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© 1937 Disney. All rights reserved.

The 10 Best Animated Movies Of All Time

Original image
© 1937 Disney. All rights reserved.

Animation, it’s frequently been said, is a medium, not a genre. You can use it to tell any number of stories in any number of ways. And it’s certainly not just for kids. So of course our list of the 10 most noteworthy animated features runs the gamut from talking toys to psychedelic orgies.

1. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

According to Box Office Mojo, the highest-grossing animated film in history is Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory, which rode a wave of positive reviews and 3D surcharges to a $486.2 million domestic haul last year. But there’s a little thing called inflation to consider. When you factor in rising ticket prices over the last 80 years, the highest-grossing feature length animated movie is still Disney’s first: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Per Business Insider, adjust Snow White’s $184.9 million take and you get a whopping $935.2 million in today’s dollars.

2. THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926)

Though Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is often cited as the first full-length animated movie, it was beaten to the punch by a good 11 years by German director Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed. (Quirino Cristiani's The Apostle and Without a Trace were released earlier, but have been lost.) The earliest surviving animated feature film and the first—surviving or not—directed by a woman, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is loosely based on One Thousand and One Nights and tells the story of a prince who goes on a series of magical adventures. It took Reiniger and her (uncredited) co-director Carl Koch three years to make the film, cutting silhouettes out of sheets of cardboard and lead and bringing their characters to life using stop-motion animation.

3. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

In September 1991, nearly two months before its nationwide theatrical bow, Disney took a gamble by screening an early version of Beauty and the Beast at the New York Film Festival. It was an audience more accustomed to arthouse and foreign films, and on top of that, approximately a third of what was screened was either storyboard art or black and white animation tests. “There was a lot of gulping here,” recalled a Disney executive. “It was a risky but interesting idea to show it before that audience. We knew no one would hate the film. The worst they could say was, ‘Ok, it's an animated film; why is it here?’” But the reaction to the film was far less ambivalent; Beauty and the Beast received a standing ovation from the seasoned crowd of moviegoers. The next year, Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. It’s still an exclusive club; Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) are the only two other animated films that have joined Disney’s tale as old as time in receiving the honor.

4. YOUR NAME (2016)

The most recent film on this list, Your Name shocked box office prognosticators late last year when it blew past anime legend Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle to become the second highest-grossing Japanese film of all time. Director Makoto Shinkai’s moving fantasy romance—in which a teenage girl in an out-of-the-way village and a teenage boy from bustling Tokyo find that going to sleep inexplicably causes them to swap bodies—would eventually become Japan’s third highest-grossing film ever, behind only American imports Titanic and Frozen and Miyazaki’s (still reigning champ) Spirited Away.

5. SPIRITED AWAY (2001)

Speaking of Spirited Away: More than 15 years after its initial release, the Miyazaki classic (one of his many) is still Japan’s highest-grossing film, with a total domestic gross of ¥30.4 billion ($300 million). The film, about a sullen young girl who wanders into a fantasy land, was also the first film to gross $200 million before opening in the United States. When it finally did arrive stateside, distributor Disney declined to do much by way of marketing and never released it in more than 151 theaters ... until Spirited Away picked up a surprise Best Animated Feature Oscar, becoming the only Japanese film and only hand-drawn film ever to do so, and beating out two Disney releases (Lilo & Stitch and Treasure Planet) in the process. Disney subsequently pushed Spirited Away into more than 700 theaters.

6. THE IRON GIANT (1999)

Disney’s not the only studio to bungle the release of an animated movie that would go on to be considered a classic. Excited to venture into feature animation after the enormous success enjoyed by Disney in the '90s, Warner Bros. moved ahead with the Cold War-set The Iron Giant, about a young boy (Eli Marienthal) who stumbles upon and befriends a robot (Vin Diesel) from outer space … only to then, according to director Brad Bird, basically drop it after the failure of the studio’s Quest for Camelot.

“We were perceived as a film that would be finished and put on the shelf until there was a hole or something in the release schedule in the future," Bird said. "And then we'd be plugged in. They wouldn't give us a release date, they didn't have any hopes. They just thought animation wasn't going to really work for them.” Despite extremely positive test screenings, Warner Bros. “hadn't laid all the groundwork you're supposed to lay, with fast food restaurants, cereals, teasers, posters.” The lack of marketing led to box office disappointment, to the tune of a $23.1 million gross against a $70 million budget. But the film impressed Pixar chief John Lasseter, which in turn enabled Bird to direct The Incredibles.

7. TOY STORY (1995)

When talking about milestones in animation, you can’t leave out Toy Story, the first feature-length computer animated film. Director John Lasseter was the first person to win a Special Achievement Oscar for a 100 percent animated film (though Richard Williams got one for the animated portions of Who Framed Roger Rabbit), and Toy Story was the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. (In 2002, Shrek would snag the equivalent honor for Best Adapted Screenplay.) Lasseter showed up to the ceremony in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

8. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988)

Though live-action/animation hybrids are commonplace now—think The Smurfs and the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies, or for that matter motion capture-heavy films like The Jungle Book—when Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out in 1988, it was rightly hailed as a groundbreaking work of technological innovation. It wasn’t the first film to combine cartoon characters with live actors (Gene Kelly memorably danced with Jerry the Mouse in 1945’s Anchors Aweigh), but it was the most ambitious. In fact, at the time it came out it was the most expensive movie ever made. The film also gave rise to the animation term “bumping the lamp,” which is when extreme effort is put into something that audiences probably won’t notice. The term comes from a scene where Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) repeatedly bangs his head on a lamp, requiring animators to draw shifting patterns of light and shadow onto scene partner Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer).

9. BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (1973)

The most obscure film on this list, Belladonna of Sadness is the work of two anime masters: producer and “godfather of manga” Osamu Tezuka, who created Astro Boy, and his longtime collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto, who directed Belladonna. Decidedly not for children, this third film in Tezuka and Yamamoto’s Animerama trilogy is loosely based on Jules Michelet’s 1862 book La Sorcière, which examines the history of witchcraft through a proto-feminist lens. Aiko Nagayama stars as Jeanne, a French peasant who is raped on her wedding night by the local baron and subsequently turns to sorcery to right the wrongs done to her. (Yes, there is a psychedelic orgy scene.) Done in an unusual style—the bulk of the “animation” is the camera panning across intricate watercolor paintings, Ken Burns-style—Belladonna was all but lost for decades, receiving no home video release and practically no theatrical distribution. Fortunately, a restored 4K version was released last year by Cinelicious Pics, SpectreVision and Cinefamily.

10. SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT (1999)

There are a lot more, uh, traditional films we could include on this list—Dumbo, Pinocchio, or Fantasia, to name just a few—but none of those ever held the Guinness World Record for most swearing in an animated movie. (“399 swear words, 128 offensive gestures, and 221 acts of violence.”) Dealing with issues of censorship and parental responsibility, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut sees South Park’s famous foul-mouthed kids embark on a mission to save their Canadian comedy idols from execution after they’re blamed for corrupting America’s youth, sparking a war between the United States and Canada. A musical that pulls inspiration from (among others) Oklahoma!, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Les Misérables, and the Disney canon, Bigger, Longer & Uncut received an Oscar nomination for the song “Blame Canada.” The film frequently lands on “best of” animation lists, with TIME Magazine’s Richard Corliss calling it the “finest, sassiest full-movie musical score since the disbanding of the Freed unit at MGM” in his 2011 ranking.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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