Guys, I love a good animated film, but often, as my colleague Josh Rosenfield established yesterday, many of the best ones are under-appreciated. Ask anyone under the age of forty about their favorite animated films: the Toy Story series, The Lion King, Spirited Away, familiar classics are the first to come to mind. And yes, these standard, well-known films bring tons of joy to viewers and have their spots amongst the greats. But, with a deeper look you can find films that offer much, much more. Let’s take a look at the top 5 most underrated.
5. South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut
Yeah, I said under-rated. A really long time ago, in an ancient era referred to as 1999, during an age in which Family Guy might have still been considered edgy, Trey Parker and Matt Stone set a real precedent for intelligently not giving a shit. The South Park movie marked the turning point for the show’s creators, as they rounded the corner from shock value to genius cultural observation. This comedy/musical still shows as inspired and true to itself. Parodying the Disney classics and MPAA could get you into some trouble in those days, but these guys were all for it, blaming Canada all the way to the walk along the Oscars’ red carpet.
4. Batman: Mask of Phantasm
A batman animated film that received a theatrical release has to be well known, right? Well, in mentioning it to my editor (J.S. Shreve) I realized that it is not as common as common sense might dictate. By strictly adhering to the narrative flow of the graphic novel (Batman: Year one/Year two), this film was extremely rewarding for Batman fans. Like the most recent movie series by Christopher Nolan, this film respects and explores the fabled character of Bruce Wayne while stretching the limits of the mythos.
3. Castle in the Sky
“Disney! Pixar! Disney! Pixar!” – Just about everyone
I get Disney Pixar can pump out some great films. I mean damn, Toy Story is brilliant. But, that studio should totally stand in awe to my main squeeze Studio Ghibli. Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke rival some of the best animated films ever. This film, their older brother, offers a steampunk aesthetic with airships, pirates, and floating castles, a veritable wet dream for anyone who is a fan of the Final Fantasy video game series. At its thematic best, Castle in the Sky calls on the greediness that brings people to destroy.
2. An American Tale: Fievel Goes West
This right here is a damn good sequel, friends. Unlike the first one, we do not get the serious undertone; we get a western spoof that is fun. Fievel (Jimmy Stewart) is one of the most lovably animated characters out there. This tiny, immigrant mouse always finds his way into trouble, and he battles his little heart out to save the day. And, that Cat R. Wall was a true villain. Through and through, this one is just plain fun, and cute (yes, I said cute).
1. Iron Giant
Josh Rosenfield is right. This film has a lot to say. The Iron Giant is innovative in its exploration of the boundaries of friendship and in its brave diagnosis on the paranoid nature of Americans in a particular era. This film at its deepest brings on a lesson that teaches viewers to live outside of stereotype. The Giant shows that you do not have to follow social standards, and you can become whatever you want. This thematic assertion is punctuated by one of the most emotional conclusions in animated film history, when the giant makes his heroic, Superman-like self-sacrifice. This film deserves to be watched and unquestionably deserves mention among the best animated films.