10 Pairs of Awesome Animated Movies

May 7, 2007

The Bottom Line Twenty cartoons for your consideration.

I recently learned, to my delight, that Disney has decided not to give up on traditionally animated feature films after all. When I heard that it was to be nothing but computer animation from now on, aside from straight-to-video releases, I was distressed. Both forms have their place; I'd just hate to see such a marvelous medium disappear. Here are ten pairs of my favorite animated films.

An American Tail / Land Before Time - Two of my favorite Don Bluth movies, both about young animals trying to find their way to their families. Fievel the mouse's journey is primarily a solitary one, though the friends he meets at various stages of his journey come together in the end, while Littlefoot the brontosaurus must try to keep his little band of lost dinosaurs together, an especially difficult task with antagonistic Cera the triceratops in tow. Each features an inspirational song about friendship and perseverance, and one gives a little lesson on natural history while the other teaches a bit about American history.

Anastasia / Pocahontas - Bluth again, and Disney. Neither of these movies was particularly well received, largely because of historical inaccuracies and because the films are fairly dark, lessening their appeal for young children. Nonetheless, these two unusual princess stories, however far they stray from fact, are very emotionally engaging and boast gorgeous music and exquisite animation. The natural beauty of America is rendered breathtakingly in Pocahontas, and Anastasia's half-visions of her father's court in its full glory are haunting.

Toy Story / Cars - Two Pixar films about inanimate objects having lives of their own and overcoming a culture clash within their ranks to become friends. Toy Story was groundbreaking as the first major computer animated film to hit theaters. Humans are present, but we don't see much of them, which is a good thing since the people didn't look nearly as natural as the toys. Clever, hilarious and heartwarming, it was a brilliant movie, and its sequel was equally impressive. There are no people to muck things up in Cars, just a very entertaining, fanciful look at an alternate culture and some glorious footage of vast natural expanses along Route 66. A decade later, Pixar certainly hasn't lost its touch.

The Little Mermaid / Mulan - Yes, this list has Disney overload. Nothing says "animated masterpiece" quite like the house of mouse. These are about young women who feel out of place in their culture and who embrace their true natures while pretending to be something different than what they are. Ariel goes from mermaid to human, taking her obsession with land-dwellers to a dangerous level in an effort to satisfy her adventurous spirit, while Mulan poses as a man out of concern for her father, joining the army in his place because she believes he is too ill to fight. Mulan came along as Disney was on the downslide, past its mid-90s Lion King peak, but while it tends to be more overlooked, it's just as good as The Little Mermaid.

The Lion King / The Jungle Book - Two films featuring a wide variety of animals, one set in the plains of Africa and one in the jungles of India. Mowgli and Simba are separated from their rightful place in the world, and their reluctance to return is exacerbated by expansively comical sidekicks - Baloo the bear for Mowgli, Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog for Simba. Eventually they both must square off against sinister felines Shere Khan and Scar. The animation is fantastic, as is the music, and both films signaled the end of an era; Jungle Book was the last in which Disney himself was directly involved, while Lion King marked the high point in the company's winning streak in the 90s.

Star Quest / Lord of the Beans - Just to get away from Disney for a while, here are a couple of short videos that make light of two of my favorite things: Star Trek and Lord of the Rings. Both are part of Christian video series, using parodies of beloved characters to impart a lesson. Star Quest, which also has a big nod to King Kong, pokes fun at overzealous directors, bad hairpieces, signature hand signals and overdramatic vocal delivery while still getting across the message of teamwork. Lord of the Beans, meanwhile, a lesson on using our gifts wisely, skewers as much of Tolkien and Jackson as it can in 45 minutes, particularly in the Shire scenes and the encounters with characters in homage to the Ents and Tom Bombadil, and is the most visually glorious of all the Veggie offerings, at least for this fantasy fan.

Mary Poppins / Pete’s Dragon - Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The technique of combining animation with live action succeeds beautifully in these two films. In Mary Poppins, it's one long sequence toward the middle of the film that benefits from this collaboration when Mary, Bert and the children jump into one of his chalk drawings. It's a vibrant, joyous scene, the perfect way to create a sense of the fantastical, especially considering that they actually are inside a work of art. In Pete's Dragon, it's only the dragon Elliot who is animated, but he appears frequently throughout the whole movie. Again, animating him, and in such an endearing, puppy-dog fashion, gives him a magical feel and seems like the only practical way to have incorporated a dragon as a realistic main character at that time in cinematic history.

Wind in the Willows / The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh - Two drowsy, idyllic, anthropomorphic visions of animals in the English countryside, both based on literary classics illustrated by Ernest Shepard. They're stories of friendship and simple troubles - though with Toad in tow, calamities tend to snowball. Tigger gets into his fair share of messes too, though he doesn't have expensive and dangerous equipment like Toad does, so his adventures tend to be more benign. At any rate, these are grand movies for a lazy day.

Make Mine Music / Fantasia 2000 - Two of Disney's films made up of short segments putting animation to music. Make Mine Music includes nine very different shorts, including my all-time favorite Disney short, The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met, an operatic tragedy. Fantasia 2000 is a sequel to the original Fantasia once again featuring famous compositions, mostly classical. The iconic The Sorcerer's Apprentice is included, and I prefer the other offerings in this new version to those in the old, especially Pomp and Circumstance, a romantic retelling of the story of Noah's Ark with Donald and Daisy Duck as Noah and his wife, and Pines of Rome, an inspiring epic featuring the aerial migration of whales.

Shrek / Beauty and the Beast - Beauty and the Beast is a gorgeous film stylistically and boasts some of the greatest songs ever to come out of Disney. It's also one of the most morally mature of the films, with its focus on self-sacrifice and inner beauty, and Belle is my all-time favorite Disney heroine. Shrek is sometimes crude and certainly irreverent, but it too is a Beauty and the Beast type of story, made all the more powerful for the fact that in the end, neither hero nor heroine fits the conventional standard of beauty, yet both are characters very worthy of love. Both films serve as a strong reminder not too judge too quickly based on appearances.

Whether drawn by hand or computer, there have been lots of wonderful animated films over the years, and I'm glad the newer form doesn't need to wipe out the more traditional one. While I'm eagerly awaiting The Frog Princess, the movies above are always worth another look.

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