Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top Ten Animated Films of 2012

I freely admit, I was pretty damn worried about this one for a while. Up until a couple weeks ago, I had only seen exactly ten animated movies from 2012, so my list was going to range from the brilliant to utter shit. Thankfully, I saw enough to push all the mediocre ones to the honorable mention list and the outright lousy ones (for the record, they were Madagascar 3 and Hotel Transylvania) into oblivion where they belong. If I do this again next year, I'll be including straight to video movies so I can pad the list with a bunch of superhero movies.

Honorable Mention: The Lorax, From Up On Poppy Hill, Ice Age: Continental Drift

10. The Pirates! Band of Misfits - The latest animated effort from Peter Lord (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run) is not his best work, let's get that on the table right now. What it is is a fairly pleasant story of one of the worst pirates in the world that is desperately trying to win big at the annual pirate awards. It's cheerful and fluffy, and while it doesn't match, say, Chicken Run or Curse of the Were Rabbit, neither of those came out this year so maybe shut up.

9. The Secret World of Arrietty - This was Disney's Studio Ghibli release this year (looking at my list, I see that there are no fewer than four Disney releases on it -- apparently they're a bit of a dominant force in my life), and it trades the wild fantasy style of Hayao Miyazaki's films for what feels more like a simple American 80s cartoon. That's not to say it's a bad movie by any means, it means that the story, about a miniature family of Borrowers living secretly in a human family's home, feels like the sort of film one might have gotten from Disney back in the pre-Little Mermaid days. Sometimes you need a film that doesn't have incredibly high stakes, and is willing to just be charming and fun.

8. Rise of the Guardians - This is the first of the big children's adventure stories to make the list, as Dreamworks gives us a tale of a young Jack Frost being initiated into the Guardians, a superhero group comprised of various modern mythical figures such as Santa Claus (called North here and given a Russian accent for reasons I can only guess at), the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman, as they try to protect the people of the world from the dark menace of Pitch (as in black) and his team of nightmares. It doesn't quite live up to the promise of that rather inspired premise (possibly due to it being based off of a novel), but it is an engaging effort, and much better than the average Dreamworks film.

7. Wreck-It Ralph - While this doesn't rank with their classics, I cannot express how happy I am that, after a decade of making largely mediocre or outright terrible movies (seriously, Chicken Little is the worst film they have ever made), Disney finally seems to have gotten back on track. This one showcases the lives of a group of videogame characters living in an arcade, and much like Brave, focuses on one (Wreck-it Ralph, obviously) who decides to go on a journey to change his fate. Much like actual arcades in the 90s, it gets a bit too bogged down towards the end with fighting and racing, but it's still a largely effective film.

6. Chico & Rita - This is a charming film about the music scene in late 1940s Cuba, and two young musicians who fall in love while trying to make it big. It's a mature, adult effort, and more smoothly animated than several of the bigger name efforts that came out last year. It's rare to see any film that deals as intelligently and honestly with relationships and Cuban/American hostilities as this film does. And yes, I'm well aware that IMDB says it came out originally in 2010, but since I don't live in L.A., Telluride, or Miami, 2012 was when I first had a chance to see it, so suck a dick.

5. The Rabbi's Cat - It's not going to be easy to explain why you should see this, but here goes: this is a French film about a rabbi and his daughter living in Algeria who find their cat has suddenly developed the ability to speak after eating the daughter's parrot. What makes the film so interesting is that, rather than engaging in any wacky animated adventures, the cat instead decides to spend his time debating religion with his owner, even demanding to be converted to Judaism like his master, only to horribly offend the rabbi and be chased away from the synagogue. It's a very laid-back, episodic film, content to meander around and wryly poke and prod at religious institutions (eventually the rabbi, the cat, an Islamic sheikh, a Russian Jew, and a Russian Orthodox Christian decide to go on an adventure into the depths of Africa, apparently because just venturing into a bar together would have been too obvious). It's not going to be a film for everyone, as it's rather slow-paced, and the animation style is rather, shall we say, unorthodox, and some will just be offended by its views on religion, but for those of you that wish to view a smart and funny film, check it out.

4. Brave - Brave doesn't really measure up to some of Pixar's greater achievements like Up or The Incredibles, but it's at least a noticeable step up from their prior effort Cars 2, and let's be honest, even a weak(er) Pixar film is better than most animated films out there. This one offers a bit of a twist on a classic Disney theme, as young Princess Merida finds she hates the idea of marrying a prince and settling down into a royal lifestyle, and so she goes off on a quest to find a way to change her fate. Being Pixar, it takes some strange twists and turns that I was not expecting, making it rather more interesting than the thematically similar Wreck-It Ralph. It should also be noted that this has far and away the best animation of any film this year, because Pixar is boss like that.

3. It's Such a Beautiful Day - I almost feel bad for acknowledging that an hour long cartoon with stick figures wound up being better than most of the more polished films by major studios, but this film (actually a carefully stitched together compilation of three previous shorts by Don Hertzfeldt) is so touching and funny I can't help myself. Hertzfeldt largely created the entire film by himself (a film editing credit for Brian Hamblin is the only sign that he didn't do absolutely everything) as we enjoy the life of Bill, a man who is trying to go through life after a series of strokes leaves his mind and body increasingly fractured. In that regard, it's a bit like the new Michael Haneke film Amour, except it's not a miserable slog through depression and misery.

2. Paranorman - I think everyone by now knows that I'm both an obsessive horror junkie and a complete man child, and as such I have an inordinate fondness for any children's horror movies, and when they just so happen to be as delightful as this one, well, that's just a bonus (this, by the way, is also why I was more upset than I normally would have been at how terrible Hotel transylvania was). I hope this becomes a more universally loved film, because quite frankly, if people are going to be promoting a movie that explains how it's wrong to judge someone for being different, wouldn't you rather it be a film about a boy who talks to ghosts and zombies and saves his town from a witch's curse than some cartoonish drivel like The Breakfast Club?

1. Frankenweenie - Tim Burton directed two films last year. One of them, Dark Shadows, is the worst movie he's made since Planet of the Apes, if not his worst outright. The other, Frankenweenie, is his best since Ed Wood. The story is so simple that I'm frankly a bit surprised I can't think of another example of it, particularly as it's based off of a short film Burton did for Disney back in the mid-80s: a young, present day Victor Frankenstein becomes distraught after the sudden death of his dog, and deals with it in the only way he knows how: by bringing his ass right back to life through mad science. I don't know that anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet won't be able to sympathize, or wish they had the ability to save their loved ones as he does here. Further, Burton's visual flair is particularly suited for animated films (with Corpse Bride being one of his only big directorial highlights of the past decade, I kind of wish he'd do them more often), and as an added bonus, we get the most delightful character find of 2012 in Professor Rzykruski. What more could one ask for?

Anyway, next up on deck is the best comedies of 2012. I actually had a wealth of comedies to choose from, to ensure a healthier list.

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