The next ten films are, in my opinion above average films that are beautiful and charming in their own way. Yet they still lack something. For Some it was a bloated plot. Others, characterization and screenplay. Regardless, each of these films generated incredible animation despite their imperfections. Each scene that I mention for the films is merely my favorite. All these movie’s are not limited to one or two stunning moments. I suggest watching each of them yourself. (Before you ask, I have not put The Iron Giant on this list yet because I need to watch it before I can give an adequate opinion. It has been WAY too long since I have seen it.) If you have any films you think should be on this list or that should be moved onto a different list I am open to your opinions.
Meeting the Great Owl– The Secret of NIMH (1982)
This was the first film directed by Don Bluth. While Disney was creating The Fox and the Hound, Bluth and a large group of animators left the company. Dissatisfied with the inadequacy of Disney’s current films and projects they built Don Bluth Studios and made this film on a limited budget of 7 million dollars. It is based on Robert C. O’Brien‘s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971), a story reportedly turned down by Disney. The story deals with the complicated world of animals and their negative interactions with humans. There was the farmer , whose plow disturbed the ecosystem of the field animals and also NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), an organization which used animals to test medicines that boosted intelligence. The main protagonist Mrs. Frisby (Brisby in the film) must turn to the rats in order to move her home somewhere safe to save her son Timothy. Throughout the story, she learns that her deceased husband had come from NIMH and of the experiments which took place there. Though the film is well-animated and the plot is engaging, I believe that it had too many characters and subplots. Halfway through the film, is when the plot slowly starts to unravel. I can imagine this was due to the studio’s limited budget and rushed production. My favorite scene is when Mrs. Brisby goes to visit The Great Owl to find a way to save her son. I have always loved the Owl’s design, from his glowing eyes, to his intimidating stance gained from his size and accumulated wisdom. His home is eerie and speaks almost like a tomb in an abandoned fortress. I also love when Mrs. Brisby first steps into the Rats rose bush. Of all Don Bluth’s films, I think this one stands as his, and his animator’s, greatest achievement.
Flight With Marahute– Rescuers Down Under (1990)
People often view this movie as the one exception to the many Masterpieces made in the Disney Renaissance. A fluke overstepped by The Little Mermaid and later Beauty and the Beast. Though I do not think this is a masterpiece, I do think it is a much better film than its predecessor. The Rescuers (1977) was the first project completed by the Nine Old Men and the newer generation of animators, and was understandably ruff. This sequel was an obvious improvement. The premise of each of the films is how two simple mice leave to help save a child in distress. The plot in Down Under, unlike Rescuers, was fast-paced, the characters more dynamic, and the climax overwhelmingly well-done. In Down Under, the villain McLeach, voiced by George C. Scoote, was so much more engaging and fun too watch (though I do love Madam Madussa from the first film). This was also the first animated film to use the CAPS system, which used digital ink and paint and compositing for a cleaner, more professional look. My favorite scene is when Cody flies with Marahute for the first time. Ironically, this scene and Marahute’s design were headed by Glen Keane. I actually did not know this until recently. (Before these posts are over, I will sound like a broken record. I just like Glen Keane’s animation too much) What I love about this scene is how it depicts the liberating joy of flight. We have seen this kind of scene in How to Train Your Dragon and many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. It is here where I believe that Disney, at its best perfectly captured a world unattainable outside animation. Even though its story lacked originality in places, I do believe at least its animation should be praised for its brilliance.
Like Brother Bear (2003) and other hand drawn animated films released after Tarzan, audiences have forgotten Atlantis. I remember when Disney released it. As I child I thought it was scary and it felt very old. What I mean by that is, the color palette and story really breathed like an early 20th century action adventure, just like Indiana Jones. It is a shame that this film bombed the way it did. Though, again, I cannot say it is on par with the films made in the Disney Renaissance, its animation is beautiful and it does have stunning moments. The story revolves around a young man Milo, informed that all his research on the lost city of Atlantis was correct and recruited for an exhibition to find the lost city. The dust of a long-forgotten culture seemed to permeate the whole movie and as an adult I love the clash between the old and new cultures. The one flaw is in its characters. They are predictable and many are forgettable. The villain was WAY to similar to Clayton from Tarzan, and the old King was so hollow, his death hardly affected me. Disney released it also during the emergence of the animation giant PIXAR. This same year, they released Monster Inc., which gained far more positive attention than Atlantis. There are scenes in Atlantis however, that Monster Inc. cannot compare to. One of these is when Kida merges with Atlantis’s power core. As she floated up to meet her ancestors, there was an ethereal power to it, with imagery unlike anything shown in previous films are those to come. I also love the scene where the giants rose to protect the city from a volcanic eruption. It was awe inspiring, something that I wish I could seen in person.
Once Upon A December– Anastasia (1997)
Anastasia was the last film Don Bluth directed and his most successful. 20th Century Fox released it the same year as Disney’s Hercules and ,miraculously, it competed well despite its placement in the Disney Renaissance. The story revolves around the legend of Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, and theorizes that the young girl survived the great execution of her family and the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1956, Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner starred in a live action version of the same urban legend and served as the basis of this animated picture. Basically, Anastasia, with no memory of her past is swept by to con artists on a journey to Paris to see if Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna is her grandmother. Unlike Thumbelina, Anastasia succeeded as a more mature musical, had a well paced story, a believable romance, and three-dimensional characters. Personally, I think it is better than Hercules, but that is because I prefer a movie’s music and story to reflect the environment it is placed in. The only thing that I do not thoroughly like about this film is Rasputin and the fantastical elements (aka the green goblin things). That does not mean that I do not like him as a character or the “dark forces” stuff, however I think that the movie would have worked better without them. My favorite scene in the film is undoubtedly the song “Once Upon a December”. The song is the heart of the film and ,to me, everything revolves around her lost memories and quest to find her family. From the ghost-like dancers bursting from the paintings, and her sould wrenching chorus “Far way, long ago, glowing dim as an ember, things my heart used to know, things it yearns to remember”, this scene is powerful and unforgettable.
The Secret World of Arriety ( 借りぐらしのアリエッティ) (2011/2012)
Released midst an age of 3D Animated films, Studio Ghibli’s Arriety is based on the acclaimed children’s novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Told from a young boy Sho’s perspective, he reflects on one summer where he met Arriety, a small girl living with her family in his grandmother’s home. Though circumstances eventually drive her family out after her mother is almost captured by the housekeeper, Sho develops a deep friendship with her before he leaves for heart surgery. When I watched it several years ago, its animation and heart impressed me. The only flaw I could see in it was that it was too short. I wish that they had made it longer so they could further flesh out Sho and Arriety’s friendship. Other than that, the film is a wonderful example of hand drawn animation at its best. It shines with depth and color, emanates great heart, and showcases memorable, deep characters. I loved how it showcased Arriety’s family’s perspective on our world and how they used everyday items to get around and survive. (I especially liked how they used tape to crawl up the walls.) The scene that stuck with me the most, above anything else, was when Arriety talked to Sho before she left. It took place in a beautiful field of flowers, while Sho quietly lay on the ground gazing up at the sky. Sho tells her that he is resigned to his fate, believing that he is meant to die because of his condition. In hearing his resignation, she passionately pushed Sho to continue living and never give up because that is what she and her kind had done their entire lives. Though I picked this scene, the whole film really is a visual wonder, which is rare for this new animation age. If anything, I am grateful that Disney, under John Lassater, has released English Dubs of Studio Ghibli’s beautiful films like this one. Otherwise, they would most likely be unknown to most American audiences.