'90s Kids Films

The '90s Kids Films That Defined A Decade: The Disney Renaissance & More

By: Domonique Salberg

The Disney Renaissance

The word wonder can be used to define just about every top 90s kid movie. In large, because the era is graced with several works from the leading children movies studio, Disney, as well as during a powerhouse time for the studio: Disney Renaissance. The renaissance period is notable for making adaptations of well-known stories, similar to what the conglomerate did in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

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Therefore, their Animated features dominated the box office and reached critical acclaim and success. These included Beauty and The Beast (1991)—the first and only animated film to win the Best Picture Oscar; Aladdin (1992), which won two Oscars for their music and specifically “A Whole New World.” Then The Lion King (1994) with two more Oscars, and ending the decade with another Oscar win for Tarzans (1998) beloved song “You’ll Be in My Heart.” These four performed the best during the decade and will forever be known as a golden time for Disney. Also, although not technically a 90s film, The Little Mermaid (1989) is what started the resurgence of the Disney Renaissance.

The Lion King (1994)

A Brief(ish) History of… The Disney Renaissance | The Opinion Arcade

These are the stories that have helped define a decade for audiences and the massively successful company. Becoming a signature of their brand, the princesses and princes, the romance, adventure, magic, humor, and the unforgettable whimsical music all began shaping the themes that were expected and adored most from fans. Disney created an era that touched the hearts of children and families universally, leaving an imprint on many. Their legendary songs and characters are still remembered like the 90s were just yesterday, speaking volumes to how culturally and aesthetically significant the animated features were then and still are.

Though, the Disney company is not the only significant impact on the 90s era; Robin Williams‘ impact is just as defining. He lent his voice to animated features for Aladdin’s Genie and Ferngully (1992) and acted in several memorable roles. His most notable works were Jumanji (1995), Hook (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Jack (1996) and Flubber (1997). He gave us a non-stop adventure in the thrilling Jumanji, starred in a rendition of the loved Peter Pan story Hook, a wacky professor in Flubber, a child with a rapidly aging body in Jack, and an unforgettable nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire.

Jumanji (1995)

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How Robin Williams Changed Animation

However, the role that allowed Robin Williams to leave his mark on the 90s and contribute to defining a decade in the film was the Genie in Aladdin. His ever-impressive role and work he did on the Disney film was not only a masterclass on comedy but proof that a single voice can truly bring a character to life. No amount of sequels, prequels, or live-action remakes is going to replace the work Robin Williams did in the Arabian-inspired tale. Not only that, but the performance proved the immense talent needed to be an enchanting and effective voice actor with their only tool being sound and created a high standard within the profession. Robin understood this more than most, and it showed.

Additionally, before Aladdin came out, Robin was already a star, so it was uncommon for someone of his caliber to do animated features and was commonplace for lesser-known talents. As a result, Robin would be the guy to change the entire animation industry by lending his skills to the feature but also his contribution to the genie character. He used the script as a reference point and improvised his jokes into the perfection that would become the final dialogue for the character. Ultimately, the Genie became Robin. Specifically, the part of him that is the stand-up comedian with the talent to turn into anything and anyone. It was estimated that Williams improvised 52 characters, for which all were unforgettable that made it to the final cut.

Cult Classics and Charismatic Protagonist

The celebrity impressions were Robin’s idea and not apart of the original script, and became a crucial element of Genie’s character. Robin could give the character a variation of tones, articulation, and moods in a way very few people are even close to capable of doing. Consequently, Robin’s brilliantly entertaining contribution created a distinguishable contrast with his sophisticated joke delivery system amid the candy-colored kid movie. One critic described it as Genie inventing “the one-for-the-kids/one-for-the-adults joke formula that has become the contemporary blueprint for just about every Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, you name it.”

The Little Rascals (1994)

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Just like that, the zippy and inventive Genie left an impression on many little hearts and their families, defining an exceptional time in storytelling. Although Disney and Robin Williams steered the ship, other 90s gems expressed the time’s sentiments in their separate ways.

As with the extremely curious, unique, and intelligent girl in the Danny DeVito-directed version of Matilda (1996). It is odd, charming, with gleeful nastiness that preserves the author’s darkly comic tone to capture the book’s spirit successfully. Other kid protagonists that were at the forefront of the decade were found in the massively popular Home Alone (1990) regarded as one of the best Christmas films ever made, The Parent Trap (1998), The Sandlot(1993), and The Little Rascals (1994).

The Parent Trap (1998)

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What these films have in common are not just their charismatic child leads, but that they are the non-animation cult classics among millennials. It is hard to find a person born in the 90s that did not see and enjoy these features. The amount of mischievous fun, generous, and authentic interactions on-screen among the child actors, is imprinted within every frame and remembered with fondness.

The 90s was a time with little to no politically charged agendas about race or gender and overly sensitive viewers—it was to put it simply, a genuine era for storytelling. Movies got to be movies and were controlled by the artist rather than motivated to promote a specific political stance. Non-creative’s should never make creative decisions, and the 90s era knew this, ultimately releasing a large number of magical cinematic experiences. Furthermore, the last of the bunch is the Halloween classics, Hocus Pocus (1993), and Halloweentown (1998) bringing us scares and kooky characters, and Double Double Toil and Trouble (1993) starring the adorable Olsen twins.

Hocus Pocus (1993)

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Or the anthropomorphic toys Woody and Buzz Lightyear in Pixar’s Toy Story (1995). Through their world, we were introduced to the technical innovations of 3D animation, and a witty and thematically sophisticated screenplay. To this day, it is considered one of the best-animated films ever made. To end the list of childhood-wonder that defined the 90s: A Bug’s Life (1998), George of The Jungle (1997), Space Jam (1996), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Now and Then (1991), Beethoven (1992), Free Willy (1993), 3 Ninjas (1992), and the touching Homeward Bound (1993).

So while the times before the 90s enjoyed the more refined and timeless nature of Golden Age Hollywood, the 90s kids were given cinematic achievements engrossed in magic and dominated by familiar but beautifully made anew fairy tales. These high-quality films breathed magic into the decade and were released during the generations formidable years and, later, pubescence making their impact everlasting.

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Warner Bros. 

TriStar Pictures

Twentieth Century Fox


Home Alone (1990)

Jumanji (1995)

Double Double Toil and Trouble (1993)

Matilda (1996)

Hocus Pocus (1993)

Halloweentown (1998)

Homeward Bound (1993)

The Parent Trap (1998)

Aladdin (1992)

The Lion King (1994)

Beauty and The Beast (1991)

A Bug’s Life (1998)

Toy Story (1995)

George of The Jungle (1997)

Space Jam (1996)

FernGully (1992)

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Flubber (1997)

The Sandlot (1993)

Beethoven (1992)

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Little Rascals (1994)

Now and Then (1991)

Free Willy (1993)

3 Ninjas (1992)

Jack (1996)

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