Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Top 20 animated movies: Part 4, #1-5

My Top 20 animated films (continued)

I would just like to mention that Grave of the Fireflies was included in my Top 20 dramas and has therefore been omitted from this list. It would have placed second.

Here are my Top 5 animated films:

5. Ratatouille (2007)
Directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
Starring the voices of Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Ian Holm and Janeane Garofalo

If you have read my other three articles in this series, you’ll know I love Pixar. The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Cars, Wall-E and the Toy Story trilogy narrowly missed making my Top 20, but all are worth owning. Ratatouille is my favorite entry from the studio and I would love to see a sequel one day. Remy (Oswalt) is a rat, gifted with an enhanced sense of taste and smell. He can tell the other rats what’s safe to eat, but aspires to be something more. After seeing a cooking show on TV, he discovers that he would like to cook. He seems naturally gifted and teams up with Linguini (Romano), who works as a kitchen boy in a Parisian restaurant. Linguini has no talent as a chef, but Remy finds that he can control him by tugging strands of hair while hiding under his toque. His food is popular with the customers, but he has to find a way to realize his ambitions. His journey is a lot of fun. Remy communicates almost entirely through body language when he’s with humans and his little gestures convey a lot of feeling. He’s such a happy little guy that it’s difficult to dislike him.

At 111-minutes, Ratatouille might not hold the attention of young children, but there’s no questionable content. It’s informative and charming, but lacks the constant action associated with most animation. The Blu-ray presentation is among the best you’ll find.

Click here for my full review.

4. Ponyo (2008)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring the voices of Noah Lindsey Cyrus, Frankie Jonas, Liam Neeson and Tina Fey

My love for Miyazaki’s films started three years ago when I bought Ponyo on Blu-ray. After seeing his charming view of the world, I sought out every other title I could find from Studio Ghibli. Ponyo (Cyrus) is a little fish with the face of a girl and she escapes her underwater home and encounters Sosuke (Jonas). He rescues her when she becomes trapped in a discarded bottle and takes her home in a bucket. After licking blood from a cut on his finger, she starts to take on human form and the two become friends. Sosuke’s mother, Lisa (Fey), accepts the situation and knows that Ponyo is magical. Ponyo’s father (Neeson) looks for her because her presence in the human world is causing nature to be out of balance. The story is delightful and I love watching the two children grow closer. Ponyo loves ham and is capable of performing magic, while Sosuke accepts her for exactly what she is. Like other Miyazaki films, it’s a good place to visit. People respect each other and there are no villains. The weather and the balance of nature are the two biggest situations to overcome, and the whole story is a lot of fun. The animation is beautiful, especially during the opening scene in Ponyo’s home under the sea.

The Disney Blu-ray is an ideal way to experience this colorful world. Some might argue that Ponyo is aimed at young children, but I would say that the whole family should enjoy it. I don’t find it childish at all.

3. Spirited Away (2001)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring the voices of Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette and David Ogden Stiers

Spirited Away won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. The story starts simply enough when Chihiro (Chase), a 10-year-old girl, discovers an old amusement park with her parents. Although deserted, the stalls contain hot food. When the parents start to eat, they turn into pigs. She encounters Haku (Marsden), a boy who lives in the town, and he explains that she can only stay if she finds work. Chihiro begins the story as a whiny brat who complains about everything, but learning to work and taking responsibility for saving her parents changes her. She begins a long quest and we encounter all kinds of strange beings along the way. It’s probably the most complex of Miyazaki’s worlds and needs the full 124-minute running time to show us everything in sufficient detail. Chihiro helps Haku discover his true identity along the way and meets an interesting multi-limbed character named Kamaji (Stiers), who runs a boiler room and is happy to help her.

Some of the scenes are a little scarier than those in films such as Ponyo or My Neighbor Totoro, but it's still suitable for the whole family. There’s no Blu-ray release as yet, so you’ll have to pick up the DVD or wait a while if you want to own it.

2. NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring the voices of Alison Lohman, Shia LaBeouf, Patrick Stewart and Uma Thurman

The film was originally released in the US as Warriors of the Wind, but the extensive cuts lost the essence of the story and ruined it. The post-apocalyptic setting is epic in scope. Humans have polluted the Earth to such a degree that all that’s left are deserts, and jungles filled with poisonous plants. The people have to wear breathing masks to avoid the toxic air. Princess NausicaƤ is a teenage girl with a good heart. She’s in tune with nature and the creatures inhabiting her strange world, and appreciates her surroundings. Her first instinct is to trust people and she believes that there’s good to be found in everyone. This vast journey shows us an unusual world filled with threats both real and perceived. NausicaƤ has a few secrets and hopes to transform her damaged world. The ignorance of some of the people she encounters threatens the safety of all humans and everything she’s trying to achieve.

This is one of Miyazaki’s most adult-orientated films, but I wouldn’t stop young children from seeing it. The Disney Blu-ray is a big improvement over the DVD and I would recommend it to anyone.

1. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring the voices of Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly and Pat Carroll

To be honest, I’m not sure whether Totoro is Miyazaki’s best film. It’s like trying to decide which of your children you prefer over the others. All of his films make me smile and I’m always moved when I watch any of them. Miyazaki sees things that most of us take for granted and manages to capture it in simple animation. The reason I have put Totoro above his other films (today at least) is the relationship between sisters Satsuki (Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Elle Fanning). Satsuki looks out for Mei, while Mei mimics her sister and obviously loves her. When the girls and their father move into a new house, I love seeing the determination on Mei’s face as she curiously explores her surroundings. For around 30 minutes, we focus on those charming scenes. Then, one day, Mei goes exploring on her own and meets a huge Totoro, who is a magical creature living in the nearby woods. He’s not threatening in any way so Mei goes to sleep on his belly. The two girls befriend the creature, who can only be seen if he wants to be seen. The world is a wonderful place, free of danger.

Young children will probably love My Neighbor Totoro, but adults should see something in it too. It’s beautiful and full of innocence, and shows us what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of a child. A Blu-ray release could come within a year or so, but it’s only available on DVD at present.

Click here for my full review.

If you have read the entire list, you’ll see that Hayao Miyazaki features prominently. Seven of the films he directed made my Top 20, and he wrote the screenplay for one of the others. If you haven’t checked out his films because they are Japanese, please consider giving one a try. All are dubbed into English and feature actors that you’ll be familiar with. I can’t promise you’ll love them as much as I do, but the potential reward is worth the time investment.

Did I include your favorites on my list? Thanks for reading and feel free to comment or post your own favorites.

Click here to see #16-20 on my list.

Click here to see #11-15 on my list.


  1. Interesting to see no Toy Story make an appearance on this list.

    Really good & unique list!

  2. It's been almost a year since I did the list. I would definitely add The Secret World of Arrietty. I like Toy Story, but don't love it.

    1. Ah, to each their own!

      The Secret World of Arrietty is another I must watch.

  3. What? Mononoke at 16th? I personally think that this film is a very strong candidate for the best film ever made (animated or live action). I would think it is almost ludicrous to put a film such as Tangled before it.

    I don't have any great admiration for North American animation. These films lack complexity and depth.

    1. Mononoke would make my Top 10 now. I had only seen it once when I did that list. I still rate a few Studio Ghibli titles ahead of it though.

  4. *I am the same anynomous as above.

    My list of top 20 animated films would look like this:

    1 - Nausicaa
    2 - Mononoke
    3 - Spirited Away
    4 - Grave of the Fireflies
    5 - My Neighbor Totoro
    6 - Only Yesterday
    7 - Whisper of the Heart
    8 - Kiki's Delivery Service
    9 - Castle in the Sky
    10 - Akira
    11 - Howl's Moving Castle
    12 - Summer Wars
    13 - Ghost in the Shell
    14 - Wall-E
    15 - Ponyo
    16 - Bambi
    17 - Porco Rosso
    18 - Up
    19 - Ratatouille
    20 - Perfect Blue

    There is it: 9 directed by Miyazaki, 10 written by Miyazaki, 2 Takahata, 3 Pixar, 1 Disney and 4 anime films by 4 other directors.

    My top 5 would have 3 of your top 5. :) I pretty much agree on that, just replace ratatouille and ponyo with mononoke and grave of the fireflies.

    And note: I don't consider Nausicaa superior to Mononoke or Spirited Away but equivalent in quality, but since it was the greatest landmark in feature length animation since Snow White I put it first (Nausicaa was the first "serious" animated film and blew everything that had ever existed in animation away in 1984, like Citizen Kane did ). The top 3 are all great and I think that each, on its own way, is perfect (though Nausicaa has some minor animation glitches due to its smaller budget).

    1. That's a great list.

      Grave of the Fireflies would place second in my list, but I wrote about it in my Top 20 Dramas and decided to leave it off for that reason.

      I've seen 16 of yours.

      Wallace & Gromit and Fantastic Mr. Fox need to be in there somewhere :)

      Even like-minded people can't agree 100 percent on everything.