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.
70. Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm
“The Phantasm of the paradise.”
There’s a joke in This is Spinal Tap where one of the band members is explaining the thought process behind making one of their recent album covers completely black. Black logo, black lettering, black everything. The punchline is “It’s like, how much more black could this be? and the answer is none. None more black.” It’s supposed to be satirizing the heavy metal bands of the era but I can’t but think of Batman: The Animated Series every time i hear it.
For those of you that don’t know, to separate themselves from traditional cartoons at the time, the background painters of the show used black paper instead of the traditional white. They thought it would help visually distinguish itself from other shows much like how Groening came up with the idea to make the Simpsons yellow.
The film takes that dark aesthetic and, keeping with Spinal Tap references, cranks it all the way to 11. There was no other animated film at the time that was even remotely as dark. Which part of me always wondered why they didn’t just subtitle it “None more black.”
69. Night On The Galactic Railroad
“The Polar Express except more depressing. Well, almost as depressing.”
According to many to be a faithful adaptation of the novel of the same name by Kenji Miyazawa, there is one huge noticeable change. All the characters are now anthropomorphic cats instead of humans. The director thought a straight forward adaptation would be far too depressing. He wanted to keep the surreal, magical quality of the books and thought that talking animals would be the best way of capturing the essence while also softening the sadder elements of the story. Which is ironic considering the author hated cats.
This film is almost the invert of the catbus scene from My Neighbor Totoro. But instead of two human kids, it’s two cats and instead of a bus it’s a train. Well, actually, the invert would be two cats riding a hollowed out human. Which is off putting. I didn’t think this analogy out all the way through.
68. Lilo And Stitch
“It’ll keep you in Stitches. That pun was terrible. I apologize.”
The 2000’s were a rough time for Disney animation. If you’ll indulge me for a quick side bar, I’d like to offer my theory on why that is. Toy Story. It fucked them up. I don’t think anyone expected it to be a hit. I guarantee Disney looked at Pixar the same way a jock looks at a group of science nerds, with complete indifference. They probably thought it was cute that a couple of nerds with computers were trying to get into the business.
And then it was released and it changed everything.
Disney freaked out. Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame didn’t preform like they wanted them too and by the 2000’s, their last three films were consistently over shadowed by the juggernaut that was Pixar. Pixar was the new kid in town that’s Ferris Bueller-ing (yes. I just used his name as a verb) all over the place and everyone loves him and it’s driving Disney insane.
So they did what every old person trying to be hip does, they tried to chase a trend. They ditched the princess storylines, they tried to move away from traditional hand drawn animation and threw every idea at the fucking wall. It was a dark time. They produced their absolute worst film during this time.
But the one ray of light amongst the darkness (besides Emperor’s New Groove, which is fucking amazing and just barely missed the cut) was Lilo and Stitch.
TL;DR–the 2000’s fucking sucked but Lilo and Stitch was great.
67. How To Train Your Dragon
“Fuck the sequel.”
Oh DreamWorks, god bless em, they really try. Created in 1997 by some of Amblin Entertainment’s former animation branch, they hit the scene with the back-to-back releases of Antz and The Prince of Egypt but it wouldn’t be until two years later with the release of Shrek, that they would become a legitimate contender in the world of animation.
I should’ve put contender in quotation marks because although they’ve made a handful of decent films, they’re overall filmography is forgettable at best. I could be overly cynical and call them untalented hacks that churn out nothing but glossy, over produced slop but with the exception of their over reliance on celebrity voice actors, I truly believe they do try. Unlike Illumination. Who suck.
Even though I’m much more of a fan of their hand drawn films (shout out to Road to El Dorado), How to Train your Dragon is easily one of their best.
It could be the excellent cast or the stellar animation but my money is on the fact that Toothless the dragon looks like Stitch. He’s adorable.
66. Chicken Run
“The Great Escape but with chickens.”
Aardman Animations is simply delightful. The British equivalent to Disney, they’ve been producing high quality work for the last forty years or so but everything before the 1989 short Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out feels like the prep.
The only reason that short didn’t win the Oscar, was because Creature Comforts was released the same year. Also made by Aardman. They are the only company who’s only competition is themselves.
After decades of producing shorts for the BBC, they decided to throw their hat into the feature film ring with the utterly charming Chicken Run.
Borrowing heavily from prison escape films like The Great Escape, Stalag 17 and Hogan’s Heroes, Chicken Run is a sharply written comedy that flys high like a chicken.
“Picture George Miller doing an anime instead of Happy Feet.”
For every list I write, I have a weird mental algorithm that helps me rank things based on impact, influence and quality. I’ve tried explaining it in the past but it doesn’t make any sense to anyone other than myself. Maybe I’m trying to prove you can write a list objectively or maybe I’m just trying to make it a little less arbitrary but my algorithm is a steel trap of logic. Cold hard logic.
Having said that, I do usually allow myself some freebies. Films that don’t necessarily check all of the algorithm boxes but I consider gems that get lost in the shuffle.
Redline isn’t necessarily underrated or obscure (take a drink) nor does it rank high on the big three (impact, influence, longevity) but goddamn, is it entertaining.
Imagine an even crazier version of Mad Max: Fury Road, which that in itself sounds impossible but even then, you’re still nowhere near the balls to the wall, action packed craziness this film delivers. It’s a hyper kinetic blast to the senses.
Picture the scene in the film Clue where Tim Curry’s character is hastily dispensing exposition while simultaneously running in and out of rooms but replace Curry with a car, the dialogue he’s shouting with more cars and you’re high on PCP.
64. The Castle Of Cagliostro
“One of the greatest adventure movies of all time.”
In Japan, this film is considered a flop. The Japanese took umbrage with the main character being radically different from previous iterations and consider it a failure.
In America, since this was our only exposure to the character of Lupin III, we fucking loved it. We had no frame of comparison, so we judged it on its quality and it’s an immensely entertaining romp. We considered him a goofier animated James Bond and word on the street is, that Spielberg drew heavily from this film while creating Indiana Jones. That quote up top? That’s from him.
Oh and I’ve seen the majority of the other Lupin the 3rd films. Japan is crazy wrong. This is by far the best one.
63. Lady And The Tramp
“We are Siamese if you please–never say that to an actual woman from Siam.”
This film is the culmination of 18 years of perseverance, hard work and not listening to your boss. The story was inspired by an actual dog, Lady, the pet of animator Joe Grant (who also co-wrote Dumbo because everyone did everything back in the day), who started writing it all the way back on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
It kicked around the studio for damn near 2 decades before it was finally put into production. It only took 8 writers and countless scripts but Grant’s perseverance won the day. Or maybe they were desperate for scripts and they just green lit whatever was lying around.
Oh and if it wasn’t for Frank Thomas (one of the legendary nine old men), we never would’ve had the spaghetti scene. Disney hated it but Thomas did it anyways. Because he was a badass.
62. Porco Rosso
“A pig that doesn’t fly is just a pig.”
Miyazaki is obsessed with aviation. Every single one of his films involves flying in one way or another. I honestly believe he worked on Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland simply because he wanted to animate a bed flying.
For somebody obsessed with flying and aviation and all that shit, it’s ironic that Porco Rosso is the only film of his that’s actually about a pilot. Other characters in his films fly and some even design planes but the talking pig brilliantly voiced by Michael Keaton is the only true pilot.
This film, along with every other film of his that made the cut (which is damn near all of them), prove, without a doubt, that he is the greatest director of adventure of all time. By the end of this film, you feel as though you had just been through a journey. A journey you can’t wait to go on again and again.
Now, if we could only get that sequel he keeps talking about….
61. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
“That’s a spicy meatball–That’s what she said”
It’s been said a million times but the directing duo known as Lord/Miller, are the kings of spinning gold from garbage. They revamped a cheesy cop drama from the 80’s, they made a franchise out of Lego’s and brilliantly adapted a semi unknown children’s novel into a side splittingly hilarious comedy.
They also got fired from Star Wars because they’re 2 legit 4 Lucas.
They have a distinct brand of humor that’s hard to describe to somebody that’s never seen one of their films before. It’s whip smart and crazy clever. Lots of cutaways and sight gags. They’re like the less annoying and infinitely funnier version of Seth MacFarlane.
Oh and Steve the talking monkey is a million times better than Dug the talking dog from Up. Deal with it.