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They ain’t just cartoons: Our favorite animated movies

The staff at AiPT! talk about their favorite animated films.

When you are younger, it seems like any cartoon will catch your eye. You then reached that point in childhood when you “realize” cartoons are for kids. Things come full circle as you get older and you realize sometimes the best movies are the ones that are animated. This week AiPT! looks at our favorite animated movies.

What is your favorite animated film?

Rory Wilding: As a fan of Hayao Miyazaki, his 2001 masterpiece Spirited Away stands above all else as he gives his own spin on the Alice in Wonderland formula and presents a coming-of-age tale set within the spirit world of Japanese Shinto-Buddhist folklore. It is strange, scary and at times funny, but most of all it is magical and can be embraced by anyone of any age who are willing to have their imagination burst open.

Forrest Hollingsworth: Rory got Spirited Away, which is my favorite movie of all time, so I’ll go for Akira. When I saw it for the first time a couple of years ago, I was overcome with the feeling of seeing something that I had really never seen before for the first time in a really long time. The mix of surreal and hard sci-fi imagery, the at times overbearing and strange but beautiful soundtrack – it’s a masterpiece.

Nathan Simmons: I’d have to go with another Miyazaki masterpiece, Princess Mononoke, which is not only my favorite animated film, but is also one of my top 5 movies of all time. The animation is lush and bursting with inventive uses of light and shadow. No studio makes magic look more unearthly than Ghibli. Also, you’re unlikely to find characters in any other animated feature who are as complex as the ones in this film. There’s no real sense of good or evil. People are going to be people, for better or worse. I recently saw it on the big screen for the first time as part of Fathom Events’ Studio Ghibli Fest screenings and fell even more in love with it.

Justin Cohen: I’m going in another direction with this, but mine without a doubt is The Lion King. It’s been my favorite film pretty much my whole life. It was one of the first films I saw in theaters and I used to watch it a ton. I still try to watch it once a year or so. Between the songs, the epic scope of it all, the amazing characters, and more, it has everything I could want out of an animated film. I also need to give a special shout out to South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. The amount of times I watched it as a teenager…I can’t even begin to count. I still love it to this day!

Megan Wallen: This is a tough one. I really enjoyed The Croods when it came out. Peter Pan has such a strong place in my heart. I think Wall•E is pretty brilliant. Meet The Robinsons and Surf’s Up are really fun watches.

Davis Pittman: I have many favorites when it comes to animated films, including: Anastasia, 101 Dalmatians, Winnie The Pooh (2011), Chicken Run, The Emperor’s New Groove, and The Incredibles, but my favorite has to be Fantastic Mr. Fox.

What underrated animated film do you love?

Rory: As one of the few people who saw it when it initially came out in the theatres, Brad Bird’s debut feature The Iron Giant is now widely regarded as a modern animated classic. Centering on the friendship between a young boy and a giant robot, it may have its upbeat moments, but with its 50s Cold War setting, it has a melancholic undercurrent that explores the fears of an atomic holocaust and it does not shy away from the theme of death. Bird may have made two Incredibles movies, but The Iron Giant is his first exploration of superheroes and despite the presence of a mechanical man, it is oddly the director’s most human movie.

Forrest: It didn’t open to as rave of reviews as the Ghibli films it’s cribbing from did, but I really enjoyed Mary and the Witch’s Flower. There’s a slightly sinister, but still childlike and wonderful energy to the film that I found endearing, and seeing a world as strange and welcoming as the magical places Mary visits come to life is always a good time.

Nathan: Ha! My first reaction was also The Iron Giant, which is my fiancé’s favorite movie. You’re in good company, Rory! Since that one has been covered, though, I’m gonna go to bat for the wonderfully-absurd The Road to El Dorado. Now, this is most likely a pick based on pure nostalgia, as this movie is definitely not without its flaws. But for sheer entertainment value, this is one that I’ve come back to many times since I was a wee animation snob. While lacking the budget of a Disney feature, this movie boasts some impressive visuals thanks to its emphasis on mythology, Aztec architecture, and distinct character models. The vocal performances by the two leads (Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh) are incredibly endearing and feel so natural that it’s hard to to believe they haven’t done more voice acting. The Elton John songs are a hoot. Oh, and the innuendo sprinkled throughout the movie is kind of shocking. It’s a decidedly different comedic experience watching it as an adult! This one was a major flop when it came out, but my sis and I really gravitated toward its bizarre energy and wore out our VHS copy.

Justin: Cars. Everyone says they either don’t like it or it’s their least favorite Pixar film. I think it catches way too much flack. It’s fun, has a lot of heart, and it’s just a classic feel good film. Not every Pixar film has to break the mold and go new places. Of course it’s predictable, but I love it nonetheless.

Megan: Definitely The Iron Giant. It’s one of the most traumatic kid movies I’ve ever seen.

Davis: I also love The Iron Giant, watched it a lot growing up, but one of my favorite animated films I’ve always thought was underrated is The Emperor’s New Groove. I also think Anastasia is very underrated.

What animated movie made you see animated films differently? 

Rory: Having been exposed to anime at an early age, watching the likes of Akira and Ghost in the Shell made me realize that animation can explore adult material, not just in terms of sex and violence. Akira, in particular remains one of the most complex sci-fi films ever conceived made and considering it was made during the development of the manga it was based on, it is a narrative that is ambiguous but mind-blowing at the same time.

Forrest: What Rory said. No but really, if I had to pull from outside those two, I might go for Princess Mononoke which, like Nausicaa is a more morally grey, daring, and dark movie than some of the following Ghibli films, but also a fantastic one because of it.

Nathan: I hate to repeat, but I honestly think Mononoke would have to be my answer to this one, too. The script is so solemn and contemplative, punctuated every now and then by thrilling action sequences. I had never seen anything like it when I was a kid. It told an adult story and didn’t hold my hand all the way through, which I’m sure was a tough sell when it was being localized for the USA. The English language screenplay also introduced me to Neil Gaiman, who would go on to be one of the major creators that changed how I looked at another medium, the world of comic books. Again, it was an absolute joy to see this one on the big screen, as I could tell how engrossed the kids in the audience were. It’s a VERY deliberately-paced movie, but it’s capable of holding the attention of any age group, and I think that’s very special.

Justin: Either Ghost in the Shell or A Scanner Darkly. Both blew me away at the time in different ways, but both made me realize animated films are a lot more than kids films. Both were sci-fi films in their own right that explored such interesting and at times complex themes. I’ll never forget watching each of them for the first time – definitely a moment where things changed in my head regarding animation and what was capable with it.

Megan: Just because I’m in love with The Beatles, I’m going to say Yellow Submarine. I used to watch that all the time until my niece stepped on the disc, but I think it’s a movie that any age could enjoy.

Davis: It isn’t completely animated, but for me, Who Framed Roger Rabbit gave me a very different view of animation.

Maybe it isn’t your favorite, but which animated movie’s animation blew you away?

Rory: Already in my top ten films of this year, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse shows us animation unlike any other. As an uncommon mix of 2D and 3D animation, Into the Spider-Verse honors the style of the comics, allowing to adapt 70-year-old techniques seen in comic artwork into the film’s visual language. Having only seen it the one time (and loved it), a rewatch is definitely a priority in order to see every other detail that hadn’t been noticed initially.

Forrest: I’m not entirely sure that the Laika films (Kubo, Coraline) are considered animation, but my first and foremost vote is for them because the sheer level of attention-to-detail, aesthetic honing, and craftsmanship there is unparalleled. Barring their inclusion, I absolutely love some of the segments of The Animatrix which I wouldn’t necessarily defend as a great film or anything, but definitely a great experiment in animation technique and implementation.

Nathan: 2017’s Loving Vincent is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  The entire film is painstakingly hand-painted in Vincent van Gogh’s unique style, occasionally finding perfect frames to recreate his famous works in a story about a man desperate to prove that Vincent didn’t take his own life. The movie moves in a manner that is as erratic and lovely as the man himself, with each movement of the characters necessitating a brush stroke to cover up their previous placement in the scene. It’s a style that mirrors the main characters quest: the deeper he gets into the layers of the mystery, the harder it is for him to find where he started. Please do yourself a favor and watch this movie; it’s utterly hypnotic.

Justin: Anomalisa had really impressive animation. Mind blowing how real it looks.

Megan: Definitely Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such A Beautiful Day. I remember being immediately captivating by everything within the first few minutes of the film. I was messaging my friend about it, and she started watching it. I waited for her to catch up so we could give each other a live play-by-play of our thoughts.

Do you prefer animated films based on existing properties or wholly original ideas?

Rory: A combination of the two as animation shouldn’t be classified as a genre, but a format to tell any kind of story, whether it’s original or based on existing material. As long as Pixar gives us more originality as seen in Inside Out that proves to be commercially successful as oppose to another Cars sequel, all’s right with the world.

Forrest: I think it really depends on how far the originality goes with the transition from existing property to animation. Into the Spider-Verse was great great because they really leaned into things that the comics themselves can’t do – not just retellings of 2D stories with no embellishments. But, if we’re getting into the kind of territory where something like The Killing Joke is just being brought to life on screen (almost) beat for beat without exploring what the animation can do to embolden that? I’m not really interested, and I would rather see something wholly new like Isle of Dogs.

Nathan: Look, I’m always going to be excited for an animated film based on a property I love. I’m still buying every DCAU flick that hits the shelves (Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman is everything to me), but original stories are so important. In the realm of animation, there’s so much that can be accomplished that cannot be convincingly portrayed in live action. It’s the same direct line to the imagination that draws (heh) me to comic books! The creators of these brand new stories stories can let their beautiful brains run wild for us and I’m all about it.

Justin: I love both, but I tend to prefer original ideas at the end of the day.

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