Monday, June 27, 2011

The 25 best animated films

Time has a feature up on the 25 best animated films of all time. Quite honestly, I think it's a pretty crap list. I'm really not a fan of Happy Feet, Paprika, Yellow Submarine, Up, Toy Story or the Little Mermaid... to name a few.

So... I'll just go ahead and make my own.

Caveats; I haven't seen many older foreign releases, although researching this has given me quite a few additions to my Netflix queue (did you know there was a stop-motion Hansel and Gretel Opera? or a Russian The Cat Who Walked by Herself?). In fact, I think the only foreign releases I had seen pre-Totoro were the Dot series from Australia. (Does anyone else remember those? I may have found them very influential as a child...)

And this list skews more recent, both because that's what I know best, plus I think more movies have pushed the boundaries of animation recently. Furthermore, there are just many, many more animated films being made today (compare the 46 films released in '98 alone to the 37 released in all of the 1950s).

I love animated films. They are important culturally, because they are how most of us are first exposed to the world of cinema. I still vividly remember sitting in a theater watching a re-release of Fantasia. And I'm pretty sure I could still quote-a-long with The Land Before Time, Robin Hood, the Care Bears Adventure and Ponteffel Pock, Where Are You? Every Disney release growing up was an event (and yes, I still need to see Waking Sleeping Beauty), and classics were watched and re-watched on rapidly deteriorating VHS tape. My father used to play old Betty Boops for us, and I'm still grateful to my mother for letting us endlessly re-watch our favorites. Although, come to think of it, it was probably a good way to get some quiet time to herself. Well, I appreciate her taking us to All Dogs Go To Heaven, which couldn't have been what she wanted to spend an afternoon and $20 on.

Anyways, I love the variety of styles animation takes. Take, for example, Fear[s] of the Dark, which, while all in black and white, has seven different visual styles at play. Then you've got stop motion like James and the Giant Peach or Coraline (3-D!), rotoscoping like A Scanner Darkly, or motion capture animation, along the lines of King Kong (one wonders if the technology will have advanced enough for Tintin). The animated shorts programs are often my favorite part of any film fest, just because you get the broadest array of creative and visually stunning work all together.

For example, take one collection of shorts from the 2010 IFFBoston:
Junko's Shamisen
Sebastian's Voodoo
One Square Mile of Earth
Wisdom Teeth

Even live action is more and more heavily influenced by animation. Look at Sin City, Watchmen, and 300, which each try to replicate the visual styles or exact panels of their source drawings. And Avatar was practically animated. In fact, it was pretty much a continuation of the live action/animation mix which goes back to films like Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and the Three Caballeros.

There are many more movies which did not make this list which are all good films. Disney has made many, many solid films. I simply included the ones here that I thought were the best, most ground-breaking, or influential, but that doesn't mean I dislike 101 Dalmatians. You know? Same with Pixar, Cars aside (topical!).

Two final notes; Don Bluth is totally brilliant and I adore his work very much. And this is the best song in any animated film. (I can't in good conscience add Robin Hood as one of the best, but it is one of my favorites).

25. Halloween is Grinch Night. I include this one because I think Dr. Seuss was a highly influential artist. I also think it is one of the better films of the crazy, hallucinatory psychedelic 60s/70s era (as I mentioned - not a Yellow Submarine fan here.) Grinch Night came out the same year as Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure, which begs the question of why the hell my mother let me watch them. Repeatedly. Seriously. What the hell was everyone ON?

24. The Brave Little Toaster. The animation on this one isn't fabulous, but it's a great plot. Apparently a lot of the original Pixar gang was involved in this one, which explains why it has so much heart.

23. Charlie Brown's Christmas/Mickey's Christmas Carol. Of the entire genre of animation that sprung up around Christmas stories, these two are the best (I know, I know - cheating to include two).

22. Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. The best of the Hundred Acre Woods gang. I also always really liked how they nodded to being books.

21. The Mind's Eye. A collection of early computer animation tests and shorts turned into a bizarre, fabulous fever dream set to a new soundtrack. It's a fascinating look at the beginnings of what would soon become the dominant form of animation.

20. Sleeping Beauty. The best of all the Disney princess films and one of the best villains ever committed to celluloid.

19. Charlotte's Web. The best thing Hanna-Barbera ever did. Interestingly, it was one of the best selling VHS tapes of the year when it was released in '94, 21 years after it opened in theaters.

18. Academy Award Review of Walk Disney Cartoons. Okay - not a proper film, but a round up of Silly Symphonies, several of which had won academy awards as shorts on their own. Also: Flowers and Trees! That's a great one.

17. Howl's Moving Castle. The first appearance of Studio Ghibli on the list. Based on a Dianna Wynne Jones novel, the film combines fantasy and lush visuals far better than Spirited Away did. My earlier review; "Nearly as good as Princess Mononoke, this is another triumph from Studio Ghibli. They continue their tradition of gorgeous 2-D animation, this time adapting a story by Dianna Wynne Jones about a girl transformed into an old woman by a spell, a sorcerer, and his castle which frequently rambles from place to place. Set against an epic backdrop of political machinations and magic, Howl's Moving Castle is imaginative and beautiful."

16. Persepolis. Another graphic novel adaptation, but this one was kept in the original artist's drawings. It also shows animation moving into more adult-only territory and tells both the story of the Iranian revolution and the coming–of-age of its heroine.

15. The Wrong Trousers. The first stop motion film on the list, and the best Wallace and Gromit.

14. Totoro. Just completely wonderful. My first exposure to an anime film, and it holds up all these years later.

13. Watership Down. In all honestly, this may deserve a higher spot on the list, but I was so scarred watching part of it as a child, that I haven't seen it since. I should probably see it again, though.

12. Pinnochio. Definitely one of Disney's best.

11. Wall*E. Aww. Now, this movie suffers from the first half being wildly better than the second. But it is super cute and the animated 'silent film' section in the beginning is completely brilliant.

10. Nightmare Before Christmas. Ignore the Hot Topic merchandising. This is still a wonderful film about being true to yourself and outsiders finding love, all with Tim Bruton's aesthetic and the fabulous Laika stop-motion animation.

9. Fantastic Mr. Fox. My earlier review; "Wes Anderson stylization comes to animation, which recalls Wallace and Gromit crossed with Gumby. The story, based on a Roald Dahl tale, follows a fox family and their woodland neighbors as they fight off the local farmers. A whimsical action caper that is completely endearing."

8. Finding Nemo. That is some seriously beautiful animation there.

7. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The best mash up of animation and live action around.

6. Triplets of Belleville. My earlier summary; "Such an odd little film. Almost a throwback to the days of Silly Symphonies and Betty Boop, it's a near silent romp through eccentric French oddballs and the Tour de France."

5. Waltz with Bashir. My earlier review; "The only animated documentary I know of, the film examines the 1982 Israeli-Lebanese war through one veteran trying to remember what happened. It examines memory, culpability, and the emotional wounds soldiers carry long after fighting has finished." An amazing example of animation pushing into new genres of filmmaking.

4. The Lion King. Some of Disney's best recent animation and, by cribbing from Shakespeare, the story matches up as well.

3. Secret of NIMH. Like Pinnochio, this film takes the Grimm's Fairytales' approach to children's story telling. One of my complaints about many recent animated children's films is that they are bland, un-challenging and seemingly overly concerned with reactionary parental complaints. Yes, parts of this movie are scary for young children. That's a good thing. Anywho. Based on excellent source material, and with fantastic voice actors and stunning visuals, this is one of the all-time best.

2. Princess Mononoke. Studio Ghibli's beautiful landscapes are at their most resonant in this environmental parable. Here, A. O. Scott is more eloquent than I.

1. Fantasia. The culmination of what animation is capable of. The movie encompasses a wide range of styles and is utterly unforgettable.

Notable omissions (films I have yet to see): Akira, South Park, How to Train Your Dragon, Secret of Kells, Twice Upon a Time, Grave of the Fireflies, Millennium Actress, Waking Life, Sita Sings the Blues, Rango.


cabinboy said...

What? No HEAVY METAL? =)

I don't know that they'd make your top 25, but I think they'll be decent samples of/exposures to unique styles. Look up FANTASTIC PLANET, a B.C. CHRISTMAS, and if you haven't seen them, the Rankin Bass HOBBIT and Bakshi's WIZARDS, and LORD OF THE RINGS.

I haven't seen WIZARDS or FANTASTIC PLANET since I was a kid. Trippy stuff - parts of both are burned into my brain. =)

Jessica said...

I haven't seen the Hobbit since I was little, so I not sure if I would like it now. I'm looking forward to the new one...

Jessica said...

Huh - I totally meant to include Anastasia on here...