Stop-motion animation in a world of glossy 3-D CGI graphics is nothing short of a statement—about a cinematic journey that prefers a slow, long route and the hand-orchestrated path of puppets, of clay, wood, cloth, over that of the computer. From the Brothers Quay to the Czech school, Tim Burton and Henry Selick, we all have our favourites. Here, is the list of top stop motion animation movies, some classic adaptations and others obscure indies, that make the mind boggle at the possibilities of this technique. You can watch some of these best stop motion animation movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
1. Alice (1988; Czech)
Any such list is remiss if it doesn’t begin with this cult favourite. Lewis Carroll’s Alice books are universally regarded as classic children’s stories for grown-ups and have been abridged and edited as children’s literature, spawning animated adaptations (Disney) and quirky transcreations with adult themes (Tim Burton, James Bobin). But Svankmajer’s surrealistic use of stop-motion live action and animation sequences has made a dark fantasy of Carroll’s story that has mostly been interpreted as fairy tale, much to the disappointment of the director, who reads it more as an ‘amoral dream’. Here we have no smooth, animated sequences, but jerky, sped up ones, though the overall effect does have a peculiar fluidity. The effect of watching Alice’s repeated growth and shrinkage is not humorous, but claustrophobic and intimidating by turns. Animals are not cute or willing, but the biting, attacking, threatening kind.
The creatures that populate this Wonderland are irritatingly incomplete, un-whole and crude: a taxidermied White Rabbit made of leaking sawdust, the Mad Hatter is a marionette sipping tea that seeps out of his hollow insides, the March Hare’s button eyes keep popping out and who needs to be wound up, and the unidimensional Card characters. Add drawers that refuse to open by knobs, savouries that spout pins, skeletal animals, sock-puppet caterpillars and a girl being shrunken to a doll and blown up into an effigy, and you have the stuff of real dreams, rather, nightmares, one where ordinary everyday objects come to life. Most effectively, the film uses very little dialogue and what little it does is repetitive and composed of simple lines, with Alice reading out bits of the story. No lush gardens and lakesides, this is the setting of wastelands, dilapidated houses and creepy alleyways. But then, what other dreams does one expect from a blond, blue-eyed girl who whiles away her time by throwing stones into teacups? This is what animation can also be like—unsettling and uncanny. Indeed, commentators have read strong Gothic undercurrents and tropes in the film. Pay attention to her last line in this haunting film. And shudder at its implications!
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2. Mary and Max (2009; Australian)