Since the release of Toy Story in 1995 by Pixar/Walt Disney Studios, the market has been flooded with Computer Generated (CG) films. There have been many wonderful movies using this style and of course, many horrible ones as well.
Traditional cell and stop-motion animation have taken a back-seat to the new format, which is a shame considering some of the best feature films of all time were made this way. As the technology crept into the animators’ studios, numerous films employed some CG work in their movies while keeping the majority of animation in the old style.
While there are fewer movies being made in the old style, there have been some amazing films from the previous decades that are definitely worth your time. There are more than the following 15 that were outstanding, but these were some of the best.
You may have seen these as a child or discovered them later in life. Regardless of whether or not you have seen them before, these are 15 movies listed in chronological order every adult should definitely see again or for the first time:
1. Wizards (1977)
Wizards often tops lists as a cult classic due to the widespread popularity the film gained during the era of VHS. The story takes place millions of years following a nuclear war where the few surviving humans have mutated into horrible beasts while fairies, elves, dwarves, and other magical creatures have returned to reclaim the Earth.
Wizards pits twin magical brothers against each other in a contest between good and evil. On the side of good stands Avatar, a wizard who uses magic for the benefit of living things. His brother, Blackwolf, sides with evil and uses technology and propaganda as his most destructive weapons.
The imagery throughout the film describes the side of evil akin to Nazi Germany. At one point, Blackwolf finds the ancient relics of a film projector with reels of Nazi propaganda footage he uses to raise a formidable army of mutants.
The themes explored in Wizards deal with the moral ambiguity of technology and how it can be used either for good or evil. Technology destroyed the world of man, but it is technology that Blackwolf embraces in his drive for power.
The film’s creator, Ralph Bakshi, has stated that the movie is an allegorical story about the creation of the state of Israel following the Holocaust and the potential for the resurgence of fascism.
2. Watership Down (1978)
Watership Down is a British animated film based on Richard Adam’s novel of the same name. The story is told from the perspective of a warren of rabbits, one of which is struck with an apocalyptic vision of their horrible death at the hands of human developers.
The rabbit named Fiver and his sister Hazel attempt to convince the leaders of their warren to evacuate, but fail in their attempt and the warren is destroyed save for eight who managed to escape.
As the story progresses, the rabbits find a warren ripe with females and attempt to join, but find it to be a totalitarian state run by a militaristic group of male rabbits. A confrontation ensues and the story becomes even more violent as it progresses.
Watership Down was very faithful to the book from which it was adapted. It is very violent and dark with material that is not necessarily suitable for children. Many children did see the film when it was released and were surprised to see animated rabbits engaging in militaristic slaughter—the themes of this film are definitely oriented towards adults.
3. American Pop (1981)
Aside from his work on the Mighty Mouse cartoons, very little of Ralph Bakshi’s productions could be considered children’s cartoons.
American Pop is no different as it details a story revolving around four generations of a Russian Jewish immigrant family and their involvement in music. Each generation is established within a timeframe concurrent with American Pop culture throughout the 20th century.
Each generation of men moves through 20th century America’s various forms of musical entertainment beginning with burlesque shows then moving into big band, jazz, and finally rock & roll.
With content related to drugs, sex, violence, and murder, this film is not for children. The animation is done via Bakshi’s oft-used roto-scoping technique over beautiful matte backgrounds and the soundtrack is an amazing compilation of American music spanning eight decades.
While this film could have worked as a live-action performance, the use of animation allows for an incredible use of visual imagery only achieved through the art of animation.
4. The Last Unicorn (1982)
The Last Unicorn is a beautifully-animated film by Rankin/Bass Productions based upon the novel of the same name by Peter S. Beagle. This film is definitely appropriate for children and should have been watched when you were a kid, but if you missed out, you need to sit down and give it a view.
Not only is the animation spectacular, but the voice-acting is amazing. Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Christopher Lee, and many other talented actors and actresses lent their voices to bring these characters to life.
Additionally, the soundtrack was composed entirely by the band America accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra and features amazing and evocative songs, which are able to perfectly set the scene and Segway between them as well.
The story is about the last unicorn who lives in the enchanted forest. She learns that she is the last unicorn and sets out to find out what happened to her kind. She enters into ‘man’s world’ and is seen by most as nothing but a white mare, but by a special few as what she really is.
As she engages on her adventure she falls into traps and meets some amazing friends who help her on her journey. The film is filled with amazing characters and wonderful subplots about magic and how we see the world devoid of it.
5. The Secret of NIMH (1982)
This classic animated film was Don Bluth’s directorial debut and established his style and place in Hollywood as an animation powerhouse shortly after he left Disney Studios. The movie was based on the 1971 novel by Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.
The Secret of NIMH is a grand adventure tale of Mrs. Brisby (The name had to be changed for fear of litigation from the Frisbee people) who must find a way to stop the imminent plowing of the field she and her children live in. Her son, Timmy, has fallen ill and cannot be moved so Mrs. Brisby, a widowed field mouse, seeks the help of the local rat community.
The rats are escaped test animals from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and have been granted intelligence and are able to use electricity for their own means. She learns that her late husband was also imprisoned and tested upon in NIMH so the rats agree to help her.
The film is very dark both visually and thematically. The animators use low-lighting to express an overall sense of dread during certain situations in the movie that help truly evoke a sense of suspense and even fear in the viewer. It was marketed to and should be shown to children, but the themes are very adult in nature. It has been widely acclaimed by critics and is considered to be an animated classic.
6. Flight of Dragons (1982)
Flight of Dragons is another film by the talented team of Rankin/Bass based loosely off of Peter Dickinson’s novel of the same name and Gordon R. Dickson’s Dragon and the George. The film explores the world of fantasy as it comes crashing into the modern world of technology and rational thought.
The main character, Peter, named after the author of the book, is a modern man who embraces science and designs fantasy board games. He is magically brought back in time to the world of Carolinus, the Green Wizard, to help stop the destruction of the magical world.
Due to an initial conflict with the antagonist Ommadon and his dragon, Bryagh, who was sent to capture Peter, Peter’s mind is placed into the body of the young dragon Gorbash. He must learn to live as a dragon while maintaining his mind of science and rationality while endeavoring to complete his quest to stop Ommadon.
The Flight of Dragons was a direct-to-video film and saw some airing on television, but was not widely available. It is geared towards family viewing, but utilizes intelligent dialogue while exploring the themes of science and imagination coming into conflict. The opening song was performed by Don McLean of American Pie fame and has a way of getting stuck in your head.
7. When the Wind Blows (1986)
When the Wind Blows is a British animated film based on the graphic novel of the same name. The film employs two types of animation throughout. The characters are hand drawn traditional cell animation while the world in which they live is comprised of real objects animated through stop-motion animation.
When the Wind Blows explores the fear of nuclear war and the policies of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) between the Soviet Union and United States (Along with other allied nations) during the height of the Cold War. The two main characters, James and Hilda Bloggs, are an elderly couple who remember the days of World War II, which they struggled through, but survived.
As war looms, the two prepare as instructed by the government and maintain a healthy attitude about beating the Soviets. As the film progresses and nuclear war actually commences, we see the ongoing struggle of the couple, now sick with radiation sickness, as they continue the British attitude of “Keep calm and carry on.”