Top Ten Tuesday: Animated Science Fiction
When it comes to animated films, most of them out there are comedies or fairy tales and usually targeted primarily at children. However, there are a few fine examples of animated movies, both for kids and adults, that tackle elements of science fiction. It’s a rare treat, but when done successfully the vast and infinite possibilities of the genre break open to awe the eyes and imagination. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday was inspired by Shane Acker’s new animated sci-fi flick “9” which opens in theaters on Wednesday, September 9. In line with that opening, we decided to compile a list of our top ten favorite animated science fiction films.
10. Fantastic Planet
La planÃ¨te sauvage, known in the states as FANTASTIC PLANET, was a French and Czechoslovakian co-production that came out in 1977. It’s a fantastic little social science fiction story that takes place on a strange and far away planet rules by giants. A race of tiny humanoids must fight for survival and for acquiring equal rights within their society. The story is a metaphor for race and class relations. The animation is a step back from what we’re used to by today’s standards, but is beautifully rendered and is a fine example of animation as art.
9. Monsters vs. Aliens
What are the two oldest and most recognizable types of characters in science-fiction history… monsters and aliens. Well, in this case its MONSTERS VS. ALIENS. Maybe they’re not THE oldest, but pretty darn close and they even throw in some giant robot fun as a bonus. MVA does a great job of harnessing some of the old school charm and color that made the sci-fi classics of the 50’s so much fun. The animated film, which is perhaps one of DreamWorks’ best to date, is funny and smart, has great characters and successfully entertains the kids of all ages, adults included. The President of the United States: “Listen up! I’m not going to go down as the President who was in office when the world came to an end, so somebody think of something, and think of it fast!”
8. Lilo & Stitch
This movie restored my faith in Disney films. One of the few developed from scratch projects, Lilo and Stitch is a heartwarming yet action-packed film about what it means to be a family. I love this move because it reinforces my personal belief that with enough love, patience and maybe a chainsaw anybody can change, even little blue evil alien experiments. It manages to wind an action and adventure film around an emotional story of love, loss and growing up. It is a must see for children and adults. Everybody should add this film to their “ohana’s” movie collection. See the film and you’ll understand!
How far would you go to rescue one of your best friends? AKIRA is another classic anime movie that posses some interesting questions about the human spirit and about how far science should really go. It warns us that what we seek to create might actually be that which will destroy us, well not if Shotaro Kaneda has anything to say about it. Based on the Manga hit by the same name, AKIRA is a thrilling tale of loyalty and resistance against government abuse. A world where a leader of a motorcycle gang will risk everything to save a friend from a God-like power.
6. A Scanner Darkly
Leave it to Richard Linklater to get Philip K. Dick on the money. Not that BLADE RUNNER or TOTAL RECALL aren’t classics in their own rights, but A SCANNER DARKLY comes closest to Dick’s original visions than any other feature film adapted from his works. A SCANNER DARKLY is a conscious, paranoia thriller that has just enough deep-seeded audaciousness to make it more than just your average sci-fier. Told via Linklater’s usage of interloped rotoscope, a la WAKING LIFE, the film is a dynamic adaptation of Dick’s famed novel of dystopian futures, surveillance, narcotics, and the blurry lines between real and imaginary existences. Aided by first-rate performances by Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane, and a stunning and unforgettable turn by Robert Downey, Jr., A SCANNER DARKLY is a great animated film, a great sci-fi film, and the first time in film history one of Philip K. Dickâ€™s works makes the transition into feature film storytelling intact.
5. Heavy Metal
The animated anthology HEAVY METAL, released in 1981, was an adaptation of a then-popular comic which called itself an “adult illustrated fantasy magazine.” There were eight stories in HEAVY METAL, all connected by a glowing green orb called the Loc-Nar. I was a fan of the magazine and was a bit disappointed in the film when it first came out. The comicâ€™s dark and subversive spirit seemed watered down (the title character of my favorite comic strip â€œDenâ€ was voiced by John Candy!) but the film did its best to capture the comicâ€™s tone in its violence, profanity, sex, and nudity. I think the years have been good to HEAVY METAL. It still plays like an uneven mishmash of sci-fi and fantasy cliches, complete with Amazon goddesses with impossibly huge breasts, strange creatures and characters and weird sci-fi stuff like glowing green orbs but itâ€™s crude style and iconic metal soundtrack now generate great nostalgia. HEAVY METAL was unavailable for viewing for many years (it didnâ€™t even receive a VHS release until 1996) and it developed a cult reputation as a collection of garish fantasies aimed at every adolescent male’s desires for sex, violence, and rock and roll. Itâ€™s lived up to that reputation and thatâ€™s a good thing.
4. Iron Giant
Brad Birdâ€™s feature film debut, THE IRON GIANT, is not only a great sci-fi/animated film, it is one of the best films out there about human intolerance to outsiders and the fear that causes so much violence. It is a better E.T. story than even E.T. Bird weaves computer animation throughout the film, never letting it overshadow the 2D but utilizing it to enhance the overall picture. Responsible, mature, heartfelt, and unyielding are just a few adjectives that perfectly describe Tim McCanliesâ€™ screenplay. His screenplay, the 1968 setting, and Birdâ€™s breathtakingly, hand-drawn animation provide the perfect storm for an emotional film about one boyâ€™s determination to help a friend and the humanity that comes from something neither human nor even biological. This story and its messages could have easily been stamped into the ground in a lesser filmmakerâ€™s hands, but Bird dances around the filmâ€™s meanings with surgeon precision and an acute eye for detail. A solid coming of age story with outstanding, 2D animation, THE IRON GIANT is about as serious and genuine a film about an alien robot can get.
3. Ghost in the Shell
An animated science fiction classic drawn by guys who didn’t date in high school. G.I.T.S. is a police thriller that shows us a future where man and machine have become one in the same. This film asks some hard questions about what it truly means to be human. Especially when the human mind or ‘Ghost’ is no longer trapped in a flesh and blood body. How do you tell? It also asks the question about the classifications of artificial intelligence. When does a program become something more? When a program recognizes its own existence and yearns for freedom of its own, is it alive? The movie is a fantastic balance between thought provoking substance and heart pounding action, and a enough next generation technology to wet the whistle of any technophile.
WIZARDS was ahead of its time and its hard to believe it was made 32 years ago. Ralph Bakshi followed up his underground comics-inspired successes FRITZ THE CAT and HEAVY TRAFFIC with an extremely dark and visionary fairy tale of magic versus technology. WIZARDS takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where mankind is extinct and the creatures of myth and legend are setting about repopulating the planet. Bakshiâ€™s concept of a nuked out Earth 10 million years in the future predated more subsequent sci-fi films than I can count. Itâ€™s certainly the first violent cartoon feature I can remember seeing and his use of rotoscoping stock Nazi footage is still startling. As movie-addicted teen, I remember seeing this when it was originally released (two weeks after STAR WARS!) and being completely transfixed. WIZARDS is a very Tolkien-esque fantasy and itâ€™s no surprise that Bakshiâ€™s next film was an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to adapt LORD OF THE RINGS.
WALL-E is considered by many to be one of the best animated films of all-time. Regardless of where you stand on that debate, the film is certainly one of the most accomplished animated science fiction films of all-time. WALL-E is not only a wonderful story of new found love, of opposites attracting, but it’s also a great sci-fi story touching on themes of environmental destruction and the human influence, combined with a little bit of artificial intelligence and robot/human relations. All classic sci-fi themes, WALL-E also features extraordinary visuals and sound design, detailed in it’s simplicity. The first half of the film is touching and funny, as we experience WALL-E’s daily grind as a refuse collector and organizer left behind on the devastated planet Earth. Humans have decimated the planet’s resources and livability, fleeing the trashed planet for a temporary colony in space while robots like WALL-E clean up their mess. The second half of the film deals more directly with the (de)volved humans, several hundred years after having left Earth, and their naive understanding of their own history. One of the best parts of WALL-E is the way in which the filmmakers illustrated WALL-E’s daily discovery of new things, playfully curious and fascinated with things we humans have taken for granted. The detail and care taken in developing this portion of the story truly makes WALL-E a cinematic gem.