We've decided to take a look back at the oddball animation gems that have peppered the cartoon landscape over the years, mostly before the Disney animated musicals, Pixar wonderments on the good side, and pop culturally savvy DreamWorks fare on the bad, dominated the multiplexes. Hopefully "Rango" will allow for more variety in the marketplace (its PG-rating already pushes some boundaries). It's a very good thing that it so proudly lets its freak flag fly. Here are some of our favorites from years gone by.
“Yellow Submarine” (1968)
For all of its hallucinogenic trippiness, which makes it a favorite for late night tokers, "Yellow Submarine" endures thanks to its inherent sweetness, like an early-animated "Sesame Street" segment gone off the rails. Instead of trying to judge the movie based on any sort of narrative coherence or storytelling skill (basically concerning itself with the Blue Meanies, a band of monstrous cretins, and their attack on free will, imagination, and general grooviness – all the things the animated Beatles stand for), the movie works best as a kind of jukebox musical, packed with references to the band and their songwriting (even if the musicians themselves were involved only minimally). The animation, for all its primal crudity, has an easily enjoyed charm, with a flower-power liquescence to the movement of characters (and the titular underwater vehicle). Decades before Julie Taymor's disastrous "Across the Universe," "Yellow Submarine" was a more eloquent love letter to Beatles lore and miscellanea, and a hell of a lot more fun to watch.
“The Plague Dogs” (1982)
Dog lovers, abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Based on the novel by Richard Adams, who previously wrote “Watership Down,” and directed by Martin Rosen, who was also behind the animated version of Adams' earlier rabbit-driven bloodfest, “The Plague Dogs” concerns a canine duo who escape from an animal testing facility. While we suspect they don’t have much time to live (one of them sports a partially-exposed skull), they are hunted by law enforcement officials who believe the dogs carry a disease. Despite gorgeous storybook animation and strong voice work by John Hurt and Christopher Benjamin, “The Plague Dogs” seems mainly interested in the possibly futile attempts by the dogs to survive another day despite an unfamiliar territory and uncertainty about food, with the undying promise of a safe haven just over the horizon. Look out for one of the most soul-crushing endings you’re likely to see in any animated film ever.