Key Frames: Reese's Essential Animations

Reese Iliakis | SIFF | Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Key Frames: Reese's Essential Animations

Animation is a vast and rich medium of film that stretches all the way back to the beginning of movies. I say “medium” instead of “genre” because watching a good animation is akin to a day at an art gallery. Visual art can construct novel perspectives of the world; the artist’s perspective continuously reinterprets what we see and how we feel. Similarly, animation allows its creators to fully actualize the grand visions in their minds and invites the audience to expand our own visual imagination. The abstraction used in animation allows our brains to fill in the blanks and visually interpret what we see.

You may think of cartoons or Disney when you think of animation, or even wonder what its relevance is now that computer graphics allow live action films to present viewers with fantastic imagery. But the medium of animation lets us see the animators’ souls displayed on the screen. Experiencing a world through an artist’s eyes is an experience that we seek despite advances in technology. Oil painting survived the invention of photography.

If you’re looking to explore the medium more, here’s a list of some of my favorite animated feature films, each one an astounding piece of art in its own right. Enjoy!

Allegro non Troppo

Allegro non Troppo (1976)

You may be familiar with Disney’s Fantasia (1940), but have you heard of the Italian surrealist spoof of it? Featuring orchestral pieces such as Ravel’s Bólero and Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Allegro non Troppo showcases breathtaking styles of 2-D animation with more adult-oriented themes than its source material.

Fantastic Planet

Fantastic Planet (1973)

Any die-hard science fiction fan should watch René Laloux’s experimental art film Fantastic Planet. Featuring mind-bending, gorgeous visuals, this film asks us to consider what personhood is and how that defines our treatment of others. James Cameron WISHES his blue aliens were this cool.

Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent (2017)

This film is a masterpiece of rotoscoping (drawing animation cells over film stills). It is a biopic of the life of Vincent van Gogh, masterfully rendered in individual oil paintings à la van Gogh. Loving Vincent truly redefines what it means for every frame to be a painting.

A Bug’s Life

A Bug’s Life (1998)

It was a toss-up between this film and Toy Story for this list, but I landed on A Bug’s Life simply because of my personal connection to this film. I was obsessed with this film as a toddler, to the point where I insisted my teacher and parents call me Flik the ant for a fair chunk of time. My first gender envy was a blue ant named Flik and my mother will never let me forget that. Also we always love a story about rising up against oppressors, am I right?

Spirited Away

Spirited Away (2001)

If you watch one film from the illustrious Studio Ghibli, make it Spirited Away. This film’s got it all: Japanese folkloric references, grand visuals, a plucky heroine, drool-inducing foods, dragons, adventure… I could rave about this film for hours. This was the first Ghibli film I saw when I was a child and that first watch has stuck with me all those years. Take some time, perhaps with your family, to get lost in this fantastical bathhouse and soak in all of the rich storytelling.


Tekkonkinkreet (2006)

Now here is a film that exemplifies just how cool animation can be. Based on the manga series of the same name, Tekkonkinkreet follows two orphan brothers as they try to survive the streets of a futuristic pan-Asian city. This film is mind-boggling in all the details the artists added to the settings, allowing it to be as accurate as possible to the source material. I can just imagine the carpal tunnel one would get from drawing all that.


Coraline (2009)

The debut film of the PNW’s own stop-motion studio Laika, Coraline is a staple for weirdo kids everywhere. Based on Neil Gaiman’s fantastic novel, this film presents us with visuals that are, oddly enough, more unnerving for adult viewers than children.

The Triplets of Belleville

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

If you are looking for a wholly unique and funny animation, look no further than The Triplets of Belleville. This wild French animation has the most unique character designs I’ve seen and tells quite a grand story with very little dialogue and a lot of pantomime

Yellow Submarine

Yellow Submarine (1968)

Looking for some 60s psychedelia? The Beatles have got you covered with their animated jukebox musical Yellow Submarine. Free your mind and enjoy the film that I can only describe as exactly the kind of animation you would expect from The Beatles.


Akira (1988)

Akira takes us to one of the first cyberpunk worlds put to animation, Neo-Toyko. This film paved the way for anime in the Western world and has been an inspiration for many pieces of media to date such as The Matrix and Cyberpunk 2077. This is a must-see film for anyone interested in sci-fi and specifically the cyberpunk subgenre.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)

Gorgeously rendered in a painting style similar to sumi-e, The Tale of Princess Kaguya was the final film directed by Studio Ghibli’s Isao Takahata. Its style is distinct from other Ghibli films with its expressionistic brush strokes, evocative of the delicate story of the girl born from a bamboo stalk.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

I think about Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox quite frequently when I consider what my dream life would be: living in a burrow and having sardonic animal friends. Cottagecore girlies will appreciate the warm tones and handmade vibe of the film., and we can all appreciate the careful staging Anderson carries from his live action works into this stop-motion.


Redline (2009)

Look, I’m not usually one for racing films but damn Redline has a chokehold on me. I love the rich worldbuilding that this space racecar film has and all the wildly creative character designs. Also there’s an unexpected kaiju battle. Would recommend for the coolest of film buffs.

Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

This film is on the list of films I will never watch again. Not because it’s not good, but because it’s too good. Grave of the Fireflies will dispel any preconceptions you may have that animation is just a children’s genre. Bring out the tissue box as you experience the story of a boy and his young sister trying to survive in WW2 Japan after their entire town is firebombed. It’s notoriously hard for me to cry in a movie, but this one tore out my heart and put it in a blender.

Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea (2014)

It’s extremely difficult to choose just ONE film from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon since they are all perfect, but I’ll pick Song of the Sea. This film is a masterpiece in creating a magical and beautiful world with its lush watercolor backgrounds and storybook-like character designs. This is my go-to film when I need an emotional pick-me-up.


Persepolis (2007)

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, Persepolis holds true to the original art of the graphic novel and follows author Marjane Satrapi’s coming of age in revolutionary Iran. It’s a story that is both heartbreaking and funny and will always stick with me.

Watership Down

Watership Down (1978)

One of those really fun films that confused parents everywhere. My mother saw a talking rabbit animation at the Blockbuster and figured it would be perfect for her kid who loved talking animal movies. I mean, I did love it, but man it gets heavy and violent out of nowhere if you aren’t familiar with the source novel by Richard Adams. If you’ve always wanted a story that is Lord of the Rings but with rabbits and environmentalist/religious undertones, look no further.


Paprika (2006)

Think Christopher Nolan’s Inception was a novel idea? THIS is the original Inception! All of Satoshi Kon’s anime are stunners but I particularly like the dream imagery depicted in Paprika. I personally think this is better than the Nolan film, but I’m biased.

The Prince of Egypt

The Prince of Egypt (1998)

Ask anyone who knows me and they will assure you that I am not a religious person. If anything, I am a vehement agnostic, but this Dreamworks rendition of the story of Moses is jaw-droppingly beautiful and makes me understand why people are religious. Vetted by leaders in all the Abrahamic religions, The Prince of Egypt is as sweeping and grand as an animation can get.

Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse

Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse (2018)

Finally! Someone is innovating in 3-D animation beyond the Disney style! I’m generally lukewarm when it comes to superhero films, but solidly in love with this film. This is one of the best comic book adaptations I’ve seen that stays honest to the comic style while giving it that visual je nais se quois that only an animator can give. Looking forward to the sequel!

The Lion King

The Lion King (1994)

I would be remiss if I didn’t include the quintessential Disney renaissance film on this list. Every song is iconic, the animation is gorgeous, and made me want to eat insects. The Lion King probably kicked off my love for talking animal films and animation in general.

Kirikou and the Sorceress

Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998)

You may have caught on that I like a film that goes into folklore, and this film is another example. Kirikou and the Sorceress is the first of several adaptations of West African stories about a little boy hero named Kirikou who repeatedly saves his village. It is a joyful watch with stunning visuals. I first saw this one at SIFF and absolutely loved it.

Night on the Galactic Railroad

Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)

Based on the 1943 Japanese fantasy novel of the same name, this film inexplicably takes the human characters of the book and makes them anthropomorphic cats. This is a gorgeous but ominous tale about two boys traveling on a dream-like train—perhaps to the afterlife. I love a film that contemplates life and death.

The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle (2016)

Probably my all-time favorite castaway film. This animation follows the life of a man stranded on an island and who meets a mysterious red sea turtle who turns into a woman. This film has no dialogue but tells a story of love and loneliness with music and rich animation.

How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

We love a story that is about breaking out of generational biases and trauma and creating a more accepting world. Especially if that story has really fun designs for dragons, one of which looks just like my pet cat. A beautiful animation with a very important story to tell about acceptance and rebellion against unjust systems.

La Casa Lobo

La Casa Lobo (2018)

A terrifying film! Never before has a film with nary a drop of blood caused me such deep seated dread. I loved it. This is a very unique stop-motion film from Chile, framed as a film made by the cult leader of Colonia Dignidad to keep abused children in the cult from running away. A wholly unique horror film to keep you up at night.


Alice (1988)

Bored of the usual retellings of Alice in Wonderland? Craving a story full of stop-motion taxidermy and unsettling visuals? Jan Švankmajer has got you covered with his disconcerting surrealist stop-motion masterpiece. This is probably not a version of the story that would be great for children to watch, unless you want them to have nightmares.

Mad God

Mad God (2021)

Phil Tippett (known for his visual effects work on Jurassic Park and Star Wars) worked on this masterpiece for thirty years and boy did it pay off. He created a dark, dirty, surreal stop-motion hellscape the likes of which I have never seen before. This film truly is a labor of love shown through the detail and exactness put into all the strange characters. This is the kind of thing I wish to achieve in my life.

  • Date: March 8, 2023
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