. Chicken Little just comes up short on everything else.

71. Chicken Little

Chicken Little gets hounded by reporters

Bovine Bounty Hunters

Home on the Range is a big reason for the near death of traditional animation. Walt Disney animation’s forty-fifth production became their last 2D film for over 5 years. Maybe a cartoony western about talking farm animals wasn’t the best way to compete with refined computer animated movies tackling complex themes. Brother Bear certainly scaled things back, but I still find it hard to believe Disney made something as low-rent as Home on the Range. What happened? Well the director of Pocahontas also wanted to make a western. So Disney approved the idea while it was still being developed multiple times. Eventually being named after the signature old west anthem. I call everything in the Post-Renaissance experimental, but why go with such flat unremarkable animation? CGI is present, if a little mismatched.

I don’t think it would surprise anyone to know I didn’t see Home on the Range in theaters. I was 8, but even I knew it was too childish for me. I distinctly remember renting it at a video store soon after, and my brother and I liked it alright. There’s no personal attachment, but it is a guilty pleasure. Home on the Range centers on a quaint farm called Little Patch of Heaven. A large show cow is taken there after her herd was taken by a dastardly outlaw called Alameda Slim. The farm has all the usual barn animals with mostly lame jokes. The three main cows are made up of adventurous new cow Maggie, sophisticated hat wearing cow Mrs. Caloway, and ditzy cow Grace.

You get what you’d expect from the mostly obnoxious humor of Roseanne Barr. It’s odd that Judi Dench agreed to something like this, but she does alright. Really it’s Jennifer Tilly who’s the natural voice actress. The farm has the clichรฉ problem of foreclosure and the cows set out to claim a reward for Slim’s $750 capture by becoming Bovine Bounty Hunters. Competing with them is an extra exuberant Cuba Gooding Jr. as battle ready horse Buck. Who idolizes a bounty hunter named Rico. The cows are later joined by a jack rabbit and a herd of bulls. Randy Quaid appropriately voices the goofy villain Slim. Between mostly juvenile jokes, Slim herds cows by yodeling with his dimwitted band of nephews the Willie brothers. Songs have a folksy charm, but it’s a real downgrade. Home on the Range has its moments, but none are up to Disney’s more high quality standard.

70. Home on the Range

Mrs. Caloway, Maggie, and Grace ready for action

Tell Everybody Iโ€™m On My Way

Brother Bear was supposed to be The Lion King of North America. Instead it ended up being one of the more forgotten Walt Disney animated films. The forty-fourth feature was in fact made as a response to the need for more animal stories after the success of The Lion King. Since bears are the kings of the forest, an original bear movie was made. It just went through many story changes before the brother theme was chosen. Along with a focus on Inuit culture in the greater Alaskan region. Although Brother Bear seems like a downgrade, Disney needed something smaller after the financial failure of Treasure Planet. Animation is predominantly traditional with only a few computer enhancements here and there. Specifically a wildebeest style caribou stampede and a salmon stream. Brother Bear did a lot to bring back a Renaissance feel, including the second use of Phil Collins music after Tarzan. I love “On My Way,” but most songs aren’t memorable.

Brother Bear itself never feels like anything special by Disney standards. I didn’t even see the movie in theaters, because it didn’t feel warranted. My brother and I saw it on video shortly after when I was still about 8 years old. True we could relate to the brotherly story, but I still wouldn’t call it completely underrated. The lukewarm reception isn’t entirely off, although it was nominated for Best Animated Feature. Brother Bear is set after the Ice Age. Centering on a trio of Inuit brothers including older brother Sitka, middle brother Denahi, and younger brother Kenai. The unlikely voice of Joaquin Phoenix portrays Kenai. A foolhardy young tribesman hoping to receive an honorable totem from his village’s shamen woman. Instead he receives the bear of love. The quasi-mysticism doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is what turns Kenai into a bear. After he vengefully kills a bear that he blames for the death of Sitka. The great spirits of the Northern Lights transform Kenai and the aspect ratio changes to widescreen.

As a bear, Kenai must learn a lesson that will hopefully change him back. Jokes from the animals are fairly standard. Most attempts at humor come from Rutt & Tuke. A Bob and Doug McKenzie style Canadian Moose duo with the voices of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. This was Moranis’ final theatrical role before his retirement. Kenai is joined by a talkative cub named Koda with the commendable voice of child actor Jeremy Suarez. The animal transformation isn’t as funny as The Emperor’s New Groove, but there is a lot of heart. The unlikely brother bears bond all the way to a salmon run where they meet many bears. Including one voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan. All the while Denahi seeks vengeance on the bear in a way that makes him a misunderstood villain. The final lesson about the perspective of one’s supposed enemy works well enough. So Brother Bear at least means well in the end.

69. Brother Bear

Kenai travels with Koda

Treasure Island in SPACE!

Treasure Planet is the third science fiction themed animated Disney movie in a row. I’m sensing a pattern here. Treasure Planet is simply Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous seafaring tale of Treasure Island if it were set in outer space. You’d think an idea like that would be wholly original, but it was done in a miniseries in 1987. Treasure Island had actually already been adapted twice by Disney. First as the studios first fully live-action film and second as a Muppet adventure. Walt Disney animation mainstays Clements & Musker first pitched the idea for Treasure Planet along with The Little Mermaid. The idea was rejected left and right before eventually becoming Disney’s forty-third production. Treasure Planet was so experimental in the Post-Renaissance that it became the most expensive traditionally animated film of all time. Since it uniquely blended storybook style 2D animation with an extensive use of computer animation. Space, planets, robots, and ships are all 3D in an environment that primarily employed the Deep Canvas found in Tarzan.

Treasure Planet was more ambitious than any Disney film before it. Making it all the more devastating when it bombed at the box-office. It does predate Pirates of the Caribbean by a year after all. I was 7 years old when I saw Treasure Planet in theaters. My brother and I enjoyed the action & adventure, but we never owned the movie. We did however have every piece of the movie’s spherical map from McDonald’s. Treasure Planet remains underrated in its accomplishments despite receiving a Best Animated Feature nomination alongside Lilo & Stitch. The world of Treasure Planet is described as 70% old fashioned with 30% sci-fi elements. Clothing, ships, and environments remain faithful to Treasure Island. While space travel, aliens, robots, and holograms replace everything else. No one wears space suits since space has an atmosphere and artificial gravity. Jim Hawkins and his mother are the only humans. Except Jim is turned into a rebellious teen who loves solar surfing. The change only works so well, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt does his best.

Jim’s mom is also given more attention and Captain Smollett is female just to have more women in the mostly male story. David Hyde Pierce lends his sophisticated voice to Dr. Doppler. A doglike amalgamation of Jim’s closest companions. He funds the voyage after an alien Billy Bones supplies them with an electronic map to Captain Flint’s treasure. Emma Thompson is well suited for the catlike Captain Amelia. With first mate/rock alien Mr. Arrow at her side. As long as you know the story, you know the crew is really a band of mutinous pirates. Only Long John Silver is an alien cyborg with an adorable pink morph as his parrot. Jim and Silver form a genuine father/son bond that replaces his absentee father. Since Silver was never truly villainous, creepy spider crab Scroop is really the villain. After the betrayal, Jim discovers crazy B.E.N. on the titular planet. Except he’s a robot with the slightly grating comedy stylings of Martin Short. The map leads them to the treasure which is accessed through a portal. Only the climax proves it can never truly be possessed. Treasure Planet is another action heavy non-musical, but there are good pop songs including “I’m Still Here” and “Always Know Where You Are.” Treasure Planet may struggle with character, but it’s a spectacle that deserves admiration.

68. Treasure Planet

Jim Hawkins meets B.E.N.

Ohana Means Family

Lilo & Stitch may be the weirdest animated film Disney ever greenlit. Which is why it’s the only Post-Renaissance movie I wouldn’t consider to be underrated. Its instant popularity and success was very mainstream. Earning Walt Disney Animation Studios their first of two Best Animated Feature nominations at the Academy Awards. Although computer animation still loomed in the background, Lilo & Stitch was able to overcome it. The literally experimental idea for Disney’s forty-second feature was as old as 1985. Director Chris Sanders reworked his idea for a failed children’s book starring an alien named Stitch. The story was resurrected when Disney needed a lower budget film to balanced the expensive films of the Renaissance.

Sanders even reused watercolor backgrounds for the first time in decades. Along with his own signature animation style. Lilo & Stitch really came together when Hawaii was chosen as the location. Although Atlantis: The Lost Empire was technically Disney’s first sci-fi project, Lilo & Stitch really takes advantage of it with a contemporary story involving aliens, spaceships, and lasers. It was so different that teasers and promotional material painted Stitch as the black sheep of the Disney family. With Stitch interrupting famous songs from Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King. Followed by characters reacting negatively to him. The irony is that Stitch later became a major icon among hardcore Disney fans…

66. Lilo & Stitch

Lilo and Nani ride a wave with Stitch

Lilo & Stitch is among my all time favorite Disney films. I’m not sure my brother and I saw it in theaters, but I know we’ve loved it ever since. Making Lilo & Stitch our most dedicated franchise at the time. I may have been just 7 years old, but I distinctly remember not knowing how to react to it. Lilo & Stitch was the furthest thing from the typical Disney formula. I think that just made me appreciate it more. Although Lilo & Stitch can feel over-the-top with all the aliens and space travel, it does tell a very human story at the same time. Both worlds complement each other surprisingly well. Lilo & Stitch establishes its world at the very beginning. With the Galactic Federation holding a trial for one Jumba Jookiba. The Galactic Federation is lead by the Grand Councilwoman. A tall grey alien who maintains law in the universe. Jumba is a large pudgy four-eyed mad scientist who illegally created Experiment 626.

626 is a cute & fluffy blue koala-like alien with six limbs, antennas, and back spikes. Stitch is an instant icon with a flawed need to destroy. Making him more relatable to Disney fans seeking something edgier. 626 was designed to be nearly invincible with super strength, and intellect. Stitch can speak, but only in limited snappy phrases supplied by the director himself. 626 is declared an abomination and sentenced to isolation. The giant elephant shark Captain Gantu is the closest thing to a Disney villain. His only goal is seizing the “trog” for the Federation. Voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson’s booming voice was a perfect fit for Gantu. While Disney mainstay David Ogden Stiers brought an ambiguous madness to Jumba. 626 escapes with an awesome red police cruiser heading towards Earth. Stitch’s only weakness is water, but his ship miraculously manages to land on the tiny island of Kauai, Hawaii. So Jumba is paroled to bring back his experiment along with one-eyed alien and Earth mosquito expert Agent Pleakley. Kevin McDonald has just the right naroutic tone for the alien who likes dressing like a woman. Make of that what you will.

Lilo & Stitch officially begins after that 10 minute prologue. We’re then introduced to Hawaiian girl Lilo. Easily the best child Disney ever created. Lilo is weird, hilarious, quotable, and more relatable than most Disney kids who are just there to be cute. Daveigh Chase was born to voice Lilo and boy does she have range (she played Samara in The Ring the very same year). Lilo’s main unusual traits include thinking a fish controls the weather, taking pictures of overweight people, and having a doll that’s stitched together. Although Lilo fights with snobby girl Mertile in her hula class, she still longs to make friends. What makes Lilo & Stitch so relatable is the dynamic between her and big sister Nani. The first animated Disney movie about sisterly love. Nani does her best to raise Lilo after their parents past away. She has job troubles and bickers with Lilo, but she’s still the only one who loves and understands her. They get surprisingly real with their struggle. Including a visit from a social worker who’s just doing his job.

Nani is seriously underappreciated as far as female Disney role models are concerned. Tia Carrere was one of a few Hawaiian cast members. She provided a lot of cultural accuracy along with Jason Scott Lee. He’s also underappreciated as Nani’s dedicated sorta boyfriend surfer David. Even Ving Rhames as social worker Cobra Bubbles has plenty of time to flesh out his character. Things change for Lilo and Nani when the falling star they see turns out to be 626 crash landing on Earth. After being hit by several trucks and somehow mistaken for a dog, he winds up in a kenal. Lilo is taken their to adopt a dog and that’s where the unlikely duo finally meet. Although it’s glaringly obvious that Stitch isn’t a dog, no one second guesses his strange behavior too much. Stitch blends in by removing his more alien features and posing as Lilo’s pet. Lilo & Stitch have a great dynamic where Lilo tries to give him a purpose beyond destroying and Stitch becomes the friend she always wanted. Ohana means family after all.

It’s just a troubled road with many unfortunate incidents to get there. Jumba & Pleakley comically wait in the background before interrupting a beautiful surfing montage. With Lilo likely to be taken away, the sadness increases when Stitch relates to the ugly duckling being lost. With the Federation cutting them off, Jumba destroys Lilo’s house just to get to Stitch. Where they play a game of “Blue punch buggy.” Stitch reveals the truth to Lilo and they’re both captured by Gantu. Stitch escapes, but Nani discovers the truth as well. Leading to a team up between Stitch, Jumba, Pleakley, and Nani in order to rescue Lilo. I cheer every time Stitch has his epic hero moment. Then I applaud when the odd assortment of Hawaiians and aliens become a loving ohana.

Lilo & Stitch went through all sorts of changes in its development. Not quite to the point of the equally good The Emperor’s New Groove, but there are many deleted scenes. The spaceship flying through the mountains climax was originally a hijacked plane flying through buildings for example. It was changed for obvious reasons. Fortunately the limited computer animation was mostly for ships. The curvy stylized look of the characters helped to complement the modern setting. While the creatively designed aliens were very imaginative without feeling too childish. Hence the PG rating. As far as music, Lilo & Stitch made use of catchy Hawaiian beats. Including the upbeat surfing song “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride.” The rest of the music is all Elvis hits. Since Lilo is naturally a big Elvis fan who shares the love with Stitch. Lilo & Stitch shouldn’t work, but I’m so happy it did. “Aloha.”

67. Lilo & Stitch

Lilo feeds Stitch

The Forgotten Princess

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is Disney’s first shot at animated science fiction. Like The Emperor’s New Groove, the forty-first animated outing was pitched during the Disney Renaissance. Except it was always intended to be a non-musical with more experimental risk taking. Becoming an action heavy science fantasy flick reminiscent of Jules Verne adventures. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is based on the general legend of the lost city of Atlantis theorized by Plato. The lost city is a staple of pop culture that’s traditionally depicted underwater. These Atlanteans are more like a tribe with ancient technology that emanates from blue crystals. They have dark skin, white hair, and a language created by famous linguist Marc Okrand. Atlantis was obviously a very ambitious project for Walt Disney studios. So its lackluster reception and average box office performance must have been a major blow.

I have comforting memories of seeing Atlantis in theaters when I was 6 years old. My brother and I had McDonald’s toys and watched it a fair amount of times. But like so many others, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the direction. Yet it’s the old fashioned pulp feel and Hellboy comic artist Mike Mignola animation style that gave it an identity all its own. Atlantis is an underrated Post-Renaissance traditionally animated feature that suffered the fate of being in computer animation’s shadow. Along with an ultra widescreen, Atlantis utilized more CGI then any other 2D film. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is all about bespectacled linguist Milo Thatch’s attempt to uncover Atlantis in 1914. When I say ambitious, I mean Atlantis mostly suffers from too much confusing exposition. It helps that Michael J. Fox is perfect for an unlikely hero like Milo. His proposal for an expedition is ignored and he’s instead sought out by a femme fatale named Helga. She works for eccentric millionaire Whitmore, who supplies him with a state of the art submarine.

Milo is joined by an underappreciated ensemble team. No songs means more character interactions. There’s nonchalant Italian demolitions expert Vinny, kindly black Doctor Sweet, tough young hispanic mechanic Audrey, southern cook Cookie, sarcastic radio operator Packer, and unusual French digger Mole. Don Novello improvised all his lines and this was sadly Jim Varney’s last role. James Garner appropriately voices the obvious Disney villain Roake. An all American commander who turns out to be a greedy mercenary. While on the expedition, they encounter a robotic Leviathan, literal fireflies, and eventually the Atlanteans. Kida is one of the most underrated Disney heroines ever created. Credit to voice actress Cree Summer for developing the beautiful curious strong-willed forgotten Princess. Leonard Nimoy is just as good as her father. Milo & Kida bond over their love of Atlantis, but they never kiss for some reason. Instead they fight off Roake’s forces and discover the truth behind Atlantis’ power. All the action more than warranted a PG rating. Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a high concept accomplishment that deserves a second chance.

65. Atlantis The Lost Empire

Milo reads the Shepherd’s Journal to Kida

You Threw Off My Groove!

The Emperor’s New Groove is the result of the biggest overhaul in Disney movie history. Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Since The Emperor’s New Groove is easily one of the best films in the Post-Renaissance era. Although Disney’s fortieth official animated production has a similar title to “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it’s actually another original from Walt Disney studios. One that ironically became based on the movie’s original idea. The Emperor’s New Groove was originally meant to be a grand musical epic titled Kingdom of the Sun. The co-director of The Lion King pitched the idea back in 1994. Intending it to fit the Disney formula very closely.

There were musical numbers, a love story, a larger than life villain, and focus on a specific culture. Animators studied Inca culture in Machu Picchu, Peru and Sting was hired to write original songs. Although it would have been interesting to see, Kingdom of the Sun ended up being too ambitious for its own good. Rather than shut down completely, the movie was meticulously turned into a more experimental straightforward buddy comedy. Dinosaur claimed the original release date, but The Emperor’s New Groove was back on track for a 2000 release. The Prince and the Pauper subplot was dropped, the love interests were gone, and the villain’s plot to summon an Inca god to destroy the sun was axed. All that remained was a couple of names, cast members, and a Prince turning into a llama…

63. The Emperor's New Groove

Kuzco and Pacha work together

The Emperor’s New Groove is one of my all time favorite underrated Disney movies. Although my 5 year old memory is kinda fuzzy, I think my dad took my brother and I to see it in theaters, but don’t quote me on that. We were instantly won over by the wackier comedy angle. Although Disney’s animated films were always funny, they never prioritized humor to this degree. There are meta jokes and faster paced slapstick gags. The Emperor’s New Groove became instantly quotable and spawned a franchise that we also enjoyed. It’s hard to believe the movie wasn’t that successful or praised, but people were probably expecting a Renaissance movie. Plus The Emperor’s New Groove had to compete with another animated buddy comedy Inca movie made by the competition and released the same year. Still, there are major differences that make it stand out more.

The Emperor’s New Groove takes place in an ancient Inca civilization. Kuzco is the young emperor of a lavish palace who’s so full of himself he has his own theme song guy. Kuzco gets everything he wants and barely lifts a finger to rule. I swear they don’t make likable jerks like this anymore. His funniest gag is pausing the movie just to interject. We have the unusually perfect choice of David Spade to thank for his narcissistic charm. In fact, the smaller, more character focused story ended up having a perfect cast that all get a chance to shine. Eartha Kitt was born to voice a Disney villainess as funny, over-the-top, and purple as Yzma. Rather than a sun hating witch, Yzma is a royal advisor who’s scary beyond all reason. Complimenting her subdued evil is her dimwitted henchman Kronk. Patrick Warburton turns Kronk into the most hilarious henchman Disney ever created. His best running gag is talking to his shoulder angel and devil. Along with being able to speak squirrel. Yzma & Kronk’s bumbling villain dynamic is comedy gold. From pulling a lever to a “secret lab” to plotting to kill Kuzco using a poisonous vile.

Meanwhile, Kuzco calls peasant Pacha into his throne room. He plans to build a summer home atop his hill top, but it only serves to show how selfish Kuzco can be. One year before being part of another Disney duo, John Goodman had just the right voice for Pacha. Pacha is a family man with pregnant wife Chicha and rambunctious kids Chaca & Tipo. Although she has limited screen time, Wendie Malick brings a lot of personality to Chicha. Pacha doesn’t tell his wife the news, but it’s not long before things change. Yzma & Kronk mix up the viles and instead succeed in turning Kuzco into a llama. Rather than finish the job, Kronk places Kuzco on Pacha’s cart. Leading to a very unlikely duo where Kuzco’s selfishness clashes with Pacha’s selflessness. Pacha only agrees to help him return to normal on the grounds that he build his summer home somewhere else. They continue to clash, but Kuzco still won’t budge. Their hilarious roller coaster journey includes Pacha rescuing Kuzco from jaguars, the two of them going over a waterfall (“Bring it on”), and needing to work together when a bridge gives out.

Meanwhile, Yzma seizes the throne, but searches for Kuzco when she learns he’s still alive. Kuzco & Pacha comically avoid detection in a diner that Kronk winds up cooking at. After a misunderstanding, Kuzco learns the truth from Yzma & Kronk. Fortunately, Kuzco graciously accepts Pacha’s help and they set out to return. While Pacha’s family handles the villains with more hijinks. In the climax, the two return to the palace that Yzma somehow beat them to. Kronk double crosses her, but he only does so much. What follows is a series of vile transformations that eventually turns Yzma into something… unlikely. What saves Kuzco is him learning humility and changing his selfish ways by the end.

The Emperor’s New Groove maintains its sincere traditional animation in an age that was slowly accepting computer animation. The budget was also limited. So characters and animals are more stylized with rounded Inca architecture that gives the movie a signature look. With all the story changes, Sting ended up being affected the most. To the point only 2 of his songs appear in the final product. Everything else from Kingdom of the Sun can be heard on the soundtrack. All that remains is the boisterous Kuzco anthem “Perfect World” sung by Tom Jones. As well as an Oscar nominated credits song I never listened to titled “My Funny Friend and Me.” The Emperor’s New Groove is proof that sometimes Disney needs to get out of their comfort zone to deliver something just as good. “Ha! Boom baby!”

64. The Emperor's New Groove

Kronk and Yzma serve Kuzco

Dino Story

Dinosaur is unlike anything Disney released up to this point. Most people forget it’s the thirty-ninth Walt Disney animated film (or that it even exists at all). That’s what makes Dinosaur so underrated as far as the Post-Renaissance is concerned. Then again, it’s difficult for dinosaur films to be remembered if Jurassic Park isn’t in the title. The simply titled Dinosaur, was actually an idea from ultraviolent filmmaker Paul Verhoeven. He envisioned it as an intense story of survival that played out like a nature documentary. When Disney moved things in a kid friendly direction, they kept the realistic feel. Along with a slightly more intense PG rating.

Dinosaur was released in 2000 along with Fantasia 2000, but the former was what I saw in theaters when I was 5 years old. I have relatively fond memories of seeing it. Although I wouldn’t call it a childhood favorite. I think I remember the McDonald’s puppet toys more than anything. Dinosaur drew me in with an extended teaser that showcased stunning animation. Technically becoming the first computer animated Disney film. Despite utilizing live-action backgrounds that seriously confused me when I was a kid. The dinosaurs were created using CGI that was made to look as real as possible. It’s a shame they had to let them talk. Since the dialogue and story are a bit average for visuals like this. There aren’t even songs in the movie.

Dinosaur follows an egg containing a seldom seen Iguanodon. The dinosaur is named Aladar and raised by a family of loving lemars. Aladar loves his adoptive mother Plio, grandfather Yar, uncle Zini, and sister Suri, but he’s the only dinosaur on the island. Until a meteor shower drives them away. They then encounter a herd of dinosaurs on their way to a nesting ground. Aladar clashes with one of the most unlikeable Disney villains ever, Kron. An alpha who believes only the strong should survive. Aladar falls for Kron’s more kind hearted sister Neera and forms a friendship with an elderly Brachiosaurus, Styracosaurus, and Ankylosaurus. Everything hinges on their survival which is made even worse by an animalistic Carnotaurus. Basically a T-Rex if it was more demonic. Aladar finds his place by taking command, driving out the beast together, and leading everyone to the promised land. Dinosaur was a unique experiment that more Disney fans should seek out.

DINOSAUR, Aladar, Neera, 2000

Aladar, Neera, and the lemurs in the nesting ground