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.
100. Rock and Rule
“The Secret of NIMH by way of Heavy Metal”
Starting with the very first animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Walt Disney knew that all you needed to make a successful film is at least one character that can easily be turned into a toy (for the merchandising) and songs you’ll be singing for weeks on end.
It’s a patented formula that the studio continues to use to this day. Animated musicals filled with anthropomorphic toys. But in all the years of cranking out hit song after hit song, it’s kind of ironic that not a single one of their films is actually about making music.
Enter the rock infused melodrama that is Rock and Rule.
Bridging the gap between the grittiness of Ralph Bakshi and the more child like fare of Don Bluth, Rock and Rule sits comfortably in the middle. Not sleazy enough to hang with Fritz but also not light enough for kids to enjoy.
This is the film you find when you’re a little bit old for Disney and then it becomes your new favorite thing.
99. My Dog Tulip
“Sometimes love really is a bitch.”
I sometimes wonder if certain films are greenlit based solely on the fact that some random producer had a really clever pun he just needed to use. Did the Sister Act really need a sequel? No but then the world would’ve been robbed the title Back in the Habit.
The misspelling of the film The Santa Clause has confused a generation of kids because they didn’t understand the title had two meanings. They just assumed Santa’s last name was now spelled with an “e”.
They’re sometimes clever but hardly ever funny. My Dog Tulip isn’t a pun but the tagline certainly is. It’s a tagline so witty, the film automatically earned a spot on the list.
“Spot on this list.”
Cuz dogs are usually called spot?
This film is really good and deserves a much better write up. But sometimes life is a….
98. The Secret Of Kells
“Kells Bells (because unfortunately there’s no bats in this to make my other pun work)”
If I was ranking these films based solely on their art styles, The Secret of Kells would be close to the top of the list. It’s visually astonishing but I wish the visuals were more than just an aesthetic choice. Since the plot is so bare bones, I think it would’ve been far more interesting if the visuals were also the story. This definitely should’ve been an exercise in show-don’t tell but regardless of my complaints, there’s no denying this film is a feast for the eyes.
Picture older episodes of Samurai Jack but replace the Japanese mythology with Irish mysticism and the non-stop action with the exact opposite of that and you have this film. This film is like the most gorgeous piece of cotton candy, it looks amazing but will leave you hungry.
You might even say the animation is:
And the pun train just keeps on chugging.
97. Kirikou And The Sorceress
“African baby’s day out”
This film is the definition of the cultural divide between America and the rest of the world. Since America over sexualizes everything, the fact that every single character in this film is naked, would instantly make this film controversial if released.
We can handle violence and sex (as long as it’s straight) but include a naked baby walking around other naked or semi naked people and we would’ve collectively loose our shit. We’re the country that had to censor the baby’s genitalia on the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind.
Which means entire generations of American school children will miss out on one of the best made fables since Aesop. This entire film can be seen as an allegory for how mental or physical illness can destroy someone’s life and how as a community, we should do everything in our power to help them.
It’s a lesson America desperately needs right now.
96. The Boy And The World
“A candy colored kaleidoscope of crazy.”
It’s interesting that this film is called The Boy and the World instead of The Boy and His World because the entire film is from the perspective of a little boy and every design choice is born from that. Characters speak gibberish, environments look distorted and everything is bright like the ugliest of Christmas sweaters.
It looks like a rainbow threw up on a Don Hertzfeldt film and then got sucker punched by digital confetti. It’s alive and vibrant. Which is exactly how children see the world. They see the world in simple shapes and and through the filter of the brightest of color palettes.
Kind of like how a really drunk guy experiences Mardi Gras. A cacophony of color.
This film is gorgeous, is what I’m saying. Plus, it has an environmental message, so it’s also about something. So that’s like double awesome points.
95. A Scanner Darkly
“Drugs are bad, mmkay.”
Philip K. Dick is considered by many to be one of the preeminent science fiction authors. He wrote stories about monopolistic corporations (relevant), authoritarian governments (double relevant) and in the case of A Scanner Darkly, a government that spies on its own people (congratulations dick, you just hit the paranoia trifecta.)
Mistrust in government is actually only a small element to the plot. The real story is about drugs and how they destroy you. Strip away the futurism and your left with a painfully real autobiography from the author. He lived this life.
Much like his previous film Waking Life, Linklater decided to make this film with rotoscope animation. The intention is clear. It’s a specific design choice to tie into the books themes of our perception of reality and how we can never trust the things we see.
1 Corinthians 13:12
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known”.
94. When The Wind Blows
“War is hell.”
I don’t know if it’s because of the Cold War or because of the film The China Syndrome but between 1983 and 1986, America was terrified of the bomb. There was ten films released in that short span and if my math is correct, that averages out to three a year. Three films a year about the horrors of nuclear war. Silkwood, Threads, The Day After, Wargames, and Barefoot Gen (which almost made this list) all dealt in one way or the other, What would happen if the bomb were to drop.
And based on all these films: It’s not good.
I don’t want to spoil what happens in this film but since I just listed six films that involve nuclear radiation, I’m pretty sure you can deduce it doesn’t end well for this couple. We’ve seen a million post apocalyptic films dealing with the awesome destruction of the bomb but on a micro scale? When it’s just two people? It’s absolutely heart wrenching.
93. The Illusionist
“The old meets the new.”
Based on an unused script by the legendary Jacques Tati, The Illusionist is a perfect blend of of Tati’s slapstick and Chomet’s beautifully rendered animation. The plot isn’t much more than a premise– “an aging magician is helping a little girl get back home.” But what it lacks in it’s narrative, is more than made up for in its simplicity. It’s a very deliberately paced animated film.
There’s many scenes of just character building (the little girl believes in magic and the older magician is more than willing to keep up the charade) and just silence.
In fact, there’s not much dialogue (this was a Tati script remember) but what is done is usually more important than what is said.
The Illusionist is a beautiful little story about illusions and magic and how not only are they not the same, they can have multiple meanings.
92. Animal Farm
“Communism but for kids!”
George Orwell’s original novel is one of the most important pieces of literature ever written. It’s an allegorical story which critiques Joseph Stalin and his rise to power. This is Orwell’s version of “You Outta Know” and Stalin is his Coulier.
I’m pretty sure that’s an apt comparison.
Regardless of whether you’re up to date with your Russian history or whether or not you even know who the fuck Coulier is, Animal Farm works on more than just a political level, it works on an emotional one as well.
Every culture and almost every age group understands the powerful using the weak and if that’s all you take away from this film, it’s still a power message.
91. 5 Centimeters Per Second
“They say it’s five centimeters per second.
What do you mean?
The speed at which the sakura blossom petals fall… Five centimeters per second.”
Many critics have named Makoto Shinkai “the next Miyazaki” and while that’s certainly high praise, it’s also shockingly dismissive.
Shinkai isn’t the next Miyazaki no more than Miyazaki was the next Disney. They are singular entities unlike anyone else before or after them.
Nobody makes films like Shinkai. His films are inarguably some of the most gorgeous committed to celluloid, in terms of both the striking visuals and their beautifully told narratives.
Shinkai isn’t the next Miyazaki. He’s the next Shinkai.