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10 Weird Animated Films

by The Playlist Staff
March 4, 2011 6:10 AM
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"Spirited Away" (2001)
To Western eyes at least, none of Hayao Miyazaki's work is exactly straight-forward: plots for Studio Ghibli pictures include children who befriend forest spirits in post-war Japan, a witch who starts a courier service, and an anti-fascist bi-plane pilot who's transformed into a pig. But easily his most oblique work, "Spirited Away" was, happily, also his most acclaimed (winning the Golden Bear and a Best Animated Feature Oscar) and most commercially successful. Beginning, albeit briefly, in the real world, ten-year-old Chihiro comes across an abandoned amusement park, and sees her parents transformed into pigs in front of her eyes. Her name is then stolen by a witch, she befriends a boy who's actually a dragon, saving him from paper birds, and makes him cough up a slug. And that's just the first half. The imagery's truly extraordinary (we've barely scratched the surface), but it's all working to a purpose -- one of the most truly moving coming-of-age tales since "Alice in Wonderland," and possibly even trippier than Lewis Carroll's tale.

“Fantastic Planet” (1973)
Now here's a film that kisses the idea of outlandish cult films on the mouth. Director René Laloux and artist Roland Topor team up for this short & strange sci-fi, demanding both attention and interpretation as they revel in their (never forced) bat-shit ways. On an alien planet, humans (known as Ohms) are cultivated by an alien race known as Draags, which are giant spiritual beings who either keep Ohms as pets or ban them from their civilization with an occasional extermination cycle. The narrative follows pet Ohm Terr who ends up learning the Draag culture and escaping to the wild, spreading his wisdom to an unwilling and religious tribe. Laloux, like a pro, keeps dialogue to a minimum and allows the weirdness to speak for itself (instead of the now-too-common "newbie" character, who must have everything explained to them ala Ellen Page in "Inception"), focusing on the two societies' rituals and relationships with each other and the wildlife. There's some ardent metaphors here, definitely, but if that's not your cup of tea, it contains probably the greatest soundtrack ever. Plus, dude, you can totally get baked to it.

“Heavy Metal” (1981)
Rewatching "Heavy Metal," which recently made its way to the glorious Blu-ray high-definition format, what becomes very apparent is the influence that the second story in the loose, tits-and-blood anthology (based on the cult sci-fi magazine of the same time), had on Luc Besson's "The Fifth Element." It, like "Element," centers around a gruff, unspeakably jaded New York City taxi cab driver (Richard Romanus) who stumbles across a beautiful girl with a secret, and unwittingly becomes her ally. The rest of the movie remains pretty cool (it's nifty to see artwork by icons like Richard Corben, up on screen, moving around), but the herky-jerky animation style is often times too sketchy to be fully enjoyed. Part of this is due to the movie's cheapness, another part due to the often rotoscoped images (sort of an early motion capture), but a lot of it has to do with the attitude of "Heavy Metal" – the source material was definitely 100% "fuck you," why should the movie be any different?

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  • BEn | January 7, 2012 6:53 AMReply

    Add 'Cat Soup' if you like the other stuff mentioned here...

  • BEn | January 7, 2012 6:47 AMReply

    Wow, a list that doesn't totally suck.
    Of course, the list could go on for days and days listing every single awesomely weird and thought provoking, but mainly mind fucking, animation flick.

  • Paul D | March 7, 2011 4:37 AMReply

    No "Triplets of Belleville"?

  • Tim Boxell | March 6, 2011 3:57 AMReply

    Track down Aachi and Ssipak a Korean feature from 2006. When Peter Chung (Aeon Flux creator) showed me the script, I really didn't believe it could be made as a feature because the premise was so off the wall. The film existed as one of the best trailers ever and then not only was made--I saw it on the big screen at the Hole in the Head film festival--but it was gloriously insane, violent and funny. It's everything animation should be in the sense of its liberating power of imagination.

  • Stephen M | March 5, 2011 3:59 AMReply

    Spirited Away, as everyone knows by now, is a masterpiece. But not everyone knows that The Adventures of Mark Twain is also amazing, so thank you for helping to spread the word. Just the facial detail in the claymation is incredible, and the way it turns Mark Twain's life and words into a treatise on life, the world, and philosophy is brilliant. It's on YouTube, look it up.

    I would also like to second the other nominations from commetners: Allegro Non Troppo is one of the great animated films, and Jan Svankmajer is one of the great animators. Of course, much of the best work in world animation is in shorts, not features, so if you're interested in real animated art, check out Yuri Norstein, Frederick Back, Alexandre Petrov, Jiri Trnka, and Norman McLaren.
    This page has a good introduction to the great works:

  • ken | March 5, 2011 3:15 AMReply

    Inception ripped off Paprika and everybody knows it!

  • N | March 4, 2011 11:15 AMReply

    Also, let's not forget everything by Jan Švankmajer.

  • WG | March 4, 2011 6:49 AMReply

    A Town Called Panic, definitely.

  • Christopher Bell | March 4, 2011 6:44 AMReply


    I thought about Eva but didn't want to write up something that wasn't stand-alone. Also haven't seen it in years and wanted to watch the entire series again, plus the reboot (if only because of the whole theory on whether the reboot is actually that or a sequel to "End")

  • Paul | March 4, 2011 6:32 AMReply

    End of Evangelion. Hands down. Only movie I can think of where the end of the universe is everyone orgasming into pools of liquid & having our souls sucked into giant vagina stigmatas on the hands of a large naked female Angel.

  • Marko | March 4, 2011 6:32 AMReply

    I think a few other films that would be good for this feature would be Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, Allegro Non Troppo and Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters.

  • cirkusfolk | March 4, 2011 6:23 AMReply

    The Goon would be a perfect fit if it would ever freakin come out!

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