Critiquing TIME’s “best” animation list.

This week, TIME announced its list of what it considers to be the “All-TIME 25 Best Animated Films,” as determined by film critic Richard Corliss. Let’s just say there are some puzzling inclusions, and some even more startling omissions.

The list:

25. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
24. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
23. Yellow Submarine (1968)
22. Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (2008)
21. Kung Fu Panda (2008)
20. Paprika (2007)
19. Tangled (2010)
18. The Lion King (1994)
17. Akira (1988)
16. Happy Feet (2006)
15. Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
14. The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)
13. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
12. Toy Story (1995)
11. Toy Story 3 (2010)
10. The Little Mermaid (1989)
9. Finding Nemo (2003)
8. The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
7. Up (2009)
6. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
5. Spirited Away (2001)
4. Dumbo (1941)
3. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979)
2. WALL-E (2008)
1. Pinocchio (1940)

An interesting group of films, right? At the very least, some of Corliss’ choices seem to practically be begging for debate. And since I’m never one to decline such an invitation, here’s my take on what we see here.

First, the positives:

I wholeheartedly agree with the positioning of Disney’s Pinocchio at the top of the list. As I’ve stated before, I think Pinocchio, more so than its predecessor Snow White, marks the ultimate statement of Disney artistic vision, and is a pinnacle of animated achievement.

The animation of other countries is represented quite healthily—at least, the French, British, Japanese, and German. And speaking of the latter, it was a pleasant surprise to see Prince Achmed, written and directed by pioneering female filmmaker Lotte Reiniger, make this list, as it is relatively unknown even among those viewers who are self-professed animation fanatics.

I’m thrilled to see the South Park movie make an appearance, and placed so near the top, too. There have been few films (and even fewer animated ones) that so deftly juggle satire, social commentary, blue humor, and rampant cursing. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are f*cking national treasures, people.

And now, a lengthy rant.

My first reaction when reading through the entire list was surprise at the utter exclusion of any of Brad Bird’s films.

The Iron Giant (1999) is an exquisite parable about how the choices we make influence who we become. The Incredibles (2004) is one of the best superhero films ever, with a beautifully-crafted story to match the engrossing action. And Ratatouille (2007) is a simply lovely tale of a gourmet rat that celebrates life, art, and the joy of cooking. So why are none of these extremely deserving films on this list? Does Corliss have some kind of issue with Bird as a filmmaker? The exclusion just seems a little personal, all things considered.

Some of the placements on this list are a bit strange to me. I don’t think WALL-E should be nearly as high on the list. Don’t get me wrong—it’s one of my favorite Pixar productions. But it is not as consistent as the Toy Story films, which I feel should rank higher (and perhaps room should be made for Toy Story 2, a movie that remains one of the best film sequels of all time, animated or not). And in regards to placement, I’d put Wallace and Gromit much, much higher on my own list.

Also, I don’t really care how Corliss justifies it, but The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie is NOT a movie. It is a loosely-connected series of vignettes combined to form a feature-length presentation. And while I genuinely love the Warner Bros. shorts, they belong in a separate category of consideration.

Other films that I don’t feel belong on the list:

Lady and the Tramp (while I enjoy this movie, and it was probably my favorite film as a child, there are other films that are more deserving of a spot on this list … don’t kill me, Nikki);

Yellow Submarine (though I recognize its importance in the broader realm of British cinema, it seems like little more than a really long advertisement for the music of The Beatles);

Horton Hears a Who (Jim Carrey’s severe overacting impedes what could have been a solid, but still not “best,” movie experience);

Tangled (the animation is breathtakingly beautiful, but the movie is a standard storybook Disney affair that adds little “newness” to the formula); and …

Happy Feet (cute, but ultimately unsubstantial addition to the computer-animated influx of the 2000s).

So what would I add in these films’ stead? In addition to the aforementioned Incredibles and Iron Giant, I would also add:

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), beautifully animated and completely engrossing neo-fairy tale of pure, unadulterated wonder;

Bambi (1942), even though it makes me weep like a child every time I watch it;

Alice in Wonderland (1951), which I’ve defended on this blog before as a trippy masterpiece; and …

Persepolis (2007), brilliantly depicting a young girl’s upbringing in the midst of the Iranian Revolution—the animation style, which mimics the graphic novels upon which the film was based (tip: read them; they are magnificent).

Now that I’ve had my rant, it’s your turn. What films would you excise from the list, and what films do you feel should have been included?

4 thoughts on “Critiquing TIME’s “best” animation list.

  1. I agree with many of your choices and comments. I am surprised that “Bambi” is not even on the list while “Dumbo” is so high. I was glad to see “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” on the list, as that movie keeps growing on me every time I see it. One other movie that is notably absent is “Fantasia.” I guess it depends on one’s criteria for this list, but it’s surprising that such a revolutionary film is not in the top 25 here. Good post, thanks.

  2. There are too many recent films on Corliss’ list, ones which haven’t stood the test of time yet. I can’t believe BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and 101 DALMALTIANS are missing. I agree with you that THE INCREDIBLES should be there if any recent film is (I’m also an IRON GIANT fan). YELLOW SUBMARINE…oh, please!

  3. It’s an interesting list, all right. Obviously most critics’ lists of “best animated films” are controversial because, in my opinion, a true list of best animated films would be way too heavy on Pixar, Disney and Miyazaki, and no critic wants to have a list with that little variety because it makes them look too “safe” and narrow, so they throw in other films solely to spice up the debate. This one seems more eclectic than most, though, and even the picks he does have from the heavyweights seem designed to be controversial. Lady and the Tramp over everything else that Disney has to offer? And I agree with you that Wall*E, which reaches places that are damn near perfection in certain points, is ultimately way more uneven than the consistently great Ratatouille. Actually, you could probably say the same about Up–I think a lot of its critical praise was based on the really beautiful depiction of the relationship between Carl and Ellie, and while that was incredibly affecting and wonderfully done, it was still only a very small chunk of the movie–the rest of which had plenty of flaws. And while I love The Little Mermaid and think it deserves a huge amount of praise for paving the way for Disney’s new direction . . . I’m not sure that it’s really the best out of that Disney Princess Era, Round 2. (Although I do believe that Beauty and the Beast tends to be slightly overrated, I do think its omission on this list is pretty surprising.) I kind of have to disagree with your suggestion of Persepolis, though–while I enjoyed it while I was actually watching it, several years later I’m surprised at how little of it actually stuck with me. I don’t think it’s a movie with a lot of staying power. Graphic novels are tough to adapt well to the screen, and I think that sticking with the story’s graphic novel roots made it tough to emphasize the drama of what was going on. The film seemed too flat to me.

    In general, the list is way too heavy on the post-2000 films (this is a problem with any critical list in a mainstream mag, though). And it seems to reward the uneven but inventive (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Yellow Submarine) over the truly well-crafted.

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