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Added by Andy Goulding on 28 Dec 2011 07:12
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Non-Disney, Non-Pixar, Non-Ghibli Animated Films

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The tragic early loss of Satoshi Kon to pancreatic cancer robbed the animation world of one of its greatest talents. As accessible and magical as Ghibli but completely different in style, Kon's handful of films include some of the greatest animated features of recent times. Oddly, it is usually his first film, 'Perfect Blue', that gets the most attention. A pulpy psychological thriller that trys to keep too many juggling balls in the air at once and ends up falling in on itself, 'Perfect Blue' showed promise and Kon delivered on it incredibly quickly.

His second feature, 'Millennium Actress', is a masterpiece. It has the same level of narrative complexity as 'Perfect Blue' but this time Kon deftly draws all the elements together, making a far more convincing and enjoyable film that scores highly in emotional resonance while also retaining a sense of humour which beautifully balances the epic sweep of its themes.

As a film enthusiast, I was instantly grabbed by the plot of 'Millennium Actress'. As a movie studio is torn down, a TV interviewer and his cameraman interview a now elderly actress who was once the studio's biggest star. Reality, memories and cinema blur together as the actress takes them through her story, revealing that her career was merely a means to track down her lost love, a search that she acts out cinematically across the years and genres. Kon's masterstroke is sending the interviewer and cameraman on the journey alongside her. He gets a lot of comedy mileage out of this but also reveals a greater significance for their presence as the film goes on. 'Millennium Actress' is a complex, compelling, beautiful piece of work which will delight all lovers of cinema history.
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People who added this item 433 Average listal rating (225 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 7.5
Legendary Czech animator Jan Svankmajer's first feature, 'Alice' is probably the most artistically successful adaptation of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland'. Svankmajer taps perfectly into the air of foreboding that is present in all versions but which is often downplayed in favour of fairy tale whimsy.

Svankmajer utilises his favoured medium of stop-motion animation (combined with some live action) and the results are deliciously creepy and darkly hilarious. Highlights include a hysterically funny, jarring Mad Hatter's Tea Party and an unforgettably mangy, hideous White Rabbit. Svankmajer ends the film on a suitably brutal note, smothered in the blackest of comedy. 'Alice' truly is a unique film and, while it may alarm those who know only the Disney adaptation, it will doubtless delight animation fans who relish the unusual and the offbeat.
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People who added this item 411 Average listal rating (238 ratings) 6.9 IMDB Rating 7.2
John Halas and Joy Batchelor's adaptation of George Orwell's allegorical masterpiece became the first British commercial animated feature (an earlier film, 'Handling Ships', was a Navy training film and therefore not released) and marked a distinctly different tone from the popular Disney films. Though critics noticed some small influences from the mighty American studio (such as the cutesy comic relief duckling), Halas and Batchelor's film was far darker and more unrelenting. While Disney took flack for killing Bambi's mother off-screen, 'Animal Farm' necessarily kills off several of its main characters, some with subtle off-screen implications and others far more vividly (Old Major's lifeless corpse keels over right towards the viewer!).

A masterpiece of child-traumatising brilliance, 'Animal Farm' has also come in for much criticism for its perceived subversion of Orwell's message. It is now well known that the CIA were involved with funding the film and exerted some influence on its content as part of its Cold War cultural offensive. The film's alternate ending is the most roundly critised element, although it is some way off being the happy ending it is sometimes supposed to be and the credits role on a hauntingly memorable image loaded with potentially negative implications.
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It says a lot about the stranglehold Disney has on most people's idea of animated feature films, that so many people readily accept the oft parroted myth that 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' was the first ever animated feature. It is true that Disney's astonishing achievement reshaped the medium and pushed hand-drawn animation to new heights of artistry whilst firmly establishing a magical storytelling style that was all its studio's own. But that's no reason to rewrite history and ignore what came before.

There were several animated features released before Disney's game-changer and their pioneering invention makes them the clear forefathers of the more unusual films that make up this list. To ignore them in favour of a tidier 'Disney came first' snapshot of animation history is a crime against the medium. Sadly, the cutout animations of Quirino Cristiani, thought to be the first ever animated features, are all lost films and, while I still hold out hope that they may be found someday, in all likelihood we may never see them. Enter Lotte Reiniger.

Reiniger's 'The Adventures of Prince Achmed' is the oldest surviving animated feature film in existence. Based on elements of '1001 Arabaian Nights' and presented in Reiniger's trademark silhouette technique, 'The Adventures of Prince Achmed' is not what most audiences have come to expect from an animated feature but this unique, pioneering classic still has the ability to entertain and delight and the characters, though they only appear in silhouette, are as expressive as any fully-visible creation. All serious fans of animation should seek out this film but even casual animation fans will likely find it entertaining in its magical, fast-paced and sometimes bawdy storytelling.
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People who added this item 1906 Average listal rating (1182 ratings) 7.8 IMDB Rating 8.1
This list will probably annoy a lot of people for its intentional exclusion of so much popular animated sci-fi. It's just down to personal preference but generally I've never been a fan of the sort of dystopian future sci-fi action films that so many people adore. So you won't find any 'Ghost in the Shell' or 'Patlabor' here. But even I can see that 'Akira' is a classic.

The first time I saw this cyberpunk action film I was mesmerised by its beautiful visuals but found the storytelling to be too chaotic and unfocused. But on subsequent viewings I've realised that the enigmatic, event-filled plot is actually one of the film's major assets, especially in terms of rewatchability. But what keeps me coming back to 'Akira' is the startling look of the film. Unlike the stiff, cheap look of much anime, 'Akira' features full, fluid animation and immense detail that draws you into its world. Filled with energy, invention and, crucially, a smattering of humour (how seriously most of these sci-fis take themselves is one of the major turn-offs for me), 'Akira' an unforgettable, if sometimes disorienting, experience.
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'The Plague Dogs', from the makers of the darkly brilliant 'Watership Down' and based on another Richard Adams book, is an unbelievably depressing animated film squarely aimed at adults with little concession to children. And it's all the better for it. While it may not be as regularly rewatchable as 'Watership Down', 'The Plague Dogs' has much to say about man's capacity for animal cruelty and it doesn't fudge the message with any cutesy or comic asides.

Following the adventures of a pair of laboratory dogs who escape (although one of them, Snitter, has clearly been operated on already and is somewhat mentally affected) but find surviving in the outside world difficult, especially when they must also evade their former captors who are tracking them across the countryside, 'The Plague Dogs' goes much further than 'Watership Down'. Death hangs even heavier in the air with five prominent deaths throughout the film (including an unforgettably grim moment in which a man is accidentally shot in the face), and the swearing that was restricted to 'Piss off' in 'Watership Down' is stronger here too. There are parrallels. The look of the film is similar to 'Watership Down' and John Hurt returns as the voice of Snitter, but 'The Plague Dogs' is a film to approach with caution. Animation fans should find much to appreciate but animal lovers and the easily upset will have a harrowing time.
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One of the crowning glories of the animated feature, the visual stop-motion masterpiece that is 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' has become one of the biggest crossover hits in animation history. I can't think of a single person I know who doesn't adore this magical film. Frustratingly, almost all those people also believe it was directed by Tim Burton. Burton, of course, deserves credit since he created the idea for and look of the film but the beautiful direction came courtesy of the underrated Henry Selick, whose subsequent work has often been attributed to Burton thanks to the everpresent 'From the director of 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'' taglines. Of Burton, Selick said 'It's as if he laid the egg and I sat on it and hatched it'.

The film's wonderful screenplay, in which the Pumpkin King of Halloween town grows tired of his lot in life and inadvertantly stumbles upon Christmas Town, a holiday that he first tries to share in and then outright hijacks, was written in collaboration with Burton by Caroline Thompson and Michael McDowell, who previously worked on screenplay's for Burton's 'Beetlejuice' and 'Edward Scissorhands'. But even more crucial than the script are the marvellous songs by Danny Elfman. Elfman claimed writing the songs for the film was one of the easiest assignments of his life and this natural flowing process is obvious on the screen, with unforgettable numbers like 'What's This?', 'Kidnap the Sandy Claws' and 'This is Halloween' perfectly capturing the spirit and look of the project in musical terms.

Although it baffled some audiences on its original release with its slower pace and excessive use of music, this spectacular masterpiece has gradually been taken to the hearts of viewers of all ages and tastes. A masterful achievement which recaptures the magic that so much modern animation lacks, 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' is unarguably a five star classic and a modern staple of Christmas viewing.
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People who added this item 5464 Average listal rating (3452 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 7.4
Although it was always going to live in the monumental shadow of 'The Nightmare Before Christmas', Tim Burton's first animated feature as director is a magical enough film in its own right to make such comparisons pointless. Once again employing Caroline Thompson on script writing duties and Danny Elfman as songwriter (his 'Remains of the Day' is the clear highlight of the entire film), Burton has created another unusual, deliberately paced and ghoulish little treat.

Focusing more strongly on character than plot, 'Corpse Bride' is a visual treat filled with inspired creations, reminding us not only of the iconic 'Nightmare Before Christmas' but also Burton's masterful early animated short 'Vincent'. The starry voice cast which includes Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant and Christopher Lee, is strong but perhaps indicative of a modern overreliance on famous voices that has robbed some animation of its individual charm. That Elfman's turn as lively skeleton Bonejangles is by far the most memorable makes one wonder if these A-list vocals are really necessary, especially when there is such a wealth of talented voice actors who don't have Hollywood careers in front of the camera.

But I digress. 'Corpse Bride' is a beautifully animated, compelling little gothic folk tale which stands as easily the best film of Burton's disappointing post-90s career (with the underseen but extraordinarily brilliant classic 'Ed Wood' as his greatest overall). Sadly, his recent return to animation with a remake of his live action short 'Frankenweenie', did not have the strong script to back up the still great visuals and descended into over-the-top silliness when Burton should have trusted the simplicity of his original idea.
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People who added this item 1287 Average listal rating (738 ratings) 8.1 IMDB Rating 8.1
Australian stop-motion animator Adam Eliott came to my attention through his masterful Oscar winning 2003 short 'Harvie Krumpet'. A beautiful, bittersweet and wickedly hilarious creation, 'Harvie Krumpet' became one of my favourite animated shorts of all time. When I heard Eliott was making a feature I could barely contain my joy and, when it finally arrived, 'Mary and Max' did not disappoint. Tapping into the same mordant humour as 'Harvie Krumpet', 'Mary and Max' examines the friendship between two unlikely pen pals, a lonely young Australian girl and an obese American with severe Asperger syndrome.

The story unfolds through the two characters' letters to each other and we learn much about them through Eliott's witty, blackly comic missives, as read by Toni Collette and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (along with wonderful narration from Barry Humphries). Perhaps the most memorable voice however comes from young Bethany Whitmore as the 8 year old Mary, who is exceedingly cute without straying from the film's unsentimental tone. 'Mary and Max' manages to be moving without the slightest hint of manipulation, as 'Harvie Krumpet' had been years before. It's a lovingly made adult animation that will appeal to those with dry, some would say warped, senses of humour but who also have empathetic hearts.
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This is a tricky one because legendary animator Richard William's 'The Thief and the Cobbler' is one of animation's highest watermarks... but only in certain versions. The story of this film's 28 year production is a fascinating but deeply sad one. Williams (who made the absolutely wonderful Oscar winning short animation of 'A Christmas Carol') began production on his pet project in 1964, always intending to make it his masterpiece and to push the boundaries of animation. Throughout the 70s and 80s he worked on other projects which helped fund his continued work on 'The Thief and the Cobbler'. After Williams had a huge success with his work on 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit', Warner Bros. signed a deal to fund and distribute the film. But as the budget soared and the production time increase, the studio took Williams' masterwork out of his hands and handed it to Fred Calvert to complete. Calvert completely re-edited the film, adding tacky songs and voiceovers to make it more marketable. The version of 'The Thief and the Cobbler' that was released is like watching people vomit on great art. It's a torturous experience for any animation fan who knows the full story so one can only imagine how Williams feels about it.

We may never know the full glory of what Williams might have created and Williams has understandably completely washed his hands of the project. But fan Garrett Gilchrist has done animation fans a humungous favour by creating several new cuts of the film based on and using Williams' original workprints and notes to create something akin to what Williams originally intended.

Even though it will always fall short of what might have been, 'The Recobbled Cut' is still a wonder to behold. Williams animations are jaw-dropping and one only need watch the trailer for this version to see what a feast for the eyes they are in for. The storytelling style is markedly different to the average animated film, with the title characters remaining silent throughout the film and the titular thief providing a cherishable series of slapstick routines in his persistent attempt to steal a set of golden balls which, while they remain one of the film's major attractions, are also virtually superfluous to the plot. The similarities between 'The Thief and the Cobbler' and Disney's 'Aladdin' has been well documented (with the bastardised Fred Calvert version of 'The Thief and the Cobbler' often mistakenly labelled a rip off of the Disney film, which in fact borrowed heavily from Williams) but the similarities between the Thief's obsessive attempts to steal the balls and 'Ice Age's Scrat's pursuit of an acorn are a remarkable parallel that is rarely pointed out.

Please note that the five stars I have given to this film are for 'The Recobbled Cut' only. Don't even bother with the other versions, they don't come close to doing justice to this would-be masterpiece.

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Attempts to turn adult animated series into feature length productions have rarely lived up to expectations. It fell, then, to Trey Parker and Matt Stone's classic series 'South Park' (1997- ) to buck the trend. Not only did the series big screen equivalent, 'South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut', top anything the duo had achieved previously, it set the series on the road to becoming the most vital, intelligent, relevant satire of recent times. What 'South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut' did was tighten up the social commentary and make it the main focus, retaining the show's recognisable style but upping the stakes considerably. The result was a monumentally smart movie which managed to satirize the controversy surrounding itself before it had even been released.

'South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut' is a searing indictment of censorship, examining the moral outrage that fictional series 'The Terrence and Phillip Show' whips up in the hot-headed adults of a small Colorado town. Parker and Stone's masterstroke was their idea to make 'South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut' a musical. The songs Parker and Stone wrote for 'South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut' (with the assistance of Mark Shaiman and James Hetfield) surpass all of their previous work, making it song-for-song one of the most memorable and witty musical movies in history. Although its impact has been lessened by the subsequent loosening up of censorship in the 'South Park' TV series, the early appearance of a song called 'Uncle Fucka', in which Terrance and Phillip repeatedly accuse each other of incestuous union with their uncles, utilising the word "fuck" 31 times in the process, was a genuine shock first time round. Also shocking was just how great the song itself was. True to the depiction in the film, audiences really did leave the cinema singing it!

But 'South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut' has so much more to offer musically than this crude little ditty. There's "It's Easy, MMMKay", in which school counsellor Mr. Mackey attempts to re-program the children not to swear through the oft-used political tool of fear filtered through a show-tune. There's the extraordinarily catchy 'What Would Brian Boitano Do', in which the boys whip up inspiration by idolising ice-skater Brian Boitano to the point of attributing the pyramids to him and, of course, there's the Oscar nominated (!) 'Blame Canada', which encapsulates the film's main message in its final line, sung by the parents of America, "We must blame them and cause a fuss before somebody thinks of blaming us".

Despite the series going on to become evermore outrageous, cutting, intelligent and downright brilliant, 'South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut' still stands up as well as ever. This is despite the fact that many of the best and most popular characters were yet to be introduced or given anything significant to do. These characters include the likes of Token, the school's only black child; Timmy and Jimmy, two disabled children who, despite Network concerns upon their initial appearances, have gone on to become incredibly popular among the disabled community who have responded positively to finally being included in the joke rather than patronised and ignored; and my own personal favourite, the disarmingly sweet Butters who is probably the series most well-rounded character. All are absent, at the expense of characters who have since been marginalised, such as mentally-questionable schoolteacher Mr. Garrison and his puppet pal Mr. Hat, and Chef, whose conscription into an army mission known as "Operation Get Behind the Darkies" is another example, along with the townsfolks consistent racism towards Candians, of 'South Park's deft use of apparently politically-incorrect material to make a staunchly politically correct point.

The brilliance of 'South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut' did not go unacknowledged and it remains a popular and admired film but few seem willing to call it a classic. I, however, think it deserves that tag and would include it among lists of my favourite animated movies, my favourite musicals, my favourtie comedies and, hell, even just flat out favourite films (though that list is a large and diverse one). 'South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut' represents a landmark moment for one of the greatest TV shows of all time and it played a huge part in influencing 'South Park' to transcend its humble beginnings and become such an important programme.
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People who added this item 1525 Average listal rating (873 ratings) 8 IMDB Rating 8.1
Based on Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novel of the same name, the beautiful 'Persepolis' retains the look and feel of its source material largely thanks to Satrapi taking screenwriting and directing credits too. A coming of age tale set against the backdrop of the Iranian Revolution, 'Persepolis' follows little Marjane's childhood in Iran and her growth into a (dangerously) outspoken, rebellious young woman who is inspired by the actions of her relations and the energy of punk rock!

'Persepolis' was perhaps too unusual to be a commercial hit but it looks like no other animated film with its beautiful use of black and white imagery to evoke its graphic novel origins, its energetic animation which captures the energy reflected in the blossoming of Marjane into a young woman. 'Persepolis' is a wonderful, critically-revered triumph and one of a handful of animated features that could truly claim the title of thinking-person's-animation.
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Don Bluth's second animated feature has all the usual problems of a Bluth production (wandering plot, weak characterisation) but at this stage Bluth's desires to create something akin to Disney's golden age were still driving him to make interesting work. While the story is slight, it moves quickly and the visuals, though inconsistent in quality, are often beautiful.

'An American Tail' is not as visually arresting as Bluth's debut 'The Secret of NIMH' but it is an easier, lighter watch. The darker edge of the earlier film is still apparent, not least in the ingenious musical sequence 'There Are No Cats in America', in which various mice recall the murders of their loved ones by cats in mournful verses, only to undermine any pathos with the joyous chorus. However, the film feels overall like a step towards the more conventional, not least in its inclusion of songs, which were absent from '...NIMH'. One of these songs, the ballad 'Somewhere Out There', has managed to become more famous than the film itself, so much so that many people believe it to be a Disney number.
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Once upon a time, two Disney animation employees had the idea of making an animated film using computer generated 3D backgrounds. They took their idea to two high-level Disney executives who dismissed the idea on the grounds that it would be too costly. The executives felt so strongly about this that a few minutes after the meeting they informed one of the employees that his job had been terminated. That man was John Lasseter and that movie was 'The Brave Little Toaster'.

Although this story immediately provokes a feeling of outrage, animation fans like myself have a lot to thank Disney for. Their termination of Lasseter allowed him to pursue his interest in computer animation by setting up Pixar, a company who would eventually go on to make some of the greatest animated films of all time and put Disney's contemporary output completely in the shade. Their rejection of 'The Brave Little Toaster' also meant that it was taken instead to the independent Hyperion Pictures and made into an infinitely more charming, energetic and original production than would have been produced under Disney at this time.


'The Brave Little Toaster' is an indie film in the truest sense, produced against the odds but with a creative freedom that would doubtless have been reduced by studio interference. Disney backed the film by purchasing the television and video rights and Hyperion managed to gain further backing from a couple of other investors but the film went into production with a budget of only $2.3 million, compared to an average of $24 for Disney animated features of the time and about $12 million for Don Bluth films. Consequently, the animation has a cheap TV look to it but this is rendered entirely superfluous by the ample charm, energy and wit that characterises everything about 'The Brave Little Toaster'.

Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas M. Disch, 'The Brave Little Toaster' follows the adventures of five outdated appliances who have been abandoned by their "master" in his family's former home, a country cabin. Sick of waiting in false hope for his return, the appliances decide to set out on a journey to the city to track their master down. It sounds like a fairly standard, kiddy film concept but 'The Brave Little Toaster' actually turns out to have dark, melancholy atmosphere constantly bristling beneath its brightly rendered surface.

The melancholy and peril in 'The Brave Little Toaster' is more than balanced out by the cheeriness and originality of its comedy, the brightness and inventiveness of its visuals and the sweetness of its message. 'The Brave Little Toaster' is a film that transcends its modest budget to lodge itself in the viewers' hearts and minds. It certainly never left John Lasseter's head and proved to be a major influence on the classic 'Toy Story' series (1995-2010), with 'Toy Story 3' particularly betraying a strong influence. 'The Brave Little Toaster' is one of those rare 80s cartoons that is exactly as good as, if not better than, you remembered thanks to its refusal to talk down to children and its multiple age-range appeal. Whatever age you happen to be, it's not too late to discover this remarkable film for the first time.
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People who added this item 2655 Average listal rating (1676 ratings) 7.7 IMDB Rating 7.7
This fascinating adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel saw Henry Selick bounce back in style after a couple of misjudged failures ('James and the Giant Peach' and 'Monkeybone'). Unfortunately, since all the advertising proclaimed that 'Coraline' was from the director of 'The Nightmare Before Christmas', most people wrongly gave Tim Burton the credit for a film he wasn't even involved with. Selick's masterful handling of 'Coraline' tapped into an inspirational magic that the diminishing returns of Burton's catalogue has not come close to since his 1994 masterpiece 'Ed Wood'.

The story of a young girl who reluctantly moves to a three bedroom apartment with her parents and stumbles upon an alternate reality, which at first seems preferable to her own but ultimately reveals itself to have a horrifying price. Unlike many animated features, 'Coraline' is in no rush to get to its major set pieces and instead languishes in its atmosphere of thrilling uncertainty and chilling unfamiliarity. The stop motion animation is superb and there is plenty of wonderful visual moments throughout but 'Coraline' is perhaps most memorable for its deliberate pacing and sometimes frighteningly creepy air. A remarkable film, 'Coraline' had the misfortune to be nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar in one of the strongest years for the category, otherwise it would have been a shoe in.
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In a great year for animation, this beautiful hand-drawn treat became the surprise fifth nomination for Best Animated Feature Oscar. An Irish-French-Belgian production, 'The Secret of Kells' is a magical little dip into Irish mythology whch follows a fictionalised version of the creation of the Book of Kells. It follows the adventures of Brendan, an Abbot's nephew who is expected to follow in his uncles footsteps but has his own ideas. The Abbey which they inhabit is under threat from Vikings, which provides the film with a meaty, dark plot thrust which combines nicely with its magical supernatural elements, such as Brendan's wonderful journey into the forest and run in with a spirit. Director Tomm Moore and his team were influenced by Richard Williams lost masterpiece 'The Thief and the Cobbler' and this is clear in much of the animation, which can only be a good thing.
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Japanese director Mamora Hosoda started out by making feature length versions of popular franchises, such as several of the 'Digimon' movies. But in the mid 00s he moved away from this with his excellent 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time'. A compelling high school romance with a sci-fi element, 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time' is a beautiful assertion that Hosoda could do more than just rely on the pre-existing popularity of franchises.

Although the eventual conclusion of the story is not especially satisfying, the ride itself is great as we follow seventeen year old Makoto in her discovery that she can suddenly make time-leaps, a power that she exploits readily for the most trivial and selfish of reasons. Eventually, however, she comes to realise the effect this leaping around can have on others. Makoto is an endearingly klutzy heroine, emerging from her time-leaps entangled with objects she has collided with and, in one of the best scenes, utilising her powers in a futile attempt to escape a moment of social awkwardness which repeats with a relentless inevitability. Hosoda oversees this with the expertise of a great storyteller, something he followed through on with his superb next film 'Summer Wars'.
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Made as an attempt to fulfill The Beatles' contractual obligation to provide United Artists with a third film (following the classic 'Hard Day's Night' and the underrated fun of 'Help') that they wouldn't actually have to appear in, the animated Beatles adventure 'Yellow Submarine' actually emerged as an animation classic. Initially hoping to distance themselves from what they assumed would be an inferior product, the band ultimately loved the result so much that they requested to make a cameo appearance at the end (easily the cheesiest, weakest part of the movie!).

Rendered in a psychedelic style which provides a perfect aethetic match for the music and the sensibilities of the times, 'Yellow Submarine' benefits enormously from a witty script crammed full of puns, non-sequiturs and references to Beatles songs. The plot, in which the band travels to Pepperland in order to battle the Blue Meanies who are destroying the land with negativity, makes room for several fluid changes of animation style and incorporates many brilliant music video style asides for pre-existing and purpose-written Beatles songs.

With brilliant music, stunning, unusual animation, a fun plot and excellent voice acting, 'Yellow Submarine' exceeded all expectations to become one of the best loved animated features of its era.
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Based on the superb Raymond Briggs graphic novel of the same name and retaining Briggs's distinctive character designs, 'When the Wind Blows' is a satirical yet chilling depiction of a nuclear attack on the UK, as experienced by an elderly couple in Sussex. James and Hilda Bloggs are a simple, sweet pair and through their 80 minute running dialogue (as well as a few nicely placed stylised fantasy sequences) we get to know much about their life together across the years. This makes it all the more upsetting when the effects of the nuclear fallout begin to take hold and we watch them degenerate before our eyes.

'When the Wind Blows' has been called one of the most depressing animated films ever made (animation historian Jerry Beck put it in his top 3 most depressing, alongside 'The Plague Dogs' and 'Grave of the Fireflies'). It's also a film that is impossible to look away from. Beginning as a seemingly gently amusing satire on the complete ineffectual government pamphlets about creating a nuclear shelter, 'When the Wind Blows' quickly becomes much darker and, while it still features a bitter vein of comedy throughout, the overriding emotions become horror and sadness. The film is still enormously hard-hitting but would doubtless have been more so on its initial release, when the threat of nuclear war was a very real concern for many in the UK.
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Originally slated to be directed by brilliantly innovative animator John Hubley, this animated adaptation of Richard Adams' 'Watership Down' was handed over to producer Michael Rosen who did a phenomonal job in his directorial debut. Staying true to the dark, violent nature of the source text, Rosen's film is an unforgettable classic which has frightened and upset but also mesmerised generation after generation of children.

For years a reliable staple of UK Easter television schedules (because, y'know, it's got rabbits in... and snares... and veiled allusions to the Holocaust), 'Watership Down' is enduring proof that children don't all just want cuddly animals going on non-threatening adventures. The realstic rabbits are just barely anthropomophic and their personalities are given great depth by a veritable hall of fame of British thespians including John Hurt, Richard Briers, Ralph Richardson and Michael Hordern. Brilliantly providing the film's only comic relief is Zero Mostel as German seagull Keehar, who also introduced many children to the phrase 'Piss off'!

'Watership Down' is magical precisely because of its realism, offering an experience like few other animated films before it.
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After a series of brilliant TV specials, including the immortal 'A Charlie Brown Christmas', the Peanuts gang made the transition to the big screen with the first and by far the best of their four features, 'A Boy Named Charlie Brown'. Following the story of Charlie Brown's surprise success in a series of spelling bees, 'A Boy Named Charlie Brown' makes plenty of room in its episodic structure for all the comic strips best-loved features (Lucy's psychiatry booth and deceptive football trickery, Linus's attachment to his blanket, the kite eating tree, the Little League games).

However, alongside these comfortingly familiar asides, 'A Boy Named Charlie Brown' also distinguishes itself with a series of more unusual artistic moments. There are pop-art backgrounds, classical music recitals and a stylish, rotoscoped skating sequence starring the inimitable Snoopy. Also distinguishing the film from its lesser follow-ups are some enjoyable songs, a cracking jazz score from Vince Guaraldi (whose music enlivened all the early 'Peanuts' cartoons) and the fact that the irritating bird Woodstock doesn't appear, allowing Snoopy's pantomime antics to reach their exquisite peak without an unnecessary sidekick. While it may often be considered as just another in a long line of 'Peanuts' adaptations, anyone who takes the time to actually sit down and watch 'A Boy Named Charlie Brown' will surely discover that it is much, much more.
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People who added this item 964 Average listal rating (499 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 7.8
Growing up, American independent cinema was one of my passions and the diverse films of Richard Linklater were some of my favourites. I loved 'Dazed and Confused' and 'Before Sunrise' but, while I loved the premise, I never quite enjoyed his indie landmark 'Slacker' as much as I felt I should. I loved the idea of a largely plotless film that followed small moments in the lives of a series of different characters, the camera splintering off at will to follow a different person as they passed by on the street. However, the ramblings of the script largely bored me and I was left disappointed.

When Linklater revisited similar themes in his rotoscoped animation 'Waking Life' I half-expected more of the same but instead I found 'Waking Life' to be fascinating, funny and visually brilliant. I usually don't care to much for rotoscoping but Linklater uses it superbly here, with fanciful, colourful animations warping and morphing his characters in ways that reflect their words and personalities.

Unlike 'Slacker's looser structure, which was held together mainly by its focus on a particular type of generational archetype, 'Waking Life' is tied together by an ongoing plot in which the unnamed protagonist finds himself trapped in an ethereal dream state and speaks to many people in an attempt to work out just what is happening to him. The script consists of a series of small philosophical lectures and debates captured through the protagonists eyes as he drifts from place to place, sometime unseen and sometimes actively partaking in the discussions.

There is so much to take in from both the script and the visuals that 'Waking Life' is infinitely rewatchable. Food for the brain but also extremely entertaining, 'Waking Life' is a film that will appeal to some and bore the pants off others. But those who love it may, like me, consider it to be Linklater's best film, a largely undiscovered masterpiece.
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People who added this item 1920 Average listal rating (1259 ratings) 7.6 IMDB Rating 8
During the first decade of the 21st century, Brad Bird became one of the biggest names in animated features when he directed two of Pixar's best loved films. But before that he directed this modern classic, a charming and very funny blend of traditional animation with well-placed elements of computer animation. Based on Ted Hughes' novel 'The Iron Man', 'The Iron Giant' tells the story of a young boy named Hogarth who discovers a giant robot and befriends him against the backdrop of 1950s Cold War America. It sounds pretty straightforward, dull and sentimental from that synopsis and Warner Bros Animation's spectacular mismarketing of the film certainly painted it that way, turning a potential event of a film into a commercial failure.

Warner Bros Animation was struggling to recoup losses on their previous animated feature, 'Quest for Camelot', which failed due to the small matter of it being one of the worst animated features of all time. What Bird gave them in 'The Iron Giant' was an incredible leap forward, an intelligent, extremely funny film with wonderful visuals, a witty edge and the potential for mass appeal. Somehow they just didn't know what they had on their hands and 'The Iron Giant' fell by the wayside, only beginning to pick up some commercial success to match its critical plaudits when it was released on Home Video.

'The Iron Giant' is indeed a modern animation classic. In the title role, Vin Diesel is absolutely wonderful, making the giant one of the most effective pathos-evoking-gargantuans since the days of 'Frankenstein' and 'King Kong'. The warmth and charm of the visuals bring a real magic to proceedings but 'The Iron Giant' is far removed from the Disney style, pre-empting Bird's smart scripts for 'The Incredibles' and 'Ratatouille'. The character of Kent Mansley, a paranoid, ambitious government agent who serves as the film's unconventional villain, is one of the film's other major strengths. Wonderfully voiced by Christopher McDonald, Mansley is the sort of figure rarely found in animated family films but who injects a whole other level into the story and ultimately gives us a glimpse of the terrifying implications of Cold War paranoia.
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French animator Sylvain Chomet is one of my favourite animation directors of all time. He has only thus far directed two animated features and a short but oh, what masterpieces they are! Chomet's Oscar nominated short 'The Old Lady and the Pigeons' introduced his distinctive style, with pantomime dominating over dialogue and a fiendish sense of humour and fascination with the grotesque abounding.

Chomet's first feature, the gloriously inventive 'Triplets of Belleville' (aka 'Belleville Rendez-vous'), continues in this vein with an unusual plot involving the kidnapping of cyclists and the efforts of an elderly woman, her obese dog Bruno and three aged former vaudeville stars to rescue them. Beautiful to look at (in its own grotesque way), 'Triplets of Belleville' manages to combine a series of small ideas on a large canvas to create a world with its own rules and logic, where oceans can be crossed on pedalos and fat dogs can be used as spare tyres. Chomet could scarcely have made a more uniquely impressive debut and there was better yet to come.
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People who added this item 81 Average listal rating (36 ratings) 7.7 IMDB Rating 7.5
I grew up watching brilliant Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto's 'Mr. Rossi' cartoons but it was only as an adult that I discovered his classic animated feature 'Allegro non Troppo'. This astonishing work of brilliance is both a parody of and homage to Disney's 'Fantasia', the feature length anthology film of animated pieces inspired by and set to classical music. Disney's film has gone down in history as a masterpiece and it does feature some of the most beautiful animation of all time. But it also features abominabally kitschy sequences and interminably dull ones too. It is simultaneously admirably ambitious, breathtakingly wonderful and mind-numbingly pompous and overwrought.

While Disney must be congratulated for boundary pushing and for inspirational capacity, I ultimately much prefer Bozzetto's film. Although his animation style may at first seem primitive in comparison to Disney's, the film reaches epic heights in such sequences as Ravel's 'Bolero', in which some slime in the bottom of a cola bottle evolves steadily into a marching army of dinosaurs. Also widely celebrated is Sibelius's 'Valse triste', a sequence in which a cat wanders through the ruins of a destroyed house and remembers happier times through a series of ghostly images. In a film of primarily comic sequences it strikes a disarmingly tragic note, although the film's opening sequence involving an aging satyr coming to terms with his diminishing sexual capabilities also shares a sense of bittersweet pathos.

Between the animated sequences there are live action segments which are nowhere near as effective, relying on slightly over-the-top grotesquerie but this matters little when the animated sequences are so superb. Plus one of these live action sequences features a cameo by Bozzetto's most famous creation, Mr. Rossi, whom he callously burns to death!
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For those who have never heard of 'The Magic Roundabout' (or 'Le Manege echante' to give it its original name), it was a series of five minute French stop motion animations created by Serge Danot about an enchanted garden and its inhabitants. In the UK, the BBC purchased Danot's series but rather than translate the scripts or even confirm the official stories, they handed them to the superbly witty actor and presenter Eric Thompson (father of actress Emma Thompson), who created his own stories and characters just by watching the action.

Thompson's British version of the series picked up a huge cult following amongst adults, who often caught it in its timeslot just prior to the early evening news. The older generation appreciated Thompson's witty quips and references, many of which went right over the heads of children. When Danot created a full length feature film of the series then, it was only natural that Thompson should create and narrate his own spin on it. The fantastic 'Dougal and the Blue Cat' retains all the wit of the original series and adds a much darker edge in its plot about an evil, Yorkshire-accented cat named Buxton. Although not particularly well-known, this excellent spin-off film continued the show's cult following and has recently been released on DVD, partly thanks to the efforts of British film critic and lifelong fan Mark Kermode, who has long championed this little gem.
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Since I was very young I have loved Aardman Animations but I greatly preferred their numerous exceptional short films ('The Wrong Trousers' being one of the great masterpieces of the medium) to their disappointing features. I even found the much praised Wallace and Gromit feature 'Curse of the Were-Rabbit' to be overstretched and half-hearted. So I was delighted to see this cracking and extremely funny film live up to the charm of Aradman's short film catalogue.

Chock full of gags, many of them extremely clever, some delightfully silly, 'The Pirates! Bands of Misfits' (aka 'The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists') is a fast-moving, laugh a minute film which doesn't entirely sacrifice emotional involvement for the sake of a cheap laugh. In the central role of Pirate Captain, Hugh Grant gives his best performance and is practically unrecognisable. The stop motion animation is fantastic as always and all signs point to 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' becoming a firm favourite with animation fans.
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People who added this item 1033 Average listal rating (635 ratings) 5.9 IMDB Rating 6.5
'Hoodwinked!' was one of the earliest independently produced computer-animated features and, as such, if was made on a comparatively tight budget. As such, the bulk of its reviews focused not on the excellent script, the strong voice-acting or the easy charm but instead spent the majority of their column space complaining about the visuals. Most reviews understandably compared 'Hoodwinked!' to the Shrek franchise but said that it was let down in relation to that by its cheap animation. In fact, the animation makes the best of its financial restrictions by opting for a charming imitation of the stop-motion style, with the cumbersome characters resembling clay models in their design and movements. It adds to the storybook feel, which is so deftly subverted (but, crucially, not cynically undermined) by the 'Rashomon' inspired story, in which the well-known moment when Red Riding Hood goes to visit her Granny becomes a cordoned-off crime scene, in which the Wolf, Red, Granny and the Woodsman are all held in custody and asked to give their side of the story, with every tale introducing new and important details which cast the previous information in a whole new light. It's cleverly constructed and consistently funny, which makes the critical drubbing it received even more frustratingly superficial. As far as I'm concerned, 'Hoodwinked!' could have been advertised with the tagline 'Better than Shreks!'
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As an animation enthusiast, the discovery of Ivo Caprino's Norwegian stop-motion animated film 'Pinchcliffe Grand Prix' was a dream come true. Although it is largely unknown in Britain, 'Pinchcliffe Grand Prix' remains the biggest box office hit of all time in Norway, where it sold 5.5 million tickets in a country with a population of 4.9 million! It is also shown on TV every Christmas in Norway in the same way that Wallace and Gromit make annual festive airings over here.

The plot of 'Pinchcliffe Grand Prix' is simple, even if some elements sound a tad bizarre. Bicycle repair man Theodore Rimspoke lives at the top of very large mountain, the irony being that no-one would go that far to get their bike fixed, especially since they couldn't ride it! Consequently, Theodore spends most of his time tinkering with amateur inventions. Theodore lives with his two animal companions, Sonny Duckworth, an optimistic bird, and Lambert, a melancholy, nervous hedgehog. Seeing in the news that Theodore's former assistant, Rudolph Gore-Slimey, has stolen the plans for his racing car engine and subsequently become Formula One World Champion, the trio set about building a rival car called Il Tempo Gigante, with which to challenge Gore-Slimey's ill-gotten World Champion title.

'Pinchcliffe Grand Prix' will be of special interest to car lovers and especially Formula One fans. I am neither but the joy I got from the animation and incredible action sequences, I can well imagine being mirrored in Grand Prix lovers by the exquisitely realised atmosphere of a race day and the fetishistic focus on the building of the car. After its slow start, the film begins to pick up pace with the construction of Il Tempo Gigante, a midnight sabotage scene and a chaotic, superbly inventive and exhiliratingly unneccesary musical interlude! But the real draw for most viewers will be the race itself. After the lovably gentle opening hour, the Grand Prix of the title takes up the entire final third of the film and is every bit as exciting as you might hope. A surprising and delightful treat for those watching the British dub is that the voiceover duties for the last half hour are almost entirely taken over by none other than Formula One legend Murray Walker, who provides a running commentary on the race.
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When making this list I took the tough decision of excluding Studio Ghibli films as I felt the majority of them had become too well known to feature on a list intended to highlight overlooked animated features. But there are undoubtedly films released by that wonderful studio which have not become as famous as their hits 'Spirited Away', 'Princess Mononoke' and 'My Neighbour Totoro'. The likes of 'Whisper of the Heart', 'Only Yesterday' and 'My Neighbours the Yamadas' are just a few examples of treasurable, lesser known films released by Ghibli.

So it gave me great pleasure to realise that my Ghibli ban did not extend to Hayao Miyazaki's first feature 'The Castle of Cagliostro', which predated the founding of the Ghibli studio. Based on manga series 'Lupin III', 'The Castle of Cagliostro' is one of several films about the master thief Arsene Lupin and his determined nemesis Inspector Zenigata. Fans of the series often criticise the film for being less edgy and making the main character less flawed and more heroic, but having seen other examples of the Lupin series I much prefer Miyazaki's version.

A thrilling, old-fashioned action adventure tale which evokes memories of great Saturday morning cartoons but features much higher production values and script quality, 'The Castle of Cagliostro' finds the genius of Miyazaki arriving fully formed and the talent that would go on to produce fantastical classics like 'Castle in the Sky' and 'Spirited Away' is clearly in evidence. The film has a slightly more irreverent edge than some of the more famous Miyazaki films but this would resurface in his wonderful adult noir-fantasy 'Porco Rosso'.
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Based on a puppetoon series from Belgium, this big screen version of 'A Town Called Panic' was one of the most unexpected delights of 2009. The story of three small plastic figurines, Cowboy, Indian and Horse, and their surreal adventures, 'A Town Called Panic' is frantically animated with tiny little plastic toys. It needs to be watched on as big a screen as possible just for the sake of the viewer's eyes! The plot jumps from one wacky event to the next with a strange sort of nonsense-logic and the fact that it's all in French with subtitles somehow makes it all even funnier. Although it is quite, quite bonkers, 'A Town Called Panic' is also tremendous fun and seems to charm many an unsuspecting viewer who will ultimately say 'What the hell was that?! I loved it!'
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People who added this item 248 Average listal rating (167 ratings) 7.9 IMDB Rating 8.2
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Like so many people my age, I grew up loving the books of Roald Dahl. However, decades of Dahl's work being mishandled has eroded any interest I might have had in forthcoming movies based on his work. the news that Wes Anderson was to write and direct the film made it irresistible to me. Anderson has been one of the most unusual and consistently brilliant directors of recent times. His distinctive sense of humour, deadpan style and excellent repertory cast (including such talents as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman) have resulted in an as yet unsoiled catalogue of astonishing films. And yet I couldn't quite imagine how these two very different visionaries could fit together and create something worthy of either of them. It took about 20 minutes for me to realise how Anderson had got around the problems of making a successful Roald Dahl film: he hadn't made a Roald Dahl film at all. He'd taken the excellent source materiel as a starting point and then proceeded to mould it into something instantly recognisable as a Wes Anderson film.

Anderson has added a few well-judged extra plot points and characters to flesh out the story but he maintains the quirky feel of Dahl's book by opting to tell his story with traditional stop motion animation. The animal puppets are impressive, slightly grotesque creations inspired by the pioneering animated feature 'The Story of the Fox'. The sets are all magnificent and the whole film has a gorgeous, Autumnal look. The voice cast is headed up by George Clooney and Meryl Streep, both great in their roles as Mr. and Mrs. Fox, and also features Anderson regulars Schwartzman, Murray and Wilson. The cast, particularly Clooney and Schwartzman, all give beautifully understated performances as they rattle off Anderson's hysterically funny dialogue. Anderson also takes a gamble by opting to include another of his trademarks, an impeccably chosen soundtrack of classic pop music. The thought of 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' set to the sounds of The Beach Boys' 'Heroes and Villains' or The Rolling Stones 'Street Fightin' Man' may sound ludicrous on paper but the gamble pays off and it works brilliantly. Again, this is due to the fact that 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' is far more a Wes Anderson film than it is a Roald Dahl one and in a Wes Anderson film we expect the great music to be present.

'Fantastic Mr. Fox' is not a children's film at all. It is tailored much more towards an adult sensibility. There are one or two big laughs for the kids but overall the humour comes largely from character traits and exquisitely hilarious turns of phrase which are funny for no discernible reason. It takes a truly incredible film to win my vote for best animated film of the year in the same year that Pixar released the masterful 'Up' and Henry Selick's 'Coraline' was also released. And yet, with its beautiful visuals and exceptional script, 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' has not just done that but has managed to vie for the title of best film of any kind for that particular year. It's a subtle, hilarious, expertly judged and infinitely rewatchable piece of work that I will return to again and again. Finally, Anderson has given us a Dahl adaptation to treasure.
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My favourite of Satoshi Kon's feature animations, 'Tokyo Godfathers' is a Chrismtas masterpiece about coincidences and miracles. Following the story of three homeless people who discover a baby in the trash on Christmas Eve and set out to find its parents, 'Tokyo Godfathers' presents us with an unconventional surrogate family whose up and down relationship with one another and the effect the baby has on it is the heart of the film. The plot is straightforward but full of surprises and the suspension of disbelief required to buy the conincidences becomes irrelevant as they mount up and we realise that this is one of the film's major themes. The dialogue and growing relationship between the three main characters, an alcoholic, a transwoman and a runaway girl, is fantastic and as we follow their adventure we steadily learn more about their lives and what drove them onto the streets. 'Tokyo Godfathers' is a masterpiece and perfect Christmas viewing for those who want something a little different but that will still give them that heartwarming glow.
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People who added this item 201 Average listal rating (119 ratings) 7.8 IMDB Rating 7.9
Masaaki Yuasa's bizarre, stylistically diverse 'Mind Game' is indeed an entertaining workout for the brain. The story leaps about all over the place and it is impossible to guess where it will go next. To say too much about the plot would be to ruin the experience of seeing where it goes but it is not too much of a giveaway to say this is a film that deals with multiple potential timelines, shapeshifting supreme beings, awkward long-term loves and dysfunctional families, all while employing constantly changing animation styles, sometimes shifting with mind-boggling abruptness. Praised by no lesser animation greats than Bill Plympton and Satoshi Kon, 'Mind Game' starts out with some rather unpleasant scenes of violence and juvenile humour. But viewers who are not put off by this will find that this quickly wanes in favour of a less in-your-face, sometimes even cerebral tone. Fans of strong narratives may be disappointed but fans of the experimental will find much to enjoy here and what initially seems like an incoherent splurge in places becomes clearer with subsequent viewings. There's much to unlock in the climactic montage, which has a hypnotic beauty that is worth watching 'Mind Game' for alone.
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Easily one of Dreamworks finest films, 'How to Train Your Dragon' is a great, fast-moving mythical adventure film with plenty of the emotional depth that is often thrown over in favour of relentless gags in other Dreamworks films. The story of Hiccup, a teenage Viking who forsakes his tribe's dragon-killing traditions and instead befriends one, 'How to Train Your Dragon' has a good story and great visuals, making for an immersive experience rather than just an amusing distraction. Though popular, 'How to Train Your Dragon' unfortunately coincided with 'Toy Story 3', which somewhat over shadowed it, but it was deservedly nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar in one of the strongest years for the category. In several other years it may have been my choice but this year it had to also contend with 'The Illusionist', one of the finest animated features of recent times. Still, we shouldn't fall into the trap of defining 'How to Train Your Dragon' only in relation to other films. It's a thrilling, hugely enjoyable family film with an edge of emotional realism that balances its fantastical plot.
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Several of the earliest animated features used the medium of stop-motion puppets. The earliest to do so was Aleksandr Ptushko's Soviet stop-motion/live action hybrid 'The New Gulliver', an amusing early animated film of limited appeal. Germany's 'The Seven Ravens' was also an early stop-motion feature but clearly the first truly great film using this form of animation was Ladislas Starevich's 'The Story of the Fox'. Although it was completed as early as 1930 in terms of animation, 'The Story of the Fox' did not get a release until 1937, the same year as 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs', although it still beat Disney's film to screens by several months.

Based on the famous Renard the Fox fables, 'The Story of the Fox' may be hard to stomach for modern audiences used to good triumphing over evil in every narrative. Here, our main hero is in fact an amoral rogue who commits acts of mischevious anarchy, unprovoked brutality and even red-toothed murder. His ultimate fate displays a satirical cynicism rarely seen in films of this era. It's genuinely wonderful to see these early, scraggly stop-motion puppets come to life and their wirey, slightly grotesque appearaces are a clear and acknowledged influence on Wes Anderson's superb 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' some seventy years down the line.
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People who added this item 429 Average listal rating (255 ratings) 7.5 IMDB Rating 7.6
Mamoru Hosoda's next film after 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time' was this even better animated feature. 'Summer Wars' is a fast moving comedy adventure in which a gifted maths student, Kenji, is forced to pose as an acquaintances fiance when she visits her oddball extended family for her great grandmother's 90th birthday. On top of this, Kenji also becomes entangled in an online war when a stranger begins destroying the virtual reality online world he is a moderator for. Things escalate from there in both domestic and online warfare, with the stakes ramping up to unexpectedly dire levels. 'Summer Wars' is a consistently thrilling animated take on the Summer blockbuster, with plenty of thrills and laughs, lively characters and attractive artwork. A real blast and a promising sign that Hosoda is becoming one of the most inventive living animation directors.
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To say I have mixed feelings about 'The Phantom Tollbooth' is an understatement. If I had to name the two strongest influences on my pre-teen youth, Norton Juster's book 'The Phantom Tollbooth' and the cartoons of Chuck Jones would be high on the list of contenders. So a film adaptation of Juster's book directed by Jones should have been a dream come true. 'The Phantom Tollbooth's only crime then is not living up to insurmountable expectations.

'The Phantom Tollbooth' really is an unbelieveably special book to me. It taught me about wordplay and that learning was a good thing and not something to be avoided and derided. It was given to me by my Dad, which will always make it a tear-jerkingly happy memory of the first time I shared something on an intellectual level with my own father. Add to this the fact that the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons are and always will be some of my favourite creations of all time and a major factor in the developement of my sense of humour, and 'The Phantom Tollbooth' never had a chance of living up to expectations.

What Chuck Jones's 'The Phantom Tollbooth' is is an inventive, fun, enjoyable feature with lots of great characters, warm visuals and even some good songs. What it isn't is the world of wonderment that the source novel unlocked in my mind as an impressionable little boy. What it also isn't is 'One Froggy Evening', 'What's Opera Doc', 'Duck Amuck' or any number of the seven minute masterpieces that Jones directed in his heyday at Warner Bros. It doesn't even quite live up to later Jones classics like 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' or his other short adaptation of a Norton Juster story, 'The Dot and the Line'.

I'd recommend 'The Phantom Tollbooth' to animation fans and almost guarantee that if you didn't grow up with the book then you'll have a good time with the film. And there are flashes of Chuck Jones's genius in sequences such as the Doldrums sequence. But ultimately, though I like it as a stand alone piece, I suppose 'The Phantom Tollbooth' will always be to me a bit of a missed opportunity.
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This little-seen version of Lewis Caroll's 'Alice in Wonderland' was a joint British/French production, directed by Dallas Bower but dominated by the wonderful if slightly creepy (as befits the material) stop-motion puppets of French animation pioneer Lou Bunin. Framed by live action sequences and starring a live action Alice, the film is thoroughly charming if flawed (the songs, for instance, are half-realised at best) and deserves to be more widely recognised.

Unfortunately a bullying Disney also planned to release their own version of 'Alice in Wonderland' (which emerged two years later) and embroiled the makers of this version in an unsuccessful but damaging legal dispute. While neither film proved to be a commercial success, Disney's version found latter day fame through television screenings and rereleases, while Bower and Bunin's film has sunk almost without trace.
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People who added this item 504 Average listal rating (258 ratings) 7.4 IMDB Rating 7.5
Rankin/Bass's 'The Last Unicorn' is a largely forgotten and underrated fantasy adventure with a cult following of viewers who grew up with the film. I came to the film much later and was fairly skeptical as most of its admirers seemed to be viewing it through rose-tinted glasses. But I was pleasantly surprised. Although the animation is fairly standard, it also has the charm of a really good Saturday morning cartoon and the character designs, particularly some of the supporting players, are warm and fun. The storyline is unusual and features some moments of real peril and imagination, while the starry voice cast is superb and lifts the film still further.
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During the golden age of animated cinematic shorts, Fleischer studios was one of the major players, giving the world Popeye and Betty Boop and trumping its rivals for wild, surreal audacity. Cartoons like the Popeye colour specials and the studios own 1933 take on 'Snow White' live on as classics in a league of their own. Perhaps it was only natural then that Fleischer studios would follow in Disney's footsteps and create an animated feature.

With a smaller budget and timescale, 'Gulliver's Travels' was never going to rival Disney's 'Snow White...' for visual beauty. But given that the film has slipped into relative obscurity, it may be surprising to many to find that it's a classic in its own right.

Focusing mainly on a reimagining of Gulliver's adventures in Lilliput, 'Gulliver's Travels' features several memorably unusual characters such as town cryer Gabby and villains Sneak, Snoop and Snitch (all of whom were given short-lived spin-off cartoon series), voiced by cartoon legends Pinto 'Goofy' Colvig and Jack 'Popeye' Mercer. Cartoon writer extraordinaire Tedd Pierce also lends his vocal talents to the production.

One of the most memorable elements of the Fleischer's 'Gulliver's Travels' is its beautiful use of rotoscoping. A technique invented by the Fleischers which involves tracing live action footage frame by frame, rotoscoping is an animation technique I usually can't abide (as frequently used in the ugly films of Ralph Bakshi, one independent animation name you will not find on this list). However, the Fleischers use the technique perfectly to animate the conspicuouly human Gulliver, suitably differentiating him from the more cartoony antics of the Lilliputians that surround him. 'Gulliver's Travels' is a wonderful film. A box office hit at the time, it has become somewhat forgotten in light of Disney's barrage of early classics. I urge all animation fans to see it and enjoy the significantly different leisurely pacing and Fleischer gift for the absurd, the grotesque and the blackly comic.
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Makoto Shinkai has been hastily called 'the new Miyazaki' by several sources, a claim which to his credit he deems an overestimation. Shinkai's films are unlike Miyazaki's in both style and content and I find Shinkai's work, while often visually beautiful, suffers from a rigidity that dogs much Japanese animation. And yet, with '5 Centimeters per Second' Shinkai has overcome these shortcomings with a concise, touching romance in which the emotional content justifies the grandeur of Shinkai's superbly detailed background art.

The story of Takaki Tono's relationship with his school friend Akari as it develops and changes across the years. The film is presented in three segments, vignettes which examine this relationship from several different angles. 'Act 1: Cherry Blossom' is the finest of these vignettes, as Takaki struggles to make the journey to see his friend in severe weather conditions. Shinkai beautifully depicts the frustration and despair experienced by Takaki as each delay makes it less and less likely that Akari will be waiting for him. '5 Centimeters per Second' does occasionally have a tendency to drift towards pseudo-spiritual nonsense and teenage sensibilites but ultimately it emerges as a multi-layered and satisfyingly unconventional narrative. At barely a hour in length, '5 Centimeters per Second' is worth a look even for the least romantic animation fan.
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One of a handful of traditionally animated films made by Dreamworks, 'Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron' is a surprisingly good film from a studio whose work (a few exceptions aside, as we shall see) often leaves me cold. A 19th century Western following the fortunes of a stallion who becomes separated from his herd and encounters humans for the first time, 'Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron' is unusual in that its titular hero is not anthropomorphic but instead portrayed with relative realism. Spirit is given a voice by Matt Damon but this is only heard in narration. While it may have been more interesting to portray Spirit's emotions through gestures alone, the narration is not detrimentally distracting from the often exciting action scenes. Far more distracting is Bryan Adams' typically sappy music which appears far too regularly. Most laughable of all is a rocker called 'Get Off My Back', which mars an otherwise amusing scene in which Spirit continually ejects an unwanted rider.
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Based on John Gardner's novel 'Grendel', which retells the 'Beowulf' legend from the point of view of the monster Grendel, Alexander Stitt's very funny and unusual Australian animation should please adults and children alike. For adults there is the cerebral subject matter (a small amount of knowledge about 'Beowulf' helps a great deal) and the voice talents of Peter Ustinov as the titular monster. For children there are the antics the daft inhabitants of the kingdom and the simple but effective animation style which is colourful and pleasingly basic.

As an adult with an actively nurtured inner-child, 'Grendel Grendel Grendel' appealed to me across the board. True, there are a handful of seriously awful musical numbers to get through but those aside, I smiled all the way through this film. It evoked childhood favourite like 'Danger Mouse', 'Count Duckula' and 'Victor and Hugo', albeit with a greater literary underpinning. Given its overall tone, the final emotionally affecting moments are surprising but fitting and effective.
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French animator Michel Ocelot is one of the most exciting names working in animation today. His films and storytelling style are so completely different to that of mainstream American and British animation that they feel like a breath of fresh cinematic air. Ocelot's debut feature 'Kirikou and the Sorceress' is the enchanting tale of a newborn West African child who, despite being excessively tiny, can immediately walk, talk and, through sheer determination, save his village from the clutches of an evil witch. Drawn from elements of West African folk tales, 'Kirikou and the Sorceress' evokes this atmosphere with its vivid, beautiful colours and its extremely effective two-dimensional animation style. Kirikou is such an appealing protagonist and the story moves quickly and is filled with wonderful little scenes and flourishes, as well as some great music. 'Kirikou and the Sorceress' proved successful enough to inspire two further Kirikou films, 'Kirikou and the Wild Beasts', and 'Kirikou and the Men and Women'.
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People who added this item 53 Average listal rating (26 ratings) 7.1 IMDB Rating 7.2
'Robot Carnival' is an absolutely brilliant though largely unknown Japanese anthology film that was released in Japan in 1987 but only reached Western audiences in 1991. Featuring eight stories by different directors, all of which involve robots in some way, 'Robot Carnival' features several different styles and, more importantly, different tones which makes it constantly interesting and entertaining. The sequences themselves are of extremely high quality, the one exception being the so-so sci-fi action hokum of 'Deprive'.

Elsewhere there is the blackly comic mad scientist shaggy dog story 'Franken's Gears', the teenage girl romance of 'Star Light Angel', the avant garde beauty of 'Cloud' and the comedy action propoganda spoof of 'A Tale of Two Robots'. All are impressive but the clear highlights are the hauntingly melancholy 'Presence', in which an emotionallly isolated man creates and then destroys a robot woman, an action which stays with him for the rest of his life, and 'Nightmare', a darkly funny horror which simultaneously pays tribute to two Disney films, 'Fantasia' and 'The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad'.

Perhaps my favourite of all though are the film's opening, closing and epilogue sections by Katsuhiro Otomo ('Akira'), in which a literal robot carnival, a gigantic machine originally intended for entertainment, has become a rampaging, rusted weapon of destruction.
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'The Monkey King', more commonly known as 'Havoc in Heaven' or 'Uproar in Heaven', is considered one of the pinnacles of Chinese animation. Made by all four of the Wan brothers, the pioneering Chinese animators who also made China's first animated feature 'Princess Iron Fan', 'Havoc in Heaven' is a sumptuous visual experience filled with humour, action and a free-flowing animation style that makes many of its contemporaries seem stiff by comparison.

Based on the classical Chinese novel 'Journey to the West', this gorgeous film tells the story of Sun Wukong, aka Monkey. This seemingly indestructible simian king lives an idyllic life on the Flower and Fruit Mountain but his arrogant, self-aggrandizing ways anger the Gods who first try to control him and then to destroy him. Split into two seperate parts, 'Havoc in Heaven' essentially repeats itself, twice showing Sun being invited to Heaven, causing chaos and then having to fight those he has offended. But the story is certainly not the main attraction of 'Havoc in Heaven'. What makes it such a remarkable film is its beautifully loose, vibrantly colourful animation and its extended, balletic fight scenes set to a thunderous percussion soundtrack.
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Directed by John Korty and produced by George Lucas, 'Twice Upon a Time' is a wonderful and wonderfully weird comedy adventure. Using a primitive but effective style of animation in which plastic cutouts are moved on a light table, 'Twice Upon a Time' feels like a companion piece to 'Grendel Grendel Grendel' in its easy charm, its combination of the silly and clever and its winning simplicity.

Although the story is all over the place (intentionally and not to the film's detriment), 'Twice Upon a Time' is often hilarious in its non-sequiturs, beautifully delivered by a voice cast made up mostly of improvisational comedians. Animation fans will probably recognise Lorenzo Music (who voiced Garfield and Peter Venkman in 'The Real Ghostbusters') as Ralph the All-Purpose Animal, a droll shape-shifter who acts as the film's unlikely hero. Also excellent are Judith Kahan as a down-to-earth Fairy Godmother and Marshall Efron as the villain of the piece, Synonamess Botch. Best of all though is James Cranna in the roles of Scuzzbopper (gotta love those names), a shrill voiced jester, and hysterically self-centred and useless superhero Rod Rescueman.

Although some may find it overwhelmingly weird at first (the film opens with some of its most outlandishly illogical narrative backflips, such as Ralph and Mumford's attempts to take out the trash), once you settle into the film's rhythm and style it is a treat throughout. 'Twice Upon a Time' is currently hard to come by due to its release in several versions, including one featuring some swearing which director John Korty has long attempted to suppress. My advice would be to watch any version of this lovely film, should you be so lucky as to stumble on the opportunity.
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As an obsessive lover of the medium of animation, I have always loved the masterworks of Disney, the modern classics of Pixar and the breathtaking Japanese animated films of Studio Ghibli. Most people are familiar with the films from these three sources but to stop at that is to miss out on whole other worlds of animated brilliance. This is my attempt to compile as definitive a list of the lesser known animated feature films I love as possible. The only rule is that they cannot be the work of any of the three studios named above and I must deem the films worthy of inclusion (you'll notice many famous absences, including the overrated 'Shrek' series and the horrendous mess that was 'Happy Feet'). I intend to keep adding to this list as I see more of these gems so if you have any suggestions or recommendations please leave a comment and I will endeavour to follow them up.

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