Most of us grew up on flying elephants, dancing wooden boys with grasshoppers for consciouses, beauties and beasts, and our fair share of toy stories. Animated films define a large chunk of our childhoods. We fall in love with singing bears and orangutans, Arabian street rats discovering a whole new world, women who teach us how to be men, and lions just wanting to be kings, and maybe you gave up after that, moved to the Godfather and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but we at Entropy have mostly held onto our childhoods and grown up with our animation. Today we’re talking about our favorite animated films, and you’ll find many that you probably shouldn’t show to your present or future children.
- Grave of the Fireflies
- Ice Age
- Any and everything by Don Hertzfeldt.
Michael J Seidlinger
- Stuff based on graphic novels.
- Stuff that reminds me of what it was like to be a kid.
- Stuff that doesn’t have long-ass music scenes (so this excludes most Disney movies).
- The Adventures of Prince Achmed: Lotte Reininger
- Fantastic Planet: René Laloux; design, Roland Topor
- The Collected Films of Len Lye
If I was asked this question when I was 10, I would’ve said
- The Transformers: The Movie (1986/animated)
- The Return of the King (1980), and maybe
- Fern Gully.
So I’ll stick with those answers, with a special shout-out to this song, Where There’s a Whip There’s a Way. Also, shout-out to Betamax in general, which is how I watched these animated movies as a kid in the early to mid nineties.
- Cowboy Bebop: A fun, action-filled, and at turns moving series about a group of charismatic, but continuously low-on-funds and high-on-bad-luck bounty hunters in a future where humanity has colonized most of the solar system. The episodes are like the short stories of a novel-told-in-stories.
A lot of anime is bad, but once in a while something comes along which is so good it transcends the boundaries of its own genre. Cowboy Bebop is one such series and it is no coincidence it is regarded as one of the big anime classics.
- The Epic of Gilgamesh, Or: Little Songs of The Chief Officer of Hunar Louse: All the Brothers Quay’s stop motion animations are surreal and meticulous and timeless. (Czech master animator and film maker Jan Svankmajer is one of the brothers’ influences.) This strange little retelling about Gilgamesh as an unnameable orange broom is my second favorite of their many short films and my favorite version of the ancient epic.
- Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies: Top of the list is another stop motion animation by the Brothers Quay giving beautiful and brittle clockwork life to strange objects with music and gestures, one tiny motion after the other. Entering the world of the Brothers Quay is both magical and dark and I doubt there will be anything else made quite like it. (They also did an animated version based on the WWII short story Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, if anyone has read that.)
Special mention – Texhnolyze: An unrelenting, unflinching story about the dissolution of society, the body, and the self, after the apocalypse. One of the harshest, but also most beautiful and truthful of the animated series I’ve seen. Still, you only watch this series once, I suspect.
- Ghost in the Shell: Ghost in the Shell – the first anime movie, and also Innocence. An awesome study on humane psyche, technology gap, problem of identity and the question about what is actually reality.
- Jin-Roh: another sci fi dystopian anime by Mamoru Oshii, about the loyalty to a totalitarian system and the irrationality of this loyalty.
- Serial Experiments Lain: actually series, not a movie, if this counts. A depressing cyberpunk story about a little girl, a secret society and a huge darkness of internet. With tons of informative excourses (Ted Nelson with his Xanadu, Vernadsky with his Noosphere etc.). Flabbergastingly.
- Akira: I think I was permanently changed when I first watched this at seven years old.
- The Hobbit: I loved this movie so much that my Mom started reading the novel to me before bed, thus laying the groundwork for my love of reading.
- Lady and the Tramp: The casual racism on this movie has been troubling me lately, but nonetheless, it was a childhood favorite.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Everyone knows what it is. It messed me up as a teen.
- Cowboy Bebop: It made me feel better about studying Jazz. One of my all time favourites.
- FLCL: Firstly for the soundtrack, and secondly because the storyline is both complex and simple. Plus the animation is great.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
- Wallace and Gromit (any of those short films)
- The Fantastic Mr Fox
Really, I count Jason and the Argonauts as an animated film. Those stop motion skeletons created by Ray Harryhausen. That was huge for me when I was a kid, still is. I love how Army of Darkness homages that skeleton battle. Fantastic stuff.
I don’t really watch movies, so TV series if I can bend the rules:
- Robot Chicken
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force (or whatever it’s called now).
I am super-highbrow, folks.
- Spirited Away
- A Scanner Darkly
- Brazil/Waking Life
- Garden of Sinners: There’s never been anything quite like this. It’s a series of 7 films each with a different director (based on 7 novels), some very long, some very short, following the same narrative but with an extremely complex chronology, shifting moods/perspectives, and lots of interesting ideas. The 5th in particular is a glorious mesh of metaphysics and fascinating narrative choices (plus it has my favorite villain of all time), but the 7th, a much more subdued character piece, is another that’s really great.
- Evangelion remakes: The original Evangelion anime changed my life. The four remake films (which were presented as being more commercial than the show, which is notoriously abstract, complex, and impossibly bleak) turned out to just as bold as the original, but this time with a gigantic budget and top-notch production values. It also, I think, opens up a lot of interesting questions about what a “remake” is, as despite being written by the same person, the two versions are completely different, but build on and inform each other in elaborate and unique ways.
- Sky Crawlers: Mamoru Oshii is generally known for the Ghost in the Shell movies (which are just ok, in my opinion), but I think this subdued, understated film is a lot more interesting. It’s a very mature work by a director who’s learned a lot from his past work, with a strong sense of intimate space, emptiness, and a world peeling gradually open.
- Satoshi Kon: Paranoia Agent, Perfect Blue or Paprika. Reasons: Kon’s Hitchkockian mastery of suspense and perception make him one of my favorite storytellers. Paranoia Agent was my introduction to his work; the show’s arc and increasing dissolution, as well as its quiet horror, are handled deftly thanks to its one-season run. Perfect Blue has some crude animation, but is arguably his most suspenseful and darkest story. And Paprika is just a surreal explosion of color, movement and sound.
- Hayao Miyazaki: Ponyo, My Neighbor Totoro, or Castle in the Sky. Reasons: It’s tough picking even three of the best of Miyazaki’s work (my wife will be pissed if I don’t mention Porco Rosso). Ponyo and Totoro best capture his ability to capture the essence of childhood (and isn’t animation all about capturing the essence of something in a few key frames?). Beyond that, Ponyo is the most mesmerisingly fluid and detailed animated film I’ve seen; I think that at the time it was made, it broke a record for number of individually hand-drawn frames of animation. Castle in the Sky is the one I’ve seen most recently, so perhaps I’m biased, but it was just a perfectly executed adventure tale.
- The Land Before friggin’ Time: This movie is head and shoulders above other Western children’s animation. A mature, tragic, fairly scientifically accurate take on the/an extinction event of the dinosaurs with gorgeous animation and no pointless musical numbers (the one thing I hate most in children’s cartoons is when they feel the need to insert 2 or 3 musical numbers, but don’t go the whole length to making an actual musical, e.g. the one song in The Great Mouse Detective). It’s a shame they fucked all of this up so badly in the trite, endless sequels.
This is all I can think of:
- Princess Mononoke: Ran into this when I was around ten, I think, and it sort of changed the way I looked at what a cartoon could be. There were wolves, dying gods, powerful women, and existential absurdism in a way that I don’t think any film has ever attempted. A man is cursed due to his heroism, in a completely random and absurdly cruel twist of fate. I didn’t realise cartoons could be this dark, could be so completely about what it means to be human. But beyond that, it’s beautiful. I could pick most Miyazaki films here but this is definitely my favorite.
- Beauty and the Beast: Watched this countless times while a child and still connect to it very deeply. And then there’re the wolves, which still ratchets my heart way up. Also, this is one of the darker Disney movies, and I’ll never stop hating Gaston or stop loving Belle.
- The Place Promised in Our Early Days: A very beautiful and heartbreaking film that taps into a few of my own obsessions, and especially certain images that’re pretty deep in me. When you run into art that feels, sounds, and looks like the inside of your head, you never really let it go, yeah?