Haven’t talked about animations in the Western world in awhile.
Movies in theaters tend to have many more advantages than other, less popular animations. These movies have the benefits of directly leading to revenue, of being advertised everywhere, and satiating a need for cinematic entertainment. Western animated movies are popular on a level that is far above anime, manga, or even basic western animations.
That being said, these movies are restricted, and often end up as part of a predictable genre, that can get stale. Oftentimes, with the same humor, the same general plot twists, and the same insistence on a happy ending, these movies are interesting and entertaining, but ultimately similar. It takes something exceptional to stand out in the world of Western animated movies: but there are certainly some out there that and, knowing this, I’d like to share some of those movies that stood out to me.
5. How To Train Your Dragon 2
This movie was one that I honestly didn’t expect much from. It was another Dreamworks animated feature, one that I expected to be good, no doubt, but certainly not what it ended up being.
HTTYD 2 was, overall, just a very, very solid movie. Telling the story of the young Viking known as Hiccup, and his dragon companion Toothless, this movie made clear to me the ambition and thought that went into the series. The first movie was good in and of itself–the idealistic origin story, with rather standard character growth that was done well–but the second went above and beyond.
The thematic darkness that is present in HTTYD 2 cannot be understated. It’s a film that, as idealistic as it was, delved into some rather interesting subject matters that others I’ve seen simply ignored. Abandonment, power dynamics, and the exploitation of nature was all explored, wrapped up in a movie that looks rather bright and charming, but was honestly rather dark in subject matter. Combine this thematic strength with gorgeous animation, likable characters, and an intimidating antagonist, and you have a movie that really stands out among its peers.
If only its ending was a bit better. But eh, guess you can’t have everything.
Of course, we gotta get some Disney representation on here.
Wall-E is a movie that immediately draws interest for its intriguing concept, right off the bat. It takes place in a world where what is left of humanity is on a ship known as the Axiom, after the Earth has become uninhabitable due to trash buildup. Wall-E, a robot left behind to clean up the mess humanity has left, finds a lone plant still able to survive, and in doing so, finds himself tied up in a series of events that will decide the fate of humanity.
A cliche description, but a very…apt one.
This animated movie is, thematically speaking, one of the most complex that Disney has to offer, and I loved it. Providing profound commentary on consumerism, the environment, and of course the potential for global catastrophe, Wall-E, without a doubt, is one of the best movies Disney has ever made. The ability of the movie to tell such a story, with mostly mute protagonists, is also quite impressive, and is a testament to the cinematography of the movie, to be able to convey emotions through music and actions alone. Wall-E was just a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and one that I wish was talked about a bit more.
Because you know, we need a touch of darkness every now and again.
One of the few thematically dark western animated movies, Coraline was one heck of a ride. A “stop-motion horror dark fantasy” film, the movie, centering around the young girl, Coraline, and her discovery of the “Other World.” Finding, in her eyes, an idealized version of the real world, Coraline escapes there multiple times, finding entertainment in versions of her Mother, Father, and friends that seem much better than her real family. However, as these things go, the Other World’s tempting, alluring nature hides a dark secret–one which Coraline will eventually have to confront.
Coraline is a movie that, through atmosphere, tone, and music, creates a story which is simply mesmerizing. The stop-motion animation is used to great effect here, more so than any other film I’ve ever watched, to create an odd, creepy, straight up unsettling tone. Put it all together, and you have, in my opinion, a rather underrated classic among Western movies.
2. Inside Out
Now we can talk about my favorite Disney-Pixar movie of all time. Nice.
Basically, Inside Out gives us a unique perspective on how people work. Specifically, what our emotions, memories, thoughts, and ideas all do behind the scenes, to keep us all working properly. In the case of the young girl, Riley Andersen, the emotion that keeps her going is Joy, helped along by Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust. Everything seems to be going great up in Riley’s head, but of course, a child can only stay a child for so long. So, what’s going to happen to Joy and the rest, when Riley is faced with something new?
As a psychology major, perhaps there is bias here, but hey, I can’t help it. Having sentient emotions run the brain, and getting to see how decisions are made with such a system? I can’t just ignore that!
But honestly, Inside Out, on its own merit, is a freaking great movie. Being Disney, the animation quality is obviously top-notch, but the story being told, at the end of the day, was sweet and sincere, in a way that other similar movies just didn’t seem to have. It was a surprisingly real story, a fairy tale ending with just enough cynicism to make it feel genuine–or rather, more…full. Inside Out, to me, was a creative movie that had substance, and that’s something I really appreciate, in a time when many Western animated movies feel almost obligatory, random, or uninspired.
1. The Lego Movie
And #1, goes to a movie that came out of freaking nowhere, and in and of itself, seemed to define “obligatory, random, and uninspired.”
The Lego Movie is interesting, in that it seemed like a completely out-field movie, when it was first announced. It felt like a cash-in, an “Angry Birds” movie, something to just get people talking. But then, people said it was good, and me, having had nostalgic experiences with the brick toys, resolved to go see it, and man, was I happy to.
It starts off simply enough–a Lego guy named Emmet, is just living his normal day to day life, when, by random chance, he finds himself entangled in an epic prophecy! He’s the Chosen One, the one who will save the world! Or something. With the help of Wyldstyle, Vitruvius, and…Batman? Emmet sets off to different Lego realms, in order to stop the evil Lord Business! But then, while all this is going on, he’s gotta wonder: why is this happening? And who is the “man upstairs?”
Designed from beginning to end as a love letter to nostalgic, childhood experiences, The Lego Movie was far better than it had any right to be. With clever writing, simple humor, and a tendency to subvert tropes that I didn’t even realize could be subverted in an animated movie, The Lego Movie was just thoroughly enjoyable. It was everything that Western animated movies are known for, and more. It was idealistic, colorful, funny, action-packed, unique, but most importantly, it had heart. The Lego Movie was an experience that I fondly remember, and as such, is my personal favorite Western animated movie.
Honorable Mentions: The Prince of Egypt, Tarzan