3. Coraline (2009)
Laika’s wonderfully creepy, completely unique stop-motion hit might be too scary for some little ones, but it’s easily one of the most interesting films on this list.
When 11-year-old Coraline (Dakota Fanning) moves to a dilapidated Victorian home with her neglectful parents Mel (Teri Hatcher) and Charlie (John Hodgman), she discovers a portal to the Other World where her Other Mother (also Hatcher) showers her with love, treats, and attention. Her new friend, Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.), and his cat (Keith David) warn her that the parallel universe is unsafe. She eventually learns that she can stay in this idyllic world, but only if she allows the Other Mother to sew black buttons over her eyes. This film is famous for its unusually disturbing imagery, based on a Neil Gaiman novel.
With groundbreaking cinematography, Coraline was the first stop motion film ever made in 3D. According to Mike McGranaghan at Screen Rant, director Henry Selick wanted to evoke the feeling of the Technicolor world in The Wizard of Oz and the 3D effect helped to accentuate the eerie absurdity of the Other World. Like in Alice in Wonderland, the Other World found on the opposite side of a magical gateway may seem special and exciting on the surface, but untold dangers lurk within. This compelling film will draw you in and may also frighten you, but it stands out for its unique story and contribution to the medium.
2. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
This adaptation of the popular ‘Wallace & Gromit’ television series is exactly what you expect and want from the best classic claymation and it remains the only stop motion film nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature that has taken home the award.
Eccentric inventor Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his canine best friend, Gromit, are tasked with humanely controlling their town’s rabbit problem ahead of the giant vegetable competition. Wallace invents a machine that aims to brainwash the trapped rabbits into disliking vegetables, but his brain accidentally fuses with one of the critters. Suddenly, the inventor begins acting strangely just as the town’s gardens start being ravaged by an unknown beast. It’s up to our heroes to save the day and the giant vegetables.
Few films are so easily satisfying from start to finish. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is clever, suspenseful, funny, and sometimes even a bit nerve-racking, a perfect culmination of the years of talented work at Aardman. The film serves as a cheeky parody of the Hammer Horror monster movies of the 1960s and is chock full of witty references and homages. Featuring excellent voice performances from Helena Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes, it’s no surprise this charming film was included in Empire’s list of the 100 best British films as ‘the most marvellously English animation there is.’
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1. My Life as a Courgette (2016)
This criminally underrated film tops the list as a truly beautiful story filled with surprises, one that makes the audience root for the cast of misfits that steal our hearts right from the start.
The young, innocent Icare, nicknamed ‘Courgette’ (Gaspard Schlatter/Erick Abbate), lives with an alcoholic mother who dies when he accidentally pushes her down the stairs during one of her rages. A kind police officer, Raymond (Michel Vuillermoz/Nick Offerman), drops Courgette off at an orphanage where he meets other troubled children, namely the angry bully-turned-friend, Simon (Paulin Jaccound/Romy Beckman). When a new girl, Camille (Sixtine Murat/Ness Krell), arrives at the home, the children work together to keep her away from her abusive aunt so she can stay at their safe space.
This film from Swiss director Claude Barras handles difficult subjects such as tragedy and abuse with profound tenderness and sensitivity. And despite all the darkness these children have survived, there are consistent pockets of cheer and humour throughout the story. The minimal, colourful, crafty production and character design makes you feel as though you’ve jumped right inside a child’s drawing, and we see the world from their point of view. This delicately crafted stop-motion picture teaches us that it’s all about the family you make and how you must find joy in the little things.
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Joy in the little things is often the beauty of stop-motion animation. The tedious, meticulous nature of the medium forces us to appreciate the filmmakers’ craft and stop to think about the little pieces that create the whole. All of these films are special in their own way and, though only one has ever taken home the Academy Award, they can surely compete against hand-drawn and 3D animation’s heaviest hitters.
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