Top 5 animated feature films of 2011
Was 2011 a bad year for animated feature films? Pixar and Dreamworks did not fare critically well with their latest efforts (Cars 2 and Puss in Boots, respectively).
The New York Film Critics did not give a single award for an animated film, and the NY critic Marshall Fine defends his choice by saying that the animated films of 2011 were more animated than films with an engaging narrative.
2011 was certainly a year for wondering about the meaning and definition of animation. Spielberg and his exquisite job at The Adventures of Tintin (at our no. 6, alas :) brought back questions whether motion-capture is worthy of the name 'animation' (some years ago, Richard Linklater's rotoscope phillosophical tale Waking Life was not esteemed animated enough), and similar questions were raised about Happy Feet Two.
Yet, 2011 witnessed a semi-renaissance of European animation for an adult audience, with narrative stories that transend the comedy genre.
Chico & Rita, Alois Nebel, Wrinkles, A cat in Paris travelled into territory that was not exclusively kiddies stuff -and some of them fared gross commercially in their homeland. The existing problem of their international distribution makes for their absence from top lists, yet they should somehow be included.
So, maybe 2011 was a mediocre year for US animated films (think of the lame sequels), yet it was a fine time for animated features in general. Excluding hybrids of live-action and animation (The Smurfs, The Muppets), and two films which did not have the chance to see (Le Chat du Rabbin, Tatsumi), here is our top-5 list in reverse order.
5. Arthur Christmas (Sarah Smith, UK & US): The Aardman and Sony Pictures Animation cooperation worked. A genre (Xmas films)which has been reworked to exhaustion seemed surprisingly fresh, joyful and not at all pop-culture infected. The story of Arthur, the son of Santa Claus, who travels throughout the world to deliver a missing gift is sweet but not saccharine, even though the absence of real dramatic tension and edgy humor makes Arthur Christmas stuck to family audience - a beautiful Christmas gift, though.
4. Rango (Gore Verbinski,ILM, US): The real surprise here is that Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) directs a bloodless yet self-conscious and intellectual parody of the American West. The lizard Rango (Johnny Depp does marvels here) reclaims the role of the Sheriff in the thirsty town Dirt, and unveils a water conspiracy. With an identity crisis featuring in the film's middle section and a narrative that works like a well-oiled machine, the 2D looks of Rango offer a solid drama-adventure, and a homage to Sergio Leone heroes.
3. Wrinkles (Arrugas la Pelicula, Spain): How often do you see a feature animated film on Alzheimer? The originality of the script, though, is not exhausted into easy compassion. Ignacio Ferreras directs a film (based on Paco Roca's novel) about an elderly house and the treatment of Alzheimer with dignity, humanity, and even comic glimpses. With its simple yet elegant drawings, Wrinkles makes you care and understand a little bit more about aging.
2. A cat in Paris (Une Vie de Chat, Folimage, France): The novelty in this exquisite police thriller is that cat does exactly what all cat do -nothing more and nothing less. Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol direct a story of a girl and her cat who both get involved in a extremely well narrated, 65-minute night adventure in Paris. The broad visual outlines only heighten the sense of suspense, whereas the final Notre Dame scene recalls Hitchcock. A cat in Paris only mesmerizes.
1. Chico & Rita (CinemaNX, Spain). Javier Mariscal & Fernando Trueba present a musical fantasy in pre-Castro Cuba. Even though Chico & Rita reworks elements of A star is born (two musicians fell in love and face their respective rise and fall) and profits a lot from the music of Bebo Valdés, the genuine feeling of human touch that their story exudes is enough to keep you begging for more. Sumptuous in its visual form, Chico & Rita does not afraid to cross the path from love to lust and despair, being enchanting throughout.