Film

The 10 Best Stop-Motion Animated Films

For most of us in the West, it was television and the work of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass that made stop-motion animation an aesthetic given.

It's origins can be traced by to 1897 and a film called The Humpty Dumpty Circus. There the technique was used to illustrate a collection of toys and stuffed animals coming to life. Famed film maestro George Melies used it for many of his films while Willis O'Brien popularized it with efforts such as The Lost World and King Kong.

It was George Pal, however, who brought the concept to the kiddies -- so to speak -- creating a collection of celebrated "Puppetoons" that cemented the approach as part of the family film ideal. For most of us in the West, however, it was television and the work of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass that made stop-motion animation an aesthetic given. Though they made a few feature films, their broadcast classics like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, and Here Comes Peter Cottontail turned an entire generation onto the then dying artform.

Over the decades, the form has been resurrected and rejected, film fans either curious over the choice or crazy for the results. Just this week, upstart production company Laika will bring The Boxtrolls to theaters. Based on the novel Here Be Monsters! , the story centers on a young boy, raised by underground dwelling creatures, and his eventual reemergence as part of the "real" world. While it has its issues both narratively and in its character design, it proves that stop-motion is now a viable alternative to the more flashy and futuristic obsession with CG.

With this in mind, we present a list of the 10 Best Stop-Motion Animated Films. While there are several foreign films to pick from, we strategically stayed in the West, mostly because of the difficulty in seeing some of these renowned works around our neck of the wood. No matter, the titles here more than make up for a lack of access, beginning with a true unknown quantity:

 
#10: Willy McBean and his Magic Machine

The team of Rankin and Bass are best known for their TV holiday hits. Their movies, on the other hand, are more cult classics than certifiable gems. This one centers on a young boy who builds a faulty time machine in an attempt to stop a wacky mad scientist from altering history. He ends up interacting with General Custer, Buffalo Bill Cody, Christopher Columbus, and King Arthur, with stops in Ancient Egypt, Rome, and prehistoric times. While the emphasis on education is obvious (the duo were attempting to make the past "cool" for the kids), the technique is terrific.

 
#9: The Puppetoon Movie

George Pal more or less made stop-motion acceptable to the ankle-biter crowd, and here is the reason why. A compendium of short films illustrating the man's painstaking technique (he would build different versions of each character, interchanging them to recreate form and movement), many suffer from a very narrow view of minorities and accompanying stereotypes. Those era-arguable issues aside, Pal's perfectionism is on display in every frame. Sometimes, it's impossible to imagine that these movies were done by a human being, and not a precision calculating computer. In fact, the film at number two borrowed a bunch from the Puppetoons.

 
#8: ParaNorman

Laika gets the first of two shout-outs here, and the reason is obvious. Unlike present day kid video efforts, this studio understands that, sometimes, a family film needs to be scary and just a bit serious. Here we have a young boy whose obsession with zombies comes into play when his small town is overrun with reanimated corpses. Granted, these are not Walking Dead level gore-fiends, but the film still manages to make these monsters into effective fear factors. Even better, the film's focus on misfits means that it avoids many of the issues raised by stories like this, and instead, argues for being true to yourself.

 
#7: A Town Called Panic

It started out as a joke, crude five-minute shorts made with cheap dime store toys. After a run of 20 episodes, a feature film was proposed. The story centers on the main characters -- Horse (a horse), Cowboy (a cowboy figurine), and Indian (a toy statue) -- planning for a birthday celebration. Unfortunately, instead of the number they needed, they mistakenly order 50 million bricks to build a barbeque. As much a commentary on the stop-motion format, as a hilarious send-up of the Saturday morning formula, there's a bit of Pee-Wee's Playhouse in this jolly collaboration between Belgium, Luxembourg and France.

 
#6: Fantastic Planet

Some may see this entry and shout, "NO!" After all, just look at the trailer and see if you can find the flaw. Did you say that this is a traditionally animated sci-fi allegory? Well, you're wrong. Apparently, we are watching 2D pen and ink drawings carefully positioned and photographed in the old school method. Think South Park's cut-out strategy without the crude, rude satire. The result is something otherworldly, which matched the Bacon and Dali inspired designs perfectly. Some say this is nothing more than a series of fever dreams devised for the drug-fueled audience member, but it's also a reminder that stop-motion isn't always puppets or claymation.

Next Page

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.