5 Disney Films That Changed The Landscape Of Animation Altogether With Their Innovation

There are five Disney movies that had an impact that you may not have realized.

With a library of over one hundred feature-length films, it can be difficult to assign the label of which Disney films were the most important. Is it the grand hit, Frozen, with its massive marketing appeal? Perhaps it was Tangled, with its step into what is the modern Disney CGI animation format. It could be something older, like Cinderella, for setting the framework of what many people define as The Disney Formula. 

None of these are correct. 

Some of the most important Disney films may surprise you. With others, it will be quite obvious.

Here are the five Disney films that changed the landscape of animation altogether with their innovation and overall presence. 

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves 
Source: The Strand Theater

Perhaps the most obvious one is the 1937 feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Nowadays, this film likely does not seem all that impressive, with a bit of a dry narrative and one-dimensional characters. Nonetheless, it takes the very prestigious title of the first full-length animated motion picture to debut in theaters. Again, this may not sound impressive by today's standards, but back in 1937, the collective hours of work and money it took to produce a full-length animated film made it unheard of. 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves 
Source: Pinterest

The idea of a full-length animated film was in fact so unheard of that the sheer amount of effort and money it took to produce Snow White and the Seven Dwarves nearly bankrupt Walt Disney. He had to take out a loan during the production, which thankfully was compensated by the eight million dollar box office of the film. Adjusted for inflation, that is about 146 million dollars today. 

This risk changed the landscape of animation forever--what had previously just been shorts in theaters was now showing itself as a beast of greater power. 

2. Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty
Source: 1000-Word Philosophy

Like its predecessor, Sleeping Beauty falls into the category of what is typically seen as the 'Disney formula' of damsel princesses being saved by courageous knights. Unlike its predecessor, however, Sleeping Beauty introduced something new: the idea of sweeping, grand visuals with a thematic style.

While the idea of something as simple as stylization seems every day to most modern cartoons, many animated projects of the era had a similar visual appeal of being either excessively cartoony (such as the Mickey Mouse shorts) or rooted in a more realistic look (such as Snow White, which had realistic watercolor backgrounds and utilized a live model to base the movements of the character on). Sleeping Beauty met somewhere in between by adopting a visual style that drew inspiration in classic medieval wall tapestries. 

Sleeping Beauty
Source: Major Spoilers

It is always a bold decision to leap away from the typical when it comes to what your market expects from you, but it can often result in greatness. The visual splendor of Sleeping Beauty is difficult to match and was the breeding ground for individual stylization in animated films. 

3. Lady and the Tramp

Lady and the Tramp
Source: Britannica

At first glance, it can seem like Lady and the Tramp does not have anything unique it offers to the animation world but the first glance could not be more wrong. Rather, Lady and the Tramp was the first full-length animated feature film to be shot in Cinemascope. While the term may be outdated to a modern moviegoing audience, this essentially means that the classic tale of two dogs was the very first animated movie to be shot in widescreen. 

Lady and the Tramp
Source: MXDWM

The choice presented some daunting technical challenges for the animation team. Animators and artists used to drawing scenes in a smaller space had to contend with not only the larger background space provided by the newer format, while also having to consider that the Cinemascope format was not yet widespread. Two cuts of the film ended up being released, the Cinemascope version and a recut version intended for the vast majority of theaters in the era that was not compatible with the widescreen experience. 

Lady and the Tramp was released in 1955 only a few years after the first documented widescreen film, The Robe (1953), showing Disney's determination to keep up with what the craft of film had to offer. 

4. One Hundred and One Dalmatians

One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Source: Insider

In 1961, Disney met itself with a surprising challenge in adapting the 1956 novel of the same name: One Hundred and One Dalmatians. The hurdle itself was, funny enough, the titular characters themselves. Well, not the dogs themselves, as much as the "one hundred and one" part. To anyone unfamiliar with the tedious process of animation, the idea of animating that many moving figures in multiple scenes are unappealing at best and impossible at worst. Disney, however, found a solution: xerography. 

One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Source: Laughing Place

Using a modified Xerox camera, the department in charge of the film transferred xeroxed run-cycles and movement cycles of the dogs to animation cels. This gave them the ability to reuse a pre-existing run or walk cycle for a group of characters that looked nearly identical already, without having to hire a massive staff to compensate for over one hundred individual characters.

Naturally, the yet refined style caused something of a looser look to the film itself, with some shots of the dogs still having structure lines draw on their face such as pictured above on the left dog. This was remedied by designing the rest of the film to have a more loose look to fit with the look of the Xerography animation. 

These methods would continue to be used in traditionally animated Disney films for decades to come. 

5. Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
Source: Irish Film Institute

Beauty and the Beast is something of a unique inclusion on this list, as while it is technically sound and beautiful to look at, this 1991 did not introduce new techniques to the animation world. Rather, instead of positioning itself as a technical advancement to the animation world, it ended up presenting itself as a cultural advancement to not only the world of animation but to the film industry as a whole. 

After over fifty years of animation achievements, Beauty and the Beast did the unthinkable and shocked the film industry by being the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture category at the Oscars.

Beauty and the Beast
Source: Metro

This had never happened before. While the film did not go on to win the award it was nominated for, losing gracefully to Silence of the Lambs, it did win both the Best Music and Best Original Song Oscars. More importantly, it made the industry reconsider animation. If Beauty and the Beast could be nominated, then it was well possible that there was more animation had to offer. 

With this, Beauty and the Beast became the original reason for the incorporation of the Oscars categories for Best Animated Film and Best Animated Short.

Disney, whether you are a fan of it or not, has been a guiding force in terms of technological advances as well as a guiding force in terms of the cultural impact of animation on the world. Many of their techniques were cutting edge, made to stay always ahead of the creative curve, and the impact that the company had on swarthes of artists throughout generations is undeniable.

Love them or hate them, Disney will always be here. At the very least in the form of the impact, they have made on the industry.

A writer located in the lush Redwood forests of Northern California who loves animation and food.

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