In honor of the greatness that is How to Train Your Dragon 2 I’ve decided to make a list of my top 5 favorite animated films. As a qualifier let me say that I have not chosen these because I believe them to be the best animated films of all time. No, I’ve chosen these 5 as my favorites. Do I think they’re well made? Of course, but I’m not going to argue that they’re the finest artistic masterpieces ever produced. There are no Hayao Miyazaki films to be found here. So let’s begin.
#5 Monsters Inc.
This makes the list for the originality of its premise. The concept of monsters harvesting the screams of children for energy is brilliant, and the twist at the end is even better. It’s a simple message, that love and joy are ultimately more powerful than fear and despair, but wrapping such a profound truth in such a funny and interesting package makes it hit home. The relationship between the little girl Boo, and Sully, the “scariest” monster in the world, offers a lesson in the power of contrasts. There’s humor in how frightened a big monster is in the presence of a small child, and there is meaning in the fact that the small child’s effortless laughter is more powerful than all the screams the big monster could force. It’s original, funny, and touching. Also, I have a soft spot for Billy Crystal that probably came from watching the Oscars as a kid.
#4 How to Train Your Dragon 2
I know it’s rather soon to put this movie on a top 5 list, but let me explain my reasoning. I would have placed the original on this list, and in the #4 spot, but the sequel is better than the original. The characters are more developed and the world feels larger with more possibilities. The core relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is tested past the breaking point and then reinforced ten fold. When I find myself caring more for these animated characters than any live action characters I’ve seen in a long time, that tells me I’m watching something good. It’s moving, exciting, and full of lessons about life and family and sacrifice and human nature. I recommend it to everyone with a beating heart.
#3 The Lion King
When I was a kid they were pumping out Disney animated feature films that became instant classics. The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast etc were in regular VHS circulation in my house. But really, and I mean really now, can we all agree that The Lion King is the best of these? It’s based directly on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, after all. I’m fairly certain that an entire park at Disney World wouldn’t exist without this movie. It’s epic, it’s funny, it has the best sidekicks and memorable songs. Also, Ferris Bueller is in it.
#2 Toy Story 3
The original Toy Story is an all-time classic. I remember going to Burger King immediately after seeing it and getting a Whopper Jr. and a Woody doll. Anyway, we should all be on the same page when it comes to the goodness and significance of the first Toy Story. The immediate sequel wasn’t all that great, in my opinion. Jesse the Cowgirl was a little whiny and melodramatic, that penguin was a jerk, and the heart just wasn’t there as the plot wrestled with abandonment issues. Toy Story 3 turned that around in a big way. Instead of being about abandonment, this one tackled the issue of letting go even before that Frozen song got stuck in your head forever. If Toy Story 2 asked the questions, “Does the master care about me and does life have a purpose?”, Toy Story 3 answered, “Yes of course the master cares, but that purpose involves painful self-sacrifice for the benefit of others.” You see, that evil bear couldn’t let go. He couldn’t forgive and move on so he got strapped to a garbage truck. The other toys recognized that their master loved them and that he had a purpose in leaving them with the little girl. This is all profound stuff about the nature of existence and I love it.
#1 The Iron Giant
Heart, heart, heart! This is about identity and purpose. The Giant was clearly created as a weapon by some aliens far away. He happened to find a boy who taught him that he could be a good guy, and not just a gun that kills. Violence begets violence but love saves the day. The characters are real and funny. The Giant is a reflection of the battle within each of our souls. “You are who you choose to be.” Will we destroy ourselves out of fear and give into our baser instincts of self-preservation? Or will we choose something greater than ourselves, and enrich the lives around us? The Giant makes his choice and it gets me every time.
The Brave Little Toaster
The Land Before Time