5 Essential Animated Stop Motion Films
No matter how many exciting new film techniques come along, stop motion animation never goes out of style. There is something decidedly old-fashioned about stop motion with its penchant for using clay figures or puppets for characters and backgrounds assembled out of found objects, but the films have an organic, homegrown feel about them that all the CGI in the world could not hope to replicate. Stop motion has been mesmerizing filmgoers since the silent era and it has been utilized in a variety of films from King Kong to Star Wars.
Thanks to filmmakers like Henry Selick and Nick Park, animated stop motion films have been on the rise since the ’90s. This October, Tim Burton will bring even more animated stop motion goodness to the big screen with Frankenweenie, his ode to the monster movies of the ’30s. In honor of the film’s impending release, I decided to single out five essential animated stop motion films that every fan of the genre (and newcomers too) should see.
(For the purposes of this article I stuck with full-length animated features, so sadly no short films, Rankin/Bass holiday specials or partially live-action films were included…but for the record that doesn’t make Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer any less essential.)
Since its release in 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas has become a cult classic and a holiday favorite. It could even be argued that the film is responsible for renewing Hollywood’s interest in making stop motion films thanks to its enduring profitability. Directed by stop motion auteur Henry Selick and written by Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a macabre feast for the eyes and a soulful quest for contentment.
The film follows the sad Pumpkin King, Jack, from his ghastly Halloween Town into the colorful, hopeful world of Christmas Town. His journey emphasizes balance, the sense of wonder that characterizes Christmas and, of course, love. With its stunning visuals, catchy songs and unbridled enthusiasm for both Christmas and Halloween, it’s no wonder the film has already earned the right to be called an enduring classic of the genre.
What’s not to love about a stop motion, Wes Anderson-helmed caper film? Anderson’s trademark whimsical style made him particularly well-suited to helm the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story about a fox who steals from three wealthy farmers. The folksy film boasts more than whimsy though, it also has an A-list voice cast that includes George Clooney, Bill Murray and Meryl Streep.
Fantastic Mr. Fox has a rough around the edges look that only adds to its immense charms. Its characters may all be of the animal persuasion, but make no mistake, at heart, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film about the importance of family, with a healthy dollop of caper antics thrown in for good measure.
Chicken Run is like The Great Escape, only instead of escaping prisoners, we have chickens whose previously tranquil lives are interrupted when their owners decide to get out the egg business and into the business of making chicken pies. It’s a grim premise for a children’s movie, but it’s also a hilarious one.
The film comes from Nick Park who has earned the title of stop motion royalty for giving the world Wallace and Gromit. His oddball sense of humor is on full-display in Chicken Run, as is his love for inventions. Chicken Run‘s bright aesthetics and the expressive faces of the chickens combined with the slapstick humor make it the perfect go-to movie for days when you need a laugh.
Like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline was directed by Selick, but much of its dreamlike style must be attributed to its source material, the children’s book of the same name written by Neil Gaiman.
Coraline has the distinction of being the first stop motion film to be shot completely in 3D, and if you have the opportunity to watch it in 3D, you should take it. The film is magical and haunting–even frightening at times thanks to its spidery climax and unsettling circus mice–a modern fairy tale at heart, and a gorgeous one at that.
I considered several films for this last spot, including Tim Burton’s wonderful Corpse Bride and the decidedly not kid-friendly, but definitely fascinating Mary and Max, but ultimately I had to go with Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the one and only full-length Wallace and Gromit film. I admit, it was a sentimental pick (the Wallace and Gromit shorts are responsible for my love of animated stop motion films), but it’s also a worthy one.
Wallace and Gromit find themselves embroiled in a mystery when their local village suffers from a rash of vegetable thefts right before the annual giant vegetable competition. The set-up provides Wallace with the perfect excuse to try out several new inventions which in turn provides his long-suffering pup, Gromit, plenty of opportunities to save Wallace from himself. It’s a gentle, quirky film that preserves the spirit of the short films while also expanding the characters’ world.
Which animated stop motion films would you deem essential viewing? Share your favorites in the comments!
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