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Tom W.

The Iron Giant

Thomas

Ugh, the Incredibles? Pixar may have a near-perfect record, but that one is fascist, Randian propaganda, through and through.

I'm partial to FLCL.

Claire

Lance I'm sorry to hear you didn't like Ratatouille. I loved it. The rats reminded me of the rats from Henson's world and Remy himself reminded me a bit of a Fraggle (I think it was his work ethic and the slight aqua blue sheen to his fur). I love cartoons, though. Love them.

I agree with you that the best Disney stuff came in the early 90s, the Little Mermaid through Lion King. One of my all-time favorite cartoons, though, is Spirited Away. Have your boys seen that? It's magical on a whole other plane.

norbizness

And Iron Giant was also directed by Brad Bird, who's gone computerized. Of course, back in the day, he did the original animations for Krusty the Klown.

For unique looks, Japanimation is the way to go: Metropolis, Millennium Actress, Spirited Away, etc.

Kevin Wolf

Oh, man. I've always loved cartoons, ever since I was little. I have strong opinions on this stuff.

I, too, definitely prefer drawn cartoons to computer animation. Even with the advances of recent years, I find the computer stuff cold, too "perfect." I've only seen bits of Toy Story and it didn't do a thing for me. Monsters, Inc was good but not due to the animation. (I'll admit that part of the lack of appeal for me is the smart-alecky semi-adult attitude displayed in a lot of these movies. Shrek I found unbearable.)

Give me old fashioned animation any day. I can happily kill and hour or two watching Jonny Quest.

Looney Tunes are just plain great, and it's here that I can say, yes, the drawing is a big part of that, at least when it's a Chuck Jones cartoon. I love the expressions. Between his pencil and Mel Blanc's voice, they created some truly classic comedy.

And let's not knock Disney. No way, no how is 90s Disney the cream of their crop. (Nor is it the nadir. That was Peter Pan and Alice In Wonderland.) There is some great work in Dumbo (love that movie), Bambi and Pinocchio (they don't move me but have spectacular animation sequences), 101 Dalmatians (great characters), and others like Lady & the Tramp. My personal pick for what may be the best Disney feature, at least in terms of design and animation, is the woefully underrated movie Sleeping Beauty.

It is perhaps design, more than drawing per se, that makes a cartoon stand out - even those with rudimentary animation. I recommend anything from the UPA studios in the 1950s; early Hanna-Barbera TV cartoons, like Yogi Bear (voice work helped here too); John K's Ren & Stimpy; and some of the new stuff like Power Puff Girls.

Karen

The only American animated film that I've really loved--hard-core, to-the-bone LOVED--is "The Iron Giant." That is, apart from early animated works like "Sleeping Beauty" and "Fantasia," which were like magic to me, growing up.

Clearly, I tend to like animated films that are more painterly, which is why I'm so in love with high-level Japanese animation. Not only are the stories sophisticated and the characters fascinating, but you can get lost in the screens, which are to a great extent done by hand. Most everyone knows about Hayao Miyazaki, because he's won all those Oscars (my favorite of his is the very simple, very lovely, "My Neighbor Totoro," followed by the magical story of "Spirited Away"). But two other Japanese animators whose work I follow religiously are Satoshi Kon and Isao Takahata. Kon did the recently released "Paprika," as well as the wondrous "Millennium Actress," and Takahata did the haunting "Grave of the Fireflies" and "Only Yesterday" (the latter, sadly, not yet available on DVD, though TCM actually ran it during their anime festival last year).

But I think comparing "Ratatouille" to Bugs Bunny is apples and oranges, as a feature-length film is by its nature different from a 5- to 10-minute long cartoon.

I think the nature of the animation is important in a film, but the mood it strikes is also key. Watching the promos for "Surf's Up," I was offended as much by the soullessness of the CGI as by the crass, easy laugh-lines. Too much modern American animation is devoted to cheap, self-referential, post-modern humor, that no one will even understand 30 years from now. The first Shrek film made me laugh, but then I felt guilty about it--did I really need to see yet ANOTHER "The Matrix" reference, as Fiona's kick attack froze her in midair?

I like smart story-telling as well as creative animation. So I watch "South Park" and "The Venture Brothers" and "Sealab 2021"--etc, etc, etc.

But, in all honesty, even though Brad Bird directed "Ratatouille," I've been reluctant to go, because I'm not crazy about the computer-animation style. Which may only be because it reminds me of so much I hate on other levels.

Ken Muldrew

Hey, Daddy-o! Louis Prima blows crazy for Disney. That was a real hot plate, baby. Ya boot? And them skins were jumpin'!!! Vout!

Any fans of Bromwell High here?

Idyllopus

"Masters of Russian Animation". If that doesn't change your outlook on animation then I don't know what will. With most there is no separating the animation from the story. Would be like trying to separate the yolk from the white in scrambled eggs.

As Karen says above, if you're unfamiliar with the Hayao Miyazaki movies, you really shoud check them out. "Howl's Moving Castle", "Spirited Away", "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Castle in the Sky". They're exceptional. I think "Spirited Away" is my favorite.

Power Puff Girls, the design elements are wonderful, and many of the stories are hysterical.

I'm pretty fond of Courage the Cowardly Dog.

Linkmeister

No love for moose and squirrel?

Bruce Hughes

For my part, I like "Samurai Jack" just for the art.

Rana

Here's another one for Miyazaki - the level of detail (in one scene in "My Neighbor Totoro" the girls' socks can be seen getting dusty as they play), the creativity, the gentleness (balanced with savagery in the more adult films, like Princess Mononoke), the weird quirkiness...

His work is a perfect demonstration of why animation should be used - to tell stories that would otherwise be impossible to duplicate in the real world.

burritoboy


One, we do need to note that a lot of animation isn't drawing (claymation, puppeteering, etc).

Jiri Barta's Krysar (1985) has no spoken lines (at least, no spoken lines in any human language), so that would be my nomination. It does have a plot (the Pied Piper story), but it's wonderful primarily for the design of it's puppets and sets (largely cubist in design). A great, great animated film.

Here's my list of notables:

Jiri Barta's Krysar (1985)
Alexander Alexeieff's Night on Bald Mountain (1933) pin-a-mation (again, no dialogue)
Anthony Gross / Hector Hoppin's La joie de vivre (1934) no dialogue
Syd Garon / Eric Henry's Wave Twisters: Episode 7 Million, Sonic Wars within the Protons! (2001) music by the immortal Invisibl Skratch Piklz
Yuri Norstein's The Battle of Kerzhenets (1971)no dialogue
Yuri Norstein's Hedgehog in the Fog (1975)
Wladyslaw Starewicz'The Revenge of the Kinematograph Operator (1912) has dialogue through intertitles

Elayne Riggs

My favorite animated movie is still Fantasia, with The Little Mermaid coming in a close second.

Karen

Good point, burritoboy--there's more to animation than drawing. On that note, you should also check out the mind-blowing paper-cuts animation of "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" (aka "Die Abenteur des Prinzen Achmed") by a pioneer woman of animation--Lotte Reininger. She made these paper cutouts dance in 1926. You can Netflix it.

And, Linkmeister, good call, too: great love for Moose and Squirrel here. In fact, I got my brother the collected three seasons of Rocky and Bullwinkle for his birthday, as Jay Ward is one of his personal heroes. But I'm not sure I ever watched it for its animation--more for the smartest writing of the 1960s.

Campaspe

Wallace and Gromit, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and anything from the great Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng.

solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short

Y'know how Snow White had rosey cheeks? That's one animator dabbing each individual cel with her own rouge, the night before deadline, because the face just looked too flat.

I bristle at computer-generated anything; I was such a devourer of genre fare in the 80s that my eyes and brain grew up on practical effects, and now those little ones and zeros SHALL NOT PASS. (Once in a while I'm impressed; The FX team that did "Firefly" and now "Battlestar" knows how to convey weight and mass, mostly by staging the action through the eye of a "camera" that gets knocked around)

Favorite animated movie: "The Transformers." So dark it makes Don Bluth look like the guys Don Bluth rebelled against.

Greg

My favorite animated film is Waking Life. That's also my favorite animation method, and it's a shame it's not put to more use.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Another vote for the wonders of Spirited Away and Waking Life, both wonderful movies with an essential visual style. I also reccomend "Ghost In the Shell" (though not the completely incoherent sequel). Sort of the animated equivalent of Blade Runner in its mournful tone, with an admirable willingness to stop the plot in favor of atmospheric street scenes.

burritboy


Well, if you're going to mention Waking Life (which I can't believe I forgot to mention) what about Linklater's A Scanner Darkly?

I like the Hubley's Cockaboody (1974) too, as well as Norman McLaren's Boogie-Doodle (1948).

And how could I forget one of the finest animated movies ever - McDull, Prince de la Bun (2004)? (it has it all - talking pigs, falling skyscrapers, a classroom full of talking animals whose parents all believe they're gifted, a crazy version of Hong Kong, chinese cooking, a talking pizza). Pure greatness. There isn't an English subtitled DVD though yet. But there is a DVD out of My Beautiful Girl, Mari which I think is really wonderful too.

Geoduck

My favorite is probably Yellow Submarine. Obviously not for all tastes.

Also, it's no classic or anything, but I gotta throw some love to Disney's The Emperor's New Groove. /Very/ atypical, in a good way: lots of wacky self-referential humor, only one quick song (performed by Tom Jones, of all people), the genius that is Patrick Warburton, and no love interest. If nothing else, the film proved it is actually possible to make David Spade bareable.

mac macgillicuddy

I, too, have never been a big fan of cartoons because they were cartoons. I either liked the characters or I didn't. I loved moose and squirrel, and Underdog, and Tennessee Tuxedo, but probably not because of their artwork. That was probably lost on me, but I'll remember, "Theeeeere's no need to feaaaar!!! Unnnderdog is heeere!" always.

I do like claymation, though. For that reason, Wallace and Grommit was good, because until we went to see that one, I'd thought claymation was out. It's probably expensive to do. And there's the problem of what to do with the leftover clay after each frame.

Jennifer

If we're going into claymation, you can't leave out Gumby, Pokey and the Blockheads.

Ken Houghton

A Scanner Darkly is sad; Philip K. Dick's most film-worthy novel, wasted.

Things I Watched for the animation: Kimba, probably Prince Planet. Maybe Astro Boy.

Things I Still Watch for the Animation: Dumbo, maybe 101 Dalmatians.

Things that were Animated, but it wasn't a reason to watch them: Moose and Squirrel, Secret Squirrel, Atom Ant, and most of all probably Top Cat. (Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain probably fall into this category too; as series discs, I prefer small doses.)

Diana

"But right now I can't think of a single cartoon, hand-drawn or computer animated, that I truly like for its look as opposed to its voice work and script."
Everyone here beat me to it: Japanimation, or "anime" as it's called in Japan. Everyone here has mentioned the best, "spirited away," "Howl's moving castle," "Metropolis" etc. To these I would add "Akira", which has the best nightmare sequence I've ever seen in any movie, and some of the space-opera "Gundam" movies (e.g. "War in the Pocket").

All I want to add is that anime, especially early anime, is so visually intense that clearly some of these films were made just for their visual effects. I mean things like the "Lensman" movie, which has lots of spectacular graphics about the lens to recommend it and not a lot more, or silly epics like Vampire Hunter D, which is more of a costume-show than anything else, and worth the price of admission only for D's hats and the vampire-hunter's mobile, dripping with such a incoherently bizarre collection of Judeo-Christian paraphenalia that "gothic looks cooool" must have been the sum total of its inspiration.... but I digress.

Start with the good stuff, and then see if the visuals pull you further into the tradition.

mpatterson

My god, people, have none of you ever seen "The Triplets of Belleville?"

Kevin Wolf

Thanks for the reminders, all of you, on things I missed (the immortal Moose and Squirrel) and things I've not seen and must (Triplets of Belleville).

Since Lance's original question has been opened up beyond drawing, I'd mention the stop-motion work of Jan Svankmajer, especially his disturbing take on Alice In Wonderland.

Great suggestions for viewing from everybody.

Charlie

It's very tempting to just join in the anime dogpile (Haibane Renmei! Or maybe Princess Tutu, except that episodes 2-5 kind of suck!)

But for me, anime's lack of stylistic originality is the biggest weakness of that industry. That is, when anime distinguishes itself visually, it tends to do it using the tricks of the live-action trade (camera angles, use of color, lighting, special effects) but the characters are at best a highly polished variation on the Big Eyes, Small Mouth style, and BESM has a very fixed visual vocabulary.

Miyazaki's films tend to look different because he stopped paying attantion to the rest of the industry in the mid-70s.

This is not to suggest that Big Eyes Small Mouth can't look great! It had better, given that they've been working on it for 50 years. And I often think that American animators (especially the Nickelodeon/Cartoon Network set) spend so much time making their characters look different that they forget to make them look good.

I'm just saying - even though I consider myself a devoted anime dork, I have to stop and think before I can cite any anime as "a brilliant essay in economy of line." Going just by reputation, my instinct is to point to European animation, but I don't know much about that hasn't been said. I could also point to Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann for the sheer exuberance of its animation, but that show has a lot of problems, not the least of which is that it's not available in America yet.

Charlie

"Miyazaki's films tend to look different because he stopped paying attantion to the rest of the industry in the mid-70s."

I really should have said "Miyazaki's characters" there. And of course he's shown a much more inventive side starting with Spirited Away. I made a mistake I frequently make for some reason, which is to think immediately of Miyazaki's work in the mid-80s and discount his most recent stuff.

Karen

Charlie, Miyazaki is not the only anime creator to reject the Big Eyes Spiky Hair paradigm--Kon and Takahata definitely do as well.

Reading this thread has been such a treat! Can't believe I forgot "The Triplets of Belleville," and the brilliant, brilliant Svankmajer, and "Wallace and Gromit" (English friends introduced me to Aardman via "Creature Comforts" commercials in the early '90s, and I've been a fan ever since); and the mentions of some of the early American classics of TV animation remind me of a childhood favorite that's not gotten a mention yet: George of the Jungle.

In the 80s and 90s PBS would occasionally broadcast anthologies of eastern European cartoons, which were utterly different than anything I'd seen: very political, very visually creative, often without any dialogue at all. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if those shows helped shape my own preference for animation that shoots for something a bit higher than the run-of-the-mill American style.

T Paine

I have an inexplicably sentimental affection for the film adaptation of "Watership Down"...GREAT voice work, beautiful painterly images, rousing mythical story. And such cute bunnies!

Zach

Three words Lance--

Lilo
And
Stitch.

Honest. Would I lie to you?

Victoria

For me, the Eastern Europeans and Russians own animation in terms of visual aesthetic. But I do think John Korty's Twice Upon A Time has a charming look. (Better to rent than buy; the only buy version I have found is a bad copy)

Charlie Tangora

Karen, I agree that Kon and Takahata don't use Big Eyes Spiky Hair, but I tend to think they go away from the idea of "drawings that have virtue as drawings." The performances in Kon and Takahata movies, rather, tend to look astonishingly like the performances of great live actors.

Of course, I'm still thinking too much of the impressions I formed from their earlier work! Takahata used to go on and on in interviews about "realism," but then he made Pom Poko and My Neighbors the Yamadas, which are both underrated gems. And Kon, especially in Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika, has been moving toward a style that seems inspired by caricature more than the strict manga-realism of his first couple films.

I suppose they still don't come immediately to mind for me when the discussion starts with mid-90s Disney and classic Warner Brothers. I think the big-name anime feature directors are a lot more conservative than that.

I also want to emphasise that I only consider Big Eyes Spiky Hair a pejorative when I'm talking about stylistic innnovation! There's quite a lot of great work that happily uses that look.

SV

I don't know if they count as "movies" because I don't think either is more than 30 minutes long, but I can think of two right away that I love more for their artwork than their stories. And seeing how wonderful the stories are, that's saying something.

The first is "The Selfish Giant," a 26 minute short based on an Oscar Wilde story. It was made in 1971 and in addition to a moving plot, to me it has kind of the same "look" that Yellow Submarine does, although maybe a little more Maxfield Parrish and a little less Andy Warhol. It was nominated for an Oscar for best Short Subject.

The second is just astonishing: "The Man Who Planted Trees" (or "L'Homme qui plantait des arbres"). Again, a deeply moving story, this time an Oscar winner (1988), and utterly beautiful artwork. The pastel animation by Frédéric Back lingers in your memory as still drawings that come to life and then return to stillness. Sometimes it reminds me of a Cézanne painting, other times of a de Vinci pencil sketch. Words fail.

SV

And, apparently, so does Spellcheck. DA Vinci, not DE Vinci.

D'oh!

Anyway, as long as I'm making a correction, here's a sample of the artwork:

from The Selfish Giant: http://miajas.com/textos/giant8.jpg

from The Man Who Planted Trees:

http://www.duke.edu/web/film/screensociety/FN_ManWhoPlantedTrees+.jpg

http://www.cbcshop.ca/CBC/images/products/radiocanada/ftsrc00202(220).jpg

Karen

SV, I've actually seen "The Selfish Giant"--you're right, it's just lovely. Incidentally, the story is based on one of Wilde's prose poems/fairy tales, and if you ever get a chance to read any of the others, it will really expand your notion of what kind of writer Wilde was. I discovered them in high school, and they still move me to tears.

Charlie, thanks for the clarification! You're right about the characters seeming less like cartoon characters than actual actors. "Only Yesterday," especially, seems like a feature film that just happens to be drawn, and it's a SIN that it's not yet on DVD. I would buy it in a heartbeat.

About "My Neighbors the Yamadas": I just saw that for the first time last month and was completely enchanted, both by the animation and the story. In the DVD extras, if you didn't already know (I didn't), you learn that it's based on a long-running print series, and Takahata consciously imitated the original artist's style, which is why it looks SO different from his other works.

I don't necessarily think of Big Eyes Spiky Hair as a pejorative either, as both figure in series I love, like "Samurai Champloo." I don't know any of the three you point to, though, and I look forward to checking them out. I think the element I find most irritating about the animation style I associate most strongly with that description, though, is the action shot where the character is still and the background is a streaming sunburst or something, to indicate motion. Perhaps that has a long stylistic history, but to me it just looks lazy!

PLM

Check out The Thief and the Cobbler, if you can find it. A labor of love by Richard Williams, director of Who framed Roger Rabbit, it was wrested from him by Disney due to cost overruns and ruined. A bootleg restored version is out there, and the animation and production design are incredible. See a trailer of the restored version here:
http://rapidshare.de/files/13429755/ThiefRecobbledTrailer.avi.html

PLM

Ooops. Correction. Warners and the bond company that insured the film were the ones that seized it, and Miramax released the bowdlerized version. Mea Culpa.

PLM

Ooops. Another correction. The bulk of the trailer can be seen here:

http://orangecow.org/1morestuff/ThiefRecobbledTrailer.avi

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