3 Stop Motion Films That Are Utterly Arresting
It’s been nearly 25 years since Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas opened, launching a full-blown renaissance in stop-motion animation. Prior, the technique had only been used sparingly – in old movies like King Kong or Jason and the Argonauts, or in simple strokes on TV (Gumby, Mad Monster Party, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer).
Now stop-motion is everywhere, in spite of its painstakingly slow process. There are many excellent ones out there, and there’s something quite magical about the visuals that really appeal to kids of all ages.
The Aardman Studios Wallace and Gromit film series is a given in the arena of timeless classics, and they have been covered endlessly elsewhere. So instead, here are my top three stop-motion movies, a few you may have forgotten about:
Chicken Run is actually made by Aardman Studios; but it’s definitely a bird of a different feather from Wallace and Gromit. It’s an edge of your seat thriller – with homage to classic cinema like The Great Escape, Stalag 17, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. But it’s imbued with so much smart comedy and heart, it’s suitable for all ages.
The premise is a bit scary (farm animals trying to avoid their inevitable fate: a delicious pot-pie) but the movie is light, entertaining, and subtly moralistic as well. The lessons to be learned are the importance of teamwork and the strength of true friendships. Once the escape plan is hatched and the chase is on, it’s poultry in motion with incredible animation, stunning visuals, and a stirring score. Voice talents include Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, and Timothy Spall.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is tailored from Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s novel, and brought to life by oddball auteur Wes Anderson. This is certainly one of the most artistic and thoughtful stop motion animation films I’ve ever seen. Youngsters will either be compelled by the deliberate pacing, or completely bored.
Whereas in Chicken Run the humans are the antagonists, Mr. Fox is the one tormenting farmers with his constant hen house break-ins. The dioramic visual style is right in line with Anderson’s live action films, and the story is also true to the director’s usual existential explorations: meet halfway for family’s sake, and the final realization that if you’re true to yourself, it’s no compromise at all. Voice talents include George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murray.
Coraline is the very first stop-motion animated feature filmed specifically for 3D. It’s adapted from a highly imaginative graphic novel by visionary Neil Gaiman, and follows the darkly fantastical adventures of Coraline, an only child who longs for a different life. Wending her way through a secret door in the basement of her home, she finds in it an alternate universe (Think: a mini-version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe).
While Coraline’s real parents are busy, brusque, and businesslike, her “other” mother and dad are warm, attentive, and loving. Perhaps too much so…they want Coraline to stay with them forever and ever and ever. There is some pretty strong horror imagery (wretched rats, ocular assaults, ghoulish ghosts). And the look of the film is true to director Henry Selick’s off-kilter animation (James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas).
Coraline is a delight, but recommended only for older kids. Voice talents include Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, and Ian McShane.
BONUS WATCH: Bygone Behemoth, an award-winning short film, free online.
Do your kids go crazy for stop motion? Share your favorites with us!
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