The Most Visually Beautiful Animated Films: 20-16

I have noticed that most of the films on this list are from France, Japan or the United States. I would like to hope more countries create animated films in the future. 

20. Le Roi et l’oiseau (The King and theMockingbird), 1980

This film has a long, complicated history. The first time I saw it was from a botched English version my mom found in a dollar store. My family and I laughed at it for many years and eventually I forgot about it. Recently I discovered this film greatly influenced Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. That did not make sense to me. So I did some digging and discovered the film I had seen was not the masterpiece completed by its original creator Paul Grimault. Turns out, like The Thief and the Cobbler (?), it had taken so long to make Grimault lost the rights to it and later bought back and finished it by 1980. 


I include this film because it truly is beautiful. But it is a different kind of beauty then other films on this list. It is pristine, clean and reminiscent of the strong angles and lines from medieval art. When I watched Grimault’s version I was flabbergasted with how well done each detail in the buildings and character animation was. This has to be one of the most perfect animated films I have ever seen. 


Another factor which contributes to this movie’s beauty is the music written by Wojciech Kilar. Like the music, seeing this film is like sitting through a classical piano concert. Much like most French films, the highlight of this movie is its visuals. 




19. 借りぐらしのアリエッティ Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Secret World of Arriety), 2010

This is a Studio Ghibli film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Though he did not handle the screenplay and writing, I feel it reflects beautifully his talent. If I recall correctly, this is the first film he has directed. I remember how excited I was to see this movie and even dragged my father to the theater so we could watch it. 


The highlights of Arriety are in its colors and lighting. It almost seems to glow with energy and life, like it is real and not simply on a screen. What makes it stand out is how it finds beauty in the smallest things. Never before have I seen so clearly the details in a flower or water droplet. 


Arriety’s only flaw is it is too short. It’s world, shown through the eyes of the borrowers, is enchanting and I wish I could have seen more of it. 





18. パプリカ Papurika (Paprika), 2006 

Nope, I have not seen this. But, again, I studied stills from the film and skimmed through videos to catch a glimpse of its rich details. Another film directed by Satoshi Kon, this is definitely not a film for children. Being the direct influence for Inception (2010), it delves into the chaotic land of dreams and pleasures. 


Paprika is really not the film for me but it’s visuals are stunning from a distance. It is funny how animated films try so hard to copy live action when animation is the ideal medium for fantasy and creating the impossible. We accept a girl’s two second growth in Glen Keane’s Duet and the bizarre spirits from Spirited Away because they are shown through moving art. There are many scenes in Paprika unattainable through live action, though I know many will try anyway. 


Dreams in their abstract beauty shine best through this movie. I do not have to watch it to know this. Beautiful art speaks for itself. 




17. Wall-E, 2008

Hmmm. . .  this is the only Pixar film on this list. I feel like a traitor. Regardless, this is a rare find, for me, in the 3D animated world. It is no secret I prefer hand-drawn animated films. But sometimes a movie like Wall-E comes out and I feel almost enlightened. There are two settings for this movie: desolated earth and outer space. 


Wall-E takes audiences to these two settings without the fear that usually accompanies them. Think of every other desolation film made. (Cough, Terminator) Usually, such destruction is only sustained through fear. We can not go there to see the beauties still lurking in the trash and sand. Nor can we travel to spacers touch Saturn’s rings. 


Through Wall-E we can experience these things. Though the film is sad and has a powerful message against pollution and waste it still takes its time and allows audiences to bask in beautiful settings. I wish Pixar would stop making sequels and create new and beautiful films like this again. 



16. 千と千尋の神隠し Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away), 2001

Ahhhh. . .Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. If it did not make this list people might lynch me. Of any Japanese animated film, this is undeniably the most critically acclaimed. It is not hard to understand why. It’s characters are realistic and otherworldly, its story is rich in depth and its setting is altogether magical. I saw this film as a child without really seeing it. I thought it was strange and kind of skipped it when Cartoon Network showed it on TV. 


That was a shame since it is one of the most brilliant films ever created. But I think my timidity is a testament that it’s true audience should have been adults. It flows with Japanese culture and breathes life into places we can only dream of experiencing ourselves. I do not know why people assume that once we become adults we cannot dream and take pleasure in innocent beauty. Why else would people ignore this movie? (well, it does look a little creepy…)


This is a story that takes its audience seriously. Its colors are vibrant, it’s designs are immaculate and it takes breaks to show beautiful clouds overshadowing an ocean of water. Spirited Away will stand the tests of time and be remembered for its beautiful imagination. 





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