The technology involved in animation has come a long way since its inception. From the use of silhouettes and hand drawings to the recent computer generated revolution, they have all crafted images of astonishing beauty and magnificence.
Animation has been used to create some truly exceptional images and the freedom it allows means that these images are crafted purely without limit of imagination. Sometimes they do not get the recognition they deserve, being dismissed as children’s films, but the style and brilliance of the spectacle they offer is still an essential part of cinema today and few could argue when presented with the imagery that these films offer.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so of course no list can be definitive for everyone, but regardless here are the 15 most visually stunning animated films of all time.
Satushi Kon’s final film is arguably his best, but undoubtedly his most beautiful. This dream based anime is manic and hyper with its visual style as the dazzling visuals vary as layers of consciousness are peeled back as a psychologist delves into the dreams of her own patients.
The deeply textured and rich colors of the subconscious world is only highlighted by the muted nature of reality and as the story gets more complex as the film progresses, so does its imagery resulting in a movie that is experiences rather than understood.
14. Grave of the Fireflies
Any argument that animation is only for children is usually silenced by Isao Takahata’s World War 2 based drama. Though beauty is usually associated with pleasant thoughts, there’s an undeniable artistry to tragedy.
The poignant portrait of two children making their way across war torn Japan is heart-braking and horrific, yet retains its splendor with its epic contrast of innocence and destruction that is never personified or represented better than its simple comparison of firebombs and fireflies. Even putting the emotional punch that the film delivers aside, its harsh yet stunning visuals make it undeniably spectacular.
13. Prince of Egypt
With a crew totaling of 350 animators from 34 different countries, this biblical epic brings together traditionally hand drawn and computer generated animation to craft landscapes of a grand scale and characters of intimate wonder.
As Dreamworks Animation’s very first feature film it was seen as being visually level with anything Disney had at the time and still is. Not only is the style of the film amazing, so is its duality, from sweeping deserts to thrilling chariot races and almost nightmarish quality of the plagues of Egypt, it is all stunning to behold.
12. The Adventures of Prince Achmed
Animation has a long and proud history and one of its earliest efforts remains to this day one of its most impressive. Cut out silhouettes were used and filmed at the painstaking rate of one frame at a time but the end results speak for themselves.
Instead the jarring and trembling look you might expect the 1926 to have it is actually amazingly textured, gorgeously detailed and impressively intricate. By using color tinting it crafts remarkable foreign backdrops on which the figures play out their story in the oldest surviving animated film ever.
Well we’ve got this far without mentioning Pixar, but we can hold it off no longer. Though the animation powerhouse has crafted many dazzling movies but it’s their post-apocalyptic-robot-love-story that offers the most amazing visuals with its bleakness.
Pixar hired famed cinematographer Roger Deakins (famous for his work on Skyfall, Prisoners and every Coen Brothers movie) as visual consultant and under his guidance the animators took special time to include a number of features such as barrel distortion, camera depth and lens aberration all to mimic the irregularity’s you would get with a physical camera and the results speak for themselves.
10. The Lion King
What remains to this day the highest grossing traditionally animated movie of all time, The Lion King’s achievement is only made more remarkable when you remember that Disney’s top animators were all working on Pocahontas, predicting that to be the bigger success, leaving their B-Team to work on The Lion King.
But the visuals they created astound due to their epic scope and magnificent complexity. The animation on display is fast yet sweeping, huge yet intricate and for those reasons it most definitely deserves a place here.
9. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Beginning as a poem by Tim Burton in 1982 and ending as a finished stop motion feature film eleven years later in 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a gothic fairly-tale unlike anything else before or since. With 227 character models and countless props that are all expressionistic and completely unique, the film is somehow magically dazzling yet eerily frightful.
In the subsequent years Nightmare Before Christmas’ visuals have been compared to everything from Dr Seuss, The Grimm Borhters and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and though there are elements of all of them on display, ultimately it’s utterly unmatched.