Childhood movies become fuzzier as you get older. Sometimes all that’s left is a snippet of a long-forgotten catchy tune or a specific animated scene that lives in the depths of your brain. You’ll often wonder, “Where is that from?” just to realize that the mouse family on a train was an obscure film you saw as a youngster.
Many remember the golden years of Disney animation in the ’90s, with world-renowned classics like The Lion King and Aladdin. They are a large part of pop culture thanks to Disneyland and Disney streaming services that bring these movies to each new generation of children. However, many don’t remember the hazy collection of animated kid’s films from the ’90s that are home to some of the most imaginative premises that helped shape a generation.
‘Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland’ (1989)
Little Nemo gets lost in his dreams at night, transported to worlds he has seen parts of in his real life. One night, he dreams about a man he saw at a circus, Professor Genius, and is tasked with being the playmate of the princess of another realm. He agrees and is taken to Slumberland, a land of beauty and chaos, where he soon meets the wicked Nightmare King.
Based on the comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, this animated musical fantasy film is wondrous in every way. Much like how children sometimes can’t differentiate between their dreams and reality, it weaves dreams and nightmares together, creating a vivid, whimsical world of frolic and folly. The Academy Award-winning Sherman brothers also penned the soundtrack.
In one of the most ambitious crossovers in ’90s animation, Rock-A-Doodle based a rooster character on Elvis Presley and created a one-of-a-kind rockabilly phantasmagoria. While many critics panned the movie, children and families enjoyed the bright animation and the humorous dialogue.
The movie tells the story of a rooster named Chanticleer, who crows every morning to help the sun rise on his farm. He has bigger dreams and leaves to become a rock star after being tricked by the Grand Duke of Owls. Without Chanticleer crowing each morning, the land becomes plagued with non-stop rain and flooding. It is up to Chanticleer and a young human boy to bring back the sun.
‘The Pebble and the Penguin’ (1995)
The Pebble and the Penguin is a heart-warming story about penguin love. It is based on penguins’ real-life mating rituals, in which they search for the best-looking pebbles to carry to their partners as a gift and acknowledgment of their relationship. It is a fun and fantastically animated movie that puts forth lovely themes of altruism and friendship.
The film focuses on the shy, stuttering Hubie, a penguin who wants to impress the beautiful Marina. He takes on the adventure of a lifetime when he decides to give her a pebble that fell from the sky. He and his friends must keep her away from the evil Drake, who wants Marina for himself.
Like many other animated movies adapted from books, Thumbelina was based on the classic fairy tale story by Hans Christian Andersen. Thumbelina tells the story of a girl born inside a flower and is only two inches tall. She fears she is doomed to a life of loneliness and will never find someone her size to love. She happens to catch the eye of Prince Cornelius of the Fairies, though, but before they can fall in love, she is kidnapped by Ms. Toad.
The movie was a favorite among young kids of the 90s, with its beautiful animation and touching story about everything whimsical — fairies, princes, and talking animals. Thumbelina reminded many young girls of Barbie, and there were plenty of toys that accompanied its release.
‘The Swan Princess’ (1994)
The Swan Princess is based on the classic ballet Swan Lake. Unfortunately, the movie was up against a re-release of The Lion King in theaters and bombed at the box office. Despite this, The Swan Princess gained success through home video releases and spawned many sequels and spin-offs.
The beautiful princess, Odette, falls in love with the handsome prince Derek in the movie. An exiled dark magician conjures up a spell to turn her into a swan, though, and keep her all to himself. The prince and princess are helped by charming creatures during their journey of releasing Odette from the binding spell.
Antz was the first film from Dreamworks Animation, and only the third feature-length computer-animated film in history, after Toy Story and Cassiopeia. The movie shares many similarities to one of Pixar’s best, A Bug’s Life, which resulted in a public feud between Dreamworks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Pixar’s John Lasseter.
Despite production chaos, the movie was released with a triumphant box office reception. Many critics praised its humor and animation style — where many of the bug characters resemble their voice actors. The movie follows Z, a worker ant with dreams outside his communal ant colony. While striving to gain his individuality, he falls in love with the ant princess, Bala, and must save his colony from collapse.
‘The Princess and the Goblin’ (1991)
The Princess and the Goblin contains every fantasy trope a child could dream of: a beautiful and brave princess, a courageous peasant boy turned hero and wicked goblins. In the movie, a peaceful kingdom becomes devoured by menacing goblins. A princess and a fearless boy must rescue the noble king from them, using only their gift of song and a magical, shimmering thread.
The movie is based on a novel of the same name and is one of the most charming animated movies of the 90s. The film is also home to one of the most memorable tunes you’ll never get out of your head. When strolling through the foreboding forest at night, Curdie sings the song, “Spark Inside Us,” which probably still haunts you to this day if you heard it as a kid.
‘A Troll in Central Park’ (1994)
While A Troll in Central Park is vaguely remembered by many, the film was a massive box-office failure and is regarded as Don Bluth‘s worst film. Bluth was the director of various childhood favorites like The Land Before Time, The Secret of NIMH, and Anastasia, so it wasn’t his talents that failed to show up.
Despite the movie being panned, it still holds a level of charm that maybe only children can understand. The troll, Stanley, has a magical talent for growing greenery. He ends up in Central Park when he is banished from his kingdom and is befriended by two children who help him adjust to his new surroundings.
‘An American Tail: Fievel Goes West’ (1991)
An American Tail: Fievel Goes West is a sequel to 1986’s An American Tail, done by Steven Spielberg‘s short-lived studio, Amblimation. It was the only Amblimation film that used cel animation and was the last of its kind ever to be released in theaters.
It found massive success in home video releases and became a phenomenon among children. It has made numerous best-of lists and is an essential film about Jewish immigrants. In the movie, the Mousekewitz family finds themselves still having trouble with cats hunting them. They decide to move to a new place out west, where they are promised a life of peace.
‘Once Upon a Forest’ (1993)
In this Hanna-Barbera production, a toxic spill from a construction site threatens the life of a badger. Three woodland creatures set out to save their friend and brave a harrowing journey to find a cure. The three animals race against time as the humans loom closer and present a larger danger to their friends and family.
The movie was a hit because of its vivid animation style, adorable anthropomorphic animals, and its important message about the environment and human destruction of the earth. The animals go by “Furlings” to appeal to children, and the movie stands as an underrated classic for many people who grew up in the 90s.
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