These films of the 2000s have left a mark for generations to come, and while being animated, most of them are not for younger audiences. We can take time to appreciate technicalities along with complex storylines: these films encourage spiritual growth and provide a view of the world that otherwise would be lost in translation.
Hollywood, specifically Disney and Pixar, offer us many animated features, often great, but their popularity is usually their most significant feature. These are the other ones, that may fly under the radar for the most part, yet have won the deserved attention of less mainstream cinephiles. We present 15 non-Hollywood animated films of the last 14 years. Certainly there are others worth mentioning, but for now we are paying these films the respect they deserve.
15. Chico & Rita (2010)
Set in the late 1940s and early 1950s, this animated feature is not aimed at kids. Its most impressive aspects are the story and the music, a tragic romance set in Havana, Cuba, between a pianist and a singer. The protagonists are talented artists who fall in love, but whose dreams and bittersweet sense of nostalgia get in the way.
The film portrays not just Havana but also New York, Las Vegas and other cities through impressive colors and backgrounds. The seemingly hand-drawn diverse animation fits the exoticism of the picture, merging with the action and adding poignancy to the characters. The music and the imagery evoke a Spanish atmosphere. The story deals with complex matters such as discrimination, exploitation and the search for fame, making it a truly profound piece. It portrays a love story that is less about love than it is about the obstacles in it.
14. The Illusionist (2010)
Jacques Tati wrote this film in 1956 but did not produce it. When he died in 1982, the screenplay was kept in his family until more than 50 years later director Sylvain Chomet begged Tati’s daughter to let him adapt it.
Originally, it was meant to be a live action film dedicated to his relationship with his daughter. It ended up as a semi-silent movie with a few minimalist dialogues. The main character is a clear representation of Tati himself: an old man with a hunched back, usually wearing a trench coat and a pipe in his mouth, stirred by an aging career at the end of the 1950s. The character, an old-fashioned conjuror specializing in – among other similarly primitive illusions – rabbits and hats, is forced to move to another country to find a job, where he meets a young girl, possibly the only one who still looks up to him.
It is a portrayal of time passing, people aging and the loss of purpose. This is very neatly represented in old-style animation with a charming simplicity and spectacular backgrounds. Everything is very vivid and the characters are of a whimsical nature, with great timing for particular movements of the main character. It serves as a unique piece of art with an even more interesting backstory – more or less a gentle, innocent addendum to Tati’s life.
13. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of The Were-Rabbit (2005)
This well-known, unconventional human-dog duo fall into a league of their own, jumping from a short film series into a feature-length film directed by original creator and writer Nick Park and Steve Box. Using clay animation to portray Wallace, an inventor, and his dog Gromit (the adult in the story), we follow their disastrous mission to secure the village’s Giant Vegetable Fete and keep gigantic melons and carrots from being ravaged by rabbits. In order to do this, they resort to using Wallace’s terrible inventions, such as a vaccum to suck bunnies and rabbit rehabilitation.
The writing is one of the most witty and enjoyable aspects of the film. The characters and sets are made out of plasticine and the fascinating stop-motion animation gives detail to, for example, Gromit’s outbursts because, despite being the brains of the operation, he doesn’t actually speak – or have a mouth, for that matter. The easy British humor makes it a family movie enhanced by the exceptional voice of actors such as Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes. The story loses direction somewhat in places, but overall it doesn’t fail to entertain.
12. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
Scripted by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, this Japanese film animated by Studio Ghibli is based on an English children’s book by Mary Norton about a family of tiny people living in the walls of households, borrowing from humans the various things they need to survive.
In the feature, one of ‘the Borrowers’ is Arrietty, a spirited young girl who fails to live carefully in hiding and is seen by a sick human boy, Shawn, when he is spending a week in the country at his aunt’s place. This unleashes a series of events that eventually result in Arriety’s family having to move but not before they face a range of challenges and have to take a new perspective on their existence.
One of the crucial aspects of this feature is, of course, the animation itself, a true art form that, although not directed by Miyazaki, feels undeniably his. The film is impossible to predict but always fluid and startlingly profound, depicting a growing friendship between Arrietty and Shawn, as well as the fragile lives of each. A traditional yet enchanting story with breathtaking animation and a delightful soundtrack.
11. The Secret of Kells (2010)
This Irish-French-Belgian film is an homage to the creation of the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the bible. It features a young, brave monk named Brendan who lives within the walls of Kells with his uncle, who is terrified of what lies beyond Kells, specifically Vikings. Brendan meets master illuminator Brother Aidan who has escaped from the Vikings and is working on the Book. He takes Brendan under his wing and gets him to sneak into the forest surrounding Kells where he eventually gets lost. This happens in a world where Christianity, Fairies, Viking invaders, dark gods, Saints and wild animals co-exist. It portrays various religious points of view, but more importantly people’s different realities and belief systems are brought into conflict.
The animation is wonderful, with terrific shadows falling on the characters, and displaying various patterns, borders and lines that remind us of religious designs. Definitely a very soulful picture that leaves us thinking about important questions that aren’t often asked in other animated films, or at least not with such subtlety, all the while having great art to look at.
10. Chicken Run (2000)
This British-American animated comedy was Aardman Animations’ first feature length production, and was first conceived in 1995 by Aardman co-founder Peter Lord and Wallace and Gromit creator Nick Park.
Following the same claymation technique, it tells the story of an English egg farm in the 1950s and the chickens who want to escape from it. The fierce and distinctive hen named Ginger who insists on making escape plans and being constantly punished for it remindes us of films like The Great Escape. The other chickens, though, seem perfectly happy with captivity. It’s not until an American rooster lands up at the farm after escaping from a circus that the chickens start considering learning to fly so as to not be turned into chicken pies – the farm owner’s newest idea.
Its memorable lines (one of my all time favorites is “All me life flashed before me eyes – it was really borin’!”), its optimistic characters, the villains, the jokes – full of witty chicken puns, outstanding good humor and plenty of metaphors to relate our own human lives. Although the world of talking farm animals has issues almost as weighty as ours, it is wholly suitable for children and will be enjoyed by many.
9. Paprika (2006)
This is, first off, an odd film. It’s bright, vivid and colorful in every possible way, and one might have mixed feelings when contemplating the confusing animation it presents. Animated and produced by Madhouse and Sony Pictures Entertainment, it’s a Japanese science fiction film about a research psychologist who uses a breakthrough device called DC Mini that allows therapists do dive into their patients’ dreams. The explains the puzzling animation. It’s a mystically visual world where you can push a button in a machine and enter someone’s mind where many dangers will rear their heads.
Co-written by Kon and Seishi Minakami, its main focus isn’t the sometimes overly mind-boggling plot, but the extensive hallucination effects and other visual delights. It’s a mix of 3D and hand-drawn animation, perhaps this way best representing our colorful imagination, a hyper-realism that requests that we don’t waste time over-analyzing plot points but simply surrender ourselves to the visual. Definitely not aimed at children, but remarkable in how it manages to portray an alternative reality.