Animation is usually seen as an inferior form of filmmaking. Maybe because it started as something aimed almost exclusively at kids. Maybe because it involves a bit less the craft and the crew that we associate with traditional filmmaking. Whatever the reason, animations is usually taken for granted, and people only know of Pixar and Dreamworks, and may have heard of Studio Ghibli. Independent, arthouse, and alternative offerings in animation are often overlooked.
Another problem is animation is often seen as a genre, when it really is a form of filmmaking. With this list my aim is to promote a few films I consider worthy of more recognition (or at least more views), most of which can be found for free on Youtube (albeit in really low def in most cases).
1. A Town Called Panic
We kick off the list with a recent film, the Belgian stop-motion extravaganza based on the tv series of the same name. “A Town Called Panic” tells the story of Cowboy, Indian and Horse, three toys that live in a rural town, and what happens when Cowboy and Indian try to surprise Horse for his birthday.
A zany, fun adventure, “A Town Called Panic” was the first stop-motion animation screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
2. Time Masters
“Le maitres du temps”, from French animation master Rene Laloux, is not as well known as “Fantastic Planet”, but it is as good if not better.
With design by the legendary French artist Moebius (He wrote “The Incal” and made the original design for “The Fifth Element”. And sued Luc Besson for copying “The Incal” for “The Fifth Element”), “Time Masters” is a beautiful film that tells the story of a boy lost in the planet Perdide (That means lost in French…subtle), and the efforts of a group of people trying to save him before it’s too late.
3. 5 CM Per Second
Makoto Shinkai, director of the film, has often been compared to Hayao Miyazaki (sometimes even cited as superior), but his films are usually less “fantastical”. Shinkai concentrates in more adult dramas, while Miyazaki’s films are usually about the spirit of childhood and innocence (Both of them have exceptions to these rules).
5 CM Per Second is perhaps his greatest film to date (He’s 43, he has a long way to go) and it centers on a young man in three segments while he falls in love and he learns to cope with the real world. The animations is gorgeous and the soundtrack, by Japanese musician Tenmon, is a melancholic masterpiece.
4. Vampiros en la Habana
After two serious movies, we go back to Zaniness. “Vampiros en la Habana” is the second feature film made by beloved Cuban caricaturist Juan Padron. It’s set in a world where vampires exist (and even have presidents) and where their maximum aspiration is to be able to go out during the day.
When a scientist discovers a formula that finally works, all hell breaks loose, as vampires from all over the world have their own plans for the formula. It features great Cuban music and voice acting, and the story is an incredibly fun ride.
5. Kirikou and the Sorceress
A film by one of the recent great French animators, Michel Ocelot, Kirikou is based on West African Folktale Tradition, and features unique art and a simple, uplifting story.
Because of the fact that it features a lot of partial nudity, as it would have been norm in West Africa at the time, the film was delayed for three years in its US release, for the fact that it was consideres a children’s film. Michel Ocelot has gone on to direct other great films, among them: Azus et Asmar, and Princes and Princesses.
6. Twice Upon a Time
This movie has become stuff of legend. It was the first animated project George Lucas involved himself in: a movie about a team of heroes trying to stop the bad guy from giving everyone in the world nightmares. It featured cut-out animation, with prefabricated cut-out plastic pieces that were moved on a light table. One of the directors, John Korty, perfected this technique while he animated for Sesame Street. He was accompanied by his co-director Charles Swenson, and a young David Fincher and Henry Selick (Ratatouille).
The producers could only hire improv comedians (it seems Lucas didn’t put that much money into it), so goes the legend, so there are several different versions of the movie. A perpetual bootleg, the film was restored by Cinefamily last year for an anniversary screening, but it hasn’t been released in DVD yet. Blame Warner Bros.
7. The Adventures of Mark Twain
Will Vinton is probably one of the most important figures in the history of stop-motion clay animation. He started to push the technology forward with Bob Gardiner and won an Oscar for the short “Closed Mondays”. “The Adventures of Mark Twain” was made years later, with his own production company, after he and Gardiner parted ways.
The film incorporates several of Twain’s works into a shared universe, as his own characters follow the author into his date with Halley’s Comet, a phenomenon the real Twain always thought he was linked to.
8. Fritz the Cat
Fritz the Cat was an underground comic strip by Robert Crumb that became quite popular in the 60s. Ralph Bakshi was a young animator tired of the same jobs and the same movies. Somehow, they got paired up, and after problems with funding and disagreements from the animated community, Bakshi debuted as a director with this outrageous film.
The first animated film to receive an X-rating, Fritz the Cat tells the story of a sex-obsessed, drug-consuming cat in an animal super-city during the protests of the 60s.