Time Out's 50 greatest animated films: part 5
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
10. Robin Hood (1973)Directed by Wolfgang ReithermanRootin’ tootin’ medieval WesternDisney’s 'Robin Hood' in a list of greatest animated films? It rarely even makes the list of greatest Disney films, lacking the polish (and budget) of the studio’s ’60s features and coming way before the renaissance kicked off by ‘The Little Mermaid’ in 1989. Yet the rough look of the film is in keeping with the beat-up cowpoke narration of Roger Miller’s Alan-a-Dale, who links the well-worn vignettes of outlaw life with steel guitar and Johnny Cash burr. Director Wolfgang Reitherman also helmed ‘The Jungle Book’, which may explain why, in the hard times of the early ’70s, so many sequences appear snaffled from the cutting room floor of that film and given the Lincoln Green treatment. Big, lovable Little John in particular is recognisable as ‘The Jungle Book’s’ Baloo, crayoned brown and given a pointy hat, and is again warmly voiced by Mr Bear Necessity himself, Phil Harris. The charm of this take on deeply rooted English folklore is in its complementary overlay of an American equivalent – western references like chain-gangs and sheriff’s stars abound and, in the boy Skippy’s blind adoration for Robin, there is an echo of the mythic themes explored in the lodestone of western lore, ‘Shane’. PF
Watch the Butch and Sundance frolics of the Sherwood outlaws
9. South Park: Bigger, LongerDirected by Trey ParkerThe tender tale of four best friends and one quiet mountain townAfter their first two seasons, ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were already beginning to flounder: they’d run the gamut of juvenile fart gags and alien invasions, and the show was beginning to run out of steam. ‘Bigger, Longer & Uncut’ changed all that, allowing Parker and Stone to not only cram in all the R-rated language they’d been denied on TV, but to add a whole new layer of pointed political and cultural commentary that would transform ‘South Park’ into the savage satirical juggernaut we know and love today.
It also revealed the hitherto guarded truth that Trey Parker is the finest (perhaps even the only decent) comic songwriter of his generation, unleashing the Oscar-nominated Sousa march ‘Blame Canada’, the glorious, celebratory ‘Oklahoma’ parody ‘Mountain Town’, and of course the dizzying, expletive-packed, MTV award-winning rant ‘Uncle Fucka’, which single-handedly transformed playgrounds the world over from centres of learning into putrid, pottymouthed centres of unashamed cursing.
In addition, the movie provides the final and inescapable verdict on that age-old question: which is better, ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘South Park’? When the producers of the former belatedly brought their creations to the big screen they produced a neutered romp crowded with lame in-jokes and tired slapstick. When Parker and Stone took a shot, they produced a musical masterpiece. Nuff said. TH
Terry Gilliam says...‘These are my children! They're brilliant. With the film, I was convinced they couldn't pull it off because I just didn't think it would sustain for 90 minutes. But of course it does, and it's just brilliant. They've been able to maintain their outrageousness, their awfulness. They're uncompromising, that's why I love them.'
Click here to find out why Kyle’s Mom is a big fat bitch
8. Belleville Rendez-vouz (2003)Directed by Sylvain ChometDrop-handlebar lunacy from the surrender monkeysFrench animation has always tottered between the sublime and the downright strange. For every ‘Persepolis’ (2007, see number 28) there’s a bad-acid sandwich like ‘Dougal and the Blue Cat’ (1972); for every ‘Piano Tuner of Earthquakes’ (2005) there lurks the gormless sex-comedy of ‘Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle’ (1975). Both ends of the spectrum collide in this delightfully retro cycling yarn that switches effortlessly back and forth through the gears from weary Gallic insouciance to frantic, jabbering mayhem (the French do, lest we forget, have that ongoing Jerry Lewis obsession). Taking in such outwardly disparate subjects as Hi-NRG music-hall stomping, movie-mad Mafia henchmen and a daring Tour de France kidnap plot, it’s fair to say a lot of bases are covered in a film that rattles along with Gallic flair and charm. ALD
Terry Gilliam says...'Only the French could make that. There's a whimsy, a French whimsy, that's absolutely unique and "The Triplets of Belleville" has that. It's a very specific kind of whimsy and I can't quite pin it down.'Click here to watch The Triplets of Belleville strut their stuff
7. Yellow Submarine (1968)Directed by George DunningHey, Ringo, I just had the strangest dream...No movie on this – or perhaps any other – list is so completely off the chain as the Beatles’s wonderfully skewed journey through the pop-art mayhem of Pepperland. But despite the last-day-of-school feel that runs through the film, one of the true qualities of ‘Yellow Submarine’ is the restraint that informs it’s every frame. Released during the height of the psychedelic movement and with the Fab Four voiced by impersonators, it could have easily have become a hippy-dippy cash-in, but the film takes great care to stay true to the spirit of the Beatles and never drifts off into weirdo-beardo pyrotechnics or mello-yellow flower-power noodlings. All this plus a great cast of oddballs including Robin the Butterfly Stomper, Jeremy Hilary Boob PhD and the Apple Bonkers and a soundtrack that pounds to some of the Beatles’ best late-'60s tunes adds up to a truly seminal film that’s drunk on everything wild about animation. ALDClick here for the trailer to ‘Yellow Submarine’
6. Spirited Away (2001)Directed by Hayao MiyazakiAnd the Oscar goes to… Hay what? We all remember the recent period when Time Out adopted the star rating system and so memorably opted to score things out of six instead of the traditional five (what, you don’t? For shame…). Well, there was an occasion before all that where the critic at the Financial Times also decided to break with the rules back in good ‘ol 2001 when he awarded six stars (out of five) to Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning cornucopia of Caroll-esque delights, ‘Spirited Away’. And he was right to: it’s a brilliant movie. And a bold one, too, a work that defies easy description while at the same time being utterly approachable and easy to enjoy. All the Miyazki staples are all in place, from the pre-teen heroine, Chihiro, who has to come to terms with the responsibilities of growing up, to the troubled male companion who must struggle to lift the dreadful curse that been dogging him for so long. A subtle environmental subtext is ever present, and there’s also a pointed commentary on the death of tradition in Japanese society (indeed, the lovingly decored backdrops and exhaustive character designs come across as a celebration the country’s sumptuous cultural and artistic heritage). What nudges the movie into the realms of genius is the utter faith in its own imagery – it never tries to short change the viewer by resorting to flashy edits, brash camera movements or conceited emotions, it simply allows each frame to hum with poignancy, wit and drama. DJ
Terry Gilliam says...‘Spirited Away' is amazing. It's disturbing the way Miyazaki shifts scale the whole time, the creatures don't sit comfortably. Whereas in a Disney world the proportions all sit comfortably, in ‘Spirited Away' you've got the witch creature with her huge head, and that strange black creature that moves in and starts devouring everything. Only a Japanese mind could've done that. And that's the thing I like about it because the Japanese mind is still something I haven't got to grips with, it fascinates me the way they can perceive the world.'Watch the trailer here Read the Time Out review of 'Spirited Away'
5. Toy Story (1995)Directed by John LasseterCowboys v Astronauts. Go!The first and best full-length CGI feature film, Pixar’s crown jewel is so close to perfect that it feels almost cynically exploitative. It is, of course, nothing of the sort, but when a film can pull together a story, setting, cast and script as tight and well-judged as this, it makes you wonder if those lab boys aren’t getting busy with some kind of electro-juju or CPU voodoo that no-one else can log on to. Shoe-slappingly funny and box-fresh original, this hearty tale of a gaggle of toys - including Tom Hanks’s prissy cowboy doll Woody and Tim Allen’s quixotic die-cast space-jock Buzz Lightyear - and their jaunty suburban odyssey back to their tow-headed owner’s toybox is an outright delight. The fact that, unlike so many of the films that followed it, it doesn’t segregate the script into fart gags for the nippers and clever-clever po-mo asides for their parents also gives ‘Toy Story’ a universal, timeless appeal that will see it rammed into the DVD player every time Dad’s got one of his ‘Saturday morning headaches’ for years to come. ALD
Terry Gilliam says...'It's a work of genius. It got people to understand what toys are about. They're true to their own character. And that's just brilliant. It's got a shot that's always stuck with me, when Buzz Lightyear discovers he's a toy. He's sitting on this landing at the top of the staircase and the camera pulls back and he's this tiny little figure. He was this guy with a massive ego two seconds before... and it's stunning. I'd put that as one of my top ten films, period.' Click here for some Pixar-based weirdness
4. Fantasia (1940)Each segment directed by a different Disney doodlerUncle Walt does WagnerViewed as a stone cold classic these days, Disney’s high-falutin’ frolic was such a commercial dud at the time of it’s release that it put the future of the entire studio in jeopardy. A landmark achievement known chiefly for Mickey Mouse's breathlessly hubristic turn as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, ‘Fantasia’ sets a selection of classical music pieces to delirious, avant garde animation with astounding results. Everyone will have their favourite segment – and, despite its familiarity, Mickey’s magical antics have lost none of their appeal – but ours will always be the nightmarish Mordor brainwrong that accompanies Modest Mussorgsky’s clamorous ‘A Night on Bald Mountain’, which, as you can see from the link below, is haunting, surreal and proper scary. ALD
Watch ‘A Night on Bald mountain’
Read the Time Out review of 'Fantasia'
3. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979)Directed by Chuck Jones and Phil MonroeThe word ‘inspired’ doesn’t begin to cover it…Okay, so it may not be a feature film per se, but this theatrically released compilation of Looney Tunes’ greatest hits still deserves a place on this list: hell, it even has the word ‘movie’ in the title. Introduced – by Bugs, of course – as a scholarly investigation into the appeal of chase movies (it’s original US title was ‘The Great American Chase’), it crams in all of the best Bugs and Daffy Duck cartoons from the post-war period, plus a dizzying 15-minute compilation of Roadrunner sketches.
Kicking off with the relatively simplistic ‘Rabbit Fire’
(‘Duck season!’, ‘Wabbit season!’), things become progressively more bizarre,
complex and intellectually lofty, reaching a zenith with Wagner adaptation
‘What’s Opera, Doc?’ and spectacular metaphysical mindblower ‘Duck Amuck’, in
which Daffy famously starts an argument with his animator. In between there are
appearances from Porky Pig (most memorably as Friar Tuck in ‘Robin Hood
Daffy’), Marvin the Martian in ‘Duck Dodgers in the 24th Century’ and the
inimitable Elmer Fudd. There’s more originality and inspiration in five minutes
of ‘The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie’ than in ten other films on this list
Watch ‘Duck Amuck’
2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)Directed by David HandThe masterpiece that started it all‘Snow White’, known at the time as ‘Disney’s folly’ for its lengthy production schedule and vast budget, may not have been the first feature cartoon (that honour goes to Argentinian animator Quirino Cristiani’s ‘El Apóstol’), but it’s undoubtedly the most influential: the fact that a huge number of animated movies are still packed with cutely anthropomorphic animals, winsome love songs, plucky heroines and handsome princes isn’t proof of how little the medium has developed, but how much Disney and his team got right their first time out.
And while the story and the music may have dated, the
quality and detail of the animation still astounds, as the animators embrace
their medium’s ability to explore visual concepts live-action cinema would take
decades to achieve. As an example, check out the ‘I’m Wishing’ scene (see
below) which is ‘shot’ from beneath the water in the bottom of a well, as Snow White’s
voice seems to cause ripples on the surface of the screen itself, or her
headlong dash through the dark woods, the trees rearing up like horned beasts
to block her path. Animation may have progressed since 1937, but it’s hard to
argue that it’s improved: proof, perhaps, that perfection is timeless. TH
Watch Disney’s groundbreaking animation here
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