Top Ten Animated Films

Posted: November 22, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists

Written by Daniel Simpson

Tomorrow, Disney is putting out an animated adventure film called Moana which is already pulling in great reviews. It isn’t the last animated film of 2016, but it does seem to be the last of a string of above average animated movies to see wide-release in 2016, with others including Disney’s Zootopia, Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings, and Pixar’s Finding Dory (I haven’t seen that last one, but reviews are strong so I’ll assume it’s at least better than mediocre). To mark the occasion, this week’s list will be celebrating what I consider to be the top ten best animated films ever made. Generally speaking, I’m limiting this list to only one film per director/studio, but I’m making an exception in the case of Studio Ghibli. Simply put, the filmmakers working under Ghibli have distinct enough auteurial styles that it would be unfair for to lump all of these directors under one label.

10. Persepolispersepolis

Of all the films in this list, Persepolis is easily the one I’ve gone the longest without seeing. None the less, I still felt like it needed to be included as its one of the boldest examples of a work of animation made for adults. The fact that the film depicts a fascinating portion of Iran’s history which doesn’t get much representation in cinema alone gives the film a big edge and it also tells a young woman’s compelling coming of age story quite well. The film’s animation has a deliberately two-dimensional look which is interesting and the use of black and white is really striking. On a rewatch, this film might well climb a lot higher.

9. A Scanner Darklyscanner_darkly

Richard Linklater is not a director you’d usually associate with science-fiction, but his adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly turned out to be one of the more interesting sci-fi films of the 2000s. The film’s use of rotoscoping certainly gives it a unique look, but what really stands out with A Scanner Darkly is the film’s observations of surveillance societies. This isn’t a world defined by the overt oppression and tyranny these sort of dystopias typically depict. Rather, the film sees a society wherein surveillance is a lot more insidious and it’s only at the end when one realizes their freedoms have been stripped. A Scanner Darkly was highly relevant in the aftermath of the Patriot Act and it remains a key text in a post-Snowden world.

8. Heavy Metalheavy-metal

If there’s one film in this list whose placement is highly questionable, it’s this one. Heavy Metal is certainly a very schlocky movie and it’s also fairly sexist. I wouldn’t really argue with anyone who claims it has no business being placed ahead of weightier affair like Persepolis and A Scanner Darkly. All that said, I can’t deny that I think Heavy Metal is a total blast. The animation is very stylish and cool. There’s a lot of creativity to a lot of the sci-fi/fantasy worlds on display and the action scenes, while simplistic, work pretty well. The film also has some fun stories, a cool voice cast, and a pretty good sense of humour. Also, while the soundtrack is more classic rock than full on Metal, there’s definitely some great tracks from the likes of Blue Oyster Cult, Riggs, Sammy Hagar, Grand Funk Railroad, Nazareth, and the legendary Black Sabbath. Sabbath in particularly steal the show. Put simply, I can’t help but love a film which features a bunch of nomads who are mutated by toxic waste and lay siege to a city all set to “E5150/Mob Rules”. Awesome stuff.

7. Watership Downwatership-down

“Animated movie about talking rabbits” conjures up certain images, but Watership Down is way more respectable and dignified than you’d expect. The cast of British character actors, led by the awesome John Hurt, certainly helps, but more than anything the film really takes itself seriously. At its core, this is a survival story about a group traversing through a dangerous environment and seeking a new home. There’s a real weight to this journey and the conflicts with others are more violent and graphic than you’d expect. A big part of this is the animation style, which is detailed and also does a great job conveying danger. The film also has a fairly interesting mythology and spiritual aspect. The film on the whole is a gem and I hope with the recent Criterion release more audiences discover its charms.

6. Fantasiafantasia-poster-1940

Disney has a wide catalogue of titles to choose from but I never had any doubt Fantasia would be representing the juggernaut here. Classic Disney animation is certainly beautiful and Fantasia allows it to be appreciated without the distractions of comic sidekicks or simplistic morals. Instead, Fantasia offers a collection of creative shorts which feature some stellar animation and are set to some amazing classical music. There’s also all sorts of variety in these various shorts. The Nutcracker Suite is an artistic expression of changing seasons, Rite of Spring is a history of evolution on Earth, The Pastoral Symphony is Greek myth, etc. The highlight is the climax; Night on Bald Mountain, which involves a demon unleashing all sorts of evil in a German expressionist inspired setting.

5. WALL-Ewall_e

Unlike Disney, I had a harder time making my Pixar selection. The Toy Story movies mean a lot to me and The Incredibles is all kinds of awesome, but ultimately I settled on WALL-E, which is most certainly Pixar’s most daring and ambitious film. The very notion of a near $200 million family movie about excessive consumption and the near destruction of the human race is insanely bold and the fact that Pixar turned that into a $500 million smash hit that also received heaps of critical praise speaks a lot to the studio’s prowess. But there are other courageous choices here too, like the fact that the first 45 minutes of the film are completely devoid of dialogue. Beyond that, the film’s core themes are well-realized and its depiction of a barren Earth are pretty incredible.

4. Waltz with Bashirwaltz-with-bashir-movie-poster-2008-1020457621

The fact that Waltz with Bashir is an Israeli animated pseudo-documentary alone makes the film a unique artifact, but this is a lot more than just a novel curiosity. Rather, Waltz with Bashir is a fascinating exploration of identity and the consequences of war. The fact that the central war is the Lebanon War of 1982 also adds a lot to the proceedings as it’s a conflict that’s rarely been depicted on film. The animation is also really stylish and there are some strikingly surreal sequences which really stand out. All told the film is one of the most unique and powerful animated films you’ll ever see.

3. Princess Mononokeprincess-mononoke-movie-poster-1997-1020473311

Perhaps the biggest struggle I had when putting this list together was which Hayao Miyazaki film to include. Ultimately, it came to My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke. I love the former. It’s a wonderful movie which takes a story with virtually no conflict and turns it into a gripping cinematic experience through creativity and passion. However I decided to give the edge to Princess Mononoke, which is an amazing fantasy epic that delivers on everything you want from that genre. Badass heroes? Check. Exciting set-pieces? Check. Terrifying monsters? Check. Rousing music? Check. Visual creativity? Triple check. However I think what puts Princess Mononoke over the top is how smart and nuanced it is. The characters have a lot of layers, even the villains are sympathetic. The film also makes some very smart points about the environment and industrialism, and does so in a way which is a lot less preachy than one might expect. The film as a whole is a towering achievement and a great summation of all the things that makes Miyazaki’s films so great.

2. AkiraAkira (1988) Japan 2

For a lot of people Akira served as a gateway drug to anime and it played a similar role for me. I had certainly seen a few anime shows when I was a little kid, but this was my first exposure to Japanese animation that was unambiguously for adults and I was completely blown away. The film presents a staggering vision of a future Japan with some really amazing animation. The third act in particular turns into visual mayhem which is all kinds of inspiring. The action scenes here are also transcendently awesome. Animation opens up all sorts of possibilities for creative action, but few films take advantage of this quite like Akira. We get giant lasers, machine gun battles, chases, and amazing uses of telekinetic powers. It’s an amazing blend of more traditional action with more surreal sci-fi violence and it’s very visceral. The plot itself is a really fascinating dive into government conspiracy and some really ambitious science-fiction. It’s a lot to take in and I don’t totally “get” everything, but it’s an absorbing ride all the same and an experience I’m always happy to take again.

1. Grave of the FirefliesGrave_of_the_Fireflies_Japanese_poster

Animation is a license to do anything and that’s why the restraint Isao Takahata employs with Grave of the Fireflies is so striking. The film is set in Japan during the final stretch of World War II, but the visuals do not turn the devastation of war into spectacle. Rather, Takahata depicts the firebombings as horrific, but matter of fact. This is a crucial choice because while the war is important, Grave of the Fireflies is ultimately about a teenage boy and his younger sister simply trying to survive. The relationship between the two is where the heart of the film lies. The love between the pair feels very real, making the moments of joy all the more inspiring, and the moments of sorrow all the more painful. Indeed, Grave of the Fireflies has developed a reputation for being one of the most heart-wrenching movies you’ll ever see and with good reason. The suffering in the film is substantial, but there is also hope. Much of this hope stems from the warmth of the protagonists, but the film also suggests life beyond the horrors of war. The film can also be deconstructed regarding what it says about Japan circle World War II and that is crucial, but what makes Grave of the Fireflies so powerful is the love between the main characters. The film on the whole is one of the most moving I’ve ever seen, animated or otherwise.

  1. Chris says:

    That’s my boy, but it should really be number one!!!!

  2. ianthecool says:

    This is a very adult list. You have WallE and Mononoke, so it is Ian approved.

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