No Disney or Pixar here. Well, one Disney, sort of.
There seems to be a misconception that animation is a genre. Even though there is certain things you’ll often find in animation, it should be seen as a production method or more like a group of production methods. There’s a lot of difference between rotoscoping, stop-motion and 3D-animation. Still, they are often grouped into one. So, I’ll do the same. No matter how absurd that is.
Here’s my ten favorite animations in chronological order.
Kanashimi no Beradonna or Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
A long forgotten Japanese animation bomb, which was somehow uncovered quite recently. It has quite a weird premise. It’s based on a French book (non-fiction) which presented a case for witchcraft being a form of rebellion against feudal authorities. This is how the Japanese interpreted that.
It’s actually hard to call this animated, as most of the movie is comprised of beautiful, albeit simple, water color paintings and movement is often achieved through panning, zooms and rotation of the images. Well, except for the small penis that the Devil has decided to take up as it’s form in this movies, which is fully animated. Despite this, it is quite beautiful and at least worth a watch for those interested in Japanese takes on the worldviews of European madmen.
Allegro non Troppo (1976)
Some guy from California might have claimed to have done this before, but that can’t be right, right? I mean combining classical music with animations. It’s a parody of Fantasia and makes this clear (in case someone somehow missed it) by basically broadcasting this from the beginning.
It has plenty of live action segments in it and the animations are nowhere near the quality of Prisney’s (or whatever his name is), but it doesn’t have to be. The real parody is in the live action elements, which are quite unnecessary in the original, but in this one have running story of their own. Those are kind of cheap jokes, whereas the animations are quite trippy, but most importantly, they never overstay their welcome. They manage to present their weird ideas and be done with it during the one piece of music in a way that never gets boring.
Tetsuo is a member of a biker gang, who gets involved in military experiments, which transform him into a mutated monster that rampages through Tokyo on it’s way to secrets hidden ages ago. It’s up to his old friend Kaneda and his team of misfits to stop it all.
This was probably the first movie one could categorize as anime I ever saw. It was a poor quality pirated VHS, which I didn’t actually get at the time, probably because you could hardly make out the subtitles, but I did stick enough for me to buy the DVD when I started collecting those over a decade later. And I wasn’t the only one it stuck with, because the success of the movie was pretty much the reason Japanese animations started getting distribution in the west. Sure, there had been limited distribution before, but for some strange reason this was big enough to entice interest in the genre.
Which is quite strange despite the quality of the film, as the film is quite weird and is pretty far from the western experience of the time.
Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
This is the Disney movie on the list, but it wasn’t actually first released under that banner. It was released as a Touchstone movie first and only once it gained a popular following, did Disney make it one of their own movies. It has been re-released quite a few times after that. Those re-releases are titled as being Tim Burton’s, but this isn’t his directorial work, even if his fingerprints are all over it.
… and why not? I mean, around this time Burton was actually good. This has fun characters, music and story. Everything one might think one might want from an animation.
Mononoke-hime aka Princess Mononoke (1997)
This is the honorary Kubrick movie in this particular list, I guess. Hayao Miyazaki might not be quite as well-known and respected… but give it a little time. I mean, there’s a whole generation of people who have grown up with these movies. Maybe not in the US, but pretty much everywhere else they are part of the zeitgeist. And since people at Pixar have freely admitted that they will look to Miyazaki’s films for inspiration when they are not sure how to approach something, Miyazaki has reached massive amounts of people indirectly.
This is his most ‘adult’ film. He even retired after this in 1998 (his retirement didn’t last long, though, as he returned with Spirited Away in 2001 and these movies do require quite a bit of production time). It feels very different from his more kid-friendly ouevre.
It’s about Ashitaka, a young warrior, who becomes cursed by a demonic boar and is banished from his village to look for a cure. He stumbles upon a war between a mining community and the local forest gods, where he meets San, the titular Mononoke. The environmental themes are quite obvious here, but the beautiful animation, excellent action and the Miyazaki designs keep it from drawing your focus.
Les triplettes de Belleville or The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
When an elderly woman’s grandchild is kidnapped by the mafia, she recruits her old friends, the Belleville sisters, and her dog, Bruno, to save him, crossing the Atlantic on a paddle boat to do so.
Much of the animation is quite rudimentary, but there are gorgeous scenes. Especially the trip across the ocean. There are voice actors involved, but the movie is mostly silent, except for the songs, which have nonsense lyrics.
Once again, this is fun, well, until it’s tragic, but hey, that works just as well.
Papurika (2006) (That’s Paprika in English, if you didn’t get that)
It’s a Japanese movie about dreams. What else could one ever want?
Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical movie about her youth in Iran and as a student in Austria.
This is based on her graphic novel, but seems to work better as a movie. I’ve seen several excellent movies from Iran dealing with their daily lives in various ways (the Oscar winning A Separation and the excellent horror movie Under the Shadow, which you can probably find on Netflix, for example) and this is probably the best one.
Sita Sings the Blues (2008)
There were problems with finding distribution with this movie, which tells you a lot about how poorly that business is run, because this is an excellent movie. Hard to market, definitely, but this is one of those things where word of mouth can definitely help. Anyhow, because of those problems, it’s freely available on the ‘net. Like here.
So, why is it hard to market? It’s a story of the creator’s own divorce told through Hindu myths and songs of Annette Hanshaw. There’s three narrators who often disagree and aren’t completely sure what happened anyhow. The animation is quite non-conventional as well. To me, and quite a few other people, the weirdness of the movie is a definite plus. It has it’s own fans and it has been seen 1.3 million times on YouTube alone. Since it’s public domain (now), there’s a chance millions of others have seen it as well. We can’t really assume all of those people would have paid to see the movie, but with proper marketing, it could definitely have made money. Of course, that is not the only important thing here and Nina Paley, the creator, seems to be happy to see her movie gain an audience.
Kimi no na wa. aka Your Name (2016)
Two teenagers notice that they weren’t really dreaming, but instead they have been exchanging bodies, living each others lives, until one day it just stops.
It does go into the weird territory towards the end, but not that far. Mostly it’s just very a light-hearted and fun, when the two learn to live each others lives with the obvious “hilarity” of them being of different sexes. It’s actually handled quite well.
The movie changes pace at some point, but it works as well. The whole premise is complicated and I don’t actually even get everything that’s going on, but I don’t mind either.T