Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Animated Thoughts: The Top 25 Animated Features, pt. 1 of 5

Recently, I read a list of the top 100 animated feature length films as selected by "experts" in the field of animation. Some of the people who were interviewed, I recognized, others I didn't. Some of the people I actually know, some I don't. But in every case, some of their choices I agreed with, some I did not, and some left me scratching my head wondering what they were thinking. But, since what qualifies as "the best" is completely subjective, to each their own (as I'm sure many will say about my choices). So, in the spirit of self-indulgence, I thought I'd throw my choices out there for the top twenty five animated feature films that everyone should see at least once. :)

One thing I'd like to mention before I get to the list: if you're in the Lansing, Michigan area, Video-to-Go over in the Frandor shopping center has almost all of these films on DVD. I've added a note under each film where applicable. So if you see something that strikes your fancy (or you want to see first-hand how close or far apart our taste in films is), you can stop over to our local video store and pick up a movie or two.

Presented alphabetically:

1. Adventures of Prince Achmed
First and foremost on my list is the silhouette animation masterpiece from Lotte Reiniger--the first woman to create a feature-length animated film. In addition to that accolade, Prince Achmed is also the oldest surviving feature-length animated film. There is anecdotal evidence that Argentinian Quirano Cristani created two feature-length animated films before Lotte Reiniger did, however, no copies have been found. So, for my money, Lotte Reiniger still holds the title: "creator of the world's first feature-length animated film". The British Film Institute has released a DVD of Prince Achmed and in the special extras section, they have a great documentary discussing Lotte Reiniger's life and the times that she lived in. What an amazing woman.

Availability: Available in the States on DVD. Look for the BFI version as they restored all the original color tints.

2. Arrugas (Wrinkles)
Arrugas isn't your standard comedy: it's the story of a group of people in a nursing home, revolving around one man who is slipping into Alzheimers, and their attempts to hide it from the doctors. This entire movie could have been made in live-action--and probably faster for a smaller budget. But I think that the fact that it's animated keeps the movie from becoming this depressing ninety-minute dirge as we see people struggling with end-of-life issues. Arrugas is pretty light-hearted considering it's subject matter and it treats the characters with a certain amount of dignity, finding the right balance between humor and irony. One of my favorite scenes surrounds a minor character: a woman who sits in her room and stares out the window while smoking invisible cigarettes, all because in her mind she's still in Europe riding on the trains.

Availability: Hasn't been released in the States on DVD yet, but I heard a rumor that this may change soon.

UPDATE: The rumor has been confirmed! GKIDS will be releasing Arrugas on July 16th for digital download and on DVD.

3. Atlantis, the Lost Empire
This film was produced during a time where Walt Disney was riding high on a renaissance within their animation studio years after their film the Little Mermaid almost single-handedly fired up a second golden age of animated film. As such, they appeared willing to take some risks on films outside their 'Rodgers and Hammerstein' formula--like Lilo and Stitch and Emperor's New Groove. Sadly, Atlantis wasn't a financial superstar for Disney but that doesn't mean it wasn't a spectacular film. Aimed more at the teenage boy market, this animated film eschewed song and dance numbers and was not afraid to place it's characters in serious peril--as well as kill off secondary (and a couple primary) characters in spectacular fashion. There are some great animated films in the Disney filmography, but for my money, Atlantis, the Lost Empire remains tied with Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 as my all-time favorite Disney film (though if you held my feet to the fire, I'd probably have to give that title to either Fantasia's "Nutcracker Suite" or Fantasia 2000's "Firebird Suite").

Availability: Available in the States on DVD. Video-to-go has a copy.

4. Boogie, el aceitoso
He's violent. He's crude. He's a racist. He's a misogynist. 'Oily Boogie' is a caricature of Dirty Harry and probably gives some insight into how American culture is viewed--seen through the eyes of the legendary Argentinian cartoonist Roberto Fontanarrosa. The animation has this digital cutout look that is reminiscent of the Maxx and it gives "Boogie" the movie this comic book quality harking back to the '70's when "Boogie" the character was featured in comic strips. This was not an easy movie to find, even harder to find a copy with English subtitles. But so long as you understand that its a parody of the hyper-violence portrayed in the American media--and it's going to be offensive--it's a rather humorous film to watch.

Availability: Hasn't been released in the States on DVD. You can find it on Amazon, but I think it's a bootleg.

5. Ernest & Celestine
What a delightful little film. Digitally animated but with the look and feel of hand drawn animation containing gorgeous watercolor backgrounds, this film looks like it leapt right off the pages of a children's storybook. Ernest & Celestine is the story of two outcasts from society reaching across cultural boundaries to build a lasting friendship. Based on a series of children's books, it's a wonderful movie to watch with the kids--and one of the few animated films that made me envious of the parents in the theater who had a son or daughter to watch this movie with. It was my pleasure to see Ernest & Celestine in the original French language at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, but it has now seen limited release in theaters with an English dub that doesn't seem to have cost the film any of its charm. The DVD will be released on June 17th, 2014, so if you've got kids, grab a copy and save it for a rainy afternoon when you can make popcorn, sit with your kids on the couch, and watch a movie. With all due respect to Frozen (and the hardworking men and women who created it), this is the film that I thought should've won the Academy Award.

Availability: Hasn't been released in the States on DVD yet, but will be available June 17, 2014.

Honorable Mention: Wizards
Ralph Bakshi's films are hit or miss for me. Fritz the Cat and Lord of the Rings... really didn't do it for me. But Fire and Ice and Cool World did. And HBO's Spicy City was fantastic! Wizards is one of those films that is firmly in my "it's okay" column. However, what makes this film worth seeing is that, to my knowledge, it's the first feature length animated film that had an African-American woman working on it as an animator: Ms. Brenda Banks. Below the trailer for the movie, I've included a video documentary about Bakshi where he discusses Brenda Banks and her role in making Wizards. At at time of great racial upheaval in America, Bakshi wasn't afraid to give people a chance to prove themselves. Love him or hate him, you've got to respect the "bad boy of animation", Ralph Bakshi.

Availability: Available in the States on DVD. Video-to-go has a copy.

While the whole half-hour documentary is worth watching, the part about Brenda Banks starts at time marker 21:05.

Well, that's it for this post. Check back in two weeks for the next five films in my list of the top 25 animated features everyone should see.