Top 10 Animated Films (Revised January 2018)

 

 

TOP 10 ANIMATED FILMS (REVISED JANUARY 2018)

 

I’m almost done revising my top ten lists of film and television to include new entries from 2017 – there’s only my  Top 10 Animated TV Series and Top 10 Horror Films to go. In the meantime, I’ve updated my Top 10 Animated Films to include a new entry for Coco. Well, it’s Pixar AND it’s posthumous fantasy, my favorite sub-genre of fantasy – of course it was going to get a top ten entry (shuffling Disney’s Moana into my special mentions)…

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Animation has an intimate relationship with fantasy and science fiction. On the one hand, animated films (and TV series for that matter) typically fall within one (or both) of the genres. On the other hand, animation lends itself to flights of fancy and fantasy beyond even live action. However, animated films are distinctive enough to deserve their own separate top ten list – particularly as I reserved my top 10 fantasy and SF films to live-action films in the genre. Accordingly, these are my top ten animated films.

 

 

KUBO

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(10) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016)

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My tenth place entry is this stop-motion animation film from Laika Studios, a dark mythic fantasy based on Japanese folklore.

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The plot is the standard hero’s journey. Kubo is a young boy, who can wield magic through the music of his traditional Japanese shamisen (hence the strings of the title) – both of which, magic and shamisen, he inherited from his mother – and through origami. He and his mother are hiding from his grandfather Moon King, and his mother’s Sisters – who are amongst the most chilling and eerie antagonists in animation (reminiscent of those creepy Japanese ghost girls).

 

 

His mother uses the last of her magic to help him flee her Sisters and animate Monkey, formerly a small monkey toy or charm, as his guardian. They are soon joined by a Kafkaesque beetle samurai, a transformed (and amnesiac) retainer of his father, samurai warrior Hanzo, and the trio set out on a quest to find the legendary sword, breastplate and helmet to defeat the Moon King.

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With gorgeous art and animation, it tells a powerful story about the power of story – to quote the critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, “Kubo and the Two Strings matches its incredible animation with an absorbing—and bravely melancholy—story that has something to offer audiences of all ages.”

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

 

(9) COCO (2017)

 

Well, it’s Pixar AND it’s posthumous fantasy, my favorite sub-genre of fantasy – of course, it makes my top 10 Animated Films.

 

The film has received almost universal praise for its animation, vocal performances, musical score, songs, emotional story and respect to Mexican culture (set as it is on the Mexican Day of the Dead). To that should be added its lush, vividly colorful imagery – who knew the afterlife could be so vibrant?

 

At the heart of its story is a young Mexican boy aspiring to be a musician against the wishes of his matriarchal family of music-hating shoemakers (there’s a reason for it) and finds himself in the afterlife on the Day of the Dead (again, there’s a reason for it) – in the words of Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter, “at every imaginative juncture, the filmmakers…create a richly woven tapestry of comprehensively researched storytelling, fully dimensional characters, clever touches both tender and amusingly macabre, and vivid, beautifully textured visuals.”

 

Not to mention that it is something of a tearjerker amidst the light and breezy humor.

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

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(8) ZOOTOPIA (2016)

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Who doesn’t love anthropomorphic animals? Of course, Zootopia is a whole world exclusively of anthropomorphic animals (and it won’t be the only such world in my top ten animated films), a world very much like ours but with every other mammal in our place. Although…when you take it too seriously (and I take my fictional worlds way too seriously), Zootopia is not quite the utopia its name suggests. As Cracked has pointed out, for the sake of a few rabbit sex jokes, Zootopia is about to go post-apocalyptic from total ecological collapse – in about a week or so.  (As Cracked colorfully put it, “Zootopia is a movie about the brief halcyon days of an imperious city as it remains wilfully blind to its inevitable doom”. Alternatively, as I have mused before, is The Island of Doctor Moreau the grim backstory of Zootopia? You know, after he unleashed his army of beast-men and women on an unsuspecting humanity…)

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But enough of that – Zootopia is a film that is equally cute, funny and heartwarming, a “3D computer animated buddy cop comedy mystery adventure film” as cute (and as Honest Trailers joked, strangely – er – hot?!) protagonist rabbit police officer Judy Hopps, pairs up with fox con artist Nick Wilde.

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NOT LIKE THAT! Damn you, internet and your Rule 34! Please let my new bunny fetish be a residual thing for Playboy bunnies...

NOT LIKE THAT! Damn you, internet and your Rule 34! Please let my new bunny fetish be a residual thing for Playboy bunnies…

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The animation is lush and visually spectacular – they developed fur-controlling software (iGroom) – with thoughtful themes for the contemporary society the animal world reflects.

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

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(7) INSIDE OUT (2015)

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The depiction of a mental landscape may not have been an entirely original concept, but it was executed well in Pixar’s Inside Out.

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The film was set in the mind of a young girl Riley, dominated by a console or control panel run by five personified emotions – Joy, Sorrow, Fear, Anger and Disgust (color-coded for your convenience!)

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The control room overlooks an imaginative mental landscape, primarily consisting of islands of memory or personality about the memory dump – which is a literal memory abyss or hole (or a metaphorical Lethe of forgetfulness). The plot revolves around a typical odd couple pairing of Joy and Sadness, as the two are accidentally sucked into Riley’s long-term memories and try to return to the control room, as the mental landscape deteriorates into outright collapse around them in something akin to emotional breakdown (due to Riley’s family moving from Minnesota to San Francisco). Of course, while Joy is paired with Sorrow (and helped by Riley’s imaginary friend), it leaves only Fear, Anger and Disgust to run her psyche (or as Honest Trailers quipped, leaving her psyche to be run by “your average YouTube comments section”. Or any internet comment section for that matter).

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Although now that I think about it, it would be interesting to see the (adult) Freudian version of the film, particularly with the superego, ego and id. (But then again, I am my own id. I’m all id, baby!). Or perhaps, the Jungian version, with all those mythic archetypes…

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

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(6) WRECK-IT RALPH (2012)

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My sixth place entry, Disney film Wreck-It Ralph, took us inside video games with its protagonist as the eponymous villain in a 1980’s 8-bit video game (reminiscent of Donkey Kong, with Ralph as Kong), who rebels against his role and dreams of being a hero ‘off-screen’. He sees his opportunity in another game of Hero’s Duty (a more modern first-person shooter game in the style of Halo and Call of Duty among others) – unfortunately, his efforts lead to one of its self-replicating alien bug antagonists escaping to yet another game, Sugar Rush (a kart racing game in the style of Super Mario). And things get worse from there…

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The plot is fun but the true delight of Wreck-It Ralph is the exuberant abundance of video game references – in visual gags and characters. These are introduced from the outset – Ralph’s support group of video game antagonists (Bad-Anon) includes Bowser from the Mario franchise and Doctor Eggman from Sonic the Hedgehog, as well as M. Bison and Zangief from the Street Fighter. That’s just for starters – there’s Tapper (from the Tapper game, who runs an off-screen bar in the same style as his game for video game characters), Sonic the Hedgehog, other characters from Street Fighter, Pac-Man and ghosts (Blinky, Pinky and Inky), Dig Dug, Frogger, Q-bert and more. Even that most basic original video game, Pong. There are video game references in the most amazing (and fleeting) details, such as sound effects and graffiti – “Aerith lives”, “Shen Long was here” and “All your base are belong to us” among others.

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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megamind

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(5) MEGAMIND (2010)

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“Oh you’re a villain alright, just not a super one!”

“Yeah, what’s the difference?”

“PRESEN-TATION!”

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And how! Now THAT’S how you do a supervillain protagonist in a superhero comics movie. Take note, DC Cinematic Universe. I didn’t think that Suicide Squad was as bad as its more negative reviews – although I also didn’t think that it was particularly good – but it certainly didn’t live up to its supervillain potential as demonstrated by my fifth place entry, Dreamworks’ film, Megamind.

What’s the difference? Presentation!

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Megamind is an inversion, subversion and deconstruction of superhero mythos, particularly Superman. In the words of TV Tropes:

“What happens when you take the Superman mythos and give the point of view (and ultimate victory) to Lex Luthor/Brainiac instead?”

Megamind (magnificently voiced by Will Ferrell) – as indicated, an alien supervillain combination of Superman villains Lex Luthor and Brainiac, but more resembling a blue Brainiac in appearance – consistently fails in his plots against Metro Man, the film’s Superman counterpart (based in Metro City), usually by kidnapping Lois Lane counterpart, the equally alliterative Roxanne Ritchi. (For what it’s worth, Megamind is helped by his hordes of robots as well as Minion, his – ah – minion, a sapient talking alien fish in a somewhat inexplicable robot gorilla costume).

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However, in their last confrontation, Megamind actually manages to destroy his nemesis, much to his own surprise, although he doesn’t waste much time celebrating his victory by taking over Metro City.

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After initially gloating over his victory, Megamind soon realizes that winning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And so he dreams up the creation of a new superhero adversary, only for it to go horribly wrong when his new nemesis doesn’t play by the same rules as Metro Man…

“So what’s the plan?”

“Well, it mostly involves not dying!”

“I like that plan!”

Hmm – sounds like most of my plans…

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

 

THE INCREDIBLES

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(4) THE INCREDIBLES (2004)

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“You sly dog! You got me monologuing!”

Take note, Fox – this is how you do a Fantastic Four film!

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Yes, my fourth place entry, Pixar’s The Incredibles, is not actually a Fantastic Four film, but it deftly handles a similar superhero family or team ensemble (indeed, with almost the same powers – if one substitutes a non-flammable speedster for the Human Torch). In the words of TV Tropes, “it’s an affectionately parodic Decon-Recon Switch of the Superhero genre, happily hanging lampshades on many conventions”.

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Superheroes have been forced into government-sponsored retirement, due to public liability lawsuits. Damn lawyers! (Of course, financial issues for superheroes are not often addressed in comic book fantasy – or indeed, in many fictional narrative in popular culture. One exception is writer Grant Morrison, with his characteristic deconstruction or subversion of superhero tropes – as a female bystander wails while her car is totaled in a superhero battle in Morrison’s Animal Man, “I don’t have superhero insurance!’)

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Anyway, super-strong Mr Incredible and rubber woman Elastigirl are now just Bob and Helen Parr, trying to live a quiet suburban life with their superpowered children, Dash (who has super-speed), (shrinking) Violet (who can project force fields as well as become invisible – essentially the same power set as Sue Storm in the Fantastic Four) and baby Jack-Jack (who doesn’t seem to have manifested any superpowers). Trying being the operative word – particularly as Bob finds his employment and suburban life chafing. And so he jumps at the chance offered by a mysterious woman Mirage to use his superpowers – only to find himself in more trouble than he can handle on his own at the hands of a new supervillain with ties to his past.

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Just remember – no capes!

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 4 STARS****

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(3) KUNG FU PANDA (2008-2016)

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“Legend tells of a legendary warrior whose kung fu skills were the stuff of legend”

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What’s not to love about my third place entry, Dreamwork’s Kung Fu Panda, or for that matter, the rest of the trilogy (although as usual sequels offer somewhat diminishing returns from the original)?

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It’s set in an anthropomorphic animal version of pre-modern China – that alone would be enough to make it awesome.

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And then there’s the story, deftly balanced between comedy and epic magical or wuxia martial arts action, with CGI animation and beautiful art – for even more awesome, such that will make your enemies go blind from overexposure to pure awesomeness. In the words of TV Tropes, just like a Jackie Chan film (fittingly, as he is one of the voice actors, albeit criminally underused), with MUCH prettier art. And just like the titular Panda, I love kung fu, or more precisely, my kung fu movies (ever since Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon) – another potential subject for a top ten.

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The eponymous panda, Po, is a hopeless fanboy of the kung fu masters, particularly the Furious Five, composed of animal homages to kung fu styles (Tiger, Monkey, Crane, Viper and Mantis) – hopeless, that is, until he is thrust, by fate and fireworks, into the position of the legendary Dragon Warrior. Worse, he has to fight the dangerous snow leopard Tai Lung (awesomely voiced, as always, by Ian McShane), who seeks the title of Dragon Warrior for himself…

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However, my favorite kung fu panda in the film trilogy is not Po, but the red panda Master Shifu – voiced by Dustin Hoffman, who combines just the right amount of wise mysticism with worldly exasperation (usually at Po).

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****

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(2) SHREK (2001-2004)

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“I’m not the monster here, you are. You and that fairy tale trash poisoning my perfect world”

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Again, what’s not to love about my second place entry, Dreamworks 2001 film Shrek? (Or its 2004 sequel for that matter? The other sequels – not so much, although I didn’t mind them.)

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The ultimate fractured fairy tale, the film has all the ingredients of the fairy tale – an adventurer on a quest to save a princess in a castle guarded by a dragon – except that the adventurer is the eponymous green-skinned ogre, who just wants to regain the solitude of his swamp from the fairy tale creatures who have been exiled there by (ahem) Lord Farquaad. To do so, he undertakes to save the princess Fiona for marriage to Farquaad, accompanied by the obnoxiously conversational talking donkey, named Donkey of course. And that’s where things go even further astray from your traditional fairy tale.

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“Notorious for its humor, both witty and slapstick, for turning everything we knew from fairy tales upside-down, and for a ridiculously modern feel of its medieval fantasy setting”, it was the winner of the first Academy Award for Animated Feature.

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Some would argue that the sequel Shrek 2 was even better than the original  – although that would go against my Stark Law of Sequels that the original is always the best. On the other hand, I just can’t resist Antonio Banderas’ purringly-voiced Puss in Boots.

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RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****

 

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(1) TOY STORY (1995-2010)

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“To infinity and beyond!”

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The flagship of Pixar Animation Studios and of course my top ten animated films, Toy Story was the first computer animated film (and therefore an extraordinarily influential part of what TV Tropes labels the Renaissance Age of Animation). It also was the flagship of the Toy Story franchise, with two film sequels that maintain the quality of the original (although Stark’s Law of Sequels still gives first place to the original) – I particularly like the interpretation that the third Toy Story film is about the afterlife, with a metaphorical representation of every major version of the afterlife in Western popular culture.

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Toy Story itself, both film and franchise, needs little introduction – a story about toys that come to life when their owners are not around. The film introduces us to a group of toys belonging to a boy named Andy, led by Andy’s favorite toy – Woody, a classic cowboy doll with a pull-string vocalizer. (“Reach for the sky!”). Unfortunately for Woody, Andy acquires a new favorite for his birthday – in the form of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. To complicate things further, Buzz believes that he is actually an astronaut adventurer rather than a toy. What ensues is a buddy comedy adventure film, as Buzz and Woody have to work together to overcome mutual perils.

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Terry Gilliam praised the film as “a work of genius” – “It got people to understand what toys are about. They’re true to their own character. And that’s just brilliant. It’s got a shot that’s always stuck with me, when Buzz Lightyear discovers he’s a toy. He’s sitting on this landing at the top of the staircase and the camera pulls back and he’s this tiny little figure. He was this guy with a massive ego two seconds before… and it’s stunning. I’d put that as one of my top ten films, period.”

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And as you can see, I’ve put it at the top of my top ten animated films.

 

RATING: IT’S A RAVE! 5 STARS*****

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