Thursday, January 14, 2016

Top 10 Favorite Animated Films

Now, I'm bending the rules a little bit because I decided to make a top feature films and a top short films list. But still with the usual rule of 1 filmmaker, 1 film (otherwise half the shorts could be taken up by some of Chuck Jones's Looney Tunes work). Shorts are generally ignored by the public, but I've loved them since childhood, when they would often be shown before movies, or on TV either on PBS or before the Disney Channel became what it is today. So here are my animation favorites:


1. Beauty and the Beast

I just put this on another list last week, when I listed it as my 31st favorite movie. It's romantic, charming, beautiful to look at, and filled with tremendous songs and characters. I have not tired of re-watching this masterpiece in the 25 years since it came out.

2. Wall-E

The pinnacle of Pixar's greatness, one that grows on me exponentially every time I see it, I just can't get enough of Wall-E, the movie or the character. Also on my list of favorite movies, this one came in at #37. No need to write much more about it, since I so recently did. But here it is at #2 on my all-time animation list.

3. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Hayao Miyazaki's greatest work was this, his first feature film. Although made before the actual foundation of Studio Ghibli alongside his co-hort Isao Takahata, it's generally considered the first Ghibli film. And though he's gone on to make at least 2 other unquestionable masterpieces (1988's My Neighbor Totoro and 2001's Spirited Away), this one is still my favorite. So much so that it was #42 on my all time favorite films list.

4. Fantasia

The 4th of 5 on this list that was also in my all-time list, Fantasia is my 47th favorite movie ever made and the one of these that I saw the most recent. I'm still blown away by it, and can't wait to come back to it over and over and over again throughout my life.

5. Ratatouille

Brad Bird's 3rd masterpiece (after The Iron Giant and The Incredibles) is this great and inspiring flick that I recently rated as my 49th favorite movie ever made.

6. Grave of the Fireflies

The easy movie to point to for those who think animation is just for kids. Grave of the Fireflies is the emotional story of a young brother and sister trying to make their way through the world after their orphaning during the firebombing of Tokyo in WWII. Charming, touching, and finally devastating, Grave of the Fireflies is the masterpiece from Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, whose name isn't as known as Hayao Miyazaki, but should be. I previously wrote about it here.

7. 5 Centimeters per Second

The Japanese anime 5 Centimeters Per Second is one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen, in both a visual and thematic way. It's the story of two people who are inseparable as kids (both entranced by the falling cherry blossoms, which allegedly fall at 5 centimeters per second) but are split apart by their families movies away from each other. Their love brings them back together only to see them spilt apart again as teenagers. Will they get back together as adults? An exploration of loneliness, longing, love, and ultimately life, other than the too on the nose power ballad at the emotional climax, this movie is perfect.

8. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Just seeing Wallace and his big goofy grin makes me smile and feel fuzzy inside. Nick Park's brilliant creations reach their head, I think, in their only feature length adventure. The movie is clever and lovable at the same time. Brilliant acting from Peter Sallis as Wallace, to be expected, but also wonderful additions from Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes as well. Gromit is his usual silent comic genius, evoking Chaplin or Keaton in his ability to get us to laugh and sympathize while staying dialog free. Writing about it is making me seriously want to re-watch this movie again.

9. The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh

Technically, this could go in the short film list, since it's simply a package movie of 3 Pooh shorts that Disney had done, with some connecting material added in. But I think the added stuff really works and helps make the movie feel like a whole piece rather than 3 things stitched together, so it goes here. Pooh is, like Wallace and Gromit, just one of the most likable characters and universes to dive into. Simplistic, but not simple or stupid. The audience is never talked down to, and this movie has that great balance that Pixar has tried to strike, that of entertaining both adults and children while not patronizing either group. Many have tried, and few have succeeded like The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh.

10. Coraline

One that grows on me a lot each time I watch it, Henry Selick's dark fantasy Coraline is a wonderfully creepy and effective adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novella. It has the brilliant mix of humor and macabre that Selick pulled off with The Nightmare Before Christmas, but I found myself much more involved with this one, perhaps because of my distaste for the Tim Burton (who wrote and produced but didn't direct)-ness of the other movie as I get older. Here, Selick is both writer and director, and takes us on a crazy journey to an alternate universe where Coraline (Dakota Fanning) learns about appreciating the family and life she has rather than focus on the mundane things she hates about her life. The movie has a certain amount of the magical feeling I remember from childhood books like The Secret Garden, but it goes in a much different, darker, and weirder direction thanks to Selick.


Since many folks don't know that short films are readily available all over the internet, from Vimeo, YouTube and other places, I linked to the videos of the shorts themselves whenever I could. Please enjoy!

1. The Man Who Planted Trees

Often a movie that tops these kinds of lists, it's no surprise that Frédéric Back's brilliant and beautiful adaptation of Jean Giono's short story ends up here. Narrated by the great Christopher Plummer, it tells the story of a lonely shepherd's quest to re-forest an area around the Alps in Provence. Though on the longer end of the short film form, at 30 minutes, the time flows by thanks to Plummer's voice and the achingly gorgeous animation from Back. One that needs to be experienced, and yet further proof (as though we needed it) that animation is hardly just for kids, I can't think of a type of person that wouldn't enjoy this movie.

2. Hedgehog in the Fog

Playing like a children's fairy tale, with very little in terms of guidance narratively, Yuriy Norshteyn's The Hedgehog in the Fog is basically exactly what it sounds like. An adorable little hedgehog gets lost in the fog on his way to see a friend. He becomes frightened after seeing and hearing many things in the foggy forest. He can hear someone calling to him, but is confronted by an owl and a horse, he falls in a river, and loses the present he was bringing his friend. It's a very simple tale, and strongly evokes the feelings of childhood. The happiness, curiosity, and occasionally frightening things happening that may not be frightening when you look back on them as an adult, but can be almost overwhelming when viewed through the lens of an innocent child.

3. Duck Amuck
Warner Brothers keeps the old Looney Tunes stuff off YouTube, unfortunately, so can't link to this brilliant short.

The most genius of the Looney Tunes shorts (I couldn't in good conscious pick my childhood favorite Duck Dodgers in the 24th1/2 Century, even though it is also a little piece of genius from Chuck Jones), Duck Amuck is writing, voice acting, and animation at it's highest level. Though Bugs Bunny was the most famous, we all know that Daffy Duck was the more interesting character. It's exhilarating to see him tormented by the mostly unseen animator, who changes the setting, clothing, and occasionally even the duck himself throughout the short's 7 minutes.

4. A Grand Day Out
Unfortunately again, I can't get to this one for free anymore, not on YouTube at least.

Though many prefer the follow up Wallace and Gromit short, A Close Shave, for me A Grand Day Out has the most charm and enjoyment. Possibly the most likable characters ever created, Wallace and Gromit have crackers, but no cheese. Well, we all know the moon is made of cheese, right? So Wallace builds a rocket and they fly to the moon to get cheese. Why not just go to the grocery store? Because this is better. My favorite gag has Gromit figuring out why the rocket isn't taking off. Although the stuff on the moon maybe doesn't work quite as well as the stuff getting us there, it's still a blast and my favorite of the short films from Nick Park (who lost the 1990 Oscar to himself when he won for his equally brilliant Creature Comforts).

5. Quest

The most recent one I've seen, I really was moved by this movie, an Oscar winner in 1996. The story of a kind of sand man (literally) who realizes he's out of water. Following the sound of dripping water through his desert world into, in order, a land made of paper, a land of rocks, a land of metal, and finally a land of water, the movie could easily be seen as a metaphor for growing up, growing older, or many other things, only to end up coming full circle in the end. It's beautifully animated (in stop-motion), with tremendous sound design, and no dialog. I love movies that tell their story without the aid of dialog. So universal and strangely engaging.

6. Mickey and the Beanstalk
Like WB, Disney keeps most of their stuff off YouTube because they want you to buy the DVDs.

Although released in theaters as a package movie (called Fun and Fancy Free), as Disney used to occasionally do, I've always seen Mickey and the Beanstalk on its own. So even though it's listed online in some places as being a feature film (because of the package deal), Mickey and the Beanstalk is right at 30 minutes, so is a short film and rightfully on my list here. There are so many memorable pieces in this that nearly the whole thing stuck in my memory from childhood. Although many others prefer the Mickey starring The Brave Tailor or others (the one that nearly made the list instead was 1937's Lonesome Ghosts, with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy basically trying to be the Ghostbusters almost 50 years before the Ghostbusters movie came out), Mickey and the Beanstalk is one I still love and happily get lost in all these years later.

7. Paperman

I love Disney and Pixar's continued support of the animated short form, this brilliant piece of magical romanticism played before Disney's Wreck-It Ralph. I'm glad I saw them separately, as I would've been thinking about Paperman all through the feature length movie instead of paying attention to the very good Wreck-It Ralph. But anyway, there's no use describing the plot, as it's quite simple, better to be experienced and caught up in than talked about. I love the black-and-white style of the animation, just gorgeous to look at. And I'm a romantic at heart, so this spoke right to me.

8. Father and Daughter

A sweet, simple, metaphorical story of a father and daughter riding their bicycles to the sea before the father abruptly hugs his daughter and leaves. Wordlessly, we watch the daughter keep coming back to the spot where her dad left, in all manner of weather, throughout her life, dad's bike still waiting against a tree. The open ending is simply beautiful, and the dialog free movie so affecting thanks to the simple yet somehow still bold animation.

9. Alma

A short, creepy, little movie from Spain, directed by ex-Pixar animator Rodrigo Blaas. Alma (Spanish for "soul") tells the story of a little girl playing by herself down a snowy street when she sees some chalk and a wall with many people's names on it. She decides to write her name on the wall too, and immediately afterwards looks at the shop opposing the wall to see a doll who looks and is dressed just like her. Another example of that animation is not just for kids, Alma has no violence or anything like that in it, but is affecting because it works on your mind and fears.

10. Lambert the Sheepish Lion

I always love when you can love something as a child, revisit it as an adult, and love it just as much or more. Beginning with the Stork (Sterling Holloway, who also narrates) from Dumbo accidentally delivering the baby lambs to a group of ewes, with Lambert the lion cub attaching himself to his mother ewe, who headbutts the stork when he tries to take Lambert to South Africa where he was supposed to go. Raised as a sheep, only to unexpectedly remember his lion roots when a wolf tries to take his mother, I vividly remember Lambert from childhood, as I found his transformation scene frightening. Now, especially as a parent, I love the protection of family, and the message of making our own families, regardless of blood or even species.

Honorable mention to:

Batman: The Animated Series episode "Heart of Ice"

I think Batman: The Animated Series is one of the great shows ever, and this is my favorite episode, telling the tragic story of classic Batman villain Mr. Freeze. I didn't include it on the list proper because it was an episode of the TV show and not a stand along short film.

The Fly

An Oscar winning Hungarian short from 1980 that's an amazing look at a fly's perspective of being in a house

1 comment:

kathy said...

I totally agree with #1 Beauty & The Beast! Always my favorite since the moment I saw it, with Snow White being second for me. For Animated Short, this years Sanjay's Super Team was fun to watch.