10. Wall-E (2008)
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Jim Reardon
Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Studios
This was a last minute choice, but watching “Wall-E” in theaters this year was an incredible experience and has made me somewhat of a fan of Pixar Animation. Pixar and co. seem to put Disney on the fryer for the messages they influence here with themes of consumerism, materialism, and the dangers of dependence on big corporate conglomerates who keep us fat and happy. In their infinite ignorance, I doubt Disney saw the jabs through their dollar colored goggles. One of my favorite movies of 2008 and now one of my favorite animated movies of all time, “Wall-E” is that rare picture that features one of the most sympathetic heroes of all time, a droid with a simple purpose: Clean. He is then met by Eve, a new entity in his life that he falls in love with at first sight. This inspires a look in to a new world and a better purpose beyond working and he learns that he has a choice in how he lives his life. Just seeking to reclaim his love, he doesn’t know he’s introduced an apathetic, fat and lazy society to a world beyond comfort and sloth and to a crooked organization whose given up on humanity. It’s one of the most visually stimulating animated films with some of the best characterization I’ve ever seen in a movie that didn’t rely on dialogue.
9. Spirited Away (2001)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Taking some elements of its story from “Wizard of Oz,” and “Alice in Wonderland,” Ghibli’s take on the fish out of water story of a girl warped in to a dangerous and wondrous land is one of the most visually ambitious tales from Studio Ghibli and director Miyazaki with some truly entertaining looks in to the elements around the world ten year old Chihiro is warped in to after a ride to her new home grants her a trip in to a new land where her parents have been turned in to greedy pigs. She must then struggle to find a way home and bring her parents back from their animal state reclaiming her normal life or face that this new often hazardous world is her new residence. Meanwhile she experiences a giant baby, a lovelorn specter prone to swallowing up local working class residents and spitting out gold, all the while attempting to retain some of the innocence she uses as a guide to her heroism in her story. “Spirited Away” is a masterful little fantasy tale with wonderful animation and a heart wrenching coming of age tale for a girl embracing change in her life.
8. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata
Quite possibly one of the most gut wrenching animated movies I’ve ever seen, “Grave of the Fireflies” will surely have you bawling like a baby and reaching for the tissues by the time the credits roll; Even thinking about it gives me goosebumps and a chill because “Grave of the Fireflies” is based on the true story by Akiyuki Nosaka, of a young man attempting to live through the Korean war with his little sister. When their mother dies from a fire, they’re left to live with their cold hearted aunt who demands strict order and offers up little acknowledgement toward them or their reaching for emotions or affection. Angered by her apathy toward them, they leave to live in an abandoned bunker only for protagonist Seita to sit and watch as his sister literally wastes away to nothing thanks to a mysterious illness he’s incapable of curing. Desperate for food, he anxiously attempts to keep her fed, but to no avail as the barely five year old child is left to die a slow death as he does nothing but struggle in vain and is forced to watch her suffer. Isao Takahata’s dramatic animated film is an amazing piece of storytelling and the fact that it’s based on a true story from a novel whose author recounts the slow death of his little sister makes it even harder to watch. Look at me, I’m getting goosebumps again, and I dare you not to when experiencing this for the first time.
7. Fantasia (1940)
Directed by: Various
Written by: Various
Walt Disney Pictures
Like any child spoon fed a strict diet of Disney, I’ve been programmed to enjoy almost all Disney animated features, and “Fantasia” is surely a masterpiece I loved since the first I saw it back in grade school when my classmates were wondering why this had no anvils dropping or hip music. I was enthralled nevertheless and found “Fantasia” to be one of the best animated spectacles of all time even allowing me to be somewhat fond of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. As with most Disney films, this has its fair share of controversy featuring a segment the PC police had their way with “The Rite of Spring,” that featured an origin of the species that didn’t involve a Christian deity of some kind and had a sequence supporting evolution.
And of course who can’t forget “The Night on Bald Mountain,” the rather amazing sequence of the demonic Chernabog on the mountain providing a menacing and truly harrowing animated segment in their mostly whimsical “Fantasia” that continues to influence and impress young viewers while offering a precursor to the horror appetite I would soon indulge in years after seeing this segment for the first time. “Fantasia” is a film that managed to implement the use of light, sound and colors as a way of stimulating its audience that would later be lost on other animated features that talked down to its audience and featured sensory overload rather than opening the minds of its audience and offering something of substance. Thankfully, Disney company Pixar would later demonstrate such methods with films like “Up” and “Wall-E,” two masterworks that were more visually based and less patronizing.
6. Titan AE (2000)
Directed by: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
Written by: Ben Edlund, John August, Joss Whedon
Fox Animation Studios
Though critics and media outlets alike love to blame the death of two dimensional animation on “Titan AE,” I think the Don Bluth science fiction adventurer was nothing but a scapegoat as an excuse for Fox Animation to close down their studios and have a reason when their under promoted adult animated movie starring then barely known stars failed to churn in proper bucks. The feature now growing slowly obscure is somewhat a precursor to Joss Whedon’s influential “Firefly,” as we’re shown a world in “Titan AE” similar to Whedon’s own about a planet that experiences a great war with a mysterious alien menace ultimately reducing the planet Earth to a wasteland as its remaining civilization is taken in to the galaxy as pirates, bounty hunters, criminals, traders, and poachers, all of whom are searching for a key to reviving the planet Earth and returning home once again.
Bluth’s animation is magnificent with some strong character designs and incredible vehicles paired with some strong heroes and villains, all of whom are capable of being turn coats at any time in exchange for the mystery to reviving Earth. There are strong performances from Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, and Bill Pullman to name a few along with a rather excellent twist on the classic pirate tales where a map is buried deep in space only one person can hold the key. I loved this movie instantly, and it continues to be one of my favorites of all time, even if it’s sadly been reduced to being nothing but a footnote of failure before the surge of computer animated films stormed the gates shortly after.
5. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
This Studio Ghibli animated adventure film from 1988 turned its title character Totoro in to a franchising juggernaut, one who is available on Ebay for at least triple digits, regardless of what size you want him in. What all the consumerism doesn’t really call attention to is that “My Neighbor Totoro” is deep down a fantasy film about coming to grips with potential loss and mourning for someone you’re not quite prepared to let go of just yet. Satsuki and Mei just moved in to a new house by a massive forest with their father, all the while they’re anxiously trying to make the most out of life as their mom is in the hospital desperately ill and on the verge of death. As is the case with most of these stories, the two little girls discover they have a neighbor and his name is Totoro. He is a massive, meek, and friendly cat-like monster that indulges the girls in adventures, relaxation, and free-spirited friendship that allows them to come to terms with the ailing health of their mother, all the while Satsuki knows something her sister doesn’t and has to decide if she should let her in on the ultimate revelation about their parents. Exploring the loss of childhood innocence in an age bereft of it, “My Neighbor Totoro” is a beautiful and adorable fantasy tale with perhaps one of the cutest animated characters ever created.
4. Vampire Hunter D (1985)
Directed by: Toyoo Ashida
Written by: Yasushi Hirano
I think like many around me, “Vampire Hunter D” was without a doubt one of the first and best anime films I’ve ever seen. I originally saw the film in its complete edited and truncated glory back in the mid-nineties on Cartoon Network, when the cable station was experimenting with the potential for anime as a rating grabber for viewers. I really had no idea that it was all chopped up and diced for children’s consumption. Suffice it to say I sat through the entire thing and could not get enough of this wicked vampire hunter named D called upon to help a young girl who has been targeted by a vampire lord who is anxiously looking for a bride to aid in his destruction and ruling of the world that has now been infested with all sorts of ghoulies and spooks including werewolves, demons, serpents, succubi and whatever else you can imagine.
Ashida’s horror film revolves around main character Doris is forced to confront her inevitable vampirisim with a town that shuns all folks infected with the vampirism while D is tasked with protecting the young girl while keeping her little brother from suffering. D is almost like the man with no name mixed with Shane, an under dog warrior who comes in to town with the odds stacked against him and manages to confront a force greater than he is along with his demonic hand that aides him in his quest to fight for Doris’ life, while battling ogrish vampires, and seductive serpents, all of whom threaten to foil D’s plan to restore innocence to the world again, and reveal something about himself that may come as a shock to most of his enemies when properly pushed over the edge.
3. The Incredibles (2004)
Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Brad Bird
Disney Pixar Animation
Deriving much of its themes from Marvel’s “Fantastic Four” and the acclaimed “Watchmen,” Brad Bird and Pixar concocted a truly excellent and utterly rewatchable look at superheroes placed in to the confines of reality and a group of special people injected in to the reality that often shuns or is afraid of obviously special and above average folks. “The Incredibles” is much more about special people relinquishing all inhibitions to be stop a true menace and reveal themselves to be beneficial to society where they’re prompted to be ex-communicated and or disliked.
In the meantime, Bird explores issues such as infidelity, familial discord and the like pitting its title characters, the Parrs against an evil fan boy who desperately attempted to attach himself to dad Jack years before and has now returned as an evil genius intent on killing the remaining superheroes who were all cast out in to the world forced to live as average citizens. With excellent voice work from its entire cast including Craig T. Nelson, and Holly Hunter, along with some genuinely magnificent action scenes including son Dash’s ultimate realization of his powers of super speed as well as Violet’s experimentation with her invisibility we’re able to see a family come together in the face of a pure evil trying to drive a wedge between them while also helping them to discover how special they are and can truly be apart and as one unit. And there’s also Samuel L. Jackson as Frozone not swearing up a storm.
2. Lion King (1994)
Directed by: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Written by: Various
Okay, so Disney completely ripped off “Kimba, The White Lion,” and though they still refuse admittance to this day, there’s simply no denying that they aspired to create their own version of Kimba, and the similarities are astounding.
From referring to the movie as a remake from day one, to its codename of “Kimba,” to calling its small hero Simba (An S instead of a K, how original!), to the plot that often mirrored the original Kimba, “Lion King” is a surefire rip off of the original property. And yet, it’s still by far one of my favorite animated films of all time. With a little bit of Shakespeare, and a little bit of Dickensian plot devices, “Lion King” is a fantastic drama about a young cub named Simba who is unwilling to take the throne he’s destined to sit on. When his envious uncle kills the king, Mufasa, he’s blamed and becomes a pariah assuming the death was his fault. Disney’s film was a marvel when I was a child, and to this day it still holds up as a rather excellent fantasy involving some of the better musical numbers in the Disney gamut, and wonderful animation. “Lion King” is that film that absolutely inspires me every time, and it’s a sheer accomplishment… even if it’s a rip-off.
1. Iron Giant (1999)
Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Tim McCanlies, Brad Bird
Warner Bros. Animation
As the town watches the nuclear war heads ascend in to the heavens awaiting imminent doom and the Giant decides the only thing to do is sacrifice his life for the greater good of the town, then kneels to tell his friend Hogarth that he’ll go, for him to stay and “No following,” well then, it takes all my strength to keep from bawling every time. And then when he flies in to the sky to meet the nuclear war head head on mimicking Superman, well brother, this man becomes a little weeping mouse. “Iron Giant” is my favorite animated film ever made, a precursor to the adult edge Brad Bird would inject in to kiddie and family fare for years to come, later to be followed by masterpieces like “The Incredibles.” I had zero to no expectations with “Iron Giant” as I’d experienced no end of failures and disappointments with animated fare that did horribly at the box office.
Not to mention I was fed mostly Disney all my life so I was very judgmental toward anything beyond the company, but lo and behold, “Iron Giant” is a masterpiece, it’s one of the greatest animated adventures of all time and I’ve seen it over thirty times since its release. From voice acting to brilliant animation, to retro special effects, “Iron Giant” is a simple story with a deeply complex hero in the guise of a giant robot who learns how to be human in a violent world. Why is he there in the first place? The simplest explanation becomes the most logical one and when we view in to man’s penchant for violence, we soon learn that the Giant is justified. But just because we’re built to be something doesn’t mean we can’t rebel, and the Giant learns that. He learns through the film’s key phrase that you are who you choose to be, and he chooses in the end with great heartbreak and sadness. I love it, I absolutely love it.