The very first form of animation came in the form of a flip book in which drawings on pages could be rapidly flipped through to show the appearance of movement. Animated films first came into existence around the turn of the 20th century with George Melies as one of the first ever animated filmmakers and one of the most popular in the early years.
J. Stuart Blackton was one of the first Americans to use stop motion animation in film in the early 20th century. During the 1910s the animated film business gained traction and popularity and were coined cartoons and began to be shown before movies in the theaters as an extra dash of entertainment for moviegoers. It’s been an uphill trajectory since then with the animated film genre accounting for some of the most successful films of all time.
Aardman Animations is quite possibly the world’s foremost claymation animation film studio. The company was founded way back in 1972 based on the founders’ desire to produce an animated film. With their dream in hand they moved forward and began with short films for various clients, including the BBC.
For roughly 25 years Aardman worked on shorts and television shows, including the creation of the characters Wallace and Gromit. It was in 1997 that Aardman was finally given a chance to make a featured animated film. That film was Chicken Run and even though it took roughly six years to get to the screen it was a big hit, generating box office receipts over $100 million and taking in all kinds of critical plaudits. They’ve since worked regularly in feature films and continue to release new and successful movies.
If you’re making a list of the best 2d animated films of all time you’re thinking almost exclusively of Disney animation work (I know there’s a great deal of 2d animation that comes out of Japan but that’s going to be excluded from this conversation because not enough people see those movies). The Lion King probably belongs at the top of the list, at least based on audience and critical reception. It made a ton of money, it has enduring popularity, as evidenced by all the money it made upon being released again in 3D.
Beauty and the Beast was a 2d animated film so good it managed a nomination for best picture from the Academy. All the early Disney movies are considered classics and with good reason. They’re unbeatable (think Dumbo, Bambi, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, etc) and they have stood the test of time to maintain a place in the hearts and minds of audiences over the years.
There is only one animated film in the history of movies to cross $1 billion at the worldwide box office (as of this writing, at least). That film was released on June 18, 2010 and is the creation of Pixar, the foremost studio in 3d animated films. The movie stars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen along with a wide supporting cast and was directed by Lee Unkrich. In case you haven’t guessed, the movie is Toy Story 3.
There have been countless hugely popular animation films at the worldwide box office, including almost everything Pixar has released. Only one has been this popular though, with $415 million earned at the US box office and another $648 million earned at the worldwide box office. The fact that it’s a sequel helps box office numbers by goosing anticipation and the fact that it was in 3d made for higher ticket prices, which pushed it over the billion dollar mark.
It was the advent and huge popularity of 3d animated films that caused the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create a category specifically for animated films at the Oscar Awards. It’s called the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and it’s been awarded each year since 2001. That was the year Shrek was released and it also happened to take home the trophy. Up to that point the release of animated films simply wasn’t common enough to warrant a category all on its own. There simply wouldn’t have been enough nominees. Thanks to Pixar and the huge boom in popularity and quality of animated films there were more than enough nominees each year to warrant an award that people would care about. Thus they’ve been giving it out every year since and the number of worth nominees has only grown.
Disney animation films started way back in the 1940s with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and they’ve been steadily releasing them ever since. In those releases there are utter classics (Bambi, Dumbo, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, etc) and there are a number of forgettable films. They’ve all been wonderful children’s entertainment though, which is what Disney has been going for all along.
That’s why it was such an oddity when The Black Cauldron was released in 1985. It was an adventure story about a young man trying to save the universe from an evil king. It was PG thanks to its slightly more adult themes and at the time that was a big deal for a Disney animated film. It’s also probably what caused the movie to be a failure, unfortunately. Disney has since released a few other PG animated films but the rating is no longer an issue like it was back in 1985.
Pixar is the world’s most successful animated film company, without question. They’ve released 13 movies in a row that have debuted at number one at the box office, including their latest entitled Brave. They largely eschew sequels, which makes them even more amazing since they have to sell a totally new story to the audiences every time out and are still able to generate massive profits from doing so.
Toy Story was the first Pixar movie to get wide distribution and it was an instant hit. The storytelling was top notch, the voice acting great, and the animation style an amazing feat. The 3d animated films of Pixar continue to amaze audiences every year with only a few in their entire history that were not entirely beloved. They’ve picked up a number of Academy Awards for their excellence and they continue to be nominated yearly and will likely be the most successful animated films company long into the future.
There are many ways to measure the success of an animated film but we’re talking box office grosses for this article. At the top of the domestic all time gross list you’ll find Shrek 2, a movie that arrived at the perfect time. The first Shrek was well-liked by parents and kids alike for its traditional story and its pop culture references. Plus, it sort of poked fun at all the Disney storylines over the years and that delighted people. Anticipation was high for the second, which is how it went on to gross $441 million in the US. The Lion King stands a close second after a recent re-release saw its total grow to $422 million in the US. You’ll find Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo close behind those entries and if you go down the rest of the list it’s filled with the works of Pixar in particular and Dreamworks Animation a little less.
3d animation films revolutionized the business of family filmmaking in Hollywood, leading to scores of blockbusters. There was a time when it was really just Disney making animated films since they had a knack for telling classic stories in a family friendly kind of way and making the animation amazing. Other studios tried every now and then but you really need an entire animation department to do it right and most didn’t have one.
Then 3d animation films (Toy Story style 3d films, not the kind of 3d you need glasses for) came along and every studio wanted in. It took a while, of course, and Disney was the first to get in on it by signing a deal with the most successful 3d film studio of all time, Pixar. Pixar is now owned by Disney and just about every other major studio has a competing 3d animation film arm and across all the studios they crank up terrific new movies every year.
Stop motion animation involves physically manipulating objects and shooting them one frame at a time to create that sense of motion. It’s a painstaking process and it was among the first to be experimented with and is still used to this day. Nowadays computers can be used to create stop motion animation films, which greatly speeds up the time it takes to produce them. Before computers it was labor intensive work.
There are several types of stop motion animation films. Puppet animation involves puppets moving around in a tightly constructed environment to show size. Claymation is pretty self explanatory in that the characters are made from clay or appear that way and allow for greater manipulation of the characters through the movement of the clay. Gumby is a great example of claymation. If you’ve seen the first episode of South Park (and some subsequent episodes) you know about cutout animation, which seems simple but takes ages.