By now, it should be no secret that I am a huge fan of animated films, particularly traditionally animated ones (2D rather than computer generated). While I think the relatively new genre of computer animation has its merits, after all Pixar has made some wonderful films, I feel like most are formulaic, slapped together garbage coasting on the phoned in talent of celebrity actors, I’m looking at you DreamWorks.
Even more than this, however, is the fact that there are some utterly fantastic animated films out there geared towards adults. Some can be appreciated by children and adults alike, such as the undeniably cute film Poyno, and some have no buisness being in the same room as a child, such as the brilliant but disturbingly gory film Akira.
So here is my list of my favorite top ten animated films. They run the gambit, from American made to Japanese, from cute and cuddly, to ravishing in brilliance and complexity. If I leave out your favorite animated film, please let me know, I simply may not have seen it and I would love your recommendations.
Oh, and there will be no Disney movies, you’ve all seen them and, you all have your own opinions about which is better that which (101 Dalmations is clearly the best), so they will not be included on this list. Rather, this list is designed to introduce you to fantastin films you likely have not seen. So here we go:
10. Watership Down – As a child, I loved this movie, but it gave my little brother nightmares for weeks. Don’t be fooled, this is a violent film with some dark themes. Totalitarian governments, fascist regimes, the search for freedom, it’s all here. The line that stuck with me ever since I first saw Watership Down is, “Something bad is coming. The field is covered with blood.”
9. Grave of the Fireflies – During WWII, a young boy and his sister set out to survive on their own in a cave by a stream. A heart wrenching movie where you cannot help but cheer these two on, even as you know that something inevitably will happen. Yet another cartoon on this list not recommended for the little ones.
8. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust - I know there has been a wave of truly awful vampire movies lately, but rest assured, this is not one of them. In fact, I consider Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust to be one of the top five vampire movies of all time. We follow D, a half vampire bounty hunter who is given the job of tracking down a missing girl presumed kidnapped by an aristocratic vampire. However, this is no love story, though there are elements of that here, this is primarily an action film, and a dark, engaging one at that. A warning though, make sure you watch the one with the “Bloodlust” subtitle, it may be a sequel, but the story stands alone and is far supieror to its predisessor.
7. The Secret of Nymh – Growing up, this was by far my favorite cartoon. Featuring genetically enhanced warrior rats, mad scientist mice, the creepiest owl to ever crack it’s neck on a television set, and the ever resourceful Mrs. Brisby, this film takes you on a strange adventure to mysterious places located in your own back yard. Probably too dark and creepy for younger children, this one is geared to the preteen and older audience, and it holds it’s own for adults as well. They simply do not make serious endeavors such as this in American animation any more.
6. The Triplets of Belleville – Essentially a silent film, The Triplets of Belleville radiates its own brand of style and charm. We follow an short old woman who is searching for her son, a biker training for the Tour de France who is kidnapped by amorphous mobsters bent on setting up a back ally gambling ring. Along the way, granny runs into three old, singing celebrities, the triplets, who join her on her search. Though there is no talking, this is a very funny movie, and one I would recommend to anyone looking for something different.
5. Sita Sings The Blues - Just look at these images from the film, it is animated beautifully, simply, gorgeously, and has a great soundtrack. We follow the story of the Ramayana, both through an American woman who finds a connection to the story while going through a passive aggressive divorce, through thee Indians who narrate the story from memory to hilarious effect, and through the music of the film, the old timey blues of Annette Hanshaw. You can get this film for free if you follow this link.
4. Akira - This is a complex film, but that makes sense when you consider that it’s based off a massive graphic novel well over 1000 pages long, (which is even better than the film). Akira takes place in the future years after a massive explosion occurred within Tokyo, wiping out much of the city. In this distopian future, we follow a brutal motorcycle gang, led by Kaneda. He is looked up to by a younger gang member, Tetsuo, but this adulation turns sour when Tetsuo begins to exhibit strange behaviors, experiences graphic hallucinations, and begins to gain super human like powers.
Naturally, he is kidnapped by the government for testing, and the plot explodes from there. For me, this was considered the greatest anime of all time for a good long while, however the charm of the Miazaki films has won me over and bumped this down a notch or two. If you have the stomach for it, this is a fantastic film.
It is a world where the government paints the streets bright pastel colors as a lame attempt at covering up the social divides. Anger is bubbling up under the surface, and the lower class is getting sick of being pushed around, while members of the government focus their efforts on creating a super weapon.
But all that is just what is happening around the protagonists, a hardened detective, his young assistent and an android designed to function as a P.I. They get wrapped up in the larger story when the meet a young lady, naked and alone, sleeping on a pile of rubble. With shades of Issac Asimov, Les Miserables and good old fashioned Film Noir, this movie is sure to suck you in. The cool jazzy soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.
2. The Secret of Kells - The best word I can use to describe this film is beautiful. The story of how the book of kells came to be, we follow a young boy named Brendan who lives in an abbey under the watchful eye of the over baring Abbot. The Abbot is obsessed with the notion of building high walls around the abbey to protect it from the invading Norsemen who are killing off all they meet to feed their lust for gold.
One day, a refugee arrives at the abbey after barely escaping one such attack. He carries with him a work in progress, a book which he shows to young Brendan who is entranced by the works of art within its pages.
This is a story with many beautiful themes such as the power of art, even in the darkest of times; the battle between nature (represented as a young girl) and civilization, and the common ground they share. As the film progresses, we see that even those who were initially portrayed as antagonists, the Abbot in particular, only have the good will of others in mind, and are fighting an evil the only way they know how.
This is a wonderfully animated film, full of striking imagery and enchanting moments. Surprisingly, even in its darkest of moments, this is a film suitable for most children. There are a few creepy part that might scare some little ones, but over all, this is a film that can be enjoyed by the kids while appreciated by adults.
1. Spirited Away (or just about any Miyazaki Film) – Miyazaki makes wonderful films. He is like the Pixar of Japan. Spirited Away is largely recognized as his greatest film, which I wholeheartedly agree with, however, about half way through writing down titles for this list I realized how many Miyazaki films were on the list, so I decided to lump them all together.
First, lets talk about the best of the best, Spirited Away. Like a modern day fairy tale, there’s magic, dragons, witches and spirits, all of whom inhabit a magnificent bath house. Sen arrives here one day after her parents are turned into pigs for eating food set aside for the spirits, and she must work to survive. For the most part, the plot of this film isn’t entirely significant, it is simply the magic of it, the dream like qualities, which makes it a gem.
Another film of his I highly recommend is Princess Mononoke, his most adult oriented work, where in a young man sets out into ancient Japan to find a cure for the curse he received while defending his village from a crazed boar god. The curse is manifest by an ugly purple bruise on his arm which spreads day by day and will soon kill him. On his journey, he comes across a mining town known for its guns which is attacked frequently by a mysterious young woman raised by wolves. He is caught up in the fight, but defiantly he refuses to take a side.
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