Pop Culture

The 20 best animated movies ever

Will Shane Acker’s “9,” in theaters today, someday take a place among the all-time classics—including “Coraline,” “Up,” and “The Lion King”—we’re counting down here?

20. ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995) How much soul remains when most of the human body has been replaced by machine? That’s the philosophical question at the cyborg-y center of director Mamoru Oshii’s anime classic — and it’s surrounded by some blistering action.

19. ‘Waltz With Bashir’ (2008) To borrow from Lisa Schwarzbaum’s A review, “Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman’s extraordinary and painfully timely autobiographical documentary of remembered life during wartime ... uses animation as a way to face memories that might otherwise be unbearable, or even unretrievable. In its own distinct way, the movie makes serious, political use of the freeing possibilities of animation ... To tell Folman’s story ‘straight’ would be to miss the waking-nightmare sensations of war.”

18. ‘Pinocchio’ (1940) This isn’t the first Disney animated feature — that’d be 1939’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” — but the story of a puppeteer who creates his own son with his bare hands was the first to truly find what we’d come to call the Disney Touch.

17. ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ (1989) Writer-director Hayao Miyazaki is like a cross between Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney: a filmmaker who uses animation to tell soaring stories about kids confronting terrors of a world only they can see. This is one of his best, about a young witch who just doesn’t fit in.

16. ‘South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut’ (1999) Matt Stone and Trey Parker delivered unto audiences a feature-length expansion of their TV show that had the balls to not only be a musical — featuring the Oscar-nominated “Blame Canada” — but to be a profane and incisive critique on parenting, the media, and America’s predilection for armed conflict. The animation itself might not be art, but the finished product certainly is.

15. ‘The Iron Giant’ (1999) Brad Bird’s first feature is phenomenal in so many ways — it perfectly conjures a Rockwellian-atomic-fear 1950s; it deftly builds the relationship between a lonely boy and a giant robot from outer space; it climaxes with an action sequence that’s affecting because of the emotional content, not the explosions — but its greatest achievement is that “The Iron Giant” actually makes you cry real tears of empathy at a Vin Diesel performance.

14. ‘Akira’ (1988)
The first anime to break big in the States, “Akira” is an adrenal look at a post-WWIII Tokyo and the rootless youth who roam on high-tech motorcycles, commit wanton acts of violence, and dabble in mutagenic experiments. Before Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterpiece, most Americans saw animation as a medium entirely for children, comprised of Disney princesses and Saturday-morning animals.

13. ‘Chicken Run’ (2000) British stop-motion wizard Nick Park won Oscars for his “Wallace and Gromit,” but his first feature wasn’t about a long-suffering dog and his cheese-loving master — it was about a gaggle of chickens trying to stage a great escape from their coop. Full of invention, humor and Mel Gibson-voiced swagger.

12. ‘The Triplets of Belleville’ (2003) With nary a stitch of dialogue, “Triplets” bounces along as it follows a mother traveling the globe looking for her cyclist son, who was kidnapped by a, um, mad theater owner? Hey, it’s French and it’s awesome. Pure visual invention.

11. ‘Dumbo’ (1941) I dare you not to cry. I double-dog dare you ... when Dumbo’s mom gets thrown in the prison train car for trying to protect her big-eared son, and Dumbo sidles up just so he can feel his mother again.... Maybe the most inherently emotional Disney film (despite the unfortunate racial caricatures).

10. ‘Coraline’ (2009) Director Henry Selick’s collaborations with Tim Burton — “A Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride” — may be better known, but “Coraline” is his best. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel — about a girl and her new house and the scary world that gives her everything she thinks she’s ever wanted — Coraline is a marvel of technical prowess (and 3-D, when it was in theaters) and a knowing look at what it means to be young and brave.

9. ‘Bambi’ (1942) If you thought Dumbo’s jailhouse visit to his mother was a tearjerker... (SPOILER ALERT, ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY AND 80 YEARS IN THE PAST) Bambi’s mother getting shot is probably responsible for more nightmares than any other sequence in movie history.

8. ‘Toy Story 2’ (1999) The first “Toy Story” is a terrific movie, to be sure, but John Lasseter’s sequel retains all of the original’s character and humor while adding a layer of emotional resonance — growing up has never seemed so sad as when seen through the eyes of an unloved toy.

7. ‘The Incredibles’ (2004) Brad Bird’s first film for Pixar feels like a superhero movie. Which it is — the costumes and masks are a dead giveaway — but “The Incredibles” is also the story of a marriage in crisis, a look at the perils of hero worship, and a commentary on the responsibility of great power, as well as the best Bond film made since Connery hung up his Walther.

6. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1991) Of all of Disney’s “princess” movies, this one is the strongest. Belle’s journey doesn’t require her to be a pawn, or an object, or a victim — “Beauty and the Beast” is her story, and she’s the hero of it. “Beauty and the Beast” is also the only animated film to be nominated for best picture and, given the introduction of a best animated feature category, it’ll probably be the last.

5. ‘Persepolis’ (2007) Marjane Satrapi adapted her own graphic novel into a harrowing, moving memoir of her time as a child in the Shah’s Iran, her later expatriation to Europe, and her return home. “Persepolis” is, by turns, beautifully abstract and hauntingly real.

4. ‘The Lion King’ (1994) The pinnacle of Disney’s animated output, thanks to fantastic songs, terrific voice work (all lions should sound like James Earl Jones), and a story with Shakespearean heft (internally, “Lion King” was referred to as “Bamlet,” because of the mixture of kiddie animals and parenticide).

3. ‘Up’ (2009) After recovering from the shattering emotional blow unleashed in the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s most recent film — the history of a marriage, from first love to last looks — “Up” summons a spirit of adventure at every turn. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more unlikely band of adventurers: a septuagenarian, a fat kid and a talking dog. Director Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.”) makes Pixar’s most metaphorical film yet: The house that carries Carl Fredricksen away is also his heaviest burden. Deep stuff, right? Deep and lovely.

2. ‘Spirited Away’ (2001) We talked about Hayao Miyazaki before — you remember, “Spielberg meets Disney” — and this is his sublime masterpiece. Miyazaki plumbs psychological depths from his story about Chichiro, a 10-year-old girl who stumbles into a mystical, dangerous, wondrous fantasyland and must rely on her wits, and bravery she didn’t know she had, to get home. “Spirited Away” unfolds with an unhurried, puzzle-box brilliance that could make anyone an anime/animation convert.

1. ‘WALL-E’ (2008) The purest romance of 21st century cinema thus far is shared by two robots: WALL-E, the last functioning trash droid on Earth, and EVE, the probe sent by the star-lost human race to see if anything was blooming out there in the void. Director Andrew Stanton marshals the limitless power of Pixar’s tech and the limitless talent of Pixar’s artists in the service of a tale so simply complex, so full of heart and hope, that it deserves every accolade its gotten, including this one.

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