Well I thought as an introduction to the boards, I’d compile a list of my Top 10 Animated films. Why? Because, quite simply, I love animation. I think animation can, when done right, transport you to a different world and place in a way that no other media can. I’ve also thought it’d be kind of fun if I release a new entry into the list daily, as opposed to all at once. So check each day for an edited post. Expect much Studio Ghibli, a fair whack of Disney and a couple you may not be so familiar with.
10. When The Wind Blows (1986, Jimmy T. Murakami)
This animation from the mind of Raymond Briggs is compelling, beautiful and heartbreaking. Chances are many readers here will not have seen it, and I have only had the privilege because it was shown in an ethics class during discussion on nuclear power. It tells the story of a couple who follow all the Government guidelines of what to do if a nuclear bomb is dropped. As they willingly take every step needed to protect themselves from the nuclear fallout, it is difficult not to love these sweet, innocent characters as they get lost in a situation that is beyond their control.
The animation is Briggs’ unique style (as seen in the more famous The Snowman), and it works beautifully. It aptly conveys the horrors and devastation of a nuclear bomb, but also expresses the innocence of the old couple as they go about their lives. Their relationship is central to the film, and it means that the audience has a constant, sympathetic anchor to all the proceedings, and as they somewhat inevitably fade away, the tragedy of their life is acutely felt because we care so much about them.
Needless to say the ending isn’t happy, but the fact that it is so emotionally effective just goes to demonstrate the power of this quiet, little seen film that will remain with you long after the credits have rolled.
9. Hauru No Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle) (2004, Hayao Miyazaki)
What is so great about the work of Hayao Miyazaki is his unrivaled imagination. No one in the film world creates or invents in quite the same way as the Japanese master. Even in this, one of Ghibli’s few adaptations, he takes something not originally written by him and adds his own distinctive, beautiful stamp to the proceedings. The world of Sophie, Howl et al is one bursting with beauty and genius. The landscape animation is the finest ever, and the story confounds and enthralls in equal measure.
The highlight of all this crazed wonder is the castle itself. Clunking, whirring and fizzing with life, the titular mobile abode is a character in itself, a steampunk masterpiece with, one suspects, a mind of its own. Miyazaki’s famous attention to detail pays off in spades here and the end result is that you fall in love with Howl’s Moving Castle, the building and the film.
8. Coraline (2009, Henry Selick)
Henry Selick. No one outside of film fandom knows who he is, but everyone knows his films. Due to a rather cruel marketing trick several years ago, The Nightmare Before Christmas, a hugely popular film directed by Selick, was renamed Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas and so now, everyone thinks that that particular classic was directed by Tim Burton. So when Coraline came out, my friends began talking about Tim Burton’s new film. This made me angry. This doesn’t have any reflection on the film, I just needed to vent. Burton, who is becoming increasingly dull and repetitive, but somehow making more money each time, had nothing to do with this film. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Although anyone reading this site probably already knows that.
Anyway, now to talk about the film itself. Selick’s distinctive, beautiful visual style blends with the warped imagination of Neil Gaiman (the same who wrote source material for Stardust and Mirrormask) to create a creepy, frightening, electrifying fantasy story that probably isn’t suitable for the youngest of children. It looks beautiful, and the stop motion animation is done with such great care and dedication that every shot is a work of art. And instead of just being something nice to look at, the visuals compliment the story perfectly. It really takes off in the scenes set in the ‘Other’ world, with gardens that bloom with macabre beauty, and colours that set the screen alight. Watch it, if anything, for the look of the film.
But the story is compelling too, helped massively by the appeal of the spunky, engaging Coraline. As a protagonist, she is sympathetic, hilarious, brilliant and feisty. She gives the story so much heart that this masterpiece from a craftsman at the peak of his game edges ahead of that other non-Tim Burton film. You know, the one with the skeleton.
7. Toy Story 1 and 2 (1995 & 1999)
I know, I know, I’m cheating. But I really love animated films, and I’m not sure I could have got away with a Top 11. So I’ve made this a double, because really, these two works of brilliance, although created entirely separately, work together as a whole, dealing with themes of identity and friendship in a subtle and tender way. It’s the only Pixar on my list, which seems a bit unfair to the work of the second most consistent studio working today, but there it is. The house of Lamp have a way of combining jokes and smarts in a way that no one else can, and Toy Story is a classic example of that.
My favourite bit? It has to be the introduction of three eyed aliens, now iconic, and featuring heavily in the marketing for Toy Story 3. Which, you may not be surprised to learn, I am very excited about.
6. Mulan (1998)
Mulan may seem like an odd choice, as it’s generally not regarded as one of Disney’s best. But I think that’s unfair, as it’s position in this prestigious list makes clear. I think, in my not very humble opinion, that it’s a minor masterpiece.
There are several reasons I like it. I feel the animation is beautifully done, taking a strong Chinese influence and infusing every frame with it. Explosions curve and fume like calligraphy, and the landscapes feel straight from traditional eastern artwork. In short, it looks great. This also applies to the excellent action scenes. It’s only really been paralleled since by The Incredibles in terms of scope and activity in it’s action, and in each battle there is so much going on the Mulan never feels less than cinematic. Rumour has it they are making a live action tale of the legend, and that is something to be anticipated with bated breath.
Then there are the songs, amongst some of the best and most memorable of the Disney canon. Make a Man Out Of You is the highlight. It’s funny as well, with Eddie Murphy proving a knack for voiceover comedy several years before he became a donkey. The characters are endearing, it’s exciting and it has great music. What more could you want from a Disney animation? Plus, I must confess, there is an added element of nostalgia.
5. Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi (Spirited Away 2001)
Spirited Away has a lot to be accountable for. It was the film that introduced me to the wonders of Studio Ghibli, way back in 2001, and ever since I’ve been a Miyazaki nut. Even as an 12 year old with very little understanding of quality in films I could tell that Spirited Away was something special. Spirited Away was the reason that 4 years later I switched on channel four to watch Laputa, Castle in the Sky, and was blown away. I was hooked on this world and this director.
Hayao Miyazaki is, without doubt, a genius. Spirited Away displays a style and verve that is unmatched in the entire filmmaking world. He is also the most consistent director working today, and Spirited Away is one of the peaks of a near perfect career. The Alice-In-Wonderland style story tells of a girl who gets trapped in the spirit world, and has to work her way out to save her parents. She encounters slime spirits, a mysterious, dangerous, no-face and a dragon-boy. It’s a times terrifying, at times beautiful and never less than enthralling. As with all his films, Miyazaki sucks you into his world and holds you there for the duration. That Spirited Away is a masterpiece is not in question. All I must ask now is what on earth is better than this to get higher in my list?
4. Beauty and the Beast (1991, Trousdale and Wise)
Beauty and the Beast? That’s not manly to like at all!!! No, no it’s not. But I love it anyway.
3. Hotaru No Haka (Grave of The Fireflies) (1988, Isao Takahata) and 2. Tonari No Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro) (1988, Hayao Miyazaki)
In 1988, Studio Ghibli created one of the oddest double bills ever. They released a searing tale of two children trying to survive during wartime, and ultimately failing to do so, along with a sweet tale about two girls that see spirits and generally have a good time. One is happy and life affirming, the other is one of the most depressing films you may ever see. Both are absolute masterpieces.
Despite the obvious glaring differences, there are thematic similarities between the two. Both of them are about a set of siblings, and the bond they share. These two relationships are touching and convey a perfect sense of childhood, albeit from different angles. I think that’s the best term to sum up the theme of this double bill. Childhood. We see the glee of exploring forests, the joy of making new friends at school and the power of the imagination in Totoro. We see the pain and hardship that children went through during the war in Fireflies. Both, thanks to an effective dub by Pixar, capture childhood perfectly in all it’s highs and lows. Despite the fact I didn’t grow up in Japan, I felt waves of nostalgia when I first watched Totoro.
I think Totoro may be, unlike my number one film, a perfect film. At only 80 odd minutes long, it’s short, but very, very sweet. It’s casual observations of the life of a young child are endearing, and Miyazaki shows that as well as big fantasy epics he is capable of smaller, more intimate stories that touch the heart instead of the brain. The Totoro themselves are a work of genius – furry, unexplained creatures of different sizes that just exist. We know nothing about them. All we know is that they are kind enough to stay with you at a bus stop when you are worried about your father returning, will help you out in finding your sister when she is lost, and that they enjoy growing trees. It’s an absolute pleasure to spend 80 minutes with them, and at the end you wish it wouldn’t end.
Fireflies is far more grounded in the real world, and is the most emotionally affecting animation ever, providing a total gut punch towards the end in the form of a tear jerking montage. Hugely powerful, but never easy to watch, Takahata’s film deals with issues of guilt and grief with such an adept, light touch that the emotion never feels overblown or forced. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve seen before.
So an unconventional double bill, yes, but a brilliant one.
1. The Lion King (1994, Allers and Minkoff)
Ok, so the Lion King possibly isn’t the best film in my list. But it certainly is my favourite. Here’s a rather pedestrian list of why.
1. Nostalgia. This probably accounts for my huge love of this film. It was the first film I ever saw at the cinema, and since being a four year old, it has stayed with me. It fuelled my love of nature, and my love of travel, and when I finally got the chance to go on safari, this film was prominent in my mind. I’ve always loved it, and I probably always will. And actually, nostalgia can account a lot for a film’s popularity. Just ask ET or the Goonies.
2. The animation. It is, in my humble opinion, simply stunning. From the opening sunrise, there is a feeling of something special, something different. The reds, yellows and greens of each frame perfectly capture the passion of the film, and it is wondrous to lose yourself in the Savannah with Simba and co.
3. The story. Loosely based on Hamlet, The Lion King seems to have more depth than many Disney films, dealing with guilt, grief, death and family in a way that is often heartrbreaking. Just look at the scene in which Simba tries to wake up his dead father. Moving from powerful, to touching, to hilarious, Allers and Minkoff’s film is constantly engaging.
4. The Villain. Scar. Best villain ever.
5. The Songs. Infectiously catchy, thrumming with the vibes of Africa and just a whole lotta fun, The Lion King packs in some of Disney’s greatest tunes that have also become the most lasting. Start singing Hakuna Matata around any 90’s kid and you’ll see what I mean. My personal favourite is the Circle of Life, which, coupled with the stunning opening sequence, is simply breathtaking. I still listen to the soundtrack now, even as a 20 year old.
6. The Stage Show. Er, yeah. I know I’m writing about films, but the stage show of The Lion King is simply phenomenal. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. So much passion, vibrancy and emotion crammed onto one stage for 2 hours. It’s a delight from start to finish and is better than any film I’ve ever seen. It’s unbelievably good, and if you haven’t seen it, buy tickets now. This is something you don’t want to miss. But, er, yeah, it really enhanced my appreciation of the film.
And that, Ladies and Gents, is my personal favourite list of animated films. Which least deserved to be there? Which film was the most glaring omission? Let me know.