So yeah, I’m back on the blogosphere after having the most epic adventure of my life. But as much as I want to talk about how I sailed around the world and defeated Cthulhu, I’ll just skip that and head straight to the topic.
The great irony about animated films is that they are the most time consuming and complicated films to make yet they’re always pigeonholed as kiddy fare. This makes sense because goofy character designs are easier to provide movement than anything realistic. They were also only meant for entertainment back in the old days and nothing else; heck one of the first characters, Gertie the Dinosaur, was created out of a bet.
While the shorts made in the days of yore are classics in their own right, animation truly hit its stride when they were expanded to feature films. Whether made with watercolors or blocks of clay, animated films have become a genre that can embrace the fantastic and cerebral at the same time. So… %$#@ it here’s my list.
Top Six Animated Movies
#6. South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut
Here’s a great way to get fired from a studio. Go to your boss and pitch the idea of a spin-off to a crudely animated show about potty-mouthed little kids who live in a mountain town that would scare the shit out of Ozzy Osbourne, and make it a musical. In spite of a premise that was designed to fail, South Park: BLU manages to not fall into any of the clichés that would usually ruin a spin-off. The humor is hilariously rude just like in the show, characters are not exaggerated personalities of their TV counter parts and the musical numbers are surprisingly good parodies of show tunes (with song titles like “Blame Canada” and “Uncle Fucka” they better be sophisticated). But the reason why it works so well is that the creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone give this film a sense of political relevance in very hot button issue at the time it was made. Sure the film is immature but when someone questions censorship or Saddam Hussein’s sexuality, South Park: BLU will provide an answer.
#5. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Snow White, the first animated feature length film ever made, a film that was so successful that it catalyzed the institution known as Disney (I worship thee \o/). Its story is so great that to put it in any Top Film list has become a cliché. Hopefully this cliché continues for many reasons, the film is beautiful, filled with lush backgrounds and loaded with rich characters. Also if I didn’t put it on this list then the Queen will probably kill me in my dreams. Seriously, in spite of its wholesome family movie image there are some f^$ked up scenes in this movie. Sure the conversations about cutting Snow White heart out might slip past children but that evil forest with every tree looking like Satan’s minions is why kids don’t go camping anymore. The Queen’s hag disguise is why little kids don’t wanna go to Grandma’s house and eat her apple pie that looks delicious but its clearly poisoned cuz she put some white powder in it and she’s watching you, she’s always watching. What I’m trying to say is that Snow White and the Seven Dwarves ruined my childhood. Anyway, it’s an amazing film that Walt has put a lot of effort into creating when he could have easily phoned it in (thankfully he didn’t).
So after stunning the world with Snow White Walt had realized that the only a top it is if he made a deal with Satan. Thankfully, Satan was a huge fan of Disney’s work so all he asked for was a cameo in Fantasia. So with Satan’s help Walt created Pinocchio, the famous tale about the wooden puppet who wants to be a real boy. With the exception the story this film is probably one of the hardest movies to describe because it takes ideas from various genres and blends them together like the worlds greatest milkshake*. It starts out like classic Disney kid fair with the iconic Jiminy Cricket sneaking into Geppetto’s house when Pinocchio comes to life and everyone starts singing and dancing. This chipper attitude fades into the dramatic as soon as a hatchet-wielding puppeteer threatens the poor kid. Then it just gets terrifying as soon as The Coachmen comes into play. But enough about the plot, what makes this film great is the title character himself.
Unlike the typical “modern family” anarchistic, Pinocchio to me acts like an actual child, naïve, energetic, yet kind. He doesn’t ignore Jiminy warnings for the sake of rebellion, he just doesn’t know better, but he learns from the consequences of his decisions and that’s surprisingly rare in family films.
*The best shake by the way requires the blending of three scoops of rich chocolate ice cream, half of a banana and some 2% milk. Then pour it into a tall tiki cup (yes it is necessary).
#3. Spirited Away
When Walt Disney died, there were two stories about what happened after his death. The one story being that his body was cryogenically frozen and placed underneath the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. The other being that he possessed a man named Hayao Miyazaki, the undisputed leader of Japanese animation. While the former story makes sense (he will rise again) it’s kind of cheap to say that Hayao Miyazaki is the modern Disney because his ideas are clearly his own. Spirited Away is a good example, the plot is similar to Alice in Wonderland but that is where the Disney connection ends. The plot is darker, in that (without giving away too much) it’s about a girl named Chihiro and her struggle to stop her parents from becoming a dinner entrée at a bathhouse where gods and spirits are the main customers.
While that poor summary makes it sound stupid, the script and characters are anything but dumb. What Miyazaki (writer, director, head artist, dancer, etc.) does is that while he provides a whole crowd of extraordinary characters he forgoes exaggerating their behavior (a common flaw in modern Disney. Their personalities are civilized, dynamic and cannot be easily defined as good or evil, their actions define their image. Heck the main antagonist is a single mom trying to keep a business afloat. Sure, Chihiro is a bit of a whiner, but if someone threatened to kill my parents for food and the neighborhood turns into Halloween-Town, I would shit bricks as well. But one thing’s for sure, Spirited Away is a great story about self-worth and growing up.
Charlie Chaplin would be proud. The film going audience has been use to sound in film in since 1927 (81 f@#king years) and Pixar, the king of computer-generated animation, risks throwing it all away on a movie that revolves around robots that don’t say anything beyond beeps and whistles. That takes a lotta balls, more than I want to think about. Anyway the risk paid off since it made enough money to buy the Holy Grail twice over so it just proves that Pixar can make anything into a good movie, unless it is about newts.
Anyway odds are if you’re alive then you saw it so I’ll keep it short. The story takes in a future Earth that is loaded with so much trash that the humans have evacuated, leaving many WALL-Es (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth Class) to clean up the planet. Seven Hundred years later, there is only one left. Even though WALL-E continues to do his (it’s?) job he prefers to collect random things like rubber ducks and lighters, he even befriends a cockroach. Then he watches an old tape of Hello Dolly and wishes someone could hold his hand, and then you cry like a bitch.
#1. Princess Mononoke
Magnum opus is a popular (tacky) Latin term that is used to describe an artist’s greatest work. This phrase can describe Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, F.W Murnau’s Nosferatu, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and of course Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, a film so well crafted that it’s almost disturbing. It safe to say that Princess Mononoke is the most beautifully drawn animated film of all time. Each landscape is painted with great elegance and detail. The creatures (oh the creatures) not only look great but also burst with childish originality; it’s like Miyazaki asked a bunch of teens to describe the monsters in their dreams to find inspiration, or nightmares.
Oh Shit Run!!! (Side note: What’s weirder, the worm beast or the fact that one guy is riding an elk?)
The story is simple enough, the prince is stricken with a curse that will eventually kill him, and so he goes on a journey to find a cure. What he finds is a mining village that is clearing the surrounding forest for iron ore. The forest is home to the title character and various gods, and they hate deforestation as much as they love killing people. Then it comes down to a battle of man versus nature that’s so f$#king epic that only the Japanese can create it without a hint of pretension.
It’s almost like the Lord of the Rings trilogy but condensed and Japanese. While both stories should placed on shrine, Princess Mononoke is more satisfying in a philosophical standpoint. There are many powerful themes in like environmentalism, pantheism, culture clash, feminism, and war after the invention of gunpowder; okay so they pop up like prairie dogs on meth, yet Miyazaki paces it so well that it is easy to follow and does not feel heavy handed. But Princess Mononoke would not be as entertaining and heart wrenching if not for Miyazaki’s ability to create such genuine characters.
The characters follow the same rules as in Spirited Away, rich with a hint of ambiguity. I don’t know how Miyazaki does it but he writes some of the most realistic. They are not good because they are endearing (though they do have charm) but because they are human. Each character has a flaw or two but they have so many redeemable qualities that you can’t help but love them.
Princess Mononoke is a gracefully drawn film that is just as awesome as it is earnest. The film is an original tale that should be seen many times over. The only flaw though is that it’s further proof that America can start great a thing but Japan will make better than us.
4 Honorable Mentions
Persepolis: French movie about an Iranian girl’s life, sounds weird but it’s visually remarkable and politically relevant.
Beauty & The Beast: Aside from the Beast being naked throughout the movie it’s good clean fun.
Anything made by Pixar: Come on.
Animaniacs: You gotta appreciate a show that can do a joke about fingering Prince without the censors noticing.