If your child is a fan of Disney, it's likely partly due to the works released in the 1990s, an era known as the Disney Renaissance. This brief decade saw a revitalized zest shot into the Disney studio, the likes of which hadn't been seen since the death of Walt Disney in the 1960s. A lot of the success was due to two men: Directors Ron Clements and John Musker.
Ron Clements was an Iowa kid, who first made a name for himself animating at Hanna-Barbera. After a few months of Flintstones and Jetsons, the talented Clements was accepted into a training workshop run by the Disney Talent Development Program. He was fortunate to find that he could study under the direction of the very best, while he was there: One of the original Disney animators known as one of the 'Nine Old Men' was Frank Thomas. Clements worked as a character animator on the (1977) Rescuers, after he apprenticed under Thomas for a couple of years. Rising through the ranks, Clements eventually became the supervising animator on The Fox and the Hound, which is where he met John Musker, a freshly hired face in the character animation department.
Musker and Clements first teamed up as story artists for the ambitious but flawed The Black Cauldron, which released in 1985 to middling box-office numbers and lukewarm reviews. The Great Mouse Detective became their opportunity to direct, when they were made part of a team of four to head up the film. That film was more of a success, with a revitalized energy that hadn't been seen in Disney films since the 1960s, and featured the the first attempts to play around with the new CAPS computer animation system invented by Pixar.
But Clements and Musker's really big break came in the late 1980s, when they wrote out an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. The lyricist Howard Ashman suggested that they turn the film into a Broadway-style musical while the duo were working on story-boarding ideas. That was a major pivotal moment: Disney resumed its position at the forefront of American Animation after the film was a huge success. The period of the 1990s would be known as the Disney Renaissance, and much of its success was due to the mermaid story that these two men made work.
Fresh off the success of The Little Mermaid, and with Beauty and the Beast getting nominated for Academy Awards, Clements and Musker wrote and directed 1992's Aladdin, an even bigger success. Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island was planned to be set in space, and this was to be their next project; in order to get it produced, the two took over directing duties for 1997's Hercules.
Treasure Planet, released in 2002, came after the magic of the Renaissance had faded and Disney was struggling again. While it was generally well-liked by critics, it was a complete commercial failure, and shortly thereafter Disney decided to close down their traditional animation department. But all was not lost; a brand new traditionally-animated feature film was commissioned when Disney acquired Pixar and John Lasseter became head of the animation department: The Princess and the Frog. Falling back on old Disney talent, he had Musker and Clements direct it, in order to re-create that old Disney magic of previous decades.
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