Saturday, March 2, 2013

10 Most Important Animated Features of the Animation Renaissance

The animation renaissance that I would date from 1982 to 1994 is my favorite era of entertainment.  I was born in 1991 and grew up with the influence and impact of these cartoons.  The renaissance is when animation was able to reach new audiences, new levels of success and heights of quality.  The medium reestablished itself as an indispensable part of our culture.  Here is a look at the most important animated features of this exciting period.

10. Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
It is definitely a much larger success now than when it was first released.  Nightmare has become a successful cult classic, one of the few animated features that teenagers and young adults will openly admit that they enjoy.  The animated feature by 1993 had become successful enough to produce a dark stylistic mainstream stop-motion feature.  This is one of the most successful stop-motion features of all time and seems to be growing in popularity.
9. Brave Little Toaster (1987)
Despite a troubled production and failure to find widespread theatrical distribution this became a huge success on cable and home video.  This movie really did lead to the beginning of Pixar.  Lasseter was originally going to do it all in computer animation before he was fired and the project got passed around.  It is easy to see Pixar in this feature.  It is full of heart and wit, all of the laughs, tears and suspense is absolutely deserved.  The main cast is very creative and well designed.  It is one of the best animated features of the eighties.  It did not move the industry forward, but it gave a start to many animation luminaries and features creativity and heart that was not found in a majority of cartoons at the time.
8. Land Before Time (1988)
This is the second time that a Don Bluth movie opened on the same day as a Disney animated feature and beat it at the box-office.  Oliver and Company only has a higher total box-office because Disney kept it in theatres longer (to beat Bluth's movie).  This is the last time Bluth would create a masterpiece (although Anastasia and Bartok are quite good).  His features after this were bizarre and frankly unentertaining.  But this prehistoric tale is funny, exciting, heartwarming and wondrous.  Competition in animation was difficult to be found in the eighties, quality animated features were even harder to come by.  But Land Before Time leaves an impressive impact.
7. Aladdin (1992)
Disney's stretch of commercially and critically successful animated features in the renaissance was unprecedented.  These movies were seen and beloved by both children and adults.  Aladdin had become the most financially successful movie at that time and remains the best uses of a celebrity voice actor.  Aladdin is still a huge success.  The beloved movie gifted audiences with whole new characters, songs and worlds.
6. An American Tail (1986)
This movie made more money than Great Mouse Detective.  Serious competition for Disney in animated features was unheard of.  This was Bluth's first success, although he only had a couple of financially and critically successful movies that was a lot more than anybody else at the time.  An American Tail still holds up today.  It was also Steven Spielberg's first time producing a cartoon.  The animation minded live-action director was involved in many of the period's best productions.
5. Secret of NIMH (1982)
I qualify this as the official start of the animation renaissance.  Don Bluth lead an animator's exodus from Disney in the seventies because he wanted to return the medium to its former glory.  Which he did with this movie, which was the first quality animated feature in years, if not decades.  NIMH featured quality animation and a focus on storytelling and characterization that was missing from the medium.  Although it failed at the box-office, people in the animation industry noticed and things gradually changed for the better.
4. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
A live-action movie has never felt more like a cartoon.  The collaboration between Disney, Spielberg, Zemeckis and Richard Williams was a love letter to Hollywood that audiences could not get enough of.  Roger and Jessica Rabbit were memorable new characters that have become iconic.  The adult humor in the movie proved that animation had an audience outside of children.  This remains the best animation/live-action combination.  Whereas modern day movies and special effects try to look as realistic as possible Roger Rabbit had clearly animated characters and backgrounds that believably interacted with real life actors.  Despite the influence and success of this ground breaking feature there really has not been a similar movie since.  Its quality and creativity is difficult to match.
3. The Little Mermaid (1989)
This is were Disney animation turned around for the better.  Little Mermaid started a period of Disney influence and success that is still used as a benchmark today in gaging the studio's output.  Little Mermaid is where Disney's animators came into their own and stepped out of the shadows of Walt's legendary staff.  This was the beginning of the successful Broadway musical formula and the first real accessible movie for children and adults.
2. The Lion King (1994)
This was not only the height of Disney, but it was the peak of the animation renaissance.  I would classify this as the final event of the renaissance.  The Lion King had become so successful that everyone joined in the game.  The success of Lion King was unparalleled.  In a rerelease two years ago the feature proved its revered status.  This is still one of the most successful animated movies and beloved of all time.
1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
An animated feature that not only set a box-office record, but won a Golden Globe and was nominated for best picture.  That sort of respect and validation for an industry that was often seen as separate from the rest of Hollywood was unheard of at the time and in many ways still is.  I really feel that Beauty and the Beast was not only the highlight for Disney, but for the field of animation as a whole.  The movie has proved to be an enduring classic that speaks to everybody.

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