On stop motion 

Virginia Gray ‘20

“What stop-motion does best is present real objects magically brought to life in a very imperfect situation; the hand of the artist is there, the electricity of someone touching, massaging and torturing themselves to get life out of an inanimate object.” - Henry Selick, director of Coraline (2009), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1999), James and the Giant Peach (1996)

Stop motion animation is one the most grueling and tedious genres of animation to execute, but it produces some the most creative and intimate stories for viewers to enjoy. Stop motion is a form of animation that requires objects or figurines to be moved in small increments between each shot, creating the effect of movement when the shots are combined and played back in sequence. Stop motion requires hours of painstaking attention to detail — a stop motion film averages 24 frames (or pictures) per second, and, depending on the film, upwards of two hundred hand-made puppets.

Fantastic Mr. Fox , 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2009

Isle of Dogs , 2018

Isle of Dogs, 2018

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit  (2005)

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

Stop motion was first experimented with in the 1897 film The Humpty Dumpty Circus, and found its first big break in the movie The Lost World (1925), which opened the door for the famous King Kong (1933). Since then, various kinds of stop motion are being used in a number of well-known movies today, such as the Jurassic Park, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the Wallace and Gromit movies.

The Lost World , 1925

The Lost World, 1925

Jurassic Park , 1993

Jurassic Park, 1993

Stop motion is such a unique style of filmmaking because of the personal relationship it creates between artist and puppet, puppet and viewer, viewer and artist. Each figurine has been touched and formed by the artists themselves — sometimes, you can even see a fingerprint left in the clay. The detail and attentiveness each frame requires is so impressive, so personal to the artists, the viewer can’t help but feel a sense of appreciation and awe not only for the story, but for the animators themselves.

Tim Burton creating  The Nightmare Before Christmas , 1993

Tim Burton creating The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993

With this being said, I hope you take a look at these movies not just with a sense of enjoyment, but amazement and appreciation too.

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Mary and Max (2009)

The unlikely friendship between Mary Dinkle and Max Horowitz begins with Mary, an eccentric, lonely eight-year-old from Melbourne, Australia, who sends a letter to a random address in the United States. The letter finds its way to the address of Max, a 44-year-old man with Aspergers, who is also very lonely. Their pen-pal relationship spans over twenty years and two continents, and involves lots and lots of mailed chocolate.

Though the strange, misshapen animation style of Mary and Max could dampen the resonance the story has with its viewers, the effect is much the opposite. The odd figures are so relatable not because of their physicalities, but despite them; the viewer can identify with an eight-year-old with a large brown birthmark and an overweight 44-year-old man with Aspergers because of the undeniable humanness of each of them, revealed through decades of letters.

Genre: Drama/Indie Film

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox tells the story of Mr. Fox, who, after 12 years of being a loving family man, decides to secretly restart his instinct-driven farm-raiding business. A war between the farmers and the animals soon breaks out, and Mr. Fox attempts damage control for the whole town.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is so wondrously wry and beautifully composed, it is surprising director Wes Anderson hadn’t experimented with stop motion before. Anderson succeeds in blending adult humor with a children’s themed movie, and stop motion proves to be the perfect medium for this newfound style.

Genre: Crime/Adventure

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

MPAA Rating: PG

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Ma Vie de Courgette (My Life as a Zucchini, 2017)

After losing his alcoholic mother in a tragic accident, a boy named Courgette (Zucchini, in French) is sent to an orphanage full of other kids his age, all with their own pasts to cope with. There, Zuchinni and the other children struggle through their own issues as they navigate the venture of growing up.

Ma Vie de Courgette is a melancholy, lovely film. The movie successfully expresses the truest, sometimes ugliest parts of growing up, and the clay figurines contribute to the film’s intimate glimpses into childhood.

Genre: Drama/Comedy

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)  

I cannot make a list of stop motion movies without mentioning the lovably odd comic-strip characters, Wallace and Gromit. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit follows cheese-loving inventor Wallace and his ingenious mute dog, Gromit, as their town prepares for the annual vegetable-growing competition. As preparations continue, the alluring Lady Tottington asks Wallace and Gromit to catch the allegedly giant, vegetable-eating rabbit that is stealing her produce. An invention goes awry and shenanigans ensue, making for an endearing, hilarious movie.

Originally a comic-strip story, the exaggerated and warm style of Wallace and Gromit is undoubtedly cartoonish and ridiculous in the most delightful ways. Wallace and Gromit’s production company, Aardman, is notorious for its innovative claymation techniques, making Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit an essential movie for anyone interested in the animation style.

Genre: Fantasy/Mystery

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

MPAA Rating: G

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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1999)

When Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween, becomes unbearably unsatisfied with his life as the renowned and beloved Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, he falls into a state of depression and restlessness, until he stumbles upon the jolly and magical Christmas Town. Jack returns and tells the people of Halloweentown about the joys of Christmas, and devises a plan to take Christmas and name himself Santa Clause.

A result of genius director Henry Selick and visionary producer Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the most popular stop motion movies. Though it was initially rejected by Disney for being “too weird,” the film was eventually released in 1999 after almost three years of production and 227 puppets. The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the most loved Halloween movies, blending Burton’s macabre style with a delightful children’s story.

Genre: Fantasy/Musical

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

MPAA Rating: PG

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James and the Giant Peach (1996)

Based on the beloved children’s book by Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach utilizes both stop motion and live action to tell the story of a young orphan named James, who lives with his two cruel aunts. James finds a way out of his dismal situation when he accidentally grows a massive peach from charmed seeds. Inside the peach are several somewhat friendly insects, and together James and his new friends venture across the ocean in search of New York City.

Combining stop motion with live action, James and the Giant Peach is the second movie on this list based on a work of Roald Dahl, so of course it makes for an excellent film for both adults and children. The transition between stop motion and live action symbolically bridges the gap between James’ dreams and what would become his reality, making for an enjoyable and light little movie for anyone.

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

MPAA Rating: PG

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Isle of Dogs (2018)

Wes Anderson’s most recent feat, Isle of Dogs, takes place in the Japanese city of Megasaki, where Mayor Kobayashi recently banned all dogs to Trash Island due to a recent outbreak of Dog Flu. Despite the mayor’s decree, 12-year-old Atari crash-lands on Trash Island, determined to find his lost dog Spots. With the help of a group of rugged alfa dogs, Atari journeys across the island to find Spots and end the decree.

Isle of Dogs is worth seeing for the animation alone. Stunning and undeniably wry in the most Wes Anderson-esque ways, the film takes full advantage of the medium with its melancholy-gray undertones, bright, warm accents, exceptionally expressive puppets, and creative resourcefulness of such a demanding type of animation.

Genre: Drama/Fantasy

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Panique tous Courts (A Town Called Panic, 2009)

In this playfully animated film, roommates Cowboy and Indian attempt to construct a barbecue pit for their friend Horse’s birthday, but when they order fifty million bricks instead of fifty, their house is crushed under the weight. In an effort to help the situation, Cowboy and Indian try to rebuild the house, but the walls they build are continually stolen. Cowboy, Indian, and Horse then set out on a comedic journey to find the culprits.

The use of kids’ figurines keeps the quirky story youthful but relatable for everyone, as we all played pretend with toys when we were younger. Eccentric, creative, and very, very funny, A Town Called Panic is entertaining for any age.

Genre: Fantasy/Comedy

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%

MPAA Rating: G

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Coraline (2009)

When a young, curious Coraline is forced to move into an creaky old house by her always-busy parents, she is frustrated, lonely, and exceptionally bored. While aimlessly exploring the house, Coraline comes upon a small locked door behind a dresser, behind which she finds a warm and welcoming alternate reality where everything is perfect — besides the fact that everyone there has buttons for eyes. As Coraline realizes this “Other World” is everything she wishes her life to be, her Other Mother suddenly insists upon sewing buttons into Coraline’s eyes, and when she denies, the Other Mother kidnaps Coraline’s parents. Coraline strikes a deal with the Other Mother to let them go, and while looking for her parents discovers the sinister truths about her Other World.

As always, director Henry Selick blends his whimsical style beautifully with stop motion. Animated with deceptively warm cinematography,  Coraline’s animation parallels a seemingly delightfully but actually spooky, macabre story.

Genre: Fantasy/Thriller

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%

MPAA Rating: PG