To honor the rich history of animated feature film making over the years, Joey Armstrong has chosen 50 animated films that have had some of the greatest cultural impact on adults and children alike.
10. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
When Steve Martino’s recent film The Peanuts Movie (2015) was released in theaters, my spouse and I were pretty excited. I was nervously hoping that Martino and his team had managed to capture the spirit of Charles “Sparky” Schulz’s Sunday comic strip as well as the many Bill Melendez TV incarnations. When the film opened, the music of the great Vince Guaraldi filled the theater. I was instantly impressed, but then…the credits sequence ended. The rest of the film made a valiant effort. The best I can say about Martino’s version of Peanuts is that it’s cute, but that is about it. In that way, it kind of failed.
Peanuts always managed to be cute as well as whimsical, witty, and full of wisdom. Those are the elements that make up the spirit of Peanuts. Sparky’s comic is about another time, perhaps, than our own. It seems to be about another world, as well. I will never quite know how they did it but Bill Melendez and Vince Guaraldi somehow managed to capture that very spirit in their amazing holiday specials, the best of which is A Charlie Brown Christmas.
This is not just a perfect tribute to a particularly Western Christmas, but, it is just a delightful film. When Melendez first set out to create his masterpiece, alongside the writing of Schulz, he was booed by several different studios and stations. No one wanted this crudely animated, simplistic story. There was absolutely NOTHING sensational about it, making it 1. not entertaining enough and 2. not American enough. As a young boy, I had had the Gospel story of Jesus born in the manger read out loud to me multiple times. It wasn’t until I witnessed the simplicity and joy of A Charlie Brown Christmas that I felt I really and truly understood the “true meaning” of Christmas. But this film isn’t just about Christmas. It’s about compassion and making the best in shitty circumstances. It’s an anti-Trump film if there ever was one! Bill Melendez’s adaptations of Peanuts went on to influence the immortal works of Wes Anderson and South Park as well as introducing a young, blonde-haired, 5- year-old boy to the concept of a “loving God” with a sense of humor for the very first time.
9. Waking Life (2001)
If I were making a list of my top 10 favorite films of all time, Richard Linklater’s Waking Life would be on that list. We can’t be certain if Dazed and Confused’s Wiley Wiggins (playing himself) is actually dreaming consistently throughout the entire film, or, if there are periods where is he indeed awake. This is what draws us in to the film and makes it compulsively watchable. Some of the more philosophical conversations might be over viewers’ heads, but, the question of dream vs. waking will always keep us glued to the screen.
Linklater’s director of animation, Bob Sabiston, uses the technique of rotoscope to capture the conversations and movement in the film. This makes the film look extraordinarily life-like. Each “vignette” in the film, if you can call them that, are hand drawn by different animators with very different styles. Sometimes, stylistically, the animation looks messy, unkempt, and even ugly. Sometimes, it is gorgeous and atmospheric. Either way, the exhausted laugh from a tired musician, the ramblings of a man living with autism, and the righteous anger of a man in prison, are captured with delicacy and there is no doubt that what we are watching is real, even if it is animated.
The central premise of Waking Life is based on a physiological phenomenon known as “lucid dreaming”. Lucid dreaming means dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming. The inability of Wiley Wiggins to read time on a digital watch or to turn on/off a light switch has been described before in research by Dr. Stephen LaBerge who happens to be the leading American authority on lucid dreaming.
Perhaps most important about this film is its emphasis on ideas as the “fuel,” so to speak, for a life lived to the fullest. Rick Linklater is truly at the height of his powers when he puts people together and makes space for them to discuss ideas. The ideas might even be small and mundane, but, the fact that Wiggins has a conversation with a young woman who says, “I don’t want to be an ant” is significant, because, this film was released in 2001 in the shadow of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It almost feels like a joy-filled, thought provoking plea by Linklater, Caveh Zahedi, Bob Sabiston, Wiley Wiggins, and team, to breathe life back in to the West through relationship and dialogue.
Joey Armstrong is a hospital chaplain from Western New York. He is also a playwright and amateur cartoonist. Follow him on Twitter @chaplainmystic and Medium, where he writes more reviews for film and television.