Time Out's 50 greatest animated films: part 4
In celebration of the release of Pixar's 'Up' and Wes Anderson's beautiful stop-motion rendering of Roald Dahl's 'Fantastic Mr Fox', Time Out ushers in the help of master animator Terry Gilliam – whose own partially animated 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' opens in cinemas this month – to run down 50 of the greatest animated features of all time
20. Pinocchio (1940)Directed by Hamilton Luske & Ben SharpsteenLook ma, no strings! A small, wooden puppet is brutalised en route to adulthood in this alternatively consoling and repellent retelling of Carlo Collodi's 1883 short story which was Uncle Walt's second full-length animation. Perhaps more so than ‘Dumbo', ‘Pinocchio' represents one of Disney's more emotionally potent and deviant works as the eponymous scamp is put through the existential ringer in search of what it means to be human. His tortuous journey, which encompasses being inducted into a travelling circus, swallowed by a whale and put to work in a salt mine, represents the long and gruelling road to self-understanding, but he is thankfully helped along the way by a singing Cricket and a honey-voiced Blue Fairy. It's a startling and lovable film, but there is a rather unpleasant strain of moral hectoring in the famous scene where our hero and his Irish companion are turned into donkeys for the 'sin' of smoking and drinking. DJ
Watch the film's scariest scene here Read the Time Out review of 'Pinocchio'
19. When the Wind Blows (1988)Directed by Jimmy T MurakamiWinter fuel? More like nuclear winter fuel…‘Threads’, lame live-action nuclear holocaust drama that it was, had to make do with Reece Dinsdale in the lead. Here, a shaven Father Christmas and his wife were the megaton-fodder in Raymond Briggs’s adaptation of his own heart-rending graphic novel. Peggy Ashcroft and John Mills are wholly convincing as the elderly couple attempting to follow the instructions of the very real Government survival handbook, ‘Protect and Survive’, unable to reconcile their own previous wartime experience with impending annihilation. Briggs’s organic, understated drawing style makes the horrors that befall them still more affecting and the prefiguring of mundane objects as artifacts from a lost civilization makes the End of the World feel very personal indeed. PFWatch a segment from the film hereRead the Time Out review of 'When the Wind Blows'
18. The Jungle Book (1967)Directed by Wolfgang ReithermanNo, not that kind of Jungle music…The film in which all the technical expertise of Disney came together with the verve and optimism of mid-'60s California to create something approaching total animated filmmaking, and the last to be personally produced by Walt Disney himself. In terms of character depth, it was Disney’s most ambitious animation, with Shere Khan radiating genuine menace, while in blissed-out Baloo, the traditionally conservative studio even picks up on some of that whacked-out Laurel Canyon vibe.
Minor characters, such as the Beatles-esque vultures, who
inexplicably perform barbershop ragga, stand as pop-cultural markers and it’s to one
of the minor villains that the film belongs: King Louie, the scat-singing orangutan whose 'I Wanna Be Like You' is the movie’s stand-out number. It may
be one of the most memorable and enjoyable scenes in animated film, but
watching it today, it’s hard not to feel some apprehension. At the time, jazz
was the soundtrack to the struggle for African-American liberation; how did
that translate in the minds of the filmmakers to the need to make the movie’s
single jazz number the one sung by apes attempting to become civilised – 'someone like you-oo-oo'? Whether a symptom of social anxiety or conscious
comment, the scene – stealer that it is – leaves an increasingly sour taste as
the years pass. PF
Click here to watch some jungle scat
Read the Time Out review of 'The Jungle Book'
17. The Brave Little Toaster (1987)Directed by Jerry Rees
The film that spawned Pixar?Released to little acclaim in 1987, Jerry Rees’s film – based on a book by Thomas M Disch – lists Disney Pixar’s John Lasseter as one of the animators. According to an interview Lasseter gave to CNN Money in 2006 , ‘The Brave Little Toaster’ was the film he originally wanted to make using the then brand new (and untried) method of computer animation. Lasseter left Disney, but the animator bounced back eight years later (1995) with the seminal Pixar-produced ‘Toy Story’. Sometime during those eight wilderness years, Lasseter had helped out a few friends on a budget-priced two-dimensional version of his original idea and, lo, ‘The Brave Little Toaster’ was born.
Like ‘Toy Story’, the film’s concept is about inanimate objects that secretly spring to life when there are no humans in the vicinity. In ‘Toy Story’ it was toys; here, though, it’s a clutch of domestic appliances, and it’s testament to the endearing quality of the characters, the neat script and the touching storyline that the viewer is able to feel any empathy at all for what is ostensibly a pile of dated white goods. The premise is simple: a young boy and his parents decide to leave their countryside abode for a new life in the city, and in the process abandon their old kitchen toaster, vacuum cleaner, lamp, air-con unit, etc. But as soon as the family car’s out of sight, Toaster and his gaggle of endearing pals up sticks and head cross-country in a vain attempt to track their ‘masters’ down.
True, the animation itself is nothing to shout about – it
only cost $2.3 million – yet pretty much every other aspect here is absolutely
spot on, from the stupendous voiceovers – including Phil Hartman’s
unbelievably accurate Jack Nicholson impersonation – to Van Dyke Parks’s quirky
and outrageously tuneful score. Surely it is only a matter of time before
Lasseter and his current Pixar team develop a 3D update of this heartwarming,
engaging and hugely entertaining story. In the meantime, seek out this weird
little unpolished gem on DVD and give your kids an undeniable treat. DA
Watch the big junk yard car-crushing number here
16. Akira (1988)Directed by Katsuhiro ÔtomoEver seen a tumour the size of an Olympic Stadium?It’s difficult to gauge the cultural impact that Ôtomo’s canonical anime motherload, ‘Akira’, had on those late ’80s cineastes looking for something ‘a bit different’. Notwithstanding numerous dubbed TV cartoons containing what must have looked like freakishly proportioned individuals with huge eyes and tiny mouths, the Manga style must have been something of an unknown quantity to Western eyes. ‘Akira’ changed all that, not only as a transcendent feat of narrative and character intricacy, but as a film that was scarily in touch with the modern technological world and its potential to crumble in on itself at any moment. Indeed, the film opens in 1988 where Tokyo is levelled with a nuclear payload, explaining why the story is set in the place known as Neo Tokyo, a dilapidated and seedy replica of the deceased capital. Futuristic Hell’s Angels hog the elevated freeways, political factions have gun battles in busy streets and at the centre of it all, a nerdy teen is made to discover dormant superpowers which could change the course of humanity. Novelistic in breadth and potent in atmosphere, it’s a testament to Ôtomo’s dexterity as a filmmaker that he could so expertly channel the 2,182 pages of a Manga epic into such a relatively concise runtime. It’s now more than 20 years old, but hasn’t aged a second. DJWatch the trailer here
15. The Iron Giant (1999)Directed by Brad BirdMetal man makes mild mayhem.
Adapted by the BBC for a ‘Jackanory’, into a surly metal workout by Black Sabbath for their 1972 hit single and into a rock opera by Pete Townshend, Ted Hughes’s 1968 novel, ‘The Iron Man’, had taken a few odd turns before director Brad Bird and screenwriter Tim McCanlies fashioned it into this elegant nuclear parable. The plot, about an all-powerful space tin man showing humanity the error of its ways, is nothing new, but the neatly rendered Cold War setting, utter lack of sentimentality and slick, stylised animation make for a minor classic. ALD
14. Gandahar (1988)Directed by René LalouxYou’re twisting my melons, man!Laloux’s ‘The Fantastic Planet’ (1973) may be his best-known work, but in terms of quality of animation, the depth of the themes it explores and sheer mind-melting, mommy-make-it-stop! lunacy, ‘Gandahar’ knocks it for six. A French/North Korean-produced sci-fi wig-out, ‘Gandahar’ is an enigma wrapped in a Möbius strip that follows a lithe hero’s quest to confront the uncomprehending Godhead allowing his civilization to be destroyed by an army of marauding metal men. Existing on extremely fluid terms with the past and future while revelling in a wilfully elliptical narrative, it’s difficult to pin down what’s going on at any given point, but the film’s undeniable scope and sheer bombast make it hard to deny as a whole. ALDClick here for a clip from the film
13. Dumbo (1941)Directed by Ben SharpsteenBooze, glorious booze…Earning his feature-length spurs as supervising director on ‘Pinocchio’ the year before, Ben Sharpsteen flew solo at the helm of this occasionally terrifying travelling circus fantasia that was probably the first children’s animation that you could have watched as a double bill with Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’. At the centre of the tale is a cherubic baby elephant, born in a sweltering boxcar with comically over-sized ears and duly ostracised by all but his loving mother. He goes on a journey of self-discovery with a silver-tongued circus mouse which involves getting bladdered on Dom Perignon and ending up stuck in a tree and, miraculously, learning how to fly with his freakish lug-holes. As films about learning to harness your emotional and physical potential go, ‘Dumbo’ contains insights that make if far more than mere single-note kiddie fare. That it also asks us to ingest and experience some of life’s darker pleasures in order to build character, makes it a doe-eyed weepie with a real sting in its tail. DJWatch an elephant fly
Read the Time Out review of 'Dumbo'
12. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)Directed by Isao TakahataLife during wartimeWe’ve already covered ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ in both our ‘50 Greatest World War II Movies’ list and our ‘Classic Film Club’ strand, but its place in this list is amply deserved, if only as proof that animation can cover painful adult topics as bravely and powerfully as any live-action movie. A study of the effects of war on children through the eyes of a pair of stranded Japanese kids under American bombardment, its position as the bleakest, most unrelenting animated film is challenged only by ‘When the Wind Blows’. THClick here to watch Roger Ebert explain his love for this animated masterpiece
11. Bambi (1942)Directed by David Hand'Did you just cough or was that a shotgun cocking?'Having your tear-ducts surgically removed or being stiff in a box: these are probably the only states where one would manage to get to the end of ‘Bambi’ without weeping like a baby. Adapted from Austrian author Felix Salten’s novel, ‘Bambi, a Life in the Woods’, the film offered an adorable depiction of woodland life as a young fawn grows up in the company of a friendly rabbit (Thumper) and, er, skunk (Flower). At a critical time in his upbringing, he is given a brutal lesson in mortality when his loving mother wanders on to the business end of a loaded 12-gauge while off foraging for food after the gruelling winter months. The subsequent journey of self-improvement and understanding takes the form of anger, sadness and ultimately redemption, making this (still) one of the most empathetic yet coldly direct screen portrayals of death in the history of cinema. Remade in 1994 as ‘The Lion King’. DJWatch the brilliant 1942 trailer
Read the Time Out review of 'Bambi'Click here for 10 through to 2
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