After I published my list ordering my favorite Pixar movies last week, my dear friend Jo issued me a challenge: “That’s all well and good, Allen, but that was easy because you’re a die-hard Pixar fanboy. I’d be curious to see a list of your favorite animated movies not made by Pixar.” (She said something like that. I’m paraphrasing.)
I, of course, took that challenge and set about figuring out the best of the rest. The earlier list was easier, because there are only thirteen Pixar films and I knew roughly what order to put them in. This compilation, though, took a lot more effort — I knew number one and had a good idea about two, but really had to put some thought into the rest of the movies to include.
I’ll admit that my list is very American-animation-industry-centric. I haven’t seen enough animated movies from other parts of the world — not nearly enough anime, for instance, so there’s no anime represented here. And while I’ve seen a few of the Studio Ghibli films, they don’t seem quite to be my cup of green tea, which I’m sure is nausea-inducing sacrilege to many of you reading this. Please feel free to curse my name the next time you watch Princess Mononoke.
Before we get down to animated tacks, let’s take a look at the Honorable Mentions: Despicable Me (2010), The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Surf’s Up (2008), Hercules (1997), and Tarzan (1999).
OK, there. Now that that’s done, presenting in increasing order of favorosity:
10. Mulan (1998)No princesses here: just a female lead who takes up her family’s mantle of honor and heroism in an effort to save her country. OK, sure, she has to pretend to be a man for most of the movie to do it, but the point is that she’s every bit as capable of bravery and action as the guys.
Of course there’s a romance angle, but it’s never the driving force behind any of Mulan’s actions or decisions. Mulan is a movie I have no problem letting my two daughters watch — they actually haven’t seen it for awhile because our DVD disappeared, but writing this capsule has made me want to hunt it down so they can see it again.
(Bonus points both for providing a look into ancient Chinese culture and for the fact that Shang’s singing voice came via the mouth and lungs of Mr. Donny Osmond.)
9. Megamind (2010)
Megamind was my very favorite from the category of CGI 3D Movies About Super-Villains Who Turn Out To Be Not So Evil After All Released in 2010. It’s not an extensive genre, to be sure, but it’s somewhat notable for its overall quality: the only other entry, Despicable Me, actually showed up above on the Honorable Mention section of this list.
Unlike Despicable Me, in which there didn’t seem to be any superheroes to combat the two super-villains, Megamind effectively plays with the expectations of the superhero movie. The smart script consistently sets events and characters up along standard tropes before subverting them in satisfying ways.
8. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Notorious for being the reanimated (hah hah) corpse of another, more serious but totally failed take on the same concept, The Emperor’s New Groove felt like a project where the writers and animators were allowed to go, well, a little nuts. And go nuts they did: Groove stands as one of the most bizarre, outlandish films in the Disney canon — and just might be the funniest. I mean, c’mon, people — Eartha Kitt voiced the fiendishly, ambitiously evil Yzma and Patrick Warburton was Kronk, her thick-headed-but-good-hearted assistant. Those two voices alone should give you a sense for this movie.
And I’ve always really appreciated Groove‘s message, which boils down to (in the immortal words of the likely-not-so-immortal Wil Wheaton): “Don’t be a dick.”
7. Lilo and Stitch (2002)While I’ll admit that it runs off the rails a bit in the second half, I still stand by my assertion that the introduction of Lilo — from her belief that feeding a particular fish a peanut butter sandwich will control the weather, to her heartbreaking rejection and reclamation of her hand-made doll, to lying on the floor lip-synching to Elvis songs…well, OK, when I put it that way, it sounds awfully precious. But it wasn’t: it was a fantastic way to show the audience (rather than simply tell them) exactly what they’d be getting with this very unusual little girl.
In something of an unusual move for Disney, Lilo and Stitch doesn’t look like anything else Disney has done. The bloated, squishy-looking characters bear the distinctive vision of director Chris Sanders (more on him a little later) rather than conforming to the Disney “house style.” LnS certainly feels more “auteur”-y than your average Disney cartoon, and I think that unique voice was one of the big reasons I ended up enjoying it as much as I did.
6. The Lion King (1994)
I watched this movie on VHS by myself every Sunday night for six weeks straight in the summer of ’95.
Man, that summer sucked.
5. Kung Fu Panda (2008)/Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)It doesn’t matter how many times I see the KFP movies — I still watch the art direction with my jaw nearly on the floor. Even if I didn’t like the story or the characters or the world the filmmakers have created (all of which I very much do), I’d be able to watch both Kung Fu Panda movies over and over with the sound muted and still enjoy the hell out of them. Both _KFP_s are among my favorite movies ever, animated or otherwise, purely in terms of design and ornate visual spectacle.
Also, as great as most of the voice cast is (by which I mean most everyone not named Angelina Jolie), you’ve got to admire any series that manages to nab Ian MacShane and Gary Oldman to bring the villains to delicious life.
4. Tangled (2010)
I’ll admit that I was totally blindsided by Tangled — I knew very little about it before Terry took the girls to go see it. I didn’t even know it was considered part of Disney’s “animated canon” until well after the fact, which seems like something I really should have known.
Even still, even after my family saw it and said they thought it was fantastic, I still wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. But I bought it on DVD anyway, since I knew they liked it, and then we settled in to watch it for one of our Family Movie Nights… and I loved it. I thought Mandy Moore was completely charming, I liked Zachary Levi’s rakish scoundrel, Donna Murphy’s Broadway theatricality, Maximus’ equine doggishness (or canine horseiness). The songs sparkled, the artwork was gorgeous (I was amazed by how well they made a CGI movie fit so well visually with the traditional Disney fairy tales) and the character animation was dead-on.
I’d also like to take a minute here to counter an argument I saw online earlier, that Tangled‘s Rapunzel falls into the “princess only looking for romance” genre. Not true. Yes, she falls for Flynn, of course she does, but like in Mulan, that romance is almost incidental — what she wants is freedom, to be able to see the lights in the night sky for herself, to experience the world outside of her tower. Her relationship with Flynn is part of the story, yes, but she’s not defined by it the way so many of the old-school Disney princesses were. Anyway.
3. Beauty and the Beast (1991)This movie had a profound effect on me way back when I was twenty, and settling into the beginning of several years of being pretty depressed and miserable and filled with self-loathing. I felt unloved and worse, unlovable — and to see the beautiful, bookish, brave Belle fall in love with the “horrible, monstrous” Beast (which, yes, is how I felt about myself)… well, it gave me a glimmer of hope that I’d be able to find love, too. (Spoiler: I did.)
I saw Beauty and the Beast three times in the theater that winter, twice by myself. And while it might not still speak to me in the same way, it still has a permanent residence in my heart.
2. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
My favorite non-Pixar CGI movie, and the one that looks and feels to me most like it could have been made by those geniuses in Emeryville. The story’s got heart, the character design and animation is fantastic, and the last twenty minutes nearly had me breathless. Somehow, this movie slipped under my radar when it first came out, but I took my kids to see it because, hey, dragons — and then during the ending credits, when I saw it was written and directed by Christopher Sanders, I realized I should have been paying more attention. (Mr. Sanders’ name will be showing up again a little later in the list, which was I felt like I should have anticipated this movie better.)
Movies that feature the theme “be yourself rather than listening to your ‘shoulds’” (a not-uncommon message in movies aimed at kids) resonate pretty strongly with me. Hiccup’s realization that he just wasn’t like the other Vikings, that he didn’t even want what he thought he wanted and just couldn’t be what was expected of him… let’s just say that maybe that bit poked at my tender places inside more than a little.
1. The Iron Giant (1999)Not only is The Iron Giant my favorite animated movie not by Pixar, I love it more than most of Pixar’s ouevre. It’s one of my top five movies ever, animated or not. I absolutely adore this movie to pieces.
I love Hogarth. I love the Giant. I love Dean. I love Annie. I hate Kent Mansley exactly the way I’m supposed to. I love the coastal New England setting. I love the humor and the heart and the depth of emotion. I love the Superman references.
And I love the ending. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again here: it’s like Brad Bird line up all of my Buttons and didn’t just press them all at once, he mauled them. I generally don’t cry at movies, even ones blatantly manipulating my emotions. But I freely admit that I bawled like a baby with his foot in a beartrap at the end of The Iron Giant.
Awright, who’s behind this?!Allen Holt has been thinking and writing about pop culture for as long as there has been pop culture. Or for most of his life, anyway. Want to know more? Head on over to the "About the Author" page.
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