Part 5

Animated Films
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Examples

Don Bluth:

In the late 70s, a Disney-trained animator named Don Bluth was an animator for Disney's Robin Hood (1973), The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), The Rescuers (1977), The Fox and the Hound (1981), and the live-action-plus-animation fantasy Pete's Dragon (1977). Bluth broke away and formed Don Bluth Productions with a group of disgruntled animators.

His first notable non-Disney work was the animation sequence of Xanadu (1980). His first independent feature-length animation was The Secret of N.I.M.H. (1982), and his first big hit was the Spielberg-co-produced animation An American Tail (1986), starring coincidentally, a Russian mouse character named Fievel. At the time of its release, it was the highest-grossing animated feature film. The followup film, also Spielberg co-produced (without Bluth), was An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991), with James Stewart (in his last film before his death in 1997) as the voice of sheriff Wylie Burp.

Other notable Bluth films included the Lucas/Spielberg production The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), Rock-A-Doodle (1992), Thumbelina (1994), The Pebble and the Penguin (1995), Anastasia (1997), and Titan A.E. (2000).

[Note: In 1983, Bluth was also noted for the development of the first laserdisc animated video-arcade games with Cinematronics, including Dragon's Liar and Space Ace. These titles fused the state of the art in arcade game technology and traditional cell animation.]

Disney's Animation Renaissance from the 1960s into the 70s:

In the 60s through the 70s, Disney also released a second-tier of animated feature films, including:

Walt Disney Animation Studio Feature Films (1937-present)
Decade of the 1960s and 1970s
No. Title Screen Title (Year) Notables
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
  • based on the novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956) by Dodie Smith
  • a delightful animation that used inexpensive animation techniques (including Xerography) to keep production costs low
  • it was the second Disney feature-length animated film to be set unambiguously in contemporary times, after Lady and the Tramp (1955)
  • released as a remake - a live-action feature film 101 Dalmatians (1996), starring Glenn Close as Cruella deVille, followed by its sequel 102 Dalmatians (2000)
The Sword in the Stone (1963)
  • based upon T.H. White's UK novel The Sword in the Stone (1938) - about the King Arthur legend
  • the last animated Disney film to be released before the death of Walt Disney
The Jungle Book (1967)
  • based upon English author Rudyard Kipling's late 19th century writings in The Jungle Book
  • an Academy Award nominee: Best Original Song (The Bare Necessities)
  • often considered the most original animated Disney film in the 1960s
  • released as a live-action remake in 1994, an animated sequel The Jungle Book 2 (2003), and a live-action/CGI feature film: The Jungle Book (2016)
The AristoCats (1970)
  • the last film personally approved by Walt Disney himself
  • the main character: J. Thomas O'Malley, an alley cat who aided an abandoned high-society cat named Duchess and her three kittens to combat greedy English butler Edgar and return them to 1910 Paris
Robin Hood (1973)
  • based on the classic British legend
  • used anthropomorphic furry animals to represent the human characters (Robin Hood - a fox, Maid Marian - a female fox, Little John - a bear, Friar Tuck - a badger, etc.)
  • an Academy Award nominee: Best Original Song (Love)
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
  • based upon the 'Pooh' storybooks by British author A.A. Milne
  • basically a compilation film, composed of three previous featurettes: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974) with an added fourth short -- Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore
  • directly followed by the sequel Winnie the Pooh (2011)
The Rescuers (1977)
  • based upon the series of children's books (beginning in 1959) of the same name by author Margery Sharp, about two mice: Miss Bianca (voice of Eva Gabor) and Bernard (Bob Newhart), who traveled around the world to "R - E - S - C - U - E" cute human children
  • the first Disney animated feature to have a sequel released: The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

In the 1960s decade, Walt Disney Studios also re-emerged as a triumphant box-office moneymaker and producer of a variety of expensive-to-produce, animated and likable, wholesome live-action family features, including Mary Poppins (1964), a delightful musical fantasy combining animation and live-action sequences (winning the Best Special Effects Oscar), and featuring Best Actress-winning Julie Andrews in her screen debut as an energetic, eccentric nanny with magical powers in Edwardian London; also with Dick Van Dyke, and the songs "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and the Oscar-winning "Chim-Chim Cher-ee." Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), a combination of live-action and animation, was a feature similar to Mary Poppins (1964).

Disney's Animations in the 80s:

Throughout most of the 1980s, Disney struggled, and continued to release fairly mediocre animations (except for The Little Mermaid (1989)), including the following:

Walt Disney Animation Studio Feature Films (1937-present)
Decade of the 1980s
No. Title Screen Title (Year) Notables
The Fox and the Hound (1981)
  • based on the novel by Daniel P. Mannix
  • tagline: "A Story of Two Friends Who Didn't Know They Were Supposed to Be Enemies" - orphaned young red fox Tod and hound puppy dog Cooper
  • the first major effort by the "new generation" of Disney artists
  • to date, the most expensive animated film ($12 million) ever produced
  • the 14th highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1981, with $39.9 million revenue
  • with a direct-to-video sequel, The Fox and the Hound 2 (2006)
The Black Cauldron (1985)
  • this dark animation was based on the mid-1960s Welsh mythological novels The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander; it told about Taran, a young apprentice pigkeeper who aspired to be a warrior; the Black Cauldron could unlock an army of invincible, undead warriors able to conquer the world
  • the first Disney animated film to be recorded in Dolby Stereo, and to receive a PG rating
  • the first Disney animated film to feature CGI (computer-generated imagery)
  • a costly-to-produce feature, setting a new record of $44 million, and a major box-office failure - the 42nd highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1985, with only $21.3 million
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
  • based upon Eve Titus' childrens books, Basil of Baker Street, and Sherlock Holmes tales
  • the characters: mice and rats in Victorian London; Basil was a "great mouse detective" hired to find kidnapped toymaker and mechanical genius Hiram Flaversham, while combating his arch-enemy Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price)
  • the 38th highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1986, with only $25.3 million
Oliver & Company (1988)
  • based upon Charles Dickens' classic 1838 novel, Oliver Twist, although a retelling with talking animals, including Oliver as an unwanted homeless kitten and dogs in Fagin's gang, led by a mongrel named Dodger (as in the Artful Dodger)
  • the setting was modern-day NYC, not London
  • the 17th highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1988, with $53.3 million
  • the first Disney film to experiment with the CAPS (Computer Animation Production System) animation system - digital ink and paint to reduce costs, in its creation of New York traffic
  • the first Disney animated film to include advertised, brand-name or commercial products (some with logos)
  • this film was considered the last film of Disney's "pre-Renaissance" era
The Little Mermaid (1989)
  • based upon Danish author Hans Christian Andersen's tale of the same name - about a mermaid Princess Ariel who wished to be human after falling in love with human Prince Eric
  • due to the film's overwhelming success, it was considered the first film in a "Disney Renaissance"
  • the 13th highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1989, at $84.4 million and $211.3 million (worldwide)
  • a two-time Academy Award winner: Best Song (Under the Sea), Best Score, and another nominee for Best Song (Kiss the Girl)
  • with numerous spin-offs and sequels

The Little Mermaid - 1989Disney Studios returned to the quality of its heyday of animation from the 30s and 40s with advanced, more mature animations in the late 80s and into the 1990s, including the tale of the headstrong young mermaid Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989). The popular and highly successful film won two Oscars (Best Score and Best Song: "Under the Sea") - Disney's first Oscar nominations since 1977, and earned $84 million (domestic) and $211 million (worldwide) at the box-office. The film recharged Disney, and insured the revival of animated films, with increasingly stronger hits for the studio in the early 1990s.

Disney's TRON:

Tron (1982)Although not a classic animated film, Disney's TRON (1982), the studio's first PG-rated film and the first feature film to imaginatively attempt to represent a computer-generated 'cyberspace' world, was the first live action film with over 20 minutes of computer animation. It told about gladatorial-style combat between two individuals within a computer's virtual reality world, including a race on light bikes. [The fictional cyberpunk book (the first of the cyberpunk literary genre) credited with coining the word 'cyberspace' (referring to the Internet) was William Gibson's Neuromancer in 1984. The book also referred to cyberspace as the Matrix. One of Gibson's short stories was later turned into the film Johnny Mnemonic (1995) with Keanu Reeves.]

It was also the first film to popularize the idea of a computer or network in which one could experience virtual reality, and the first film to use the term 'hack' (the root of 'hacker' or 'hacking'), and to refer to the cyberuniverse as the 'matrix'. [Landmark composer Wendy (nee Walter) Carlos (who had collaborated earlier with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980) - among others) provided a unique synthesized/orchestral score to accompany the pioneering, on-screen animation.]

It was disqualified for a Best Visual Effects award because the old-fashioned Academy believed that it "cheated" by using a computer. (In fact, the film used a laborious, frame-by-frame process to produce its computer animation.) The concept of using computers to craft environments, rather than drawing them by hand, was considered inauthentic - until Cameron's computer-animated The Abyss (1989) won the Best Visual Effects Oscar.

A New Era of Disney Animation: The 1990s

Disney continued its string of major hits into the 1990s: (also see chart below)

  • Beauty and the Beast (1991), an updated version with a strong heroine, Belle and a Beast (a mix of buffalo, lion, and gorilla), was nominated for a well-deserved Best Picture Academy Award (the first nomination for Best Picture ever received for a full-length animated feature), and the theme song "Beauty and the Beast" won the Best Original Song Oscar (from its six Oscar nominations). It also had tremendous box-office: $146 million (domestic), $219 million (domestic lifetime), and $425 million (worldwide).
  • Aladdin (1992), a film that moved beyond the traditional fairy tale, used computer-generated imagery, and was designed for a more adult audience - it marked a significant change in Disney's output. It received a phenomenal five Oscar nominations (and won two for Best Original Song, "A Whole New World," and Best Score). At the time of its release, it was criticized for its negative, 'Americanized' representation of Arabs and non-western cultures. The film featured improvisational comic Robin Williams as the vocal for Aladdin's blue Genie. Its box-office was $217 million (domestic) and $504 million (worldwide).
  • The Lion King (1994), the first Disney film based upon an in-house original story, rather than upon a well-known children's narrative, although its complex and advanced story-line was derived from elements of Shakespeare's Hamlet, classical mythology, various hero-quest tales, and African folk tales. It was also Disney's first film to totally disregard human characters, although it received criticism for racial stereotyping (the voices of the evil hyenas were voiced by minority-ethnic performers). The wildebeest stampede scene integrated 3-D computer animation with traditional animation techniques. After setting a box-office record (of over $312.9 million (domestic), $422.8 million (domestic lifetime), and $968.5 million (worldwide) at the box-office as the most commercially-successful animated film to date), it also won two Academy Awards from its four music-related nominations. The Lion King spurred a boom in animation production and merchandising, and other animation production studios besides Disney entered the picture.

[Note: Some Disney critics firmly believed that The Lion King was blatantly derived from Kimba the White Lion. Kimba was originally known as Jungle Emperor (Jungle Taitei) when it was serialized as a comic from 1950 to 1954, and it later became Japan's first color animated TV series in 1965. Fifty-two episodes were released in 1966 in English under the title Kimba The White Lion from Tezuka Productions. Disney supporters claimed that the similarities were only coincidences.]

  • Disney's Pocahontas (1995), a hand-drawn animation, was the studio's 33rd feature-length animated movie and the first to be based on actual events and people.
  • Disney also released two hand-drawn animations in the next two years, the dark and ambitious The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) based upon the Victor Hugo novel, and Hercules (1997) about the mythological strong man.
  • Disney's hand-drawn animated Chinese folk tale Mulan (1998) was the studio's 36th feature-length animated film.
  • The coming of the end of the decade was marked by Disney's Tarzan (1999), the first full-length, hand-drawn animated feature about Edgar Rice Burrough's King of the Jungle.
Walt Disney Animation Studio Feature Films (1937-present)
The Decade of the 1990s
No. Title Screen Title (Year) Notables
The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
  • a sequel to The Rescuers (1977) - Disney's first animated theatrical feature film sequel; the studio's next two sequels were Fantasia 2000 (1999) and Winnie the Pooh (2011)
  • set in Australia's Outback ("Down Under"), and the third Disney film to feature anthropomorphic mice as the main characters; Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor reprised their roles as Bernard and Miss Bianca
  • the least successful film released during the Disney Renaissance (from 1989 to 1999), and the only one during the time period to be a non-musical film; with only $28 million (domestic) revenue
  • a pioneering film - the first to be 100% created digitally without the use of a camera; all of the coloring, many effects, and the final film printing was done digitally (it was Disney's first film produced entirely using the CAPS animation-coloring system), saving the company both time (6 mos.) and money
  • its theatrical release at the time was accompanied by the animated featurette The Prince and the Pauper, based on the story by Mark Twain and starring Mickey Mouse and friends
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
  • based upon Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont's 1756 French fairy tale of the same name, and paying homage to Jean Cocteau's La Belle et La Bete (1946, Fr.)
  • the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture before a special category for Best Animated Feature Film was created in 2009
  • the third highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1991, and the best film of Disney's "Renaissance" period
  • with 6 Oscar nominations, it was a two-time Academy Award winner: Best Original Score, Best Original Song (Beauty and the Beast), also nominations for two other Best Original Songs (Belle and Be Our Guest), Best Sound and Best Picture
  • it was the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture
  • the first Disney animated film to be adapted into a Broadway musical in 1994
  • followed by a live-action remake Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Aladdin (1992)
  • based upon the familiar Arabian fairy tale ("Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp") and Antoine Galland's French interpretation The Thousand and One Nights in the early 18th century
  • the story was about the developing romance, in the fictional city of Agrabah in Arabia - between street urchin Aladdin and rebellious Princess Jasmine; other characters included evil vizier Jafar, a magic lamp, magic carpet, and a huge blue genie (Robin Williams)
  • the highest grossing (domestic and worldwide) film of 1992, at $217 million, and $504 million (worldwide)
  • with 5 Oscar nominations, it was a two-time Academy Award winner: Best Original Song (A Whole New World), Best Score, also nominations for Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, and another for Best Original Song (Friend Like Me)
The Lion King (1994)
  • the first Disney film based upon an in-house original story, rather than upon a well-known children's narrative, although with similarities to Shakespeare's play Hamlet
  • about a lion cub named Simba, his father Musafa (ruler of the Pride Lands), and the treachery of his uncle Scar and romance with Nala
  • the second highest-grossing (domestic) film of the year 1994, at $312.9 million, and the highest-grossing (worldwide) film of the year with $968.5 million - one of the most financially successful of Disney's films
  • with 4 Oscar nominations, it was a two-time Academy Award winner: Best Original Score, Best Original Song (Can You Feel the Love Tonight), and two other Best Song nominations for Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata
  • a large series of sequels, spin-offs, series, and a Broadway musical (in 1997) followed
Pocahontas (1995)
  • based upon the life and legend of Native American Algonquin Pocahontas (1595–1617), the daughter of Chief Powhatan, and rewritten by Englishman John Smith
  • the first animated Disney movie with an inter-racial romance
  • the 4th highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1995 at $141.6 million, but with only $346 million (worldwide) - considered a poor performing film when compared to its predecessor The Lion King (1994), and criticized for its modified historical story
  • a two-time Academy Award winner (for its 2 nominations): Best Original Musical Score, Best Original Song (Colors of the Wind)
  • followed by a direct-to-video sequel, Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
  • based upon the novel by French author Victor Hugo, and similar to the earlier film The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), about an unlikely friendship that developed between deformed Notre Dame bellringer Quasimodo and gypsy girl Esmeralda
  • one-time Academy Award nominee: Best Musical Score
  • the 15th highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1996, at $100.1 million and $325.3 million (worldwide) - but its production budget was $100 million!
  • some attributed its box-office failings to adult-oriented topics in a family film, including lust, racism, and religious bigotry, although it was surprisingly rated G
  • although backgrounds and crowd scenes were CGI, all of the character animations were hand-drawn
  • a sequel was only direct-to-video: The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2002)
Hercules (1997)
  • adapted from the Greek myth of Heracles (the son of Zeus), a Roman hero and god known as Hercules - a strong man
  • the 17th highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1997, with $99.1 million in revenue, and only $252.7 million (worldwide), and a production budget of $85 million
  • a one-time Academy Award-nominee: Best Original Song (Go the Distance)
  • the 8th film in the so-called "Disney Renaissance"
  • the first Disney animated film with a positive portrayal of African-American women
  • followed by a direct-to-video TV prequel Hercules: Zero to Hero (1999)
Mulan (1998)
  • based on the ancient Chinese folk legend of an historical warrior female named Hula Mulan; in the feature film, the title character was Fa Mulan (who assumed the male name Fa Ping) to be trained militarily and to fight against invading Huns
  • the 13th highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1998, at $120.6 million, and $304.3 million (worldwide)
  • one-time Academy Award nominee: Best Original Musical Score
  • a sequel followed: Mulan II (2004)
Tarzan (1999)
  • based upon Edgar Rice Burroughs' character in 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes, starring two main characters: the heroic Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn) and Jane (Minnie Driver), and two animal friends - a female gorilla (Rosie O'Donnell) and a neurotic elephant (Wayne Knight)
  • the last film of the so-called "Disney Renaissance"
  • the 6th highest-grossing (domestic) film of 1999, at $171 million, and $448.2 million (worldwide)
  • with a production budget of $130 million, it was the most expensive animated film ever made at the time
  • Academy Award winning Best Original Song (You'll Be In My Heart)
Fantasia 2000 (1999)
  • the sequel to Fantasia (1940)
  • composed of eight animated segments tied to classical music (performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), one of which was The Sorcerer's Apprentice from the original film
  • the other seven segments, introduced by celebrities, were: Beethoven's abstract Symphony No. 5, Respighi's Pines of Rome (about flying humpback whales), Gershwin's jazzy rendition of Rhapsody in Blue, Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major (the telling of Hans Christian Andersen's story The Steadfast Tin Soldier), Saint-Saëns' The Carnival of the Animals - Finale (a flamingo with a yo-yo), Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance (the story of Noah's Ark with Donald Duck), and Stravinsky's Firebird Suite
  • premiered in mid-December 1999, with its IMAX release in the year 2000 - it was a milestone -- the first animated feature-length film to be released in the format
  • with a production budget of $80-85 million, and only $60 million (domestic), and $90.8 million (worldwide); it was the 50th highest-grossing (domestic) film of the year 2000

Other Exceptional Animations:

Who Framed Roger Rabbit - 1988Another exceptional film (a coordinated effort released by Disney (Touchstone), produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin, live-action directed by Robert Zemeckis, and animated by Richard Williams) was the Oscar-winning Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), a remarkable blend of animated imagery and live-action human characters. It was filmed as a tribute to the entire pantheon of cartoon characters from Disney, Warner Bros., and MGM, and other studios in the 1940s. Its animation was revolutionary in a number of ways:

  1. it used light and shadows in new ways to produce remarkably realistic, 3-D effects
  2. it extensively panned and moved the camera to reduce a static look, and
  3. it had the car'toon' characters interact flawlessly with real-world objects and flesh-and-blood people as much as possible

Warner Bros.' Space Jam (1996) also featured Looney Tunes characters within a live-action film with basketball superstar Michael Jordan. Other films that used the same techniques to mix live-action and animation were: The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000) and Joe Dante's Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).

Japanimation or Anime:

One of the reasons for the popular emergence of Japanese animation was the successful animated Japanese-TV series Astro Boy (1963). The Western release of director Katsuhiro Otomo's cult favorite epic animated adventure Akira (1988), based on the science-fiction comic book (manga) series - a post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk tale set in Neo-Tokyo, also contributed to the spread of Japanese anime (or "Japanimation") worldwide.

Excellent examples of feature length, science-fiction Japanese anime were directed by auteur animator and founder of the famed Ghibli Studios Hayao Miyazaki -- known as the "Japanese Walt Disney." His humanistic-oriented animations -- painstakingly detailed traditional cel animation during an era of CGI films -- were generally filled with magical and/or mythical settings, rich and fantastic characters (usually a young heroine), imaginative and visual renderings, fairy-tale motifs and plots with moral lessons, tales of the struggle between the strong and the weak, and environmental concerns. His films were actually bought for American distribution by Disney Studio, and include the following:

Filmography: Examples of Hayao Miyazaki's Japanese Anime Films
Title Notable

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984, Jp.)
(aka Kaze no tani no Naushika, or Warriors of the Wind)
  • this was Miyazaki's second feature (after Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979, Jp.) that was released in 1979 in Japan, but not theatrically-released to US audiences until 1991)
  • Nausicaa's success directly led to the formation of Studio Ghibli for his next anime film
  • it was the first Miyazaki film to have a North American release, but it was retitled as Warriors of the Wind (1985) in a poorly-edited and excised version; eventually, an approved, uncut and uncensored English version was finally produced in 2006 by Ghibli's longtime partner Disney and approved by Miyazaki himself
  • it was a post-nuclear or post-apocalyptic, anti-war tale, set in the protected Valley of the Wind
  • it was based on the comic book (manga) Miyazaki had created years earlier, about the struggle of a peace-seeking warrior princess to keep two opposing kingdoms from destroying the planet

Castle in the Sky (1986, Jp.)
(aka Laputa: Castle in the Sky)
  • the very first film animated and released by Studio Ghibli, newly-formed to produce the film
  • it was a fantasy action-adventure anime, inspired by one chapter of Gulliver's Travels
  • in the plotline, two young orphaned children (Pazu and Sheeta) searched for a floating city in the sky (with the fabled castle Laputa) as they battled sky pirates (led by matriarch Dola) and evil government forces

My Neighbor Totoro (1988, Jp.)
(aka Tonari no Totoro)
  • this was Studio Ghibli's second feature film and the fourth animated feature directed by Hayao Miyazaki
  • it has been considered the definitive Miyazaki film
  • the film's title character in the forest of post-war Japan was a friendly wood spirit known as Tortoro, seen by two sisters (young Mei and older Satsuki)
  • Tortoro became the mascot for Studio Ghibli

Grave of the Fireflies (1988, Jp.)
(aka Hotaru no Haka)
  • released theatrically as one-half of a double feature; the other half was the more light-hearted My Neighbor Totoro (also 1988)
  • the powerful and poignant tearjerking tale was based on Akiyuki Nosaka's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name
  • it told about two orphaned Japanese siblings during the waning days of World War II: a teen-aged boy (Seita) and his 4 year-old sister (Setsuko), who reunited after death and as ghosts looked back at the last few months of their short lives in the city of Kobe (the motif of fireflies symbolized the shortness of life, and the souls of the dead)
  • at the time, it was the only Ghibli film not personally directed by Miyazaki - instead, it was written and directed by Isao Takahata for Studio Ghibli
  • animation historian Ernest Rister felt it was comparable to Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993), and film critic Roger Ebert considered it one of the greatest (anti-) war films ever made

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989, Jp.) (aka Majo no Takkyûbin)
  • in the plot, newly-turned 13 year-old witch Kiki ventured to a southern, ocean-side port city of Koriko where she used her flying broom as a 'delivery service' for a baker, and then went into business independently; the plot was an excuse to examine her coming-of-age, and her trials and tribulations as an adolescent
  • nine years after the film was released, Disney (in partnership with Studio Ghibli) dubbed it with English-speaking celebrity voices and additional music for a US release in 1998

Porco Rosso (1992, Fr./Jp.)
(aka The Crimson Pig, or Kurenai No Buta)

  • the anime's main character was mercenary pilot Porco Rosso (the "Red Pig"), a renowned Italian fighter pilot and veteran of WWI, who had been transformed into an anthromorphic pig, flew in a crimson seaplane and battled "air pirates" during the Roaring 20s in the Adriatic Sea off the East Coast of Italy; the pirates fought back by hiring American aviator Donald Curtis, while Porco was aided by a teenaged sidekick named Fio - a young mechanic with a crush on Porco
  • Miyasaki's anime paid homage to the early days of aviation, Italy and cinema

Whisper of the Heart (1995, Jp.)
  • it was the first theatrical Studio Ghibli film to be directed by someone other than Miyazaki or Isao Takahata
  • the film's tale was a romantic drama set in Tokyo, written by Hayao Miyazaki, about the relationship between book-loving 14-year-old junior high school student Shizuku Tsukishima, and fellow student Seiji Amasawa, an apprenticed violin maker
  • in the plot, Shizuku created a fantasy story with four characters: (1) herself as the female protagonist, (2) a male hero named the Baron, (3) Baron's lost love Louise, and (4) a cat known as "Moon" or "Muta" that she followed from the train to an antique shop owned by Nishi, Seiji's grand-father; in the shop was a cat statuette garbed in formal wear known as the "Baron"
  • it was followed by the semi-sequel, The Cat Returns (2002) - see below

Princess Mononoke (1997, Jp.)
  • it was a $20 million animated adventure-fantasy epic that opened in Japan, where it quickly became the highest-grossing Japanese film in Japanese history to the time
  • it was originally intended to be Miyazaki's last film, until the release of Spirited Away (2001)
  • it was an extremely-intense and dark anime, not often recommended for young children
  • the story ws set in the 15th to 16th centuries in a mining town known as Tataraba (Iron Town), during a three-way mythic battle between the town (led and protected by Lady Eboshi), forest gods (led by the Wolf God named Moro), and greedy samurai war-lord Lord Asano who wished to take over the town; the main protagonist was young prince Ashitaka endowed with superhuman strength who pursued a relationship with human girl San (raised by wolves)

Spirited Away (2001, Jp./US)
  • it was a magical and surreal animated adventure - one of the director's most revered, popular and honored films
  • it was the Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature Film (it was the first anime feature film to win an Academy Award Oscar, awarded in 2002)
  • at the time, it was the highest-grossing film in Japanese history
  • it bested Miyazaki's previous film as the highest-grossing Japanese film ever made
  • with an Alice-in-Wonderland like tale of a young 10 year-old girl (shojo) named Chihiro, who found a mysterious spirit world amusement park where she attempted to save her parents (who were transformed into pigs) by changing them back into humans, and then escape out of the spirit world before losing her own identity; she was aided by human boy Haku

The Cat Returns (2002, Jp.)
(aka Neko No Ongaeshi)
  • it was a spin-off or semi-sequel of the earlier anime film Whisper of the Heart (1995), focusing on the minor character - a cat figurine known as Baron that had come to life, and it involved a journey to a Cat Kingdom
  • the story was the creation of the protagonist (a high-school student) of the earlier film - it was another coming-of-age story about a high-school girl named Haru who could communicate with cats
  • it was the second Ghibli Studios anime not directed by Miyazaki or Takahata

Howl's Moving Castle (2004, Jp.)
  • an Academy Award-nominated film for Best Animated Feature Film, but lost the Oscar to the UK's Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
  • it was one of the most financially-successful Japanese films in history
  • the setting was a steampunk/gaslamp fantasy (fictional) world, where the main protagonist Sophie was transformed by a witch's curse into a 90 year-old woman; the story was about Sophie's quest to find the wizard Howl who could break the cursed spell; she found Howl in his floating castle along with Howl's young male apprentice Markl
  • this anime had a very strong anti-war message, as it followed the development of Sophie's romance with Howl during a time of war

Ponyo (2008, Jp.)
(aka Gake no ue no Ponyo, or Ponyo on the Cliff By the Sea)
  • this anime was distantly based upon Hans Christian Andersen's 1837 tale The Little Mermaid
  • its story followed the adventures and quest of Ponyo (a goldfish) to become human and find love with 5 year-old human boy Sosuke
  • it was Ghibli Studio's first film in years that was traditionally created -- completely hand-drawn (without any CGI); it was also Miyazaki's eighth film that he had directed for Ghibli
  • it was the highest-grossing Miyazaki movie in North America, at $15 million (domestic), and $201.8 million (worldwide), until the release of co-writer Miyazaki's The Secret World of Arrietty (2012, US release with American dub)
  • Arrietty was originally released in 2010 in Japan as Arrietty (aka The Borrower Arrietty); it was based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale Thumbelina; it became the highest-grossing theatrical Studio Ghibli release in the US, with a gross of $19.2 million (domestic), and $145.6 million (worldwide)

Others have created equally-inventive and beautiful animations, including:

  • director Yoshiaki Kawajiri's dark, excessively-violent and adult-oriented Wicked City (1987)
  • director Isao Takahata's Only Yesterday (1991) and Pom Poko (1994)
  • anime auteur Mamoru Oshii's cyber-punk, apocalyptic animated thriller, Ghost in the Shell (1995) - one of the most expensive anime films ever made, and the first made specifically for the international market

Satoshi Kon's Millenium Actress (2001) and the Pokemon series of children's films (beginning in 1999) were also notable examples of anime.

A Boom in CGI Animation in the 90s:

Cutting edge, computer-graphics imaging (CGI) has recently taken over the cinematic industry. A dazzling collection of state-of-the art computer animation footage in "The Mind's Eye" video series (from Miramar Productions) highlighted, documented, and showcased the vast array of computer artistry, CGI and visual magic in the early to mid-90s from various sources, with accompanying original music. The main videos in the showcase series included:

  • The Mind's Eye (1991)
  • Beyond the Mind's Eye (1992), including special effects clips from The Lawnmower Man (1992)
  • The Gate to the Mind's Eye (1994)
  • Odyssey into the Mind's Eye (1996)

Warner Bros' adult-oriented, dark animated adventure Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) - aka Batman: The Animated Movie, with an opening CGI sequence, was based on the '90s Saturday morning animated television series, and was the successor to the original comic-book hero and the two Tim Burton feature-film versions: Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). [Mark Hamill provided the humorous voice of the Joker.] Burton has become better known for his two ghoulishly clever stop-motion animation films with puppetry - The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Corpse Bride (2005) (with Johnny Depp as 19th century shy bridegroom Victor Van Dort who inadvertently married a 'corpse bride' voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), as well as for his James and the Giant Peach (1996).

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