The only list where Buzz, Cartman and Batman would socialize.
Before Batman Begins, this animated theatrical release was the Dark Knight's best big screen story. And some fans can still make the argument that it is the best ever made. While we might not make that argument ourselves, we can understand why a few brave fanboys would.
Bruce Wayne's past takes center stage as Batman must stop a new rogue on the block, Phantasm, from killing Gotham's local mob population. The crimes and the perpetrator are connected to Bruce's first – and last – shot at true love, a relationship he was willing to give up the cowl for if it meant he could be happy. So it's a comedy, clearly.
Tragedy and Batman are meant to be together, and when you throw Mark Hamill's Joker into the mix, you have one of the most heartfelt and dramatically satisfying stories DC has ever told. The Phantasm is a great nemesis, and the reveal of who is behind the mask is both surprising and justified. The climax, set at an abandoned Gotham World Fair ground, is truly epic and, moreover, violent as hell, thanks to Joker challenging Batman to the fight of his life. Each character, good or bad, is connected by an event their pasts could not have avoided. The movie doesn't shy away from exploiting the consequences of that event, especially the toll it takes on Bruce.
With his films, Nolan nailed who the Dark Knight is. But Phantasm did it first.
Fritz Lang's Metropolis is one of the true classics of the silent film era. Many decades later, this Metropolis is now considered a classic among animated films.
This 2001 movie is an adaptation of Osamu Tezuka's manga series, which itself adapted Lang's film. The anime presents a conflict between two societal classes, but also offers a very personal exploration of what it means to be human. Metropolis is chock full of amazing visuals and pure, unbridled imagination. Is there any silent movie that can't be improved through liberal application of lush animation and Japanese robots? Nine years later, Metropolis certainly holds its own against classics such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell.
Not number one, you say? Walt Disney's ultimate creation? His piece de resistance? That's right, it's not number one in our book. Yes, Fantasia is pretty cool, great stuff -- a Disney masterpiece, sure, and a milestone in animation and cinema as a whole. But let's be honest here… It can also be kind of boring at times, cheesy at others, and dated in the worst way here or there (Those freakin' unicorns? Seriously? And baby unicorns?!).
And yet, there is still so much to praise for the film, even now 70 years since it was released. The episodic, mostly non-narrative epic is of course set to various pieces of classical music, resulting in sequences like the climactic "Night on Bald Mountain" (featuring the awesome demon-creature Chernabog) that are hallmarks of the genre. Technically peerless, featuring animation that is still among the best ever created, the film should be much higher on this list. But those damned unicorns…
Mamoru Oshii's feature-length film, adapted from the manga by Masamune Shirow, helped launch a massive, worldwide franchise that now includes several sequels, a couple of television series, videogames, novels, toys and more. James Cameron has praised it, the Wachowski brothers have credited it as being a major influence on The Matrix and a Steven Spielberg-produced live-action film is currently in the works.
Essentially a crime thriller set in the future, the original 1985 film introduced cyborg security officer Major Motoko Kusanagi on the trail of a criminal hacker known as the Puppet Master. The film explores such deep, existential themes as the nature of identity and what it is that makes us human.
It also includes hot naked chicks. So take from it what you will…
When writer-directors Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach combine their unique filmmaking talents, they bring about arguably their best work – despite the confines of some very old-school, very fun stop-motion animation.
Fox, based on the novel by Roald Dahl, features George Clooney voicing the titular character, a columnist who can't resist going back to his sly, chicken coop-robbing roots to feed his family when three big corporate chicken farmers threaten to tear down Fox and Friends' home. The setup is pretty basic, but the content and interplay between these animal characters is inspiring, witty and most of all pure fun. Our heroes, made of arts and crafts supplies, feel more alive than most live-action characters. And Anderson and Baumbach, operating outside of their usual wheelhouse governed by all-too-smart, upper-class people with upper-class problems, seem to bring out the best in each other here, giving the film many opportunities to be one of the most underrated films of 2009.
One of the earlier efforts from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, My Neighbor Totoro remains one of Miyazaki's best even 22 years later.
Totoro is the tale of two sisters who move to the countryside in postwar Japan. There, they meet a forest brimming with imaginative critters, including the large protective spirit known as Totoro. As with many of Miyazaki's works, the film deals with the clash of childhood innocence and the onset of adulthood and its harsh realities. Totoro succeeds at both because of its lush, vibrant visuals and its refusal to pander to the same storytelling cliches that derail so many Western animated films. No fan of Miyazaki or animation in general should go without adding My Neighbor Totoro to their library.
The last of the classic animated fairy tales produced by Walt Disney himself, this 1959 film was initially a disappointment at the box office, but has come to be recognized as one of the greatest and most beloved of Disney's golden era. This is the studio at its most iconic, with frolicking woodland creatures, a warbling princess, an evil sorceress and a handsome prince on a majestic steed.
Filled with vibrant color, modern designs and music based on the Tchaikovsky ballet, it looks and sounds different than any of the films that came before. The meticulously hand-painted cells inspired by medieval art have a stylized look to them and a striking palette filled with unusual combinations of violet, green, ochre, indigo and fuchsia. The final climactic battle between Prince Phillip and Maleficent in the form of a gigantic dragon remains one of the most beautiful and thrilling sequences ever animated.
Who would have thought an animated summer flick would have us all caring about…fine French cuisine?!
Yes, meet Remy, the cartoon world's first "foodie" hero. As a Parisian rat who's thumbed his nose at the family tradition of eating garbage and rolling around in filth, Remy represents the type of lead character that Pixar does best: The anxious, yet daring, oddball. Throw in some absolutely gorgeous colors, some kitchen misadventures and an unlikely friendship created over a simmering flame and humankind's great equalizer (food!) and you get a magically charming film about finding one's place in a world of harsh traditions.
One tiny bite of this amazing feast and you'll be instantly transported back to your childhood; when things made sense and the world was still filled with wonder.
Coming at the height of the Disney animation renaissance of the early 1990s, The Lion King was a huge hit - in fact, it remains the highest-grossing, traditionally-animated film ever released.
Today, in the year 2010, Simba and Scar and Mufasa are household names thanks to the enormous popularity of the sequels and soundtracks and Broadway plays and all the rest of it that have been based on the film, but back in 1994 who could have predicted that these characters would enter the lexicon of Disney's most popular creations?
Simba's journey to adulthood, retribution, and his rightful place as the Lion King isn't an especially new or groundbreaking tale - on the contrary, it's full of Disney cliches (tragic origin, comic animal sidekicks, life lessons learned, etc.). And yet, it works amazingly well, perhaps because of the unique vibe given the proceedings by the artists' African landscapes and the percussive beats of composers Elton John and Tim Rice. Combining tried and true concepts with new and interesting angles - call it the Disney Circle of Life.
Some may scoff at us including such a recent release, but this wasn't a hard decision for us, considering How to Train Your Dragon is easily one of the best films in recent memory, animated or not.
DreamWorks has had a run of successful computer-animated films since Shrek and several have been entertaining to be sure. But Dragon is the first one that has, for lack of a better term, a "Pixar feel." Which is to say, it worked on several levels, beyond simply being funny.
The story of Hiccup, an awkward kid trying to fit into the Viking society he was born into, this film benefits from some great humor ("It's not so much what you look like, it's what's inside that he can't stand"), but also some surprisingly emotional moments of impact, as when Hiccup bonds with Toothless – one of the dragons that are his people's longtime enemies. It might be a cliche to say something has "heart," but that's exactly the right term for this excellent film.
Fish are friends, not food. Look, most of the time there are a hundred or so reasons to utterly reject stunt voice casting. Celebrities showing up in animated films, just doing their own voices and putting regular, more-talented, voice-actors out of work is cringe-worthy. But there are a few occasions when the celebrity voices they get actually help shape the film itself and turn it into something dazzling and great. Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres become our ultimate road trip duo in Nemo and managed to make us laugh all the way through what is ultimately a dark tale.
Nemo was, essentially, Taken for kids. As we've seen in tons of other animated tales about the animal kingdom, it's a jungle out there! Or in this case, an ocean. Pixar created an underwater world so beautiful and vast that we actually couldn't imagine how Marlin would ever find Nemo, but the film's message, which could be found somewhere between "remaining cautious" and "embracing ambition," was a strong enough current to carry us through.
There are a few prerequisite viewings before one can label themselves an anime fan. Akira most certainly numbers on that list. Easily one of the best movies ever to come out of Japan, Akira remains a showcase for the true potential of hand-drawn animation. Rarely has an animated world ever felt more substantial and believable.
From epic chase scenes and explosions to the subtle way a chain link fence bends under a person's weight, Akira is lovingly and lavishly detailed. The story offers plenty to keep the mind occupied, with a futuristic vision of Tokyo, rival biker gangs, and heady explorations of power and responsibility. This legendary anime has it all.
Leave it to Pixar to make the best threequel ever.
The story of Andy moving on to college, leaving Woody and Buzz and the gang dealing with a great, understated villain in Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear at the new daycare center home, is the most fun of the Toy Story films. It works as a drama, a comedy and an action film – a trifecta of storytelling that live-action Hollywood should take pointers from. So many moments – character moments, mind you – crossover into "great" or "perfect" status, and the last fifteen minutes are some of the strongest work the studio has ever done. (A quiet moment of holding hands in the face of horror? Andy's final decision? Big. Fat. Tears.)
The movie is pure wonder wrapped in joy. Anyone who slings anti-praise its way (*gauntlet slaps Armond White*) is some kind of wrong person.
Together, Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are practically the Walt Disney Pictures of Japan. Nearly everything Miyazaki puts out is revered by casual audiences and animation junkies alike. And while so many Miyazaki films deserve high praise, Spirited Away is easily the best of them all.
The premise is simple – a young girl named Chichiro embarks on a journey through a fantastical realm to save her parents. That premise is fodder for varied and imaginative characters, bedazzling visuals, a rousing musical score, and a charming tale about love, determination, and growing up. As a complete package, Spirited Away is the cream of the Studio Ghibli crop.
Released in 1993, Tim Burton's Nightmare has so far stood the test of time, with multiple theatrical re-releases (including a 3D version), several DVD special editions, CD soundtracks and so much merchandise you can't walk into a Hot Topic store without spotting the face of Jack Skellington on everything from belt buckles to cologne.
A hero to emo and goth teens everywhere, Jack, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, has grown bored with the confines of his holiday and wants to show the world an improved version of Christmas. In the end, he discovers the value in being true to himself and finds love with a devoted rag doll named Sally.
Though Burton's name appears above the title (and the idea sprung from his imagination), underrated director Henry Selick should get at least some of the credit for this stop-motion masterpiece. The charming character designs, innovative animation and Danny Elfman's haunting musical score should take the rest.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the animated movie that launched a dynasty. Snow White served as the first full-length animated feature. While it certainly wowed audiences at the time who were still accustomed to short, simplistic cartoons, Snow White retains its appeal even among the glitzier, flashier animated films of the 21st Century.
All movies, be they live-action or animated, are meant to appeal to the viewer's emotions. Snow White is one of Disney's most heartfelt and engaging efforts, transforming the classic Brothers Grimm tale into a rousing, family-friendly adventure. Here, all a princess needed to find her true love was a helpful band of dwarfs, a few catchy tunes, and quality animation that still holds up today.
This is where it all began. The Pixar - and by association computer-animated - revolution truly kicked in with the success of the studio's Toy Story in 1995.
Belying its soulless origins in the zeroes and ones of a machine, the film is as human as they come with its universally recognizable tale of a little boy and his toys. Or rather, toys and their little boy, as the film is of course more about Woody and Buzz than it is their owner/center-or-their-universe, Andy -- they're like a faithful dog whose devotion to its master never sways. This is an essentially tragic slant, when one thinks about it (we all know what happened to our childhood toys eventually, don't we?), and it's personified by Buzz himself as he grapples with the notion that he is, in fact, just a toy. Perhaps this is part of what makes the movie so accessible.
On the more basic surface level, the film is just a delight -- the voice acting of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen and the rest, the amazing animation, the songs by Randy Newman -- Toy Story is quite simply the best kind of Hollywood movie.
The 1970s and '80s were lean years for Walt Disney Feature Animation. After basically inventing the genre and perfecting it to an art form, the studio's reputation suffered from a string of forgettable films like The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective. That all changed in 1989 with the release of The Little Mermaid, a return to the glorious musical fantasies of Disney's past.
Based around a Mermaid named Ariel who dreams of becoming a human and falls in love with a prince, the film had all the qualities of an extravagant Broadway musical and beautiful animation to match. Its catchy numbers from the brilliant team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman – like "Part of Your World" and "Under the Sea" – became instant classics worthy of the Disney legacy. Its success would usher in a renaissance for Disney animation that dominated the decade to come.
Look, this movie proves its power within the first ten minutes! With just a few lines of dialogue, an opening montage introduces us to the main character, Carl, and shows us the story of his life and love with Ellie – from their meeting as children, to their marriage, to their inability to have children and to her death. Those last two elements tell you all you need to know about a film where Pixar once again proved they didn't talk down to their audience or shy away from truly emotional, powerful material.
The adventure that follows for Carl and the young boy, Russell, who inadvertently tags along is certainly fanciful - Carl gets an entire house to fly using balloons! - yet infused with an incredible amount of pathos and meaning, as we watch Carl oh so literally carry his burden on his back, as he physically drags that floating house through the jungle, determined to bring it to the place he and Ellie dreamed about.
Funny, exciting and touching, Up is a beautiful film and became the second animated movie to ever receive a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.
The South Park movie does what the TV-to-film genre rarely achieves: It not only validates its existence as a standalone feature, but it also expands on and stretches the boundaries of its format in a legitimately worthwhile way.
When the South Park kids sneak into a R-rated movie, only to return home with a newly obscenity-laden vocabulary, their parents and teachers decide to "Blame Canada," soon leading to a war with our northern cousins and, even worse, an air attack on the Baldwin brothers! Meanwhile, the eternally doomed Kenny winds up in hell, where he learns that Satan and his lover Saddam Hussein are planning an attack of their own.
It's all ridiculous, not surprisingly, but also hilarious (also not surprisingly). But like it or not, all you PTA moms reading, the film is also a cutting satire of how silly and misguided the culture wars can be. Plus, it's chock-full of genuinely fun and funny musical numbers. Also, fart jokes.
Before Brad Bird became one of the brain trust deities at Pixar, he made a little movie called The Iron Giant that served as his application for Most Crazy Talented Storywriter in the animated realm.
Hogarth befriends an alien robot during a time when Sputnik sounded the first rounds of the Cold War, and Iron Giant tells their story with that political landscape in mind, padding it with tropes from 1950s Sci-Fi fare.
As the boy teaches his 30-story E.T. to become more human, the government closes in on his new friend, and more than just comedy ensues. The Iron Giant is a walking doomsday machine, who becomes more human than those who would rather shoot him down than try to get to know him. That arc is a familiar one, tried and true long before Bird put his stamp on it. But it is Bird's take on the material, his balance between the scenes animated kids fare needs and what his story demands, that makes the movie stand out. The movie did not ignite the box office during its theatrical release, but it did get its due on DVD. Watch it. Twice.
Woody and Buzz returned four years after the original Toy Story and actually managed to top that masterpiece with their continued adventures. Here the gang has some time to themselves when their owner Andy heads off to summer camp, but they must soon contend with the ultimate fanboy, a man-child voiced by Wayne Knight (Newman from Seinfeld) who wants Woody for his collection of rare toys.
The film amps up the technical magic of the actual computer animation, while also increasing the imagination factor, but it's the Pixar writers who once again prove to be the true heart of these films. Should Woody choose the pampered, petrified life Knight's character offers him? How could Buzz be one of countless Buzzes? What's really important in life anyway? If Toy Story proved that computer animation could be art, Toy Story 2 established that the medium was here to stay.
One of Pixar's very finest efforts to date is The Incredibles. By 2004, superhero movies had become big business, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars at a time.
Unlike most, The Incredibles wasn't based on a preexisting comic book series. Even so, it captured everything that made those classic Silver Age superhero stories great. Like the Fantastic Four, the Incredibles are less a superhero team and more a slightly dysfunctional family of super-powered do-gooders.
Yes, the movie packs in plenty of widescreen superhero action. The tropical island battle with Syndrome's robots plays out like the best Bond movie we've never seen, and the final clash between heroes and villain is an amazing sight to behold. But the movie never loses sight of the character drama and family focus. By the end, The Incredibles took their place alongside great superhero teams like the Avengers and the Justice League. And yet, only one among those three has a theatrical movie to call their own. Score one for the Parr family.
At the heart of most Pixar films is the theme of isolation. WALL-E, the animation studio's crowning achievement, is a breathtaking meditation on loneliness and the re-enforcement that every sentient creature contains an unbeatable desire to connect with someone else.
We were all told, from the teasers, that we were going to absolutely freakin' love this little robot bastard -- and we scoffed! Right. Sure we would. Just because he makes squeaky noises and looks a bit like Johnny 5 doesn't mean he's going to win our hearts, minds and a spot on our lunch pail. But guess who was all sorts of wrong? All of us!
Because Pixar just has a way of creating fantastic creatures and characters who tug violently on all our heartstrings. And all WALL-E wanted to do was hold someone else's hand like he'd seen in the musical Hello, Dolly. Post-trashocalyptic world be damned!
Oh, and the villain of the piece? Our heinously corrupted, yet inevitable, future as gluttonous consumers. Talk about a dark backdrop.
Watch the video below to see what our No. 1 pick is ...