Here’s the skinny, Walt Disney Pictures: We appreciate what you’re doing, but there’s only so many talking animals, sassy princesses, and mediocre celebrity voice acting mankind can endure. To that end, if you Masterminds out there are looking for more from your animated characters like we are, check out these four alternative animated flicks that find the balance between style and substance—guaranteed to send those cartoon doldrums runnin' back to mama!
1) Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Hayao Miyazaki is to Japanese anime what Walt Disney was to American animation: Both are artistic visionaries and masters of their craft. But in our praise for ambulatory castles and neighborly cat critters, oftentimes we overlook the masterpieces that don’t come from Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. Directed by Satoshi Kon, 2003’s Tokyo Godfathers is a heartwarming tale set on the cold streets of Tokyo during the holiday season. Three transients discover a baby girl abandoned in the trash, inspiring them to seek out her parents—all the while coming together as the child’s temporary, ersatz family. With each character affected by the baby in different, heart-wrenching ways, Tokyo Godfathers is a sucker punch of pure pathos right to the stomach.
2) The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
It regrettably lost an Academy Award to Finding Nemo for Best Animated Feature (how does one go about saying "robbed" in whale?), but The Triplets of Belleville is without a doubt a beautifully surrealist masterpiece of foreign cinema. Taking place in France, a grandmother in search of her kidnapped grandson is joined by three long-retired swing singers, culminating in a comedic showdown with the French mafia. Eschewing dialogue in favor of creative pantomime and musical sequences, The Triplets of Belleville is so enthrallingly madcap it has to be seen to be admired.
3) The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)
The Phantom Tollbooth is one of the greatest works of children’s literature, but that’s far from saying it isn’t a head trip. Seriously, it’s like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had a freak baby with a language arts textbook! Warner Bros. Studios’ 1970 animated adaptation manages to put the book’s absurdity into perspective via the iconic artistry of Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones. And lending his incomparable vocal talents to some of The Phantom Tollbooth’s cast of crazies is the late Mel Blanc: The voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, and essentially every Warner Bros. character. Together, these elements and more combine to create a musically enchanting film that, sadly, is all but forgotten.
4) 9 (2009)
Many animation purists tend to decry CGI’s innovations, blaming it squarely for the demise of traditional, hand-drawn films. But for every corporately mandated sequel to Shrek or—forgive us for even referencing it again—Sir Billi, there comes along a real treasure. Case in point: Shane Acker’s 9. Originally beginning life as a haunting short film, 9 tells the story of an alternate 2009 wherein all of humanity has been wiped out by an artificial intelligence known as the Fabrication Machine. Literally carrying the last vestiges of human spirit are nine diminutive “Stitchpunks,” waging a final assault against the soulless architect behind mankind’s decimation.
5) The Secret of NIMH (1982)
An American Tail, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven—nearly every person out there has seen at least one of these films by animation visionary Don Bluth, but none demonstrate his flare for narrative and design better than The Secret of NIMH. One of his first feature films after departing Disney, the movie is a visually and emotionally stunning adaptation of the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, spinning a yarn of epic fantasy set in the world of mice, rats, and other farmyard animals. As it stands, NIMH has achieved a devout cult status since its release back in 1982, and seeing as how it’s Bluth’s magnum opus, that stands to reason.
What’s your favorite animated movie?