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The 20 Best Animated Films of the Last 20 Years

The 20 Best Animated Films of the Last 20 Years

Sita Sings the Blues


What Nina Paley manages to incorporate into “Sita Sings the Blues” over the span of 82 minutes is an exceptional achievement. Juggling the individual story threads is a difficult task in itself; a modern-day couple whose relationship is upended after work brings one of them to India is mirrored against the ancient story of Sita from the Ramayana. As the film moves back and forth between these parallel narratives, Paley deftly moves between a handful of 2-D animation styles, from cartoon lines to stop-motion collage. To provide context for the portions of Sita’s story to those unfamiliar with the details of the Ramayana, Paley employs a Greek chorus of sorts, a trio of unseen narrators whose explanations are visually translated onscreen. The crowning artistic inclusion, though, is the series of musical sequences featuring an animated Sita lip-syncing to songs from 20s-era jazz singer Annette Henshaw. Weaving together culture and tradition with a sharp eye and a keen sense of humor, it’s a tale lovingly told via a singular approach. (Paley also made the film available online as part of the Creative Commons license – it’s the one film on this list that you’re guaranteed to be able to watch right now.) – SG

Waltz with Bashir

A documentary that uses animation in a highly effective way to capture how a man has blocked memories of his participation in a massacre from his conscience . Director Ari Folman –  who went on to make “The Congress” and is set to direct an animated Anne Frank film – uses therapy sessions and conversations with fellow soldiers to unlock buried memories of a fateful night where, as a 19-year-old soldier in Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), he was an accomplice to a slaughter of hundreds during the 1982 Lebanon War. The unique animation – which could easily be confused for rotoscoping of real footage, but was actually thousands of storyboards animated in Flash – gives the film a dreamlike feel, perfectly matching the murkiness of Folman piecing together memories and coming to terms with the events of the fateful evening. – CO


You don’t have to coddle your kids. While Pixar may often lean on its canny and clever sense of humor to appeal to both kiddos and the older set, Laika takes that idea in another direction, allowing its features to be – let’s face it – really damn scary. “Coraline” imagines a world where a disaffected youngster can slip away from her parents and find a dream home, only to have that world upended by the knowledge that it’s just kind of evil. From an Other Mother wanting to take her eyes to a journey to the underworld that smacks of “Poltergeist,” “Coraline” doesn’t pull any punches and it doesn’t talk down to its audience. A riveting adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name, the film pops off the screen not just because of its wonderfully off-kilter story but through Laika’s magical brand of stop-motion animation. There’s a hyper-realism to the film – those fabrics are real! that’s a moving doll! someone moved that! – that adds another level of involvement and ingenuity to the feature that’s hard to match. Laika films consistently take their viewers inside, but “Coraline” does more than that. It takes us inside the darkness. – KE

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson’s foray into stop motion somehow manages to straddle the worlds of the animal and the anthropomorphic in a way that doesn’t feel like a cheat. Working from Roald Dahl source material, the storybook nature of the thieving Mr. Fox is a perfect match for the Anderson/Roman Coppola braintrust. Beyond the tactile nature of its animation (that the fur seems to have a mind of its own helps feed into the film’s overflowing energy), “Fantastic Mr. Fox” also succeeds on the strength of its voice cast. George Clooney is a natural fit for the title character (Fox yelling the Latin names of his would-be heist cohorts might be the secret proof that Manic Clooney is the greatest of all Clooneys), while Meryl Streep, Bill Murray and Jason (“Hotbox!”) Schwartzman all carve out their own signature additions to the quote bank. Everything culminates in a gleeful supermarket dance scene that’s one of the best animated closing sequences you’ll see (and is as much a feather in the cap for longtime Anderson music supervisor Randall Poster as anyone). – SG


What most people remember from Pete Docter and Bob Peterson’s 2009 Pixar triumph is the silent opening sequence in which Carl Fredricksen meets the love of his life as a child, builds a life with her in a charming two-story home and then refuses to move on after she passes. And, to be fair, opening an animated studio comedy with such a deeply felt montage chronicling miscarriage and death served as a bold zap to the heart for audiences everywhere. But “Up” shouldn’t be remembered as a courageous short film that just so happened to continue for another 90 minutes. Carl’s journey is as wildly imaginative as it is lovingly grounded, paying off on the promise of adventure made within those opening scenes. But more than that, “Up” continues obliterating established standards of the genre, tackling divorce, single parenthood and diversity, both on and off-screen. (Russell is Pixar’s first Asian-American character voiced by an Asian-American Actor, Jordan Nagai.) It’s no wonder the film went on to become the first animated Cannes opener and the first of its genre to be nominated for both Best Animated Feature and Best Picture at the Oscars. Topping this effort might take more balloons than even Carl can create. – Ben Travers

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