When we humans look back over a ten-year span, we are compelled to do two things -- make and/or read lists. They give us a chance to reminisce and complain -- two of our most beloved pastimes. AWN has looked over the 2000s and compiled what we believe are the most significant animated features. We encourage debate and your suggestions on why we're right and why we have no clue what we're talking about. So without further ado, here is your top ten.
Special Jury Prize: Fantasia/2000 (2000)
Festivals always award a special jury prize and we felt Fantasia/2000 deserved some recognition. Walt Disney always wanted to add on to the original Fantasia on a regular basis. Championed by his nephew Roy Disney, that vision finally came true in 2000 with the landmark IMAX presentation of Fantasia/2000. In segments like Eric Goldberg's "Rhapsody in Blue" to Gaëtan and Paul Brizzi's "The Firebird Suite," the film captures much of the spirit of the 1940 masterpiece.
Sylvain Chomet's visual stylish and inventive tale of a determined grandmother who sets out to save her kidnapped grandson has universal appeal. Through is infectious music timed brilliantly to the animation, the film crosses cultural boundaries while skewering American and French stereotypes in the process. For it's success the Academy Awards nominated it for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song for "Belleville Rendez-Vous."
Aardman Animations' Chicken Run was one of the best animated features of the 1990s. In 2005, with the help of co-director Steve Box, Nick Park brought his enormously charming duo of hapless inventor Wallace and his brilliant pooch Gromit into a feature length adventure, which has fun with the horror genre. Filled with the series's signature wit, the plasticine pair made their jump to the big screen with ease, earning an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in the process and leading the 2000s' stop-motion charge for other remarkable productions like Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox.
2009 was a watershed year for animated features. There were more quality productions than ever before. Pixar, of course, provided one of the premiere editions. Daring to put a 70-year-old man at the center of a family film, director/writer Peter Docter and co-director/writer Bob Peterson once again pushed the expectations of American animation. The famed "Married Life" montage is one of the most emotionally effective pieces of moviemaking you might ever see. Pixar takes its precisely defined characters and places them into one of their funniest films for the adventure of an old man, a young scout and a house tied to balloons floating to South America. They're visuals that have already become classic.
While the 2000s also saw Lilo and Stitch from Disney Feature Animation, it also saw some low points like Home on the Range. So what did Disney do? They went to the men who revitalized animation at Disney once before -- Little Mermaid directors Ron Clements and John Musker. The result brought class back to Disney 2D animation and gave the world one of Disney's most inspiring princesses ever. For Tiana, the first African-American princess, simply wishing on a star is not enough to reach her dreams. Driven by New Orleans inspired jazz music, this story is inspired by the best of past princess tales and skewers all the negative elements. Time's Richard Corliss went as far as to name it the best film of the year, animated or live-action. The Princess and the Frog proves that technique doesn't matter when the story is great.
Directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, based on Satrapi's graphic novel, this French production proves that animation doesn't have to be kid's stuff. Designed in stark black & white, the story follows Marji's life growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran, her time living as a foreigner in Vienna and her return to Iran, a country that no longer resembled the one she left. While it's a personal story, it still has universal appeal. Marji deals with the same issues of alienation that many kids feel, however her environment complicates her problems. Many teens rebel by listening to metal music, but when you’re a teen in Iran and you can be imprisoned for it, you risk a lot more. Through the evocative use of its simple visuals, Persepolis is great example of what animation can accomplish as cinematic art.
Brad Bird's The Incredibles is one of the best superhero movies ever made. Forget Fantastic Four, Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack are the first family of superheroes. Mr. Incredible is forced to hang up his spandex when superheroes are outlawed, but he can't stay away. Now, out of shape, the once great crime fighter must get back to top form for a mysterious client. On a grand scale, the story pokes fun at suburban life and the pressures of balancing work with family. The winner of Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards also skewers the superhero genre, while remaining a thrilling example of it at the same time. And thanks to Edna Mode, we know why capes are not a good costume accessory.
Andrew Stanton's WALL·E is another bold production from Pixar. The first third is virtually a silent film in that it has no dialog. A testament to the Pixar artists' skill, they made a trash compactor loveable through pitch-perfect character acting. They also created one of the great screen love stories of all time. The romance between WALL·E and EVE is innocent and effortlessly charming, and drives this satire of modern consumerism. Visually, Pixar pushed its photorealism to the furthest extent it had ever gone. From the mountains of trash on Earth to the wonders of outerspace, this Oscar-winner for Best Animated Feature takes viewers to a spectacle of imagery. Legend has it that one lunch formed the inspiration for post-Toy Story films A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and WALL·E. Pixar saved the best for last.
DreamWorks' Shrek changed feature animation period. The mega-hit helped usher in the modern animation boom by appealing to the whole family through the mix of irreverent humor and pop culture references. The first edition in the popular franchise was also a hilarious send up of fairy tales and its rival Disney. Shrek was an antihero set on a hero's mission to rescue the fair princess Fiona. Eddie Murphy proved that star casting is not always a bad thing, making Donkey one of the funniest sidekicks. The landmark production was awarded the first Oscar in the Animated Feature category. No sacred cow was left un-slaughtered in this animated comedy that taught us that looks don't mean everything.
With The Incredibles, Brad Bird began moving Pixar and feature animation in a new direction. With Ratatouille, he took a huge leap forward. The story of a rat that wanted to be a chef was the most daring production from Pixar to date. The main character wasn't a mouse, but a rat. The central theme dealt with complex adult issues of work vs. family that went far beyond spending more time together. Pixar overcame many difficulties by stepping forward the subtlety and timing of its character animation. In the food critic Anton Ego, the story team created a classic film villain. The production not only won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but was also a darling of critics. Marking a significant step forward for feature animation in America, Ratatouille's success made it possible for WALL·E and Up to follow.
Hayao Miyazaki is a living legend of animation for good reason. His Alice in Wonderland, Spirited Away is a fantasy of pure visual invention and complex storytelling. With subtlety, he weaves into his adventure an environmental message, comment on the generational gap and an intricate coming of age lesson. Chihiro is a spoiled child when she is transported into an alternative world where she must take a job at the bathhouse of the gods. There she will have to give up the childish ways of youth and forge her new adult identity. Winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature and the prestigious Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, Spirited Away represents the full extent of what artists can accomplish in animation.
Rick DeMott is the director of content for Animation World Network, VFXWorld and AWNtv. Additionally, he's the creator of the movie review site, Rick's Flicks Picks , which was recently named one of the 100 best movie blogs by The Daily Reviewer. He has written for TV series, such as Discovery Kids' Growing Up Creepie and Cartoon Network's Pet Alien, the animation history book Animation Art, and the humor, absurdist and surrealist website Unloosen . Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry.