These lists suck. Mainly because there’s so much you want to include and there are so many obvious nods that usually they become redundant. This happens through casting a net so wide that the obvious choices take over and sometimes the independent precursors fall by the wayside.
So while my generation are obsessed with the likes of Pixar and Disney as they laced our childhood with happiness and heartbreak during their peak period in the 90s, animated films have undergone scrutiny for cashing in on the wonderment of children while simultaneously feeding them unrealistic ideals. While this may be true for Hollywood in general, we’re particularly sensitive when it comes to shaping the minds of the next generation, of which animation predominantly caters to. So it’s interesting to examine some of the best animated films which reflect our transition into a more PC and left-wing dominant culture, as well as those which highlight animation’s growth into a better appreciated and embraced artform.
Animation has truly matured within the last decade, so let’s have a look at some of our favourite stand outs…
WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
As our token representative of the big-budget Hollywood animations, is WALL-E. “Why not Frozen? Why not Inside Out?”, I hear you scream… Because WALL-E was the turning point for Disney and Pixar. It was the first time we saw a sudden shift in tone and message. This wasn’t just a sweet narrative of robot love, but one of dystopian horror that carries a strong dose of reality with it. It seemed to be the first time that Hollywood animation paid attention to their environment and utilised their position to assist in shaping future minds for the better. Without WALL-E, I don’t believe we would have the ‘feminist’ (by Disney standards) success of Frozen or the topical narrative of xenophobia and racism that dominates Zootropolis. It was their first step towards creating more culturally and environmentally aware films, and thank Christ for it.
L’Illusioniste (Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
Though we’re occasionally mesmerised and bombarded with the action and complex animation styles from Hollywood, sometimes you need a reminder that animation is a true form of art. Chomet’s L’Illusioniste provides that reminder. The film takes you on an emotional, sweet and occasionally funny journey, and yet there isn’t a single word of dialogue. His previous Les Triplettes de Belleville is equally wonderful in its style, and much more wacky, though I found the realism contrast in L’Illusioniste much more striking.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata, 2015)
The Yin to Miyazaki’s Yang, Isao Takahata has always been one to keep Studio Ghibli grounded. While Miyazaki produced stunning films filled with child-like wonderment, Takahata drifted towards narratives of realism, often gauging inner turmoil. Takahata made a return last year (in the UK) with The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and the results were as heart-achingly stunning as you would expect. Taking inspiration from Japanese scrolls, the film is done in the style of watercolours to match the old Japanese folktale it is adapted from. It truly is enough to bring a tear to your eye through the sheer beauty of it. However, as the narrative makes very clear, one should never be defined by their beauty alone; and though beautiful it may be, this film is so much more.
Song of the Sea (Tomm Moore, 2015)
Like Kaguya above, Song of the Sea takes inspiration from its’ nation’s folklore, both in narrative and style. While The Secret of Kells was a resounding success as Ireland’s first ever feature length animation, Cartoon Saloon’s second venture appears to have more creative freedom. The Secret of Kells seemed to serve as a purpose in establishing their creative style and it’s distinctively Irish connection by creating a story around the infamous Book of Kells. Song of the Sea explores the much more obscure Irish folk tale of the Selkie, and seamlessly transforms the fantastical story into a discussion about emotions. It fabulously draws from the current worldwide concern of mental health, and how it particularly develops in men who are not taught to deal with their emotions appropriately from a young age – and they are making an attempt to change that. Bualadh bos, lads.
Mary & Max (Adam Elliot, 2009)
Featuring the voice talents of Toni Collette, Eric Bana, and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, it baffles me that Mary & Ma didn’t get the attention it so deserved. The claymation is a heart wrenching gem of a 20 year correspondence between the lonely but curious 8-year-old Mary, and the overweight Aspergic 44-year-old, Max. The film is notable in itself for featuring a main character who is on the Autistic spectrum, without the romanticisation of the emotionally or socially ‘disconnected genius’, which we’ve inexplicably seen repeated in both film and television in recent years (we’re looking at you The Big Bang Theory, The Accountant and The Imitation Game). An unlikely friendship that, although challenging for both parties, helps them grow and develop throughout their lives. The discomfort that the narrative initially makes you feel, becomes overpowered by its warm childlike innocence and brilliant moments of witticisms.
So that’s it, let us know if you think there’s a film that was more deserving of a place in our top 5! (Chances are though, I already debated with myself about it!)