Saturday, January 19, 2019

Good Morning Vietnam (1987) (Movie Review)

       Now here’s a fun title to say out loud, “Good Morning Vietnam!” … Just shout it out loud, it’s great. There have been plenty of war comedies like “Stripes” and “M*A*S*H” but “Good Morning Vietnam” is a little different when compared to those two. You could call it a comedy but you could also categories this as a war drama too. If you’re a fan of Robin Williams than this is film you have to see. It’s easily one of his greatest performances, as he perfectly balancing the line between side-splitting humor and real down-to-earth emotion. Almost like he represents what the film is ultimately about, focusing on the dramatic realism of a war, yet at the same time keeping you entertained, and giving you plenty of laughs along the way.

     As you’d expect by the title, the film is set in Saigon during the Vietnam War, and is loosely based on the experiences of the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) radio DJ named Adrian Cronauer, who’s played brilliantly by Robin Williams. In the film, Adrian is called in to be a radio DJ to entertain troops while they head out to battle. He’s completely full of joy, making jokes even when he gets into trouble, and he loves beautiful women. He makes friends with a Vietnamese boy named Tuan, pursues a small relation with his sister, and he teaches a class of elder people. Most of this film is spent with this man simply bringing joy into the lives of others and even bringing new perspectives into the lives of others. However, things take a turn for the worst when the war, destruction and human casualties take shape in the populated cities, and military officials need to keep events under wraps. Now, Adrian wants to do more then just bring people joy, he wants to tell the news as it is, so the people of Vietnam may know the casualties of this war. This leads me to one of my favorite moments, when he convinces his superiors that he’ll do his regular comedy show, only to break down on the air, and inform the masses of the real-life tragedies that are unfolding before his eyes. The way this scene escalates his very tense, and in the moment, as we see Adrian attempt to be funny, but the stress and emotion just eats away at him, and you can just feel the gears moving behind his eyes, all while the officer’s outside are desperately trying to break in and pull the plug.

     While I probably wouldn’t call this my absolute favorite Robin Williams movie, it is the one I feel utilized his acting strengths to the fullest. His dual performance between delivering comedy and pathos is flawless, and the way he combines the two emotions in a single scene highlights a real talent for the ages. Another stand out scene is when he’s at the end of his ropes, and during a traffic gam, his friend encourages him to get up and entertain a caravan of troops that are driving by. In this moment, we see him escape into the role of a comedian, yet you all see and feel the humanity behind the goofball who’s just so touched by the experience he’s shared with these brave soldiers. When Robin Williams is behind the microphone, you never get the same joke twice, it’s something new and fresh every time. Director Barry Levinson wanted him to sound like a regular radio DJ with no scripted lines, so most of what he says while on air were all improvised, which further demonstrates his talents. I could honestly watch him do this all day, as he’s just such a joy. It’s no surprise that Robin Williams got an Oscar nomination for his performance, although it’s also kid of tragic he didn’t win this one, as I felt he really deserved it in this film.

    Now aside from Robin Williams inspiring performance, this film really knows how to segue between both its goofy and dramatic tones, and never once feels jarring. I think the main reason these two elements work so well in this film is because “Good Morning Vietnam” is one of those rare movies that values the art … of silence. Whenever either a very comedic or emotional scene is playing out, it does so in almost complete silence and musical ques are used sparingly. So often in films of this sort, the music gets either too whimsically inspired or too dramatic, but by keeping things quiet, it gives certain events an atmosphere of inevitability and genuineness. There’re also some clever moments that deliberately contrast the town, and this is when I feel the movie really shines. This brings me to a scene that is personally one of my favorites from any war movie, and it’s when Adrian plays Louis Armstrong’s song “What a Wonderful world” on the radio, while inter-cut with a montage of the brutally, horrific events happening throughout Vietnam. I’ll never forget seeing this movie for the first time as a young teenager and just feeling very moved by this moment, as if a talented filmmaker wanted to craft something artistic, while also delivering something very profound in the process.

     Another strength to this film is that it forgoes tired clich├ęs, and focuses on real conflicts brought about through human nature. For example, from the start of the film, Adrian is at odds with two superior officers, and while they can be viewed as jerks, their also not one-dimensional bully stereotypes either. They do have moral codes, they’re both dignified with their principles, but their viewpoints just don’t click with our hero, or his friends who see him as an asset. This makes for a more engaging back and forth between the players, and how some will make good points while others will stand by a moral code. On a side note, this movie introduced me to Forest Whitaker, who’s a young talent in this film and plays a soldier who becomes Adrian's closest friend. His performance is very compelling, and it really says something about his talents, to be a young new actor working alongside someone like Robin Williams, and still leaving an impression. It’s hard to explain, but there’s just something about his passion and drive that makes him infectiously lovable.

      The relation with the two Vietnamese siblings is also effective, and gives the film extra layers of depth. Most Vietnam center movies prior to this one mostly highlighted the Vietnamese as the enemy, but this film took us into their world and explored their humanity. It also show-cases how narrow cited many officers were, as Adrian’s friendship with the siblings puts his whole character in question. One of the films game-changing moments is when Adrian and his friend are stranded behind enemy lines, leaving his Vietnamese friend as his only hope for escape. This is the bursting of the bubble, when his superiors learn how deep his friendship is with select Vietnamese people, and further dramatic secrets are revealed. The movie closes on a powerful note, where individual characters move on, and while nothing major occurs in the grand scheme of the war, individual lives are changed, and things close on a bitter sweet note.

      Overall, it’s one of those rare films that brings you a lot of joy and laughs, while also giving you something really strong and down to earth. In fact, I’d right this off as one of my personal favorite War movies. There’s comedy present in the film, but the movie isn’t a satire the same way “Stripes” was a satire. It’s just a very simple, colorful story that takes place within one of our darkest periods, and further highlights how this one person bringing joy and laughter could be just as impact-full as the troops fighting the battles. It’s one of those movies that I feel doesn’t require a review, as you can just sit down, watch it, and the experience will tell you everything. If you’re a fan of Robin Williams, then this film is almost mandatory to check out, and see this great talent in one of his best roles.   

I give “Good Morning Vietnam” 4 ½ stars out of five.

           "Gooooooooooooooooodbye, Vietnam!"         

My Top 30 Favorite Animated Movies

     From the compelling Japanese Anime’s, to the comedy of DreamWorks, to the nostalgia of Disney, the world of animation has taken on so many different forms over the years, and it’ll be really challenging, yet exciting for me to single out my top favorites. Truthfully, I could have made this a list of my top 100 favorite animated films, but I’ll just subtle with my personal top 30. My only two conditions are that I’m only including theatrical movies, and my favorite animated holiday themed movies are too large to condense, so I won’t be including favorites along the lines of “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, “Coraline” or “The Polar Express”. For a countdown of this size, I’ll keep the descriptions small and too the point, but I also want to clarify that these aren’t the only animated films I love, as there’s at least 30 others I wanted to include. This is just a countdown of the films that are at the top of my animated chart, and the ones that have meant the most to me as a viewer. So, with all that said … lets paint the screen with some color, and rank my personal top 30 favorite animated movies.

Before I begin my countdown, here are some quick honorable mentions …

"Finding Nemo"

"Tales from Earthsea"


"Watership Down"

"Castle in the Sky"

"The Emperors's New Grove"

#30 “The Land Before Time” 

When a group of young dinosaurs are separated from their herd, they have to work together to trek across dangerous grounds and battle monstrous predators to find the land that time forgot. I've always looked at this film as "Bambi", but with Dinosaurs, so this ties into my childhood more than the former, as I've always had a nostalgic connection to Dinosaurs. Despite the cutesy designs of the characters, this remains a reasonably mature film, with intense moments, and some legitimate drama. The musical score always brings a tear to my eye, there’s a lot of exciting battles with the T-Rex, the animation is splendid, and the ending is one of the strongest, feel good moments from any kid’s film. Overall, "The Land Before Time" walks a perfect balance between its appeal to little kids, while also treating the audience at large with a mature and beautiful story.

#29 “Hercules” 

Back when I was a little kid, “Hercules” was my favorite Disney movie that I’d watch all the time. It was a super-hero story, it had giant monsters, it had catchy music, it had an awesome villain, it had slapstick comedy, it had memorable characters, and stellar animation … it was just an awesome flick. As an adult, I still enjoy this film, and found other things to appreciate. The characters have depth and the message is genuinely wholesome. All the Greek references are fun, the colors are great, the lighting is stylish, and I especially love the look and design of the film, which was based on artist Gerald Scarfe's work. Every time I watch this film, I discover something new or notice something that represents a change in the story or in a character. In a nut shell, “Hercules” is a colorful and faced paced film that offers a lot of entertainment as well as some decent morals for young viewers.

#28 “Wolf Children” 

Anime has a wide range of different styles and tones, but what I love the most is when an Anime can seamlessly merge the all too familiar and relatable real world with magic and the supernatural and the 2012 movie “Wolf Children” fits the bill beautifully. The story revolves around a woman who falls in love with a man who’s hiding something very secretive about himself. Turns out that he has the power to transform into a wolf at any time, and that he’s the last in this blood line of unique shape shifting wolf people. He’s not a savage monster, he still has a great deal of humanity, which the woman takes to heart despite his unusual nature. Once their relationship takes shape, two children are born, who also have the same unusual condition of being part human and part wolf. Sadly, the father dies, leaving the mother alone to raise her two unique children. The rest of the movie fallows twelve years of the mother’s life raising her children into their young adult years, and despite being a very odd premise, I still personally found it to be a very emotional journey with this unique family. What we have is a semi-relatable coming of age story, as well as a compelling tail of mother-hood, but it also feels like a classic fable you could share with your kids. More than anything, I loved watching this mother experience both the beauty and struggles of raising two kids on her own. She puts herself through so many hardships, but she still remains very optimistic about this beautiful gift she has of being a mother, and there’s just so much to admire from a person like that. From beginning to end, I felt that “Wolf Children” took me on a journey through life, and I experienced all the warmth, fear, drama, change, amazement and beauty that it has to offer.

#27 “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” 

You couldn’t ask for a more wholesome and innocent family film than “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, as it’s such a timeless treasure that no family should be without. For many kids, it was one of the very first animated movies they ever saw, thus one of the most nostalgic movies ever made, and it set the standard for animated films for decades to come. With all the new developments in animated technology, this film still stands strong with its magical story and wonderful characters. The songs are charming, the characters are unforgettable and the storytelling is light as air, which makes this one of the most simplistic, yet magical experiences you could ask for and that’s good enough for me. Personally, it’s my favorite of all the films to come from Walt Disney himself.

#26 “Inside Out” 

You know that little voice in your head that always tells you what to do in any given situation … well, that’s an emotion, or more precisely one of five distinct emotions that live in your imagination, and have creative influence on how you live each day. That’s the premise of Disney and Pixar’s 2015 motion picture “Inside Out”. Jumping right to the point, this is one of the studio’s best movies, not just in recent years, but in general. It’s one of their greatest animated offerings … top 5 easy. It really has the makings of a classic, and has something to offer to younger audiences, older audiences, and especially the young at heart. Pixar had been turning out some sub-par material lately, but this was a very strong return to the high-quality films that they’ve done in the past. It was imaginative, colorful, innovative, touching, magical and for lack of better words, a truly emotional experience that I look forward to seeing again, and again.

#25 “The Fox and the Hound” 

Of all the Disney movies to feature animals as the main characters, this one is my personal favorite. It seems to represent that special time from our child hood, when the best thing in the world was spending time with your best friend. The movie’s worth watching just for those adorable scenes of our two lead characters as cute little pups having fun together. Most Disney movies seem to fallow the same formula of a man and woman falling in love, but this film is different, it’s all about two kids who started up as best friends, but then grew up to be enemies. It’s all around a very dramatic and refreshing concept for a kid’s film. It ranges from dark and tragic, to uplifting and beautiful, and as a result, it doesn’t feel like any other film to come from Disney. The atmosphere is great, and I especially love the conflicts at the end of the film, as it’s not your typical good vs. evil scenario. The ending is one of the phew scenes in an animated movie to get me all chocked up inside. Seriously, if this ending doesn't get you at least a little teary eyed, then you just don’t have a soul.

#24 “Megamind” 

Superhero spoofs have been around for a while, but "Megamind" takes the formula to imaginative and hilarious new heights. It’s a story of what happens when the villain wins the day for once, and his journey to find something new to strive for. The character of Megamind is someone I’ve always been able to relate to, as I too have reached set goals in life, only to wonder where to go next. Well, as this film so colorfully puts it, you discover something new about yourself, build on those hidden strengths and make a big change. Boasting an ingeniously original premise about a super-villain turned hero, and a set-up that both spoofs and celebrates classic superhero cliches. It's all strung together with top notch animation, a brisk pace, funny jokes that never go over-board, and a rock’n good sound track. Best of all is that the characters are just as entertaining as they are sympathetic, most especially Will Ferrell who delivers a very energetic, and lively performance in the lead role of Megamind.

#23 “Pocahontas” 

I can respect why most viewers have issues with this film, especially in regards to the films questionable (possibly offensive) depiction of a Native American culture, and lack of proper history depictions. However, while all the criticism is valid, there are still so many things that I really love about this movie. The music is stellar, and some of Disney’s greatest songs are featured in this film. I love its magical air, the morals are great, and Pocahontas herself is one of my favorite leading Disney woman. She has more of a spiritual nature, and is connected to the great things in life that we take for granted. I especially love how this is a story about warring neighbors with two people from opposite ends falling in love, kind of like “Romeo and Juliet” or "West Side Story", except this time the relationship was more beneficial for both sides. Beyond all of that, I just love looking at this film, the colors are so warm and the backgrounds are such rich spectacles. This is a film that you can watch on mute and still have a great time. I honestly think it’s the most beautiful looking animated Disney movie ever made, and that's saying something.

#22 “Shrek 2” 

Hands down my favorite in the goofy Shrek series, as the casting is perfect, the jokes are hilarious and it’s the only film in which I find myself genuinely caring about the characters and their story. This time we also get some outstanding new supporting characters to join the fun, most notably Puss in Boots who completely steals the show. The animation is great, the story is sweet, romantic and best of all … this really is one of the funniest animated kids films I’ve ever seen. In fact, I think it’s worthy of being called a comedy classic. “Shrek 2” is simply one of the best sequels to a kid’s film ever, as it took the hand full of things I liked in the first and gave me twenty things more.

#21 “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West” 

This is perhaps the only movie on my list to make it for purely nostalgic reasons. I absolutely adore this film, and trust me, I like the first "American Tail" movie too … however, that one’s more of an admiral dramatic piece, while “Fievel Goes West” is the embodiment of a past lifetime. This one literally rejuvenates a young kindred spirit within me, and takes me back to that time as a child that was wholesome and carefree. It’s what I like to call an oasis movie, where you take a break from your current life, have some fun in your joyful, nostalgic past, and then return to real life feeling refreshed. There’s just this wonderful charm that comes from the characters, the music, the animation, and the Wild West setting that makes this movie feel so rich and cheerful. It also features some really good voice actors including the always fantastic John Cleese as the villain, and the late great Jimmy Stewart as the old, down and out cowboy who just wants one last chance to be a hero. It’s hard to do this film justice, and it honestly isn't something I’d recommend to people who haven’t seen it, because it’s really just something special you have to grow up with.

#20 “Patema Inverted” 

How does one describe “Patema Inverted” without sounding crazy? Well, I’ll start by saying that it’s arguably one of the trippy-est and most original movies I’ve ever experienced. The story revolves around a princess named Patema who comes from an underground world, but wishes to explore, and see what lies beyond. Her search leads her to the surface world, where all of gravity is reversed, and even the society is backwards. With her world literally turned upside down, our princess meets a young boy who actually has quite a lot in common with her, despite coming from opposite grounds. Both are explorers, both dream of seeing the larger world, and both happen to be orphans. Together they form a strong friendship, get into several crazy situations, and aim to bridge their opposing societies together. It’s an ingenious concept that combines a wild upside-down world with a social allegory, and it’s just so creative with its unique setting. It’s all about seeing things from a different perspective, which is so creatively conveyed by our characters. Sense we have people walking on opposite sides of gravity, it allows the animators to get really creative with lots of cool angles, neat shots, and some visually arresting imagery. The characters are standard, but genuinely likable, and they share some really nice scenes. More than anything, “Patema Inverted” is a film that takes familiar story elements, but combines them with lots of imagination, making this a unique and extremely entertaining experience.

#19 “Aladdin” 

No Disney collection is complete without this gem from Disney’s second golden age. It's simply the equivalent of a classic Disney movie, and whenever I think of a popular Disney hero, Disney princess, comedic side character or Disney villain, these are the characters that always come to mind first. That doesn't mean there my absolute favorites, but they are the most nostalgic. It’s just an excellent cast of scene steeling characters that hold your attention through the entire film. The music is great, the animation is top notch, there's a subtle message about excepting one's self for who they are, the two lovers have great chemistry and it’s just one of the most thoroughly entertaining animated films ever made. Like I even need to say much more, you’ve all seen it, you know how good it is, and if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check it out … it’ll make you feel like a kid all over again.

#18 “The Secret of NIMH

Yet another animated offering that features cute mice as the main cast, but unlike the previously mentioned “Fievel Goes West”, this one is much darker and every bit a movie for adults as it is for children. Don Bluth gained a reputation in the 80’s for maintaining the magic of Disney, while exploring heavy subjects and issues that Disney would never touch. “The Secret of NIMH” in many respects boasts the magic and atmosphere of a classic Disney movie, yet the content and themes are considerably more adult in tone. The hero isn't a stereo type, and instead is a frightened, middle-aged mother who has to brave her way through dangerous obstacles in an effort to save the life of her dying son. Personally, she's one of my favorite leading characters ever featured in an animated movie. The settings are dark and uninviting, which puts the audience in her place, making you feel the emotion and fear that she is, but her bravery is also felt, and helps the audience stick with her and face the danger. The result is a beautiful and complex story filled with magic, wonder, mature themes and a stunning score composed by the late Jerry Gold Smith.

#17 “The Road to El Dorado” 

With the joyfully banter between voice actors Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, some beautifully colored animation, a nostalgic soundtrack provided by Elton John, plenty of comedy, lots of character charms and exciting adventure scenes allow “The Road to El Dorado” to stand as a very pleasant, (albeit undemanding) diversion, and I still love it. While this doesn’t offer much in terms of epic storytelling, or deep moral subtext, it’s just a pleasant escape, and it continues to bring me joy as an adult. It’s just one of those special films that can easily put me in a good mood, provide a great sense of fun, and sometimes, that’s all an animated movie really needs to be. Not too much else to say, I just really love the characters, artistry, music and just about everything that the film has to offer. It may not be solid gold, but I find it a rich experience in its own simple way.

#16 “Beauty and the Beast” 

This is what you call a near flawless film, because everything just works. The female lead is great, the villain is perfect, the supporting characters are excellent, the animation is stunning, and the music is unforgettable. It’s a classic fairy tale, with all the warmth and wonder you’d expect from a Disney fantasy, but it’s also laced with deep subject materials, like discovering the ugliness of one's life and finding the true beauty hidden deep within. I regrettably didn't grow up with this film the same way I did with other Disney classics, so it lacks the Nostalgic factor, but it hardly matters. However, it also speaks volumes for this films quality and context to win me over as an adult. In the end, this is still one of Disney’s defining classics, and well worth watching weather you’re a kid or an adult.  

#15 “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” 

Even when Spider-Man movies were at their worst, I’ve always enjoyed them on some level, but none of them could match 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”, which for the longest time was my absolute favorite. Then completely out of the blue comes this animated Spider-Man movie, the first of its kind, a completely original experience with the web-swinger, and it’s gives my initial favorite some competition. It’s a film that combines bold, human storytelling, with striking animation, solid voice work, and an infectiously lovable cast of various Spider-Man characters, and further highlights that you can have a film stuffed with both spectacle character, yet still come out a winning picture. It all adds up to a highly entertaining superhero venture that absolutely delivers all the heart, comedy, action, and a lot of imagination into a perfect whole.

#14 "Your Name"

Writer-Director Makoto Shinkai's has had quiet the filmography, and with the 2017 picture “Your Name”, he’s easily the next Hayao Miyazaki. We’re all familiar with the concept of body swapping films in the vain of “Freaky Friday” and so forth, but “Your Name” adds a very magical new ingredient to the formula. A Japanese boy and girl from opposite sides of the country find themselves randomly exchanging bodies, and while it’s not a permanent swap, they find themselves frequently switching back and forth without warning. Neither can figure out why it’s happening, but it’s through this bizarre experience, and spending time in each other’s shoes that they learn so much about one another, and subsequently do each other a favor by bringing out the best in themselves. Their only means of communication are though notes that one writes for the other while in their body, and even though they don’t physically interact, they do still form a powerful bond though what they learn of one another. In short, it’s one of the most unique love stories I’ve ever experienced, and there’s an additional twist at the end which makes it all the more impactful. The emotional implications of the film are balanced out with some of the most stunning artistry I’ve ever seen in an animated picture. It’s because of movies like this that I love Japanese Anime, as they frequently tell stories, and share experiences that you just don’t get in common American movies. It’s just a beautiful masterpiece that interweaves themes of time, the thread of fate, and the hearts of two young souls in one deeply moving package.

#13 “Anastasia” 

During the 90’s, countless animated films tried to replicate Disney’s winning formula, and while “Anastasia” was clearly doing the same thing, it somehow escaped from under Disney’s shadow, and in my opinion is a wonderful animated musical that really works on its own. When a Russian Princess loses her identity, it's up to a sneaky con man to set her on the right path. The real strength of the film comes from the on-screen banter and chemistry of the two leads, as they might just be my favorite animated couple. The cast in general is great, and the villain is equally entertaining to watch. More to the point, before “Frozen” or “Moana” this was the first animated musical that I felt really captured the personality, beauty, and presentation of a Broadway style production, just in animated form. I love every single song on this soundtrack, and the films rich animation really brings the song numbers to life. While the films take on Russian history is questionable, the film still succeeds with its classic music, engaging leads, and speaking truthfully, even though it’s very Disney-esk, it’s still one of my absolute favorites of Don Bluth’s works. 

#12 “Titan A.E.” 

Following after the disappointment of 1999’s “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace”, “Titan A.E.” turned out to be closer in spirit to what I wanted from an outer space, “Star Wars”-esk adventure. When planet earth is destroyed by a merciless legion of aliens, a small band of survivors set-out on a journey to find a new home to colonize the human race. The stakes are high, the action is thrilling, and the animation is stunning, and it’s probably one of my favorite outer space designs I’ve ever seen on film. There’s nothing more to the film then a strait forward space adventure, with lots of laser shooting action, but if it’s done well, then that’s really all I need. The films universe is multilayered, yet perfectly contained in one movie, and it’s just a rare treat to get the thrill of exploring a vast universe without tying into a larger film franchise. To date, this was the last movie to be directed by Don Bluth, and in my opinion, it’s an absolute blast.

#11 "A Goofy Movie

In general, even when I was kid, I was never that big a fan of the character goofy, thus it amazes me that a silly, road-trip comedy with him taking center stage could leave such an impact on me, and stick with me over the years as one of my absolute favorites. Make no mistake, I grew up with this film, and liked it fine back then, but I didn’t fall in love with it until I re-discovered it after I graduated high-school. What could have been a one-note goofy cartoon, had so much love and care put into the final project, and the result is one of my absolute favorite Disney offerings. It’s packed with really funny sequences, laced with a genuinely enduring story of a father a son coming together, contains some incredibly upbeat song numbers, along with a gorgeous animation layout, and it even features one of my favorite young romantic couples. “A Goofy Movie” is a prime example of a movie going above and beyond anything it needed to be, it rejuvenates my inner child, and is just a plain wonder film that deserves more attention.

#10 “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” 

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most influential and respected names in the realms of animation, and of all his many great accomplishments, my personal favorite by far is “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”. This was only Miyazaki’s second film, and the amount of ambition, creativity and captivating artistry on display just blow my mind. It just feels like the most epic, and the most inspiring of his works, but that’s really all subject to my personal taste. The story takes place 1000 years in an apocalyptic future, where the earth has been consumed by a toxic jungle, giant insects run amuck, civilizations wage war for ownership of the last surviving human populations, and cot in the middle is a brave young Princess named Nausicaa who’ll fight to her dying breath to insure peace is made across the land. For a film set in a dying apocalyptic future, it has quite a beautiful atmosphere, and some visual marvels. This movie was made back in the 1980’s, and it’s a true testament to the art of animation considering that no computers were used in the making of the film, yet it looks so phenomenal. Also, Princess Nausicaa is personally my all-time favorite movie Princess, animated or not, as she’s got the warmest heart and very charming personality, but she also commands authority, takes serious action and always takes charge in any given situation. Combined with a great cast of side characters, powerful performances, stealer artistry, epic storytelling ... “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” just seems to have it all, and is easily my favorite of Miyazaki’s treasures.

#9 “Moana

Disney’s 2016 animated movie “Moana” is yet another outstanding entry to their collective works, and personally, this is the Disney experience that has won me over to this new Golden age of CGI animation. After the death of traditional 2D animation, I was in denial that I could ever truly love another animated Disney film, yet “Moana” came out of the blue, entranced me with its mystical island setting, captivated me with its photo realistic effects, and won my heart with one of the companies most enduring princesses. It’s a film that stays true to the Disney formula, but it also adds new layers to it, along with a big splash of creative originality, and subsequently contains one of the studios greatest collections of song numbers in an animated offering.

#8 “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” 

Personally, had it not been for Christopher Nolan’s 2008 movie “The Dark Knight”, this would still be my absolute favorite Batman movie by a mile. Still to this day, “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” is one of my favorite animated movies, and I’d also go so far as to rank it among my top 10 all-time favorite comic books films. I really think this is the most multilayered the hero has ever been represented on film, and everything that is Batman is on full display here. We see his humanity, his heroism, as well as his dark side, his pathos, his regrets, and finally we see him as a detective, slowly putting together a larger puzzle. It’s also full of great action, drama, style, a chilling musical score and intriguing character complexities. It’s easy to recommend this film to fans of the animated 90’s Batman TV series, but it also isn’t required to watch the show beforehand. If you’re just a regular fan of superhero films, you can watch “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” as its own standalone movie, and it’s still highly satisfying. Dare I say that even regular film viewers can watch this, and take something from it. It’s one of those special superhero films that for me gets better with age, it looks amazing, combines a tragic love story with a deep mystery and all the heroism you’d expect from personally my absolute favorite animated character … Batman.

#7 “The Prince of Egypt” 

Now here’s an animated movie that’s just plain epic, as everything it does is just huge. Lots of big emotions, a stirring hero villain conflict, incredible visuals, and outstanding musical numbers. It’s a rare animated film that manages to bring this timeless religious story to life with so much dignity to the source material, yet still making it an appealing experience for young viewers. There’s some really sharp voice acting in this film to boot, and it’s a very well-rounded cast of talented celebrities. Honestly, I think this film holds up over the original 1956 Cecil B. DeMille classic “The Ten Commandments”. It’s simply one of the greatest biblical stories of all time, and I just love how powerfully this film captures the human emotion of the story, while combining it with the sheer scope of its biblical size.

#6 “Treasure Planet” 

If you can’t afford to go to Disney land in California, Florida or anywhere, then just rent this film, because this is every bit as exhilarating as any theme park ride, and its complete with drops, spins, speed, action and all kinds of enjoyment just being blown in your face at every minute. Yet, the films non-stop excitement never over shadows the characters or the message, which have always stuck with me over the years. The moral centers around the importance of honing your talents, and then charting the course to make a bright future, and it’s so humbly conveyed, that it’s become something of a guide for me in my own life’s journey. The plot is a traditional treasure hunt adventure, but the focus is on a layered father /son kind of relationship between the hero and villain. It’s not the traditional Disney formula, and it’s a refreshing concept for the film. The visual effects are amazing, combining CGI effects with traditional hand drawn animation, and it’s all just another big step in developed technology. The music is great, the pacing is fast and fun, it has a heart in the center and even though I didn't grow up with this film the same way I did with many other Disney offerings, it’s still a personal favorite, and an awesome adventure through outer space.

#5 Fantasia” & Fantasia 2000” 

Whenever I’m feeling too picky about a film, I always look to either of the “Fantasia” movies to remind me that it's all about the experience, not the details. These are movies with no dialog (at least from the cartoon characters) and no running plot, but that’s the point, it’s the perfect example of a visual media. It’s not telling emotional stories, and instead it’s more like emotional experiences. There’s beauty, there’s terror, there’s comedy, there’s drama and it’s all brought to life with the simple use of combining quality animation with great music. The visuals are just stunning to look at, the colors are dazzling, and it all matches with the music so well, to the point where I’d call it visual poetry. The characters convey so much with just their expressions, and body movements that you don’t need dialog to make an emotional connection, and it’s the simplicity of the whole experience that allows me to just enjoy these films without critically analyzing anything. Even though these movies have epic music combined with big visuals, it all still flows with the graceful rhythm of a ballet. The first “Fantasia” was a crowning achievement in film history, and one of the biggest influences on my love for movies. The second film “Fantasia 2000” is my personal favorite of the two, as it contains more shorts that have left an impact on me, and is all around more fun. Still, both films belong among my top 30 favorites, and their just as beautiful to watch, as they are to listen to.

#4 “When Marnie was There” 

Even if you’re not a fan of Japanese Anime, this is a movie that I still highly recommend, because “When Marnie was There” is as beautiful as movies get.  Beautiful in its artistry, beautiful in its storytelling, beautiful in its theme’s, beautiful in its atmosphere, and it’s an experience that’s just plain good for the heart. The story revolves around an orphaned and asthmatic young girl named Anna, who’s basically shut herself out from the world ... and she hates herself for it. Her foster family sends her on a trip to stay with some relatives, in hopes that it will help her asthma, and maybe even allow her to branch out of her socially confined shell. At first, she has a hard time fitting in, but everything changes once she meets a mysterious young girl named Marnie. As the two spend time together, Anna learns how to live her life to the fullest and a powerful friendship ensues between these two young girls. However, something about Marnie is very “out of place”, or maybe even “out of time”. Something strange hovers above both Marnie and the house she comes from, ... something “Ghostly”. Mysteries soon unfold, origins get unraveled, deep life lessons are learned, then everything builds and builds to an ending that’s so touching and beautiful that it’s hard not to get chocked up over it. Seriously, I rarely cry after watching a movie, let alone an animated one, but every time I watch this film, I’m always tearing up at the end. It’s a movie that combines real life struggles with a magical “Twilight Zone” like setting. I dare not go into any more detail, because I couldn’t do the film justice, and it’s an experience that viewers just need to have on their own. It may be a very recent film, but “When Marnie was There” stands tall, and strong as my favorite Japanese Anime I’ve ever seen, and personally, it’s one of my favorite movies.

#3 “The Hunchback of NotreDame” 

With its strong visuals, sensational music, dark themes, epic size and beautiful message of tolerance, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is arguably my personal favorite of Disney’s traditional hand drawn collection. Honestly, I just love how out of the box this one is, as it goes for a more mature angle that plays for both kids and adults alike. The story is engaging and everything is brought up on a grand scale, the quire is big and the sheer size and scope of this film is just massive. The musical numbers are also some of my favorites, sounding great while still moving the story forward like a real on-stage musical. I also like how dark this film gets, it took more chances, but it never went too far that it became unpleasant. In fact, it always had something positive to balance out. This movie also features a small cast of characters, but there’s something so down to earth and genuine when their together on screen that they stand out as some of Disney’s finest. The hero is kind and humble, the villain is menacing yet complex and the supporting characters all do their job perfectly. There’re even parts when this film touches on issues of faith and religion, which gives this film a layer of substance not seen in previous Disney offerings. All this and more, as if I even needed more, land “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” as my personal favorite, traditionally animated Disney movie of all time.

#2 “The Toy Story Trilogy

When it comes to highlighting my childhood favorites, the “Toy Story” films have a secure spot on the top of my nostalgic totem pole. It’s hard to select a favorite installment from some of my favorite long running franchises, and in regard to the “Toy Story” movies, there was simply no way I could choose one over the other. All three are solid 5 out of 5 star movies. They will always stand as some of the greatest family films of all time for me, and they perfectly capture all the charms and nostalgia of our youths. These films do such a credible job combining laughs with legitimate drama and the balance is always so perfectly in place. The characters are all very lovable, colorful and genuine that they practically leap off the screen. There’s actually a touch of humanity to these characters that some human characters in other films lack, and it’s that bit of believability mixed with all the charms and impressive visual effects that make these films so timeless. I’ve held a special place for these films for the longest time, and in return can share them with a new young generation ahead. Every installment has the power to make you laugh, cry and just warm your heart with repeated viewings.

#1 “The How to Train Your Dragon Trilogy” 

It was the start of a new millennia, and this was the animated experience that topped anything I had previously grown up with. To call “How to Train Your Dragon” my favorite animated movies is almost underselling it … because I’d honestly put this film among my top 10 personal favorite movies. I honestly never would have guessed that something this great could come from the Dream works studios, but here it is, and it’s a thing of beauty, both visually and thematically. It’s the tail of a young Viking who becomes friends with a Dragon, during a time when man and beast was wagging war with each other. Now, Dream Works traditionally goes for goofy, colorful entertainment, but this film felt like something else altogether. The story is built on old concepts and formulas that have been done in countless other movies, but the execution of it was done so well, that it made every convention feel fresh and new again. The characters felt real, the emotions felt real, it didn’t rely on traditional selling points like a big villain or musical numbers, it was just a very well-paced experience, laced with honest dramatic depth, and multilayered characters. Even the dragons made for fascinating characters that convey so much without even speaking. 

It also utilized its animation to convey visual storytelling, in which long sequences play out with no dialogue, yet so much is told through the animation of the characters, how the music builds and how it’s shot. When you combine all its heart felt righting with dazzlingly detailed animation, and some of the most breathtaking flight scenes to be experienced in the theater, it makes for an animated spectacle that truly sores. Following on the heels of a masterpiece film like "How to Train your Dragon" is no small task, yet this film Improves on the original in every way a good sequel should. It moves the story forward, it explores the characters on deeper levels, it one up’s the stakes, it explores the world, has grander battles, and the animation has only gotten more impressive. It’s also a sequel that dares to take chances, and gives younger viewers some really mature material. "How to Train your Dragon 2" is every bit as stunning, beautiful, thematically poignant, and uplifting as its predecessor, and in many respects is superior. 
From 2010 all the way through 2019, the “How to Train Your Dragon” series has been one of my most cherished long running franchises, which has expanded through sequels, shorts, TV shows, and now it all comes to a close with a deeply fulfilling final chapter. While I’d put “The Hidden World” just underneath it’s two predecessors, it was still unmistakably a powerful, beautifully animated, and largely entertaining swan song for the series. It was one of those special movie going experiences that felt like an event, as if I completed a journey that began nearly ten years ago, and now we have a truly great trilogy for a modern age … along with “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings”, I think “How to Train Your Dragon” can now be categorized as one of the great movie trilogies.     

The End