The UK film magazine Empire recently released a list of their Top 50 Animated Films Of All Time, and I have to say…I’m not really a fan of it. It’s not that it was a list filled with bad films or anything like that, most of the films they chose are pretty good, but for me the list as a whole leaves a lot to be desired. Obviously, with these kinds of lists it’s always subjective, and you’re never going to make everyone happy, but even so I’d like to point out a few of the issues I had with this list, and how I’d make improvements to it. Before I do that though I’ll quickly throw up a link to the list so you can have a look yourself: https://www.empireonline.com/movies/features/best-animated-movies/
This analysis is also available in video form:
Breaking down the list, in terms of production company, we have:
So that’s Disney and Pixar taking up more than half of the list. I understand Disney have been giants of animation for nearly 100 years, but giving them so much of the list (along with Pixar, who are now owned by Disney as well), just shows a complete lack of imagination, and no willingness to look far beyond what’s already well-known.
In terms of release, by decade, we have:
38 out of 50 of the films chosen have been released in the last 30 years. Only 9 of the 50 films came out before 1988, and all of those 9 films were released by Disney. Again, I think this shows a lack of imagination, and makes me think it’s likely the list is just made up of the films the writers remember from growing up (Disney classics, and 90s/00s films), combined with films they watched since starting in journalism (10s/20s). I suppose I can’t really hold this one against them as much though, if I had a personal top 50 list it’d probably skew towards late 20th/early 21st century too.
In terms of where the films were made, we have:
This is something to be expected, given that the USA has the largest and most successful film industry on the planet, but still the amount that it skews towards USA/English language again shows a lack of imagination, no yearning to dig a little deeper.
So that’s the list broken down in various ways, but what about improvements?
The first thing I’d do to improve the list is take out the rankings. It just seems silly really. Can you really argue with any conviction that Toy Story 2 is better than Dumbo, but Bambi is better than both of them, and Grave of the Fireflies is worse than them all? It all just seems entirely arbitrary. There are plenty of ways to sort your choice of 50 films, it doesn’t have to be a ranked list. You could group the films by country of origin, production company, by the era they were released in, chronologically, alphabetically.
Doing away with the rankings has the added bonus of not declaring Into the Spider-Verse as the best animated film ever made. I say that as someone who enjoyed the film, but I can’t accept it as the best animated film ever made when there is such fierce and high-quality opposition in that category. If you have no numerical rankings, it makes it easier to justify any individual film’s place on the list. Just think about Into the Spider-Verse. It’s much easier to argue it should be in the top 50 animated films than trying to argue that it’s the best animated film of all time. I guess though, less room for arguments means less clicks, outrage and eyes.
Finally, the most obvious part of the list that can be changed and improved: the choices themselves. Clearly this is going to be something personal and subjective, but I went through and removed a bunch of films to make room for others. You can see the ones I removed in the video, but the majority was superfluous Disney/Pixar, as well as the few films I haven’t personally seen.
I’m not saying the films I’ve chosen to take out are bad by any means, they just seemed the easiest to justify removing, personally speaking.
In terms of what to add in its place, I’m just going to run through a bunch of great films and film-makers that didn’t get onto Empire’s original list. Anyone watching this will probably have their own picks for films that they couldn’t believe Empire left out, but these ones are mine:
Starting in Japan seems easiest. In terms of other Ghibli films that could be included there’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, When Marnie Was There, Castle in the Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service, or two of my own personal favourites, Only Yesterday and Whisper of the Heart. Howl’s Moving Castle and Porco Rosso are favourites for many as well. Outside of Ghibli there’s A Silent Voice, 5cm Per Second, Ghost in the Shell and Belladonna of Sadness. And, of course, perhaps the most egregious snub of all, the films of Satoshi Kon. Any of the four films he directed, Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers or Paprika, would be at home in a top 50 list.
Outside of Japan there’s Mary and Max, When the Wind Blows, Fantastic Planet, Watership Down, The Illusionist, A Scanner Darkly, or the Wrong Trousers. Even with Disney there may be some that were overlooked, such as Mulan or the Fox and the Hound. A lot of people love the work of Don Bluth, or Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, or Transformers, the Batman animated films, or Heavy Metal.
And that’s probably the problem with a list like Empire’s, there’s just so many directions to go in. Still, I think overall their list could have been much better, covered much wider ground. Turn the focus away from Disney and Pixar and make people aware of some other stuff that’s out there. It’s not like it’s hard to find!
What did you think of Empire’s list, if you read it? I’m sure you have films of your own that I haven’t mentioned that didn’t make it into Empire’s list, but what did you think of it overall? Were you disappointed by how Disney/Pixar centric it was, like me, or do you think that kind of dominance is probably correct for such a list?