There’s a cultural association with being a 90’s kid, and not all of it is good.
Once we became the trend-setters, we made many questionable choices.
For instance, we have a bizarre interest in the Kardashians. Some of us went hormonally crazed for a painfully bad story about sparkling vampires. One of us brought the Twerk back into vogue. We have a “song” about the Selfie, for crying out loud.
Perhaps one could say that when it was our turn to influence the media, we came in like a wrecking ball (I couldn’t resist).
Yes, yes, we aren’t particularly “cultured” in the traditional sense. But there is one trump card that we do have.
As a 90’s kid and lifelong film buff (who grew up surrounded by movies at every turn), I can proudly proclaim that we were the ones who grew up with the most magical cinematic experience.
While those who precede us by several decades enjoyed the more “refined” and timeless nature of Golden Age Hollywood, we 90’s kids had access to a new era of great cinematic achievement, as well.
But what really breathed magic into our movie-watching experience was an unprecedented standard of films catered largely to our age group, all perfectly timed for release during our formative years and, later, pubescence.
Now, I must clarify that by “90’s kid”, I refer to those who were born during the 1990’s and who spent their youth soaking up the culture of that decade and the 2000’s. Arguably, we can include those born in the late 1980’s, and exclude those who popped out at the very end of the 1990’s (Sorry, guys, but you weren’t alive for most of it).
And once we reflect on the films released between 1990 to 2010, it becomes clear the kind of cinematic wonder that accompanied us during our first chapters of this thing called “life”.
Brace yourself for some nostalgia overload.
The Wonderful World of Disney and Pixar
Kids adore animation. Surprise, surprise.
And until recently, the monopoly on American animation was held by one Walt Disney Company. Of course, Disney has been around since the 1920’s, and classics like Snow White and Cinderella were released during our grandparents’ time. But after decades of relatively unsuccessful films (that no 90’s kid has probably heard of), something magical happened in 1989. Behold, the Disney Renaissance.
For the next 10 years, Disney released its greatest animated musical features, which include The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Mulan (1998) and Tarzan (1999). And all of these films have legendary soundtracks, with musical numbers that most 90’s kids know by heart.
And if you have been keeping track of the dates, you would have noticed that the Disney Renaissance occurred when most 90’s kids were being delivered by storks to our parents, and when we were plonked in front of TV sets to watch Disney animated films on repeat. Stretching back further than our earliest memories would let on, 90’s kids had our earliest imaginations filled with magical worlds of strong female characters, talking animals, and people who regularly broke into unbelievably catchy tunes.
And if we weren’t singing along to Disney, we were squealing at Pixar.
This wonderful animation company with the peculiar lamp released its first animated feature in 1995, a fact that this Pixar fan is immensely proud of, since yours truly was born that very same year. That feature was Toy Story, which changed the entire genre with its ground-breaking computer animation.
From 1995 to 2010 (i.e. the first 15 years of my life), Pixar established its legendary reputation with a stream of universally-acclaimed films, including A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010).
Not only were these famous titles all gorgeously animated, but most of them focused on topics that were extremely relatable and inspirational to growing children; toys that came to life, monsters in the closet, the love of a father, and superheroes. To say that we were touched by Pixar, even at that tender age, would be putting it too mildly.
And as we 90’s kids approached the next milestones of our lives, Pixar continued to be a loyal companion. By the time Toy Story 3 was released in 2010 and Monsters University in 2013, most 90’s kids had outgrown their toys (I had tossed my own Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys in a box somewhere. I’m sorry!) and were heading off to college. Needless to say, the coming-of-age themes explored in these two films spoke directly to us. Why do you think we cried like babies at the end of Toy Story 3?
Such was the childhood of the 90’s kid; a brilliant mix of musical adventures from Disney and the storytelling genius of Pixar.
And it is an experience that succeeding generations have not been able to enjoy at the same level, frequency and intensity. Yes, Frozen is great, but look at what we grew up with!
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Most of us did the same thing when we turned 11; we waited for our Hogwarts letters. No need for me to illustrate how that turned out.
Of course, there are some 90’s kids who – for reasons I cannot fathom – intentionally avoided Harry Potter whenever possible. But for those of us who were enchanted by the literally magical world, J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece was always more than a passing object of our obsession; it was a part of our childhood, a significant aspect of our growing up.
It certainly had to do with the fact that the Harry Potter franchise (not counting the upcoming spin-offs) spanned 14 years, from 1997 to 2011. To put that into perspective, the first Harry Potter novel was published when yours truly was 2 years old, and the last Harry Potter film was released when I was 16. Yes, I went through the whole childhood and puberty thing with that franchise.
Of course, it was all the more appropriate that Harry Potter was primarily set in school, and that the characters aged (on page and on screen) alongside us 90’s kids as well. It is hard to even put into words what growing up with such a thrilling, imaginative and deeply inspiring franchise is like. Let’s move on before I get emotional.
A new age of cinematic achievement
On top of the abundance of superb children-oriented films during our early years, we were also able to access – if our parents allowed it – some of the greatest films in a new era of cinema.
The two highest-grossing films in history, both bearing the signature of King of the World James Cameron, were released during our youth. Jack and Rose’s ill-fated romance drowned with the Titanic in 1997. It became the highest-grossing film of its time with $1.8 billion (later earning $2.1 billion with a 2012 re-release), and currently holds the record for the most Academy Awards won by a single film.
Yes, we were too young to understand why our 80’s counterparts were losing their minds over DiCaprio, or why Rose wanted Jack to draw her like one of his French girls. But we knew that no romance film that followed was able to match the cinematic beauty that was the Titanic, and that no other soundtrack was as recognisable as this masterpiece.
Then in 2009, Cameron made cinematic history again, displacing Titanic from its top-spot with Avatar. And this time, the 90’s kids were old enough to appreciate the unprecedented technical achievement and wonder of Pandora. Avatar became the first film in history to cross the $2 billion mark, and remains the highest-grossing film with a whopping $2.78 billion at the box office.
Oscars and box office records aside, the youth of the 90’s kid was marked with the release of some of the greatest franchises in history. Peter Jackson took us to Middle-earth with his fantasy masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, from 2001 to 2003. The philosophical genius of The Matrix was released in 1999 and 2003 (let’s forget the third film existed). We were whooshed to a galaxy far, far away in the Star Wars prequel trilogy from 1999 to 2005 (we hadn’t yet seen the original trilogy, so we couldn’t complain about this one the way hardcore fans do).
And as we got old enough to recognise that vigilantes were more than just spandex-covered superhumans, we were inspired by the two greatest superhero films of all time; Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008).
You see, it is hard not to brag when we grew up surrounded by such cinematic achievements. But the childhood of the 90’s kid is more than just a collection of some of the greatest films ever made; it is the appropriate timing of many of these films that allowed them to impact us at precisely the right moments of our youth.
Yes, yes, we aren’t the most cultured age group with all our Twerks and Selfies and wrecking balls. But when it comes to movies, believe you me, we know our stuff.