The Walt Disney Corporation is perhaps the most recognizable brand in the world. Their success comes mainly from their high-quality animated films, designed to entertain children and their parents equally. Because of this, they have managed to weather the test of time and continue to captivate new generations decades after their first release.
However, this wasn’t always the case. Many films considered Disney classics failed to turn a profit, and some even received a poor reception from critics and audiences. There are several reasons for this, including changing sensibilities, high production costs, or bad timing.
Disney’s second feature was a big step-up from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They adapted the puppet character by Carlo Colodi, who dreamed of becoming a real boy. With the aid of his conscience, Jimmie Cricket, he tries to navigate the world and avoid trouble while learning life lessons about being brave, truthful, and unselfish.
Though many people love this film for its innovative animation techniques and memorable story and characters, it was a disaster upon release. The onset of World War II cut off Disney’s overseas market, and they could only make 1.6 million dollars against a 2.6 million budget. Fortunately, it would sell well on VHS and DVD in the 80s and 90s.
After Snow White made his studio famous, Walt Disney wanted to push his animators and see what they could accomplish. His highest concept film involved merging Disney animation with classical music. The results varied from detailed stories with heroes and villains to abstract shapes that dance in time with the music.
Unfortunately, the cost of installing Fantasound technology, an expensive roadshow distribution, its high concept, and WWII meant that the film barely made back its 2.2 million production costs. This dashed Walt’s dreams of making another film like fantasy, though he would experiment with titles like Make Mine Music and MelodyTime. Thankfully, the power of music transcends generations, and it is now considered one of Walt’s best movies.
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Once the good times returned in the 50s, Disney began work on adapting Lewis Carol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. As young Alice chases after a white rabbit to ask where he’s going, she encounters one strange thing after another, like talking flowers, a dodo leading a caucus race, and a magical Cheshire cat. Each creature is brought to life by one of Disney’s top animators, resulting in a mosaic of different animation styles.
Alice was a major disappointment upon release, making 2.1 million dollars on a 3 million budget. Walt reportedly disowned the movie due to its lack of heart, brought on by his animators trying to one-up each other with their scenes. However, when re-released in the 70s, where it found a new audience in college students and psychedelic fans.
‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959)
The evil fairy, Maleficent, curses the infant princess Aurora to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die on her sixteenth birthday. Three good fairies try to avert the curse by raising her in the woods and altering the curse to place her into deathless sleep. However, Maleficent sends her spies to track down the girl and ensure her curse is fulfilled.
Sleeping Beauty was the company’s most expensive film at the time, costing 6 million dollars. Since it only made back 5.3 million, Disney was forced to switch to Xerox technology to speed up the animation process and cut costs. Thankfully, re-releases would eventually see their money back, and the film would be properly praised for its art style and characters, especially Maleficent.
‘The Black Cauldron’ (1985)
A pig-keeper named Taran is tasked with protecting a pig who can see into the future. He loses her to the Horned King’s minions, who want to use her to find an artifact called the black cauldron. Now Taran must find the cauldron before the Horned King can raise an army of undead.
The Black Cauldron suffered from studio meddling and for being much darker than Disney’s usual stories, so it failed to make back even half of its 44 million dollar budget. It was so bad that The Care Bears movie grossed more domestically. Over the years, it’s gathered a small cult following among fans of 80s fantasy movies for its art style and dark imagery.
‘The Rescuers Down Under’ (1990)
A young boy named Cody rescues a giant golden eagle named Marahute and is shown the eagle’s nest in thanks. On his way home, he is captured by a poacher hunting the eagle. Fortunately, his capture was seen by a mouse, who send a message to the Rescue Aid Society so that they can rescue him.
Although the production cost has never been released, the movie was considered a failure when it made 27.9 million dollars domestically. It came out the same week as Home Alone, so Disney cut their losses and pulled the movie’s advertising. Still, it’s worth checking out for its gorgeous animation, especially during the flying scenes, and a fun villain performance from George C. Scott.
After success on The Little Mermaid and aladdin, John Musker and Ron Clements wanted to work on their passion project. However, they were tasked with making one more commercially viable film before releasing Treasure Planet. They chose an adaptation of the story of Hercules, made mortal by the god of the Underworld, Hades, who must become a true hero to regain his divinity.
The film only grossed 100 million dollars domestically to a budget of 85 million. This was due to how unfocused the film was thanks to combining elements of whatever was popular at the time, including rocky,Superman, and Michael Jordan. Thanks to its gospel-inspired songs and James Wood’s performance as Hades, it has managed to get a fanbase.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
Michael J. Fox plays Milo, an underappreciated scholar who believes in finding the lost city of Atlantis. One day, a friend of his grandfather’s approaches him with a journal containing a map of the lost civilization and a crew to pilot a high-tech submarine. Milo joins the expedition as their Atlantis expert, but no amount of money and knowledge could prepare them for what they find.
Unfortunately, 2001 meant Disney was competing with Shrek and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. They stood no chance at the box office and only made a worldwide gross of 186 million dollars against a 120 million budget. However, the film is fondly remembered for its unique art style, its more mature storytelling, and an amazing cast of side characters.
‘Treasure Planet’ (2002)
When a dying alien lands at the Benbow Inn, Jim Hawkings comes into possession of a map that leads to the hidden treasure of the galaxy’s greatest pirate. A family friend helps to hire a ship and crew to find it, while Jim is made into a cabin boy serving the ship’s cook. Unknown to Jim, Silver and the crew plan to take over the ship and claim the treasure.
To avoid competing with Lilo and Stitchthe film was released in December, which meant it got destroyed by Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Moreover, a poor marketing campaign and the film’s strange balance of sci-fi and Georgian-era attire made the film Disney’s biggest financial loss among their animated films. Yet for those who have seen it, the film is beloved for Jim’s arc and the father-son bond between him and Silver.
‘Meet the Robinsons’ (2006)
Hubert is a child genius trying to find his mother, who left him as a baby. To do this, he builds a machine that can tap into his deepest memories, which he enters into his school’s science fair. Unfortunately, a man in a bowler-hat from the future wants to use Hubert’s invention for his own success, and the only one who can help him is a boy with a time machine.
The film went through many rewrites when Pixar’s John Lasseter took over production, resulting in a 150 million dollar budget. The film made back 169 million but has grown a cult following because of its emotional core and heartfelt ending. It also includes a strong emotional quote linked back to Walt himself.
Next: How to Watch ‘Luck’: Is the Animated Film Streaming or in Theaters?