Animated films are near and dear to me if only for the obvious reason that I grew up with them. While innumerable Disney benchmarks sparked and sustained my interest, the progression of animated cinema into the realm of the more technically proficient was (and still is) astonishing. It goes without saying that both DreamWorks and Pixar, the latter more often than not, have set the standard for contemporary animated films and continue to blaze a trail via their increasingly awe-inspiring visual prowess.
Barring evolutionary perks, the genre itself is one collective labor of love – each massive collaborative effort after the next requiring varying skill sets and undying devotion to the tasks at hand. Although visibly part of the medium, glaringly vapid cash grabs have recently come out of the woodwork to fill a theatrical void, more specifically one defined by a particular month’s lack of family-centric fare. What ensues are financial success stories devoid of memorability – an inherent quality of the discernible classics that still hold up to this day. Even still, domestic and foreign forays into this frequently fantastical sect of cinema are often dramatic, heartfelt and immersive in their lush illustrations of the worlds they build.
Japanese animation, popularly and widely known as “anime,” isn’t so much a cult phenomenon as it is a wholly unique branch of animated filmmaking. As can be assumed, Japanese culture varies wildly from our own and in turn produced this art form near the start of the 20th century. Sporting wholly unique characteristics, projects in this vein are easily discernible and admirable as such, the reach of their influence spanning the breadth of the entire world and becoming more popular over time.
While studios like FUNimation are responsible for the distribution and maintaining of popularity of many a popular television series here in the states, it’s the acclaimed Hayao Miyazaki’s brainchild Studio Ghibli that’s struck a chord and stuck with people of my generation for decades. Pairing a recognizably captivating art style that’s obviously influenced by but still strays from the typical, Miyazaki and company’s uncanny ability to pair high fantasy with palpable human emotion is unparalleled – films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away remaining lauded for their central characters, iconic creatures and ingenious genre-melding tendencies.
Other filmmakers like Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) and Makoto Shinkai (5 Centimeters per Second) possess similar tendencies, the former’s efforts leaving a lasting if appropriately soul-crushing impression on me personally. While not particularly familiar with anime’s wide-reaching and ever-expanding hold on the realm of pop culture, I look only to further my knowledge of this universe as I continue to discover and visit its more pivotal contributions.
My aforementioned affinity for my youth’s simpler pleasures is assuredly shared by many – Disney’s earlier and more recent offerings falling snugly into this broad but easily identifiable niche of animated filmmaking. As pieces of lovable, moreover pure and unfiltered escapism, I found myself watching films like The Little Mermaid, The Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King unfailingly, prompting my mother to pop one of many VHS selections into the VCR when able, my attention rarely faltering as I remained captivated for the next ninety or so minutes. Still retaining their charm to this day, it’s incredible to witness these overly competent blends of unfettered artistic vision and emotional gratification, some films’ ability to lightly address certain sects of human history serving as added treats.
While more recent three-dimensional efforts have broken onto the scene, employing their visual merits admirably enough, it goes without saying that family fare nowadays varies wildly in quality as I briefly touched upon with the introductory paragraphs. Even still, the labor-intensive, technically superior successors to their charming forefathers are all marvels to behold despite some being recognizably better (and more well-intentioned) than others. This aside – and on a closing note – animated cinema is important, plain and simple. It at once celebrates film as a literal art form while capitalizing on the true talents behind the tools of the trade, the medium itself remaining far from dated as advancing technology exists to serve these individuals better over time.
Click here for a graphic displaying my favorites from these two subgenres.