The Best Animated Films of All Time, According to Terry Gilliam

Ter­ry Gilliam knows some­thing about ani­ma­tion. For years, he pro­duced won­der­ful ani­ma­tions for Mon­ty Python (watch his cutout ani­ma­tion primer here) , cre­at­ing the open­ing cred­its and dis­tinc­tive buffers that linked togeth­er the off­beat com­e­dy sketch­es. Giv­en these bona fides, you don’t want to miss Gilliam’s list, The 10 Best Ani­mat­ed Films of All Time.

It was pub­lished in The Guardian back in 2001, before the advent of YouTube, which makes things feel a lit­tle spare. So, today, we’re reviv­ing Gilliam’s list and adding some videos to the mix. Above, we start with The Mas­cot, a 1934 film by the Russ­ian ani­ma­tor Wla­dys­law Starewicz. The film pio­neered a num­ber of stop ani­ma­tion tech­niques, mak­ing it a sem­i­nal film in the his­to­ry of ani­ma­tion. About Starewicz’s film, Gilliam wrote:

His work is absolute­ly breath­tak­ing, sur­re­al, inven­tive and extra­or­di­nary, encom­pass­ing every­thing that Jan Svankma­jer, Waler­ian Borow­czyk and the Quay Broth­ers [see below] would do sub­se­quent­ly.… It is impor­tant, before you jour­ney through all these mind-bend­ing worlds, to remem­ber that it was all done years ago, by some­one most of us have for­got­ten about now. This is where it all began.

Tex Avery pro­duced car­toons dur­ing the Gold­en Age of Hol­ly­wood ani­ma­tion, most­ly for Warn­er Bros. and Metro-Gold­wyn-May­er stu­dios, and cre­at­ed some mem­o­rable char­ac­ters along the way — Daffy Duck, Bugs Bun­ny, Droopy dog and the rest. In 1943, Avery ani­mat­ed Red Hot Rid­ing Hood, which amount­ed to a rebel­lious retelling of the clas­sic Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood tale. 50 years lat­er, ani­ma­tors ranked it 7th on their list of The 50 Great­est Car­toons. Accord­ing to Gilliam, Avery’s work deliv­ers this:

The mag­ic of Tex Avery’s ani­ma­tion is the sheer extrem­i­ty of it all. The clas­sic Avery image is of some­one’s mouth falling open down to their feet, wham, their eyes whoop­ing out and their tongue unrolling for about half a mile: that is the most won­der­ful­ly lib­er­at­ing spec­ta­cle.… There is also a child­like sense of immor­tal­i­ty and inde­struc­tibil­i­ty in his work; peo­ple get squashed, mashed, bashed, bent out of shape, what­ev­er, and they bounce back. In essence, it is like the myth of eter­nal life.

Dur­ing the mid-1950s, Stan Van­der­beek began shoot­ing sur­re­al­ist col­lage films that, as NPR put it, “used clip­pings from mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers to cre­ate whim­si­cal but point­ed com­men­tary.” If you think this sounds famil­iar, you’re right. It’s pre­cise­ly this approach that sur­faces lat­er in Gilliam’s own work. And if one film pro­vid­ed par­tic­u­lar inspi­ra­tion, it was Van­der­beek’s 1963 film Breathdeath (right above).


About Waler­ian Borow­czyk and his 1964 film Les Jeux des Anges, Gilliam writes:

Borow­czyk was a twist­ed man whose films were infused with a unique cru­el­ty and weird­ness. He start­ed out mak­ing extra­or­di­nary ani­ma­tions, grad­u­at­ed to direct­ing clas­sics such as Goto, Island of Love and La B te… Les Jeux des Anges was my first expe­ri­ence of ani­ma­tion that was utter­ly impres­sion­is­tic. It did­n’t show me any­thing spe­cif­ic, just sound and move­ment from which you cre­ate a world of your own.

Jan Svankma­jer is a sur­re­al­ist Czech ani­ma­tor whose work has influ­enced Tim Bur­ton, The Broth­ers Quay, and Ter­ry Gilliam him­self. In his Guardian list, Gilliam points us to one film, Svankma­jer’s stun­ning 1982 clay­ma­tion short, Dimen­sions of Dia­logue, in part because the film “has moments that evoke the night­mar­ish spec­tre of see­ing com­mon­place things com­ing unex­pect­ed­ly to life.”

Based on a short nov­el writ­ten by Bruno Schulz, Street of Croc­o­diles is a 1986 stop-motion ani­ma­tion direct­ed by the Broth­ers Quay, two Amer­i­can broth­ers who migrat­ed to Eng­land in 1969, short­ly after Gilliam, also Amer­i­can born, became a British cit­i­zen. In 2002, crit­ic Jonathan Rom­ney called Street of Croc­o­diles one of the ten best films of all time — sure­ly enough to make you give it a view.

Oth­er films men­tioned in Gilliam’s list, The 10 Best ani­mat­ed Films of All Time, include:

Out of the Inkwell by Dave Fleis­ch­er (1938)

Pinoc­chio by Hamil­ton Luske and Ben Sharp­steen (1940)

Knick Knack by John Las­seter (1989)

South Park: Big­ger, Longer and Uncut by Trey Park­er (1999)

Some films list­ed above will appear in the Ani­ma­tion sec­tion of our big col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

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