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The 30 best animated short films ever made

It’s not all about Disney or Studio Ghibli. Or length. Some of the most inventive animation can be found in short films


For many, animation is a world of cute animals, sarcastic ogres, CGI heroes and exotic Japanese creatures—a world governed by a handful of big studios and the occasional European auteur who’s made it big. But to hardcore animation fans, this is only part of the story.

The time and cost involved in producing an entire feature film means that many of the world’s most respected, talented and imaginative animators simply never have the chance to do so, so it’s in the world of the short film that they must grow their reputation and develop their art. The result is that some of the most funny, entertaining, technically groundbreaking animated movies are never seen by the wider public—until now. Here’s our selection of the 30 best animated short films ever made.

1/10

“Steamboat Willie” (Walt Disney, 1928)

 

What is it?
Before he acquired vocal cords and became the greatest cultural icon on earth, Mickey Mouse was a humble sailor who inhabited a world where everyone was unflaggingly chirpy and everything was a potential musical instrument. For want of dialogue or an engaging plot, music—whistling, drumming, mooing and a whole lot of toe-tapping—is what drives “Steamboat Willie” forward (hardly surprising, given that it was the first cartoon to use fully synchronized sound). And so the seeds for Disney’s hummable song-and-dance numbers were sown.

What’s so great about it?
Today “Steamboat Willie” appears insensitive in its depiction of animal abuse (animals are used as musical instruments). But it’s nonetheless a groundbreaking work, which set the tone for everything from “Tom and Jerry” to “The Itchy & Scratchy Show” (who repaid the debt of influence with a hilarious parody). It’s also proof that Uncle Walt was more than just the suave businessman from Saving Mr. Banks—he could actually draw, too.

2/10

“Storytime” (Terry Gilliam, 1968)


What is it?
Those who know Terry Gilliam via his live-action features will have detected a strong current of cartoonish mischief running through his films. Those who’ve seen his contributions to Monty Python’s Flying Circus won’t need to be convinced of his genius as an animator. But few are aware of the handful of shorts that he made before leaving the U.S. for the U.K., of which “Storytime,” his debut, is the best. Ignore the title: What’s going on here storywise is almost beside the point (if we tell you that the film culminates with the Three Wise Men being chased through a series of Christmas cards, you’ll get the idea).

What’s so great about it?
What distinguishes “Storytime” is its cheerily irreverent approach to every aspect of the craft: a visual style built from moving cutouts; sketches tied together by only the loosest stream-of-consciousness threads; self-referential intertitles that rudely interrupt the narrative… In short, Pythonesque humor before the Pythons. Comedy would never be the same again.

3/10

Home on the Rails” (Paul Driessen, 1981)

What is it?
A couple lives in a house situated on the railroad tracks. They lead a peaceful domestic life, despite the periodic interruptions of the train passing through their living room; but when the husband—a gold prospector—falls down on his luck, the train comes to assume a more ominous significance.

What’s so great about it?
Dutch animator Paul Driessen belongs to that legion of animators who seem to be known only to other animators—a great injustice, given how inventive and watchable his films are. Having earned his stripes working on the likes of Yellow Submarine, Driessen graduated to solo projects, in which he perfected both his wiggly animation style and his witty storytelling technique. Black humor runs deep in his films, perhaps nowhere more so than in “Home on the Rails”—a wonderfully wicked sketch of economic depression that still resonates loudly today.

4/10

“The Cat Came Back” (Cordell Barker, 1988)

 

What is it?
A lonely old man gets some unwanted company in the form of a cat who arrives on his doorstep one day, and who proves to be as destructive as it is cute. Inspired by the popular song of the same name, which serves as a mocking refrain on the soundtrack, the film maintains its devilish sense of humor right until the twist ending.

What’s so great about it?
“The Cat Came Back” may not have broken new ground, but it did dance on existing ground with exquisite timing. As you’d expect of a film based on a song, most of the humor springs from the use of music, from the first scene of the old man playing a sousaphone, that most ridiculous of brass instruments. And for those who gag at the mere sight of virtuous, doe-eyed Disney animals, the film’s feline star provides a perfect antidote.

5/10

“Knick Knack” (John Lasseter, 1989)

 

What is it?
Pixar’s fourth short is a Chuck Jones–inspired comic skit about a snowman trying to break free from his globe and reach the sexy mermaid who lives next door. Considered too raunchy for young audiences, the film was subsequently rereleased in a censored version.

What’s so great about it?
Made when Pixar was still a computer hardware company and the most famous Buzz was Aldrin, “Knick Knack” may seem like a relic of a bygone age. Yet it did a great deal to establish computer animation as a legitimate art form. At the time, the endearing short film garnered massive attention, inspiring one critic to declare director John Lasseter “the closest thing to God that has ever graced the electronic images community.” Now that its technical prowess has faded into irrelevance, what strikes the viewer is the film’s old-school charm: “Tom and Jerry” humor, a Looney Tunes–style shrinking circle at the close and Bobby McFerrin’s airy scat score.

6/10

“Bob’s Birthday” (Alison Snowden and David Fine, 1993)

 

What is it?
A (quite literally) balls-out reflection on middle-age frustration, “Bob’s Birthday” is perhaps the funniest cartoon never known. Bob is a dentist with a humdrum life and a bumbling wife, who has quietly organized a surprise party for his 40th birthday. Things go terribly wrong, though Bob never finds out.

What’s so great about it?
So good that it won an Oscar and launched an excellent four-season TV series, the film nevertheless remains little-seen. The simplistic animation style probably has something to do with it—the film’s target adult audience may have trouble accepting that something that looks like this can pull off such fine observational comedy. Their loss.

7/10

“The Wrong Trousers” (Nick Park, 1993)

 

What is it?
A tale of crime and punishment, genius and insanity, dogs and diamonds, cheese and crackers, “The Wrong Trousers” is without a doubt the pinnacle of Aardman Studios’ output, and that’s a very high pinnacle indeed. As inventive as Charlie Chaplin, as dry as Buster Keaton, as wild as the Pythons, as cozy as the Muppets and as exciting as Indiana Jones, this is 30 minutes of sheer, unadulterated joy.

What’s so great about it?
All the things listed above. “The Wrong Trousers” wasn’t Aardman’s first Oscar winner (that was “Creature Comforts”) or even its first Wallace and Gromit story (that was “A Grand Day Out”). But here, all the pieces just fell into place, creating a work of popular art that is, for all intents and purposes, perfect. And that has to be worth celebrating.

8/10

“The Old Lady and the Pigeons” (Sylvain Chomet, 1998)


What is it?
“The Old Lady and the Pigeons” is many things: a stylistic tour de force, an irreverent homage to Jacques Tati–style pantomime and a reminder that the French are capable of humor every bit as twisted as the darkest It’s Always Sunnyin Philadelphia sketch. A starving policeman dresses up as a pigeon in order to trick an old lady into feeding him. Predictably, things go wrong and very, very weird.

What’s so great about it?
In this bonkers 22-minute debut, French filmmaker Sylvain Chomet laid out all the tropes that recur in his feature films, from the Oscar-nominated The Triplets of Belleville to the recent live-action experiment Attila Marcel. The French animator’s caricatured aesthetic is present and correct, as are his surreal wit and curious obsession with fat people. As in all of Chomet’s works, the story doesn’t quite hold up, but for a film that packs in more ideas than a brainstorming session with Thomas Edison, that

9/10

“Mt. Head” (Koji Yamamura, 2002)

 

What is it?
“Mt. Head” adapts a traditional Japanese rakugo (stand-up comedy) routine into a quirky satire of contemporary Japan’s obsession with waste and recycling: An old miser eats a cherry stone, then finds that it’s sprouted a small shrub atop his head. Things get a whole lot weirder from there.

What’s so great about it?
Anyone who takes “anime” to mean robots and schoolgirls will be startled by the films of Koji Yamamura. Avoiding the flat look of most Japanese animation in favor of a style at once rougher and more delicate, his shorts hark back to visual sensibilities that predate modern manga culture. “Mt. Head” is a perfect marriage of tradition and idiosyncracy: The rakugo voiceover frames a narrative that hops between Japanese cultural tropes—the cherry blossom party, the national flag—with jaunty irreverence.

10/10

The Meaning of Life” (Don Hertzfeldt, 2005)

 

What is it?
As its title suggest, this is DIY writer, director, animator and genius Don Hertzfeldt’s attempt to get to the bottom of exactly what is going on in our universe, in roughly 12 minutes. His conclusions may be comically obscure—life, death, decay, gossip, aliens, genetics, madness and the vastness of creation all feature—but it’s hard to escape the feeling that Hertzfeldt knows something we don’t.

What’s so great about it?
It proves that, in animation, literally anything is possible: Aside from a handful of voices (and a triumphal classical soundtrack), “The Meaning of Life” was entirely created by one man without the use of a computer. And yet this is a film that spans space and time, digs deep into the nature of existence, and comes up with both terrifying truths and almost indescribable beauty. On the release of his first feature film, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, one critic compared Hertzfeldt to Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick, references that are completely earned.

See the 100 best animated movies
1/10

“Where Is Mama?” (Te Wei, 1960)

 

What is it?
On the surface, this is a film about a cloud of tadpoles looking for their mommy frog, encountering a colorful cast of aquatic creatures on the way. Unsurprisingly, given that it was produced in Mao’s China, it doubles as a lesson on the virtues of civic cooperation and state protection.

What’s so great about it?
Perhaps more than any other film on this list, “Where Is Mama?” is a product of its time and place: The cloyingly chirpy female voiceover and transparent agitprop represent the worst tendencies of Maoist art, and the line about having to protect all plants from pests is guaranteed to raise an eyebrow. And yet, thanks to Te Wei’s firm grasp on Chinese artistic traditions (especially the watercolor technique of painter Qi Baishi), the film manages to transcend its political context. Turn off the sound and admire the exquisite animation—it contradicts the notion that Mao’s regime sounded the death knell for great art.

2/10

“The Hand” (Jirí Trnka, 1965)

 

What is it?
In “The Hand”, Czech animator Jirí Trnka’s last and greatest work, state repression of the artist is literally depicted as a giant gloved hand (the inspiration behind the final boss in Super Smash Bros.?) incessantly harassing a hapless sculptor, eventually driving him to suicide.

What’s so great about it?
Trnka has been called “the Walt Disney of Eastern Europe” on account of his huge influence on Soviet animation. The similarities end there—it’s unlikely that Disney ever had to dodge malicious state censors—but there’s no denying Trnka’s impact on generations of animators including Jan Švankmajer, whose satirical humor and use of puppets clearly owe much to his predecessor. “The Hand” represents animation at its most playful, and filmmaking at its most bitter.

3/10

“The Street” (Caroline Leaf, 1976)"

 

What is it?
“The summer my grandmother was supposed to die—or, as my mother said, ‘pass away’—we didn’t leave the city.” From this pithy opening line, “The Street”—an adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s short story—unfolds as a quiet study of death in a close-knit Canadian Jewish community. The tragedy is alleviated by the kids’ breezy reactions and a good dose of wry humor.

What’s so great about it?
Bambi’s mother isn’t the only death in animation, and by confronting this most grave of subjects with wit and sincerity, Caroline Leaf’s masterpiece is another reminder that animation can tackle serious themes with all the maturity of live action. Together with Aleksandr Petrov’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” it’s also a supreme example of the notoriously tricky paint-on-glass technique, and a marvelous exercise in color to boot—all tea-brown hues, with the odd splash of orange. Chalk up another for the National Film Board of Canada, whose films feature heavily on this list.

4/10

“Tale of Tales” (Yuri Norstein, 1979)

 

What is it?
Returning to his favorite theme of how we experience our own memories, especially those of childhood, Russian filmmaker Yuri Norstein ties together events from his past into an impressionistic autobiographical collage. We witness the outbreak of war and the abuses of Norstein’s alcoholic father, while other chapters defy straightforward interpretation.

What’s so great about it?
As a bang-on Simpsons sequence once illustrated, there’s an enduring stereotype of Soviet animation as abstract and infuriatingly obtuse. On first viewing, “Tale of Tales” does nothing to dispel that—Norstein’s film, concerned above all with the structure of memory, is narratively incoherent and soaked in symbolism. Yet its universal themes ensure that it strikes a deep chord with anyone who watches it: This is a film that has topped countless polls, and it inspired British animation expert Clare Kitson to learn Russian so that she could write a book about it. It’s a puzzling, hauntingly beautiful work, sadly still awaiting a follow-up (Norstein, now in his seventies and a notorious perfectionist, has been at work on an adaptation of Gogol’s “The Overcoat” since 1981).

5/10

“The Black Dog” (Alison de Vere, 1987)

What is it?
Telling the story of a mysterious hound who guides a girl through a dreamlike journey of self-discovery, “The Black Dog” is partly an exercise in mythological references and religious symbolism. Yet it is also imparts a deeply personal spiritual conviction.

What’s so great about it?
There was a time when British TV’s Channel 4 stood for more than stomach-churning reality programming, and when British animation was among the best in the world. De Vere represented both these trends. “The Black Dog,” commissioned by the channel, draws together everything that distinguishes her remarkable work: profound existential questions, a deft surrealist touch and a staggering work ethic (she made the 19-minute film pretty much single-handedly, with little access to professional equipment, while caring for her senile mother). It established her as the best female auteur-animator in Britain—an accolade that’s gone more or less uncontested since her passing in 2001.

6/10

“The Man Who Planted Trees” (Frédéric Back, 1987)

 

What is it?
An adaptation of a Jean Giono short story, “The Man Who Planted Trees” tells the tale of a solitary shepherd’s attempt to single-handedly reforest a desolate valley in the Alps. The simple allegory of man’s desire for immortality is told in Frédéric Back’s signature impressionist style, in which consecutive scenes morph into one another in place of conventional editing.

What’s so great about it?
When Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies) finished his latest feature in December 2013, his first move was to screen it for Back—and not a moment too soon, for days later the Canadian master passed away. The anecdote illustrates the high esteem in which he was held by the animation community. “The Man Who Planted Trees” is his masterpiece, a poll-topper that hoovered up awards (including an Oscar) upon its release. Just as the shepherd’s spirit lives on in the forest, Back’s reputation is sealed with this most tender of films.

7/10

“The Village” (Mark Baker, 1993)

 

What is it?
Ants cooperate with each other while humans lie, bicker and steal. This is the underlying message of Mark Baker’s misanthropic masterpiece, which narrates the goings-on of an isolated village in England. Two villagers try to conduct an affair, but are frustrated by the interference of their nosy neighbors. Suspicion turns to fighting, and eventually murder.

What’s so great about it?
“The Village” is singled out as an exemplar of British animation’s ’90s golden age, and it isn’t hard to see why—this is social commentary at its funniest and most sly. Against the unchanging backdrop of the village church, the characters engage in all kinds of sinful behavior, from theft to adultery. Even the vicar is a drunk. The village”s enclosed layout, which Baker based on the design of the Globe Theatre, makes it all the more suffocating. The film never rams its satire down

8/10

“The Old Man and the Sea” (Aleksandr Petrov, 1999)

What is it?
If at times “The Old Man and the Sea” looks like an animated version of those lame megabudget nature documentaries they used to show at IMAX theaters, that’s partly because it is an IMAX film—the first animation to be shown on that huge screen, in fact. Intended as a showpiece for the then-new technology, the film plays Hemingway’s much-loved story very safe; it borders on schmaltz in places, and the voice acting is as wooden as the walls of the old man’s cabin.

What’s so great about it?
The animation is staggering—simple as that. Russian animator Aleksandr Petrov is one of the few artists to have mastered the paint-on-glass technique (see also Caroline Leaf’s “The Street”), and here he deploys it to its full expressive potential, alternating between realist animal portraits and impressionistic dream sequences with spine-tingling proficiency. The arm-wrestling scene is one of the most beautifully lit sequences in all animation.

9/10

When the Day Breaks” (Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, 1999)

What is it?
An accidental death provokes a quiet existential crisis among the citizens of a nameless metropolis in this beautiful exploration of urban alienation. Somehow, the fact that everyone is an animal makes it a whole lot more poignant (we’re reminded of Spike Jonze’s video for Daft Punk’s “Da Funk”).

What’s so great about it?
“When the Day Breaks” is an illustration of the wonders that can result when innovative techniques are used to create a retro aesthetic. Canadian duo Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby go for the textured-newsreel look by drawing directly onto photocopies; this renders a soft, grainy style quite unlike any other. Yet there’s more to the film than nifty visual effects. It’s also a meditation on the irony of the modern city, where everybody is connected yet nobody talks to one another—hardly typical subject matter for an animated short. Other than via fine renditions of 1930s ballads, the characters don’t speak; nonetheless, the shots of empty chairs and midnight trains speak volumes.

10/10

Father and Daughter” (Michael Dudok de Wit, 2000)

What is it?
Michael Dudok de Wit’s Oscar-winning short uses a monochrome palette and eight dialogue-free minutes to tell a story that could fill a feature film. A father and his young daughter cycle together across the Dutch flats, before he abruptly bids her farewell by the sea and rows off into the distance, never to return. Yet as the girl grows up and eventually mellows into old age, she continues to return to the place where they separated in the hope that she’ll see him again.

What’s so great about it?
The film’s main achievement is to convey a lifetime of yearning by means of a simple, affecting cyclical story. The daughter’s visits to the shore come around again and again, like the turning of her wheels and the waltz of the theme music. Decades pass. Yet—as the ambiguous ending suggests—time comes full circle, and death is not an ending. For once, the adjective Zen is appropriate—the influence of Japanese painting on Dudok de Wit’s brushstrokes is undeniable. (Full disclosure: Michael Dudok de Wit is the author’s father.)

1/10

“Duck Amuck” (Chuck Jones, 1953)

What is it?
The film in which meta meets mainstream, “Duck Amuck” is one of only two entries in our list that are actually about animation (see “La Linea 1” as well). It opens with Daffy Duck in musketeer gear, acting out a swashbuckling scene against a fairy-tale background. All of a sudden the landscape inexplicably vanishes, plunging Daffy into a string of conflicts with none other than the animator himself. Over six surreal minutes Daffy is erased, redrawn, dragged through all kinds of incongruous scenery and at one point physically assaulted by the edges of the frame.

What’s so great about it?
Warner Bros. maestro Chuck Jones’s stroke of genius was to introduce questions about the relationship between cinema and “reality”—normally the preserve of beardy theoreticians—into a wildly entertaining short featuring one of the studio’s best-loved characters. Proof that experimental cinema doesn’t have to be boring.

2/10

“Pas de Deux” (Norman McLaren, 1968)

 

What is it?
Norman McLaren’s “Pas de Deux,” justly regarded as the Scottish artist’s best work for the prolific National Film Board of Canada, stands majestically at the frontier between live action and animation. McLaren filmed dancers dressed in white performing against a black backdrop, then manipulated the reel with an optical printer to create trippy, almost stroboscopic visual effects.

What’s so great about it?
It all comes together beautifully: the stark monochrome, the fluid ballet, the illusion of infinite space, the orchestral chords that seem to go on forever… McLaren was a restless experimenter who dabbled in all kinds of techniques across his lengthy career, but never did he produce animation as moving and as graceful as this.

3/10

“La Linea 1” (Osvaldo Cavandoli, 1971)

 

What is it?
Initially commissioned, in a bold stroke of PR innovation, as an ad for Lagostina kitchenware (nope, we don’t quite get it either), “La Linea 1” tracks a gibberish-spouting humanoid outline as he walks along a straight line of which he is a part. When he encounters obstacles, he mouths off at the animator, who quickly intervenes with his giant pencil. The film was a hit and spawned a long-running series.

What’s so great about it?
It may not look like much, but “La Linea 1” packs more imagination and wacky humor into its meager running time than many feature films manage in two hours. As with “Duck Amuck,” the film draws attention to its own artificiality in an entertaining way, coming on like a knowing cross between a piece of Pop Art and an episode of Pingu (whose lead character was voiced by the same actor). If you like it, there are 89 more episodes in store.

4/10

“Damon the Mower” (George Dunning, 1972)

What is it?
Lined paper lies on a tabletop. Across its surface, sketches inspired by Andrew Marvell’s poem “The Mower’s Song” come alive. The verse was initially supposed to be read out by a narrator, but Dunning dispensed with the voiceover in postproduction.

What’s so great about it?
Before he was hired to direct the trippy love-it-or-hate-it Beatles film Yellow Submarine, Dunning was a big player on the avant-garde animation scene. Fortunately, his big-budget escapades did nothing to straighten his experimental bent. The evidence: this lovely short, too rarely seen today but groundbreaking in its time. Dunning translates Marvell’s poem about a lovelorn mower into simplified, almost abstract graphics, leaving us with the bare bones of the animator’s art: pencil lines crawling across paper. The effect is mezmerising.

5/10

“Dimensions of Dialogue” (Jan Švankmajer, 1982)

What is it?
“I am interested in bringing life to everyday objects,” said Jan Švankmajer. In “Dimensions of Dialogue,” said objects include rulers, books, thimbles, toothbrushes and slabs of unidentified meat. The surrealist Czech animator avoids conventional storytelling in favor of three gloriously bonkers sketches that explore the sheer materiality of everyday objects to comic effect, whether by shaping them into fragile Arcimboldo-esque busts or substituting them for words in the mouths of monstrous clay heads.

What’s so great about it?
Virtuosic technique aside, Švankmajer’s films are remarkable for the way in which they imbue inoffensive tools with a nightmarish sense—“animation” in the truest sense of the word. “Dimensions of Dialogue” is arguably the most expressive of the lot. Terry Gilliam would agree, having cited it as one of his favorite animations of all time. Once you’ve seen it, no object will ever seem dull again.

6/10

“Jumping” (Osamu Tezuka, 1984)

What is it?
We adopt the first-person viewpoint of a young kid who discovers that he can jump seriously high. He starts off bouncing around his neighborhood, but before long he’s embarked on a hopscotch tour of the world, witnessing industrialization and wars in full swing, before literally going to Hell and back.

What’s so great about it?
Beloved in his native Japan but overshadowed by Studio Ghibli elsewhere, cartoonist, animator, activist and medical doctor (yes, really) Osamu Tezuka is responsible for some of the most playful and innovative anime ever made. Exhibit A: this marvelous episode of his “13 Experimental Films” series. The political subtext is strong—without wanting to stretch the metaphor too far, the film could be seen as a comment on the social dislocation felt by many Japanese after the collapse of fascism. The cartoonish graphics, meanwhile, mask some very sophisticated experiments with perspective (with no CGI to fall back on!). Little surprise that “Jumping” hopped to awards glory all over the globe.

7/10

“Street of Crocodiles” (the Brothers Quay, 1986)

What is it?
The Brothers Quay may be British-based Americans from a blue-collar background, but the DNA of “Street of Crocodiles” is all Eastern European. The memoirs of Polish writer Bruno Schulz provide the source material, but the film doesn’t interpret the text literally, opting instead to convey Schulz’s sense of industrial desolation via vivid metaphor. A mute puppet wanders through a somber, derelict building where machines are a menace and human contact is absent. The film forgoes straightforward narrative in favor of a sequence of sketches that seek to illustrate the futility of life.

What’s so great about it?
Granted, the Quays’ films aren’t a barrel of laughs. Theirs is an absurdist world, where humanoid puppets flail their limbs in vain, inanimate objects arbitrarily come to life, and nobody ever smiles. Like their heroes, Jirí Trnka and Jan Švankmajer, the brothers employ sophisticated puppetry (not to mention a singular meat fetish) to paint a picture of chaos and impotence in the face of authority. Highly respected in Britain and the U.S., they stand at the crossroads between Western and Soviet animation—watch this, then the video for Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” to get a measure of their influence. “Street of Crocodiles,” though a difficult watch, is their most captivating work.

8/10

“Revolver” (Jonas Odell, Stig Bergqvist, Marti Ekstrand and Lars Ohlson; 1993)

What is it?
Over eight nightmarish minutes, the viewer is treated to a series of looped sketches that feature an array of eerie creatures and portentous symbolism: revolving hourglasses, clowns doing unspeakable things with their faces, Dali-esque clock-crabs scuttling across a lunar landscape. Intertitles boldly announce calendar years—1798, 1954—yet scenes recur without any chronology, and everyone looks like they’re from the future. Don’t come here looking for a strong plot.

What’s so great about it?
Play this to a political prisoner on repeat and you won’t need any other forms of torture. While that may not sound like much of a recommendation, the fact is that “Revolver” uses surrealist imagery and sound design to more disquieting effect than perhaps any other animated short. The film teases the viewer: Is it a comment on the slippery nature of time? Dadaist experimentation in full-on mischief mode? The worst acid trip ever committed to celluloid? In any case, “Revolver” has enough to keep the critics busy for decades. A mesmeric animation, which puts the mental firmly back in experimental.

9/10

“Fell in Love with a Girl” (Michel Gondry, 2002)

What is it?
The music video for the White Stripes’ song of the same name, which brings the band to life by means of LEGO bricks in stop-motion. Scenes of Jack and Meg White strumming, drumming and cycling are interspersed with bursts of abstract color.

What’s so great about it?
Forget The LEGO Movie—these two joyous minutes are the toy bricks’ most memorable cinematic outing. When the Stripes asked Michel Gondry to direct a video for their single (by accident—they were actually looking for Mark Romanek), the French filmmaker responded by displaying the kind of visual ingenuity that he’d revisit in his later features (notably Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). The visuals couldn’t fit the song better, the bright, pixelated animation serving as a perfect counterpart to the fuzzy rock & roll. LEGO initially refused to strike a marketing deal with the band; when they realized how popular the video had become and changed their minds, Jack reportedly told them where to shove their bricks.

10/10

“The Man with No Shadow” (Georges Schwizgebel, 2004)

What is it?
A mysterious besuited protagonist turns his back on the civilized world and trades his shadow for the promise of romantic adventure. He journeys through fairy-tale castles, empty De Chirico–esque cityscapes and an Arabian desert, ever tormented by the silhouettes that surround him.

What’s so great about it?
Tour de force, when applied to most films, is a cliché. In the case of “The Man with No Shadow”, it’s spot-on. For starters, the film is quite literally a tour—a trip around the world refracted through a dark fantasy lens. Animation is rarely thought of in terms of camerawork, yet here the “camera” certainly draws attention to itself, roving forcefully around the action. It all plays a bit like a cartoon film noir, though any attempt to describe it only detracts from its stunning originality.

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