This blog entry has been such a challenge! Reducing the hundreds of great animated films I’ve seen down to 5 has been nearly impossible and a lot of great films have missed out, but here is my best attempt at it! In no particular order;
1. Princess Mononoke Hayao Mitazaki’s name is essentially a guarantee of quality. I was introduced to the world of Studio Ghibli in my mid teens through Spirited Away and quickly worked my way through the whole catalogue. All the Ghibli films are great but Princess Mononoke was particularly outstanding. From the opening scene you’re met with a barrage of insane, beautifully crafted imagery, stunning animation, startlingly adult violence and a core message of environmental conservation embedded in an epic, wonderfully told war story. Princess Mononoke is a product of a studio and auteur at the top of their game creating a perfect illustration of how animation can tell brilliant stories that are not purely aimed at a child audience.
2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame It’s impossible to discuss my favourite animated films without mentioning Disney. There are lots of brilliant Disney films that I grew up with but The Hunchback of Notre Dame was one that I discovered a lot later, seeing it for the first time in my late 20’s. It stood out instantly as a classic Disney style story with a much darker tone, particularly from the brilliantly villainous Judge Frollo. It’s a perfect combination of great characters, music and the ubiquitous animation brilliance we grew to expect in the second golden age of Disney animation.
3. Toy Story 3 I have very clear memories of the first time I saw Toy Story and even as a child, realised I was seeing something new and special. Toy Story was the film that launched a revolution in animation and also took audiences on a two decade journey with a group of characters we grew to love. When Toy Story 3 was announced I was worried. Pixar had already taken on the incredibly difficult challenge of making a sequel that turned out as good as, if not better than the original in Toy Story 2. The chances of it happening again were tiny so I went into the cinema with a great deal of trepidation. The reason I’ve put Toy Story 3 on this list as opposed to the others is that I was blown away by the film makers’ ability to complete Woody, Buzz and Andy’s story so perfectly that even the most hardened adult shed a tear for the loss of their own childhood innocence!
4. Chicken Run Like a lot of kids growing up in the 90’s, I got to know the amazing stop motion work of Aardman and Nick Park through the unbeatably brilliant Wallace and Gromit shorts. As a budding animator who had dabbled in stop motion, the announcement that Aardman would be producing a feature length stop motion film was amazing news. The film is a masterclass in stop motion, to the point that it reaches the almost unattainable achievement of making the viewer forget they are watching plasticine models and instead allows you to be swept up in the fantastically British, laugh a minute, chicken-based, prison-break caper that only Aardman and the combined brilliance of Nick Park and Peter Lord could have achieved.
5. Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse In more recent years the feature animated world has become saturated with a lot of film-by-numbers movies and sequels that fall firmly into the category of “fine but forgettable”. There are obvious exceptions that break free from this mould but none more so that the stunning, chaotic, masterpiece that is Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. This film is an achievement for so many reasons; A daring, never-before-seen animation style that makes every frame of the movie a work of art (literally…go through it frame by frame); A retelling of the Spiderman origin story that is as unique and crazy as it is compelling and hilarious; A level of freedom given to the story tellers that paid off with the most original animation in years. As an animator you dream of seeing the best artists in the world given the trust of a studio to create something truly new and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse is a perfect example of how great the results can be.
So that’s it. I’m sure you could mentioned tons of other features that I’d want on this list but these are films that have played a big part in my love for animation throughout my life. If you haven’t seen any of them, get on it asap!