Following on from my post about childhood Disney memories, I thought I’d draw your attention to some non-Disney animations which are just as good, if not better, than some of the Disney standards.
A film about a horse, with next to no dialogue besides a voice over by Matt Damon. Not your standard movie pitch, but this somewhat unknown film actually has some great moments. It’s entirely made by the music; a combination of Hans Zimmer’s dramatic orchestration and original music by Bryan Adams which serve to fill in for the missing dialogue.
It would have been so easy to tell this story with talking animals, just like nearly other animated feature out there, but the fact that they didn’t makes Spirit just that little but different.
Another one by Dreamworks; this is just plain fun. Voiced by Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, Spanish con artists Tulio and Miguel set out in search of the lost City of Gold and then have to decide what they value more, money or friendship. It could be an incredibly schmaltzy story, but in fact it’s packed with laughs, more often for the grown ups than the kids, and with another knockout soundtrack. This time Zimmer is joined by John Powell and the legendary Elton John, again letting the music tell the story in a way that feels more organic than having the characters bursting into song (although they do once). Incidentally, this is one of the many outings of Zimmer’s “pirate theme,” which turns up in nearly every movie he’s worked on.
Dreamworks seem to have cornered the market in more “grown up” animations, which is probably why they dominate this list.
3. Happy Feet
This one tends to divide people, but at risk or repeating myself, it’s the music again that makes this one for me. John Powell has written a beautiful score, and I just love the way that various classic songs get mashed together. The interplay of Mumble’s tap dancing with the music is also a brilliant touch.
But we’re sick of me gushing about music right, so what about the story? I will admit it slows down considerably in the middle where it teeters on the edge of getting that little bit too preachy about global warming, but I’m willing to forgive that on the basis that it’s a really original idea, with some loveable characters (stand up Robin Williams’ array of Adelie penguins) and a lot of heart. The animation is also very well done, particularly in the rare glimpses of the human world, where, if you’re paying enough attention, you can spot a few famous names who helped with the mo-cap performances.
2. The Iron Giant
When this turned up on Ross McG’s list of films he watched over Christmas it made me smile, even if he did only catch 10 minutes of it. The Iron Giant is a fantastic film which far too few people have heard of. Directed by Brad Bird, who went on to become one of the Pixar Gods, and with voices from Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston and Harry Connick Jr, this film contains lines that I still quote on a regular basis (“Sir, you’re in the road…”). Set in a paranoid cold war America, the animation has a period feel to it, but the script is razor sharp and the story is heartwarming without being sickly. If there’s one film on this list that I really want you to go out and watch, this is it.
I tried to think of a less obvious number one. I really did. But you just can’t beat Shrek. When it came out, everyone’s jaws dropped in unison…and then we started laughing. Here is a move which takes everything Disney has been doing for the last 50 years and, as I once heard poetically put in an interview, “bitch slaps it.” The Knight in shining armour is an Ogre, his side kick is an irritating Donkey who wont stop singing. The villain is knee height and voiced by John Lithgow. Every moment of the film was built for maximum laughs and hits the mark every time. The first time I saw Shrek inflate a frog to make a balloon I nearly choked on my popcorn.
The thing I love most about Shrek though is the fact that it refuses to conform. While every other film about someone who doesn’t quite fit in (Disney or otherwise) ends with the lead character becoming just like everybody else, in Shrek, our Princess finishes up the movie as an Ogre living in a swamp. And that is exactly why it is one of the best animations to come out of any studio in the last decade.
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