The 12 Best Films of Disney’s “Dark Age”

Walt Disney — his name simply says everything about the man, his work, and the entertainment powerhouse he created. He touched all of our childhoods in some way or another, giving us our favorite Disney movies, whether they’re films from the Golden Era of Disney (basically anything from when he was still alive), or something from the Disney renaissance (1989-1999), and chances are if you’re a child of this era, you’ll probably site Tangled (2010) or Frozen (2013) as your favorite. But there’s one particular era that many choose to overlook (for the most part) and that’s the chunk of time between 1968 and 1987 – sometimes referred to as Disney’s “Dark Age” — just after Disney passed away in 1966 and his name stopped appearing in the credits as a producer. This lasted until the famous Disney Renaissance of the late ’80s and ’90s.

The main reason for dubbing the late ’60s, ’70s and ’80s as such was because, during this time, the Disney company was in a bit of trouble. After Uncle Walt died, it was unsure of how to handle things, and when it came to films, it just kind of played it safe for the most part and had the mentality of, “What would Walt want?” It resulted in such films as The Shaggy D.A. (1976), The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975), and of course The Million Dollar Duck (1971), a film that is so apparently bad it was one of only three films that Gene Siskel ever walked out on — the other two being Maniac (1980) and Black Sheep (1996).

Even though the Disney Company had a couple of duds during this time, there are still plenty of films worth mentioning and films that should be held in respect. That’s what I’m here to talk about — in chronological order to be exact. Also, keep in mind that I haven’t seen every single Disney movie of this era, so if I don’t list a film you like, then feel free to share what films you liked in the comments.

1) Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

Oh, how I adore this movie! This was the first attempt from Disney to try to recapture the magic and majesty of Mary Poppins, and while obviously, it’s not as great as Mary Poppins, it does have a lot of charm and a lot of great things in it, like songs by the Sherman Brothers, some magnificent direction from Robert Stevenson, and an absolutely amazing performance from Angela Lansbury. I love this lady! She just seems like the kindest person on the planet and probably gives great hugs. This is a film that is totally worth your time.

2) Robin Hood (1973)

“How many of us were introduced to Robin Hood through the Disney movie? Well I can certainly say I was,” says Doug Walker in his ‘Disneycember’ retrospective. This is a pretty dang good version to get introduced to the classic tale. You’ve got a terrific voice cast including Phil Harris, Andy Devine, and the hilarious Peter Ustinov — elements that make a great adventure film, and the music of Roger Miller. What else do you need?

3) The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

Who doesn’t love Winnie the Pooh? Who doesn’t love the chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff?  While this movie is a compilation of previously released shorts, it’s still a remarkably charming movie that will warm the cockles of anyone’s heart. With an iconic voice cast, some memorable moments and some wonderful stories, I dare someone to say, “Oh, bother” to this movie.

4) The Black Hole (1979)

It’s really obvious that this movie is trying to be like Star Wars and countless other sci-fi films of its time, but this to me has a fantastic atmosphere and had some interesting concepts. I think the huge difference between this and something like Jupiter Ascending is that this movie seems focused on telling a story as oppose to just trying to sound smart. It also features a great cast including Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, and Ernest Borgnine.

5) The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

As the trailer says itself, “This is not a fairy tale.” The mystery, atmosphere, and general sense of unease in this movie is amazing! This is a movie you have to check out to get the full experience. Definitely something to add to your Halloween movie marathon.

6) Popeye (1980)

You could probably count this as a guilty pleasure for me, but I hold no guilt. With a more than perfect performance from Robin Williams, some fairly good direction from Robert Altman (you read that correctly), and music by Harry Nilsson (yes, really), this is an enjoyable goofy movie to me.

7) The Fox and the Hound (1981)

Probably one of Disney’s more mature films of all time. It does start off as this cute little tale of unlikely friends, but it turns into a darker tale. A tale about how nature takes its course, and they become what they were meant to be. It’s got plenty of punches to the gut, but sometimes we need that kind of stuff.

8) Night Crossing (1982)

A really obscure film that is supposedly based on a true story (I can’t find much info about it). I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. It has some nice pacing, some good performances, and some pretty good suspense. Think of it as The Great Escape for the Cold War. Also, John Hurt is in it.

9) Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

This is one of those cult movies that I always heard about but never got around to watching until now, and it’s lived up to the hype. The creepy Halloween-like atmosphere is amazing, and it features a fairly Twilight Zone-like story, two very likable child leads, and a creepy and amazing performance from Jonathan Hyde. Give it a watch this Halloween.

10) Return to Oz (1985)

Proof that a sequel almost 50 years after the first film can work. I just adore this movie, and while it does pay respect to the original, it doesn’t try to copy it. The darker atmosphere is a welcome treat, the world expansion is cool, and the puppets… oh my, the puppets! I’m a sucker for big elaborate puppets like the ones in this movie. It’s a real treat, and I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

11) The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

I’m amazed at how overlooked this movie is, especially given how popular Sherlock Holmes has become in recent years due to the popular BBC show. This Holmes-inspired story is a true treat full of great characters and a wonderful sense of adventure and, of course, the one and only Vincent Price as the eccentric and evil Ratigan. Give this a watch — now!

12) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

I’m kind of unsure as to whether or not I should count this, but it was released through Buena Vista Pictures, which is owned by Disney, so I’m counting it. This is a film that has so much love and dedication to the story, the performances, and the effects that it shows that Robert Zemeckis, his crew, and the actors are amazing at their craft. Who doesn’t love this film? Wait, don’t answer that.

Honorable mentions

The Love Bug (1968) – A charming little film with some good comedic moments, especially from David Tomlinson, but it’s just okay to me.

The Aristocats (1970) – It’s cute, and that’s about it. There are some good musical numbers, and some funny characters (especially Georges and Uncle Waldo), but there isn’t too much else for me.

The Island at the Top of the World (1974) – A competent film that tries to capture the same spirit of classic Disney adventures film or the works of Jules Verne, but it just seemed to missing something. Also, David Hartman is a really boring lead.

Freaky Friday (1976) – While certainly a favorite for a reason and features some good performances from a young Jodie Foster, and from Barbara Harris it didn’t seem to do much with the premise.

Pete’s Dragon (1977) – This would be Disney’s second attempt at trying to capture the magic of Mary Poppins but didn’t quite reach it. Despite the over-the-top tone of the film, I still find it charming and I think it should get a watch.

The Rescuers (1977) – Another film that is basically just cute. It has some good moments but there are moments that are just too “pwecious.” Mainly with the little girl, Penny. Now, the sequel is the horse of a different color.

Tron (1982) – I know I’ll catch flack for this, but this film hasn’t affected me as much as others. Don’t get me wrong — it’s pretty impressive and a fun watch, but when it comes to other Disney films, this isn’t the film I’d rush to see. I do like it, just not as much as others.

Flight of the Navigator (1986) – The mystery surrounding the main kid’s disappearance is amazing but after he gets on the ship it kind of falls flat for me. Like the other honorable mentions it isn’t a bad film but I felt like it could have been better.

Did we miss your favorite film from Disney’s “Dark Age”? Tell us in the comments!

About John Hamilton 41 Articles
John Hamilton is a lover of classic cinema from Southern Ohio and has been since he was a tiny little lad growing up on the farm. He's a fan of every type of film out there, especially Westerns and movies from the '60s and '70s. John is also a blogger and freelance writer.
  • Sarah Stacey

    I’m glad you mentioned Robin Hood! That’s always been one of my favourites.

  • ladystig

    I always liked Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) as a child. I haven’t seen it as an adult though, so I might look on it with different eyes now.