The Case of Non-Disney Animated Classics


Hey Cassettes! For a long time it seemed that Disney was the only studio with the ability to make a quality animated film. But, as time went on, more studios began stepping up with their own animated features with beautiful visuals and lovable, complex characters.

This week we took a look at our favorite examples of classically animated (hand-drawn/2D) non-Disney films by counting down our top 10 favorites. To make it easier on ourselves, we decided to exclude Studio Ghibli from the list. Don’t worry, we WILL do a Studio Ghibli episode in the future.

10. The Brave Little Toaster (1987)

  • We know what you’re thinking: The Brave Little Toaster? That’s Disney, right? Well, not really..
    • The Brave Little Toaster was distributed by Walt Disney pictures, but it was produced by a studio named Hyperion Pictures. Walt Disney Studios secured the rights to the story in the early 1980s.
    • John Lasseter and Glen Keane pitched the movie to Disney as a CGI project and Disney declined. They felt that the studio should only use computers if it was cheaper or faster. Lasseter was then fired and the project was sent to Hyperion Pictures.
    • It was financed as an independent production, with Disney only giving them enough money to get it off the ground. So, we do not consider this a Disney Animated film. Disney was not the production company but they did own the title later and wasn’t even the original distributor of the film. 
    • According to IMDB, the film had a tough time finding a distributor before Disney gave it a VHS release in 1991; Before that it went to independent distributors before airing on the Disney Channel. It’s time on the Disney channel is probably what gave it the exposure it needed to become a popular film. 
  • The Brave Little Toaster was based on a novel by Thomas M Disch and it was directed by Jerry Rees
    • The story follows a group of appliances left behind at a summer home that has just been sold. They then go on an adventure to find their “master,” the original 8-year-old owner 
    • Many of the animators that started PIXAR worked on this movie and some people consider it to be a prototype of a PIXAR movie, but without CGI. Even the famous A113 easter egg in many of Pixar’s films can be found in this movie! 
      • Donald Kushner thought that the nightmare scene and the scene in the junkyard should be cut from the movie because of scary images and the suggestion of suicide. The scenes stayed in the movie
    • David Newman wrote the score for the film with songs and lyrics by Van Dyke Parks
    • Actors: 
      • Jon Lovitz as the radio
      • Timothy Stack as Lampy 
      • Timothy E Day as Blanky 
      • Thurl Ravenscroft as Kirby 
      • Deanna Oliver as Toaster
      • Phil Hartman as Air Conditioner 

9. Balto (1995)

  • Balto was directed by Simon Wells, produced by Amblimation, and distributed by Universal Pictures. 
  • It is loosely based on the a true story.  In 1925 a serum needed to be taken to Nome, Alaska, due to many people becoming sick with Diphtheria. Balto led the final sled team to the village in order to save the people.
  • Amblimation made only three animated features and this was their final one. Although it wasovershadowed by Pixar’s Toy Story, its sales on home video led to two direct-to-video sequels: Balto II: Wolf Quest (2002) and Balto III: Wings of Change (2005).
  • It earned over $11 million at the domestic box office.
  • Starring:
    • Kevin Bacon as Balto 
    • Bob Hoskins as Boris
    • Bridget Fonda as Jenna
    • Jim Cummings as Steele
    • Phil Collins as Muk and Luk

Historical differences

  • The film portrays Balto as a mix between a wolf and a dog. In realty Balto was a purebred Siberian Husky.  So really, he looked much more like the film’s villain, Steele. 
  • The sled run to retrieve the medicine was a relay. Instead of being the leader of the first and only team as the movie suggests, Balto was the leader of the 20th and last team to carry the medicine to Nome.
  • In the film, the only residents who fall ill are 18 children. In reality, many more people (adults included) were infected. 
  • In the sequels, Balto became a father with Jenna and they had a litter of puppies who grew up and moved on with their lives. But, Balto was actually neutered at 3 months. A shame, considering he must’ve had good genes!
  • In the sequels, Balto built a life with his family and friends in Nome. In realty, Balto and his team were put in the Brookside Zoo (now the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo) in 1927 where they stayed until their deaths. Balto died on March 14, 1933 at the age of 14.

8. An American Tail (1986)

  • An American Tail is a 1986 American animated musical adventure film directed by Don Bluth and produced by Bluth Inc. and Amblin Entertainment. 
  • Originally, it was meant to be an exclusively all-animal world, but Bluth decided he wanted an animal world that was hidden within the human world, thus having the backdrop of a human world. After seeing The Rescuers, Spielberg agreed this would be a wise decision.
  • It tells the story of Fievel Mousekewitz and his family as they leave Ukraine in search of a cat free life in the United States of America.
  • Its release was on November 21, 1986, to reviews that varied from positive to mixed.
  • It was a hit, making it the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film at the time. It grossed up to $47 million domestically, and $84 million worldwide. The success of American Tail and The Land Before Time prompted Steven Spielberg to establish his own studio, Amblimation.
  • “Somewhere Out There” won four awards; ASCAP Award, BMI Film & TV Award, and two Grammys for Best song written for a motion picture and Song of the Year.


  • Phillip Glasser as Fievel Mousekewitz
  • Erica Yohn as Mama Mousekewitz
  • Nehemiah Persoff as Papa Mousekewitz
  • Amy Green as Tanya Mousekewitz
  • Christopher Plummer asHenri
  • John Finnegan as Warren T. Rat
  • Will Ryan as Digit
  • Hal Smith as Moe
  • Pat Musick as Tony Toponi
  • Cathianne Blore as Bridget
  • Neil Ross as Honest John
  • Madeline Kahn as Gussie Mausheimer
  • Dom DeLuise as Tiger

7. The Secret of Kells (2009)

  • The plot centers on Brendan, a young boy living in the Abbey of Kells under the care of his stern uncle, Abbot Cellach. Determined to protect his people, Abbot Cellach believes all man-power should be focused on building a wall to keep out the Vikings. Brendan is an apprentice in the scriptorium of the monastery, and becomes friends with Brother Aidan, creator of the Book of Iona. Together they create “the book that turns darkness into light” (the unfinished Book of Kells).
  • The story is based on the origin of the Book of Kells, a beautiful and intricate manuscript, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament. Today, it is located in Dublin, Ireland.
  • The movie draws from Celtic mythology and art styles, including its inclusion of Crom Cruach and fairies. 
  • The Secret of Kells began development in 1999, and was inspired by The Thief and the Cobbler, Mulan, Gustav Klimt’s paintings, and the works of Hayao Miyazaki, each based their visual style on the respective traditional art of the cultures of each film. They wanted to do this with Irish art styles and culture. 


  • Evan McGuire as Brendan
  • Brendan Gleeson as Abbot Cellach
  • Christen Mooney as Aisling
  • Mick Lally as Brother Aidan

6. The Iron Giant (1999)

  • Directed by Brad Bird, this film is about a Giant robot that lands from outer space and a young boy named Hogarth Hughes, who befriends him.  When the government finds out about the Robot, Agent Kent Mansley decides he must be destroyed at all costs.
  • Ted Hughes published a novel in 1968 called The Iron Man, of which the movie took inspiration, but is pretty different.  He had written the novel to console his children after the death of their mother Sylvia Plath.  
    • The movie was renamed to not be confused with the superhero Iron Man.
    • The book is about an Iron Man that is causing destruction on Earth and must be taken out but has not been able to be tied down or destroyed.  In a sweet twist it is the Iron Man who saves the planet from a terrible monster threat that has come from outer space.
    • Although he passed away before the movie was made he had this to say about the screenplay “I want to tell you how much I like what Brad Bird has done … He’s made a terrific dramatic situation out of the way he’s developed The Iron Giant. I can’t stop thinking about it.”
      • To honor Ted Hughes, the characters Annie and Hogarth have the last name of Hughes.
  • At a comic-con in 2016 the Director Brad Bird revealed he had brought in real life tragedy for the film inspiration.  His sister had been killed by her husband with needless gun violence. During the con he said “When you shoot somebody, you’re not just killing that person. You’re killing a part of all the people that love that person.”  Thus his stressed point against weapon violence.
    • When he pitched the idea he said “The idea I pitched to Warner Bros. after reading the book – when I said that I really liked it but I wanted to do something different with it – was I said ‘What if a gun had a soul?’
      • “That kind of stuck with them.”
  • Upon initial release, the movie was a box office flop. But, it later gained popularity on VHS and DVD and through viewings on TV.
  • The style of the art was inspired by Edward Hopper, N.C. Wyeth, and Norman Rockwell.  The town Hogarth is from is even named Rockwell to honor the artist.
  • The Iron Giant only says a total of 53 words
    • Bird was able to sneak in the voices of two of his animator mentors from Disney.  Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston as the train workers that are interviewed.
  • The score was done by Michael Kamen


  •  Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel, Cloris Leachman, Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney, Eli Marienthal, and M. Emmet Walsh

5. The Secret of Nimh (1982)

  • In 1979, Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy and a group of animators left Disney to create an independent animation studio. The story for The Secret of Nimh had been pitched to Disney but they reportedly turned it down saying, “we already have a mouse”
    • Bluth has said that the environment at Disney was toxic, and he tried to bring the heart back into animation. He stated that the company only wanted to focus on making movies cheaply. WHAT A SURPRISE
  • Based on the book: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, the animators started working on the movie before they even had a script. They used the book to draw up the initial story–Don Bluth reportedly designed the characters and story-boarded the movie himself
  • Some of the animators would dress up as the characters and record themselves to help understand how to animate the characters. “Whatever it takes to put it on the screen, that’s our motto” 
    • They wanted the animators to think of themselves as actors, they even had them take an acting class to help with their animation. They were afraid that they would focus on the technical aspect of what they were doing first and feelings second
    • They animated Mrs. Brisby to look fragile, so the audience could see her courage as she faced down terrifying threats in the movie; The tractor, the cat, the owl, the rats 
  • The story follows Mrs. Brisby, a widowed mouse who must find a way to move her ill son from the field before the tractor comes through for the harvest. First she seeks the wisdom of the Great Owl, then she visits the rats of Nimh. She soon discovers that her husband had a connection to the rats that she never knew of
  • NIMH is an acronym for National Institute of Mental Health; the rats were research subjects that had escaped. They only reveal the meaning behind the name once in the movie
  • The movie had to make changes to the story, such as changing the main character’s name from Frisby to Brisby to avoid trademark issues with the toy company 
    • The movie also made Jeremy the crow a much bigger character in the movie than in the book, really emphasizing the comic relief 
    • In the film, Mrs. Brisby is the hero and saves her children herself, even though the rats are the ones that save them in the book 
  • The music was done by Jerry Goldsmith, and this was his first animated movie soundtrack! He introduced the movie to Stephen Spielberg who made An American Tail with Don Bluth later on. He loved the movie so much that he volunteered to work on it for three more weeks to refine the score. 
  • The creators WANTED a PG rating, hoping that older audiences would see the movie. They got a G rating, however, even though this is considered to be one of the most violent animated movies of the 20th century. 
  • “Bluth’s films place plucky, optimistic leads in darkly surreal landscapes where a bunch of trippy stuff happens before the movie reaches its inevitable happy ending.” The AV Club
    • Don Bluth feels it’s important to display uncomfortable emotions on screen for children. 


  • Derek Jacobi as Nicodemis
  • Elizabeth Hartman as Mrs. Brisby
  • Arthur Malet as Mr. Ames
  • Dom Deluise as Jeremy
  • Will Wheaton as Martin
  • Sharon Doherty as Teresa
  • Hermione Badeley as Auntie Shrew
  • John Carradine as The Great Owl

4. The Land Before Time (1988)

  • The Land Before Time is a 1988 animated adventure drama film directed and produced by Don Bluth and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall. 
  • Spielberg wanted to do a film like Bambi, but with dinosaurs. An early working title for the film was The Land Before Time Began. The film was originally pitched to have no dialogue, but the idea was abandoned in order to make it appealing to children.
    • About 10 minutes of footage, comprising a total of 19 fully animated scenes, were cut from the final film, to attain a G rating instead of a PG rating.
  • The film follows Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, and Petrie as they face hardships on their journey to the great valley. The film covers the issues of prejudice between the different species, dealing with loss, and the physical dangers of their prehistoric world.
  • This is the only Don Bluth film of the 1980’s in which Dom DeLuise did not participate (instead, he starred in Disney’s Oliver & Company)It is also the only film in The Land Before Time 14 film series that is not a musical, as well as the only one to be released theatrically worldwide.
  • The Land Before Time grossed $48 million at the US box office and nearly $84 million worldwide.


  • Gabriel Damon as Littlefoot
  • Candace Hutson as Cera
  • Judith Barsi as Ducky
  • Will Ryan as Petrie
  • Helen Shaver as Littlefoot’s mother
  • Burke Byrnes as Cera’s father
  • Bill Erwin as Littlefoot’s grandfather
  • Pat Hingle as Narrator and Rooter

3. Anastasia (1997)

  • The royal Romanovs are destroyed after their scorned adviser Rasputin puts a hex on the family. While trying to escape, young Anastasia disappears. 10 years later, the Dowager Empress offers a reward for Anastasia’s return. Two con men, planning to trick Anastasia’s grandmother, hold auditions and choose an orphan named Anya with a forgotten past and a resemblance to the missing princess. The trio sets off for Paris to collect the reward, not knowing that Anya is the true Grand Duchess Anastasia.
  • Background– Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne but he and his family were still put under house arrest and then later moved to another location to be killed because they feared the White Army would seize the Romanovs and use them for a force against Communism.
  • Actors- John Cusack, Meg Ryan, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, Bernadette Peters, Kirsten Dunst, and Angela Lansbury just to name a few
    • Singers- In this movie the actors that play the voices do not do the singing, there are others that do that.  They did an amazing job of matching up the voices with the singers that if you don’t know this tidbit it is hard to even tell.  These singers included Liz Callaway (She is also known as the voice of The Swan Princess) as the singer for Anastasia, Jim Cummings as the singer for Rasputin, and Jonathan Dokuchitz as the singer for Dmitri.
  •  Origins of the Story
    • There was an actual person that claimed to be the Princess Anastasia.  Anna Anderson claimed to have survived the 1918 slaughter of the Romanov family.  Although there were many others that claimed to have been Anastasia she is the most well known and the best impostor.  After being pulled out of a lake she was put in an asylum where another patient suspected her to be the princess. DNA was found to disprove her being the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II but there are still those that believe in the conspiracy that she truly was the Princess and that the DNA was botched/ things were covered up.
    • Marcelle Maurette was a French Playwright and screenwriter.  She is known for her 1952 play called Anastasia.  
      • This was made into a movie by 20th century fox directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman  in 1956 starring Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner, and Helen Hayes. Music was done by Alfred Newman.
      • And finally again by 20th Century Fox in 1997 with this animated version.  In 2017 there was a Broadway version but because of copyright issues they went through legal issues and ended early this year.
    • The original play
      • It took inspiration from historical events such as Anna Anderson’s story there were plot points that were specific to Marcelle’s story.
      • A suicidal amnesiac asylum patient is pulled into a scheme to inherit the Romanov dynasty and fortune.  She is taught all about the family and how to be a Dowager Princess. The final test and most important test  is to pass her off as the Princess to the Grand Empress. This scene is the most important in Marcelle’s Play and one of the major parts that is cited in the Plagiarism suit against the Broadway Play.

2. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)

  • Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is a 2002 American animated adventure film produced by DreamWorks Animation. The film was directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook and was their directional debuts.
  •  The film follows Spirit, a stallion, who is captured by the United States Cavalry; he is freed by Little Creek who tries to lead him back into his Lakota village. Unlike other animated features, Spirit and the other horses communicate through sounds and body language like real horses.
  • Matt Damon as Spirit
  • James Cromwell as The Colonel
  • Daniel Studi as Little Creek

Spirit was made over four years using a blend of traditional hand-drawn animation and computer animation. The animation was the hardest part of production. James Baxter said, “I literally spent the first few weeks with my door shut, telling everyone, ‘Go away; I’ve got to concentrate.’”

The production team toured western United States to view scenic places they could use as inspiration for film locations. The film locations became based on Glacier, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National Parks. 

The film was released in theaters on May 24, 2002, and earned $122.6 It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, losing to Spirited Away.

1. The Prince of Egypt (1998)

  • In 1994, Walt Disney Studio Chief Jeffrey Katzenberg left the studio. Now, that’s a story for another time in another episode, but let’s just say he didn’t leave on good terms. 
    • Katzenberg, along with Stephen Spielburg and David Geffen formed Dreamworks, a studio intended to create both live-action and animated films
    • The Prince of Egypt was only its second animated release in December 1998, and the studio’s first classically animated film. 
  • Directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, and Simon Wells; Brenda Chapman was also the first woman to co-direct an animated movie from a major studio! Yay Brenda!
    • The Prince of Egypt took four years to make
    • The creators intended to make an animated version of the epic 1956 Ten Commandments, and the movie is based on the book of Exodus in the Bible. Although Katzenberg had pitched the idea to Disney several times, they never went with it. It was Stephen Spielberg who brought it up again and encouraged the project just after the founding of Dreamworks
    • The movie starred Val Kilmer as Moses, and Ralph Fiennes as Ramses 
    • It also featured Sandra Bullock, Michelle Pfiefer, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Helen Mirren, and Patrick Stewart
      • Steve Martin and Martin Short recorded their lines together and sang their own parts in the song, “Playing With the Big Boys Now” as Huy and Hotep. Egyptian high priests 
  • The Prince of Egypt follows the story of Moses, the adopted son of the Pharaoh. After discovering his true identity as a Hebrew, the oppressed people enslaved by the Egyptians, Moses attempts to convince his brother Ramses to set the Hebrew slaves free. When Ramses, his once beloved brother, says no, Moses leads his people out of Egypt. 
  • The Story is based on the book of Exodus, with a few key differences that were made for story purposes; ie Moses murders the slave master in the Bible, he does not kill him by accident 
    • The film-makers consulted almost 600 outside sources in an attempt to make the film as accurate as possible to the source material. All religious scholars that were associated with the film reported that the studio appeared to listen to their ideas
    • To avoid controversy, the voice of God was meant to be done by every person in the cast simultaneously. The creators decided that one voice would need to be more prominent than the others. So, they let Val Kilmer’s voice be the most prominent, but you can still hear the voices of the other actors underneath it
  • The parting of the Red Sea sequence, considered by many to be the most beautiful scene in the film, was four minutes long but it took 10 animators TWO YEARS to complete
  • The soundtrack was done by Hans Zimmer with songs by the one and only Stephen Schwartz! He wrote songs for many Disney productions as well as broadway plays 
  • “Songs in animated features have become very important in terms of both telling the story and giving a style and tone to the movie,” – Stephen Schwartz, the making of The Prince of Egypt

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