My personal Top 20 picks for the Ghibli Blog Animation Poll, listed in order:
1. Looney Tunes (1930s-1960s)
2. Hedgehog in the Fog (1975)
3. Tale of Tales (1980)
4. Omohide Poro Poro (1991)
5. Mimi wo Sumaseba (1995)
6. Fantasia (1940)
7. Superman (1940s)
8. The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun (1968)
9. Nemo (Pilot, 1984)
10. Heidi, Girl of the Alps (TV, 1974)
11. Ren and Stimpy (TV, 1991)
12. A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)
13. Akira (1988)
14. Gauche the Cellist 1980)
15. The Beatles' Yellow Submarine (1968)
16. Catalog (1961)
17. Matrix III (1972)
18. Crac! (1981)
19. The Snow Queen (1957)
20. The King and the Mockingbird (1952, 1980)
I can't imagine living in a world without Bugs Bunny cartoons. Could you? They're one of the great blessings of life, and I am eternally thankful to have a childhood where Saturday morning cartoons always included two full hours of Looney Tunes.
When writing my list, I wanted to celebrate the diversity of animation, from feature films to television shows to experimental shorts, from America and abroad. I keep one eye on landmarks that helped push the medium, and another eye on those works that moved me personally, inspired me, broadened my view of my world. If these were the only 20 films that could be saved for posterity, I believe animation would survive and thrive for future generations. Our great-great grandchildren on the Martian colonies will be fine.
It would be simple to stack my list with Hayao Miyazaki movies, just as most mainstream media packs their "greatest animated movies" lists with Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks. It doesn't take any effort to hype the same handful of Hollywood blockbusters. That's just being lazy, and it demonstrates the difficulties in expanding the boundaries of animation. "The Electric Babysitter" remainst the medium's only role for most people. It's a challenge of perception and exposure, a challenge of imagination and curiosity. We need to change those perceptions.
Yuri Norstein remains, for me, our greatest living animator. His techniques in creating cutout characters, and astonishing cinematic camera movements, remains unsurpassed. And Hedgehog in the Fog remains a deeply spiritual film for me. It's a quest, a search for meaning in the great unknown mysteries of life. I sometimes think the story is about the search for God, but then again, I find the presence of God in many things. Norstein's humble, searching qualities are a perfect antidote to our frustrating age of fundamentalism - fundamentalist religion, and fundamentalist atheism. Neither options are desirable to me.
Tale of Tales is about many things, and it has a sweeping scale throughout its many episodes, which is remarkable given its short running time. But I think it's really about time, and how our lives impact those who follow. It's about fathers (the past) and sons (the future), and trying to navigate the difficult dance in the present. Norstein celebrates the small details in life; indeed, the small details are life. They are the miracles we take for granted everyday, when we blindly proclaim that miracles do not exist.
Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki are represented with five films, all lesser known works to more casual fans. That's okay. I kept trying to squeeze My Neighbor Totoro in that list somewhere, but that would mean squeezing another artist out, and that wouldn't be fair. Horus and Heidi remain their defining works; 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother and Anne of Green Gables also qualifies and could easily take Heidi's place. Omohide Poro Poro and Mimi are the masterworks of animated naturalism, a genre of art that simply doesn't exist in the West. They are the antidote to "The Electric Babysitter."
The Fleischer Superman cartoons dazzled and amazed me as a child. Ren and Stimpy shocked and thrilled me as a teenager (and defined every American cartoon that followed). Fantasia in a theater, on a big screen, is a miracle to behold (as well as the spectacular LaserDisc box set). Yellow Submarine has that fantastic 1960s psychedelic pop art, and The Beatles spinning endlessly cheesy puns. Akira blew people's minds and exploded animation stereotypes; to this day, mainstream Americans are terrified of "Japanimation" as a harbinger of the Apocalypse.
And, of course, there must be a place at the table for Peanuts. I could have chosen Great Pumpkin, but A Boy Named Charlie Brown has some terrific sequences, including the baseball game and the national spelling bee, and that wonderful Beethoven sequence that rivals Isao Takahata.
Finally, I wanted to pay tribute to the great Whitney Brothers, and their groundbreaking computer animated films. There was only room for two, so Catalog and Matrix III won out, but we could just as easily go with Yantra, Lapis, Permutations, or Arabesque. I am a great lover of experimental films, particularly animation. This medium is instinctively surrealist, dreamlike, psychedelic. Animation speaks to the language of the soul, exists beyond language, beyond the literal and the linear. Ours is a "what you see is what you get" culture. Art, and true religion, aims to break free of those self-imposed boundaries to seek what lies beyond, pushing us into the unknown. Alive in the Superunknown.