We all remember ReBoot, right? Early CGI cartoon that brought to life the inner workings of computers and the anthropomorphic data living within, excellent story, great characters and villains… I mean, it was kind of trashy, but for a kids show in the mid 90’s it was good stuff, and ran until 2001. And let us not forget Beast Wars which ran from ’96 to ’99, casting fuel on the fire of CGI’s rise to prominence on the animation scene.
But here’s the thing, shortly after these series ended there was a flurry of new computer-animated shows that attempted to ride the popularity of the new and revolutionary animation style available. Today they look dated, the graphics have been outdone a thousand times over, the animation is poor, textures are all plastic and reflect light oddly, and object interactions are entertaining to say the least.
But they’re still well worth a watch! Some of them are approaching twenty years old, and to see the difference in animation quality now compared to then is something truly staggering. The series below have some serious pros and cons, but as fragments of animation history, they are well worth dredging up… if you can find them.
Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future
The serialised adventures of a science fiction hero torn straight from the pages of the 1950’s comic strip, and keeping all of the worst science involved, like manta rays that filter feed through the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, advanced civilisations on Mars capable of strip mining Venus, complex and technologically advanced creatures living on orphaned planets that survive by steeling the water of others, and the idea that punching a monitor actually hurts The Mekon.
Each episode was one of a two-parter, embracing the serialisation of stories in the old pulp comics, and racking up suspense to keep people watching. It also meant that slightly longer tales could be told of daring adventure, in which our hero always comes out on top through superior aim, ace piloting skills, and being generally good at being the protagonist.
Josh McGrath became the cybernetically enhanced superhero Max Steel to sell toys for Mattel. A nineteen year old son of a weapons engineer and scientist involved in an accident involving nanotech, imagine a cross between DCs Cyborg, the Borg, and the Energiser Bunny, because his biggest weakness is a limited power supply that causes him to grow weak and potentially die. Don’t forget kids, even superheroes need batteries. Oh but he came with one hell of a battery of villains, Psycho, a heavily modified cyborg with a love of violence and ill-gotten gains, John Dread, the man-behind-the-curtain who craves the tech powering Steel, Bio-Con the man-snake, and John de Lancie!
This one got resurrected, and even had a few films to its name, but the rebooted series and live action film are far better known than the more obscure series that ran from 2000-2001, and it’s hard to come by those old episodes now.
Here’s my favourite of the lot, a Canal+ import from French-Canada. Though taking the name, the series is wholly fantasy and removed from the Arthurian mythos, combining heavy amounts of magic with some wholly created components. A plucky and upstart heroine is accompanied by a mystic monk, a mighty warrior woman, and an irritating miniature pet dragon as they attempt to free a kingdom from the yoke of an evil sorcerer who dwells in a flying castle. It’s a D&D adventure pure and simple, and I watched it religiously about seven years before I ever played the game.
The people sound like typical fantasy NPCs, in fact you may hear a few familiar voices, I’m fairly sure I heard one or two. You may also notice how tiny the hands are of most characters… uncomfortably small, and there are a lot of cunning uses of hats, bald characters, and skin-tight metal armour so that things look “right”.
In 1998 we watched a story about a neurotic ant whose efforts to win the heart of the colony land him in deep trouble, but in the end he not only wins the heart of the princess, but saves the whole colony during a dramatic and very watery grand finale!
And then we watched it again.
This may very well be the best showdown between Disney Pixar and Dreamworks. A Bugs Life followed Toy Story as their second step on their way to dominance in the CGI market, but for Dreamworks Antz was only the start of a road that saw mild success until Shrek really threw down the gauntlet. Now, so far as the box office goes there was one very clear winner, but so far as the better film goes, things get a little more interesting. (more…)
Welcome back to our weekly Top 10 list and this week it’s alternative animated films!
There’ll be no Disney- Oh no wait, there’s some… Well there’s no big CGI produ- oh no, there it is…
Still, not one entry on this list could be considered your everyday cartoon, but they’re brilliant to watch. Cult classics and family favourites, puppets and stop motion! Enjoy our weird and wonderful Top 10!
10) Space Jam – 1996
Looney Tunes fans were beyond happy with this film and I too sort of live nostalgically about it.
Michael Jordan plays intergalactic basketball with some cartoon characters. So to put this into perspective, this is a movie where a lot of cartoon animation being animated alongside live-action stories and elements. Whilst it’s not the greatest of films, it’s certainly quite unique and worth a watch at the very least. Plus it was quite amusing which is always a bonus.
9) Small Soldiers – 1998
Small Soldiers will never go down in the history books as one of the greatest films of all time. Heck, online critic Doug Walker, AKA the Nostalgia Critic basically pans this movie. But actually, I think it was rather clever for its use of animation.
It’s not a film that’ll captivate you emotionally, nor mentally. It’s also going to make you cringe often. However, it used these little CGI puppets in a film that was almost entirely live-action. A good proportion of the major cast however was CGI and these live-actors including some young actors had to get used to the idea: They’re talking to an inanimate object for real, but in the movie it’ll be a living, moving creation. Strange!
8) A Scanner Darkly – 2006
So here’s one that passed many people by. In spite of a star-studded cast and highly original style, A Scanner Darkly was based on a Phillip K. Dick book and filmed in live action before being converted to animation later. Following the tale of an undercover cop trying to trace the source of a drug called Substance D, the film’s style allows it to slip into hallucination sequences seamlessly.
Worth a watch for its’ style alone, A Scanner Darkly is a fantastically weird animated film. Not for the easily creeped-out however, it features a lot of messed up imagery and Robert Downey-Junior as a giant cockroach.
7) Muppets Treasure Island – 1996
Ahh, Muppets. Jim Henson created a cast of amazing characters who have entertained families for decades, and retell some classic tales with their classic word-play, slapstick and big musical numbers in some infamous feature-length productions. We had a lot to choose from, but Treasure Island was by far our favourite for its’ raucous songs, brilliant performances, and brilliant Muppet moments.
Tim Curry and Billy Connelly feature in the cast, but the real stars of the show have always been Rizzo, Gonzo, Kermit, Miss Piggy and Mister Bimble the man who lives in Fozzy’s finger.
6) The Lego Movie – 2014
It came as something of a dissapointment to me to discover that the Lego Movie had been made entirely in CGI, but looking back I actually understand. Though the characters only have a limited range of movement because they are kept as true as possible to the Lego minifigures, animating all of that Lego water and all of the Lego explosions? My gods, we’d still be waiting for a full-length Lego feature for another century.
And what a movie it was. In every way it captured what Lego is all about, bringing the toy to life in a way that saw the imagination of generations explode onto the big screen. In short: Everything (about the film) Is AWESOME!
5) Coraline – 2009
From the team that brought us The Nightmare Before Christmas (sans Tim Burton) comes a dark tale about appreciating what you have. A stop motion film about a young girl who is moved begrudgingly to a new house in the country and discovers a seemingly blissful version of her own world on the other side of a hidden door.
Heavily stylized and nightmarish, Coraline captured our imaginations and filled the dark corners of our minds with the terrifying, button-eyed spectre of “The Other Mother.”
4) Who Framed Rodger Rabbit? – 1988
Bob Hoskins starred in the infamous cartoon-noir drama, mixing compelling live action performances with a vast cast of legendary cartoon characters including the only appearance of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse on screen together. I think what really brings the film together though (in spite of the incredible collaborative effort) must be the character of Judge Doom, played by Christopher Lloyd, the terrifying cartoon disguised as a real human, enacting a twisted vendetta against the populace of Toontown.
Rodger Rabbit’s most famous appearance is a terrifying film for something that’s supposed to be family friendly. Cartoon death, torture and sex symbols? The hideous monster beneath Judge Doom’s face? Why is this list so full of scary films for kids? Why are we writing this?
3)Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers – 1993
Yes the inventor and his pet pooch are back once again with the 1993 hit film The Wrong Trousers. Why does this get as far as number 3 in our top 10 spot?
Claymation. This film is done out of clay. If you don’t know much about claymation, there’s not many films made entirely out of clay because it’s such a long, tedious process. It’s painful to imagine how many hundreds of hours were spent making each and every character, then adding in their emotion, by stopping their recording and restarting their recording. Each move needed to be precise and each expression was captured crystal-clear. That’s right, this film as well as being made out of clay was also stop-motion.
Just look at Gromit if you don’t believe how awesome the quality of this film was.
2) Team America: World Police – 2004
South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker bring their intelligently dumb comedy to the big screen in Gerry Anderson style marionation complete with real explosions and over the top action (although the sex scene was all Parker/Stone, unless there’s a Thunderbirds episode I’ve yet to see). Team America is universally offensive, totally unnecessary, and absolutely ingenious.
Gerry Anderson (who’s Kickstarter campaign starts TODAY) inspired generations before his passing in 2012, and Team America is a fantastic big-screen adaption and homage to his style. Let’s hope Firestorm can honour his memory in a slightly more family-friendly way though…
1) Labyrinth – 1986
Here it is, Labyrinth which might be one of the most iconic films of the 80s. The reason this comes in at number 1 was its stunning use of puppets and CGI combined.
Also, this film features some of the cheesiest 80’s songs imaginable. We didn’t need to say too much about Labyrinth that probably hasn’t been covered in a major thesis, only that the technology that they were using for the time was relatively experimental. Alongside labyrinth, we could have mentioned Gremlins, but we felt out of the films from around this period of time, Labyrinth stands out the most. Hoggle and the gang being actual muppets which are now displayed in a museum is quite exciting. To think the actors and actresses in this film would have had to get used to the idea that these puppets were “real”.
It’s all made weirder when you listen to David Bowie throughout this film, as clearly he’s still debating what kind of magic spell to use.
Animation is big business, and pinning down what makes it alternative these days is a little difficult. But with our list assembled we were still left with a few brilliant examples left over that still warrant mention. This keeps happening to us, but Top 12 isn’t so catchy…
Mature Content Warning because Junk Head, an independently made stop-motion animation available to view on youtube, is set in a world so heavily industrialized that biological reproduction has become impossible, and follows an cyborg agent sent into the deep city to find a “sample” that has, rather clearly gained something necessary to biological reproduction.
Intended to be the first of a series, I watched the film and found myself really hoping that a series materializes, as the bizarre urban-wilderness and strange people who occupy it are amazingly realized and entirely created by one man. It’s made it into our honourary section because it deserves some honour.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
This was the first Final Fantasy film and it was a full blown feature-length film entirely out of CGI and awesome effects. With a fun and relatively complex plot which was played through with a beautiful soundtrack and some of the best visuals of its time.
Whilst it’s true to Final Fantasy style, this film is basically all CGI, even if it was impressive. As such, it wasn’t really fitting for our alternative animation theme, but we thought it deserved a mention at the very least.
Animation is a brilliant way to present a story in a unique world with style, but to really make it stand apart the animation itself must be unique. We did our best to choose the best, but do you have an alternative (harr harr) for us? Give us some more suggestions in the comments, or on our Facebook or Twitter!
This week’s Top 10 rather elegantly sets up tomorrow’s Kickstarter Highlight, Gerry Anderson’s all-new ultramarionation Firestorm! We mentioned it last week, but the campaign begins today. Be sure to come back to us for all the information. And come back to us next week for another Top 10!