Five Animated Musicals That Are Not Disney
Disney is not the only company to make showy musicals with the usual seven-standard formula. This formula consists of seven different aspects that make a Disney movie: The original storyline from which the work is adapted, a Princess or a simple male protagonist, a sort of relationship, the villain, the music, the setting and the side characters. When one speaks of a musical animated movie, one thinks of Disney and all the movies that came with it. It just so happened that the nineties and subsequent years gave rise to other musicals which, though lesser known, were movies that might as well have been Disney but are not Disney made. Looking at those movies, it gives a feeling of both the usual Disney enjoyment and surprise that another company could do just as well.
The reason for this is simple. Disney is so widely appreciated for having mastered the art of animated musical storytelling that when others manage to do it, some may be surprised. This does not have to be the case though. Making a successful Disney movie does follow a specific standard and those standards are not hard to meet at all. Once a writer has a story from which to work (The Little Mermaid, for example), it’s easy. Throw in a romantic partner, (Prince Eric, who she wants to join on the human world), a couple of side characters, (like Sebastian and Flounder), spruce up the setting (Atlantica and tour Eric’s kingdom), add a villain and bonus points for a back story (Ursala, who once lived at the palace), add musical numbers (like Sebastian singing about how great life is under the sea) and there’s the typical Disney film. It’s made.
There are many films besides Disney that follow this formula, and they too are well made. After all, Disney may own the rights to the princesses, but the idea of a musical animated film is not exclusively theirs and never was. Many companies, some small and some large, have contributed to the success of musically animated films. There is The Swan Princess by Nest Family Entertainment, Thumbelina by Warner Bros. Animation Studios, Anastasia by Fox Animation, The Prince of Egypt by DreamWorks, and Charlotte’s Web by Hannah-Barbara Productions. All of them were successfully made as animated musicals regardless of the commercial success they enjoyed upon their release.
The Swan Princess
The Swan Princess is a movie by Nest Entertainment. Its original storyline is the ballet called Swan Lake. It follows the meeting and betrothal of the young Prince Derek and his fiancée Princess Odette, a young royal couple engaged to be married in hope of a merger between two great Kingdoms. At first, they do not like this idea, but they slowly fall in love. Derek quests to prove his love to Odette by making a fabled Vow of Everlasting Love. However, this is made complicated by the actions of the evil Lord Rothbart, a sorcerer who recently regained the power Odette’s father took from him. He turns Odette into a swan until she agrees to marry him and give him legitimate kingship over her Kingdom. Making friends with a turtle, a puffin, and a frog, Odette tries to overcome the curse. In the meantime, Derek goes on the hunt for a fabled Great Animal, who he believes kidnapped Odette. This leads him to Odette, and he discovers the spell placed on her. He promises to break the spell on her by declaring his love to the world at a ball, but Odette is stopped and he declares love to a fake princess, resulting in Odette’s death. Derek chases after Rothbart to the lake, where he battles and defeats him, resurrecting Odette and allowing them to live happily ever after.
This movie follows the standard formula perfectly. It features a Princess named Odette, and like any Disney Princess, she has her unique qualities that set her apart from the rest. This Princess is a swan under a spell. Her romantic partner is Prince Derek, who was arranged to marry her and befriends her (or at least tries to) at a young age. It even has lovable side characters in Jonbob the frog (who thinks he’s a Prince), Speed the turtle, and Puffin the- well- puffin. The setting of this sad tale is, of course, Swan Lake and Derek’s Kingdom, and the villain is developed enough in Lord Rothbart who had his powers destroyed by Odette’s father King William and recently regained them and made his move. The movie even has memorable musical numbers, like “No Fear” and “Far Longer than Forever,” which actually plays the part of the duet song Disney is sometimes for.
This is just one movie that has little to do with Disney, yet it could have easily passed as a Disney movie. And The Swan Princess is not the only one either.
Thumbelina is movie by none other than Disney’s best competitor Warner Bros. Animation Studios, and is an adaptation of Thumbelina and Tom Thumb. The movie follows a tiny girl named Thumbelina, voiced by Jodi Benson (who voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid). Thumbelina was born within a flower, meets, and falls in love with the Fairy Prince Cornelius. The movie is centered around their love, but they meet many obstacles along the way. Thumbelina has not only won the heart of the Prince, but of Berkeley the Beetle and a frog named Grundel. Grundel kidnaps her and tries gaining her hand in marriage. Upon crying for help, Jacquimo the swallow bird rescues her, and jitterbugs agree to help her find the Prince. Just then, the beetle kidnaps her and the Prince asks his mother and father to hold off winter while he searches for her. During his search, he is frozen solid in freezing lake, leaving Thumbelina to fend for herself. Thinking him dead, Thumbelina takes refuge with a mouse and a mole, who also loves her. She is about to take him up on his offer when the wedding is crashed by Berkeley Beetle himself a well as Grundel the frog. Cornelius, who was freed by little bugs who befriended Thumbelina earlier, gets involved and defeats the beetle and the frog. They marry and upon the kiss, Thumbelina grows wings and becomes a fairy.
Once again, this movie follows all your typical Disney standards. Like Cinderella and Belle, the main female protagonist becomes a Princess upon her marriage to a Prince. Like all Disney Princesses, she is unique. She is tiny not to mention a fairy and she is the only Princess where the Prince failed in saving her. The romantic relationship is there but it needed to be realized and earned by both characters. Its lovable side characters include the mouse who sang of Thumbelina’s need to Marry the Mole and the mole himself, and her helpers and even Jacque the bird who attempts to help her too. The villains include the Beetle who frequently attempts to kidnap the little girl and the evil frog who frequently tries to force her heart. The setting is more fluid since, like The Black Cauldron, there is no single setting but more of an adventure. Nonetheless, the underground and the Beetle’s party are both memorable enough to remember and the musical numbers are right up there with any other, including your romantic duet “Let me be your Wings” which is truly beautiful.
Belonging to Warner Bros, which is a subdivision of the larger Time Warner, this movie is the opposite of Disney and yet just as good. Ironically, Disney veteran Don Bluth is responsible.
Yet another movie that could’ve been Disney is none other than Anastasia by Fox Animation. It is an adaptation of the Russian tale by the same name by Hans Christen Anderson. This is what actually makes it quite Disney. Disney had previously adapted The Little Mermaid and most recently The Snow Queen, both by Hans Christen Anderson. Anastasia is a movie about a young Princess whose castle is attacked, orchestrated by the villain Rasputin. In the fire, a young servant boy helps her out by means of a secret passageway (however, upon falling unconscious, she has no recollection of the events.) While she was saved, the boy disappeared and the royalty had not seen her since. She became a lost Princess. Ten years pass and rumor spreads of her survival and so a reward is offered by her grandmother. The servant boy by name of Dimitri, who had previously rescued her finds her (though he does not know it’s her at the time) and resolves to get the reward for himself. Rasputin, who is trapped in limbo, hears of her survival and sends demonic spirits after her. They foil the attempt and Rasputin travels back to the surface while Anastasia, under the name of Anya, is given over to her grandmother. Everyone realizes then that she is the real Anastasia, and subsequently, everyone discovers Dimitri’s original plan of faking her. Dimitri makes up for his mistake by presenting a music box Anastasia had lost before leaving. Anastasia is ambushed by Rasputin who she barely manages to defeat once and for all with Dimitri’s help. The two reconcile and marry.
Once again, this could very well have been Disney. Adapted from Anderson’s book of the same name, Anastasia is born a Princess but is the only one to have lost her memory. The loss of memory gives a sense of difference to set her apart from all other Princesses the audience is known to get from animated musical films. The relationship between her and Dimitry is also realized at the end like any other Disney movie and in spite of initial setbacks, they do get together. Anastasia even has musical numbers including your typical villain’s song “Dark of the Night.” The villain himself resides in the Underworld or limbo due to him selling his soul, which has similarity to Dr. Facilier (though Rasputin came first.) And then of course, there is the lovable side character in the Albino bat, and the general setting which is St. Petersburg, Russia.
Could’ve been Disney. In fact, with Thumbelina and Anastasia both directed by Don Bluth, who was a Disney veteran, this is not surprising.
Fern Gully is another movie that could’ve very well been Disney but was produced by Kroyer Films among two others. This movie has no original adaptation to draw from, however, except a concept of fairies living in a forest. It begins with a fairy named Chrysta who is apprenticed by the forests’ guardian Magi, who previously imprisoned an evil spirit named Hexxus. Chrysta believes humans were extinct until she meets one preparing to cut down trees. The human, Zak, is nearly killed by a falling tree when she shrinks him. Meanwhile, Zak’s superiors cut down a tree he marked for cutting. This releases a smog spirit demon named Hexxus who resembles pollution and impurity in an otherwise pure rainforest. A budding romance begins to blossom between Zak and Chrysta while Hexxus plots the destruction of Fern Gully rainforest. Once the rivers and trees begin getting poisoned, Zak’s true intentions are made clear. Mournful of his actions, he resolves to help save the forest by convincing Batty the Bat to help destroy the machine cutting trees down. The motherly fairy Magi gives her life to stop the machine, thus making Chrysta the new matriarch. Chrysta too seemingly sacrifices herself but instead uses magic from inside Hexxus to sprout him into a tree, entrapping him once more. The forest burns but Zak and the fairies accelerate a seed’s growth. Zak, however, must part ways with Chrysta and return to humanity with a promise to remember his adventures, learning not to cut down trees where fairies live.
This is probably one movie that does not have an original work. In fact, the purpose of this movie was not for adapting fairy tales. This movie is about fairies, it is a fairy tale in and of itself. The money this movie made (and it was a success) went as donations to protecting Rainforests. This movie was not made to compete with Disney, it simply exploited the Disney formula successfully and gave to a charitable cause. Chrysta is the closest we have to a Princess, being apprenticed to the guardian of the forest and ultimately taking that place she is by all rights a fairy Princess. The romantic relationship between her and Zak is explicit, they even share a musical duet common with Disney couples and even a villain song sung by Hexxus, who is the villain symbolizing pollution and smoke. Of course, there is also the lovable side characters like Batty and Magi, let alone Pip and the setting which is the rainforest itself.
Fern Gully could very well have been Disney. In fact, it would be quite easy to show someone this movie and believably claim it’s Disney. The music being that of Alan Silvestri, who did the music for Lilo and Stitch is a plus.
The Prince of Egypt
The Prince of Egypt is an adaptation of the Book of Exodus from the Old Testament and produced by none other than Disney competitor DreamWorks. The film tells the story of a Pharaoh of Egypt, who, fearing rebellion amongst the Hebrew slaves, has all baby boys in the Kingdom taken away. Only one boy survived this purge, a boy named Moses who was placed in a basket and went down the river, getting picked up and adopted by none other than the Pharaoh’s wife. He grows older as a sovereign Prince of Egypt alongside his brother Ramses. The two get up to mischief but their lives are generally happy until Moses starts getting troubled by a chance meeting with his sister Miriam (who he does not know is his sister) and is told of his humble origins. He accidentally kills a guard and runs away. He saves two young girls from bandits and befriends their older sister Tzipporah. He is welcomed into her tribe by her father and takes up their new culture quickly. While chasing a stray lamb, he runs into a burning bush that speaks with the voice of God, who instructs him to lead the Hebrew slaves to freedom. Moses and his new wife return to Egypt where he meets with Ramses once again and requests their freedom. Despite his attempts to show off his allegiance with God, Moses is rejected and is forced to send ten plagues onto Egypt. With all the first born who failed to paint the blood of a lamb on their door killed, Ramses relents. Moses leads his people to freedom, escape Ramses’ pursuing army, and settles with the Hebrews o Mount Sinai where he receives and delivers the Ten Commandments.
This movie is a little different than your typical Disney film when comparing it to the Princess films. However, many Disney movies are different to their own films in this manner and this particular film by DreamWorks still manages to hold up to the usual formula. It has its original storyline from the Old Testament, Tzipporah is effectively the Princess (in fact she’s the daughter of her tribe’s leader), she has a relationship with the main character who could fit the role of Disney protagonist if we exclude Tzipporah, there are memorable enough side characters like Moses’ brother Aaron and Jethro himself, a villain in Ramses and very good musical numbers like ‘There Can be Miracles’ and ‘Through Heaven’s Eyes.’
Even though it was made by DreamWorks animation, it alone can hold itself up and light a candle before Disney. And guess who did the music for it? None other than Lion King composer Hans Zimmer.
In fact, all three of these movies have someone related to Disney among the crew. It can be concluded that Disney was almost certainly an influence. The romance in the Swan Princess strikes anyone who is familiar with Disney just how similar the two can be and it does not end with these three films. It is no coincidence that the Sherman Brothers who did the music for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book did the music for Charlotte’s Web too. The Sherman brothers were in fact among Walt Disney’s closest friends. Charlotte’s Web based on the book by the same name may have lacked your usual Princess but it made up for it in a fulfilling protagonist (as most Disney films do) and lovable side characters. With its musicals scores, it is truly an underrated movie in regards to musically animated films. They all are, in fact. Thumbelina is better than it is given credit for and yet it wins a Razzy award for worst musical number.
Perhaps those who watched those movies as well as traditional Disney movies are loyal to Disney. Seeing other studios attempt to emulate them may strike some as pathetic attempts to jump on the bandwagon, perhaps desperate for some attention too. This is how competition works, though, especially in business. It should not strike anyone as a pathetic attempt as much as it should strike them as further proof that Disney is not the only one who can do musically animated films and proudly flaunt them.
With these films among others, it is important to note that Disney cannot and may never be able to dominate. Just look at the non-Disney animated musical Fern Gully to get an idea of what other companies can do. Fern Gully was a movie about a fairy princess meeting a human and trying to protect the forest and the music was superb. When entertainment companies like DreamWorks try to compete, they do well. In fact, DreamWorks competes magnificently with movies like Prince of Egypt not to mention Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon, films that did not need musically animated numbers. Though, Prince of Egypt has a fantastic musical score itself with songs like “There Can be Miracles” and “Through Heaven’s Eyes.” Speaking of DreamWorks, in fact, Shrek is what provoked Disney to focus more on computer and CGI animated films and so far, it has worked and it further proves that other companies still affect the film industry to this day.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Another insightful article. It is good to draw attention to other musicals…as geeky as that sounds! It is never good to be complacent and always refer to a monopoly (Disney), diversity is the spice of life!!
I’m glad you think so. Disney isn’t the only one that make animated musicals and in my youth, I had the advantage of seeing those other films. Of course, I’m still not done with Disney…
I don’t think we are ever done with Disney…it is both our guilty and not so guilty pleasure! But it is always great to be nostalgic about other musicals and excited about the new ones being made
Very true, it’s not too much of a guilty pleasure as much as it is just a timeless classic. Some things transcend time too much to be specified for one audience over another. But I agree completely.
I have a new found love for Prince of Egypt, it’s such a great movie… I think a lot of people who bash Dreamworks (and haven’t seen Prince of Egypt) would completely change their mind about the company if they watched it.
Yeah I agree that Dreamworks would get a better reputation when people watch it. If only they did more movies like this instead of the forgettable junk they create like How To Train Your Dragon and Shark Tale.
I love this article sooo much! Great job! I could tell you put a LOT of work into this ^^
Great article! My favorite are Anastasia and Swan Princess.
The anime movie version from the 70s of “Jack and the Beanstalk” has lots of awesome songs, I would recommend you check out that movie, it’s for sure a twist away from Disney’s regular stuff.
Prince of Egypt is an underrated masterpiece.
The movie I love is The Secret Of NIMH, Anastasia, Balto, Quest For Camelot, The Swan Princess and The Prince Of Egypt
Your article is interesting. There are many non-Disney movies I don’t know and never watched.
I really enjoyed reading your article! It’s very interessing and very well written. I really enjoyed to reading. However, I can’t stand any of the character in Swan Princess, I don’t like the songs and i don’t think the animation is amazing.
Watership Down; one of my favorites from a long time ago.
Prince of Egypt is not just one of my favorite non-Disney movies, It’s one of my favorite animated films of all time. I partially liked the song “All I Ever Wanted” and how it is symbolically exploders the brotherly relationship between Moses and Ramses.
Prince of Egypt is very popular and rightfully so. That’s why I felt obliged to mention it. I lie your favorite, I particularly liked “There Can be Miracles.”
“All I Ever Wanted” also makes me think of the absolutely breathtaking animation during that scene, when Moses is running through the streets at night when that song first begins. The background animation, specifically in terms of perspective, is just to die for.
I haven’t seen many of these, but I really want to see The Prince of Egypt and Thumbelina. I’ll get around to them at some point.
It’s a good article, I’m not a fan of musicals but that’s beside the point.
Ah, Hexxus! Possibly one of the scariest animated villains of all time!
Tim Currey has a great voice.
You know, in a way, you’re right. I never thought of it that way.
I loved many others like Thumbelina, dreamworks movies like Spirit and road to El dorado, Troll of central park, Iron Giant and basicly all movies of Universal studios, these where the movies I kept watching over and over again.
You have really interesting things to say about each movie. lOvely read.
Interesting. Although I watched many Disney Princess movies when I was young, I always liked watching the animated musicals with animals in it. My favourite non-Disney animal film is “All Dogs Go to Heaven 2”.
You so hit the nail on the head with this list. It made me smile looking at this, it took me back and gave me lots of feels and nostalgia.
Your article is quite thorough in describing what each animated musical film is about but I have to disagree with you on the character of Ramses. In “The Prince of Egypt,” Ramses is more of an anti-villain than a traditional villain since the audience is allowed to understand why he ends up committing the actions he commits and that his main motivation is his inferiority complex towards his father which is what shapes him throughout his life, i.e. “I will not be the weak link.” Other than that though, you make an excellent point on how people attribute all animated musicals to Disney all too often, especially the works of Don Bluth even though he formed his own company separate from Disney.
4 Quest for Camelot
5 Land Before time
6 An American tail
7 Swan Princess
8 Sinbad (Yes, from all 2d dreamworks movies, I loved this one the best because of the awesome villain, kick ass female character, fun dog and funny crew.)
9 The big friendly Giant
10 Prince of Egypt
Would’ve loved to mention Land Before Time but it’s been too long since I watched it to give a real framework of the movie.
Quest for Camelot? Why did I not hear about this? Huh, time to find and watch it. Thanks! 😀
I really like this article. All these musicals are up to par with Disney Musicals, yet they are underrated.
I remember just adoring Thumbelina when I was a toddler. I might just have to go dig it up and watch again!
Same here. Thumbelina has a fair score too, I don’t think it deserves the bashing it gets for its music.
Thank you truly for this article! It was definitely a trip down memory-lane. I agree with your tastes in “The Prince of Egypt” and “Anastasia.” It’s so interesting that some of the best non-Disney musicals I watched as a child were also learning tools. I learned so much about the story of Exodus, Egyptian culture (like the Egyptian pantheon when the two high priests have their musical number), and Russian culture from these two movies that I still remember today. I second the recommendation to add “Quest for Camelot” to this list!
Thank you. I guess it’s too late to add Quests of Camelot (plus I’ve never watched it) but now I’d better find it. I was actually quite late to prince of Egypt but it helped me too in the same way it helped you, and Thumbelina was one of my favorite movies growing up.
Absolutely love Anastasia! I remember my surprise when I found out it was a Fox animation and not Disney. Warner Bros. made a lot of great animated musicals too but they’re almost always overlooked in favour of the Disney classics. Great article
Read your article over again and there seems to be a mistake in the part where you talked about “Anastasia” in terms of its story’s origin. “Anastasia” was not a fairy-tale written by Hans Christian Anderson but instead the film was loosely based on the legend of the real-life Russian princess/duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna surviving the execution of her family by the Bolsheviks.
Great article! Although I am a hardcore Disney fan, Anastasia and The Prince of Egypt are dear to my childhood.
Interesting article! People tend to forget these films or confuse them with the Disney brand. I remember watching The Prince of Egypt (fabulous animation! there is a behind the scene on Youtube if anyone is interested), Anastasia and Thumbelina repeatedly when I was little. The designs are remarkable!
I can’t believe you missed South Park Bigger, Longer and Uncut.
Glad to hear these written about! I’m a fan of Don Bluth, and have always thought Prince of Egypt was a diamond in the rough as well.
Though all of these films certainly have the Disney feel to them, it’s interesting to note where the base stories come from – The Swan Princess is based off of a 19th-century ballet, Prince of Egypt is a section of a major religious text, Anastasia is based off of a popular myth surrounding actual, fairly recent historical events and Ferngully is an entirely original story. Tom Thumb’s only one of these that’s a classic folktale in the old Disney musical style (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin). While Disney’s certainly found a niche that works, the fact that it tends to stay within said niche seems to encourage its competitors to branch out, stretching the standard fomula by applying it to the kinds of stories it was not originally designed for. Imo this is the best kind of serendipity.
Thumbelina, not Tom Thumb. Woops.
I loved all these movies, and was quite surprised learning after they weren’t by Disney. I wish these films were more known so Disney doesn’t take all the credit in this genre.
It’s almost a meme now to include Anastasia in the Disney princess line-up just to see how annoyed Disney fans will get, so this article was an interesting read, like an appreciation post for those of us who know these aren’t Disney and hold them up as proud exceptions to Disney’s empire. Juxtaposing various studios’ movies, especially in 2D animation, is always interesting, but I especially loved how you pointed out the film or studio’s connection with Disney. Many people forget that these studios didn’t just pop up to compete against Disney for the fun of it. Wonderful article!
Disney continues to dominate the industry of animated musicals and it’s a shame that great films like these are often forgotten or shunned as they contain equally memorable characters.
These movies often get left out when I think of movies I loved as a child. but seeing them here I remember how much I enjoyed them all, especially Anastasia!
I remember all of these! I recall watching Thumbelina in the car when I was little. Also, Prince of Egypt is stunning. Great list.
Most of these animations not by Disney are not nearly as popular or known as Disney films. I’m actually quite surprised to see that Anastasia isn’t by Disney, because most historically inaccurate films are produced by Disney.
I’m glad you brought attention to these films as some of them are the most beautiful stories with incredible soundtracks. Another one is Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Although it’s not technically a musical, it’s soundtrack uses Bryan Adams, similar to how Phil Collins did Tarzan. Either way, it’s a shame they’re not as well known as some Disney movies.
Thanks for giving Anastasia and The Prince of Egypt some of the attention they deserve. By the way, Anastasia is now a stage musical. What are your thoughts on this adaptation as compared to the existing film?
A good article. Especially in the US, Disney animation is very much synonymous with Western animated musicals. Another animated musical suggestion is Quest for Camelot.
I loved this article! You’ve inspired me to check out FernGully.
Great article. Although personally, even though The Swan Princess is my childhood favorite of these movies, I think The Prince of Egypt is objectively the best of these five in terms of musical score, tone, acting and animation (not to mention an Academy Award nomination for best score). There are so many of these non-Disney animated movie musicals that I enjoy: Road to El Dorado, Quest for Camelot, Cats Don’t Dance, to name a few. I wish more people were aware that Disney, while definitely the best at what they do, doesn’t hold a monopoly on good animated storytelling.
So happy to see this article! While Disney deserves much of the praise it gets, it’s important to remember that it’s not the be-all-end-all of animation or musicals. I’m most familiar with Anastasia on this list; I love that movie because its themes and characters hold up even today. And, the animation is enchanting–I love that they didn’t shy away from a bit of gore with Rasputin, and made Anya a worthy adversary. I’ll have to check out the other ones on this list!
Anastasia is a bit weird in its ahistorical plot: Rasputin would have probably been friendly toward Anastasia in real life, considering that Rasputin was acting (rather successfully) in treating Alexii’s (her brother’s) epilepsy.