Monday, July 4, 2011

Top 10 Animated Films All-Time: Pt. II

Before unveiling my top 5, there are some honorable mentions that I’d like to hand out:

Sword in the Stone
Toy Story 3
WALL*E (Just missed the top 10)
The Secret of Nimh (scared the crap out of me as a kid)
Melody Time (so underrated)
The Jungle Book
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

#5:  The Illusionist (2010)

Only non-Disney entry on the list, which I also wrote about in detail here in my top-10 of 2010 list.  I do try to be objective most of the time, and objectively this is a brilliant film, but for me there’s a subjective component as well: anytime there’s a relatively unknown and unseen film, in true hipster fashion I will champion that film all the more.  It’s just human nature.  Regardless, this film is beautiful both aesthetically and thematically; it’s sweet, fun, heartbreaking, and unique.  Everyone needs to go to Redbox and rent this immediately. 

#4:  Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Let's be honest: the hookah-smoking caterpillar
is the coolest Disney character EVER.
3 films on my list, including Alice, Fantasia, and my #1 choice, were all considered flops by Disney at the time of their release.  With Alice, this makes a lot of sense to me, because it doesn’t strike me as the type of film that would enthrall a majority of children in the ‘50’s—it definitely lets its freak flag fly a lot, which is when it’s at its best.  It’s also the reason that Tim Burton’s version this past year doesn’t hold a candle to the animated version; for all of Tim’s hype of being an off-kilter director, he tried to make the setting weird without letting the story play out in such wonderfully chaotic and confusing fashion as this one does—a fatal mistake.

#3:  Ratatouille (2007)

My second Brad Bird film on this list, and Pixar’s best, as far as this blogger is concerned.  As if the beautifully-detailed animation of Paris, the sophisticated and lavish portrayal of France’s food culture, and the outstanding musical score weren’t enough, what really makes this film an accomplishment is the story and the writing, which was Oscar-nominated.  Perhaps no other film that I’ve ever seen has so poignantly shown the struggles of an artist—the struggle of being recognized by his industry as an unknown, and the struggle for understanding and acceptance from his family.  This is highlighted by some great writing in one of the best parts of the film, a monologue by food critic Anton Ego, in a review of Remy’s food:

Great animation here from the good folks at Pixar.
In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core.  In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.

#2: Beauty & The Beast (1991)

Clocking in near the top of the list is my favorite of the early-90’s comeback films from Disney, and the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture.  It also contains my favorite music of all the Disney films.  If you don’t get at least a little emotional when Belle walks down the stairs to the ballroom while the piano prelude to “Beauty and the Beast” plays, then please go find a soul somewhere.  Other aspects that make it a top contender:

1.  The film’s intro: great music coupled with an artfully crafted retelling of how the Beast became a beast through stained-glass window storyboards.
2.  Belle is the most beautiful animated female in history.  By Far.  Is that a weird thing to say?
3.  Great supporting cast, Lumiere in particular. 
4.  Best love story of all the Disney movies.
5.  Great rustic animation of the French town, the castle & surrounding land, and the various set pieces, such as the lodge where Gaston hangs out.
6.  (Belle is hot).

#1: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Many of you knew this was coming.  Recently, my while trying to defend my adoration of this film to my brother-in-law, he accused my parents of not raising me right.  Seeing as my top two films here have “Beauty” in the title, I’m questioning that myself.  However, allow me to defend my #1 pick through an explanation and a few videos.  

The animation in this film was modeled after medieval art, and the sort of sharp, angular way it is drawn is visually beautiful yet dark and harrowing at the same time.  It also has one of my favorite villains of all time, Maleficent, who is graceful, eloquent and oddly beautiful all while being arguably the most evil biyatch ever put on screen.  The musical score is great--it's solely Tchaikovsky's music from his ballet, which I think is cool since it's the only Disney movie to do something like that.  Just look at the use of these design elements coupled with a creepy part of the musical score in this section (with Chinese subtitles, no less!)

Pretty creepy.  For some more creepiness, if you have the time, watch this final encounter with Maleficent as she turns into the dragon.  The music here is just ridiculously good, and the artistic elements even better if you realize what the animators are going for—one might assume that the angular art is elementary, but it actually perfectly resembles the harsh nature of the film as well as the medieval time period itself.  Particularly, the thorns and the flames in this scene, as well as the castle, are a good example of that objective. Check it out:

I appreciate the producers of the film trying to do something truly different--it was kind of risky to animate like that instead of using the usual sort of "soft", kid-friendly animation and the typical "fun" Disney original songs which are not present here--and oddly enough in their endeavor to create a true work of art they also ended up making something that kids of all generations since have enjoyed nonetheless.  A unique visual style along with great music is something that will always, always, always appeal to me as a movie-goer. 

That's my list.  Hope you have enjoyed this magical journey.  The End.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Top 10 Animated Films All-Time: Part I

On Saturday I tweeted about a Time Magazine list authored by Richard Corliss that purported to be the 25 Best Animated Features of All Time.  As with most Disney children, this subject is obviously near and dear to my heart.  (Disney Children=anyone who grew up after VCR’s were invented and who wore out the tapes on our favorite animated Disney films and whose parents at least once considered committing a murder-suicide when their 4 year-old demanded to watch Robin Hood for the 8th time in a week...just me? Ok.) 

So when I excitedly dove in to Mr. Corliss’s article, my excitement soon turned to confusion, which later turned into frustration, which quickly turned into anger, as I kept wondering where all of the good movies were, and how Happy Feet somehow made the list.  It’s seriously an awful list and left out some great classics, not only Disney but otherwise as well.

This naturally led me to ponder over making my own personal list, which I now bestow upon you—the result of hours of tweaking and consideration (I know that sounds like I’m joking, but I’m not. Don’t judge me please).  My purview may not be as wide as a professional critic’s is, and thus have never been exposed to anything like The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) (which looks pretty sweet if you ask me, btw). I also haven’t had the honor of watching many seizure-inducing anime films, save for Spirited Away (2001), and I’m not totally sure they would be my cup of tea anyway.  My list is Disney heavy, but considering they’ve handily dominated the medium going on a century now, that’s not too much of a stretch, I don’t think. 

Hope you enjoy my list.  Here is Part I, where I will discuss my #'s 10-6.  In a day or two I will post my #'s 5-1 and some honorable mentions.  Let me know your thoughts and your own choices in the comments.  


#10:  The Lion King (1994)

Disney’s incredible makeover-run of Little Mermaid-Beauty and the Beast-Aladdin-The Lion King in the span of 4 years announced to the world that they were back, that they were staying for good, and that horny people worked for Disney (there is some sort of sexual Easter-egg in every one of those films.  I promise, look it up).  I definitely had a lot of trouble deciding what to pick for the last spot, but the great animation (ex: wildebeest stampede) and heartwarming, loosely Shakespearian story was enough to make the cut here.

#9:  The Incredibles (2004)

A lot of my favorite animated films have a healthy dose of style, which is what caught my eye and made me enjoy The Incredibles so much.  I love the mid-century design of the characters and setting which is perfectly reminiscent of the time period when superhero culture was so prevalent.  Director Brad Bird definitely has that eye for style, and always produces meaningful stories—in this case a man who desperately wants to buck the monotony of his daily routine, return to former glory, and be something special in the eyes of his family—and the subtlety and richness in the way he tells it is not found often in cinema, animated or live action.

#8:  Fantasia (1940)

Umm, this dude's kinda scary.
I mean, it’s not so much that I love the naked dancing winged babies (Clelyn tells me they’re called cherubim), or the devilishly handsome centaur men, but I do love the imagery that Disney was able to use here in combination with some great classical music.  This film is as much about the experience of watching it as anything, and from that standpoint, I think it is a wonderful success.  The animation is great not because it is incredibly meticulous, but rather, because it is so extravagant and lush—the various bursts of color and light is just great cinema.  And there are also more restrained portions that are equally compelling (like right here, for instance).  Simply a treasure in cinema history that will never be replicated.

#7:  101 Dalmatians (1961)

Love the London/England setting.  Love the great ‘60’s-era jazz.  Love the rigged British animation.  Love Cruella DeVille.  Love the awkwardly charming Pongo and Roger.  Love the tenseness in the scene where all the Dalmatians roll in the soot so as to trick Cruella.  Love the “twilight bark.”  What’s not to like? Next.

#6:  Robin Hood (1973)

With all due respect to Errol Flynn and Cary Elwes, this debonair cartoon fox is easily my favorite depiction of the legendary character (and with little respect to a sleepwalking Russell Crowe, or a laughably miscast Kevin Costner).  In addition to a host of fully realized characters, it also has the second-best music as far as this list goes (first coming up later).  A particularly great sequence to me is when the Sheriff robs an earnest church-mouse couple of their tithes, while Rooster Bob Dylan strums a great, simple acoustic tune, “Not in Nottingham:”

"Every town
Has its ups and downs
Sometimes ups 
Outnumber the downs
But not in Nottingham
I'm inclined to believe
If we were so down
We'd up and leave
We'd up and fly if we had wings for flyin'
Can't you see the tears we're cryin'?
Can't there be some happiness for me?
Not in Notthingham"

...Stay tuned for Part II!