OK, clearly I have no sense of how long an update’s going to take. Apologies for this latest delay.
On the bright side, we’re finally here: My Top
5 6 5 Animated Movies Of All Time! (OK, so it actually turned out to be a Top 6 because I forgot about an old favorite.)
Technically I suppose that makes this a Top 16, but since I’m too lazy to go back and renumber everything I’ve listed thus far, I’m just putting the new one up as tied for #3 with my original pick.
5) The Nightmare Before Christmas. When this movie first came out, a 12-year-old me was highly skeptical. I’d seen Batman and Beetlejuice and liked them OK, but I wasn’t really keen on seeing Tim Burton do an honest-to-God kid’s movie.
I’m pleased to say that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I think almost everyone’s seen this movie, and I make it an annual Halloween tradition. The characters are flawed, but engaging and likable, the stop-motion is the finest I’ve ever seen, and the songs, by Tim Burton’s go-to-guy Danny Elfman, are up there with some of the best music Disney has to offer. It’s a really well-told story with a fascinating mythology. I love the idea of the Holiday Worlds, and how they seem to be microcosms of the public consciousness’s perception of these holidays. (so does that mean St. Patrick’s Day Town is full of drunk leprechauns, green beer, and rainbows? DISCUSS :p)
I don’t know what else to say about this movie. Chances are you’ve already seen it. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and watch it next Halloween or Christmastime. 😀
4) The Iron Giant. This is a fairly recent discovery for me, as I had only heard of it in passing when it first came out and didn’t actually try and find out more until much, much later. Of course now I’m kicking myself for not having discovered this gem earlier.
This is the most down-to-Earth animated movie I’ve ever seen. Despite being about a giant robot from space, this one was a great look at a period of American history I think we’d just as soon forget ever existed: the Cold War. The wonder of the Giant is offset by the fear of the period, and it makes for some wonderful building tension.
A lot of the real appeal, IMHO, is the characters themselves, and how fleshed-out and real they all feel. The relationships are intriguing and well-played out, and some of the most compelling stuff comes from these relationships…the villain covering the kid protagonist’s mouth with chloroform was one of the most chilling things I’ve ever seen in an animated movie, a medium where kids are usually pretty safe. Besides the villain (which is kind of the point), I cannot think of a single character I disliked or was annoyed by. And Vin Diesel’s performance as the voice of the Giant has to be heard to be believed. The few lines he gets are loaded.
This is kind of a cult classic compared to a lot of the movies on my list, particularly my Disney and Pixar entries, but I strongly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.
3) The Lion King and The Flight Of Dragons. This tie exists for a very good reason, as these are two sides of a coin to my way of thinking.
I’ll talk about the more famous one first. Lion King is one of those movies everyone has seen, and everyone’s got an opinion on it. Part Bambi, part Hamlet, part Macbeth, with a shot or two lifted from a 1965 anime series (though they have little in common besides those couple of shots and a few coincidences listed on the site), it was basically Disney using the same idea they had in Bambi, to tell a story from the perspective of the animal kingdom as opposed to people, or anthropomorphic animals like in their Mickey/Donald/Goofy shorts (or their adaptation of Robin Hood).
Everything about the production design on this movie was researched exhaustively, and it really does show, from the lushness of the scenery to the way every character moves, keeping true to their species while still conveying emotion. It’s not as hardcore-realistic as Watership Down, but in some ways I prefer the Disney animation…the characters are much more relatable and the emotional impact much harder hitting when you see the human element behind these acting animals. It wasn’t afraid to portray serious things Disney had previously shied away from, like death, depression, guilt, depravity, and madness, and it did it all without talking down or pulling many punches.
Critics pan the story for being derivative, but I’d argue that the blending of the disparate elements of the different stories was what made Lion King work so well. The writers took elements from all sorts of well-known stories and blended them together to craft Lion King into a unique story all its own, that feels like the others and yet separate from them. Plus, the other stories don’t have the happiest of endings (except some versions of Kimba), so Lion King is the one to watch if you don’t want to come away depressed.
Talking about the story-blending leads me to The Flight Of Dragons. This is one a lot fewer people have heard of, which I think is a shame, as it’s one of the best high-fantasy animated movies on the market.
For the plot of Flight of Dragons, Rankin & Bass amalgamated two books…Peter Dickinson’s art book by the same name on how dragons could theoretically exist, complete with explanations for how they flew and breathed fire, and Gordon R. Dickson’s “The Dragon And The George,” the first book in his Dragon Knight series of novels. Most of the plot and characters are from the latter book, simply replacing the main character with an animated avatar of Peter Dickinson, but the explanations given for dragon biology are right out of Dickinson’s own book.
Visually, I find this one as beautiful as Lion King, in its own way. For a movie made in 1982, it’s impressive, every inch hand-drawn in Rankin & Bass’s inimitable style. The effects in particular stand out, between the hand-drawn curls of cloud-shaped fire and the surreal imagery that surrounds the climax.
The voice-acting is impressive, with Harry Morgan, James Gregory, John Ritter, Victor Buono, and James Earl Jones all giving great performances. Best of all, unlike The Last Unicorn, this one isn’t a musical, which means no embarrassing singing performances to distract from the quality of the cast. The only song, “Flight Of Dragons” is performed by Don McLean, and for my money, I prefer it over “American Pie” any day.
But again, the selling point with this movie is the story. The high-adventure fantastic quest is here in all its glory, with unexpected allies, deadly perils, an evil wizard, a damsel in distress, and the fate of the world at stake. It’s by turns adult and dark, and playful and humorous, with enough of both to keep from getting either too adult or too kiddy, although I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to very young children. But the underlying plot, of science versus magic, is where this movie really shines. Without giving away too much, it’s hard for a self-proclaimed witch like me to see myself making the same choice Dickinson does at the end of the film.
These two movies are good examples of storytellers at work. The originality of both works may be in question, but they revisit classic archetypes in such a way that gives a fresh spin on their respective tales. While chances are you’ve already seen Lion King, I recommend Flight of Dragons to everyone who likes fantasy, good animation, or both.
2) The Secret of NIMH. Another 1982 entry, this movie was Don Bluth’s first feature-length film.
I love a lot of Don Bluth’s work. Even though I complained about the original American Tail when I listed Fievel Goes West as #15, the only reason for my pathos is because I really got to care about him, and thus drawn into the movie. All Dogs Go To Heaven, Titan A.E, Anastasia, and The Land Before Time all sucked me in because of the quality of their storytelling and the sense of wonder I felt during each movie that contrasted with the heavy emotional impact all these films carried (yes, even Anastasia. I’m a sucker for the Disney formula done right, even if it’s not by Disney).
But I really do believe Bluth’s first offering was his best. No one told him what he could and couldn’t do, so The Secret of NIMH was pure creativity, without any influence from a studio telling him what not to put in there, and a backlash against the cheapness of animated productions of the time…and it shows. The production values here are off the charts, with dazzling special effects, fluid, seamless animation that still holds up today, and a team of writers and artists who would go on to produce legendary works in the years to come (including Brenda Chapman, Vera Lanpher, and Bruce Timm, all before they rose to fame for other projects).
The story is probably the most unconventional hero’s quest ever, following a widowed mother of four as she sets out on a journey to save her family. While the rats of NIMH have a highly compelling backstory and mythology all their own, it’s Mrs. Brisby’s quiet determination sells this movie. Mrs. Brisby (changed from Frisby in the novel to avoid lawsuits from the makers of the Frisbee toy) is intrepid and brave, but a different kind of brave than the normal action hero. She spends most of the movie either meekly diffident to others or terrified out of her wits, but still ventures forth and seeks out the help she needs, whether from a curmudgeonly professorial mouse (voiced by Arthur Malet), an inept crow (Dom DeLuise, in the first of many roles he would play for Bluth’s films) an all-knowing Owl (the late John Carradine, father of the late David Carradine and an old-time acting legend in his own right), or a clan of ostracized, super-smart rats (Peter Strauss, Derek Jacobi, and Paul Shenar, among others). She’s a Mama Bear on a level with Molly Weasley, if not in quite the same way. However, for all that she’s not an Action Mom, the sense that she would go to the ends of the Earth and back for her children is still there.
The movie isn’t quite perfect, even though it’s amazing…the ending is immensely gratifying on an emotional level, but doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of a movie that had previously been (mostly) grounded in reality. However, I like a little magic in my movies, and when the payoff is as richly rewarding and relieving as that one was, I call a little suspension of disbelief a fair trade. So I can let that slide and give Secret of NIMH a well-earned spot as my second-favorite animated movie of all time.
1) Beauty And The Beast. There are very, very few movies I’m willing to call “perfect.” Even in some of my all-time favorite cartoons, there’s a flaw in the writing, or the animation isn’t quite up to today’s standards, or something about it just isn’t quite there.
I’m happy to say that I found a movie I consider perfect in Beauty And The Beast. The songs are beautiful, memorable, and fun at varying turns. My favorite is Angela Lansbury’s touching, maternal rendition of the title theme. The animation is flowing and seamless and holds up beautifully, even more than 20 years after the fact. And the story?
Well, let’s just say I sat down and went over this story with a fine-toothed comb, looking for even the slightest little thing to complain about. And not a single thing came to mind. I can’t find anything wrong with this movie. Even things that, on the surface, seem to not make much sense, actually hold up under closer scrutiny. And that takes real talent, especially for a fairy tale.
The characters are similarly wonderful. Belle and the Beast are my two favorite Disney characters. Belle is understanding, sweet, kind, and patient, but she’s no one’s fool and anything but a doormat; she will push back if she’s pushed too far. The Beast’s character arc is an awesome redemption story about the changing power of caring for others, and climbing out of the depths of one’s own depression at the same time. Gaston is a brilliant villain in that he’s mostly a harmless, spoiled buffoon, but his motives and methods get darker and darker as he continually fails to get his way. And the household objects, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and the rest, are the best kind of Disney supporting character; they’re quirky, charming, and funny, but still contribute to the plot and its resolution in important ways.
Caring about all these characters as much as I do makes the ending that much sweeter. If it had only been the Beast’s human form at stake, the eventual transformation might have struck me as overdone. But with his life in the balance, along with the human forms of all the household staff and the original form of the castle itself, the reward was just right.
I don’t know what else to say; I thought I’d have more. Suffice it to say that this is my all-time favorite animated movie, and one of my favorite movies of all time, period.
Thanks for reading my Top 15 Animated Movies of all time. 🙂 Feel free to post a comment below if you have anything to say about my choices, whether you agree or disagree. I’m always up for a discussion!
15) An American Tail: Fievel Goes West
13) The Phantom Tollbooth
12) Cinderella III: A Twist In Time
11) The Hunchback Of Notre Dame
10) The Prince Of Egypt
9) Watership Down
7) Sleeping Beauty
5) The Nightmare Before Christmas
4) The Iron Giant
3) The Lion King and The Flight Of Dragons (tied)
2) The Secret Of NIMH
1) Beauty And The Beast
Runners-up will be posted in a few days’ time (assuming I don’t lose track of time again). Those will be the movies that I like, even love, but not quite enough to put them in my Top
15 16 15.
Keep an eye out, and thanks again for joining me! 😀