It was enough to make us think about the very best in the world of stop-motion animation. The fact that these films were made at all is something close to miraculous, but that they were this good really says something.
Gallery | The Best Stop-Motion Animated Films Ever
- 10. 'Pirates! Band of Misfits' (2012)
Produced by Aardman Animation, the same studio behind "Chicken Run" and "Wallace and Gromit," this crazy animated seafaring fable has a band of wayward pirates encountering Charles Darwin (and other madness). Led by a charismatic Hugh Grant, these pirates give Johnny Depp and his crew a run for their money, and the fantastic mixture of stop-motion and computer animation gives the world a bigger, more detailed feel. In fact, there are so many jokes crammed into every nook and cranny of "Pirates" that it requires multiple viewings just to dig them all out.
- 9. 'Fantastic Planet' (1973)
The animation in "Fantastic Planet," the freaky French oddity, is so smooth and liquid-y you'd suspect it was traditional, hand-drawn 2D animation. But it's not. The movie -- which doesn't have a plot so much as a series of hypnotically bizarre sequences involving creatures on a strange alien world -- was actually made out of cut-outs, like the original "South Park" short, that are painstakingly manipulated to simulate movement. As a narrative, the movie leaves something to be desired, but as a wildly imaginative screen saver, or something that you put on while you drift off to sleep, it cannot be beat.
- 8. 'Alice' (1988)
This is one of those movies that you get shown in your college animation course and you cannot believe what you're looking at: an adaptation of one of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" books, except directed by Czech animation pioneer Jan Svankmajer in a style that can only be described as "chillingly nightmarish." (There are, it should be noted, some live-action elements.) This is a much more adult, much more psychologically complicated film than the Walt Disney classic, and one that will forever haunt your nightmares. Well worth it for adventurous fans of animation.
- 7. 'Frankenweenie' (2012)
After supervising "Nightmare Before Christmas" and co-directing "The Corpse Bride," Burton returned to a live-action short film he had made for Disney early in his career and developed it as a dazzling black-and-white stop-motion animated feature. In the film, a young boy named Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan), loses his best friend -- his dog, named Sparky -- and decides to bring him back to life using the power of lightning and other horror movie tropes. As the depiction of a boy's relationship with his dog, "Frankenweenie" would be success enough, but during the movie's last act, a number of other monster movies are brought into the fold. It's that wild, unhinged spirit that firmly plants "Frankenweenie" in the "new classic" field (or at the very least an annual Halloween favorite).
- 6. 'Mary and Max' (2008)
There are a number of reasons to put "Mary and Max" in a list of the best stop-motion animated features ever, but it seems especially important to do so in the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death. In "Mary and Max," Hoffman plays an obese, mentally disturbed New Yorker who embarks on an unlikely friendship with a young Australian girl named Mary (Toni Collette). Everything about "Mary and Max" feels unique -- from its oddball design choices to its sometimes explicitly adult subject matter to its period setting -- and that strangeness amplifies the emotional heft of the pair's friendship. It's sad that more people haven't seen the movie, but maybe in the wake of Hoffman's tragic death, it will garner a whole new batch of fans. It certainly deserves it.
- 5. 'Coraline' (2009)
After some missteps (his bloated "James and the Giant Peach" adaptation and the sort-of animated "Monkeybone"), "Nightmare Before Christmas" director Henry Selick returned to the creepy-crawly nighttime world that made his first film so successful, and the results were unforgettable. Adapting Neil Gaiman's novel of the same name, Selick produced a kind of dark side version of "Wizard of Oz," where a young girl (Dakota Fanning) is brought into a fantastical netherworld where everything is infinitely more awful and terrifying than in her real life. Several times during "Coraline's" 100-minute run time, your jaw will just hang open. There is no other choice. And while some of the movie feels slightly incomplete (like the fact that it was designed as a musical but all but one of the songs was dropped), it's still a ravishing ride.
- 4. 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' (2009)
Director Wes Anderson's movies have always had the energy and color palette of an animated film, and with his previous film, "The Life Aquatic," he utilized stop-motion animated creatures that were created by the great Henry Selick. When Selick fell through on directing an adaptation of Roald Dahl's beloved children's story that Anderson was set to produce, Anderson assumed directorial duties and created one of the most cohesive, satisfying, and hilarious movies of his career. Anderson is clearly obsessed with the stop-motion animation medium, including his decision to emphasize its frame-to-frame peculiarities (he had animators blow on the characters' fur in between shots to create an effect they called "boiling") and to push the medium in bold new directions through the use of long, unbroken shots and the use of different sized puppets (of same characters) in the same scene. Quite frankly, Anderson's work since has felt sort of limp in comparison.
- 3. 'ParaNorman' (2012)
One of the very best, most underrated animated features in recent memory, this odd, deeply affecting stop-motion marvel by the geniuses over at Laika (who also did "Coraline" and the upcoming "Boxtrolls") about a young boy named Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who can communicate with the dead, felt genuinely new. There's a freshness to the storytelling approach, to the fearlessness with which the story mixes horror movie scariness with kid-friendly humor. Maybe it was a little too much for the masses (it made money, but just barely), but it's almost certain that the movie will gain a certain amount of followers in the years since its release, as people discover it through various home video channels. There are some camera movements, too, that seem unfathomable in the medium of stop motion but, impossibly, are pulled off.
- 2. 'Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit' (2005)
In many ways, the original, Oscar-winning "Wallace and Gromit" shorts, which tracked the adventures of a loopy British scientist Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his silent, stoic dog Gromit, acted as a gateway drug to the wild world of stop-motion animation. So it's only fitting that, when the characters would finally inhabit a feature-length film, that it would be something of a spellbinding delight. In their first (but hopefully not last) movie, Wallace and Gromit are tasked with bringing down a monstrous bunny, before it gobbles up all of the contestants' prize-winning vegetables. "Curse of the Were-Rabbit" plays like a classic Hammer horror movie, except filled with co-directors Nick Park and Steve Box's playful sense of humor and visual inventiveness, and, you know, no blood or boobs or anything else. A deserved Best Animated Feature winner, this is a movie that never ceases to surprise or delight -- one painstakingly poised frame at a time.
- 1. 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (1993)
Henry Selick and Tim Burton's masterpiece remains the single most towering achievement in the history of feature-length stop motion animation. Keep in mind that nothing like it had ever really been attempted -- this was a big beautiful Disney musical at the height of the so-called Disney Renaissance, where movies like "Aladdin" and "The Lion King" were regularly dazzling audiences. When "Nightmare" was first release, it was met with indifference, but over the next two decades would grow in stature and cult status, to the point that now, every year, the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland is retrofitted in "Nightmare Before Christmas" garb. It has become a part of the canon. Looking back on it now, it's just as mind-blowing, a kind of reverse "How the Grinch Who Stole Christmas," with a skeletal harbinger of Halloween named Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) traveling in between worlds to steal Christmas and make it his own. Under the supervision of Burton, with direction by Henry Selick (who would single-handedly keep stop motion alive in some of the format's less popular years), "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is a rightfully minted modern classic, one in which the storytelling and art style mesh perfectly and create something that's nothing short of magical.