Everyone has fond memories of animated movies from their childhood, and while today’s teenage generation grew up on CG classics like Toy Story and Shrek, anyone who came of age in the '80s and '90s will remember eagerly anticipating the next mega-budget traditional theatrical cartoon. Thanks to Disney’s run of incredibly successful animated musicals in the early '90s, though, there was suddenly a giant glut of new animated product flooding into the theaters, and a lot of them were really, really, really shitty. Colossally shitty. Childhood-ruiningly shitty. For animation nerds who watch this stuff as adults, it’s even worse with the chilling clarity of age, making it possible to see just how shockingly half-assed some of these movies were.
Here’s a list of the 10 worst offenders; to keep it simple (and to keep the list from having 300 items on it) we’re ignoring direct-to-video product and the entire catalog of Ralph Bakshi, whose filmography would easily take up 15 or 20 spots on its own.
10) Treasure Planet
Back in the late '90s, when it was becoming clear that traditional animation was on the way out and CG would be replacing it at the box office in the near future, a bunch of longtime Disney animators, directors and producers panicked and came up with this, a sci-fi version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s played-out adventure novel, Treasure Island. The idea was that they would blend classic two-dimensional characters with shiny new 3D effects, and so the audience would be quietly lulled back into being impressed by hand-drawn animation because accompanying it on screen would also be some kind of 3D spaceship or something. The film was essentially born entirely out of desperation to save their jobs, so it’s no wonder the movie reeks of a pathetic attempt to connect with a mainstream audience while still using an outdated technique to impress them.
Instead of actually making a good movie, however, they just took the generic Treasure Island characters, gave them slightly spunkier personalities (Jim Hawkins flies around on a totally extreme space-snowboard-glider thing, as though the movie itself is pleading “You like that kind of thing, right kids?! RIGHT?! OH GOD PLEASE”), set the whole thing in space, gave Long John Silver a cybernetic transforming robot laser-arm and also included not one but two annoying sidekicks, including a wacky broken robot voiced by the nigh-intolerable Martin Short. The story is incredibly generic and predictable, and as it turns out, nobody wanted to see another version of Treasure Island anyway; this catastrophic misfire cost Disney $180 million and only managed to pull in about $100 million worldwide, making it the studio’s biggest flop ever. It kind of deserved to fail.
9) Bebe’s Kids
Bebe’s Kids is based around the comedy stylings of the late Robin Harris, who wrote this movie but was lucky enough to have died two years before it came out, sparing himself the pain of actually having to see what he’d wrought. Blisteringly unfunny, poorly animated and saddled with a weak premise, the film follows the ever-suffering Robin as he deals with a trio of hell-raising hip hop kids for a day at Fun World in order to impress their mother, who he’s trying to date. If you remember what mainstream rap culture was like in the early '90s—lots of neon colors, Yo! MTV Raps, parachute pants, those tee-shirts with Bugs Bunny and the Tazmanian Devil wearing gangsta outfits—then you’ve got a great idea of what this movie is like. It’s garish, has a few too many embarrassing musical numbers, and relies heavily on the fact that the baby character is voiced by Tone Loc (get it? He’s a baby, but he has a really deep voice! Comedy gold!) for a good chunk of its supposed laughs. Nearly forgotten by time, Bebe’s Kids also spawned an equally terrible Super Nintendo game, which to this day is still laughed at by nostalgia-hungry Nintendo nerds.
8) Eight Crazy Nights
What’s unfunnier than a shitty Adam Sandler comedy? An animated shitty Adam Sandler comedy! Here’s the premise: Davey—a cartoon version of Sandler—pisses off his community by being a drunken asshole one too many times and, because it’s a Christmas movie, gets sentenced to rehabilitation, aided by an annoying little old man named Whitey and his wife (both voiced at a horrifying and often unintelligible pitch by Sandler). Naturally, the film’s humor relies mostly on poop jokes, boner jokes, and humiliating the old man, often using poop and boner jokes. It’s a musical, too, so not only do you get to hear Sandler’s intolerable Whitey voice throughout the film, in several instances, you get to hear him sing in the intolerable Whitey voice.
This movie has no reason to exist; it is uniformly unfunny, the songs are terrible, and it doesn’t even function very well as an “edgy” holiday special for bored teenagers. It doesn’t appeal to Sandler’s normal audience of oblivious frat boys, either; it has more goopy sentimentality than his comedies normally do, and it’s a cartoon, which I believe qualifies it as “gay” and/or “retarded” in frat boy culture. The odd thing is, originally, Columbia Pictures didn’t want to produce this as an animated film since it would cost an arm and a leg, but Sandler convinced them otherwise, even though there’s nothing in this film that requires animation to depict at all. Except maybe the sequences that feature a group of deer laughing and shitting all over themselves.
7) Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
So it’s the year 2002 and Dreamworks Animation has launched a slate of traditionally animated films out of spite thanks to Jeffrey Katzenberg’s obsession with bringing Disney to its knees. Their first effort, The Prince of Egypt, was pretty good and did pretty well at the box office, but post-Shrek and Toy Story, it was clear that audiences weren’t going to be showing up for traditionally animated films much longer. This was proven by the dismal box office for the studio’s next animated movie, The Road to El Dorado, a mediocre film that is most famous for having the first all-male nude scene in a family cartoon. Dreamworks had two remaining 2D films in the oven—the first of which was Spirit, which is about an untamable horse who talks to himself in the voice of Matt Damon.
It’s a tremendously boring premise, hampered by tremendously boring execution. It’s hard to imagine what demographic they were aiming this thing at—horses, perhaps, and the girls who love them between the ages of 6 and 13. Spirit—whose working title must have been Matt Damon: The Horse, was also produced during a time when it was common knowledge that audiences were sick of cartoon musicals, and so the notion of characters bursting into song and selling millions of soundtrack albums was being phased out in favor of playing appropriately-themed pop songs over montage sequences. It worked well enough for Phil Collins in Disney’s Tarzan movie, but for Spirit, Dreamworks hired Bryan Adams, who promptly composed songs that almost directly described the action on screen rather than being subtle. To wit, the sequence where a bunch of cowboys try to tame the Damon horse and get thrown off his back again and again is set to a song called “Get Off My Back”, wherein the chorus reminds you to get off his back. The rest of the songs in the film do the same thing, and the result is a film that’s not only horribly dull, it’s also embarrassingly awkward.
6) Home on the Range
Home on the Range is, essentially, a death rattle; it is the final film finished by Disney’s traditional animation studio before they shut the doors seemingly forever after years of critically and commercially unsuccessful projects that were quickly eclipsed by modern CG animated films, which audiences were flocking to. A sad story for fans of traditional animated films, to be sure, but after seeing Home on the Range, it’s hard not to see it as a mercy killing.
The film is the story of three cows, voiced by Jennifer Tilly, Judi Dench and Roseanne Barr respectively, who go on an adventure to save their farm from being sold to a ruthless land developer named Alameda Slim. It’s an attempt at zany slapstick comedy, but frankly, the concept of watching a comedy-adventure movie where the lead character is a cow voiced by Roseanne Barr is pretty fucking terrible and it’s a wonder this movie ever made it into production in the first place. It’s a fairly half-assed film, too, with uninspired characters, a surprisingly bland color palette that evokes memories of cheap motels in the Southwest, and featureless, dull art design that suggests the creative team behind this movie weren’t really giving it their all. It looks and feels like a throwaway Saturday morning cartoon with a slightly larger than average budget. They say when you die, you eject the contents of your bowels at the moment of death, meaning you shit your pants on the mortal plane as one final humiliation before your long journey to Hell. If that’s true, Home on the Range is the sad little pile of feces the corpse of the old Disney animation department left behind. It still stinks pretty bad.