Hello, everyone! In honor of the upcoming launch of Disney’s new streaming service Disney+, I shall be releasing a series of posts dedicated to the art of trash-talk. Why bash such a beloved company? You might as well ask David why he wanted to fight Goliath. Disney is perhaps one of the world’s most insidious companies. They’re a veritable wolf-in-sheep’s clothing, masquerading as a friend while attempting to gorge themselves on the entire American entertainment industry. And while I can’t stop Disney+ from launching, or prevent the inevitable destruction of independent media companies, I can write some blog posts telling them to go to hell. They might own 35% of the film industry, but they don’t own me.
For my first anti-Disney post, we’re going back to basics. One of Disney+’s most appealing features is its massive catalogue of Disney animated classics. Where once you had to search high and wide to find Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast online, now you’ll be able to find every Disney film ever produced on their convenient streaming app. Isn’t that convenient?
Don’t fall for it, my friends. Disney+ is the carrot, and the stick is soon to come. Instead of spending your money on consuming the same Disney films that you’ve watched since time immemorial, why not watch animated films that exist outside of Disney’s suffocating ideology? To make it even easier for you, I’ve compiled a list of five of the best non-Disney animated films, in no particular order, to show you that there are still options, even if the entertainment world is going to hell.
The Iron Giant
Directed by: Brad Bird / Produced by: Warner Bros
Synopsis: In the midst of the Cold War, nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes discovers an enormous robot that has seemingly come from outer space. After befriending the robot, Hogarth must contend with a paranoid and pugilistic government that is intent on destroying his new friend.
Worth the watch: One of the earlier films by Brad Bird, the same visionary behind The Incredibles and Ratatouille, The Iron Giant combines a gorgeously retro animation style with a poignant story of friendship and an anti-war message. The script is clever and laugh-out loud funny, but still provides an emotional wallop, and an especially harrowing final sequence. The film is suitable for viewers of all ages. Though young children may be confused by some of the more complex themes, they will still be engaged by the quick story and beautiful animation.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
Directed by: Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook / Produced by: DreamWorks
Synopsis: Raised to be the leader of his herd since birth, Spirit has always had control over his vast domains in the American West. When he investigates a mysterious campfire, he is captured by cavalry soldiers and put to work for the American military. Thus begins Spirit’s journey from free horse to slave. As he fights to return to his family, he meets many friends along the way, including a tenacious Native American fighter named Little Creek, and Spirit’s future mate, a free-spirited horse named Rain.
Worth the watch: Spirit is quite different from a traditional Disney animated film. There are no talking animals, very little dialogue, and the plot relies mostly on visual cues and some internal voice-over narration to keep it moving. A love letter to the pre-industrialized West, the film encapsulates mythic American values of freedom, righteousness, and equality into the battle between horse and man. Also interesting is the film’s inclusion of Little Creek, a Lakota tribesman who, like Spirit, is captured by American cavalrymen. Although the film never explicitly condemns the violent treatment of Native Americans at the hands of Americans, it’s not difficult to see Spirit’s story as a metaphor for the plight of subjugated Native Americans and the industrialization of the West.
Directed by: Henry Selick / Produced by: Laika
Synopsis: Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, the film follows eleven-year-old Coraline, a curious and intelligent girl who moves with her parents to a new home in Oregon. Once there, Coraline discovers an alternate reality where her Other Mother and Other Father live in a world almost exactly like her own, only better. As Coraline investigates this new world, she realizes that not everything is as it seems with the Other Mother, and must save herself from a frightening future.
Worth the watch: Coraline is bizarre, to say the least. Crafted with the same creepy stop-motion style as Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas, the film pushes the boundaries of normal animation and keeps the viewer suspended in an eerie nightmare world. That said, the film is a joy to watch. It’s weird, unpredictable, clever, and exciting. Younger viewers might initially be uneasy with characters like the Other Mother, and some scenes are downright frightening, but the film is so skillfully crafted that a few scary scenes go down easily.
The Prince of Egypt
Directed by: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells / Produced by: DreamWorks
Synopsis: Based on the Old Testament story, the film re-tells Moses’s evolution from Pharaoh’s adopted son to savior of the Jewish people.
Worth the watch: No need to be religious to watch this film, as even without the biblical aspects, The Prince of Egypt is a fantastically animated tale of family drama, national unrest, and one man’s quest to right injustice. The voice acting is top-notch, featuring acclaimed actors like Ralph Fiennes, Val Kilmer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny Glover, Sandra Bullock, etc. The animation style is a beautiful hybrid of traditional 2D drawing and stunning 3D computer graphics, and the soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer, is as emotionally stirring as an opera. Overall, the film compels your attention from start to finish. As someone who has watched it countless times over the past fifteen years, it has aged like a fine wine. The film does deal with mature themes, especially when it comes to the more gruesome aspects of the Plagues, but since tiny children have been forced to read the Bible for thousands of years, I don’t think watching this movie will do any worse damage to their psyches.
Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki / Produced by: Studio Ghibli
Synopsis: After a trip to an abandoned amusement park with her family, ten-year-old Chihiro finds herself in a realm of capricious spirits and must find her way back to the human world.
Worth the watch: What can I say about this film that hasn’t already been said? Considered by many critics to be one of the best animated films of all time, Spirited Way is an absolutely transporting film. You’ll leave Planet Earth for two hours, only to find yourself confused and saddened when the credits roll. Like many Studio Ghibli films, Spirited Away deals with the fantastical. Spirits and ghouls and anthropomorphic turnips abound, but at its essence, the film is about coming to terms with adolescence and overcoming one’s fear of change. The animation is superb, the music (composed by Ghibli staple Joe Hisaishi) is gorgeous, and the acting is perfect. That said, if you’ve never seen a Studio Ghibli film, prepare to be surprised. It shares no DNA with standard Disney animation and might be confusing and downright strange to a first-time viewer. Hold the course and keep watching. You’ll be glad you did.