Monday, June 20, 2011

My Top 20 animated movies: Part 1, #16-20

My Top 20 animated movies

Animated movies rarely get the respect they deserve. It’s common to hear people refer to them as cartoons and to regard them as lighthearted entertainment fit only for children. I suppose that idea comes from the fact that the majority of us enjoyed short cartoons when we were kids.

Classic Disney titles have been around for over 70 years and focus on material that is suitable for young children, but that doesn’t mean it’s not suitable for adults.

My Top 20 includes a number of Disney titles. Some have universal appeal while others are aimed at older audiences. Other films on the list contain messages that can appeal to people of any age. Some of the themes are complex and will only be understood by adults. I’ll mention which category each of my selections falls into.

It’s important to keep an open mind about animation and not label it as something too childish to bother with. You’ll miss out on some stunning stories if you do. There are currently 51 animated titles in my Blu-ray collection and the number would be much higher if other titles were available on the format.

Those of you who read my Top 20 Drama articles will know that Grave of the Fireflies is among my favorites. For that reason, I chose to omit it from this list.

That’s enough talk; let’s get started:

20. A Bug’s Life (1998)
Directed by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton
Starring the voices of Kevin Spacey, Dave Foley and Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Pixar’s second movie focuses on a colony of ants. The story is about standing up to bullies and pursuing your own course even when you’re regarded as different or weird. That’s a good message for children. Flik (Foley) is a young ant with an imagination. He invents laborsaving devices to help his colony gather food for a group of aggressive grasshoppers, led by Hopper (Spacey). When an accident causes the gathered food to be lost, Flik is sent on a trip to enlist bugs willing to help the colony stand up to the grasshoppers. They are essentially getting rid of him and don’t expect him to succeed, but he returns with help. The new allies help the ants come up with a plan to defeat the grasshoppers. It’s a coming-of-age tale with lovable and quirky characters.

The animation looks great, especially on Blu-ray. Every blade of grass looks real and the detail is incredible. The story is a little scary in places, but is ultimately a lot of fun. It’s suitable for the whole family. 

19. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
Starring the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson

Here’s a movie that I expected to love, but it didn’t really grab me the first time I saw it. Maybe I was in the wrong mood that day because my opinion of it improved significantly on the second viewing.

The story is similar to the one in A Bug’s Life in some ways. It tells the story of Hiccup; a young Viking hoping to hunt dragons like most of the town’s inhabitants. The problem is, he’s undersized and seemingly lacks the requisite skills. He likes to invent things and one of his weapons hits the most ferocious species of dragon, a Night Fury. When he eventually discovers the injured beast, he finds that he’s unable to kill it. Instead, he names it Toothless and builds a device that will enable the dragon to fly again. The two form a bond and he starts to question whether his people are right in their assumption that dragons are dangerous and should be killed on sight. The story is full of action, which peaks during the flight scenes.

The Blu-ray presentation is excellent and the story should interest the whole family. There are currently eight books in the series and second movie is due to be released in 2014.

18. Mary and Max (2009)
Directed by Adam Elliot
Starring the voices of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette and Eric Bana

Mary and Max is one of the weirdest animated films I have ever seen. It’s full of dark humor and is often sad, but I find myself laughing most of the time. Mary Daisy Dinkle (Collette) is an 8-year-old Australian girl, with a birthmark the color of poo, who picks a name at random from the Manhattan phone directory. The name is that of Max Jerry Horovitz (Hoffman), a 44-year-old Jewish man with Asperger’s Syndrome. Both are terribly lonely, so when she writes to him, the two develop a friendship. The dialogue is hilarious. Mary thinks that babies are found in the bottom of beer glasses; Max informs her that they actually come from eggs laid by rabbis. If you are Jewish, they are laid by Catholic nuns. If you are an atheist, they are laid by dirty, lonely prostitutes. The whole movie is full of similar dialogue. Max is brutally honest and says things that are completely inappropriate for 8-year-old Mary.

The claymation looks highly-detailed on Blu-ray. I wouldn’t be comfortable showing the movie to small children because it could raise some awkward questions. Themes include sex, theft, alcoholism and death. If you like weird humor, this is probably something you should check out.

17. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Directed by Yoshifumi Kondô
Starring the voices of Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, James Sikking and Cary Elwes

If you read all 20 recommendations, you’ll see Hayao Miyazaki’s name mentioned several times. Although he didn’t direct Whisper of the Heart, he wrote the screenplay, and his imprint is all over the movie. Shizuku is a girl of about 13 who doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life. She’s clever and creative, but lacks direction. She's intrigued when she discovers that almost every library book she checks out has previously been borrowed by the same person. When she meets the boy, the story starts to take off. It’s a charming story filled with people who are generally good. Children respect their elders and the elders have time to encourage the children. Friendships are strong and meaningful and it’s a nice world to spend some time in. It’s a coming-of-age story in which Shizuku discovers her calling in life. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a teen romance; there’s so much more going on than that. Miyazaki creates characters that you’ll quickly like and often come to love.

Whisper of the Heart is released on Blu-ray in Japan on July 20, so there’s a good chance it will be available elsewhere by the end of 2011 or the start of 2012.

16. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring the voices of Billy Crudup, Gillian Anderson, Clare Danes and Minnie Driver

Princess Mononoke is an animated film dealing in adult themes. Its 133-minute running time is barely sufficient to explore the vast world and complex story and it’s a little disjointed at times, but seems smoother every time I watch it. It was the highest-grossing film in Japan until Titanic was released.

Our hero is Ashitaka (Crudup), who saves his village from a possessed boar, but suffers a wound that could eventually result in his death. He is forced to leave the village to seek a cure. He rides an elk and shares a strong bond with the animal. Ashitaka is a noble and heroic young prince who always has good intentions. We see him save two men from drowning and he returns them to their village. He enters the Forbidden Forest, which is considered certain death, but it turns out to be nothing of the sort. Ashitaka encounters forest sprites who are full of joy and childlike wonder, and they lead him to safety. As with virtually all Miyazaki films, most of the danger comes from misunderstandings rather than true evil. The story is deeply spiritual and demonstrates Miyazaki’s love of nature. Princess Mononoke is raised by wolves and hates humans, but Ashitaka tries to show her that not all humans are bad. It’s a sprawling story filled with gods and mystery, but the long running time never feels boring. The simple animation style is beautiful and the music enhances the whole experience.

There’s no Blu-ray release as yet, although it will eventually happen. The DVD is worth checking out if you don’t have the option to stream it. The story is quite violent in places with bloody scenes involving enemies being decapitated. It may not be suitable for small children.

Here's my full review.

Click here to see #11-15 on the list.

Click here to see #6-10 on the list.

Click here to see #1-5 on the list.

Return to index of every review on the site.

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