Walt Disney Animation Studios have officially released 58 feature films, with the 59th, Raya and the Last Dragon, due for release in 2021. Although considered all set in their own separate little worlds, Disney does enjoy making nods and tributes to their own movies. Like any good Disney fan, we have all noticed these cameos or easter eggs, considering the idea that all the films are set in the same universe.
For a time, there was a growing theory surrounding this idea, spawned from Rapunzel’s cameo in Frozen. This led to the suggestion that Elsa, Anna, and Rapunzel were cousins, with Frozen co-director Chris Buck further stating that Tarzan of all people was Elsa and Anna’s younger brother. However, with the release of Frozen II, such theories have been shot down.
In this fun brainstorm, we will be taking most films in the Disney animated canon and arranging them into a chronological timeline. This will be mostly made up of guesswork, logic, and good old fan theorising.
Not every Disney film will be included in the timeline. The package films – Fantasia, Fantasia 2000, Melody Time, Make Mine Music, and Fun and Fancy Free – won’t be included for simplicity’s sake. Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet are left out, since they are set in a metafictional world. Robin Hood, Chicken Little, and Zootopia are excluded, as they appear to be set in a reality where humans don’t appear to exist.
Kicking things off, we have Dinosaur, Disney’s first independent computer animated feature. The film, like most entries in this list, lacks a concrete date and era. But, we can surmise Dinosaur occurs between 145 to 65 million years ago, in the early Cretaceous period. A supporting character is a brachiosaurus, who is described as the last of her kind. The film also has, according to MatPat, the highest kill count in the Disney canon, featuring a meteorite wiping out a prehistoric Madagascar.
Next is Brother Bear, a highly underrated film. It features Inuits in either Alaska or Canada, living in caves, and interacting with mammoths. According to research, cave paintings, early tools, and men dwelling in caves were first established circa 10,000 BC. The last mammoths are recorded to have gone extinct around 4,000 years ago.
Moana gets slotted in next, set in an age of gods. According to a couple of sources, the film takes place 3,000 years ago, though that’s vague in itself. Academic research on Polynesian culture indicates humans moved from the Pacific to the Polynesian Triangle between 3000-1000 BC.
Now, we come to the biggest headaches in the timeline: Aladdin and Hercules. These two have had a crossover in Hercules: The Animated Series, where a young Herc meets Aladdin as Hades and a ghostly Jafar plot revenge on them. This at least confirms that Hercules takes place after the Aladdin trilogy. However, the animated series may not be considered canon, since in the film, Hades was unaware that Hercules was alive. In the series, Hades interacts with Hercules every episode.
As for their dating, it could be anywhere between 1600-1100 BC. Pre-Islamic Arabia was occupied by kingdoms and tribes until 600 AD. Islam itself became a major religion in the 7th century. Then, there’s the fan theory that Aladdin is actually based in the far future after civilization ended, explaining how the Genie can make pop culture references.
The Dark and Middle Ages
Moving on, we have The Sword in the Stone and The Black Cauldron, which both take place in the Dark Ages. Merlin verbally confirms this, and the Arthurian legends were first told in late 5th century. The Black Cauldron incorporates figures and names from Welsh-Celtic mythology, set in Prydain, which was the Welsh name for Britain.
Mulan could take place anytime between 386-621 AD. Mulan’s historic setting is in the Chinese province of Northern Wei, which existed from 386 AD until 621 AD. A thousand years later, playwright Xu Wei placed Mulan’s legend within the same period. The Sui Tang Romance places Mulan around 620 AD, during the foundation of the Tang dynasty.
Sleeping Beauty occurs in the 14th Century in medieval Germany, as verbally confirmed by Prince Phillip. Next is The Emperor’s New Groove, which can take place anytime between 1425 to 1532 AD, set during the Incan Empire’s golden age. The Hunchback of Notre Dame brings the first confirmed date in the timeline, set in 1482 in Paris. A popular theory suggests that the film’s events led to Belle and her father Maurice moving away. However, Beauty and the Beast takes place in the 18th century. We’ll get to that shortly.
Fairy Tales and American Legends
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs takes place roughly in the 15th century. While there was no direct clue to its placing, I looked at the history of certain items in the dwarfs’ cottage, discovering the type of clock and pipe organ they own were not invented until the 15th century. Yeah, straws were grasped in trying to figure out this one!
Luckily, Pocahontas is up next, set in 1607. Distilling historical accuracy in favour of a love story, the film focuses on Governor Ratcliffe’s expedition to the New World, the founding of Jamestown, and Pocahontas meeting John Smith in a romance that ties the two races together in harmony. History went quite differently. The direct-to-video sequel Pocahontas II actually follows Pocahontas’ actual history, meeting her future husband John Rolfe. The film wisely ignores Pocahontas dying at the age of twenty-one.
Beauty and the Beast is likely set in the 1770s, based entirely on the architecture and dress sense of the film’s setting. Let’s hope Belle and the Beast survived the French Revolution, if that even occurred in the Disney universe. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, one half of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, is set in 1790 in Washington Irving’s novel. The Headless Horseman is described as a Hessian, placing the film after the American Revolutionary War.
Disney Princesses and Wild Men, Galore
We finally reach the 19th century. Cinderella and The Little Mermaid appear to take place around the same time in the early 1800s. This is purely based on the King and Grand Duke from Cinderella cameoing at Prince Eric and Ursula’s wedding.
Tangled and Frozen brought about this whole project, based on Rapunzel and Flynn’s cameo at Elsa’s coronation. In the official Frozen artbook, both films were confirmed to be set in the 1840s. Rapunzel and Flynn get married after the events of Tangled and the fantastic animated sequel series. Frozen takes place three years later, and Frozen II a further three years after Elsa’s coronation. The Snow Queen was published in 1845, so let’s say that Tangled occurred in 1842, Frozen in 1845, and Frozen II in 1848.
Then, there is Tarzan. Although he suggested the rumour, Chris Buck later shot down his own idea that Tarzan, Elsa, and Anna were siblings. Frozen II further debunked it. The film’s placement on the timeline takes place a good thirty to forty years after Frozen. The Wikis have not been helpful. Wikipedia stated the film begins in the 1890s, whilst the Disney Wiki claims it starts in the 1880s. Instead, I suggest Tarzan is in 1880. When Tarzan agrees to go to England with Jane Porter and her father, they plan to introduce him to “Dickens, Kipling, and Queen Victoria”. The only problem is that if the film was set in the 1890s, Charles Dickens would be dead and Rudyard Kipling had only published The Jungle Book.
At the Turn of the Century
Most of the remaining entries can be sorted in rapid succession. Alice in Wonderland is set in the 1860s, based on when Lewis Carroll wrote and published the book. Home On the Range has a confirmed date of 1889. Pinocchio occurs in the 1890s, based on the presence of the ferris wheel on Pleasure Island, the first built in 1893 Chicago. The Jungle Book is next, assigned the year 1893, based on the book’s publication.
The Great Mouse Detective plays around with history a little. It is set in 1897 to mark Queen Mousetoria’s diamond jubilee. Dr. Dawson return to London from the Afghanistan war, which actually ended in 1880. Afterward, both Lady and the Tramp and The Wind in the Willows occur in 1909, though the latter extends to 1910, as Mr. Toad escapes jail on Christmas Eve 1909. Afterward, we have The Aristocats in 1910; The Fox and the Hound is roughly in the same era based on the Model-T automobiles; Peter Pan in 1911, which was when the book was published; and Atlantis: The Lost Empire in 1914.
All of the Winnie the Pooh films and television shows occur in 1926 onwards. Christopher Robin implies he is going to school at the end of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, then is confirmed to do so during Pooh’s Grand Adventure and the 2011 film. Christopher Robin, the live action sequel, takes place in the 1950s. The Princess and the Frog follows, taking place between 1912 and 1926, Tiana’s late father implied to be a World War One veteran.
The remaining films occur in the modern era. Dumbo takes place in 1941, Bambi and Saludos Amigos in 1942, and The Three Caballeros in 1944. One Hundred and One Dalmatians is set in 1958 as dated on a newspaper in-film. The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under are a bit vague in their setting, but occur at least after World War Two and the founding of the UN. For the sake of sanity, let’s say the first film occurs in 1977 based on its release, and the sequel a year later. Oliver & Company is set in 1980s New York, so we’ll place it in 1988.
The Lion King is a bit of a conundrum, since it is set entirely within the wildlife with no indication of when it is set. Some have suggested it is set in ancient times, since there are no humans around. Yes, you could back this up with Scar’s cameo in Hercules as a very dead Nemean Lion pelt, but I don’t think that would make sense unless The Lion King takes place mere months before Hercules acquires Scar’s pelt, which somehow is shipped from Africa to Greece. It is more of an in-joke than meant to be anything that ties the two films together. Plus, Scar became a very handsome throw rug after all.
If all of its spin-offs are considered canon, Lilo & Stitch may have the longest continuity. The original film takes place in 2002, but spawned a sequel, an animated series which had its own related movies, and both separate Japanese and Chinese anime. The Japanese series featured an adult Lilo, who happened to have an identical daughter. Who knows if they are considered canon or not? The American animated series had crossovers with Recess, The Proud Family, Kim Possible, and American Dragon.
And, finally, to wrap everything up: Bolt occurs in 2008, then Meet the Robinsons, which time travels back and forth between 2007 and 2037, Big Hero 6 takes place in 2014, and in the far, far future, Treasure Planet rounds out this absurd timeline.
Now, as said before, all of this is pure speculation. There isn’t anything that universally connects all of the Disney films together. You can suggest that Rapunzel, Elsa, and Anna are all related, and that’s fine. Timon might have been right about stars actually being fireflies if The Princess and the Frog is brought to mind. I have a personal headcanon that the Blue Fairy is Evangeline, Ray the firefly’s love, and originates from Neverland, which doubles as the wishing star from Pinocchio. Still, you can see all these characters crossover in Disneyland, or in Kingdom Hearts, or in the second act of Ralph Breaks the Internet.
What are you favourite Disney fan theories? Which films do you think may dwell in the same universe? Leave a comment below, or on our Twitter feed!