Focus Features is calling their new film "9", directed by Shane Acker and produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambatov, "the beginning of a new era in animation. <p>While certainly innovative and visually arresting, only history will tell whether "9" (opening 9/9/09) will indeed usher in a whole new era. <p>So what films <i>did</i> ultimately prove to be watershed moments in the evolution of animation on film? <p>From the first use of sound, color, to the pioneer of today's computer-generated standard, here's a look at 10 of cinema's true animation groundbreakers.
The third cartoon to star Mickey Mouse was the first from Disney to employ synchronized sound. Though other cartoons had used sound just a short time prior, Willie's combination of music and sound effects over a popular character reached a huge audience. <p>This step was one of many in Disney's long history of innovation.
Disney's first full-length cel-animated feature actually boasts many other firsts; among them, it was the first such film made in America, and it was the first animated film in color. <p>In fact, the film received a special Academy Award (a full-sized one partnered with seven tiny Oscars) for its pioneering nature.
Director Mitsuyo Seo received an order from the Japanese Naval Ministry to make a propaganda film, and he responded with Japan's first animated feature. <p>Though its military overtones and depiction of WWII Japan as the liberators of Asia are the propaganda the government wanted, the characters and the craft directly inspired the likes of Osamu Tezuka. That makes this one giant leap on the road to anime.
Though not the first blending of live-action and animation, Poppins nevertheless demonstrated how artfully and seamlessly that it could be done. <p>Along with the earlier Anchors Aweigh (1945), which had Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry the Mouse, and others, Poppins sets the table for later integrated media works like Tron and Young Sherlock Holmes (which included the first work by Pixar).
The feature film debut of writer/director Ralph Bakshi sprang from the notorious strip by R. Crumb and became the first animated feature to get an X rating. <p>Certainly provocative and containing a large amount of sex and violence, it was praised upon its release by <i>Rolling Stone</i> and <i>The New York Times</i> and accepted into the Cannes Film Festival. <p>While it's not widely seen today (though a DVD is available), it still helped kick open the door for the concept of animation made strictly for adults.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, this French/Czechoslovakian masterwork was actually distributed in the United States by B-movie king Roger Corman. <p>Based on Stefan Wul's novel, <i>Oms en Sèrie</i>, the film is most remembered for its surrealism (shaped by director Rene Laloux and artist Roland Topor) and its depiction of humans set against a society of blue-skinned aliens over one-hundred times larger.
One of the ultimate expressions of animation being paired with live-action, "Roger Rabbit" continued to expand the ways in which extra elements would be added to films. <p>Notable for animation lovers are the cameos by characters from several pantheons; you see characters from Disney, Warner Brothers, and more all interacting. Of course, one of the best examples is Daffy and Donald Duck on dueling pianos, a team-up scenario that's unlikely to ever happen again. <p>The film is also widely credited for helping kick-start Disney's modern animation renaissance, the effects of which are still reverberating today.
Katsuhiro Otomo co-wrote and directed this extremely successful anime based on his own manga. Its theatrical and VHS release in the U.S. in the late '80s and early '90s helped to crystallize the nascent anime fan revival. <p>"Akira" is still considered the anime gold standard by many fans, and it helped pave the way for films like "Ghost in the Shell" and the works of Miyazaki to gain ground in America.
Pixar's first feature for Disney is a CG wonder, and set off a string of nearly unrivaled creatively and financially successful films in the genre. <p>While critics and audiences alike praised the amazingly technical perfection of the animation, "Toy Story" also served as a sharp reminder that strong writing, smart voice-casting, and real care for the process can put animation on or above the level of any live-action film. <p>To infinity and beyond, indeed.
This South Korean export earned early notice for the complexity of its animation. The film combines nearly all of the available modern techniques, including photo-realistic CG, hand-drawn cel animation, and backdrop models. <p>Additionally, this science fiction piece takes on a number of political hot potatoes, including eco-terrorism and class warfare. For all of its craft and intelligence, it deserves a wider audience in the States.