10 21st Century Disney Animated Films That Didn't Meet Expectations – Collider

Disney is renowned for groundbreaking animated entertainment, but these features fell short of the legacy.
The Walt Disney Company has been on an upward trend since its founding in 1923. Since the release of Snow White and Seven Dwarfs in 1937, they have dominated the world of animated films. This perhaps was best seen from 1989 to 1999, in an era called the Disney Renaissance, where nearly all of their movies dominated the box-office and awards season and changed the face of popular culture forever.
Following the release of Tarzan and the transition into the 21st century, things became a little rockier for Disney. Their films are still making money, but for one reason or another, several didn't live up to expectations.
This long-awaited sequel to Disney's most ambitious film initially premiered in a roadshow tour in late 1999, then became the first animated film released in IMAX in January 2000. With over fifty years of technological and artistic advancements, some sequences in Fantasia 2000 are even more breathtaking than the original. This is best seen in the final segment, "The Firebird Suites," by Igor Stravinsky, which boasts some of Disney's most fluid animation to show the beauty and destructive power of nature.
Related: From 'Lorenzo' to 'Rhapsody in Blue': Top 10 'Fantasia' Segments RankedUnfortunately, the film doesn't capture the same timeless appeal as the original. One reason is tonal inconsistency: while the original film has comedic sections, none of them were as silly as a flamingo playing with a yo-yo. Another is the celebrity guests who introduce the segments, more distracting than anything.
Disney's first computer animated film was marketed with its opening scene. With nothing but amazing visuals and an iconic score by James Newton Howard, it showed an Iguanodon egg as it is taken from the nest and eventually falls onto an island. It was epic, mystical, and promised something akin to Bambi.
When the film came out, audiences were disappointed to learn the animals spoke in pop-culture references and anachronistic jokes. Its story is Moses with dinosaurs: the Iguanodon eventually leaves the island, returns to his people, frees them from a tyrannical leader, and leads them to prosperity. It still made plenty of money but has since become one of Disney's forgotten successes.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire was an attempt by Disney to break into the action genre. It follows Milo Thatch, a linguist who is given a book about Atlantis by a friend of his grandfather's. Along with an eccentric team of specialists, Milo dives deep below the waves to find the lost civilization, but nobody is prepared for the dangers they'd face along the way.
Related: Why ‘Atlantis: The Lost Empire’ Is the One Disney Animated Feature Worth a Live-Action RemakeDespite its fun premise, the film came out against Shrekon the animation side and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider on the action side, so it bombed. Over the years, it has developed a cult following thanks to its art style, characters, and voice acting. Michael J. Fox in particular does a standout job voicing Milo that makes you fall in love with his passion for knowledge.
John Musker and Ron Clements are perhaps the best directing duo to work for Disney. Their amazing resume includes The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana. Despite all these successes, the passion project they fought for since the 80s would become one of Disney's biggest flops.
Related: How a Change to Long John Silver Steered ‘Treasure Planet’ Off-CourseTreasure Planet combines fluid hand-drawn animation with groundbreaking CGI, which made it the most expensive traditionally animated film. It was released in the winter to avoid competition with Lilo & Stitch, where it was defeated at the box office by Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. While this killed a sequel already in production, the movie has become a cult classic for its style and strong characters.
After The Lion King became the highest-grossing traditionally animated film, Disney decided to make an animal-epic set in North America. The added twist was that the main character is a human played by Joaquin Phoenix who loses his older brother in a fight with a bear. He kills the bear out of vengeance, but the ancestral spirits transform him into a bear so he can learn a lesson about compassion.
Despite the film's strong morals and catchy songs by Phil Collins, it was received poorly and has been forgotten despite being nominated for Best Animated Feature. This is due to its tonal inconsistency: while the scenes involving the humans feel timeless and grounded, the animals talk in a storm of anachronistic jokes. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas even show up as moose versions of their Bob and Doug McKenzie characters.
Home on The Range has been called the film that killed traditional animation. While it might not deserve this title, since 2D animation was dying since Toy Story, the story of a cow voiced by Rosanne Barr teaming up with other cows to stop a yodeling cattle thief received much harsher criticism than Disney's previous releases. Its poor reception meant that Disney wouldn't release another 2D film until The Princess and The Frog in 2009.
What makes Home on The Range so egregious is that it feels like something one of Disney's competitors would release in the 90s to ride their coattails. It has pretty animation and a few catchy songs but also plenty of annoying characters. Meanwhile, DreamWorks and Pixar released Shrek 2and The Incredibles the same year, which made Disney look behind the times.
Chicken Little causes a stir in town when he cries out that the sky is falling. He endures ridicule and ostracizing for over a year until he discovers a talent for baseball. Suddenly everyone loves him until Chicken Little discovers evidence of an alien invasion and tries to warn them.
Related: Disney's 'Chicken Little': Inside the Troubled History of the Studio's First CGI FeatureDespite being directed by Mark Dindal, who directed Cats Don't Dance and The Emperor's New Groove,Chicken Little is perhaps Disney's most mean-spirited film. The people of the town are incredibly harsh on the protagonist, and even his own father is willing to abandon him for pride and social image. Dindal's slapstick comedy also doesn't transition well to 3D, so the humour relies on animal and fairy-tale puns.
Wreck-It Ralph was a smash hit with audiences thanks to its fun take on vide-game worlds and an impactful message about how one's position in life doesn't define them. For the sequel, Ralph and his friend Vanellope von Schweetz travel to the internet to try and raise money to buy a replacement part for Vanellope's game. However, Vanellope feels drawn to another racing game called Slaughter Race.
While it's amazing to see all the Disney princesses together, the film's message is a massive downgrade. It preaches about letting your friends live their own lives, but a major plot point in the original film was the danger of selfishly abandoning your game for another. The online setting also feels squandered and never breaks away from surface-level jokes about influencers, mean comments, and the dark web.
Upon release, Frozen shook the world with its beautiful animation and iconic songs. The sequel tries to make things bigger and better by having Elsa and Anna travel into a magic fog to discover the origin of Elsa's powers. There, they learn about their family's history and work to undo the sins of the past.
Unfortunately, Frozen 2 isn't able to live up to its lofty ambitions thanks to a tricky production time. The story of the girls' parentage is fighting for space with Olaf being a kid and Kristoph trying to propose to Anna, which both feel like filler. When the story does focus on the sisters, it's not much better due to confusing lore and retcons to the original film.
When the nation of Kumatra was attacked by demons called the Druu, the last dragon, Sisu, banished them with a gem containing dragon magic. A power struggle for the gem divided Kumatra among five nations, which eventually leads to the gem being shattered and the Druu's return. As they rampage across the land, a woman named Raya, partially responsible for breaking the gem, must find Sisu and make things right.
Related: How Do You Break Into Voice Acting? Here's How Kelly Marie Tran Did ItRaya and The Last Dragon boasts impressive animation, but its story and characters left many disappointed. The pacing constantly jumps around, leaving little time to develop the world and side characters, and led to questions as to why the film wasn't made as a TV show. The main characters aren't served much better thanks to anachronistic dialogue and an underwhelming theme regarding trust.
Next: 10 Worst Walt Disney Animation Studios Films According to IMDB
Tyler B. Searle graduated with a degree in Journalism Web and Print in 2017 and Television Writing and Production in 2018. He has been a lifelong fan of storytelling, particularly in the realm of animation and fantasy stories. The Disney Renaissance is his favorite era of Disney, and his favorite non-Disney animation company is DreamWorks. When he isn’t writing lists, he’s enjoying a fantasy novel in his home in Ontario, Canada.
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