Animation is not a genre. It is an artform. Western is a genre. action is a genre. Animation can be anything. It can tell any story and be anything. (Next person to call it a genre gets punched in the face)
Two of the worst camps of people are:
- People that automatically dismiss animation as a children’s medium
- People that argue that film isn’t art because it’s the byproduct of multiple collaborators and not a singular vision
Which is ironic considering the process of making an animated film consists of a rapid succession of hand drawn images in a sequential order. Which is to say, every frame of an animated film is a work of literal art. And it might be the most important artform because as Bird put it, an animated film can be anything.
Not only is every genre available, animation affords artists the canvas in which to create anything. There’s always a level of suspension of disbelief when it comes to live action that animation never suffers from. Animation taps into the primordial part of our brains that separates the real and the unreal, the logic and the surreal.
We subconsciously understand that since real people aren’t involved, the rules are different. There’s no other art form that speaks to every generation and culture.
Because imagination is universal. And this list will be a celebration of the makers of imagination.
This is The 100 Greatest Animated Films Of All Time.
10. My Neighbor Totoro
“I heard a rumor a million years ago that this film is a metaphor for death and that Totoro is actually the grim reaper or whatever the Japanese equivalent to that is. Sounded pretty plausible to me.”
I mentioned his aviation obsession, his penchant for adventure stories and his pro nature beliefs but what I think separates him from everyone else in the business, is his ability to perfectly capture the feeling of what it’s like to be a child. 90% of anime is about teenagers and/or robot teenagers and while it’s fun to reminisce about the days of high school crushes and pimple emergencies, there’s something special about being reminded of what it was like to be a kid.
Damn near every Stephen King book has either: children, childhood or cocaine dust on the pages. He writes about them because he, too, knows the inherent power of children. Everything is more dangerous when you’re a child. Everything has a sense of wonder.
My Neighbor Totoro is all about childhood wonder. It’s a gleefully, entertaining film that puts a smile on your face from frame one and keeps it there till the credits roll.
9. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
“Walt Disney wanting to own the magic of her voice, contractually forbade Snow White star Adriana Caselotti from ever singing on screen or in public again. He also didn’t credit any of the voice actors in the film, so many of them remained a mystery for years. This is one of the most successful films ever made and she couldn’t prove she was the one in it. This was her only film.”
This is ground zero folks. This is considered among the “15 films that changed American cinema.” Toy Story was 15, this was number 3. Made four times as much money as any other film in 1938, which in turn was used to create the Disney studios in Burbank California. This is the 10th highest grossing film adjusted for inflation.
I can whip numbers and records at you all day. It broke all the records and made all the money. There would be no Disney monopoly right now if this film flopped.
And everyone thought it would.
If you’ve ever seen Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, you know that Howard Hughes at a hard time making his film Hell’s Angels. Everyone thought that if it ever did come out, it would be a massive financial disaster. That entire section of that film could have easily been about Walt and his experiences making Snow White. Reporters referred to it as “Walt’s folly” and would make bets on how much it would lose.
And then it came out and changed cinema forever. This film isn’t in the top 10 because of its influence or impact, which certainly doesn’t hurt, it’s in the top 10 because none of that would matter if the film failed. It wasn’t the first animated film and it wasn’t a guaranteed success but it was because at the end of the day, Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs is an amazing film.
Bringing it back to Hell’s Angels, the star of that Jean Harlow was once quoted as saying “There is a God, even in Hollywood.” She’s right. His name was Walt Disney.
“Why the hell is the little cleaner robot on the poster? Did they want to hide the fact that there’s fat people in this or were they expecting him to be a fan favorite? I mean he’s adorable but so is the broken umbrella robot but his ass ain’t hanging out with Wall-E and Eve on the cover.”
Any film lover will tell you that there’s three categories for film appreciation–the great films, the favorite films and the handshake films. The first two are self explanatory but the handshake films need a little bit of explaining. The handshake film is the film you use as your barometer to gauge a strangers taste. If they love it, they’re part of the “club” and if they hate it, your tastes will probably not align.
Wall-E is my handshake film. If you find the beginning of this film boring or complain about the lack of dialogue, I know immediately that we do not have the same taste in film. This film is so magical, it made me care about a cockroach.
7. Beauty And The Beast
“Correct me if I’m mistaken but according to the lore, wasn’t the Prince like 10 when the witch put the spell on him? I’m no mathematician but based on the numbers they throw at us, the beast was just a kid when he got cursed. Which kinda shines a new light on the whole situation.”
Snow White might’ve created the Disney studio and Toy Story might’ve advanced technology but Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for best picture. Regardless of whether you think the Academy is always wrong or that the awards are a joke, the fact that every voting member–which remember, is made up of people actually working on films–came together and decided that this film was good enough to be in the top five. Good enough to actually win the Oscar.
This before they had they added ten nominations to the best picture ballot and before animated films had their own category. This film being nominated finally legitimized animation. It was no longer looked at as children’s entertainment. This was art.
It may be an animated musical about a girl suffering from Stockholm Syndrome with shades of beastiality thrown in, but it was still art damn it!
6. Princess Mononoke
“That’s not cranberry sauce on face in that poster. This is the Miyazaki film Disney didn’t really push when they were in bed together.”
Because he’s made more appearances on this list than any other director (it’s not even a close), I’ve had to employ fast food techniques to describe his work. In the business of slinging cheap food on the quick, you’re taught to use “sizzle” words to better sell your product. Cake can’t just be cake, it has to be “decadent” or, much to the revulsion of every woman on the planet “moist.”
But when you’re the greatest animator, and frankly, one of the best directors alive, you run out of synonyms for Amazing or great pretty fucking quick.
Because they all apply.
The man deserves more than just “sizzle” words to describe his work. Somebody needs to get the ghost of Dr. Seuss a pen (and, um, uh, a hand because he’s…he’s dead and ghosts can’t move things) and tell him to create a whole new batch of stupid ass words because we new ones.
Miyazaki took them all. He owns them now.
5. The Iron Giant
“The fact that this was a flop, killed my faith in humanity.”
I don’t knew what’s more impressive, creating wildly original from your imagination alone or to take a well known story and tell it with such uniqueness, that it forever holds your stamp. I’m not saying anyone can create a world as in depth as Harry Potter or The Lord Of The Rings but the reverse is also true. Not everyone can take a dime-a-dozen story concept and turn it into gold. There’s a million alien invasion films and an equal amount of a boy and his dog storylines but there’s no idea from either subgenre that has made a film as half as good.
Brad Bird took the novel The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, changed its setting from the 60’s to the 50’s, injected it with Superman mythos and familiar tropes and still managed to create one of the most original films of the time. It’s a love letter to a bygone era, which isn’t to say it’s overly sentimental or nostalgic in anyway. Quite the contrary. It eschews nostalgia in favor of character. It’s clearly in love with its time period but it never lets anything over shadow it’s characters. It never uses nostalgia as a crutch. It’s a simple story, one of which we’ve heard a thousand times already but told in the most perfect way possible.
“I am Superman.” Makes me cry like a woman who just got dumped on Valentine’s day. After she found out she was pregnant. And then got got beat by a sock filled with lemons.
4. The Lion King
“Totes not a rip off of Kimba the White Lion or Shakespeare.”
One of the biggest problems with Disney buying everything and putting everything they acquire into a year a film (or in the case of Marvel, three films a year) schedule, is that it killed the event picture. Back in the day, going to see the new Disney film was an event. This was the thing you looked forward to all year and you and everyone you knew saw it. And would talk about it all year round.
Whatever year you happen to read this in, think about all the films that came out in that year and try and pinpoint the biggest one. I don’t mean the one that made the most money, I mean the one everyone talked about. Now, how long did they talk about it?
Star Wars episode whatever is probably going to be the most talked about film now till the sun implodes and we all die but are we talking about the film in question or just the franchise itself?
The Last Jedi came out and a lot of people dug it and a lot of people hated it. It was definitely an event but how long did the event last? The answer is till it hits blu ray. Which is maybe three months.
To shorten my long winded rant about the death of the event, films aren’t talked about anymore past they’re home video release. They live and die in that opening weekend.
In 1994, everyone talked about The Lion King. Unless you were a pretentious hipster who wouldn’t shut the fuck up about Clerks and Natural Born Killers being the “true cinema”, (you know who you are. Gary) your ass was owned by this film.
And people wanted their ass to be owned! I miss it! I miss the event. The tradition. Goddamn it Disney, I miss you.
“Makes a perfect drinking game. Take a shot every time someone shouts Kaneda or Tetsuo. [FilmExodus is not liable for any deaths that will inevitably occur from said drinking game]”
It’s eerily coincidental that the film opens with a massive atomic blast because that’s the most accurate representation of what this film did to western audiences when it first debuted. Americans weren’t ready for this shit.
We were accustomed to films about cute woodland creatures, not telekinetic monster fetuses. This came out the same year as Oliver & Company and there’s a reason no body remembers that film exists. The Disney way was dead.* 1988 was the year that anime finally hit our shores and it hit us hard. We got the one-two-three punch combo of My Neighbor Totoro, The Grave Of The Fireflies and Akira. The only thing those three films have in common besides their country of origin, is the fact that they proved that there was an entire other world out there making films that we had no idea existed. It blew our minds and we’ve embraced Anime ever since.
It’s hard to say which one of those films is the official film that introduced us to anime but regardless of who got there first, Akira was the only one at the party anyone was talking about. My Neighbor Totoro wouldn’t become huge till vhs a year later and hardly anyone outside Japan had seen The Grave Of The Fireflies but even if both were hits, it still would’ve been Akira. It pushed the envelope in every way imaginable and destroyed our minds in the process.
*for at least a year.
2. Spirited Away
“2017 shipped Babadook and Pennywise. I say in 2018 we ship No Face and Slenderman. #isitstillhip2ship?”
Imagine a cinematic stew consisting of the best elements of every fantasy movie or novel you’ve ever seen or heard of and then imagine the chef preparing that stew was the best chef in the world.
The stew in this metaphor is obviously Spirited Away and it is considered by virtually all that have seen it, to be the apex of animation. This is the crown jewel of anime and is inarguably the best film from a man who’s entire oeuvre is made up of the best films.
Time puts works of art on pedestals. Quality is irrelevant, for some lucky few, their legacy has surpassed critique. Take for example Goldilocks and The Three Bears. The plot is hollow, the characters non-existent and it’s extremely repetitive but none of that matters. I can spend the rest of my life trying to destroy that novel but it would be in vain because the story has been told so many times, it’s become a part of us as a culture or cm society.
Spirited Away will eventually stand shoulder to shoulder with the greats on that pedestal.
It will transcend time.
1. Toy Story
“It’s like that classic Buggles song ‘Video killed the radio star’ but replace video with computer and radio with Disney.”
It’s impossible to oversell this films importance. Snow White might’ve helped legitimize the animation artform but Toy Story singlehandedly killed the old gods of technology. No longer were we tethered to a pen and ink, now we could create anything inside of a computer. This film didn’t just change how animated films were made but the industry as a whole.
CGI had been around for at least a decade at this point but nothing even close this scale had been accomplished let alone attempted at this point. Technological break throughs don’t keep you in the public’s eye, however, thanks to the best writing team ever assembled for a Pixar film, it’s never waned in popularity. All your fancy ass groundbreaking don’t mean shit if the audiences don’t care about the characters and thankfully, that’s not a problem. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Woody and Buzz are the next Bugs and Daffy or Mickey and Goofy but they’re undeniably iconic. And have sold more merchandising than the two combined.
According to science wizards, there’s essentially two types of people: the analytical and the emotional. The logical and…er, the emotional. I’m analytical. Whenever I create a list, I compile it based on a series of facts and then try to order them based on an emotional connection. I try and be as objective as humanly possible, which admittedly is impossible but logic always trumps emotion.
Logically, based on all of the qualifiers, Toy Story is easily number 1. It is as influential as Snow White, as impactful Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King and as entertaining as any studio Ghibli film but more importantly, it has heart.
This film makes you care about three dimensional images created by a computer. We were in love with cartoons long before Snow White showed up but nobody believed a computer could create art.
Toy Story is the greatest animated film of all time.