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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Definitive Animated Films: 40-31

Scene from Disney/Pixar's "Cars"
Onward we move through the world of drawing and voice work, as we count down the definitive animated films of all time. This part of the list is actually half foreign films, so you should try to expand your viewing horizons. We have some new classics, some old classics, and one outlier that managed to succeed during the Disney dominated times of the 80's and 90's. So, here are numbers 40 through 31.

#40. Shrek (2001)

Before the franchise was unreasonably driven into the ground, the people at Dreamworks had an interesting idea of a world where all the characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes actually existed. Enter Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz to voice the main cast in Shrek, a variation/combination of lots of fairy tales, but mostly "Beauty and the Beast." The clever approach to personifying so many classic characters (i.e. The Gingerbread Man, Three Little Pigs, Three Blind Mice, etc.), but use them as supporting characters was ingenious and the pairing of Myers and Murphy as Shrek and Donkey worked magic. Since then, these characters and films have gotten more and more irritating, but the first still has the spark it needs to be enjoyable. After all, it took home the very first Best Animated Film Oscar.

#39. Cinderella (1950)

One of the first truly beloved Disney films, Cinderella was an early framework for future offerings. Disney took an extremely popular story and added their spin on it - anthropomorphism and personification approaches add some comic relief. In Cinderella, we meet mice, birds, and other talking creatures and things that added truckloads of magic to an already enchanting film. It's the evil stepmother, the evil stepsisters, and Prince Charming - it's a fairy godmother always watching over you. It's the story that all fairy tale romances are based on, and Disney did it first.

#38. Castle in the Sky (1986)

The first entry on the list from Studio Ghibli, Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki's third animated feature film was his first stand-out offering and was a great introduction to his style. In Miyazaki's films, nothing is set in stone - dreams are reality. Miyazaki understands that, to harness the true strength of animation, you need to let go and embrace the beauty and surrealist tendencies that are possible. In Castle in the Sky, a young boy meets a mysterious girl who floats to Earth, taking him on an adventure to find a floating castle, while running from pirates, the army, and secret agents. Miyazaki would only improve on his techniques with subsequent offerings, but this was the first to open up those possibilities.

#37. When the Wind Blows (1986)

While Miyazaki was harnessing the beauty of animation, director Jimmy Murakami was demonstrating how utterly devastating it could be with When the Wind Blows, a story of an elderly couple preparing for a nuclear attack, thanks to government pamphlets. Based on the Raymond Briggs novel, this is easily one the darkest entries on the list. Essentially, it's a take on the ignorance of following and trusting your government blindly and misunderstanding what your place is in the world. When the attacks of the fictional third World War happen, Jim and Hilda think they are safe and wait for government aide, not knowing of the dangers of radioactive fallout. This movie is tough to find and is a brutal viewing, but it shows deliberately how to make a film so dark and emotional that the animation aspect almost disappears.

#36. Aladdin (1992)

My favorite childhood film was ripe with controversy upon its release, with accusations of racism (partially founded) at Disney. One of the films that marked Disney resurgence in traditional animation, Aladdin was a platform for Robin Williams to be, well, Robin Williams, but in animated form as the genie. Nominated for five Oscars and winning two (Best Original Score and Best Original Song), this enjoyable romp through India seemed like such a harmless piece of entertainment when I was a child. But, to this day, it's still one of Disney's biggest box office hits and a quality animated musical that's still enjoyable.

#35. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

If When the Wind Blows was a difficult watch, Grave of the Fireflies is a straight up kick to the face. Isao Takahata's tragedy about a young boy and his little sister's struggle to keep going during World War II is a gut-wrenching look at the other side of the war, from inside the civilian side of Japan. After their mother dies in an air raid, Setsuko and Seita move in with relatives, only to be kicked out after an argument. Not knowing where their military father is or if he is even alive, they walk the countryside and through the cities, struggling to find food and shelter. This film is beautiful, depressing, and makes a deep impact, whether you like it or not.

#34. Persepolis (2007)

A French animated film nominated for Best Animated Film in 2007, Persepolis was a rare offering from a country that, up to that point, hadn't given us many memorable animated films. A coming-of-age film about a young Iranian girl who lives during the Islamic Revolution of the 1970s, the movie deals heavily with various levels of culture clashing, tyrannical governments, and feelings of abandonment and loneliness. Though Marj welcomes the Iranian government getting overthrown, she sees a new government fall back into fundamentalist fascism she fears. Her family sends her to Vienna to study, where she comes to blows with an abrasive culture she is unprepared for. But, as she moves back and forth, trying to find a place to belong, things continually change, leaving Marj and her family unsure of what is best for her. The black and white animation is so precise and perfect for such a non cut-and-dry film, Persepolis does quite a bit to open your eyes to the Iranian world, even in cartoon form.

#33. Ratatouille (2007)

The movie that beat out Persepolis for the Animated Film Oscar in 2007, Ratatouille was Disney/Pixar's first film that was legitimately considered an outside shot to grab a nomination for Best Picture. The story of a rat named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) from the French countryside who wants nothing but to cook is a heartfelt look at an outsider's attempt to move into the upper class, but twisted in a new way. The last animated film directed by Brad Bird before he moved on to Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, the film's ingenious approach to personifying rodents and creating a world meant for them makes the film much more feasible. It doesn't hurt that it has a great voice cast including Oswalt, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Peter O'Toole, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, and Will Arnett.

#32. The Illusionist (2010)

Armed with an original screenplay from Jacques Tati, the 2010 nominee for Best Animated Film The Illusionist is one of the examples of the wave of quality foreign animated films that have hit the screen in the past decade. Director Sylvain Chomet presents the story of a French magician who is slowly losing face, thanks to emerging high energy performers, forcing him to take more and ore obscure jobs around the French countryside. That is, until he meets a young female fan who joins him on journey that changes both of their lives. A film that focuses on a dying dream and an impending world that doesn't welcome the old pros, The Illusionist captures human emotion in a way few live action films can.

#31. The Secret of NIMH (1982)

In a world where Disney dominates the world of animation in feature films, animator Don Bluth has still made a name for himself as one of the preemptive successes outside the fray. The man behind a number of family friendly offerings in the 80's (An American Tail, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven), Bluth's best feature came in 1982 with The Secret of NIMH, a heartwarming story of a field mouse and her unending quest to cure her ill son, even if it means joining up with a group of scientifically engineered lab rats. A very well drawn film on all fronst, NIMH took a very adult theme and managed to keep it believable, while still centering it around a group of rodents. It also features early voice work from Will Wheaton and Shannon Doherty.

Phase two complete - next up, numbers 30 through 21, as we slowly move to the most definitive animated films of all time.

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