Top Ten Theatrically-released animated films (in no particular order) according to Chuck Sheetz, Emmy Award-winning Director of The Simpsons and UCLA Theater Film and Television Professor.
1. King Kong (1933)
I have watched this film more times than any other. I never get tired of it. It has a flawless script. The smash cut from Carl Denham shouting “Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!” on Skull Island to the opening night months later in New York is a prime example of the instantaneous leap forward in time and space that only film can do. Atop the Empire State Building, the confusion on Kong’s face after he touches his wounded chest and studies the blood on his fingers is a landmark for acting in animation.
2. La Jetee (1962)
Chris Marker’s science-fiction photomontage film qualifies as animation because virtually the entire film is made up of images shot with a still camera. If you’re interested in animation and not confident about your drawing skills, watch this film
3. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
Proof that with a strong script and memorable characters you can do a great feature length film with very flat, 2D characters and backgrounds. Probably the best animated feature ever made from a TV show.
4. Pinocchio (1940)
In addition to being a great animated work, this film introduced “When You Wish upon a Star,” the unoffiial theme song for all things Disney. Bolstered by the success of Snow White, Disney pulled out all the stops on this one. It’s very dark in places, and a classic journey story for its main character.
5. Fantasia (1940)
The fact that Walt Disney even tried to do this film earns it a place in history. That it was done so well is amazing. It was a mere 12 years between the black and white images in Steamboat Willie and the epic, full-color spectacle of “Night on Bald Mountain.”
6. Bambi (1942)
In another milestone for Disney, the art direction in this film presents a naturalism never seen before in animation without sacrificing the cartoon-like charm of the characters. It also contains the heaviest dramatic moment ever presented in an animated film.
7. Allegretto (1936)
I love practically anything ever done by Oskar Fischinger, but Allegretto was the first film of his that I saw. I was fifteen, and this film was played as a time-filler at the end of some art film I was watching on PBS. I hadn’t paid attention to the title card, and for years it was a mystery to me what this thing was. I got my answer when Dan McLaughlin showed it in my first animation class at UCLA.
8. Fantasmagorie (1908)
Arguably, the first animated film, although we could probably argue forever about that. Emil Cohl’s film is extremely charming, and way ahead of its time. A far more sophisticated film than Windsor McCay’s Gertie (1914), characters and scenes morph together in a surprisingly modern way.
9. The Jungle Book (1967)
The one Disney feature release that I participated in completely as an over the top innocent child fan. I thought it was wonderful that these Disney people made this Jungle Book film and records and coloring books and lunch boxes just for me because they knew it would make me happy. I felt the same way about the 1966 Batman TV series.
10. Up (2009)
I thought this film was flat out great. The backstory opening to the film is a complete movie in itself and sets up a powerful callback at the film’s conclusion. When Carl presented Russell with the grape soda cap badge, I cried.
Chuck Sheetz is an Emmy Award-winning animation director who has been working professionally in the industry for over 20 years, concurrently teaching at UCLA’s School of Theater Film and Television for nearly as long. He is best known for his work on The Simpsons, Disney’s Recess, Drawn Together, and What’s New Scooby Doo?
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