On November of 2010, I wrote a review of Watership Down and posted it on the That Guy with the Glasses blogs. This would be the first in a long line of animated movie reviews dubbed “Animation for Adults”. A few months later, I was invited to contribute my work to a little coalition of young reviewers called Man In Black Reviews. Through this site, I was given the opportunity to become friends with some talented and awesome people, and a platform to keep my writing skills sharp and to share my work with others. A year has passed since my time here began, and to celebrate, I will be sharing something with you: a list of my ten all time favorite animated films. Much like Horror Guru’s top 10 favorite horror movies list, this will hopefully give you a better idea of my personal taste as well as my criteria for what I look for in an animated film. A lot of these are films that I already reviewed in the past, and some I might consider reviewing in the future. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. These are my top 10 all time favorite animated films.
When I first conceived the concept for A4A, I built it around my philosophy that animation doesn’t have to, nor should be a medium exclusively for children, hence the tagline, “proving that cartoons ain’t just kids’ stuff”. Nowhere is this more evident than in the work of Pixar, who have mastered the art of making films that appeal to adults just as much as they do to kids. It was hard to pick just one from their roster, but I chose Wall-E simply because it does this transition the best. Sure, Finding Nemo strikes a chord with all the parents, and Up really hits it home with anyone coming to terms with their age, but Wall-E seems specifically designed for the thinking man. The first half is actually really great silent comedy despite the desolate setting, and has a surprisingly believable romance considering it’s between two robots. But then we get to the second half on the spaceship where we’re introduced to an Orwellian nightmare. Generally this would turn me off since films with anti-consumerism overtones tend to bombard you with their message, but it’s very subtle in that it just shows the results instead of just beating you over the head with it. If you pay attention to the little details, you can tell they’re saying a lot by not saying much at all. And that’s the key to it’s appeal. It’s a mind blowing film, and my tenth favorite animated feature.
9. The Prince of Egypt
If I told you that DreamWorks made a Disney style animated musical about the story of Moses, you’d probably dismiss it as a formula for a biblical disaster. But on the contrary, what came out of it was one of the most epic, emotional, and criminally underrated animated films of the era. The animation and visuals are absolutely grand, blowing me away every single time. The songs are amazingly good and fit in quite nicely with the plot, never feeling contrived or forced, especially since they’re from the same guy who did Wicked. The story, what can I say? Everybody knows about it. But it doesn’t focus so much on the religious aspects as it does on the conflict between Moses and Ramses as brothers. The characters are complex and deep, torn apart by family and duty, and the conflict is actually pretty tragic. This is emphasized by some top notch voice acting, particularly from Ralph Fiennes as Ramses. It did pretty well at the box office when it first came out, but since then, nobody ever talks about it or acknowledges it, and it has since then faded into obscurity. Which I think is redundant since it has done things just as well as its Disney contenders, sometimes even exceeding whatever films Disney was coming out with at the time. And since this is from DreamWorks, it makes you disappointed when they decide to pump out movies like Over the Hedge and Bee Movie when you know they’re capable of doing so much better. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend giving it a rent.
8. The Simpsons Movie
I know a good chunk of you have all grown up with The Simpsons. I grew up with The Simpsons. While it’s true that they had their slumps and that it’s been going on for way too long, there’s no denying the impact it has had not just on us, but on America and television in general. So you’re probably wondering why it took eighteen years for one of the most influential shows of all time to make the move to the silver screen. Well your guess is as good as mine. Since it came out when the show was way past its expiration date, a lot of people thought it wasn’t going to be any good. But to my surprise, I was absolutely floored by how hilarious it was. It’s not just that the jokes are funny, but that there are millions of you and they just keep coming one after another. There’s subtle jokes, obvious jokes, jokes in the background, jokes in the foreground, prat falls, banter, slapstick, references, you name it, it’s in there somewhere. When my friend and I went and saw this in theaters, we were laughing our asses off the entire time. A lot of people said that The Simpsons started to get a little better after the movie, and while I can’t really vouch for that myself, I’d be willing to believe it if this movie was any indication.
7. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
Yeah, you all probably saw this one coming from a mile away. Everything that The Simpsons Movie did right, the South Park movie did perfectly. It left you shocked and disgusted, yet it also left you laughing until you couldn’t breathe and begging for more. This movie was especially brave for saying what it said and doing what it did in the face of those who wanted it taken down in the name of decency. It really brings up the question of where we draw the line between funny and offensive. It varies from person to person, but with this movie, Matt Stone and Trey Parker can and will find that line cross it. Some of the references are a tad dated, but the insight to the ongoing culture wars certainly hasn’t, especially since South Park still remains a major pillar in network television and cultural commentary in a way that The Simpsons once held it but let slip. Like all good satire, its criticisms are harsh and constructive at the same time, but when you get down to it, they just come from common sense. So in conclusion, Simpsons did it, but South Park did it first and better.
6. Princess Mononoke
Generally, the obligatory Hayao Miyazaki spot on these lists would go to Spirited Away, but I personally think it’s kind of overrated. Besides, it didn’t leave the impact that Princess Mononoke did. Beyond Pokémon, this movie was my real introduction to anime and animation made more for adults than children. My eight year old mind experiencing this movie for the first time went a little like: “Wow, this looks like Pokémon,O HMY GOD THAT GIANT BOAR JUST MELTED! Those tree spirits are really cute, OH MY GOD THERE’S BLOOD EVERYWHERE! This battle is awesome, OH MY GOD WHY DOES THAT DEER HAVE A HUMAN FACE! OH MY GOD NOW IT’S A GIANT BLOB MONSTER AND THE FOREST IS DYING!!!” I didn’t get that feeling from Spirited Away, at least not to that extent. If I have any grievance with this movie, it would probably be that the plot becomes a tad predictable toward the end and the message is a bit obvious, but it’s done with subtlety and the breathtaking animation more than makes up for it. It’s Avatar done right. It brings up questions about our relationship with nature like where are we going, what consequences will our actions have if we don’t change and will we ultimately end up destroying ourselves, but in the end, there can only be one answer. If you want to know what that answer is, this movie will gladly provide it for you.
The first movie I reviewed for the site, Persepolis is a unique animal in and of itself. While the animation is nice to look at, the story is really something else. It’s about Marjane Satrapi, a girl from Iran coming into adulthood during the Islamic Revolution. It’s interesting to see a culture that suppresses women on just about every level not just from the perspective of a woman, but from one of the most determined, endearing, strong willed and outspoken female characters in recent memory. I would call her one of the greatest if it wasn’t for the fact that Marjane is a real person, and that this is an autobiographical story. While the events and people that unfold before her are incredibly personal, they’re also surprisingly universal. As a girl, she sees things very black and white, but as she gets older, the events become a lot greyer. But it’s not all just gloom and doom. There are a lot of funny and entertaining moments, (just make sure to mute when she starts singing) and there is an air of optimism at certain points. If you’ve ever been curious about the events in the Middle East and how it all began, I’d recommend this movie as a starting off point since a lot of them are pretty accurate. After all, they’re being told from someone who witnessed them first-hand.
4. Mary & Max
When it came to my #4 spot, I knew it had to go to either Persepoli sor Mary & Max, two movies that have a lot more in common than you’d think. Both are done in black and white, both are based on real life experiences, and both deal delicately with heavy handed subject matters. But what gave this the edge over Persepolis is that while Persepolis has the more emotional story and the best character, Mary & Max has the most heart, and hits a lot closer to home. For one, I can heavily relate to Max, being very close to someone who has the same affliction. But I can also relate to Mary, having been that one kid who always got picked on and feeling like I had no one to turn to. There’s a lot of calamity and drama for someone watching this and thinking it’s going to be a kid’s movie. The truth is it’s about as far from a kid’s film as animation can get. Not in the same way the South Park movie isn’t for kids, but more in the way that Rain Man or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest aren’t for kids. The story is a bit thin and isn’t that hard to follow, but our main characters are the glue that holds it all together. They’ll make you laugh, they’ll make you cry, and by the end, they’ll be like close friends you’ve known for years.
Princess Mononoke may have been the movie that opened my eyes to anime, but Akira was the final coat that solidified my love for it. I admit, sometimes the dialogue is a bit laughable at times (“TETSUOOOOOOO!!!!” has become a running joke between me and my best friend.), but there’s literally nothing else like it, and it has since become a benchmark for anime fans in America. Sure, anime has been seen by western audiences for years in the form of Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Voltron and whatnot, but it wasn’t until Akira came around that people really started taking notice. And it opened up a lot of doors and influenced a lot of western viewers. The South Park episode “Trapper Keeper” paid tribute to it. Kanye West’s music video for “Stronger” was a direct homage. There was even talk of an American remake that’s been in development hell for a while, but thankfully that got canned because if there’s any movie that doesn’t need a reboot, it’s this one. The detail put into the animation is staggering, especially considering it was done in the 80’s, and it still holds up well against all the 3D of modern animated films. Beyond that, it explores a lot of thought provoking themes and brings a lot of imagination that you don’t see in a lot of movies. The action is absolutely thrilling, the animation is gorgeous, the music is fascinating, and it’s a must see for fans of anime, sci-fi, and film alike.
Walt Disney once said that if you only aim for children, your film is dead before it even begins. With Fantasia, I think this was the first movie he did where he only had adults in mind. While kids could watch it without any problem, a child’s experience is widely different from a grown-up’s. It doesn’t have a coherent story or even any dialogue, but it has as much emotion, beauty and simplicity as any other classic film. It isn’t as much of a movie as it is an experience, kind of like what goes through your mind when you’re listening to music. Each segment is completely different from the one before it. The beginning with Toccata in Fugue is mostly a collage of colors and shapes, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice tells a coherent narration, and the combining of Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria brings two opposites together to create beautiful contrast. It’s like going to an art museum and getting a different response with each painting you see, except here it’s more like art in motion. If you haven’t seen it before, then you’re seriously missing out. It’s absolutely perfect.
Now I know what you’re thinking: What could possibly top perfection? To be honest, the answer surprises even me.
- Fantastic Mr. Fox
I must admit that this movie does have a few bumps and it isn’t for everyone, but personally, I feel like this movie was tailor made just for me. I saw the trailer and didn’t quite know what to make of it, but when I saw Wes Anderson’s name attached to it, my curiosity got the best of me. What I got was one of the funniest, most original, and surprisingly engaging films I have seen in recent years. Everything about this movie is just perfect to me, and I love every second of it. I love the characters, I love the cinematography, I love the pacing, I love the dialogue (Oh my god, the dialogue!), I love the story, I love animation, I just plain love it. Everything just fits like a jigsaw falling into place. While it doesn’t really stay close to the Roald Dahl book it was based on, it’s a creation in and of itself, and even improves on the faults the book had, making it a much richer story. I did a review of it a few months ago and to this day I consider it to be one of my worst reviews simply because I had a hard time putting everything I loved about the movie into words without sounding like a biased fanboy. And the truth is that it’s just one of those things that needs to be seen to be believed because there’s literally nothing like it. It’s not my favorite animated movie, it’s one of my favorite movies period, and something I intend on watching for years to come. If you give it a chance with an open mind, I guarantee it’ll do the same for you.