Laura’s List: Top 5 Favorite Animated Films

When life gets ya down, you know what you gotta do…?

Dory Marlin whale

Ever have one of those days?  Ever have one of those months?  October, I’m not afraid of you anymore, but, man, you kicked my BUTT this year. I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS.

Between midterms, a part-time job, a busy choir schedule, and a cold from hell, October wore me out like a crappy, $10 Halloween costume.  I don’t know about you, but I could use a pick-me-up…and it’s gotta be something better than another pumpkin spice latte.

There’s nothing that cheers me up quite like a good movie.  So, to celebrate the beginning of November, I’m happy to share with all ye people of the Internets…my latest edition of Laura’s List.  This week, I reveal my top 5 personal favorite animated films – please keep in mind, I’m not saying these are the BEST animated films…but they are my favorites, for one reason or another.

5. HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE (2004)

“What a dump. When I think of castles, this is not what I picture.”

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It’s a question I received a lot since I started this blog: so, uh…do you watch anime?

People, people, people…PLEASE be more specific.  As a child, I watched Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh…but I have a feeling that’s not quite what you mean.  To give you an answer, I think I’ll say…not really?  Yet, one of my favorite filmmakers of all time is Hayao Miyazaki, a forefather of Japanese animation.  And, while I’ve enjoyed the majority of his films, I still wouldn’t say I’m an “anime person” necessarily…honestly, I love these movies for the storytelling, the music, and the magic – even though, yes, some of the character designs are kinda cool.

In the eighth grade, I saw my first Miyazaki film: Howl’s Moving Castle. It was like leaving the country for the first time -being a born-and-raised Disney kid, I never knew films could be like this. I was undeniably spellbound and transported…

Miyazaki fans…bear with me.

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Yes, the film is extremely long, the plot’s a bit confusing – the great Roger Ebert dubbed it “Miyazaki’s weakest film.” Still, there’s something about Howl’s Moving Castle that’s so infectiously magical…I can’t help but love it.

First of all, the film exposed me to the work of Joe Hisaishi, who is WITHOUT A DOUBT my favorite film composer. If you’re a film score nerd or a music lover in general…I’m going to change your life right now. The film is set in a fantastical world of witches and wizards, as inspired by the French countryside of the late-nineteenth century. The music complements the film perfectly…from the first shot of Howl’s unpolished but charming castle, you hear the main theme and, somehow, you know exactly where you are: a whimsical world of simplicity and beauty. Of course, Hisaishi’s music is just as enchanting in Miyazaki’s other great films – from the powerful Princess Mononoke to the ever-popular Spirited Away – but the melodies in Howl’s Moving Castle are definitely my favorites…they’re light-hearted, catchy, and they tell the story. In my opinion, it’s some of the most wonderful music ever written for a film.

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Can we talk about this ridiculous animation too?  These backgrounds were all drawn and painted BY HAND.  You guys already know I’m a fan.

And yes, in anime, EVERYONE is either a fourteen year-old girl or a horrible monster…AKA all the people look alike, and that arguably holds true here.  But, the beauty lies in the detail, my friends…Howl’s Moving Castle has some of the most beautifully detailed sets and backgrounds I’ve ever seen in a film. Easily.

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So it sounds pretty, it looks pretty…what about on the inside?  Howl’s Moving Castle is, ironically, your standard beauty-and-the-beast story.  But, it’s originality lies in the delivery: a teenage girl named Sophie (Emily Mortimer, in the English dub) is cursed by a jealous witch (Lauren Bacall), who transforms Sophie into a ninety year-old woman (Jean Simmons).  She meets a charming wizard named Howl, who’s solemnly voiced by Christian Bale – probably the perfect voice for a brooding, enigmatic loner who wants to bring justice to the world…

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In a unique twist, we learn that Howl is also cursed…and has some major beauty issues to deal with himself.  The film dives into their journey to break their respective spells.  To me, there’s something so classic yet so innovative about the story.  As confusing as the film is at times (and, believe me, it gets confusing), I love it all the same.  Miyazaki doesn’t spoon-feed the plot to you…it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on, which I actually appreciate.

Again, this week’s Laura’s List is all about FAVORITES…not the best.  While I critically find Princess Mononoke a far superior Miyzaki film, Howl’s Moving Castle is, nevertheless, my favorite.  No shame here.

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Plus, Billy Crystal plays a cute, little fire demon that cooks.  And he’s NOT just a funny side-character thrown in for laughs…that’s all I’ll say about that. See the movie.

4. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

“I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere. I want it more than I can tell.”

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Who DOESN’T have Beauty and the Beast on their list of favorites?  Nobody, that’s who.

In my opinion, this is Disney’s best animated film of all time.  Gorgeous animation, memorable music, a perfectly paced plot, strong characters, and a well-developed love story.  Aside from only one character having a French accent in a film set in France (come on, that’s WEIRD), I really can’t find any flaws in this film.  It’s as close to perfection as you can get…but it’s not my absolute favorite.  Why?  Well…maybe because I have a personal taste for comedy, and this film isn’t exactly known for its laughs.  Nevertheless, there’s A LOT to love about this movie.

As in Howl’s Moving Castle, the music in Beauty and the Beast is not only incredible, but it’s also among the most iconic music of the 20th century.  But, unlike in Howl’s Moving Castle, it’s not just musicit’s musical music.  Here, Alan Menken’s original songs and a sweeping score literally take charge in the storytelling – there’s no annoying, superfluous musical number just thrown in there for who-the-hell-knows what.  Each song adds to the plot and the development of the characters.  You can’t go wrong there.

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Plus, the music is just that good.  You all know the songs.  You all know what I’m talking about….and if you don’t, GET OFF THIS BLOG AND FIND THE MOVIE AND WATCH IT.  Seriously, I can’t live in a world where people haven’t seen Beauty and the Beast. Inconceivable.

As much as I’ve griped about Disney princesses in the past, I have to admit…Belle is awesome.

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She’s independent, selfless, beautiful, kind, and she’s a bookworm.  No wonder she’s basically EVERYONE’S favorite Disney princess.  I’ve heard criticisms about Belle being too perfect…but, hey, if being perfect (in a likable way) is her only character flaw, I have no problem with that.  At least we can agree she’s a positive role model.

What I like most about her lies in the quote I chose for this film…like many of us, she’s not sure what she wants.  She’s not looking for love, or fame, or feet.  Belle wants something greater than herself – something that she can’t even conceive at the moment.  It’s kinda existential when you think about it.

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Plus, she looks like my big sister, so major points for Belle.

As we all know, Belle (Paige O’Hara) finds her “great, wide somewhere” when she is imprisoned by the cursed Beast (Robby Benson).  Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all the Stockholm syndrome jokes before…but, you know what: through a well-paced series of events, Belle and the Beast form a seemingly impossible friendship.  And it all amounts to that poignant moment when the Beast realizes he’s in love and lets her go.  I still get chills:

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In my opinion, it’s the most beautiful animated love story ever brought to the screen.  The penultimate scene, in which Belle comforts the Beast as he dies, features the most amazing acting you will ever see between two animated characters (as strange as that sounds).  Really, go back and watch it…you won’t believe how much genuine emotion two cartoon characters can radiate.

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With detailed, vibrant animation, a cast of endearing and comical side characters, and an unexpected villain (he’s the town hero…you don’t see that everyday), Beauty and the Beast is a romantic, musical masterpiece.  And I sincerely hope it comes back to Broadway.

3. THE LION KING (1994)

“Remember who you are.”

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The Lion King is larger than life.  As a child, I always loved animals, always dreamed of visiting Africa, and always adored a good story. To this day, The Lion King embodies a perfect combination of what I love most.  Plus, Elton John wrote the music…come on now.

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Exactly.  Also, can you imagine the guy at Disney who was like, “Hey, let’s do Hamlet, but – wait for it – let’s do it with lions! Huh? Huh?”  I’m not gonna lie, if you take a step back, it’s a strange movie.  But, you know what…dammit if Disney didn’t pull it off.  I think it’s an epic adaptation, and I LOVE it.

As in Beauty and the Beast, the animation is beautiful, but the story is even better.  The Lion King tells a powerful and dark coming-of-age story…revenge, redemption, identity, and a little romance – it’s all here.  Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) appear as our comical Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and they still crack me up:

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While I admittedly enjoy the music more in Beauty and the Beast, it’s the DRAMA that gets me here.  And that starts with Scar (Jeremy Irons), who I view as Disney’s best villain to date.  Without question.

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Yes, others have wanted power.  Yes, others have wanted to rule the world.  But, have they ever convinced a child that he was responsible for murdering his own father in order to do so?!  I think not.

Scar is actually the worst, and I love him for it.  Beyond killing his own brother, he’s also cowardly, deceitful, and shamelessly manipulative.  Seriously, who screws around with their kid nephew like this?  The trusting relationship between Scar and Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas/Matthew Broderick) at the film’s beginning turns to one of deep-seeded vengeance and anger.  It makes for extremely strong conflict – the family drama STILL captivates me.  Just look at this scene!

Great character conflict, great character development in general.  AND A GREAT VILLAIN.  Hallelujah.

In addition to high-stakes drama, we also have incredible emotion in these characters.  I swear, Mufasa’s death will never lose its chilling effect on me – I still remember making my dad promise to never go in a stampede…

And who could forget this:

James Earl Jones = voice of God.

I think my love for The Lion King lies mostly in my emotional investment in the film.  It’s a POWERFUL movie, especially for children.  The vastness and seriousness of it all just never wore off on me, I suppose…it has its flaws and its questionable moments, but, hell, I see it as Disney’s most epic masterpiece.

2. FINDING NEMO (2003)

“P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.”

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Pixar doing water.  Scratch that – Pixar doing the OCEAN.  There we go.

Finding Nemo is a feast for your eyes.  Pixar has come out with some gems over the years, but this film stands out in my mind simply because it’s drop-dead GORGEOUS from beginning to end.  From the most colorful piece of coral to the tiniest speck of algae floating in the currents, it is one of the most detailed animated works I have ever seen.

But, the animation is only an attractive vessel for an original story and some of the most lovable characters you’ll ever encounter.  I especially fell in love with the scatter-brained Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who is probably the sweetest, most honest sidekick in Disney and Pixar history.  She also provides some solid comic relief:

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Plus, it’s Ellen.  If that alone doesn’t make you happy, then you need to look at your life and look at your choices.

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Back to Dory: she accompanies our hero, a clownfish named Marlin (Albert Brooks), on a journey to find his abducted son, Nemo (Alexander Gould).  And, in the end…they DON’T fall in love, which is awesome.  I know it’s weird to think about, considering they’re FISH, but you have to admit it: in Disney films, when there’s a guy and a girl and they’re put together, romance happens, right?  In my opinion, Marlin and Dory’s partnership, which turns into a strong but platonic friendship, is one of the most progressive pairings Disney’s ever put out there.  Just because one character’s a guy, the other character’s a girl, and they’re both single…DOESN’T mean they need to hook up!  There’s such a thing as being just friends, and, you know what, kudos to Finding Nemo!

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Pretty much.

In addition to a great character dynamic, we also meet a ton of other creative characters through Dory and Marlin’s adventures.  Simultaneously, Nemo’s own experiences as pet in the human world opens us up to even more characters, who all make up a hilarious gang of tank fish in a dentist’s office.  Whether they add comic relief or teach our protagonists’ a valuable lesson, these characters are all memorable and distinct.

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An A.A. meeting for vegetarian sharks is a hilarious image that is forever tattooed in my brain.  Plain and simple.

Finding Nemo is poignant, sweet, funny, heartbreaking…all the emotions.  While Marlin is the ultimate overprotective cartoon dad – I’ve mentioned these guys in an earlier post – the film tackles an issue that parents and children alike can relate to.  What child hasn’t screamed “I hate you” to Mom and Dad when he just can’t get his way?  When haven’t we all regretted something that’s slipped out in anger or jealousy or sadness?  Like other Disney classics, Finding Nemo is an adult film packaged for children – anyone can love it.

And, with crisp, polished, and BREATHTAKING animation like this…please.

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I could watch this film again and again and again and again…

1. WRECK-IT RALPH (2012)

“I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good, and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me.”

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Surprised?

My boyfriend took me to see Wreck-It Ralph during its opening weekend last year.  Sure, I liked all of Disney’s more recent animated features – from The Princess and the Frog to Tangled – but I certainly wasn’t expecting to love this movie.  Long story short, we walked out of the theater and spent the rest of the day talking about how we couldn’t believe how good it was.  If you haven’t already, see it for yourself: Wreck-It Ralph is one of Disney’s finest.

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I’ll be honest…I’m a little biased.  As a ’90s baby, I was raised on video games.  I remember my excitement when I first saw the trailer – Bowser, Sonic the Hedgehog, all of my favorite video game characters just hangin’ out together.  The movie is right out of Generation Z’s dreams.  I like to regard it as a more tech-savvy Toy Story with a few narrative elements of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? thrown in there.

But, what makes this new Disney animated film so great?  Well, it’s one of the most original plots I’ve ever encountered: a video game villain with a heart of gold just wants to become a good guy.  Sure, there are plenty of animated films about a character searching for a new identity, but the endeavors of Ralph (John C. Reilly) are packaged so creatively…who cares?  You also don’t have to be a video game expert to enjoy this film…while there’s plenty of BRILLIANT insider humor about the gaming world, the film is chockfull of original characters and environments that anyone can appreciate.

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Speaking of original characters, I need to address my BIGGEST selling point in this film: Vanellope Von Schweetz, who’s voiced by an unrecognizable Sarah Silverman (one of the rare, celebrity voice-overs that I actually really enjoy).  She is Ralph’s eventual sidekick who’s also looking for a change of identity…this purpose alone sets her far apart from her look-alikes, including Boo from Monsters Inc. and Agnes from Despicable Me.  She’s rebellious, ambitious, determined, and just so darn cute.  Plus, she and Ralph form a believable and well-developed friendship…I always love a well-paced film.  Together, they learn the true of meaning of what it is to become a hero….aww.

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We also have a hilarious ensemble of side characters, who all pay homage to some of the funniest stereotypes in gaming history (especially Jane Lynch as the buxom, butt-kicking female bounty hunter).

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Oh, and there’s a twist at the end…well, at least to me there’s a twist.  I’m usually pretty good about predicting endings and such…but, for some reason, the climax in Wreck-It Ralph really took me by surprise.  That earns the film BIG points in my book.

Wreck-It Ralph makes me laugh, cry, and everything in between.  Like every other film on this list, it’s also beautifully animated and crisp.  But, in the end, Wreck-It Ralph tops my list because I could watch it a million times and never get tired of it.  The humor is spot-on, the character relationships are sweet and meaningful, and the world of video games is the most imaginative animated universe I’ve come across in years.

DISNEY, PLEASE MAKE A (GOOD) SEQUEL.  THIS IS THE NEXT TOY STORY SERIES.  Get ready for that Oscar.

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What are some of your favorite animated movies?  What cheers you up, gives you a good laugh, a good cry?  Tell me in the comments!  Thanks for reading!

*The feedback I’ve received over the past two months has been overwhelming and AMAZING.  Thank you all from the bottom of my nerdy little heart.  Leave a request if there’s something you’d like to see reviewed!

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3 thoughts on “Laura’s List: Top 5 Favorite Animated Films

  1. Great choices! Most of my favorite animated films are from the Disney Canon, so you can check my “Top 13 Favorite Disney Canon Films” list on my blog to see that. Now regarding your choices:

    5) I too never grew up with anime. I actually never grew up with any type of Japanese animation. I’ve only JUST started watching Studio Ghibli films and have seen 4 of them. Sadly, this wasn’t one of them, although I do plan on seeing this. I’m not a fan of Japanese animation nor their movies. I don’t dislike it; they’re very good, but I don’t like how Japanese characters move. They always seem to me like they move a frame too slowly.

    4) My favorite Disney Canon film and favorite animated film, period! I take it you don’t like Disney princesses too much?

    3) I’m surprised you put this ahead of “Beauty and the Beast”. It’s one of my favorites as well. And it’s not just inspired by the story of Hamlet, but also by the stories of Prophet Moses and Prophet Joseph as found in the Bible, Torah, and Qur’an.

    2) A good film, not one of my favorites. My favorite Pixar film is “Monsters, Inc.”. Oh, and I’ve never said to or thought about my parents that I hated them.

    1) When I saw this the first time, I didn’t like it. I thought the story was too simple and not much happened. And I found Vanellope to be such a rude, annoying, little brat. After re-watching it for my Disney Canon project, I’ve developed a new respect for it. The animation and designs are gorgeous, and the characters are likable, for the most part. I still find Vanellope to be a rude brat, but not as much as I did when first seeing the film.

    • As Laura the average kid, I love my Disney princesses…but as a critic, I just can’t help but point out some of the big character flaws. It all depends on how you want to analyze things and form your argument.

      Yep, I was debating whether to put Beauty and the beast ahead of The Lion King. In the end, my sentimental value attached to The Lion King won me over…again, this a list of personal favorites, not what I critically think is best.

      I was annoyed by Vanellope at first too! But then you learn her backstory and it broke my heart. She might be my favorite Disney princess, come to think of it 🙂 Thanks again for reading!

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