I love animation. I love that it can take you to worlds and places you could only ever see in your dreams. It’s not constrained by real life and as such can create places that can be as normal or surreal as you like.
It can take you to an island where it rains food, you can go on a trip in a yellow submarine, you can dance with beasts and go on a magic carpet ride. You can even go down a magical rabbit hole into Wonderland. The only limit is your imagination (and artistic skills).
Animated films and TV shows have brought delight and wonder to children and adults everywhere and in this list I am choosing just 5 of my favourite movies animated using stop motion techniques.
Stop motion has a special quality to it, because it’s filmed using real puppets that are painstakingly moved centimetre by centimetre with a picture taken after every move you can feel the love and dedication that is poured into producing them. It also makes it more tangable than other forms of animation. There ar fantastical images happening on the screen, and yet, it all feels real. Perhaps because at some point, somewhere it was real. Even if it is a little on the small side. This is why stop motion is my favourite animation method.
So, without further ado here’s number 5!
5) Alice (1988, PG, 86mins Dir. Jan Svankmajer)
This film on our list is also the only one to incorporate live action into the animation.
An adaptation of Alice in wonderland, Alice was brought to life by czechoslovakian animator Jan Svankmajer. It brings forth a much more dark and disturbing version of Wonderland than previous adaptations had portrayed. It follows a live action Alice in her adventures down the rabbit hole. Gone away are the bright coloured and friendly characters. In their place we get characters that seem dangerous and confusing. The puppets are often found objects re-purposed for the film. Even using a real stuffed rabbit for The White Rabbit. Wonderland itself looks like an old house where any child could wander and find any manner of strange things.
All this give Alice a unique feel and mood, and is often cited as one of the great films about childhood, discovery and the loss of innocence though I’m not sure I would let a child watch this. Even with the PG certificate I feel that it would be a little too disturbing for young children.
4) Mary and Max (2009, 12, 92mins Dir. Adam Elliot)
An amazing film about a friendship between a man with Autism in New York and his pen pal. A lonely little girl in Australia.
Mary and Max is one of the most beautiful and emotional films you will ever watch. While the colour palette has been deliberately kept to browns and greys to reflect the lives of the two protagonists, this film is anything but.
You’ll laugh out loud at some of the childish musings of Mary (Toni Collette) and you will cry at the tragedy of Max’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) life.
If there was ever a film that could be described as a roller coaster of emotion, this is truly it. It’s about finding a partner in loneliness and making your way in a world that perhaps doesn’t accept who you are.
The design and animation is beautiful, and the soundtrack will have you humming The Penguin Cafe Orchestra for weeks. One word of caution, this is rated 12, and like Alice, it is not really intended for children.
3) Chicken Run (2000, U, 81mins Dir. Peter Lord & Nick Park)
No list about stop motion is complete without at least one Aardman entry. I decided to go with Chicken Run, because it was the first feature film they produced. I remember going to the cinema to see it with my family, and everyone enjoyed it. Even when watching it back now it really stands the test of time.
The story is essentially The Great Escape, but with chickens. It sounds absurd when said out loud, and it’s this slightly eccentric absurdity that makes this work so well. The humour is daft British through and through and the voice performances from the cast are great and really help to make the chickens characters that you feel for and are with every step of the way.
You can tell that this is an Aardman production, the chickens have the iconic Aardman mouth made famous from Wallace And Gromit, and the humour is so British there may as well be a bowler hat floating at the top of the screen the whole time.
Gather the family round one Saturday night with some popcorn and you are all guaranteed a good time.
2) Coraline (2009, PG, 101mins Dir. Henry Selick)
Based on a novella by Neil Gaiman this animation was brought to life by the animator Henry Selick, who also brought us such delights as James and the Giant Peach and Monkeybone.
This is one of several films released in the last few years that really hits the sweet spot in being great for kids and adults alike.
It is full of magic and wonder at the start when Coraline explores the alternate world she finds in a small door in the living room. However the film takes a much darker turn when Coraline’s wishes for a more attentive family come with a caveat she’s not so happy with. Her ‘Other Mother’ who has constructed this alternative world of amazing feats and characters, wants to sew buttons in her eyes. Coraline revolts and has to fight for her life against the ‘Other Mother’.
This manages to balance the magic and the darkness perfectly, and whilst this might be a little too scary for younger kids this will give slightly older children (and adults) a great thrill when the dreams start to crumble and Coraline isnt so sure what to believe anymore.
I’m fairly certain this has had a helping hand from our friend CGI to create some of the special effects, but you will be honestly amazed at some of the shots and the scenes that the animators were able to create with puppets and cameras. It is truly breathtaking.
1) The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, PG, 73mins, Dir. Henry Selick)
This is the first stop motion film I remember truly falling in love with and helped to inspire my love of all things stop motion.
Everything is great about this film. The characters, despite being mostlly monsters from Hallowe’en Town are all relatable. We’ve all felt like Jack, no longer content with what surrounds us, and in need of something new to explore. Sally, also desperate to escape and help Jack all she can.
The songs are just wonderful, all of which were written by Danny Elfman, there’s an array of different musical styles and are all sing along-able. From Jack’s Lament on the curly hill to Ooogie Boogie’s song in his lair of dirty tricks.
Then there’s the design. I first saw this when I was 6 years old. I am now 28 and even now I can watch it and still spot something new. There’s so much detail put into it, you can see every line in the field with the curly hill, you can see all the small, insignificant details and the minor background characters given the same attention as the stars.
The animation itself may seem a little clunky and not as swish as some of the more modern stop motion films, but for it’s time it was very pioneering. It was the first film to use a metal ‘skeleton’ in the puppets to keep them in place.
Even the story and the tone was quite brave at the time, though Disney are now quite proud of NBC and include it in their merchandise in their stores at the time they tried to distance themselves from it by releasing it under the Touchstone label they created for more ‘adult’ content. Now it is considered a classic of children’s movies and animated movies.