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Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 – Animation

Previous: Romantic Comedy

With this post, I will complete the series I began way back in January of this year that examined and remarked on The American Film Institute and its recent propensity to create Top 10 lists. Specifically, the organization’s need to gather publicity by documenting their celebration of cinema’s centennial via a series of TV specials. Each time, the AFI went about giving importance to a set of motion pictures based on criteria and judgments their groups of ‘experts’ determined. It has generated opinions among fans and film aficionados ever since in varying degrees of disagreement. If you’re unaware, the AFI is a non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts back in the 60s. One of its main charters is the preservation of American film legacy. As they put it,

“Each special honors a different aspect of excellence in American film.”

Unquestionably, their prime purpose was to get people talking about film. So be it. This series on AFI’s Top 10s (out of their 100s lists) for 2012 is my motivated response to compare their picks with a moviegoer (me) per each of their indexes. Naturally, I’m fully aware that readers’ mileage may vary (indeed, we know they will) when it comes to these selections. Fair enough. Either way, it’s going to be painful as picking one above the other always is in such endeavors. You’re invited to add your own and/or disagree all you want in the comments or your blog site (all I ask is that you leave a link so we, the readers, can peruse). Shall we finish this?


AFI defines “animated” as a genre in which the film’s images are primarily created by computer or hand and the characters are voiced by actors.

  1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  2. Pinocchio
  3. Bambi
  4. The Lion King
  5. Fantasia
  6. Toy Story
  7. Beauty and The Beast
  8. Shrek
  9. Cinderella
  10. Finding Nemo
My list:
  1. WALL•E – I’m so glad to end the series with a pick the AFI didn’t even have in their Top 10! Simply, this one is the epitome of what’s great about a film of animation. Images of characters that not only tell a story, but breathe life into those drawn figures and make you feel something you didn’t walk in the movie theater with. Andrew Stanton’s film managed to amaze this fifty-something year old ‘kid’ with its tale of how a pair of artificial beings, WALL•E and EVE, learned the true meaning of endearment. It still does.
  2. Pinocchio [AFI #2] – I’m more than happy to match up with the institute one last time. This remains my favorite Disney film. I find it astonishing that a boatload of directors (led by Norman Ferguson, supervised by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske) coalesced Carlo Collodi’s story into something singularly magical and meaningful. Disney’s second animated film exceeded their first.
  3. The Iron Giant – Warner Bros. Animation didn’t know what they had when they released this film in 1999. And like the AFI, they still don’t (where’s the feature-packed WB Blu-ray this deserves?). The Brad Bird-directed adaptation of the Ted Hughes book, The Iron Man, like my top selection, its real meaning was that it illustrated (beautifully I might add) how one learns to love.
  4. Toy Story [AFI #6] – while I firmly believe the sequels in the trilogy surpassed it, there’s no question in my mind John Lasseter’s film ushered in the new era of animation (via computer), and put the Pixar studio on the map, with its introduction in 1995. Still, it’s not my two slot-better pick because it was simply first. Its Lasseter, Peter Docter, Stanton, and Joe Ranft inspired story made it so.
  5. The Incredibles – it’s quite the feat to create an animated film that a) would be in my top ten superhero movie list, b) plays like the best of James Bond films from the 60s (with a musical score to match), and c) never, ever loses sight of its fantastic characters and story. Brad Bird’s 2004 effort, his first with Pixar, accomplished all of that.
  6. Fantastic Mr. Fox – I’ll add Wes Anderson’s brilliant adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel into this top-tier category of film (and let me say I consider its stop-motion animation more than qualified, even by AFI’s definition). It enthralled my children and I from the start when we caught it in the movie theater, and has steadily risen in our hearts and minds ever since.
  7. Finding Nemo [AFI #10] – Andrew Stanton’s and Lee Unkrich’s unexpected adventure film that utilized sea creatures and the ocean environment harkened back to WB’s The Incredible Mr. Limpet, but made it so much more. Like all Pixar films, its story and presentation respected, and never talked down to, the children and parents in the audience.
  8. The Nightmare Before Christmas – the film’s tagline said it best: “A ghoulish tale with wicked humour & stunning animation“. Henry Selick’s production of a Tim Burton story accomplished the rare thing. Create, again through stop-motion animation, a tale that can enthrall and equally work for the Halloween and Christmas holidays. And, have it all set to music.
  9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs [AFI #1] – there’s nothing wrong with Disney’s first full-length animated feature. I do admire it, even if later productions by the studio have gone on to dwarf it, in my opinion. All of the elements, including its multitude of directors, that went into making animation so magical were set right here. It still deserves to be in the Top 10.
  10. Fantasia [AFI #5] – Disney’s experimental “collection of animated interpretations of great works of Western classical music” remains a stunner, even decades later. Though first considered a disappointment, it remains a one-of-kind film, directed by a handful of artists. It deserves to remain on this list. Quite something for a film that used classical music for story and as pure dialogue.

Note: let’s get the box score out of the way:

Pixar Disney Warner Bros. 20th Century Touchstone
4 3 1 1 1

First, and clearly, I have a bias when it comes to animation (via a pair of two studios dominating my Top 10). Mainly, because I’m an almost sixty year old kid at heart (plus, the sheer number of animated films I’ve seen in that time). Admittedly, Pixar and Touchstone are now fully under Disney. However, I choose to keep them separate as the films (when created) on my list were distinct manifestations of their studios and the type of films they were known to produce, IMO.

Second, and by my dropping of Shrek, I don’t think much of Dreamworks Animation, as yet. They’ve gotten better through the years, but they remain second tier in my estimation (and Shrek, instantly became dated due of the studio’s mistaken penchant for employing contemporary pop culture references). Why did I drop Bambi and The Lion King altogether from my list, you ask?  I didn’t wish to reward Disney’s persistent predilection of killing off parents (first the mothers, as my wife convinced long ago, then later dads) as a story selling point. It just continued their inclination to produce Kindertrauma with some of the movies.

That said, I love Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella by the studio. But, something of Disney’s had to go to the near tier down to make room for others I thought equally or more deserving. Lastly, I purposely kept my Top 10 strictly an American (as in Film Institute) endeavor (love that word now that the Space Shuttle finally made its way home to Los Angeles yesterday). Otherwise, a number of Japanese animated features (Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Metropolis and others) would have made putting this together that much harder. It was difficult enough, thank you very much.

What would be yours?

Lastly, I’d like to thank all of the people who stopped by and read this AFI-related series. Whether or not they offered comments, new visitors and old-hands all made this one of the most popular features I’ve done on this blog (at least through site statistics). When I started this, it was honestly a bit of a lark, a spur of the moment decision. It was more challenging than I initially gave it credit. Yet, it was easily more rewarding as it forced me to scrutinize a number of films and honestly test what I thought of them. That it caused me to link to other series and helped create additional written work than I had a right to expect proved to be icing on the cake. It really is funny (strange) how things work out sometimes.

The Complete Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 Series:

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39 Responses to “Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 – Animation”

  1. Nostra

    I’d have a hard time of making this list. When it comes to animation I’m a big fan of Studio Ghibli, which wouldn’t be allowed on the list. But I agree that your choices are all great movies.

    Still have to see The Nightmare Before Christmas…

    • le0pard13

      Yes, please check out ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, Nostra. I think you might enjoy it a lot. Thank you very much.

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  7. Fogs' Movie Reviews

    Ok, lets get this out of the way up front. OBVIOUSLY “Kung Fu Panda” is the greatest animated film of all time. I’ll forgive you for being blinded by its awesomeness and overlooking it though. :D

    Meanwhile, your list is nice too, although Snow White might need a little bumping for historical significance alone… not sure. I wonder what the results of my top ten might be.

    I mean, number one, obviously, is locked :D. But these can be tricky, involved efforts. I’d have to think of it.

    • le0pard13

      Ha! I did enjoy ‘Kung Fu Panda’ a good deal. Especially in its casting of the great James Hong. I’m a long time fan of his (he made Statham’s ‘Safe’ that must more bearable). And Snow White is deserving of its praise. To close out this series, I guess it had to be a genre like this. One soooooo loaded with great works that go all the back to one’s childhood, which made coming up with a top 10 so arduous. If you can, please list or link your selections here. I’d love to read it. Many thanks, Fogs.

  8. Marianne

    Pinocchio scared me to death as a kid. I have a hard time deciding the best animated films because of the memories with them. Half of them scared me as a kid and now I watch them over and over with my kids until I can’t handle them anymore. But I’ve always loved Cinderella no matter what. I think it’s Gus-Gus.

    • le0pard13

      Yeah, ‘Pinocchio’ does retain that bit of Kindertrauma I mentioned in the Disney product. I understand. I remember having a Pinocchio coloring book as a child that had the complete story in it. I think it toughened me up ;-).

      I did hate to demote ‘Cinderella’ (not her stepsisters) on this endeavor. Great story and animation there in that one. Thank you very much, Marianne.

  9. Eric

    My first thought looking at both lists was, “What?? Where’s the Studio Ghibli?” so I’m glad you cleared that up, Michael. :) I have to say that I like your list better, primarily because of the inclusion of Wall-E. Enjoyed that movie a lot more than I expected.

    • le0pard13

      Thanks, Eric. Yeah, the great works of Japan in this category are quite somethin’.

      “I have to say that I like your list better, primarily because of the inclusion of Wall-E. Enjoyed that movie a lot more than I expected.”

      I think you might be familiar with what I’ll link to tomorrow, my friend.

  10. Morgan R. Lewis

    Now here’s an area where I feel firmly on solid ground! I’ve seen every film on the AFI’s list, and all but two on yours — The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is on my watchlist, and Wall-E, for which I am at this very moment downloading a digital rental to watch in November. While I know I’d need to stop and think for a good long time to rate my favorite animated films (even limiting it to the U.S.), I feel comfortable discussing the lists here.

    First, Fantasia quite possibly takes #1 for me. I know it’s more of an art film than a traditional animated story, and that may be keeping it down for a lot of people, but it’s really something special in my eyes. Overall, I rather like both your list and the AFI’s; there’s not really anything that I would say is just flat out “wrong” as far as inclusions go. I agree with dropping Bambi and Shrek; Shrek for much the same reasons as you (too-topical humor making it dated), and Bambi… well, I never liked Bambi much even as a kid because of the implied anti-hunting message. When venison makes the difference between eating well and having a lean winter a few times in your youth, you learn very quickly that Bambi’s mom being shot isn’t a clear tragedy from an objective standpoint.

    I’m more likely to put Snow White high up than low. I’m less certain about Pinocchio‘s position… I definitely have trouble keeping it over Beauty and the Beast. And I don’t think I would include The Nightmare Before Christmas, even though it’s one of the Burton-based works I actually like… I just think it’s way too niche for the top ten. Toy Story is definitely the biggest one for Pixar, and should be in there… after that, I think I’ll agree with the AFI and pick Finding Nemo over The Incredibles, even as much as I liked that latter film. And I’ll forgive The Lion King for killing off Mufasa, since after all you can’t have Lion Hamlet without that.

    Arguments aside, though, great list, and great series. Lot of fun to read, Michael.

    • le0pard13

      What a great comment, Morgan! I love your thoughts and the detail you’ve offered. I hope you get to ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox’ and ‘Wall-E’ soon, too. When you come up with that list, please let me know. I love reading these, and all that made them so special in your mind to get there. Many thanks, my friend.

  11. ruth

    Great list, Michael! I think Disney/Pixar stuff would make most of my list, though Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon would be in my top 10 as well. I love sooo many of them so it’ll take me a while to rank ‘em.

    • le0pard13

      Thank you very much, Ruth. Your readership and comments throughout this series made it quite special. I always looked forward to what you had to say each time I published one. BTW, both of my kids LOVED ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ when they saw in the theater. I’ve yet to screen it, though (and I took them to the nearby multiplex to see it, too). Y’see, I went to see this in the theater two doors down. Shh… don’t let my wife know ;-).

  12. Jamie Helton

    I’m glad to see “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles,” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on your list. Those are some of my favorite films of all time, let alone animated ones. It’s interesting that all but one of AFI’s list were released by Disney. I would also put “Grave of the Fireflies” as one of the best animated films ever made.

  13. The Focused Filmographer

    This series is always great. I’ve missed a few, but animation is one I am glad to see. I like your list but I do tend to like AFI’s a bit more. Mainly because Wall-E and The Incredibles don’t beat The Lion King. of course, you already know I’m not a fan of Wall-E though.

    My list? Dare I even attempt. Props on taking on the task to make a list yourself. I’m a fan of Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Monsters Inc, Toy Story, Pinocchio, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Aladdin, Spirited Away, Fantasia, and the Fantastic Mr. Fox!

    Thanks for continuing/concluding this wonderful series

    • le0pard13

      Yes, I recall you’re not a fan of WALL•E, T. But, at least we can agree on our love for this genre of film. It’s one that for many of us was set early in our lives. There’s a lot of joy there. That’s a fantastic list, too. Nice to see ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ and ‘Aladdin’ there, too. Thanks for contributing to this with another of deft comment, T.

  14. jackdeth72

    Hi, Michael:

    I’ll have to go with early Disney. ‘Snow White’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ can’t be topped for the fluidity of movement and lushness of scenery front and back. While ‘Fantasia’ tops the list for animation ethereal and well executed.

    ‘Iron Giant’ has a great 1950s Cold War feel about it. ‘The Incredibles’ is good old fashioned family fun. While I agree with Terrence that, ‘Batman: Mark of the Phantasm’ is probably the best and most well rounded offering in the Warner Brothers franchise. Its detail work and Gotham Noir feel is palpable throughout!

    • le0pard13

      Great to have your thoughts and selections, Kevin. And kudos for mentioning ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (a really underrated Disney) and ‘Batman: Mark of the Phantasm’. I just re-watched MotP early this summer, and man, does that film continue to hold up with later WB Batman releases. Woohoo for Kevin Conroy! Many thanks, my friend.

    • le0pard13

      This was one of the hardest lists I had to put together, in this series or any other. So many great animation films out there. Many thanks, Fernando.

  15. Mark Walker

    I’d agree with your list more than the AFI Michael. However, instead of The Nightmare Before Christmas, I’d have Henry Selick’s other film Coraline.

    • le0pard13

      Oh, that’s great, Mark. It was my daughter who convinced me to finally watch ‘Coraline’ last year (she’d seen it with friends at a movie get together). I loved it! Later I found out it’s based on fame writer Neil Gaiman’s novel. Wonderful pick, my friend. Many thanks for the kind words.

  16. Jacqui

    This list deserves some watching! The first time I watched an animation movie in my life was I think 4-5 years ago, when my daughter had to literally drag me to the theater to watch this dragon movie by DreamWorks. Surprisingly, I loved the entire experience! Not a die-hard fan of cartoons and stuff, I wondered what made me stay away from animation for so long, it’s such a magical world!

    And that first stint at the theater was followed by DVDs of The Lion King and Finding Nemo at home :) :) Now I am an avid follower of everything to do with animation movies (my husband says I behave like a kid but I just don’t care). Of late, I’ve been reading this book by Cressida Cowell and the movie is out this June (… Doesn’t the trailer look great?

    • le0pard13

      Welcome, Jacqui :-) A wonderful memory you’ve shared in your splendid comment. Good point about that upcoming animation feature. Many thanks!


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