The Weekend Rent: Avant-garde Animation of the Last 10 Years

The Weekend Rent: Avant-garde Animation of the Last 10 Years

Mar 04, 2011

Look for an animated chameleon voiced by Johnny Depp to be the top movie at the box office this weekend. Rango is directed by Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean director, Gore Verbinski, and features the voices of Isla Fisher, Alfred Molina, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant and more. Rango, like any other chameleon, tries desperately to fit into his surroundings. When he is accidentally jettisoned from his owners' car and left marooned in the Mojave Desert, Rango is forced to question everything about himself as he struggles to find his footing in the Old West amongst the colorful desert denizens of Dirt.

Rango is not your typical animated fare (i.e. it's not an overly-sentimental Pixar film or wannabe). The sometimes photo-realistic animation is jaw-dropping in its detail and Rango's existential crisis makes for a weird and wonderful journey that adults can enjoy as well. While the past 10 years at the box office have been dominated by Pixar films and its clones—cutesy films featuring the zany antics of bug-eyed critters that conveniently make excellent plush toys—a few animated offerings have discarded the Pixar template and gone in a different direction. Here are five of Blu-ray Bob's favorites.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: Zack Snyder's darkly beautiful tale about a legendary alliance of owls sworn to protect the Kingdom of Ga'Hoole features the voices of Jim Strurgess, Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, Ryan Kwanten and many more. All the owls are so intricately detailed with their feathers and mannerisms that you sometimes forget that you are watching computer animation instead of avian actors. The movie is a little dark to pacify the wee ones, which is probably why it didn't make Pixar-sized bucks at the domestic box office. For a change of pace, it's worth checking out on either DVD, Blu-ray or Blu-ray 3D.

9: This post-apocalyptic adventure about some numbered rag dolls that struggle to survive in a world decimated by the soul-stealing Fabrication Machine is too bleak for young children, but adults will appreciate the strange landscape populated by unusual characters and its borderline mystical theme. Directed by Shane Acker and featuring the voices of Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Crispin Glover and Martin Landau, 9 is available on both DVD and Blu-ray.

Coraline: This bizarre stop-motion fantasy is about a little girl named Coraline who moves with her family into a dreary new house and whose parents are too busy to play with her. Left on her own to explore, Coraline finds a secret passage into the "Other World," populated by doppelgangers of her family that seem too good to be true. When her Other Mother's sinister true intentions are revealed, Coraline realizes she must be careful what she wishes for. Coraline is available on DVD and Blu-ray, each with an anaglyph 3D version that comes packaged with those old red-and-blue glasses. There is also a Blu-ray 3D version for those with true 3D capabilities.

Corpse Bride: Directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson, Corpse Bride also features the voice of Rango himself, Mr. Depp, as well as that of Helena Bonham Carter. This gleefully Gothic stop-motion movie features Depp as a young man about to be married who, while practicing his vows in a forest, places his wedding ring on a root and inadvertently pledges everlasting love to the titular character—a zombie bride who has been murdered by her fiancé. What's most fascinating about this feature is that the world of the living seems drab, gray and dull, but the underworld—populated by the dead and creepy crawlers—is vibrant, colorful and festive. This dead man's party is available on both DVD and Blu-ray.

Spirited Away: Remember when animation was in 2D? That is like asking a kid if they remember VCRs today, but writer-director Hayao Miyazaki won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature for this imaginative 2001 anime film about a sullen little girl moving to a new neighborhood who discovers a magical bathhouse populated by spirits, monsters and a witch. The movie unfolds like a colorful fever dream and the creativity on display here—from the hierarchy of creatures in the bathhouse to the movie's spiritual themes—puts modern cookie-cutter 3D animated flicks to shame. Spirited Away is currently only available on DVD.

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