Animation has come a long way since Disney’s Snow White, and every year the studios release gorgeous 3D films with unique characters, contemporary music and fast-paced jokes. This year, I really want to go see Frozen, which I hear is a step back to the Golden Age of Disney animations. Although I enjoyed films like Finding Nemo, Shrek, and even Ice Age, none of these films have felt quite memorable enough to me to reach my Top 10 Best Animated Films of All Time (or, there is one new one in there, but that’s coming up in Part 2). My picks might not be the greatest animations in the world, but without them, who knows, I might have turned up to be a totally different kind of person!
1. The Little Mermaid (1989). The Little Mermaid was the first film I ever saw in the cinema. I also got the film on VHS and learned every line by heart. Still today if someone says to me “look at this stuff”, I cannot but think “isn’t it neat”, and have a serious urge to burst into song! Why I loved this film so much when I was little wasn’t for the romance of the story (in fact I never really cared for Eric!) but what really inspired me was the curiosity of Ariel the mermaid. She is willing to give up a lot in order to discover an unknown world beyond her ocean home. The merpeople are taught that humans are just fish-eating brutes, and as such, lesser people than those who live under the sea. How many times we have similar views about other cultures? In the end The Little Mermaid is a story about letting go of prejudice and fear of the unknown, which I think is one of the best lessons to learn from any film and the reason the number one spot went to this film.
2. Beauty and the Beast (1991). Beauty and the Beast is an another childhood film of mine. It was the film that proclaimed that being a bookworm was totally fine! I remember being so happy to see a character who was more excited about a library than a handsome man with a huge chin and gun collection. And since I mentioned that I didn’t really like Little Mermaid’s Eric character, I adored the Beast in this film – Beauty and the Beast is really as much his story as it is hers.
3. Princess Mononoke (1997). Mononoke is a Japanese animation by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Animation still has a reputation of being a children’s genre, and although there are lots of animated films with very complex and adult storylines, like Princess Mononoke. A good animation doesn’t always need the cookie-cutter comedic sidekicks and Broadway songs to be good. Many of the Ghibli films, including Mononoke, explore the fine balance between man and nature. The world in itself becomes a supernatural character and mankind’s attempts in harnessing its power bring forth destructive forces. I’d recommend everyone watch Mononoke if you get a chance! Here is the original Japanese trailer, followed by the English language one.
4. The Secret of NIMH (1982). This is a story of a widowed field mouse, Mrs Brisby, who lives in humble conditions in a tinder box outside a farm. She tries her best to take care of her children. Having been a housewife-mouse for most of her life, the death of Mr Brisby has left her not only alone, but to face the world all by herself for the first time. When one of her children gets ill with pneumonia, she is forced to overcome her own shyness and venture out to the world to seek help before plowing season begins. The Secret of NIMH is one of my all time favorite films (not only animation) and the story is based on the 1971 book Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. (In the animation though, the main character’s name is Mrs Brisby with a B :-))
5. Gulliver’s Travels (1939). This is fairly unknown animation that was released by a competing studio just after Disney’s super successful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film definitely does not depict Swift’s original tale accurately, and is much more optimistic in its tone, but yet there is something about the animation itself that makes me feel oddly nostalgic every time I watch Gulliver. In essence, this take on the story is about the meaninglessness conflict and how, despite of us standing up for our values and traditions, there is always middle way to be found. Also, this film shows just how much animation has changed over the years: Now we are used to seeing plastic looking skin, 3D, and big features (big eyes, noses, chins). Gulliver, back in the 1930’s, was made by rotoscoping a live actor’s performance by hand. Basically this means, by drawing each and every frame of an actor’s performance. Here is my favourite scene from the film, with a beautiful song and you can really see how life-like Gulliver looks and moves. For 1930’s I think it is incredible.
The entire film is on youtube here: