Today sees the launch of The Big Draw, an international festival celebrating the delights of drawing and the ways in which it can enrich our lives. To celebrate, we’re turning our spotlight on hand-drawn animation. Though some of the films featured here have had a little help from paintbrush or computer, they all remain very close to their original pen and ink or pencil and paper form, and we think you’ll find them a treat. Going far beyond popular kids’ entertainment, they explore the boundaries of what animation can do.
Spirited Away - Netflix
The only piece of hand-drawn work ever to win a Best Animated Film Oscar, Hayao Miyazaki’s fantastic take of a girl who agrees to work for a witch in order to try and free her parents helped to launch Studio Ghibli on the international stage. For nearly 20 years it was Japan’s highest-grossing film and it’s still widely acclaimed – not least by animators themselves – as one of the best pieces of animation ever made. It’s full of highly distinctive characters rooted in Japanese folklore, and features some unforgettable imagery. Though it is suitable for children, parents should be aware that it contains some unsettling themes.
Belleville Rendez-Vous - Virgin TV Go, Chili
Also known as The Triplets Of Belleville, this Oscar-nominated work by Sylvain Chomet explores the relationship between a keen cyclist and his devoted grandmother. When Tour de France competitor Champion is kidnapped by gangsters, his grandmother sets off in pursuit, ready to go to the ends of the Earth to get him back. Chomet’s incredibly detailed urban landscapes (check out his later film The Illusionist to see his take on Edinburgh) are incredibly atmospheric, supported by Benoît Charest’s enduringly charismatic jazz soundtrack. nothing here is sanitised and there’s a distinct strain of melancholy throughout, but it’s a thoroughly absorbing watch.
Waltz With Bashir
Waltz With Bashir - Apple TV
Amber Wilkinson writes: It's testimony to the serious nature of this animation from Israeli director Ari Folman that it was shortlisted for the Foreign Language Oscar. The use of animation as a way of exploring memories has hit a purple patch in the decade or so since, with films including this year's Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Flee and the critically acclaimed Another Day Of Life employing similar techniques but Folman's film was particularly striking at the time of its release. Troubled by his own inability to remember details of dark episodes when he was in the army during the 1982 Lebanon War, he begins to others who were also soldiers at the time, plunging us into the emotional sea of these recollections through animation which, at times, takes on the same nightmarish qualities as the memories themselves. When he counterpoints this dreamscape remembered reality with archive footage it packs a shocking punch.
Fantastic Planet - BFI Player
A groundbreaking piece of experimental animation which emerged from a collaboration between French director René Laloux and Jiří Trnka’s studio in Prague, this tale of people living on an alien world dominated by giant blue humanoids won the Grand Prix Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1973 and went on to acquire a cult following. It’s an adaptation of Stefan Wul’s novel Oms En Série and energised with a jazz-synth soundtrack from Alain Goraguer, but it’s the endless visual imagination on display that really dazzles. This eschews the brightly coloured assault on the senses approach of much of today’s output to focus instead on engaging the mind and keeping viewers in a state of wonder. Though it has a reputation for being viewed with the aid of certain mind-altering substances, they’re not at all necessary to become absorbed.
Chico & Rita
Chico & Rita - Apple TV
Amber Wilkinson writes: This slice of adult animation from directors Javier Mariscal, Fernando Trueba and Tono Errando has a sultry and sexy sweep as it relates the story of a turbulent romance between the two title characters - one a brilliant jazz pianist, the other a singer. The spirit of Cuba and jazz infuses both the animation and the accompanying soundtrack with life and love travel to the bright lights of America. The sort of tale that has been told many times, its simplicity allows the lush animation to take centre stage - from the sun-drenched warmth of Cuba to the cold of New York and the neon brights of Vegas. A film that invites you to fall into its rhythm.
Persepolis - Virgin TV Go, Apple TV
Adapted from Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel about growing up during the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath, this Oscar-nominated film, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2007, maintains the original style of art. It historical scenes are all presented in black and white, which lends them the authority of newsreel and, as Satrapi has explained, hides the characters’ ethnicity, encouraging viewers all around the world to recognise that they are people like any others, horrified as others would be by the circumstances in which they find themselves. The effect of the suddenly acquired black burkas, seen from a child’s perspective, is striking. The film addresses political abuses and the fate of dissidents, but draws its power from its visuals as much as from its subject.
The Red Turtle
The Red Turtle - Sky Go, Virgin TV Go, NowTV
A Japanese-German co-production featuring evocative animation by Dutch artist Michaël Dudok de Wit, this Oscar-nominated film tells the story of a castaway and his complex relationship with the giant turtle dwelling in the water nearby. With elements of fantasy and romance, it’s a slow-paced yet beguiling watch. De Wit’s work is ostensibly simple yet brilliantly realised, capturing the motion of different bodies in water and on land and gradually detailing the process of ageing on its hero’s face. There’s no dialogue and the film is suitable for all ages, but parents should be aware that there are some frightening sequences, especially when a storm strikes the island and we see those familiar lines and shapes take on a very different form. Read what Michaël Dudok de Wit told us about it.