Franchise / Disney Animated Canon

"To think six years ahead - even two or three - in this business of making animated cartoon features, it takes calculated risk and much more than blind faith in the future of theatrical motion pictures. I see motion pictures as a family-founded institution closely related to the life and labor of millions of people. Entertainment such as our business provides has become a necessity, not a luxury... it is the part which offers us the greatest reassurance about the future in the animation field."

The animated feature films produced by Disney's main feature animation studio, currently known as Walt Disney Animation Studios, has a long history.

In 1937, Walt Disney released the first feature-length animated film in the English-speaking world and the first feature film made completely with hand-drawn animation. However, it wasn't, as many claim, the first feature-length animated film ever. Foreign examples predating Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and using other kinds of animation include Argentina's The Apostle (combining hand-drawn with cutout animation) in 1917, Germany's The Adventures of Prince Achmed (done with silhouette animation) in 1926, and The Soviet Union's The New Gulliver (done with Stop Motion) in 1935.

This category does not include Pixar productions, nor does it include every animated feature released by Disney (such as those created by DisneyToon Studios, Direct-to-Video Sequels, Studio Ghibli dubs, animated films made under a different Disney banner such as The Nightmare Before Christmas or animated films distributed by Disney but produced by non-Disney studios). There don't seem to be any hard-and-fast rules as to which movies get to be part of the canon and which don't, but generally, the canon films are made by the Disney feature animation unit (live-action/animation hybrids like Song of the South and Mary Poppins tend not to count unless the animation is the bulk of the film, as in The Three Caballeros, Fun and Fancy Free or Melody Time). The Other Wiki has a set of lists for both the canon and non-canon films.

See also Disney Princess, Enchanted (an Affectionate Parody of Disney's own films), Kingdom Hearts, a video game series which also seems to follow the rule of only using canonical characters from nearly all of these films (and then some!), or House of Mouse which represents almost every canonical movie with at least a cameo appearance. Once Upon a Time is a live-action fairy tale Massive Multiplayer Crossover shown on Disney-owned ABC, with versions of the fairy tale characters heavily and obviously indebted to the Disney animated film versions. Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Nightmare Before Christmas were both produced and released by Disney under its Touchstone Pictures banner (the latter's 3D rereleases were under the Disney banner). Compare the works of former Disney animator Don Bluth, as well as the two feature length animated films made by Fleischer Studios. For notable Disney staff, go here. For when these movies become available for home viewing, go here.

    The Films (In Chronological Order) 
  1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937; carries the honor of being the first full-length animated feature film in the English-speaking world)
  2. Pinocchio (1940)
  3. Fantasia* (1940)
  4. Dumbo (1941)
  5. Bambi (1942)
  6. Saludos Amigos* (1943)
  7. The Three Caballeros* (1945)
  8. Make Mine Music* (1946)
  9. Fun and Fancy Free* (1947)
  10. Melody Time* (1948)
  11. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad* (1949)
  12. Cinderella (1950)
  13. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
  14. Peter Pan (1953; last film to have all nine of Disney's Nine Old Men working together, along with the last entry to be distributed by RKO Radio Pictures)
  15. Lady and the Tramp (1955; first entry to be distributed by Buena Vista)
  16. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
  17. 101 Dalmatians (1961)
  18. The Sword in the Stone (1963; last to be released while Walt was alive)
  19. The Jungle Book (1967; final animated film produced while Walt was alive)
  20. The Aristocats (1970; final film Walt personally green-lit, and the beginning of the Dork Age of Disney)
  21. Robin Hood (1973)
  22. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh* (1977; partially made while Walt was alive)
  23. The Rescuers (1977; end of the Dork Age/start of the Dark Age)
  24. The Fox and the Hound (1981; last film that any of Disney's Nine Old Men worked on, along with the last entry to be distributed by Buena Vista)
  25. The Black Cauldron (1985; the first animated Disney film to carry a PG rating due to violence and nightmarish imagery; also first film to carry the Walt Disney Pictures logo)
  26. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
  27. Oliver & Company (1988; the last film of the Dark Age) note 
  28. The Little Mermaid (1989; the first film of the Disney Renaissance)note 
  29. The Rescuers Down Under (1990; first completely digital film ever produced)
  30. Beauty and the Beast (1991; the only movie of the canon to be nominated for Best Picture so far)
  31. Aladdin (1992)
  32. The Lion King (1994; the most successful traditionally-animated film of all time)
  33. Pocahontas (1995)
  34. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
  35. Hercules (1997)
  36. Mulan (1998)
  37. Tarzan (1999; the last film of the Disney Renaissance)
  38. Fantasia 2000* (1999; follow-up to Fantasia; first animated film initially released in IMAX theaters; the first film of Disney's "Post-Renaissance" era)
  39. Dinosaur (2000; first hybrid-CGI movie done without Pixar)**
  40. The Emperor's New Groove (2000)
  41. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
  42. Lilo & Stitch (2002; first entry to be nominated for Best Animated Feature; the most successful film of the "Post-Renaissance" era)note 
  43. Treasure Planet (2002)
  44. Brother Bear (2003)
  45. Home on the Range (2004)
  46. Chicken Little (2005; first true CGI movie done without Pixar and the last movie with a variation of the original Walt Disney Pictures logo)
  47. Meet the Robinsons (2007; first to carry the feature animation studio's own Vanity Plate and the fully animated Walt Disney Pictures logo)
  48. Bolt (2008; usually considered the last film of the "Post-Renaissance" era, although it's sometimes considered the first film of the Disney Revival)
  49. The Princess and the Frog (2009; first traditionally-animated film after 2004; usually considered the first film of the Disney Revival)
  50. Tangled (2010; Disney released a rather nifty video to celebrate its milestone as the fifty mark)
  51. Winnie-the-Pooh (2011; last traditionally-animated film to date)
  52. Wreck-It Ralph (2012; first entry to have the WDP logo that only says Disney)
  53. Frozen (2013; first entry to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature; currently the most successful animated film of all time)
  54. Big Hero 6 (2014; won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature)
  55. Zootopia (2016)

* Consists of several short films released as one feature.

** In the UK, this film is not considered part of the Canon. Instead, The Wild (2006) is in its place.

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Upcoming films

  • Moana (2016)
  • Wreck-It Ralph 2 (2018)
  • Gigantic (2018)
  • Frozen 2 (planned for 2019)
  • King of the Elves (TBA; was announced in 2008, but has been in development hell since)
  • The Name Game (TBA)
  • Teen Space Race (TBA)

Cancelled films

  • The Wizard Of Oz (the studio did some conceptual art for it shortly after Snow White but it was canceled in pre-production after MGM released their own version. Incidentally, Disney would much later release an "unofficial" sequel and prequel to the MGM version.)
  • Chanticleer (some ideas from development migrated into Don Bluth's Rock-A-Doodle)
  • The Gremlins (Based on Roald Dahl's book. Questions of whether plane sabotaging creatures could be made sympathetic and development running late into the war leading to a cancellation due to possibly becoming dated. Some Gremlins would later appear in the 2010 video game Epic Mickey.)
  • Don Quixote (just like several other attempts to adapt that story into a movie have been cancelled)
  • Fraidy Cat (a homage to the work of Alfred Hitchcock focused around house pets, was supposed to be Ron Clement's and John Muskers' next film after Treasure Planet)
  • Wild Life (a Pygmalion-type story about a nightclub recruiting a singing zoo elephant to hype into the next big thing to discredit a critic, cancelled due to concerns about more mature content)
  • My Peoples (Loose Appalachian set adaptation of The Canterville Ghost, cancelled due to the closure of the Florida studio, which was the only one making the movie)
  • Fantasia 2006 (due to shifting management; several shorts were completed and released separately)
  • Mort (Disney couldn't get the adaptation rights, which were sold as one large package rather than individually)
  • The Search For Mickey Mouse (Was going to be Disney's first Crossover of all their characters, centering around Mickey getting kidnapped and Minnie recruiting a group to find him. It was also going to be their 50th animated film until new management restructured everything.)
  • Sequels were planned for films such as The Jungle Book and Bambi during earlier phases, though didn't get past early production stages (allegedly due to Walt not being a fan of sequels). Actual follow ups were made much later on, though are not made part of Disney canon. A Tangled sequel was also considered at one point.
    • In their line of Direct-to-Video sequels, Disney had plans to make Dumbo 2, The Jungle Book 3, The Aristocats 2, Chicken Little 2note , and Meet the Robinsons 2. Dumbo 2 was in on-and-off development for a while (even though it was promoted on the 2001 DVD of Dumbo) before being cancelled altogether, while The Jungle Book 3 was cancelled after the under-performance of The Jungle Book 2. The remaining three projects were cancelled under order of John Lasseter after Walt Disney Animation Studios was given control over DisneyToon Studios (the division making the sequels) in 2007.
  • Kingdom of the Sun, an Inca-era prince and the pauper type Animated Musical, which was later retooled into The Emperor's New Groove, and the subject of the documentary The Sweatbox.

Tropes common to the Disney Animated Canon:

  • An Aesop: Most of the films in the line-up have one, though how prevalent and deeply tied into the story it is varies from film to film.
  • Anachronism Stew: Several of their features deliberately employ this for laughs, most famously Aladdin, Hercules and The Emperors New Groove. Even the more serious features like The Hunchback of Notre Dame will employ anachronisms for laughs (most notably in the "A Guy Like You" musical number). Some features like Mulan and Atlantis: The Lost Empire employ it on purpose for the sake of atmosphere or story.
  • Animorphism:
  • Animated Adaptation:
  • Animated Musical: Most of the movies in the canon are this, though there are exceptions such as Tarzan, Wreck-it-Ralph, and Lilo & Stitch.
  • Animation Bump: Generally in the musical numbers, the animation may change.
  • Audience Shift:
    • Wreck-It Ralph was made to appeal to gamers along with traditional children/family audiences.
    • Big Hero 6 is aimed at Marvel superhero fans and the general boy demographic.
    • Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet were designed to appeal to teenagers more than just children.
    • The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company and The Little Mermaid were intended by Roy E. Disney and (then-new) studio heads Jeffrey Katzenberg and Peter Schneider to take Disney animation in a lighter, more 1980s direction after former studio head Ron Miller's attempts in the late 1970s/early 1980s to take the studio in a darker and moodier direction with The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron pretty much ended in failure (Rescuers and Fox and Hound were still financial successes, with Rescuers getting a sequel from the new guard; Cauldron was NOT a success, and almost killed the canon off). The Great Mouse Detective itself was retitled from Basil of Baker Street after Michael Eisner decided that the original name was "too English" for American kids, which led to a major backlash from the animators who were working on the film; they protested with an infamous fake memo that Katzenberg got, and said memo made it to the press and on to Jeopardy!, embarrassing Schneider in the process; Schneider repaid the favor by ripping into the department in a meeting for the stunt (Katzenberg was also unamused with the decoy memo at first, but he lightened up to the situation according to the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty).
    • On a similar note, recently and not without backlash, Tangled and Frozen received their title changes from Rapunzel and The Snow Queen respectively as well as a whole new marketing strategy to make sure their more princess-central films can still net young males. Notably this came after the presumed failings of The Princess and the Frog. Though admittedly it was for the better as far as Frozen is concerned, seeing as the title fits the setting and theme a lot more than The Snow Queen does (it was also initially going to be an adaptation of The Snow Queen, but ended up being inspired by it instead).
    • Of course, the MPAA rating system didn't exist until 1968, so everything released before then (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through The Jungle Book) had the G rating applied to them retroactively on their post-'68 re-releases.
  • Black and Gray Morality: In the more mature films.
  • Black Magic: Several of the villains are Evil Sorcerers, and Sleeping Beauty has an evil fairy.
  • Book Ends: On a meta example; the first and the last releases in the original Walt Disney "Black Diamond" Classics video line were Dark Age Disney movies (Robin Hood in 1984, The Fox And The Hound in 1994, and these movies have similarly designed characters and Pat Buttram in them; in addition, the first (1985) and last (1993) movie made under Walt to be issued in the line is Pinocchio). This trope also applies to the Platinum Editions; Snow White and Pinocchio are the first and last titles in this line, and they are the early Golden Age since they're the first two installments in the canon. The Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection is a minor example because the first and last new releases in THAT line were two films Walt supervised; his original animated classic Snow White in 1994, and The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad in 1999.
  • Brains: Evil; Brawn: Good:
  • Canon Discontinuity: Despite many of the films in the canon getting direct-to-video sequels (and in the case of Aladdin, Hercules and Lilo & Stitch, sometimes even getting full fledged TV shows), none of them are considered canon to the original movies. To date, the only canonical sequel is The Rescuers Down Under.
  • Cute Kitten: Seen in a few Disney films with the most notable being Marie, Toulouse, and Berlioz, Figaro and Oliver.
  • Cats Are Mean: Used, subverted (Bolt) and averted (The Aristocats, Oliver & Company).
  • Crapsaccharine World: Occasionally used, despite the theme park's "Happiest Place on Earth" motto.
  • Cover Version: DisneyMania, for a number of hits from movie soundtracks. In some cases, song covers are included in DVD sets. It's also fairly common for a contemporary artist to cover a song from a movie.
  • Darker and Edgier: Pinocchio, The Black Cauldron, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame are frequently considered unusually grim story content for Disney.
    • While The Black Cauldron features animate skeletons and self-sacrifice, it doesn't quite touch on the darkness that id Hunchback of Notre dame, since that film has a scene with an older man lustfully sniff a young woman's hair and then singing about his uncontainable lust.
    • Atlantis: The Lost Empire does away with the color, Non Human Sidekicks, and songs of previous features, and replaces them with action, explosions, and the death of many a background character.
    • Pocahontas is one of the few without a complete resolution for the main characters. The villain has admittedly been defeated but John Smith's fate is left uncertain.
  • Darkest Hour: Most notably occurs inAladdin, The Lion King and Hercules.
  • Deal with the Devil: How Ursula from The Little Mermaid, Hades from Hercules and Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog all work. Is it telling that all these share the same directors?
  • Mom Looks Like a Sister: If a mother appears at all, odds are she'll look to be only in her twenties, even if she's still around when her child reaches his or her late teens. To whit:
    • Sleeping Beauty: Aurora's mother.
    • The Lion King: Post-time skip, Sarabi doesn't look any older than when Simba was a cub, even though he has grown up to strongly resemble his long-deceased father.
    • Hercules: Averted for his mortal foster mother, Justified for his immortal goddess birth mother.
    • Treasure Planet: Sarah to Jim.
    • Tangled: Invoked by Gothel, who uses Rapunzel's hair to keep herself looking young while posing as her mother. Played straight for her birth mother, who has no such round-the-clock access to de-aging hair, yet barely ages a day eighteen years after Rapunzel's birth. Their resemblance is especially pronounced after Rapunzel's Important Haircut.
    • Frozen: Elsa's and Anna's mother looks to be a brunette version of her 21- and 18-year-old daughters, even when she lived to see them reach 18 and 15 in the prologue.
  • Never a Self-Made Woman: Surprisingly often, the hero/heroine or heroes have a connection to a relative who is greatly revered (in most cases, a royal parent; but in other cases, a war hero dad or a renowned scientist grandfather will do just as well.
    • Only a handful Disney movies subvert or avert this trope. In some examples, John Smith (explorer), Taran (pigkeeper/peasant) and the main characters of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (soldier, son of a gypsy, gypsy performer) are self made heroes.
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Most of the main characters and/or their love interests have one, as do some villains.
  • Obviously Evil: A great many of these films do this, even going so far as to base their color and shape schemes around it (as talked about in the Aladdin DVD documentaries). Just take one look at a character sheet for an average Disney film and you can immediately pick out the villains. This is kind of odd when it's done with Animal Stereotypes and say - bears are painted as horrible, deadly, kaiju-like monstrous demons in The Fox and the Hound and as friendly and lovable heroes in The Jungle Book and Brother Bear. However, there have been subversions of this in their more recent films, such as Disney/Frozen.
  • One-Winged Angel: Their use of this trope is only surpassed by Square Enix.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Prince Hans from Frozen is this for the entire canon. Unlike every other villain in the canon, there is no indication whatsoever that he is even morally suspect until the Motive Rant at the climax. In a canon defined by hammy Classic Villains, he is entirely defined by Pragmatic Villainy, a flawless mask and skill at manipulation to which even the audience is not immune.
    • Hans would be followed by the villains of Disney's next two movies, Robert Callaghan from Big Hero 6 and Dawn Bellwether from Zootopia, both of which are revealed as being the main antagonist after only brief prior appearances in which they were helpful and supportive to the main protagonist, were not particularly hammy, and did nothing that would directly indicate anything morally suspicious about their character, and Callaghan was even presumed dead by the time of his reveal as Yokai.
  • Parental Abandonment: At least 28 of the features either have their parents missing, dead, or separated from their kids.
  • Period Piece: Most of the films in the canon take place at some time in the past. Only eleven films are set in The Present Day of when they were made: Dumbo (which is dated only by the modern-ish train car at the end), 101 Dalmatians, The Rescuers, Oliver & Company, The Rescuers Down Under, Lilo & Stitch, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt and Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia. Well, Bambi and The Lion King take place in an unknown time period (Bambi can be narrowed down to anytime in the last 2-3 centuries), and Treasure Planet and Big Hero 6 are set in a constructed universe.
  • Pigeonholed Voice Actor:
    • Phil Harris (The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Robin Hood) and Cheech Marin (Oliver & Company, The Lion King) are particularly glaring examples of this.
    • Kathryn Beaumont (Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan) who voiced both Alice and Wendy Darling (respectively).
    • invokedVerna Felton only ever voiced either energetic/stuffy villains (Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp) or kindly matriarchs (Dumbo, again), Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book).
    • Pat Buttram (The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound) used his own distinct rural Alabama accent for every character he voiced.
    • Alan Tudyk (Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia) is a more recent example, if only for playing antagonists in four movies in a row, two of which were examples of Evil Old Folks.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Several of the movies villains fall into this, such as the animal abusing, fur skinning Cruella De Vil, the misogynistic Gaston, the xenophobic John Ratcliffe and genocidal racist, religious zealot and would be rapist Judge Claude Frollo.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: During most intense climaxes, comic relief aren't usually present.
  • Sliding Scale of Realistic Versus Fantastic: Most of the Disney Animated Canon falls into the Fantastic part of the scale. Beauty and the Beast is a (if not the) prime example of internal consistency in a fantastic story where the background and the basic rules concerning the magic spell which transformed the prince to a beast (and his servants to house objects), and how it can be undone are disclosed in the opening narration. Some films like The Three Caballeros throw out the notion of realism altogether and land on the Surreal end of the scale.
  • The Sociopath: A recurring characteristic of the villains. Notable examples include Lady Tremaine, Percival C. McLeach, Gaston, Scar, Mother Gothel, King Candy/Turbo and Prince Hans.
  • Stock Footage: Since Disney often ran into financial trouble from trying so much to show off with their animation, this became a vital cost saver. See this video for examples, with Robin Hood being the most extreme.
  • Storybook Opening: Many of their animated films and shorts opened this way, from Snow White to Beauty and the Beast.
  • Strictly Formula: During the 1990s, Disney had a very successful run from 1989 till 1994, but after that they were often accused of enforcing this trope. Rebellious princesses who want to marry for love, heroines looking for something beyond what they know, bumbling or fantasy-forbidding fathers, bad guys falling off great heights. Pocahontas especially was accused of adhering to Disney formula, which does have some merit as a complaint. Ironically though, the problem seems to have been that all these movies came out in succession, as every single movie of the Disney Renaissance has been Vindicated by History and is now well-loved (some more than others: Pocahontas is still not thought of as a great movie, and The Rescuers Down Under has gained a cult following but isn't anywhere near mainstream).
    • Many viewers are starting to notice a distinct pattern among Revival films, especially princess movies. (From The Princess and the Frog to what's revealed about the upcoming Moana.) That is, slap-stick Road Trip Romance musicals where the main couple Meet Cute, engage in some Slap-Slap-Kiss, then find a Commonality Connection, then later have a Love Epiphany, then end up together; all over the course of a few days at most. Brave (an Honorary Disney Princess film) averts the romance bit, but then Merida's mother functions as The Not-Love Interest anyway; the formula still holds sans the romantic element. Only Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 seem to avert it thus far.
  • Talking Animal: From the mice in Cinderella to the swamp creatures in The Princess and the Frog.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: Surprisingly, avoided for the most part. Though some have argued that "Trashing the Camp" from Tarzan qualifies. There's also "Everybody Wants To Be A Cat" from The Aristocats and "Whistle While You Work" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
    • "Human Again" from Beauty and the Beast and "Morning Report" from The Lion King were un-needed additions to their respective films, since the movies didn't have them originally (they are somewhat Big Lipped Alligator Moments, a realization that convinced Editor-In-Chief and studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg to send them to the scrapboard). They aren't terrible songs, nor completely irrelevant (they're both in the stage versions of the respective movies, too). Neither of them exactly advanced the plot or provided much if any character development, but both were intended to be in the original production (and are in the Special Editions).
  • Time Skip: Several movies in the canon started adopting this measure beginning in the Disney Renaissance period (though it had been used since the earliest movies), and continuing to this day. It got really egregious during the height of the Disney Renaissance period, when films like Hercules and Tarzan would have two or more timeskips within the expanse of a 3-minute song.
  • Tomboy Princess: The Renaissance Princesses (curious and somewhat rebellious Ariel, intelligent and outspokenly feminist Belle, and fiercely independent Jasmine), particularly in comparison to the Classic Princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora).
  • The End: Prior to 1985's The Black Cauldron, every Disney animated film (excluding Fantasia) ended with a screen saying "The End", and below that, "A Walt Disney Production" (during Walt's lifetime) or "Walt Disney Productions" (after his death). The Great Mouse Detective (1986), Aladdin (1992), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) also had "The End" screens, without the Walt Disney credit.
  • The Verse: Possibly with all the cameos and easter eggs and what not.
    • Tangled and Frozen are all but explicitly confirmed to exist in the same universe, with Fanon generally accepting Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa to be cousins by way of their respective mothers being sisters. A common theory also places The Little Mermaid in this same universe with the sunken ship Ariel explores at the beginning being the same one that carried the king and queen of Arendellenote .
  • Vanity Plate: With Lasseter's arrival at Disney, newer films (starting with Meet the Robinsons) now have a vanity plate paying homage to the studio's roots in traditional animation and Mickey Mouse's first hit short Steamboat Willie. Like the RKO Radio Pictures/Buena Vista/Walt Disney Pictures logos, it too got an alteration for a film (in this case, Wreck-It Ralph).
  • Victorious Chorus: Commonly used at the end of some films.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: However the "Saccharine Show" becomes less notable with its more mature films.