From Mickey Mouse to Snow White, Toy Story to Inside Out, the biggest names conjured up by ‘animation’ are from Disney and Pixar. Furthermore, animated films are usually loaded with the perception of being targeted at children. #DSSCRecommends a series of underrated animated films that bust these myths, films that offer the same amalgam of Disney’s fantastical and Pixar’s brains, but with a touch of elements that are unique to say, Warner Bros., Studio Ghibli, Laika Studios and other such endeavours. Here are 13 animated features, which are not cartoons, but have something real and primal at the centre — a heart and an enquiry about the human condition — that will enthrall children and adults alike.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
2006 | Mamoru Hosoda
Makoto Konno, a high school girl, learns of her power to travel through time. She begins exploiting it to ameliorate her shortcomings, such as tardiness and academic torpor, with little regard for the consequences of her exploits. Loosely inspired by a novel of the same name by Yasutaka Tsutsui, this science-fiction romance film won critical acclaim and various accolades in Japan, but continues to be obscure outside of it.
2016 | Makoto Shinkai
Mitsuha, a girl in rural Japan, and Taki, a boy in Tokyo magically swap bodies. They begin leaving each other notes and embark on a quest to meet whilst inhabiting their own respective bodies. Like most of Shinkai’s filmography, Your Name is an extraordinary tale of missed connections that combines the comedy of body swap with the adventure of time-travel. Wistful and visually stunning, this film broke several records in Japan.
The Iron Giant
1998 | Brad Bird
Set during the Cold War in 1957, a young Hogarth Hughes discovers a friendly giant alien who resembles a robot. With the help of an artist, he tries to prevent the US government from finding and destroying the Giant. Featuring voice-acting by Jennifer Aniston and Vin Diesel, this debut feature by Brad Bird (of The Incredibles fame), The Iron Giant is a deeply affecting tale of the military-industrial complex, life, death, and compassion, and has been hailed as one of the best family films ever made.
1997 | Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
A fantastical reimagining of the assassination of the Romanov dynasty in 1918, Anastasia is best appreciated when it is not taken as a serious history lesson. Voiced by Meg Ryan and John Cusack, the film imagines a scenario wherein the Grand Duchess Anastasia survives her family’s execution but suffers a memory loss. Years later, two con men try to take advantage of her resemblance to the “real” princess in order to claim a handsome reward from the Duchess’ grandmother.
The Secret of Kells
2009 | Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Before How to Train Your Dragon gave us a young, idealistic protagonist who defied the hypermasculinity of his community, there came The Secret of Kells. Brendan is a curious boy apprenticed in the scriptorium of a monastery, where he finds the incomplete Book of Kells, while his uncle is obsessed with fortifying their surroundings. When the Vikings invade, Brandon, who has no taste for battle, is recruited to complete a series of dangerous and magical tasks before returning to finish the book.
The Prince of Egypt
1998 | Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells
Praised for embracing complex themes and transcending the stereotype of animation as children’s entertainment, this film tells the Biblical tale of Moses, whose destiny is to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. With an A-list voice-cast including Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Sandra Bullock, and Helen Mirren; music by Hans Zimmer; and an Oscar-winning track by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, The Prince of Egypt is the most successful, traditionally animated, non-Disney films.
Sita Sings the Blues
2008 | Nina Paley
Written, directed, produced, and animated by the American artist Nina Paley, Sita Sings the Blues is a modern retelling of the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective. It is interspersed with three other, differently animated, segments: light-hearted commentary by a trio of shadow puppets, parallels from Paley’s personal life, and songs by Annette Hanshaw. Paley has made the film available online to encourage unencumbered dissemination, and her blog details the making of this animation wonder.
2012 | Mamoru Hosoda
Hana, a college girl, marries a werewolf and gives birth to two chimerical children, whom she has to raise on her own after her beloved dies in an accident. As the kids switch between their two identities, Hana has to hide them from the world, making their upbringing more difficult. The film drew favourable comparisons with Hayao Miyazaki’s work, and was lauded for treating its characters with a maturity that, according to The Guardian, the Twilight saga never reached.
The Thief and the Cobbler
1993 | Richard Williams
With its long and troubled production history, this film met its deadline only after heavy intervention from its production studio. The result was made for the masses but generated little buzz. However, its Rotten Tomatoes rating notwithstanding, it is not for nothing that the film has been called “the greatest animated film that never was”. With a restored version now available on YouTube, fans of traditionally animated films can enjoy this apotheosis of the craft as it was intended to be.
2000 | Peter Lord, Nick Park
Despite the fact that Chicken Run remains the highest grossing stop-motion animated film ever, not much is known about it. From the makers of Wallace and Gromit, here is a tale of a band of chickens who unite to escape from the clutches of their farm owners, who intend on using the chickens as ingredients for chicken pot pies. Being a superbly entertaining film that mirrors our own hopes and fears, Chicken Run mustn’t remain unwatched.
Brave Little Toaster
1987 | Jerry Rees
In an age of rapid technological advancement, five anthropomorphised electric appliances — a toaster, a blanket, a lamp, a radio, and a vacuum cleaner — escape the confines of a lonely cabinet to set out in search of their owner and their relevance. Regarded as “one of the finest films Disney never made”, it is considered a masterpiece for its unique combination of a measured tone that does not talk down to children and a sensibility that appeals to adults.
The Secret of NIMH
1982 | Don Bluth
Mrs. Brisby, a widowed field mouse, solicits the help of a group of rats to move out of her house. The rats are unique for the heightened consciousness they developed after being subject to a series of tortuous scientific experiments by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Soon, Mrs. Brigsby gets caught in a conflict among the rats, which risks her plan. The film is appreciated for its premise, its visual effects, and remains memorable for not sugarcoating life for children.
1977 | Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass
Before Middle-earth became synonymous with Peter Jackson, Rankin-Bass worked on the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, resulting in an animated musical TV movie. Coming from a studio that would go on to become Studio Ghibli, the film was well received for its visual elements that drew parallels with the work of Maurice Sendak, the author-illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are. The film warrants attention for including lyrics from the book that have been adapted into songs for a greater format.
The Flight of the Dragons
1982 | Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass
A medieval fantasy that liberally combines Peter Dickson’s speculative natural history book of the same name and Gordon R. Dickson’s novel The Dragon and the George, this TV movie inquires whether magic can co-exist with science as the protagonist is drawn from the 20th century into the magical world. Although the dialogue may confuse children every now and then, it is refreshing to come across a warm and imaginative animated feature that is capable of stimulating adult minds alike.
As Looney Toons would say, “That’s all, folks!”
Featured Image Courtesy: cartoonbrew.com