Snob Top Ten: Underrated Animated Films of All-Time!

Animation. It is a unique storytelling device, and one that’s been used in cinema since the late 1920’s in a feature film format when Walt Disney created Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, unlike this cinematic landmark, however, some animated films get lost in time. This can happen for a variety of reasons the most paramount of which is that they failed at the box-office. Some had themes that went beyond the medium of animation of skewed a bit too dark for the audience animation is normally targeted towards…children. Regardless of the reason, it’s been forgotten I asked people from around the internet for their input in putting this list together. I took 60+ lists from fans pundits, and cinephiles around the web and gave each persons top pick ten points and the tenth pick one point and so on and so forth. Having said all that I took into account films that are predominantly animated so flicks like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Cool World are disqualified. Let’s get started! 

10. Hercules (1997):  Telling the tale of the half man half god who is trying to find his place in the world despite being an anomaly given his god-like strength and athleticism. Hercules searches for his meaning and tries to impress the chicks as well in this 1997 Disney animated film. With Hades on his tail and Phil and his butt there’s no telling what Hercules will turn into, will he become the hero Phil so wants to be known for or will his Achilles heel be a heel, or toe, or his very own ego.

What Went Wrong: Perhaps it was the off-putting change in style from the other Disney films of the 90’s. Maybe the Greek Mythology background didn’t connect with children in 1997.Whatever the reason Hercules from Disney is a great, fun film with a villain who made our Top Ten Disney Villains. Even with that great character and Danny DeVito’s turn as the satyr named Philoctetes who trains champions, and the previously hinted at Hades (voiced spectacularly by James Woods) this funny, funky musical had all the ingredients to succeed, but it really didn’t make only 99.1 million on an 85 million dollar budget this is least profitable animated feature from the booming 1990’s. As an aside, the critical failures of Gnomeo and Juliet and Chicken Little faired better than this at the box office.

9. The Road to El Dorado (2000): When looking at this film it’s best to understand its context. This was Dreamworks second hand drawn animated feature, more on that later. For what it is, a tale of two greedy con men (voiced wonderfully by Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh) who go in search of the legendary City of Gold after they are given a map to the titular city. But while trying to escape the grasps of Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernan Cortes they are unwillingly put through whacky situations

What Went Wrong: Is there just something against animating historical events? Much like the previous film here this one too is written about something from history (though this is more based in reality). This one cost upwards of 95 million dollars and only made 50 million dollars. So what was it? Was it the overly sexualized female lead character? Was it a general disinterest, and trust of the Dreamworks name? It could have been any number of things that lead to this great film being grossly underseen. Looking back on it now there are certainly breadcrumbs of where Dreamworks would head in the 2000’s.

8. Chicken Run (2000): In Dreamworks first foray into stop motion animation with Aardman and Nick Park they tell the quirky little story of some chickens (two of which are voiced by Mel Gibson and Imelda Staunton) who try to escape  the wrath of the evil Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) and her chicken farm. More than that though is a pseudo love story involving the charismatic Rocky the Rooster and one of the chickens named Ginger. This film has everything a good animated film should. Interesting character, quip stuffed dialogue, and cool bits of adventure. In addition, this film made back it’s budget twice. So what happened, why isn’t this film in the conversation with Wallace and Gromit, The Nightmare Before Christmas, despite making more money than both of these films theatrically.

What Went Wrong: It is really, really British. That can throw off some viewers and may have had a small effect on the perception of this film amongst normal viewing audiences in the United States. I don’t know what it could be, but this is an underrated animated film for sure. It doesn’t make any sense as to how this film doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It’s the start in the series of Aardman stop motion films Dreamworks did to go along with two other very underrated films Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit, and Flushed Away.

7. A Bug’s Life (1998): After the massive success of 1995’s contemporary classic Toy Story it would take three years for its studio Pixar to follow up with a new film. And on November 25th of 1998 Pixar’s sophomore effort arrived in the form of A Bugs Life. The story which is a retelling of an Aesop’s fable introduces us to Flik, an ant who dreams big and wants to help his colony out by having them defeat their grasshopper foils, the leader of which is Hopper (voiced brilliantly by Kevin Spacey). The film made 363 million on its 120 million dollar budget so you might ask yourself why is it on this list?, Well, we’ll get to the reasons. Featuring direction by John Lasseter and a screenplay written by Andrew Stanton this is a funny and charming David vs Goliath tale…with a Bavarian caterpillar.

What Went Wrong:  This film is on this list simply because people don’t remember it. When you look back at early Pixar this is an oft forgotten. Many confuse it with Dreamworks similarly themed 1998 release Antz to which an animated battle line had been crossed and a “rivalry” started. This is one of those movies that suffers from the excellence that followed it. When Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo directly followed it.

6. Balto (1995): Based on the real life story of a part husky part wolf canine who is the only hope for the village of Nome, which is going through an outbreak of diphtheria. Balto is the cities only hope as a team of huskies with the antidote are stuck due to bad weather. This was Steven Speilberg’s production company Amblin Entertainment’s third venture into the animated realm under the Amblimation branch. It was also it’s they’re a third domestic failure.  Following the flopping of both American Tail: Fievel Goes West, and We’re Back: A Dinosaur Adventure. Though none of the three got great critical reviews, even more damning is those financial losses. So what was it that went wrong with this real-life story?

What Went Wrong: There’s a number of things that could have attributed to this film’s failure, but the one thing you can’t point to is the release date. It came out December 22nd. Sure that just exactly a month after the game-changing Toy Story, but that’s Christmas season…and this movie takes place in the freaking snow! It’s often difficult to gauge why things don’t work but given Amblin’s history, it could be said people just don’t care about their productions. Check out Balto if you get a chance it’s pretty darn good.

5.Treasure Planet (2002): Mixing traditional 2D animation with CGI to bring Robert Louis Stevenson novel to life this is a more modern telling of that story. In place of a high seas swashbuckling adventure this story tells of space pirates and features a bevy of new and interesting characters. Likewise, this is an all-star voice cast featuring Oscar winner Emma Thompson, and actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Hyde Pierce, and Martin Short. This cast mixed with a story everyone is familiar with should’ve proven to be a profitable venture for the normal money making Disney. This was certainly not the cast as Treasure Planet yielded only 38.1 million (on a 140 million dollar budget) dollars domestically, and was hammered by critics at the time.

What Went Wrong: Aside from no one seeing it. I think the mix of CGI and hand drawn was just too much for audiences at the time. Most didn’t know what to make of it, and these contributing factors are most certainly the reasons this great, fun space adventure doesn’t get the deserved amount of respect and credit it truly deserves. Treasure Planet is available on Netflix right now! Head over there and watch it immediately!

4.The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996): Based on the Victor Hugo novel this 1996 Disney animated picture is a unique one. With religious undertones, dark imagery, and a decidedly gothic cinematography and setting this is one that can thrill, and simultaneously push the emotions out you. Some of its subject manner isn’t typical of a Disney animated feature, but that doesn’t mean anything in regards to how great this film is. With songs that are equal parts epic, and choral. In particular, the song “Hellfire” has a sensibility not seen in many other songs for the House of Mouse.

What Went Wrong: Perhaps it was the mature themes that lead to it being a forgotten gem. It certainly wasn’t the receipts here in the U.S. as it made back it’s budget here domestically while making twice that overseas. I think the main problem is the presence of the fire, the talking gargoyles, and the French gothic setting really hasn’t struck families in a more contemporary light. That’s a shame because it’s a fantastic film. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is currently available on Netflix to watch instantly. So…you know…do it!

3.The Secret of Nimh (1982): A story about a widowed mouse whose home is under threat of demolition The Secret of NIMH is an adaptation of the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H. More importantly, this was a film made by a group of former Disney animators lead by Don Bluth. Bluth would go on to make some interesting animated flicks throughout the 80’s and 90’s, and this was not only the first among those but arguably the best. With a Jerry Goldsmith score and interesting premise this film seemed poised for success, however, that was not the case. Even with these cool devices, the film couldn’t beat out two re-issues by Bluth’s former employer. Disney re-releases of both Peter Pan and Bambi both made more than this film.

What Went Wrong: As was probably the case with our number three pick this one might have just been too scary for the “intended” audiences. Another kicker is that no one knew anything about this project at the time it was released. No one knew what style Bluth and company were going to use. What was known was that it was a story of a mouse trying to protect her young. That doesn’t necessarily warrant huge box-office numbers. And it didn’t as it only made 14.6 million dollars.

2. The Prince of Egypt (1998): Based on the Bible story of brothers Moses and Rameses that takes place in the book of Exodus. This was Dreamworks first foray into hand-drawn animation and second animated film following 1998’s Antz which was released two months prior. Here in beautiful hand drawn frames is a complete version of this Exodus story ever created (Sorry Ridley Scott). This film had every thing it took to be a winner, great voice acting, amazing visuals, and a great story told with music written by Hans Zimmer. These are all admirable traits that lead to the film making 14 million dollars in it’s opening weekend (getting beaten out by of all things You’ve Got Mail). The film totaled over 101 million which made it Dreamworks biggest film of 1998. So why is it so high on this list?

What Went Wrong: Well it’s biblical origins were certainly a turn off for some. Likewise, however, this could be the reason for it’s box office success. Films of that nature tend to do well but become forgotten. Let’s not forget this film, because it’s an animated masterpiece. This is a movie that sinks its claws into you, doesn’t let you go and even better it’s available on Netflix so go ahead and watch it…wait until you’re done reading this and then go!

1.The Iron Giant(1999): Topping our list is a film that at the time of release didn’t get the love it deserved, but now is often considered a modern masterpiece of animated cinema. It provokes all possible emotions. Brad Bird really nails the heart strings as well as the kid in us all with this magnificent boy and his dog tale turned upside down. The bird was able to do all of this and yet none of that mattered as it failed miserably at the box-office. Making back only 23 of its 70 million dollar budget. But what happened that caused this? Let’s take a look at the possibilities.

What Went Wrong: Number one reason this film may have failed is picking the wrong weekend to open it. Not only did this open up against Mystery Men and The Thomas Crown Affair two fairly big movies, but it also had to contend with the growing buzz around The Blair Witch Project. To top it all off it had one last hurdle in it’s the way this opening week and it was one it would never overcome the phenomenon that was The Sixth Sense. An animated feature in this landscape just ended up getting back to school buried. I’m quite certain had this film opened up a month earlier it would have fared far better. For all intents and purposes, however, this film is earned a substantial cult following. Once again this great film is available on Netflix…so go watch it.

What do you guys think? What are your favorite animated gems we may have forgotten? Feel free to use that comment section below and share this on all the things!

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