My Neighbor Totoro (1988) Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
No one wanted Totoro. From the first pitches by Miyazaki and his producer Toshio Suzuki in the early 1980s, they were rejected by multiple studios who didn’t believe that such a pastoral, simple story about two little girls and the spirits of the forest would appeal to too few people. This was also the first film from Miyazaki to take place in an identifiable 1950s Japan, further diminishing the escapist fantasy the distributors were looking for. When My Neighbor Totoro was released, it was shown as a double-feature with Grave of the Fireflies, a brutal tragedy about Japan’s victims of the American atomic bombing. It wasn’t until a year after its release when it began airing on television that My Neighbor Totoro finally found its fan following.
Like an old relationship, I fell out of love with The Simpsons a lifetime ago. When we were together, it was an all-consuming passion, a primary element in shaping who I am today. When we fell out of love, it was sudden and cold. No regrets. That said, revisiting these episodes was a lot of fun, and I was reminded of how comprehensively the series was a part of my regular communication as a child and adolescent. So many of these phrases were uttered by myself and my siblings. I think The Simpsons was one of many touchstones that taught me about humor and how to be funny.
Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story (2020) Written by Ron Cicero Directed by Ron Cicero & Kimo Easterwood
I was ten years old when Ren & Stimpy debuted, but I was never anything close to a fan. This was simply because I lived in a rural area that didn’t even have cable lines running to the houses on my street. We were a single income household with four kids, so my parents didn’t really see a value in paying for satellite service either. So for me, this whole phenomenon passed me buy despite my being the right age to become enamored with the series.
World of Tomorrow (2015) World of Tomorrow – Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts (2017) Written & Directed by Don Hertzfeldt
Don Hertzfeldt is a revelation in the world of contemporary animation. I thoroughly enjoyed his film It’s Such a Beautiful Day and wasn’t sure what The World of Tomorrow would be like. I was astonished. This is a fantastic animated piece that goes deeper than most live-action films would be willing to do. Profoundly deep thoughts are uttered during both of these short films that should resonate with an audience. Yet, Hertzfeldet was able to balance this with genuinely hilarious moments of comedy.
We’re starting off the short film showcase this year with a trio of fantastic animated films.
The Hill Farm (1986, directed by Mark Baker) Mark Baker is the creator of Peppa Pig, but before that he made some fantastic animated shorts that played at festivals. This one tells of a few days in the life of a farmer and the visitors who come to their farm.
Over the Garden Wall (2014) Born out of the inspiration that Adventure Time brought to Cartoon Network, Over the Garden Wall is a mini-series following two brothers wandering through a mysterious forest and encountering strange people. The series was created by Patrick McCale, who had previously worked on Adventure Time and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. Over the Garden Wall is a deep dive into the Americana aesthetic of the 19th & early 20th centuries. Many musical numbers consist of pre-1950s phonograph recordings. You’ll be reminded of early animation from the 1920s & 30s in many of these episodes. There’s such a remarkable charm to this show that few animated series possess. It’s funny while being genuinely terrifying at moments, enigmatic and wistful. It’s a program that understands what nostalgia actually is and how that feeling is different from reality. Our protagonists drift through abstract forest landscapes emerging into the dreams and fantasies of others, interacting for a while before being pulled into another story.
Big Hero 6 (2014) Written by Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, and Dan Gerson Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams
In 2004, Pixar released The Incredibles, a superhero film ahead of the curve with Iron Man and the MCU not launching until four years later. My first thoughts after the end credits rolled were that Brad Bird and company had succeeded in making the best Fantastic Four film, which would be proven correct when Fox released the groaningly terrible FF live-action movie in 2005. Bird understood the core essence of these characters and about the fundamentals of what drives kids of all ages to lose themselves in an afternoon of comic book reading.
With the release of the CG Lion King remake, I got to thinking about which Disney movies I love that don’t get that love in return. Here are my thoughts on my favorite underrated Disney animated flicks.
The Sword in the Stone (1963, dir. Wolfgang Reitherman) While you might think this Disney version of the legend of King Arthur is just based on general stories it is, in fact, an adaptation of T.H. White which was one volume of four in The Once and Future King series, which was in turn a more modern updating of Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Not only that, Walt Disney was inspired to approve the project as the studio’s next feature after seeing the Broadway musical Camelot in 1960. Instead of a high adventure film, The Sword in the Stone is a light comedy, focusing purely on Arthur’s adolescence and the first few months of training with the wizard Merlin. The primary arc of the film is not about Arthur becoming the king but finding strength and bravery within himself. Along the way, there’s lots of great visual comedy, especially when Merlin and his rival Madam Mim start breaking out the spells.
The Lion King (1994) Written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton Directed by Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff
I just never saw the original Lion King. I was 13 when the film came out, and in our large family, we couldn’t afford a lot of theater trips. My siblings watched Beauty and the Beast to an absurd level so that film dominated the Disney obsession our home. With the release of the computer-animated remake this weekend, I thought it was a good time to finally watch this seminal animated movie, which is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year.