Five Animated Movies Worth Checking Out

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Animated films were once specifically geared towards kids, but in recent years, movies ranging from Shrek to Finding Nemo to Tangled make a point of appealing to little children, teenagers, and adults alike.  So if you are tired of watching the same Disney princess cartoons over and over with your younger brothers and sisters (or your children), rent one of the movies below, all of which demonstrate how clever, touching, and ultimately grown-up animated films can be.

The Road to El Dorado

This 2000 DreamWorks movie tells the story of two Spanish swindlers, Miguel and Tulio, who use loaded dice to win a map that supposedly shows the location of El Dorado, the fabled City of Gold located deep in the jungle of the New World. When their cheating is discovered, they are forced to flee Spain, and providentially end up on the ship that conquistador Hernán Cortés is using to sail to the Americas. The duo escape on a rowboat with Cortés’ prize warhorse and eventually land in Mexico, where they follow the map to El Dorado and are mistaken for indigenous gods. The two decide to continue this ruse, pretending to be gods in order to convince the natives to give them gold, but their schemes start to fall apart when the two men fall in love – the scheming Tulio with a skeptical local woman named Chel, and Miguel with the people and culture of El Dorado. One of the highlights of The Road to El Dorado is the catchy soundtrack, which features songs by Tim Rice and Elton John and music by composer Hans Zimmer, of The Lion King fame.

Lilo and Stitch

Disney’s 2002 science fiction story about a lonely Hawaiian girl named Lilo who inadvertently adopts Stitch, a mischievous extraterrestrial experiment that she mistakes for a dog, tells a beautiful story about acceptance, belonging, and the meaning of family. After the death of both of her parents in a tragic fire, Lilo is being brought up by her well-meaning, if somewhat frazzled, older sister, Nani, who struggles to hold down a job and raise her sister to the satisfaction of Cobra Bubbles, the stern social worker who threatens to place Lilo in foster care. When Stitch becomes the third member of this unorthodox family, he brings with him an inordinate amount of chaos and confusion, due not only to his destructive programming but also to the presence of Jumba and Pleakley, two aliens who are sent to Earth to capture Stitch after he escapes from the spaceship that is transporting him to exile and lands on the island of Kaua’i. Stitch and Lilo’s unlikely friendship heals both of them, and through his interactions with Lilo and Nani, Stitch discovers the true meaning of family – ‘ohana, which means that no one ever gets left behind or forgotten.

The Emperor’s New Groove

Another lesser-known Disney film, this 2000 animated film, set in South America, relates the hilarious tale of Emperor Kuzco, the incredibly self-centered young man who runs the Inca Empire. Kuzco summons a humble village leader named Pacha and informs him that Kuzco will be building his new summer home on Pacha’s hilltop, rendering the entire village homeless. When Pacha tries to protest, he is summarily dismissed. Kuzco then fires his ancient, hideous-looking advisor Yzma, and the furious old woman plots to poison him. However, her dim right-hand man, Kronk, accidentally gives Kuzco a potion that turns the emperor into a llama instead. When Kronk has an attack of conscience and decides not to kill the llama-emperor, Kuzco ends up in a sack on Pacha’s cart and finds himself in Pacha’s village. He demands the peasant’s help in getting back to the palace, and Pacha eventually agrees, determined to use the time to persuade the emperor to build his summer home somewhere else. As the pair journeys through the perilous jungle, escaping from jaguars, raging rivers, and the ever-present threat of Kronk and Yzma, who are chasing Kuzco, they become unlikely allies, learning to see each other’s good qualities and eventually developing a deep friendship. Though the songs featured in The Emperor’s New Groove, performed by musician Sting, stand out (indeed, the song “My Funny Friend and Me” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song), the film is not a traditional Disney musical, nor is it a romantic love story. Instead, the hilarious movie is perhaps the first Disney cartoon to tell a “bromance” or buddy story, focusing exclusively on the ways in which friendship alters both Kuzco and Pacha for the better.

Anastasia

This 1997 film, the first musical feature to be released by Fox Animation Studios, is very loosely based on the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, when the entire Romanov royal family was executed. Drawing on a popular urban legend, the film’s premise is that the youngest Romanov, the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, escapes the palace before the evil sorcerer Rasputin is able to murder her along with the rest of her family. Anastasia hits her head while trying to board a train to Paris with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, and grows up in an orphanage with no memory of who she is. Ten years later, Russia is a Communist country, and the Dowager Empress offers a substantial reward to anyone who is able to locate her beloved granddaughter. Dimitri, a young, handsome con artist who used to work as a palace servant, teams up with the bumbling Vladimir to find an Anastasia look-alike, and runs into Anastasia, now going by her orphan name of Anya, at the deserted Romanov palace. Impressed by her resemblance to the “real” Grand Duchess, Dimitri and Vlad decide to take Anastasia to Paris and present her to the Dowager Empress, but first, they must turn the orphan girl into someone convincing enough to pass as a true princess. Naturally, complications arise – Rasputin chases down the trio, intent on killing the last of the Romanovs; Anastasia and Dimitri struggle with their growing feelings for each other; and Anastasia becomes angry with Dimitri when she discovers his initial plan to trick the Dowager Empress out of the reward money by presenting to her an imposter Anastasia. Along with the romantic love story and the amusing antics of the film’s animal characters, the music is one of the most memorable parts of the movie; indeed, the Anastasia soundtrack was nominated for two Oscars, one for Best Original Song (“Journey to the Past” by R&B artist Aaliyah) and one for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score.

The Animatrix

This anime-style collection of short films is a 2003 anthology of nine animated shorts based in the Matrix universe created by the Wachowski siblings, who wrote and directed the live-action film The Matrix and itstwo sequels. The films in The Animatrix range in tone and genre from abstract and philosophical to action-packed and expository, and help to fill in the gaps in the Matrix world, describing the backstory of the original film, the initial war between humans and AI that led to the creation of the Matrix. Though the Wachowski siblings supervised and developed the concepts for all the stories in The Animatrix, though they only wrote four of the shorts themselves – The Second Renaissance Part 1, The Second Renaissance Part 2, Kid’s Story and the popular The Final Flight of the Osiris. The Wachowskis then collaborated with renowned Japanese animators to bring the stories to life, resulting in a collection of related films that showcase distinct styles of animation while at the same time complementing each other to add depth and history to the world of the Matrix. Like the Matrix trilogy itself, the short films (except The Final Flight of the Osiris) were rated R when released in theaters, due mainly to science-fiction violence; however, the DVD collection is not rated.

About Jennifer Neczypor

I am a creative writer and screenwriter who just returned from spending two years as a Peace Corps teacher in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, where I taught English, drama, sports, and phonics and learned how to weave mats, build houses out of bamboo and thatch, use a machete, paddle an outrigger canoe, and kill and pluck a chicken for my supper! I graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2009 with two degrees, and am especially passionate about children's writing and entertainment for young adults. I enjoy traveling, and have spent time in India, Guatemala, New Zealand, Ireland, North Ireland, Mexico, Canada, Spain, England, and France, amongst other countries. I also love sports, particularly soccer, running, and yoga, hiking, camping, reading, writing, and discovering quality new books and movies to enjoy.

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