Animators have been enchanting audiences since the beginning of the 20th century, from classic Disney tales to sci-fi anime films and many other styles in between. The reputation of animation, like its content, has evolved over time to be as critically and commercially viable as their live action counterparts, winning prestigious awards and breaking box-office records.What appeal they lose in relatability, they gain back in unique style and increased creativity. Much rarer, however, are the films in which directors mix the animations with live action film and real actors.
The effect that this creates is a bizarre blend of the charms of both mediums, as well as allowing the story to explore the possibilities of both. The unique combination of realism and cartoony imagination, while giving the best of both worlds, also has some drawbacks.
The largest one is that the mix of life and drawings can be very disorienting for audiences, taking down the wall between imagination and reality. creating absurd situations that, when poorly executed, can make audiences uncomfortable. Additional challenges include directing and acting off of characters that aren’t there. While some may consider the genre too complicated to overcome, those who do embrace the challenge sometimes manage to utilize its potential.
10. Osmosis Jones (Bobby & Peter Farrelly, 2001)
This bizarre mix of dark comedy, gross-out humor and kids movie may be one of the most original mainstream animated films of all time. The premise of the film sets up the city of Frank which consists of the body of a zookeeper, played by Bill Murray, whose population is made up of blood cells, proteins and other molecular organisms.
Everything is going smoothly in the body until Frank eats contaminated food and introduces the deadly virus Thrax, voiced by Laurence Fishburne, into the system and threatens the life of the city and person. The only hope to stop Thrax is the untamed cop Osmosis Jones, voiced by Chris Rock, and his new partner Drix, a cold pill, voiced by David Hyde Pierce. While the hunt for Thrax wages inside of Frank, in the outer world Frank must keep going to provide for his young daughter.
The main problem with the film is that there is no clear target audience. The plot seems to dark for kids, and too juvenile for adults. Even the gross-out jokes that won the Farrelly Brothers success in movies like There’s Something About Mary, fell flat because they had to be toned down considerably. Despite its several shortcoming, Osmosis Jones has many great strengths.
The design of the city system inside of Frank is very clever and imaginatively created. The voice acting of the characters also elevated the film considerably, with Rock and Pierce delivering great chemistry and one-liners. While not perfect in execution and the entire concept of sentient inner beings might unnerve some viewers, Osmosis Jones is a fun twist on the buddy cop film for the whole family.
9. Enchanted (Kevin Lima, 2007)
The most recent film on this list, Enchanted starts out as a typical Disney princess movie, but quickly throws in a game-changing twist. The main character Princess Giselle, played by Amy Adams, is to be wed to a handsome Prince Edward, played by James Marsden, but the evil witch of her land casts her out of her magical world, landing her in modern day New York.
Initially she treats her new environment the same as her old, but when the grittiness of her surrounds becomes clear to her, she comes to think that life is not so innocent here. She is helped to acclimate by a divorce lawyer, played by Patrick Dempsey. His flaws in character are refreshing to Giselle when compared to the perfect specimen of her Prince, and she falls in love with him. Her troubles, however, are not over as more of her animated brethren also find themselves transported into reality.
Enchanted may not have the storybook atmosphere like the classic stories of Cinderella or Snow White possess, but unlike those films there is instead lots of fish-out-water comedy and its ending, while unconventional for the genre, is just as heartwarming as the classics. The film, like the other princess films, also contains a number of great Disney songs, composed by Alan Menken, three of which were nominated for Oscars.
Including real life actors also turned out to be a worthwhile gamble, bringing new perspective to formerly idealized characters and giving Giselle some relatable traits. The mixing of animation and live action in this film, compared to most others on this list, is quite different in that the audience is shown two separate worlds instead of the two mediums interacting, taking less of a gamble but perhaps making the film more accessible.
8. Space Jam (Joe Pytka, 1996)
Starring NBA legend Michael Jordan and the classic Looney Tunes character, this goofy flick has become a family classic and the most successful basketball film ever. The plot of the film follows MIchael Jordan who, similar to his real life career, retires from basketball and switches to a career in baseball, hiring sports journalist Stan, played by Wayne Knight, to keep his publicity upbeat.
Meanwhile in distance space, the evil Mr. Swackhammer, voiced by Danny Devito, runs a struggling theme park called “Moron Mountain.” In order to gain more popularity, Swackhammer sends his minions to Earth and capture the Looney Tunes and bring them back as attractions. The Looney Tunes then have to play the minions in basketball to secure their freedom, which is where the two plotlines become intertwined.
The minions have stolen the talent of pro basketball players like Charles Barkley and will trounce the Tunes, so they have to convince Jordan to play basketball again and win their freedom. They, of course, win and, like in real life, Jordan returns to basketball, having found a new love of the game. From a critical standpoint the film is not much to talk about and the plot may just be a loosely constructed way to fit in Michael Jordan, but there are other charms that keep people watching the film.
The major appeal of the film comes from the classic humor put forward by Bugs Bunny and his friends who are just as they were on the cartoon show. Jordan also does a surprisingly good job in the central role, playing himself modestly with a lot of self-mocking humor. It may not be a masterpiece of film, but by combining two national icons, Space Jam became one of the most popular family films of the 1990s.
7. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright, 2010)
Based on the popular graphic novels Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley, this modern cult classic is one of the most creative stylized films of the last decade. Michael Cera stars as the titular character, a dorky Canadian 22-year old who plays bass in a garage band, Sex Bob-Omb. His mundane life is rejuvenated when he meets the quirky Ramona Flowers, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, a charming delivery girl, but in order to win her, Scott must fight her seven evil ex-boyfriends, all the while competing in a battle of the bands.
The seven boyfriends include other rockers, ninjas and skateboarders, and are played by stars like Chris Evans and Jason Schwartzman. All of the boyfriends also possess various superpowers that Scott must have to overcome with his kung fu skills and finally win Ramona’s love.
The animation in this film is quite unique, both mixing in with the action and appearing in separate segments. It’s use was to convey the spirit and style of the source comics, sometimes just appearing as overdone special effects, but to the effect of capturing the feeling of the books. Although at its initial release, Scott Pilgrim didn’t make that much of a splash, it has since gained a large following.
6. Heavy Traffic (Ralph Bakshi, 1973)
Bookended with real life and interspersed with filmed cityscapes as backgrounds, this bizarre and completely depressing portrait of life in New York in the 70s is one of animator Ralph Bakshi’s greatest and most disturbing films.It follows the bleak life of young cartoonist Michael Corleone, who comes from a violent family and spends his days drawing the dark scenes he sees around him, most of which are appallingly crass.
These disturbing vignettes often feature graphic violence, depraved sex acts and twisted characters, earning the film its controversial X Rating and, devoid of anything positive or happy, makes this cult classic one of the darkest, least accessible animated films ever made.
The film is quite offensive, caricaturing the citizens of the degenerate New York streets from gangs and prostitutes to violent police officers and offending all the races of the diverse city, parodying the Italian mafia and the low street gangs. The film’s appeal is also not helped by the threadbare and unflattering animation, which makes unpleasant situations even uglier.
The entirety of the film is filled with pinball imagery, acting as a metaphor for living in the dingy city, with the people being the ball, bounced around under all the lights, their lives out of their own control. Like all of Bakshi’s films, Heavy Traffic is not for everyone and the experience is certainly an unpleasant one but the message of the film is undeniably powerful and if you can stomach it, the film is a true masterpiece.