Forgotten Non-Disney Animated Musicals That Deserve More Recognition

Perhaps no movie studio is as identified with the animated movie musical than Disney which has specialized in crafting movies that combine exquisite visuals with graceful music since the 1930s. However, their success, particularly since the 1990s, has tended to overshadow many of the other studios that have also produced animated musical movies, with the result that these projects have been widely ignored or forgotten in subsequent generations in favor of their Disney counterparts.

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Many of these movies, though they have been obscured, nevertheless deserve to be given renewed recognition and appreciation.

Even though Don Bluth’s golden age of productivity was during the 1980s, he made a return in the late 1990s with the movie Anastasia, which sought to make some use of the established Disney princess formula.

As the title suggests, it focuses on the mysterious Russian princess Anastasia (voiced by Meg Ryan in one of her best roles), as she attempts to regain her memory and reunite with her grandmother. It’s a beautifully animated movie with some evocative music and as such is worthy of renewed attention.

Disney was without a doubt the most influential studio during the 1990s, but there were several other studios that were also trying to make a splash, including DreamWorks, which released The Prince of Egypt.

This movie, which is essentially an animated version of The Ten Commandments, is a tour-de-force, with stunning visuals that evoke the majesty and splendor of the epic movies that it is clearly referencing. And, of course, it also includes some remarkable musical numbers, including the duet between Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston that plays over the end credits.

Given the success of The Prince of Egypt, DreamWorks continued to invest in big-budget animated spectacles, and the result was The Road to El Dorado. It not only features a similar style to The Prince of Egypt–somewhat similar to Disney but slightly more angular and stylized–but also brought in the formidable team of Elton John and Tim Rice (who had also done the music for The Lion King) to compose the songs.

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It’s a movie that manages to be both light-hearted and also surprisingly sophisticated in the way that it addresses the conquest of the Americas.

The 1990s produced a number of off-beat (but still great) animated movies, many of which took advantage of the Disney style to address other issues. Foremost among these was FernGully: The Last Rainforest, which used the genre of the animated musical movie to propagate a profoundly environmentalist message.

In addition to having a beautiful aesthetic that’s all its own, it also featured the voices of several well-known figures, including both Robin Williams (as the bat Batty Koda) and Tim Curry (as Hexxus, a pollution being that is the movie’s primary villain).

One of the things that Disney has always done very well is to make use of the template of the princess and the damsel in distress, and so it’s not surprising that other animation studios would attempt to do the same.

The Swan Princess is one of the results of this attempt, and it manages to establish a visual motif all its own (evocative of Disney yet also slightly more grateful and whimsical) while also creating its own musical style. It is based, of course, on the ballet by Tchaikovsky, and it manages to capture a cheerful and optimistic sentiment that is so often key to animation.

Quest for Camelot is another of those unusual animated musical movies that has continued to fly under the radar. It is, as the title suggests, a play on the ever-popular King Arthur mythology, with a group of characters, led by a young woman named Kayley, who set out to rescue Camelot from the schemes of an evil knight named Lord Ruber (voiced by Gary Oldman).

It’s an animated movie that has a light touch when it comes to its material, and the songs, while lacking some of the power of the Disney anthems, nevertheless have their own unique charms.

Even though the 1990s were something of a less successful period for Don Bluth and his studio, one of the better offerings was Thumbelina, which is an adaptation of the famous story by Hans Christien Andersen.

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Though it lacks some of the darkness and sinister grit that were so characteristic of his earlier offerings, the movie does have its own form of magic, thanks in part to the visual wonder of Bluth’s animation and also the beautiful vocal performance of Jodi Benson (most famous for providing the voice for Disney’s Ariel).

While the 1990s was the decade most known for the animated musical movie, the 2010s have seen a resurgence of its success. That includes the movie Rio, which focuses on the character Blu, a Spix’s macaw who unexpectedly finds love with a female of his kind once he returns to South America.

The movie succeeds largely due to the ways in which it manages to combine its vibrant colors, infectious music, and extraordinary vocal performances from the likes of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, and Tracy Morgan.

An American Tail is widely regarded as one of Don Bluth’s best movies, and one of the most heartbreaking. Many might not remember that it also spawned a sequel, in which Fievel and his family travel to the American West.

While it lacks the gravitas of its predecessor, it has a more light-hearted and amusing tone, with a number of catchy songs and the vocal talents of none other than John Cleese as the movie’s foremost feline villain.

In some ways, All Dogs Go To Heaven was the beginning of the end for Don Bluth’s success at the box office, but it’s an animated musical movie that still deserves respect and recognition.

In addition to featuring some very catchy tunes, it’s also notable for being an animated movie that’s unafraid to address mature issues, many of which revolve around the fate of the movie’s main character, Charlie, who is haunted by troubling images of demons and Hell itself.

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