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With the latest and greatest in Shrek sequels on the way this summer I grabbed a pitchfork and a torch, waded into the swamp and roused the Cinema Blend staff from their hovels with one thought in mind: Tell me about your favorite computer animated movie. They did, I tallied it up, and the result is another CB Top 5.
Think animated movies are just for kids? Then you’re missing out on some of the best movies ever made. Try these five on for size.
5. Toy Story 2
LEXI FEINBERG: There are people who think the sequel to Toy Story is better than the original. I’m not in that camp, but it’s an excellent film and another fine example of what CGI can do (take notes, Hoodwinked). Toy Story 2 picks up soon after the last one left off, and follows the toys on another risky, wild adventure rife with misunderstandings and self-delusions. I first saw this movie on an airplane, and the “When She Loved Me” scene unleashed a flood all over my face. The stewardess just assumed I was having in-flight jitters. Yeah, that’s it.
ED PERKIS: Rather than just taking the characters in the first movie and putting them in a new environment, the story in Toy Story 2 takes the lead. Woody and Buzz tackle issues like abandonment and the idea that things that are designed to be used can be collected but not enjoyed. New characters fit seamlessly in with the veterans and it was one of the funniest movies of the late 90’s. The look and technology haven’t really pushed forward to any great degree but the cast, story and laughs are what counts.
MACK RAWDEN: Toy Story 2 is basically an updated and slightly worse version of Toy Story on steroids. If you threw all the original characters in a hat and added Kelsey Grammar, a hot cowgirl, and some Robert Goulet singing, this is probably what you would get. Wayne Knight is excellent as Al McWhiggen, and the entire homage to The Empire Strikes Back is a beautiful touch. Plus, it’s the highest rated movie in history at Rotten Tomatoes. Do you know how pompous and surly the average critic is? Every single one of them agreed on this movie. That’s more rare than Haley’s comet and a J.D. Salinger sighting put together.
4. Finding Nemo
ALEXANDRA CALAMARI: “Fish are friends, not food,” at least that’s what Finding Nemo’s vegetarian sharks believe, and after seeing this exquisite movie I’m of a mind to believe them. With mesmerizing, colorful animation, Finding Nemo was one of the first computer-generated films to truly blow audiences away with graphics and effects. This heart-warming tale of a father searching for his lost son stands out because of the assortment of loveable characters it introduced: from the hysterical “mine, mine, mine” seagulls, to the surfing sea turtles, to the memory-challenged Dory, who’s shockingly loveable despite being the most annoying character of all time. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming,” ha-ha now it’s in YOUR head too!
BRIAN HOLCOMB: Featuring a beautiful color pallete of undersea greens and blues and eyepopping reds and yellows, Nemo is on the one hand, animation as aesthetic. Pixar achieved something quite sublime with a glowing underwater universe that did not reject the classics of animation past but elevated their beauty and splender into a new medium. The script by co-director Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds is particularly unique for its single dad hero, Marlin (Albert Brooks), rather than the usual single mother figure and for its seemingly effortless humanity. There is a deeper truth behind the jokes and the dazzling animation about the complexities of raising children and the value of all life on earth. But it’s not pretentious for a moment and simply carries out a thrilling visual and narrative adventure full of great supporting characters along the way voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Stephen Root and Willem Dafoe among others. Besides, there’s a shark named Bruce for all of us Jaws fans.
JOSH TYLER: Already known for making great family movies, Finding Nemo is Pixar’s most family-oriented film. It’s the kind of movie you can take your grandparents too, without having to worry about whether they’ll get confused by the plot or be offended because some brat kid decides to mouth off to his parents. It’s a touching story, and both the lessons and the gags stick with you after it’s over. Surprisingly, even years later I still find myself shouting “Mine! Mine! Mine!” at my wife whenever I’m feeling greedy. Not as surprising, this becomes incrementally less amusing to her every time. They say staring at a fish tank can lower your blood pressure. When you watch Finding Nemo, it has the same effect. It’s calming, relaxing, and a simple, lovingly crafted good time.
FRANCK TABOURING: Not only is he ugly and impolite, but he also happens to be one of the funniest characters in the magical world of CGI-animated movies. Andrew Adamson’s Shrek shook up the animated genre back in 2001, putting a spin on classic fairy tales and stealing the heart of millions of kids and grown-ups. I mean, how original is the story of this first adventure? An ogre who despises fairy-tale figures embarks on a perilous mission to save a princess from the grips of an evil dragon. Ingenious! And yes, the animation is top-notch too!
ALEXANDRA CALAMARI: From the KFC loving father in So I married an Axe Murderer, to Austin Powers’ baby-eating Fat Bastard, it is a universal truth that whenever Mike Myer’s dons a Scottish accent, the film will be hysterical. The bitter, sarcastic Shrek is no exception to the rule. Shrek introduced the spoof genre to the animation world, turning classic fairytales like Snow-White on their heels. The film is hilarious from start to finish, catering to an adult crowd with several sexual innuendos, but still providing laughs for children with Eddie Murphy’s parfait-loving Donkey. Amid all this humor, Shrek ends with a morally sound conclusion showing that true love is blind, ultimately being more romantic than the stories it is spoofing.
SCOTT GWIN: Fairy tales are magical. Making fun of fairy tales is even more magical. At least when it's done right. Shrek is the ultimate messed up fairy tale, roasting all of the great characters to perfection and serving them up with the best blend of sarcasm, wit and pop-culture jokes. The animation is wonderful as well. Shrek matched style to story perfectly, something that too few CG movies have managed outside of Pixar’s camp. What’s the biggest clue that this movie is one of the best? How many movies can spawn a sequel that’s better than the first? And that’s from a guy who generally hates sequels.
2. Toy Story
FRANCK TABOURING: “You. Are. A. TO-YYYYY!” Didn’t we all want to be a toy after first seeing this timeless masterpiece of an animated movie? When Toy Story first rocketed to theatres in 1995, it baffled both kids and their parents, marking not only the beginning of a new era in movie animation, but also proving that a simple story with quite simple characters can deliver enchanting family fun if assembled with care and precision. Oh, and the fact that Toy Story was the first fully computer-generated feature-length film is reason alone for it to have a secured spot in any Top 5.
LEXI FEINBERG: What’s not to love about Toy Story? It’s not only one of the best CGI movies--it’s one of the best animated children’s movies, period. Even 12 years after its release, I still think about Woody and Buzz and start smiling like a silly schoolgirl who just brushed shoulders with her crush in the hallway. It’s the most heartbreaking classic about forgotten toys since The Velveteen Rabbit, and yet, Pixar also injects it with just the right amount of fun, chuckle-worthy moments. Toy Story is a classic, and one we’ll likely still be watching with our grandchildren.
MACK RAWDEN: Originally imagined as a commentary on Hollywood’s propensity to cast aside old legends, Toy Story functions perfectly as a children’s film and a multifaceted allegory. The voice work of Tim Allen and Tom Hanks is spot-on, and the ensemble cast is arguably better. Wallace Shawn is in--con–ceivab--ly wonderful as the T-Rex and Don Rickles has never disappointed me. Besides, there’s a dog named Scud. In fact, Scud’s mere presence is probably why it made three hundred and fifty million dollars.
1. The Incredibles
JOSH: This was the only movie of the bunch that the entire Cinema Blend staff agrees on. The Incredibles got a vote from every Cinema Blend writer as one of the best computer animated movies ever made. That it’s number one is no fluke. The Incredibles really is that great. It’s not just a fantastic animated movie, it’s a fantastic movie, one of the best of the decade. In large part that’s due to writer/director Brad Bird whose previous film, a 2-D animated movie called The Iron Giant ranks right up there with Incredibles as one of the best animated movies ever made. Though it is a PG rated family movie, The Incredibles doesn’t shrink from death and injury as a consequence to violence. The explosions are huge, the danger feels real, and you’re so invested in Bird’s characters that you’ll find your heart tangled up in what happens to them. In the mix with all of that is some pretty smart satire about modern life. Incredibles is a classic that’ll be hanging around for generations, a film that you can’t be finished with until you’ve seen it more than once.
BRIAN HOLCOMB: Two parts The Fantastic Four to one part Watchmen, Brad Bird’s deservedly Oscar nominated screenplay is easily one of the best in recent times whether animated or not. The various influences blend and dissolve within a very specific approach from director Bird. The approach is both action packed and satirical and plays effectively for both adults and children without being overtly clever like some ‘90s Disney fare (Aladdin?). The film never panders to its audience and is sophisticated and witty regarding comic book cliches without resorting to paper thin parody. Bird is committed to telling his story and developing his characters; not always a strong point in any modern film. Mostly, though, it has great charm, aided considerably by a very sly score from Michael Giacchino (Alias) which spins variations on themes from classic Bond films like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. A wonderful cast toplined by Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter make this an essential modern classic.
ED PERKIS: Writer/director Brad Bird created both an amazing superhero movie and a beautiful and detailed CGI world. As with all great animated movies the key is the story, and the one here is top notch. Not just funny and exciting, but a good family story that tackles some larger themes of being special and giving your life meaning. Truly amazing to look at, with some great action sequences that push the technology to the limit without muting its bold, comic book-type colors. Plus, it’s just fun to watch and isn’t that really what it is all about?
DANIEL SOLOMON: When all the other "kid-friendly" films were trying to sneak in some adult appeal, The Incredibles actually dared to be adult. Because it had great visuals and an entertaining story, there was no need to rely on lame references and background objects that kind of looked like dicks. People actually died in this movie, which instantly made it cooler than any CGI hugfest that came before it. And, as with all other grown-up cartoons, the kids still gravitated to it. Proof that if parents won't willingly provide their children with balls, they will seek them out on their own.
Nominated but didn’t make the cut: Monsters Inc., Ice Age, Over the Hedge, Happy Feet, Chicken Little, Robots, Shrek 2