Top 25 Animated Films of the Decade: Part 1

8 Dec

 December 8th, 2009–

The list-athon continues here at Cinematropolis, as we get closer and closer to year’s end. Last week I took a look at the top 15 Asian films of the decade, and today I’ve got animation on the roster. One of the things I learned from the last list, is that 15 is just too brief a number to really capture some of the decade’s best in a given category. I’m a HUGE animation fan and to even suggest that the achievements of the last decade can be distilled into even just 25 choices, let alone 15, is difficult. As it has to be limited, I have settled for a two-part list: one for the first ten, and one for the second, with 5 choices for honorable mention. Altogether that’s 25, and the honorable mentions and numbers 20-11 are up first. Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions:

 

Kung-Fu Panda (2008) Directed by: Mark Osborne & Jon Stevenson

 Kung-Fu Panda is wonderful surprise on almost every level. Surpassing the pop whimsy of the Shrek films, Panda takes such unlikely bedfellows as Jack Black, cartoon animals and martial arts and blends them together into one big crowd pleaser. Honestly, this is a movie I could rewatch at a moment’s notice. The characters, the story and the action scenes are all first rate and the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. Take note of those character designs; they are the definition of artistry and elegance. The way the animators marry the individual kung-fu styles to each animals is also worthy of high praise. The animated backgrounds that remind one of Chinese tapestries are absolutely breathtaking. Best of all, at the end of the day they convince you this big lug could actually learn kung-fu.

 

Treasure Planet (2002) Directed by: Ron Clements & John Musker

Treasure Planet feels like a throwback to the Don Bluth animated Disney films of the early 80s. Debuting at a time when Disney had run itself into the ground with half-baked musicals and hi-tech gloss hiding second rate animation, this adaptation of the Stevenson book is actually a visually gorgeous and narratively strong adventure that discards almost everything that was wrong with the studio at that point. Sure, there were a few Reznik songs in there and a couple of sidekicks, but they were blended into the story (like the science fiction backdrop) that they were hardly noticeable. The highlight of Planet, and what gets it on this list and also makes it worth a watch, is the relationship between Long John Silver and his ward, Jim Hawkins. The animation, voice acting and design for Silver take a classic character and give him one of the best renderings I’ve seen since the 30’s version. Bonus points for dropping the word ‘palaver’ into an animated kid’s film in 2002.

 

Monster House (2006) Directed by: Gil Kenan

Gil Kenan’s Monster House is an interesting film because it takes subject matter that would typically be live-action and converts it to 3-dimensional animation in such a way that it becomes a dream of the kind of the movie it’s aping. This is possibly the best 80’s kid’s horror movie, except that decade isn’t responsible for it. Look at the exquisite details on the neighborhood, on the ragtag group (latch-key kid Chowder’s jeans are turning white at the seams) and the sumptuous autumn setting. Everything is perfectly set for a good ghost story, and surprisingly the writing team deliver one. Also give them credit for some perfect casting; Steve Buscemi as the neighborhood creep and Kathleen Turner as the monster house. This one hits some of those same magical notes that stuff like The Goonies and Lady in White did in my youth.

 

The Princess and the Frog (2009) Directed by: Ron Clements & John Musker

It’s stil terribly early to consider this one for the list proper (just saw it over the weekend) but let’s give credit where it is due and deserved. My full review will be arriving on Friday, but I’m already willing to say that Princess and the Frog is the kind of return to classic Disney animation that the studio desperately needed. The color palette, the beautiful designs of a New Orleans cloaked in magic and mystery, as well as a fine and enticing group of new characters who feel perfectly familiar, make this a feast for fans of the studio’s earlier, richer works. Frog understands the limits and the benefits of the two-dimensional form, and it has a better grasp on its story and its theme than any Disney cartoon since Beauty and the Beast. Yes, it’s that good. Give it some time, and I expect it to only grow in my esteem.

 

Nocturna (2007) Directed by: Adrià García & Víctor Maldonado

 Here’s a terrific little film that would no doubt find an adoring audience of children and their parents here in the U.S. if only it garnered a release. As it is, who knows if American animation fans will get a proper chance to see this imaginative work of fantasy. It follows a young autistic orphan through a night-time world of typically invisible critters who are responsible for managing the realm of sleep and human dreams. The character animation is reminiscent of Burton and the twisty, turny architecture of the Nocturna city brings to mind Gilliam or Juenet. But instead of proferring a dark, gloomy labyrinthine storyline, this is a simple and direct tale that speaks to a child’s fear of the dark and the wonders that can be found in finding the courage to face it. My favorite character; The Cat Herder, a hulking lug who commands an army of felines that bound with him over the rooftops of the sleeping city.

 

 

 

The bottom 10 of the 20, in ascending order:

 

 20. A Scanner Darkly (2006) Directed by: Richard Linklater

 The idea of using rotoscoping wasn’t new when Linklater used it at the start of the decade with Waking Life; a walk through existentialism, lucid dreaming and philosophy. I found it a playful film adventure, but not satisfying. The reason the style works here is because it’s used to capture the nightmare dream-state of Philip K. Dick’s cracked masterpiece. What I absolutely love about the movie is that the performances are already as manic and intense as one could hope for. Drawing  over them with the hallucinogenic style of an acid trip makes the whole thing just scream. Images like an alien being reading a dying junkie the manuscript of his personal sins, and another metamorphosing into a cockroach worthy of Kafka are some of the more natural terrors running about in the mind of Reeve’s main character. ASD is a triumph of the bizarre, and it finds a way to take a limited style and do wonders with it.

 

19. Beowulf (2007) Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

 I’m not sure I understand the impetus behind Robert Zemeckis’ move from live action blockbusters to 3-D animated motion-capture adaptations, but I’ve been mostly pleased with the results. What Beowulf has that Polar Express and A Christmas Carol lack is a significant and relevant take on its source material. To be sure, there is little to the original Beowulf as an actual narrative, but there is more there in substance than most neophytes would give credit for. What Gaiman and Avary do with the script is take the story in a direction that is both compelling and exploratory; the nature of hidden sin, the fidelity of a warrior culture, as well as the inherited nature of past deceit all rise to the surface. The motion capture mostly works in evoking a classical adventure with fantasy overtones and the script spews  macho deconstruction in a way that a throwaway flick like 300 lacked. The dragon, who comes for the aging hero in his final winter, is one of the finest I’ve seen put to screen.

 

18. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006) Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda

 Hosoda’s beautiful and lyrical little film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, is an appealing adaptation of a classsic Japanese sci-fi tale. This one avoids most of the things one associates with the ghettoized genre of anime. In fact, aside from the schoolgirl, there’s little here that would make the fans of Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop take notice. Well, except for an exceedingly well written story that finds amusing and thoughtful ways to use the time travel without resorting to big action set pieces or dire fatalism. The animation is clear and bright, and the filmmakers have gone to lengths to keep this as light and unassuming as possible, even when the main character is racing against time to prevent peril from befalling her or those close to her. It isn’t often that you find whimsy like this done with such perfect artistry.

 

17. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit (2005) Directed by: Nick Park

Curse of the Were Rabbit is just a supremely pleasant little movie. Even if one could find fault with the animation style (they can’t, this is craftsmanship of extreme quality) I think they would be hard-pressed to deny the film’s latent mirth and likability. All of the wonderful details, from the machines used to wake Wallace up in the morning to the snarky adult quips(nude Wallace is at one point wearing a box that reads “may contain nuts”), add up to one terrific whole. And all of it has been set to make us laugh, show us a good time, and get us into the interior world of a dog who speaks little, a man who thinks less and a town full of colorful and out-sized characters. There is nary a scene here that isn’t charming in some respect.  

 

16. Finding Nemo (2003) Directed by: Andrew Stanton

It might be easy to dismiss Pixar these days, not because of their lack of quality but the over-abundance of it. No one is surprised any longer when they roll out a hit, and I dare say some are even irritated by it, assuming that the studio has locked all critics within some sort of trance. Alot of them think it started with this movie. They are probably right, but the method isn’t anything arcane; rather, it can be chalked up to a combination of skilled artistry, technical wizardry and an innate understanding of all-audiences storytelling. This movie has all those things, and then some. Sure, Nemo is a bit overrated within the Pixar cannon but it’s the first of their films to spread its wings and seek out an audience larger than merely children and their parents. Nemo has a smart script that sets up a quest that engenders family togetherness and it uses the unique ability of animation to create an entire sea full of wonders and sublime characters. Dory, the fish who has no memory, is one of the finest creations in a family film and Nemo uses her, and all the others, to wonderful effect. When you get down to it, it isn’t surprising that this one is so loved.

 

15. The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) Directed by: Wes Anderson

Is it too early to place a film released a month ago this high on the list? Maybe, but one of the reasons Mr. Fox finds itself here is the lengths to which Anderson has gone to make it feel familiar. Whether you have read (or had read to you) the Dahl book,  have seen numerous Rankin and Bass stop-motion specials,  or just appreciate the film’s distinctly absurd sense of hunor, he’s made the film to be devoured as tasty comfort food. It works, big time. With every movie Anderson makes, he’s setting up the tone with diorama-style interiors, and people sketched out in the kind of caricature that an author like Dahl would have no doubt appreciated. In Fox, he melds the writer’s style to his own via an imaginative and fascinating animation form that makes everything seem even more real than if this was live action, and that were Clooney, Streep and the rest really up there on screen. This is a world full of comic possibility, and after one viewing I felt like I had been there many times before, and was fully ready to go again. This is a treat not found often in cinema; the kind of place you are eager to return to and explore.

 

14. The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004) Directed by: Makoto Shinkai

 Another anime that sidesteps the typical traps of the grenre and combines alot of different disparate elements into one compelling and poetic package. Shinkai is something a wunderkind in the animation field; he more or less self-designed and delivered his short feature Voices of A Distant Star. He’s done pretty much the same with Place. The animation has an amazingly naturalistic and physically real quality to it. The film is science fiction, but it is most breathtaking when we are watching school children walk home under the brilliant, fading light of an autumn day or watching a small plane circle a cloud-shrouded tower. The plot involves alternate realties,childhood escapades, and a world where Japan has been split apart and Honshu is under the authority of the U.S.. The narrative is told in a gentle, literary style that reminded me of Ray Bradbury, or  similar authors, who revel in the nostalgia of past innocence and the mystery of unknown splendor. Not all the plot pieces come together, but thats getting away from the point. Place is absolutely effective as art; an ambient mood piece that transports us to a landscape full of adolescent promises and unchecked potential.

 

13. Ratatouille (2007) Directed by: Brad Bird

Brad Bird is one of the best storytellers currently working in animation, and Pixar functions perfectly as a vehicle for his unique sensibilities. Setting a story of a rat who likes to cook in Paris seems like a relatively obvious thing to do, and at first I feared the movie would be a throwaway gimmick. Instead, this is a surprisingly cohesive film that works so well that not  one piece feels out of place or arbitrary to the final vision. The animation has a wonderfully soft and delicate feel to it, while creating interiors and scenes that have never felt more real. Remy and his progeny are given enough character depth that they can still be rats and not completely undermine the story they are in. Most of all, Ratatouille is an heartfelt ode to following your bliss, and it’s enraptured enough with the chosen art it revolves around (cooking) that it could easily inspire would-be chefs to pick up the spatula and whisk and start stirring. Paris as the backdrop is stunning, and Bird does everything he can to make the city come to life and serve as a character. The film’s virtuoso sequence is the one that reminds that art is only important when it makes a connection; the dour Anton Ego tastes ratatouille and it reconnects him with a childhood moment of warmth and comfort.

 

12. Waltz With Bashir (2008) Directed by: Ari Folman

Waltz With Bashir is one of the most agonizing and emotionally disarming animated films I have ever seen. It is of obvious merit to point out it is also a documentary about the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. What it recounts and observes, from various real-world points-of-view and testimony, is the destruction of one group at the hands of another. The roto-scoping  is a new tool for Folman, but he weilds it with a sure hand and creates some of the most unforgettable imagery ever prersented in the form of animation. Bashir is a movie of dramatic immediacy and hard truth, but the visual style adds a level of dream-like fluidity to its piece-meal structure. What emerges is unique, powerful and thought-provoking. I doubt we will see it’s equal for some time to come.

 

11. Tokyo Godfathers (2003) Directed by: Satoshi Kon  

A Japanese animated variation of John Ford’s Three Godfathers, also set on Christmas Eve and involving a set of misfits trying to care for an abandoned child, Tokyo is a big-hearted treasure. Director Satoshi Kon is one of the best anime masters currently out there. His other works, Perfect Blue, Paprika and Millenium Actress are all worthwhile, but Godfathers is his strongest film because it is also his most human. The surly bum, the overwrought drag-queen, and the chilly teenage runaway begin as cliches but end the film as fully realized, living, breathing characters. The animation is wonderfully expressive and Kon crafts some really terrific comedy out of the visual style–alot of this coming from the awkward distortions he has given his drag-queen . But everyone in this movie, even small intruding side characters, are treated with dignity and respect and the drama isn’t muffled by the film’s hearty sense of humor. Christmas movies, especially those containing miracles of contrivance, can wear thin on an audience. Not Tokyo Godfathers, which finds a way to play a delightful J-pop version of the Hallelujah Chorus and mean every last word of it.

Stay tuned for the next installment tomorrow, counting down the top ten animated films of the decade…

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32 Responses to “Top 25 Animated Films of the Decade: Part 1”

  1. xiphos0311 December 8, 2009 at 8:32 pm #

    I’ve seen exactly none of these movies.

  2. MORBIUS December 8, 2009 at 8:53 pm #

    Bart

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about each and every selection. I haven’t as of yet seen Fantastic Mr. Fox. Treasure Planet is fondly remembered as is Wallace & Gromit, Ratatoille, Nemo, and happy to see Tokyo Godfathers as well. The Place Promised in Our Early Days, The Firl Who Leapt Through Time, and Nocturna will be sought out for visual perusal. The Princess and the Frog this weekend. Can’t wait to see what made your Top Ten. Thanks.

  3. lord bronco December 9, 2009 at 1:19 am #

    One of your strongest pieces yet-very cogent and illuminating-I’ll have to check these out.

  4. Jarv December 9, 2009 at 7:44 am #

    Well written.

    Hilariously, the only ones I’ve seen on this list (aside from Wallace and Grommit) are ones that I hate!

  5. Bartleby December 9, 2009 at 7:45 am #

    Which ones ya hate Jarv? Aside from Ratatouille, which as I recall you didn’t hate but were disappointed by.

  6. Bartleby December 9, 2009 at 7:47 am #

    I think you will be more amiable to the top ten.

  7. koutchboom December 9, 2009 at 10:28 am #

    The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, nice I remember seeing a trailer for that and thank you for remembering it. Really wanted to see it back then.

    • Bartleby December 9, 2009 at 10:47 am #

      See it. It’s on dvd and a great little film. Places Promised in Our Early Days and Tokyo Godfathers, if you haven’t seen them, are also wonderful.

  8. koutchboom December 9, 2009 at 10:30 am #

    Waltz With Bashir didn’t do much for me. I liked it but it didn’t stick with me?

    Also thank you for admiting that Beowulf is pretty sweet, though you still need to see Battle For Terra.

    Also unless 4 of your top ten are Pixar movies how can you put Nemo over any of them? That includes Cars.

  9. Bartleby December 9, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    Koutch, really? I thought it was pretty hard hitting. Waking Life is the one that didn’t stick with me. Watched it once…showed parts of it to a friend–in particular that scene where the guy tells the existentialist to poke holes in his burrito lest he get burrito doobins all over the inside of the 7-11 microwave. In the end though, nothing. Waltz was powerful because of the way it blended the fantasy world of the animation with the documentary style. I think it’s the kind of movie that you can return to and find different things hiding there in the corners. This typically isn’t true of many docs. I considered saving it for that list, but decided it belonged here.

    You liked Beowulf too? Good. I’m a big fan of it actually. I think it gave the most interesting cinematic spin on the story–although Outlander is ultimately the better movie–and the dragon battle was epic. Honestly, I’m not sure it reallywould have been better live action. Only weak spot for me was the Grendel design. I think we could have had him a cast-off malformed freak and still a scary warrior instead of a hulking, whiny mama’s boy.

    More Pixar to come–they probably won’t be surprises. I disagree about that though. Nemo is far superior to Cars, although the latter is still a darn fine movie.

    Any here you haven’t seen Koutch? Or that you would add?

  10. koutchboom December 9, 2009 at 11:03 am #

    The thing that stuck with me most from Waltz was the music, it had an awesome score. Don’t get me wrong I thought it was a really good movie, I just for the life of me can’t remember anything about it. The dog chase scene?

    I agree with you about Waking Life, I’ve seen it twice I even own it, don’t remember a thing. But I can say the same about A Scanner Darkly. But I remember actually enjoying A Scanner Darkly. Also you think they filmed that sex scene?

    The only movie I can think of that I would add is probably TMNT because I don’t think its top ten material, but it was damn good and one of the best reboots of the decade. I know your gonna put Coraline in the top ten, thats fine wasn’t my thing probably my top 20. But I really want to see Mary and Max, I like that guys shorts and his dramatic take on stop motion.

    I think Wallace and Gromit was a better stop motion then Coraline as well, also I haven’t seen Fantastic Mr Fox. May go check it out this week though, but I can’t help but always wonder what an Ardman Fantastic Mr. Fox would have been like instead.

    I liked everything about Beowulf, totally agree with you about the live action.

  11. koutchboom December 9, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    As for your animie movies, I haven’t seen Tokyo Godfathers or The Place Promised in Our Early Days.

    There were some cool European animated movies that Twich used to promote I would like to go back and see those.

    Also the guy who directed Taste Of Tea has had some animie film in the works for some time. I think its called Redline? There is short scene on youtube, it looks like Speed Racer though.

    The only animie movie I’ve seen outside of Studio Giblie this decade, that I remember is Papraika. It was ok, that march scene was amazing though.

    Did you ever see Renaissance

  12. Bartleby December 9, 2009 at 11:47 am #

    Paprika is good. As you said, that march was off the hook. I love just playing that scene alone–the music that accompanies it is so strange. Kon, who did Paprika, also did Tokyo Godfathers. I think you will love that one.

    Renaissance is one I bought from overseas sight unseen and was let down. It has a terrific visual style and it’s decent, but really the story is disappointing, as are the characters. It’s noir, but nothing too special. Worth a watch, but really outside of that, there’s really very little. The plot is just very slight and the characters underveloped. And when the movie is trying to live or die upon its plot and characters, thats pretty damaging to the movie.

    The Tea director has a film called Funky Forest:First Contact. Ever see it? Gloriously unhinged, to say the least.

  13. koutchboom December 9, 2009 at 11:58 am #

    Funky Forest:First Contact, naw its been in my queue for ages. Took me forever to get around to Taste of Tea, glad I did though.

  14. The Great Fatsby December 9, 2009 at 3:39 pm #

    Hey bro, Snickers me.

    • Bartleby December 9, 2009 at 4:28 pm #

      Was that Monster House?

      What do you think of the list so far, Fatsby?

  15. koutchboom December 9, 2009 at 4:26 pm #

    What did you think about Ghost In The Shell 2?

  16. koutchboom December 9, 2009 at 4:29 pm #

    You know with Ratatouille. I think the reason why its never been a favorite of mine, Patton Oswald. There just isn’t enough emotion in his voice. He’s ok, but I think they could have gotten someone better.

    And I’m a huge fan of his, so its not like he annoyed me. Maybe BEING a fan of his was hard, because it was hard to seperate him from stand up. I kept waiting for his punchline that never came.

  17. Bartleby December 9, 2009 at 4:39 pm #

    Koutch, the animation was lovely, but the movie itself bored the crap out of me.
    The continuous talk of philosophy(not integrated into the story mind you, but actually just discussed like it was being read from a textbook, complete with citations)was detrimental, as was the loop in the film’s middle that kept rerouting the heroes back to the start point-a dream within a dream within a dream. It just fell flat for me. Same goes for Steamboy. Beautiful to look at…but …SNORE…

  18. koutchboom December 9, 2009 at 4:41 pm #

    yeah I really liked the animation in Ghost 2, they nailed the Basset Hound. Yeah Steamboy, I couldn’t begin to tell you the point/plot of that movie. I’ve seen it though.

  19. The Great Fatsby December 10, 2009 at 12:21 am #

    ‘Hey bro, Snickers me’ was Funky Forest 🙂 I’ll answer your question but you already know where I stand on this list having seen at least 50% of them with me, so don’t be disappointed by my response:

    Pixar flicks are worthless crap made entirely for parents to take their kids to so neither demographic gets too bored, but in such a way as to kill off any brain cells you had going into it. My sister forced me to watch Finding Nemo and I wanted to gouge out my own eyeballs with a grapefruit spoon as I was watching that saccharine crap. Monster House should at least take the place of Beowulf; they worked so hard trying to make it [Beowulf] look realistic they should have just shot the damn thing live action with backup CG instead. The entire experience is on the cusp of coolness, but never quite believable. I completely agree that Outlander is far superior in every regard. I might just be an Anderson junkie but I really want to see Mr. Fox. Wallace and Gromit was pretty great.

    I still need to see Nocturna, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Waltz with Bashir.

    My final comments are that I hope Triplets of Belleville is in the top 5, and Coraline is in the top 10, or I will be disappointed 🙂

  20. Bartleby December 10, 2009 at 8:48 am #

    yea, I was thinking more about stuff like Nocturna and Mr.Fox…If you had seen them yet. Waltz is pretty great in my opinion.

    I don’t think you will be terribly disappointed.

  21. The Great Fatsby December 10, 2009 at 11:11 am #

    I miss being able to see cool stuff in the theater. These days I am limited to one theater in the area, and since this is a town packed with young marines, they pretty much only show the ‘big’ movies. I’ve yet to see a decent indy flick there. I MISS YOU, CHARLES THEATER!!!

  22. Hawaiian Organ Donor December 10, 2009 at 11:42 am #

    Kudos for putting Kung Fu Panda as an honorable mention, sir. I’ve taken such tremendous flak for having that as one of my favorite movies from last year. And Treasure Planet is easily one of Disney’s all time best. A top 5 for me.

  23. Hawaiian Organ Donor December 10, 2009 at 11:42 am #

    Oh, and I have a war movie list up over on the other site.

  24. Bartleby December 10, 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    Yea, HOD, all of these movies are great. I don’t even like having to rank them really. I know there are some here that not everyone agrees with, but thats kind of the point. I’m surprised, ultimately, at how diverse animation really was over the last decade. Most only know of the generic stuff or Pixar and aren’t aware of the variety.

    Kung-Fu Panda didn’t look very good. But it succeeds because the filmmakers had an actual story and passion for the material. Thats why it worked.

    Treasure Planet is a great version of the story. Honestly, that depiction of Silver really makes it soar.

  25. koutchboom December 11, 2009 at 1:38 am #

    You need to put a link for part 2 in here.

  26. koutchboom December 11, 2009 at 4:34 pm #

    I guess there is one at the buttom.

  27. drmorbius December 13, 2009 at 11:59 pm #

    Treasure Planet was on TBS this weekend so I taped it for later viewing sans commercials. Though the broadcast wasn’t up to DVD quality it was most enjoyable nonetheless, akin to visiting an old friend. Still one of my favorites. My niece works for Disney, perhaps I’ll ask her for the Blu Ray for Christmas.

    Have to disagree with you on PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Saw it this weekend, only so-so for me. Hard to pinpoint exactly what, but for me there was something missing. I found the little blond girl in the beginning to be poorly drawn and somewhat charicaturistic, most of the background people too washed out,lack of fluidity in some characters, etc. I wouldn’t recommend it nor try to dissuade people from seeing it.

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