Best Animated Movies of the 21st Century

Well, IndieWire is going all out and clearly defining what the greatest animated movies of the whole 21st century is and we aren’t even close to the end of the century. Sure it is nice to look back and recommend some films from the past years but call it the best films of the past decade or something like that. There are several films that you’d expect to be on the list but there are a couple that I’ve never heard of.  Sure several films deserve to be on the list but others seem like a weird choice to be on the list. It hits several winners of the Animated Feature Oscar, from one of the first, Spirited Away to Toy Story 3. Then there are others which never heard of like Paprika, Sita Sings the Blues and The Tale of Princess Kaguya. It was nice to see that about eight were not made in America and only four were from the Disney/Pixar brand. However there are some film that should have been on this list like Kubo and the Two Strings and others that shouldn’t have been on the list Finding Nemo or The Lego Movie sure they are good films but are overrated films. Sure this list come two year after IndieWire published a list of the 25 Best Animated Films of the 21st Century, and several of the films on this list aren’t on this newer list. By and large across the board it seems like everyone agrees that Studio Ghibli’s film Spirited Away is the best of all the animated films so far.

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Kubo and the Two Strings

Since Kubo was nominated for an Oscar I though that I should watch this movie it’s the only film that might have had a chance to beat Disney. Kubo comes from Laika which has put out some remarkable stop motion films all of which have been nominated for Best Animated Feature but they have yet to break though and beat Disney. Spoilers to follow.

Kubo and the Two Strings is set in ancient Japan is about stories. As the film begins we have a great hook “If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem. And please be warned: If you fidget, if you look away, if you forget any part of what I tell you – even for an instant – then our hero will surely perish. ” Then we see a mother and her child trying to escape something and they wash up on shore. Time passes and Kubo is a young boy with one eye and he lives with his ill mother, Sariatu in a cave atop a mountain by a village. Everyday Kubo goes down to the village where he goes and tells the story of Hanzo, a brave samurai who happens to be Kubo’s father using origami and music. As the bell rings signaling sunset Kubo need to head home as his mother warns him that her sisters and father would come and try and steal his other eye. After hearing about the Bon festival, which is a Buddhist custom that honors the spirit of your ancestors, Kubo decides to talk to his father’s spirit however father doesn’t answer Kubo leaves angry but it’s too late as it is after dark and his aunts attack him. Kubo barely escapes with the help of his mother who sacrifices herself so Kubo can go find the magic armor that his father was looking for.

Kubo is awoken by a monkey, it is his monkey charm that has been brought to life. So Monkey and Kubo begin on their quest after a day they rest and over night Kubo dreams and a little Hanzo has been folded and came to life. Little Hanzo now leads them on the quest for the armor. As they follow Hanzo, Kubo falls and stumbles upon a giant beetle, a samurai who was cursed and was an apprentice of Hanzo. After hearing that Kubo is Hanzo’s son Beetle decides to joins the quest. They go out to look for the Sword Unbreakable, the Breastplate Impenetrable, and Invulnerable Helmet. Will they find them before Kubo is discovered by his aunts and the Moon King takes his remaining eye?

The film is about stories and memory as most of the stories that are told are memories of Hanzo. If you want to watch a film that’s gotten raves from everywhere that’s not from Disney this is where to start. It’s a simple story but it has such emotional depth and reflection upon what is family. Kubo is a great little film and if you haven’t seen it you are surely missing out.

The Little Prince (2015)

The film The Little Prince is based on the novella Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. If you haven’t read it yet, take the time and go read it now. After I read it the first time I found the movie musical version made in 1974 with music and lyrics by Lerner and Lowe it’s weird to say the least. So I was highly anticipating the release of the film from the first time I saw a trailer as it has a unique look to it. Spoilers to follow

The story begins within a framing device of a workaholic mom and her daughter move in next door to an old aviator, and the mom pressures her to succeed in life even though she is so young. Planning every single moment life down to the minute, the daughter is lonely. After the move into a new house the aviator next door try to fly his plane and the propeller flies off and into their house.  That evening while the daughter is studying in comes a paper airplane on which the story of the Little Prince is written. This begins the main story as the Aviator is the one who wrote the story. These story section of the film are unique as they are stop motion and it seems like it’s made of paper most of the time which I think make it like they just popped out from the book. So we get bits of his story of the Little Prince mixed in with the girl. It takes a beloved story and adds some more to it and makes it better in the end.

If you are a fan of animation this is something you need to check out. It is available on Netflix in the US and I believe on Blu-Ray/DVD around the globe. It won the Cesar (French Oscars) for Best Animated Film in 2015. It is a shame that no major distributor in the US wanted to release it since it is a whole lot better than some other animated films I’ve seen recently.

Zootopia (2016)

The latest Disney animated film Zootopia is a decent kids movie with the message that you can be whatever you want to be, and touched on the topic of prejudice and stereotypes. Spoilers to follow.

In Zootopia we follow the story of Judy Hopps, the first bunny police officer in Zootopia as she joins the force. Judy is given as her first assignment parking duty, but she as valedictorian of her class at the police academy feels this is beneath her. On her first day she gets hustled by Nick Wilde, a fox con artist. The next day when Judy see the opportunity to chase criminals she goes for it and before she can be fired for insubordination she is given two days to solve one of the biggest cases to face Zootopia or resign. There are several missing animals who are all predators and Judy is looking for Mr. Otterton. Judy enlists the help of Nick to help her solve the case as he was the last person to see Otterton, she blackmails Nick to help. When all leads dry up and we think Judy might have to resign but she’s got ten hours left to solve the case and they don’t result in anything spectacular. Judy resigns and goes back home and it is here where she makes a big break on the case and she goes back to Zootopia and finds Nick to solve the case.   It does hammer the bigotry points a bit as well as the you can do anything, the big song in the whole movie is called “Try Everything”.

It like all Disney films is pretty good and most people will enjoy it.

Voltron: Legendary Defender

So growing up I watched some Voltron, it wasn’t all the episodes since the original series was over before I could watch television.  It was watched over the years in syndication or whatever. When I heard Netflix was going to reboot the series I thought it would be something interesting to see again.

The new series Legendary Defender changes it up quite a bit or at least the best I can remember and on top of that it’s really good. Sure it’s a Dream Works cartoon for kids but it is an entertaining show and it is likely that many 30-somethings and younger who watched the original Voltron or any of the spinoffs.  The series is composed of ten half hour episodes and it’s like an hour long pilot, the first episode, so it isn’t that long of a commitment to watch the whole thing. If you haven’t seen Voltron in years it is nice to come back to the giant robots once more, for those who have never seen any Voltron at all pick up the series and watch it.

Space Jam 2?

For the past couple of years every so often we start to see/hear rumors that LeBron James will be involved in a sequel to the seminal Michael Jordan film Space Jam. Well the most recent news is that Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame it seems has signed on to direct the film. Tentatively title Space Jam 2 it seems like LeBron would be teaming up with the Looney Toons and playing a basketball game against some villainous aliens who have taken the basketball prowess of several big name NBA stars today perhaps (Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden). Sure it will be a bit odd but I doubt any kids watch the original Space Jam and it has all the potential to be a successful movie, look at the recent successes of sequel films like Jurassic World and Star Wars 7 both were highly successful films.

 

Clone Wars (2003)

Yesterday, was the big Star Wars day May the fourth be with you and all that. I spent it watching one of the unique aspects of Star Wars. First off I stumbled upon ESPN’s special about Kendo and light saber fighting so I watched it. Then I went and watched the other animated Star Wars simply titled Clone Wars, it’s the animated micro-series by Genndy Tartakovsky from 2003. Sure it isn’t officially part of the canon as of now but it sure is a great thing to watch. This was on Cartoon Network when I was in college and I watched them all.

It begins a couple of months after Episode II ends and tells multiple stories of what happened during the Clone Wars. The series also introduces Asajj Ventress and General Grievous into the series. Someone actually has placed them in the order of what to watch placing the first 21 episodes before The Clone Wars (2008) animated film and series and the last four episodes after this leading into Episode III.

The show did a great job at showing just how awesome Jedi are, we’ve got Mace Windu taking out legions of B2 super battle droids, Kit Fisto being awesome and other Jedi in action we don’t see this in the films enough. If you haven’t seen this before take the two hours and watch it.

Home on the Range (2004)

Home on the Range is one of the last traditionally animated films Disney has ever produced. It didn’t get that good of reviews when it came out nor did it really make a splash at the box office. It is a musical western comedy and this is the reason why I think it didn’t do as well as it could have. Since Westerns aren’t as popular as they were up till the 1960s. The film also has a predominately female cast the three main leads are all female cows, Mrs. Caloway (Judi Dench), Grace (Jennifer Tilly) and Maggie (Roseanne). Spoilers are bound to follow so read with caution.

Maggie is a cow from the Dixon Ranch which had all the cows stolen numbering near 500 all stolen by Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid). So Mr. Dixon is forced to sell his ranch and he sell Maggie to another small farm Patch of Heaven. As it turns out Patch of Heaven is facing 750 dollars in bills that need to be payed in three days. As it turns out the prize for capturing Alameda Slim just happens to be $750 and Maggie has the big idea to go after Slim and get the reward money to save the farm. It’s a Disney film so we know how it’s going to end. There are several side characters who are great as well, Buck (Cuba Gooding Jr.), the sheriff’s horse who idolizes the big bounty hunter Rico (Charles Dennis).

The film itself is pretty funny and I enjoyed it. This isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be, sure it isn’t the best film Disney ever made but it’s definitely not the worst, they have made dozens of direct to video sequels and the first CG film by Disney Chicken Little is really pretty bad. It would be interesting to see Disney or some other big name studio released a good traditionally animated film like every other year or something that would be cool. Come into the film not expecting much and you will end up being happy about what you get out of the movie.

 

The Prince of Egypt (1998)

The Prince of Egypt is a wonderful animated film it was the first traditionally animated film produced by DreamWorks. It is by far my favorite animated film from DreamWorks. Prince of Egypt tells the story of Moses and has an all star cast as well as phenomenal music from Stephen Schwartz, which won an Oscar for Best Song, and a score by Hans Zimmer. If you haven’t heard the music find the soundtrack and listen to it. It was directed by Brenda Chapman, Simon Wells and Steve Hickner.

The film begins with a unique message “While artistic and historic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is the cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. ” I don’t think I’ve seen this anywhere before or since for religious films.  The story itself begin with the mother of Moses, Aaron and Miriam putting Moses into the Nile in a basket with the hope that he will be found and brought into a safe place. Miriam follows it and Moses is found by Queen Tuya (Helen Mirren), wife of Seti (Patrick Stewart), and adopted as her own child. Years pass and we met up with Moses (Val Kilmer) and Ramses (Ralph Finnes) doing what brother might have done racing chariots. That evening Seti names Ramses Prince Regent and the high priests Hotep (Steve Martin) and Hoy (Martin Short) honor Ramses by presenting Zipporah (Michelle Pfeiffer) to him. She refuses and Ramses passes her to Moses. Zipporah then escapes and Moses follows where he runs into Miriam (Sandra Bullock) and Aaron (Jeff Goldblum). This leads to a cool nightmare flashback scene where Moses learns about the slaughter of the children.

Moses then saves a Hebrew and causes a guard to fall from the scaffolding. Moses runs off to Midian where he becomes a shepherd living with Jethro (Danny Glover) and eventually marrying Zipporah. While tending his sheep one day Moses sees a burning bush and goes to see what it is. Here we are offered a unique version of I AM THAT I AM as Val Kilmer suggested that the voice be something like that which we hear in our heads everyday as opposed to a big booming voice from the heavens. Val Kilmer provides this voice as well and it is in like a whisper. So following this logic it would seem that the voice of God would be unique to everyone. What follows is Moses going back to Egypt and asking Ramses to let his people go and eventually after 10 plagues Ramses relents only to take it back and goes chasing after the departing Hebrews they catch up as Moses is leading the Hebrew people over the Red Sea. Then after the credits we are treated to this quotes from Sacred Scripture praising Moses from the Hebrew Bible “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord singled out face to face…” (Deuteronomy 34:10) Christian New Testament “[Moses] was sent to be their ruler and deliverer by God himself…” (Acts 7:35) as well as the Qur’an “And call to mind, through his divine writ, Moses. Behold he was a chosen one, and was an apostle [of God], a prophet.” (Surah 19:51). This isn’t something that you see anywhere.

This is a definite must see on my list of movies as it rivals some of the Disney Films from the late 90s. It’s a simple story that we’ve all heard many times but I think this tells the story a whole lot better than the likes of The Ten Commandments although that could just be that Prince of Egypt does it in like half the time.  If you haven’t seen this film take a gander at it this upcoming liturgical season of Lent.

Ernest & Celestine (2012)

Ernest and Celestine is based on the series of children’s books Ernest et Célestine by Gabrielle Vincent.  This is a simple story about a mouse (Celestine) and a bear (Ernest) who become unlikely friends, as Celestine has been told all her life that bear are mean and will eat you. Celestine longs to be an artist and doesn’t want to get involved in dentistry. Early one morning Ernest frees Celestine from a trash can where she had been trapped and offers to get Ernest more food to fill him up that just a single mouse. At this point Ernest gets arrested and Celestine breaks him free and Ernest agrees to help her bring teeth down to the world of the rodents. They are soon pursued by both the bear cops and rodent cops.  They make their escape to a cabin Ernest has in the woods and it soon become winter.  The two eventually become friends. 

This film has a unique visual style as it  echoes the water colors from the books and is lovingly hand drawn. It’s a pretty looking movie. The film has had critical acclaim it even won the Magritte Award for Best Film in 2012, Magritte Awards are given to the best film in Belgium, and Ernest and Celestine is the first animated film to win this award.

If you haven’t seen this film go out of your way and watch it. The film is a little over an hour long  and it is a great way to break up the stranglehold that Disney and Dreamworks have on the animated film market. If you have children get it and watch the film with them, it’s got a nice positive message as well.