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Time Out's 50 greatest animated films: part 3

In celebration of the release of Pixar's 'Up' and Wes Anderson's beautiful stop-motion rendering of Roald Dahl's 'Fantastic Mr Fox', Time Out ushers in the help of master animator Terry Gilliam – whose own partially animated 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' opens in cinemas this month – to run down 50 of the greatest animated features of all time

Click here for 20 through to 11

30. Porco Rosso (1992)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Pigs might fly…
The thorny consequences of crossing the gods is a staple of myth and legend, but you can safely attribute the idea that the whole business might involve being turned into a flying pig to Miyazaki. ‘Porco Rosso’ is a man-swine crossbreed fighter ace, doomed to fly around an off-kilter 1920s Mediterranean doing battle with air pirates and being generally enigmatic in the face of the kind of cave-mouthed, wild-eyed villains that only Japanese animation can produce. This is at once both Miyazaki’s most fully realised fantasy world and the closest the director has come to straight-up historical drama. World War I provides the catalyst for Rosso’s porcine transformation, but the ensuing change in the status of women and the rise of fascism background the purely fantastical, with the curly-tailed aviator piloting his biplane through a Med composed of tiny islands. Throw in a tragic, 'Beauty and the Beast'-style love interest, some ‘Casablanca’ references and a determinedly downbeat ending and you have a beguiling take on loss and porky heroics. PF
Watch a scene from the film

Read the Time Out review of '
Porco Rosso'

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29. The Secret of NIMH (1982)
Directed by Don Bluth
Keeping it trad

Wholesome but not cloying, emotional but not sentimental, mystical but not nonsensical – the 1982 animation of children's book ‘Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh’ offered the sort of traditional hand-drawn animation that director Don Bluth and his collaborators had mastered in their earlier days as animators for Disney films such as 'Robin Hood', ‘The Rescuers’ and ‘The Fox and the Hound’. This was Bluth's first attempt to go it alone and celebrate the old-fashioned values of the animation craft that he and his allies felt were being eroded by the studios. The characters are vivid, rounded and memorable, from wise old rat Nicodemus (voiced by Derek Jacobi) and scheming rodent Jenner, to clumsy, well-meaning crow Jeremy and fragile field mouse Mrs Brisby, whose house is threatened by the harvest and turns to the rats, who knew her late husband, for help. Fantasy meets family in a tale full of peril and wonder. DC

Watch the trailer here

Read the Time Out review of 'The Secret of NIMH'

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28. Persepolis
Directed Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud
Children of the revolution
Could this be the first time someone has taken a warts-and-all diary and put it through the animation spinner? Marjane Statrapi wrote and co-directed this humorous and humane adaptation of the titular graphic novel which told of her life growing up in Tehran during the years of political strife in the ’70s and ’80s. Resilient, independent minded and not the sort of girl to let a militant fundamentalist regime prevent her from listening to thrash metal, the film initially details Satrapi’s irate attitude towards those social iniquities not only piled upon the liberal middle classes, but mainly on women. We then see how she fares when her parents send her to Europe to enjoy the freedoms that were never afforded them. Mimicking the minimalist, high contrast monochrome style of the source material, the film’s primary pleasure is how its makers are able to draw so much texture, insight and sentiment from what is essentially a jumble of carefully placed lines and dots. DJ
Watch the ‘Eye of the Tiger’ scene here

Read the Time Out review of 'Persepolis'

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27. 'Antz' v 'A Bug's Life' (both 1998)
Directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson v John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton
There’s a world going on underground
At the end of the day, it boils down to what it is you’re looking for in an animated feature – a drab and hamfisted Marxist allegory rammed down your throat for two hours or a three-ringed circus of unbridled invention and winsome charm. ‘Antz’ may boast a greater array of vocal talent, but it spends too much time pitching gags over the kiddies’ heads and flogging its adult credentials to ever get down to basics and actually entertain. Cartoons, of course, aren’t just for children, but ‘Antz’, in falling back on kid-friendly by-the-numbers cartoon plotting, plunges between the stools of satire and slapstick.

‘A Bug’s Life’, though it contains a few smart quips that junior won’t catch, is a far more inclusive romp that follows a rag-tag bunch of losers, buffoons and bunglers in their ‘Seven Samurai’ – or ‘Bugnificent Seven’, if you prefer – style attempt to save their tiny town from a band of bastard grasshoppers. Colourful, idiosyncratic and full of heart, it’s the very opposite of ‘Antz’s dreary whining. ALD
Click here for the trailer to ‘A Bug’s Life’

Read the Time Out review of 'A Bug's Life'

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26. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
If you go down to the woods today… take a rifle.
The term ‘feral’ may be frowned upon these days, but it more than encapsulates the prickly persona of the eponymous heroine of Miyazaki’s 1997 stunner, the film which was responsible for bringing the awe-inspiring output of Studio Ghibli to a wider English-speaking audience. As with much of the director’s work, the ecological fall-out from unrestricted industrialisation is the underlying theme, played out as a violent pitch battle between a town of ironmongers who have been cutting down trees in the nearby forest and the incensed inhabitants (Mononoke and her beastly chums) of said copse. So dense is the story and so large the ensemble of characters that it is sometimes difficult to decipher what exactly is going on. Then again, being forced to coast on the back of the dazzling and innovative hand-drawn visuals is hardly a chore. DJ
Watch the trailer here

Read the Time Out review of 'Princess Mononoke'

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25. Watership Down (1978)
Directed by Martin Rosen
Exodus on the Hampshire downs
There’s something of the biblical epic in Richard Adams’s neatly conceived tale, following as it does the journey of a bob-tailed Chosen One charged with leading his people out of a doomed society and into a promised land. And like its Old Testament inspiration, the story of Fiver, Hazel and their followers doesn’t pull any punches on the slaying and blood-letting front, with graphic depictions of mass killing, police brutality and the (again, horrible) consequences of worshipping false idols. In fact, the religious and folkloric background of the bunny society is one of the most engaging aspects of the film, which opens with a stunning primitivist sequence detailing the warren’s creation myth and the genesis of the tricksy, cunning nature of the rabbit. But while it’s easy to make any number of metaphorical and philosophical readings, Adams was also hugely interested in the real lives of his subjects, and much of the source novel’s factual detail makes the transition to film, producing a deep sense of inhabiting the perilous world of the floppy-eared exiles. PF
Watch a compilation of clips from the film set to Marilyn Manson

Read the Time Out review of 'Watership Down'

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24. The Incredibles (2004)
Directed by Brad Bird
'Watchmen', but, y’know, for kids.
A surprisingly formulaic plot is the only thing keeping this barnstorming superhero spoof from true classic status. A far more illuminating peek under the spandex of the masked hero than Zack Snyder’s moribund ‘Watchmen’ adaptation, it delves into the workaday concerns of a family of retired crimefighters who are called back into action by the evil shenanigans of an old foe. The superhero mythos is exploited with wit and verve, and the frenetic action sequences are expertly paced and madly ingenious all the way up to and including the bonkers final showdown. Director Bird is one of the most consistently excellent directors working in any form of cinema at moment, and we await his next outing like hungry, hungry hippos. ALD
Click here for ‘The Incredibles’ blooper reel

Read the Time Out review of 'The Incredibles'

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23. Perfect Blue (1997)
Directed by Satoshi Kon
Animé with a hard, Hitchcockian edge
This disturbing noir-tinged stalk ‘n’ slash thriller set in the world of Japanese bubblegum pop was the debut movie from Studio Madhouse maverick, Satoshi Kon. Mina is the lynchpin of adored femme three-piece Cham!, but when she leaves the band to pursue a career in acting, the hardened superfans have got other plans for her. Roger Corman described the film as the imaginary product of Hitchcock making a film for Disney; not sure about the Disney part, but he hit the nail on the head with Hitch, as ‘Perfect Blue’ offers a deep and analytical study of voyeurism, obsession, identity and fear and how they manifest themselves in the human psyche. The famous scene in ‘Psycho’ where Janet Leigh’s paranoid inner monologue is heard as she drives towards the Bates Motel is echoed on numerous occasions here, especially where Mina finds herself repeating the line ‘Excuse me, who are you?’ (her first line on her new soap opera) until it takes on a new and darker meaning. Kon is known for his love of American genre filmmaking, but ‘Perfect Blue’ is not just a melange of references; it’s a jagged and extraordinary work, one which perfectly marshals the subtleties of the medium to combine fantasy and reality with bracing and original effect. DJ
Watch the trailer here

Read the Time Out review of 'Perfect Blue'

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22. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) & Coraline (2009)
Directed by Henry Selick
No, they're not directed by Tim Burton!
The name Henry Selick may not have rung many bells prior to the release of his grotesque 3D delight, ‘Coraline’, earlier this year. To all who saw ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, it was widely believed to have been a Tim Burton joint through and through, despite the fact that it was Sellick who was the man who was really making the magic happen on screen. Both films deal with duel realities, the former taking in the travails of the dapper Jack Skeleton and his wonderful trip from his birthplace of ‘Halloween Town’ to ‘Christmas Town’, while the latter sees young Coraline seeking solace from her bickering parents in a strange, secluded portal in the wall of their new house. The stop-motion animation itself is jaw-dropping: fluid, detailed and expressive. What pushes the films to this high placing is their impeccable, timeless stories which examine and celebrate the fantastical but always through the prism of a scarily real world. ‘Nightmare’ is still so popular that it seems to get revived in cinemas on a yearly basis, plus Jack’s pumpkin noggin has been adopted as an emblem of solidarity by the emo/goth community. Now that’s cachet! DJ
Watch the intro to 'Nightmare... ' here

Read the Time Out review of 'Nightmare... ' here

Read the Time Out review of 'Coraline' here

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21. Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Directed by Yoshifumi Kondo
John Denver is big in Japan, apparently
You could sit through ‘Whisper of the Heart’, one of Studio Ghibli’s lesser-known masterworks, and ponder: did this really need to be an animated movie? Eschewing the expressionist flights of fancy most associated with the medium, Kondo’s film is more of a muted family drama that takes place in a very basic and very real Japanese neighbourhood while adopting as its focus the growing pains of sprightly teenage heroine, Shizuku. It traces her persistent attempts to become an author, mainly of pop song lyrics, but takes a sweetly-realised romantic detour when she develops a crush on a fellow student who yearns to be a violin maker in Italy. A lavish dream sequence involving a statue of a Germanic cat in tails and a top hat is the only time we depart from reality, but here is a film that uses the gifts of the animated form to magnify the tiny magical minutiae of everyday life. Things like an ornamental grandfather clock that tells a story when it chimes, or a cat that jumps on a train and leads Shizuku to an antique shop… The realist backdrop in turn makes these small moments feel all the more pertinent, especially as the film works hard to convey the uplifting notion that inspiration can take many weird and wonderful forms – it’s just waiting for you to find it. How else could an ad-hoc chamber music rendition of John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ bring a big, salty tear to your eye? A beautiful film. DJ
Watch the trailer here


Click here for 20 through to 11

Author: Derek Adams, Dave Calhoun, Adam Lee Davies, Paul Fairclough, Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins & Ossian Ward



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