This year's top animated films.
1. “ParaNorman”: This has been a banner year for animated horror films. “Hotel Transylvania” gave Adam Sandler his best role in years, while “Frankenweenie” was a witty recreation of classic monster movies. “ParaNorman” stood head and shoulders above the rest, offering bigger scares and more memorable characters. An emotionally thrilling tale of a boy who can see dead people, this stop-motion animated wonder combines the fun of “The Goonies” with the spookiness of “Coraline”. Overtly sympathetic to outsiders and bullied kids, “ParaNorman” has a big heart and a cautionary message summed up by the junior medium's deceased grandmother: “There's nothing wrong with being scared, as long as you don't let it change who you are.”
2. “Wreck-It Ralph”: A big lug who's sick and tired of playing the villain in an 8-bit video game, Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the year's most original animated character. While Disney's latest is appropriate for youngsters, viewers who are old enough to have spent time at the local arcade will get a kick out of the constant references to games like "Mario" and "Sonic the Hedgehog". This is a movie of endless invention, creating not one but three different video-game worlds. Jack McBrayer gets a lot of laughs as the hero of Ralph's game, “Fix-It Felix”; Jane Lynch has a hilarious backstory as the ultimate bug-killing machine in a “Starship Troopers”-like game called “Hero's Duty”; and Sarah Silverman is predictably adorable as a wannabe race-car driver in “Sugar Rush”, a game that looks to have been modeled after “Candy Land”. After 2010's “Tangled” and now “Wreck-It Ralph”, Disney is on a roll with its theatrical animated features.
3. “The Secret World of Arrietty”: If you’ve never seen a movie produced by Studio Ghibli (co-founded by Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki), you’re missing out on some real treats. Beautifully hand-drawn in the old pre-CGI style, “The Secret World of Arrietty” is an adaptation of “The Borrowers”, Mary Norton’s classic fantasy novel. It concerns a kind boy named Sho and the friendship he develops with a thimble-sized girl named Arrietty, whose family lives beneath the floorboards of Sho’s house. Some of the characters might be small, but the emotions are big, as the children form a brief bond that will change the course of their lives forever. “Arrietty” serves as a good introduction to Studio Ghibli. After this, younger viewers will be ready to tackle masterpieces like “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away”.
4. “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”: Until fairly recently, sequels to animated movies were a strictly direct-to-video affair, defined by cheaper production costs and an overall drop in quality. These days, they have the potential to be even better than the original. Case in point: “Madagascar 3”, a consistently funny and eye-popping romp that spans the globe in 93 fast-paced minutes. The series’ most beloved characters are in fine form. Julien the lemur (voiced by Sascha Baron Cohen) falls head over heels for a circus bear, while Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) sings a catchy new tune, “Afro Circus”, which will have you in stitches.
5. “La Luna” and “The Longest Daycare:” These extremely short animated movies – both clock in at under seven minutes – are even better than the feature-length films they played in front of in theatres. Pixar’s Oscar-nominated “La Luna”, which played with the Scottish adventure “Brave”, is a magical tale that features one of Pixar’s most breathtaking images: fallen stars being swept from the surface of the moon. “The Longest Daycare”, which played with last summer’s sequel “Ice Age: Continental Drift”, is the second “Simpsons” movie to be shown in theatres in the last half-decade. A silent film that makes clever use of infant Maggie’s inability to talk, it recalls the glorious early days of television’s longest-running animated show.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. His reviews have appeared in The University Daily Kansan and at FilmNet.com. He has purchased tickets for the IMAX show of “The Hobbit” and is terrifically excited to be returning to Middle Earth. He lives in Wichita.