Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
Even though animation has always been dominated by kidstuff, it’s good to remember that an R rating is not always the kiss of death.
Here at The Thread, our love of animation didn’t end when we hit puberty. In the hope that yours didn’t either we’ve put together a short list of adultimation: MPAA-unfriendly films that tackle subject you may not want to explain to young kids.
Penguins of Madagascar (2014)
This 4th installment of Dreamworks’ lucrative Madagascar franchise is actually a spinoff, with the four penguins moving up from bit-player to star status.
The quartet of cuteness (a minor running gag) joins forces with an undercover organization, North Wind, led by Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch) to stop the villainous Dr. Octavius Brine (John Malkovich) from taking over the world.
We saw this one with some actual (gasp) kids. The action and the gags were relentless – in a kind of good way. But unlike some of our recent favorites (LEGO MOVIE for instance) there was absolutely no real character or subtext.
The kids loved it. But despite the breakneck pace – and we say this purely as a statement of fact — we fell asleep.
Animal Farm (1954)
Directed by husband/wife duo Halas & Batchelor, the film – which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year – has an odd history. At the time of its release it was touted as the first British animation film. Then in the 70s it was outed as being financed by the Cold War CIA, which pushed Orwell’s story in the direction of pure propaganda.
George Orwell’s biting political satire of government and human behavior is played out within a barnyard society by the animals as they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice and equality. Actor Maurice Denham amazingly provides the voices for every human and animal in the film.
And the film does preserve Orwell’s brilliant line (there are many, but this is our favorite): “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” That’s why we love him.
Ironically, Orwell originally wrote a preface to Animal Farm called “The Freedom of the Press,” which attacked British censorship—but he removed it, apparently to make finding a publisher easier.
The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993)
The film directed by bolexbrothers, a UK indie animation house. It was made using a unique form of stop-motion – alongside the puppets, – live actors are posed and shot frame by frame. The combo renders it one of the more nightmarish films on this list – a surreal depiction of society’s underbelly. It’s a film that is hard to shake and may infest your dreams. View at your own peril!
Not at all related to the famed circus performer, the film is both dark fable and post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Tom Thumb is the freakish result of a mishap in an artificial insemination laboratory, a young boy only six inches tall.
Despite his deformity, Tom is accepted and loved by his working class parents. Then he is kidnapped and trapped in a scientific compound, along with other tiny medical oddities. He engineers an escape in an attempt to return to his heartbroken family. Once free from the lab, Tom and his new cohort face threats from the malicious scientists, the dangers of the harsh city, and a secret society of escaped little people.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Directed by the famed Mamoru Oshii, this classic is one of our favorite anime films. It’s set in 2029, where a vast electronic network permeates every aspect of life. That network becomes a battlefield for Tokyo’s Section Nine security force, which has been charged with apprehending the master hacker known only as the Puppet Master.
Major Motoko Kusanagi is a cyborg officer – far more powerful than her human appearance would suggest – whose task is to apprehend Puppet Master. The film is about corruption – but at its core it is a story about a soldier who loses her identity and becomes a machine.
There are talks of a live action version of the film in the works… starring none other than Scarlett Johansen as the Major.
Perfect Blue (1998)
This culty anime psychological thriller was directed by Satoshi Kon whose kindred spirits are directors like David Lynch, Dario Argento, Alfred Hitchcock and Darren Aronofsky, PERFECT BLUE is both a psychological thriller and a scathing look at fame and its perils.
The film follows Mima Kirigoe, a successful pop singer who leaves her band to become an actress—a career move that angers her fans. When people around her start to get murdered, a weirdly accurate Mima diary/blog appears online (which Mima isn’t writing). The combined stresses of her new career and multiple stalkers push her to the brink of a breakdown until a string of murderous revelations shock her back to reality.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Who but Tim Burton would be able to sell the idea of combining Halloween and Christmas into a stop-motion musical fantasy? Burton wrote the script and songs in collaboration with Danny Elfman, then handed it over to long-time acquaintance, Henry Selick, who had both the experience and patience to execute on painstaking stop-motion.
NIGHTMARE tells the heartfelt tale of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town. Bored with the same old tricks and treats, he yearns for something more, and soon stumbles upon the glorious magic of Christmas Town! Jack decides to bring this joyful holiday back to Halloween Town. But as his dream to fill Santa’s shoes unravels, it’s up to Sally, the rag doll who loves him, to stitch things back together.
Fritz The Cat (1972)
Directed by Ralph Bakshi and based on characters by Zap Comix founder and twisted genius-in-residence, R. Crumb, FRITZ THE CAT was a breakthrough – a randy, X-rated feature-length studio animation that attempted to treat adult and situations. Just like its comic book namesake, the feature is rooted in 60’s counterculture with off-center views on race relations, drugs, sex, violence, politics, and religion.
FRITZ is a rollicking, raunchy free-for-all. So much so that at the time of its release some people called it animated porn. Supposedly Crumb had artistic issues with it – but for most of the world it successfully transferred the Zap sensibility to film. Despite the X rating, it was a huge success and paved the way for independent animators to make adult-themed films, including Bakshi’s even darker follow-up HEAVY TRAFFIC