This film is very hard to see, because Disney won't release it in fear of offending African Americans. It's too bad, because the animation (supervised by the great Milt Kahl) is to my estimation the highest point of Disney films. The characters of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear were influenced by the seminal work of A. B. Frost.
However, Disney artists really let loose with their character development, at at times it equals Bob Clampett in terms of humor and design.
No. 5: "Yellow Submarine" (George Dunning)
This was the inspiration for my first feature film, "The Tune" (1991)
I saw "Yellow Submarine" as a senior in college and it blew my mind! What a marvelous blend of music and imagery! The designs are by Heinz Edelman (who recently passed away) His background was in illustration, but the numerous fantastic characters populating this film are so inventive and beautifully designed, you'd think he grew up in animation. It's the greatest union of music and visuals I've ever seen. And they made it in a year with no story!
No. 4. "Dumbo"
One of the perfect Disney films – a gem. Great story, terrific character design, wonderful backgrounds, super humor and heart-rending emotions. And all in 62 minutes – it's one of the all-time classic animated features.
No. 3: "Porco Rosso" (Hayao Miyazaki)
I believe this film is the best of the Japanese master's films. It has terrific visuals, with lush backgrounds and fabulous action scenes. Also, of all of Miyazaki's stories, this is the most coherent and makes the most sense. (I still don't know what "Howl's Moving Castle" is about.) Also, this film has a wonderful bawdy sense of humor which is lacking in a lot of his more recent films.
No. 2: "How to Train Your Dragon" (Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois – Dreamworks)
When this film first came out, I refused to watch – I feared it would be a rehash of the Shrek cartoons. But Chris Wedge of BlueSky insisted that I go see it and I'm glad I did! What a marvel of a film. The character design is fantastic, the story is so charming and engaging. But of particular note are the flying sequences in full 3D. I believe they match and perhaps surpass the wonderful flying sequence from "Avatar". And that's a pretty high bar. This film really puts to use the full powers of animation, this is what animation is for!
No. 1: "Mind Game" (Masaaki Yuasa)
This film came out about 5 years ago and because of a few lame reviews in Japan, this film flopped and was pulled from circulation. What a tragedy – to my mind, it's the "Citizen Kane" of animation. And because it's from Japan, don't think it's anime – it's not. It's a wonderful blend of East and West styles of animation. But the storytelling technique is what really sets it apart. He uses strange views and exaggerated visions multiple times to convey an action – and sometimes, as in the escape from the whale's mouth, he goes on and on with a piece of action, but it's never boring because he ratchets up the intensity with each subsequent shot. How he does that? I do not know. But then, that's why this film is genius.