Last night I was at a friends house perusing her DvD collection and came across a couple movies that sparked my interest on this topic. I love cartoons, and in many cases prefer them to real movies (and, to be honest, my own real life). My theory is any idiot can point a camera at other idiots to make a film, but the expense of creating animation is so high (at least for hand drawn) that they need to make sure the story is solid before even getting it going. Puts motivation on the writers, in most cases.
That is not to say there isn’t a lot of animated crap out there, but those movies usually fall into the trap of pandering to uptight kids parents (not the kids themselves, ironically). Also, this list has my own twist, so don’t expect to see a lot of smiley, happy Disney movies. Most of these have some kind of dark twist or complicated story.
10. Titan A.E. This movie wasn’t necessarily the greatest story ever told, but it was the very first movie to make extensive use of CGI technology. It was also a post-apocalyptic story (A.E. stands for After Earth) that had a dark theme to it. It explored some fairly cool themes as well. The movie has taken on cult status, but I feel I gain a lot of geek credibility by having actually seen it in the theater. This movie was also the straw that broke the camel known as Fox Animation Studios’s back, and whenever Fox suffers I feel good (still haven’t forgiven them for cancelling Firefly and about 10 other great shows).
9. Wall-E. I know I said no cute movies, but this one is definitely one of my favorite Pixar themes. Complex story, awesome animation, and when you look at the fact that humanity has continued it’s current trend towards grotesque, morbid obesity it has a dark theme too. I went into this film expecting kiddy pap and walked out seriously impressed.
8. Ghost in the Shell. I can’t really call myself an anime fanatic, but I enjoy the genre and any nerd worth his salt needs to see this movie at some point. Futuristic crime thriller set in cyberpunk Japan, it featured super cool cyborgs and high technology crime. It sparked all kinds of associated video games and manga series’s. Incidentally, the literal translation of the Japanese title is “Mobile Armored Riot Police”. Cool.
7. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. This movie really showed something important that most other films derived from tv shows fail at; it is possible to have a great stand alone film derived from a TV show. This movie did what South Park always does-pushed the envelope so far into the uncomfortable that it kind of pushed out the other side. Also, I happen to still love South Park, so this is kind of a personal thing.
6. Akira. Another great anime film, this one features cyberpunk motorcycle street gangs and dark, gruesome action. This one also does not pull back on the realistic violence, and ends in a level of mass destruction rarely matched in any other animated film.
5. Spirited Away. Woof. Talk about dark. Rather, talk about dark that masquerades as cute. Great story, as well as a great look into Japanese culture, this epic fish out of water story is one I will always watch given the chance. I have seen it multiple times and ever time I watch it I catch some other detail I missed entirely.
4. the Incredibles. Great story, great animation. Some might make the mistake of assuming this is a cute kiddy film, but let’s not forget the fact that Dash is killing Syndrome’s henchmen left and right and laughing the whole time. Also, remember the corpse of Gazerbeam? Or the fact that Syndrome gets sucked into a jet engine in what could be accurately described as one of the most gruesome death possible? Definitely adult themes here. Of course, the story rocks, the characters all rule, and in an ironic twist the entire film was intended to be a spoof of the Fantastic Four yet somehow managed to remain more true to the original FF than any of the actual movies.
3. the Iron Giant. This film was such a cool experience for me when I saw it in the theater. It started out as a cute ET giant robot film, with the Giant learning about what it means to be human and bonding with young Hogarth (I wish I was named Hogarth) while being pursued by a federal agent. Just when you are ready to pass out from so much sugar in your blood, the Giant thinks Hogarth is killed and turn into an UNSTOPPABLE, UNHOLY KILLING MACHINE! This is like going to see a community theater production of Hamlet and in the third act a bunch of strippers come out and perform. The Iron Giant kicks the crap out of the best military the US of the 1060′s can produce, only to revert to his kind self and save the day. My only real issue with the film is the ending. The Giant flies up to intercede the nuclear missile coming in to kill everyone. Couldn’t he just have whipped out one of the several dozen guns he had just been using and shoot it from a safe distance? Oh, well. Great film, and actually really good for kids.
2. the Nightmare Before Christmas. What a fun story. The twisted Christmas preparations Halloween town was making were great. Jack Skellington is awesome, and in one of the weirdest twists of my cinema life I actually like the songs. The only other musical where the songs didn’t have me chewing on the arm rest was Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog. This story presents a character arc in the truest sense of the term, with Jack showing a steady, progressive character development throughout the film.
1. Batman Mask of the Phantasm. I guess I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have a film on here odds are most of you have never heard of, but this is my all time favorite animated movie. What this story addresses that almost all other films and cartoons treat as peripheral at best is that Batman is not really about Batman. It is about a human being named Bruce Wayne who, in spite of all his wealth, has one of the most messed up and troubled lives you could possibly imagine. Haunted by the death of his parents (and secretly blaming himself for it), he will never find peace or love in this lifetime. Of course, the Phantasm is a great villain, the story is convoluted in the coolest way possible, and we get to see the Joker as voiced by the great Mark Hamill. Also, violent and dark as hell, without the happy ending most cartoons seem to look for. In my opinion this is one of the best Batman stories ever told, and from a script point of view will take it over any of the other Batman movies except maybe the Dark Knight. Of course that was about Heath Ledger as Joker, so from a strict story perspective Mask is superior. (Lightning Strikes image courtesy of the Batman t shirt category).
That’s my list. Feel free to disagree with me. I am sure I missed something really cool. Just don’t spam me with Disney stuff. I don’t care if you think Bueaty and the Beast or the Little Mermaid are the best out there. They are fun, but given that they are all derived from fairy tales and more or less star the same character and rely on cuteness to make the movie happen I can’t go there. Also, neither of them qualify in the “I actually like the songs” category.
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