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.
6. Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001)
Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a great masterpiece of animation. It very well may be one the greatest films ever made, period. Miyazaki, now in blissful retirement, has an incredible list of hand-drawn children’s films that have changed the history of animated film for the better. Although he has triumphed at almost every single turn, this grand wizard of storytelling did his greatest work with this film.
Not only does Miyazaki and his team at Studio Ghibli perfectly capture the ancient, spiritual, folk world of Japan, but they also incarnate the whirlwind of feelings, messy hair, and untied shoelaces that we call “little girl.” Sure, it has a bit of an Alice in Wonderland premise, but, it does it in a way that feels 100% fantastical and 100% realistic all at the same time. This is Miyazaki’s great gift to the world: He actually makes us believe that the hand drawn paper spirits, radish spirits, and dragons are realities in the world. Maybe they are. Maybe that’s the point.
The most awe-inspiring scene is one based in Miyazaki’s reality. A filthy, stinky river spirit drags his massive, garbage-filled body into the ghostly bathhouse that Chihiro/Sen (voiced by Daveigh Chase[English dub]) works at under the eery supervision of Yubaba the witch (Suzanne Pleshette). Yubaba commands that Sen draw the best of their baths for this very powerful, highly regarded river spirit. The body of the river spirit instantly pollutes the herbal baths, and the situation seems hopeless until Sen notices a large piece of metal sticking out of the spirit’s side. She pulls until she extracts an entire bicycle out of his side which then opens up his body, leaking waste products that have been dumped in the river by humankind. Once all of the trash is cleaned out, the river spirit, in his original and translucent form, floats into the air, laughing with joy and freedom. Miyazaki never allows us to walk into his stories and leave unchanged. This is why he reportedly cleans his local river every Sunday. Spirited Away is no different.
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Wes Anderson is one of the greatest living auteurs of film, which he has clearly demonstrated with films like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Nowhere are the heights of Anderson’s creativity more evident, however, than in his stop-motion masterpiece Fantastic Mr. Fox. It is based on Roald Dahl’s witty children’s novella about a scheming fox (voiced by George Clooney) who attempts to honor his wife’s (Meryl Streep) wishes by domesticating and giving up the chicken-thieving life. He buys a new home and moves Mrs. Fox, his ornery son Ash (Anderson regular Jason Schwartzmann), and his timid but prodigious nephew Kristofferson (Wes Anderson’s brother Eric) to a tree on a lovely, green hill. The tree, however, is in direct line of sight of the three local farmers and their prospective hen houses. Wicked farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean (Anderson regular Michael Gambon) discover Mr. Fox’s criminal attempts, as does his son and nephew, and Mrs. Fox, revealing that Foxy may talk a big game and may be an impeccable dresser a la Wes Anderson but he is really an idiot with a terrible phobia of wolves and failure. Badger (Anderson regular Bill Murray) warns Foxy to stay away from the new tree house, only to be met with animosity (“Are you cussing with me!? Don’t cuss and point!”).
Mr. Fox may be Roald Dahl’s creation but he is the perfect Andersonian patriarch. He is a failure in the eyes of his family, he is eccentric and self-centered, and he attempts to make things better through wiley schemes which always back fire. In this way, Mr. Fox joins the ranks of Anderson’s other patriarchs: Harold Bloom (Bill Murray), Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), Steve Zissou (Murray), Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), and M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).
In the Criterion Collection edition of Fantastic Mr. Fox , the Supplements take us behind the scenes and we witness Anderson’s meticulous work with his very talented cast and crew. This film took all of his creative energies and his inspirations, everything from Rankin-Bass specials to Wallace and Gromit to Disney’s Robin Hood, are evident throughout. Anderson, like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, is not afraid to showcase that which he steals. It may be the best of his films, but even if it isn’t, it is one of the most well-crafted stop motion delights of the screen that we have. It just so happens that Anderson’s melancholic whimsy fits the narrative perfectly.
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.