...as written in semi-English by a Disney intern. (w/t to Cullen)
So – OK, thanks for playing, but no.
I’m going to give this a shot. My guidelines are: any animated film, including stop-animation such as Wallace and Gromit, but limited to what I’ve seen. I’m sure they’re wonderful, but I can’t list stuff like “Akira” and “Ghost in the Shell” based strictly on their reputation. Live action movies with animated sequences are ineligible – no Mary Poppins (which I love, btw), no Mr. Limpet, no Roger Rabbit (thank Heaven).* These are listed in no particular order:
The Incredibles – impeccably voiced, wonderful characters, and a terrific balance between drama, action, and humor. You really invest in the characters and care about what happens to them. It doesn’t hurt that Metroville is utterly gorgeous. The topper is the soundtrack, which is a perfect match to the movie.
The Iron Giant – this one flies under the radar a little bit. Hogarth’s joy in finding his very own six-story robot is infectious. You see him grow as a person as he begins to teach the Giant and works to outwit Agent Manley. Bonus points for a strong supporting cast and one of the finest moments in any movie I’ve ever seen. (You know the one. It’s getting misty in here.)
Spirited Away – if you’re not greedy, you will go far. This lovingly-rendered tale of generosity and compassion is my favorite of Miyazaki’s movies.*
The Adventures of Mark Twain – a bit of an unusual choice, as this marked a dark time for full-length stop-motion. The Claymation process was time-consuming and quite expensive for a feature film, so Will Vinton eventually returned to shorts and ads (the California Raisins are probably his most famous creation); he also branched out into different animation styles and formats, creating (among other things) the spokescandies for M&Ms. This is such a great-looking movie, and the set pieces of Twain’s works are wonderful, albeit oddly plotted.
(I picked this over “Chicken Run” for three reasons: this came first (1985), I’m a huge Twain fan, and despite enjoying “Chicken Run” I can’t for the life of me remember more than a couple of scenes. I realize that this goes against the 31 Movies lists I did. If I had to do it over, I’d go this way.)
The Nightmare Before Christmas – Tim Burton may hate to hear something like this, but for all the dark goth trappings, he’s really a sentimental guy at heart, and in a good way. This movie is a great example of the interior sentiment showing through the exterior.
Animalympics – really nothing more than an elaborate excuse for riffs on big-time sports and famous celebrity impersonations, but it’s done very well. (In one segment, Billy Crystal, as Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali, essentially interviews himself – only Ali is a kangaroo.) They hit the nordic events, fencing, track and field, hockey, and basketball along the way. One of my absolute favorites when I was a boy.
Monsters, Inc. – I love all the Pixar films; at this point they could animate the want ads and I’d pay ten bucks to see it. If anyone wants to pick their other films, you get no argument here. I went with this one because of the Chuck Jones homage, the amazing animating work (especially on Sully), the cast, and because the last scene always hits me right where I live.
An American Tail – this movie has such heart it has to go over "The Secret of NIMH," even if that is technically the “better” picture. It also does a wonderful job of showing both the great promise of the American Dream and the great struggles immigrants actually have – it’s a more balanced look at the topic than most documentaries.
Dumbo – only 65 minutes long, and yet it gave us classic sequences: “Pink Elephants on Parade,” “When I See an Elephant Fly,” the disaster under the big top, and Dumbo’s visit to his mom; and such wonderful, vivid characters. When Dumbo finally takes off at the finish I'm so happy for him I always feel like I'm zooming around the big top with him. Lots of early Disney is great, but this stands out for me.
Lady and the Tramp – it was a toss-up between this and “Pinocchio.” I couldn’t really say why I went this way instead of the other, but I had to pick one. None of this “10-a and 10-b” stuff. Maybe it’s the great songs, and the idea of seeing the world from the dogs’ point of view; maybe it’s Jock and Trusty (one of the great friendships of animation)*, or the sequence in the zoo. Most likely it’s the idea of Tramp’s redemption, and the way the other characters are noble without being the snobs he assumes they are, and come to his aid at the end.
*Strictly speaking, this also means no Fantasia, which breaks my heart. It has long been a favorite of mine; my father took me to see this in a theatrical re-release, in the dark days before VHS, on the expectation that it would be the only time we could see it for years. Others I enjoyed but which couldn’t break into the top ten – Beauty and the Beast, Shrek (1 & 2), Rock and Rule, and Starchaser: the Legend of Orin, which is such a shameless Star Wars ripoff that it should have a surgeon general’s warning.
*Sometimes, I get grief from people who think I’m not a real fan of anime because I haven’t gone out to learn Japanese or rent all sorts of hyper-obscure shows and movies. Believe me, I know there’s more out there. I’m a casual enthusiast, if you will, but I don’t have to own a damned giant robot to be a “real fan,” and I certainly don’t have to register a certain grade on whatever test someone else hands out. If you want to enjoy being harder-core than me, knock yourself out; I’d rather enjoy the actual show.
*Now there’s an idea for some follow-ups: Great Friends of Animation, Best Heroes, Best Villains, etc. This blog will turn into nothing but running items if I’m not careful.