Given the choice, I wouldn’t normally choose to watch an animated film. Like many parents, I’ve watched a disproportionate amount of them over the years, and while there are lots that are only suitable for children, there are plenty that have got a lot going for them. Enough that it was a bit difficult to limit myself to four.
(Incidentally, this is #37 in a series of 47 posts about movies, with topics selected by my friend, each given to me after the previous one is written. For more information, check out #1 here.)
And here they are:
The Prince of Egypt (1998 – directed by Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, & Simon Wells)
The Prince of Egypt has been described as an animated epic musical drama, which makes it relatively unique among American movies (at least, I can’t think of another example like that). It’s take on the story of Moses is obviously fictionalized in a number of significant ways, but still I find the movie engaging and deeply moving. The burning bush scene captures the intimacy of God, and the parting of the Red Sea the grandeur and majesty. That, combined with an impressive visual scope and some good voice performances (Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helen Mirren (!), Patrick Stewart (!!), and lots more) makes this my favorite animated film.
Arthur Christmas (2011 – directed by Sarah Smith and co-directed by Barry Cook)
Arthur Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas movies, and is impressive in that it manages to fully embrace the shmaltziness of Santa Claus, elves, flying reindeer and the general insistence that every child deserves whatever present they want, but still manages to be inventive and engaging and to never got bogged down in its own sentiment. The story is about Arthur, the son of the current Santa Claus (a generational position, it turns out), who cares more about an individual child than he does any personal advancement. The movie gives one of the best explanations for how the miracle of Santa Claus’ global delivery is pulled off (turns out to be a massive logistical and technological operation), and full of lots of sophisticated but child-appropriate jokes, and some real images of magic and wonder. I knew when I started seeing lions, zebras and other African animals begin floating away because of an overflow of reindeer magic that I knew I was watching something special.
Toy Story 2 (1999 – directed by John Lasseter and co-directed by Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon)
For a lot of people, a list like this would be full of Pixar films. For me, this the only Pixar entry, but a lot of my runners-up are Pixar films. But after some consideration, this is the one I think is the best. Actually, all the Toy Story movies are good, but this was the one that took the original’s clever concept and expanded it into something truly emotionally meaningful. The first film was about Woody and Buzz finding friendship, but this one goes so much further, dealing with issues of identity, loss, and the idea of living fully but temporarily, or existing forever but without meaning. Pretty heady stuff, really. The movie’s success at revisiting the universe that the first film established in a way that felt familiar but not redundant makes it something of the perfect sequel.
The Lego Movie (2014 – directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)
So it would seem that big budget animated films simply cannot be directed by just one person on their own. Anyway, The Lego Movie was one that I fully did not expect to enjoy, but came away loving. It’s funny, surprising and clever. It goes into some pretty weird territory in its climax but still has so much wittiness that I’ll happily give its few weaknesses a pass. It’s a bit more low-brow than some other films I could have chosen, but brought so much enjoyment to me with it’s quirky sense of humor and pop-culture references that it still won out a spot on this list.
Runners-up: Both The Incredibles and Up came very close to making this list, but I couldn’t quite stand to put them ahead of any of these other movies. I’ve also enjoyed Toy Story, Toy Story 3, Kung-Fu Panda, Shrek, Madagascar, Rio, Finding Nemo and even the lesser-remembered Over the Hedge quite a bit. For older movies, I am very fond of The Rescuers and 101 Dalmatians, and also A Boy Named Charlie Brown.
Full Disclosure: I have never seen Spirited Away or anything else by the oft-renowned Hayao Miyazaki.
Bonus: I considered putting Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace on this list as a joke.