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Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Definitive Animated Films: 50-41

Scene from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"
courtesy of
If you haven't noticed, when I don't get to see many movies, I tend to go overboard on the features. So, here we are again, with another series of "definitive" films. This time, I tackle the giant list of animated films in the history of cinema. These are all feature films (not made for TV) that are entirely animated. In other words, you will never see a character in any of these films that is flesh and blood  - so no Who Framed Roger Rabbit? And, again, these aren't the "best" animated films - just the ones that define the genre. In fact, there are a some films on this list that I don't even care for all that much. But, they are still important in terms of the history of animated cinema; my tastes are another thing altogether. Here's #50 through #41.

#50. Lady and the Tramp (1955)

As you would expect, there's a lot of Disney on this list. I would say you should see about 50% of the Disney traditionally animated films, but this is the one that just slips onto the list. An adorable tale of an upper class Cocker Spaniel and a street Mutt that strike up a romantic relationship, it really just comes down to a class discrimination based story, but seen through the eyes of canines. The iconic scene shown above is reason enough to see the film, but it's also a nice, light-hearted film that's a fun watch for any age.

#49. Watership Down (1978)

Based on the Richard Adams novel of the same name, this not-for-children animated film is a relatively unpolished, grating look at wildlife and the pack mentality. I myself am not a huge fan of the film, but can see the impact of a cartoon based around animals having heavy adult themes like loyalty, revenge, and betrayal. It's a surprisingly violent film, especially for its time and its medium. What it helped do was usher in a belief that animated films can be more than silly films for children or exploitative experiments that are meant to support some sort of drug habit.

#48. Animal Farm (1954)

Great Britain's first animated feature film took the animation style Disney made famous and applied it to George Orwell's iconic satirical tale of Satlinism. Taking virtually no artistic license and delivering an adaptation pretty close to the book, the story of a group of pigs overthrowing their farmers and, eventually, seeing the same tyrannical problems they hoped to avoid begin to occur within their ranks, is one of the most recognizable modern literary classics brought to screen faithfully. I still recommend reading the book, but this is a necessary viewing in the pantheon of film animation.

#47. Heavy Metal (1981)

What was I saying about animation being used for exploitation again? An epic (but serialized) science-fiction film centering on a glowing green orb representing pure evil, Heavy Metal is more memorable because of its risque animation techniques and visuals. Loosely based on a French magazine of the same name, the film has tales of violence, fantasy, and eroticism, but with a surprisingly talented voice cast, including John Candy, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, and Joe Flaherty. Parodied, but never equaled, Heavy Metal stood out as the go-to entertainment for middle schoolers of the early 80's whose parents weren't home.

#46. Waking Life (2001)

Yes, it's technically acted live. But the rotoscoping technique Richard Linklater began using with this film brought about a new way to make animated films. The story of a man going through a dream and meeting random people has little plot, but is more meant to be a discussion on the meanings of life and why we exist. As expected, it's a little philosophical and wordy, but that's what Linklater is. He would use the technique years later with his adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel A Scanner Darkly, but this ethereal original rotoscope film not only introduced something new, but added a little haze to an already fuzzy film.

#45. Alice in Wonderland (1951)

One of the trippiest entries from Disney - not so much because of the Disney involvement, but because of the original Lewis Carroll novels - Alice in Wonderland was a feast of color, adventure, and self-actualization (yes, self-actualization). Nominated for the Best Oriiginal Score Academy Award, this iconic story of the power of imagination has dozens of incantations, but the 1951 animated one still stands as one of,  if not the best. Disney's recent attempt to recapture the glory in live action form with Johnny Depp fell flat, but it doesn't ruin the impact of the original. Somehow, they managed to take a series of stories that go all over place and rein them in the form a film that is surprisingly easy to follow and fun to watch.

#44. The Simpsons Movie (2007)

It was (and still is) the longest running sitcom of all time and was due for a movie someday. Purists will still argue that the show is well past its heyday (I agree, but not to the level that some complain about it), but the 2007 film was a surprisingly clever and successful transition to the silver screen. When Homer pollutes the town's water supply, Springfield is covered in a giant clear dome by the EPA and the Simpson family becomes one of the government's most wanted. All in all, it's pretty standard story structure, but with a writing team that's been turning out intelligent comedy for over 20 years, it came easy, which makes it easy to watch, too.

#43. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Directed by Pixar go-to man Pete Docter (co-directed by Lee Unkrich and David Silverman; Silverman also directed The Simpsons Movie), Monsters, Inc. was easily one of the most original ideas the studio had and proved to be one of the first truly polished CGI animated films. The tale of a city of monsters that gets power by scaring children focuses on Mike and Sully (Billy Crystal and John Goodman) as they attempt to cover up a child who accidentally walked into their world. It's clever, funny, and won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Though nominated, it lost the first ever Best Animated Film Oscar to #40 on our list, though it is certainly the better film.

#42. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

Outside of Disney, one of the biggest producers of consistent quality animated films is certainly the Asian market, using the popular Anime style to deliver much more serious and adult-themed motion pictures long before the United States gave it a shot. Ghost in the Shell may not be one of the earliest examples, but it is definitely one of the best. It centers on a female cyborg police officer as she and her protection group hunt a hacker known as the "puppet master" in 2029. Kind of a pre-cursor to The Matrix, it centers around an interactive network and the new crime wave that tries to infiltrate said network. The animation style is risque, but cutting edge. The story is layered, mysterious, and violent and does so much more than just keep your attention.

#41. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

It lost the Best Animated Film Oscar to Toy Story 3 and, to this day, I will still maintain that this was the better (or at least more enjoyable) film of the two. Set in a world where Vikings exist and seem to do nothing but fight dragons, a young boy (Jay Baruchel) stumbles upon a young one of these monsters, only to find that they aren't quite as evil as he has been told. Packed with talented comedic actors like Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, and Craig Ferguson (not to mention Gerard Butler), it's a funny story with lots of heart. It's also one of the rare movies that truly uses 3D to its advantage. Coming from someone who hates 3D, that's a big statement.

Well, that's the first grouping. 40 more to come, each getting more definitive than the next....because that's how these lists work.

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