Films are one of my favourite methods of procrastination, sources of creative inspiration, and awakeners of childhood nostalgia. It all started from a young age, when, naturally, I began to demand my daily dose of Disney. My teenage years morphed into something more Burton-esque, interspersed with anime.
All of these have affected me in different ways, whether it be in my writing, my taste in music, or even my fashion sense. Here, I present my ten all-time favourites.
10) Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas
Having avoided reading any Brothers Grimm originals until the age of fourteen, this was my first experience of a deliberately creepy, slightly twisted fairytale. I am, and always have been a fan of the gothic – gothic art, literature, fashion, and of course, film. It therefore follows that, after this sinister sensation, I quickly became an avid fan of Mr Burton. NBC tells the story of the anguished Skeleton King of Halloween Town – Jack Skellington – desperate to discover the true meaning behind Christmas. Naturally, he decides that the best way to do so would be to kidnap and usurp Santa Claus (‘Sandy Claws’); hilarity ensues. It’s the only Christmas film I can stand to watch (aside from Love Actually); maybe it’s the theatrics, the awesome stop-motion animation, the creepy characterisation, or maybe it’s all three, but there is something truly magical about this film. It simply had to go on my list.
9) Corpse Bride
The story is as beautiful as it is tragic. Many films before it have attempted to probe the question, ‘can love live on beyond death?’, but, at least for me, Corpse Bride has been the most successful. The eponymous Corpse Bride – or Emily as she’d prefer to be known – lies buried in the woods, following a terrible betrayal by the man she once loved. Her passion is reignited when she falls in love with Victor Van Dort, a living man who unknowingly wanders onto her burial site. This of course, poses some practical problems, only further complicated by the fact that he’s already engaged to another (living) woman. Victor is left with a difficult choice – kill himself to be with Emily, or return to his fiancée, Victoria. It’s a vibrant, wacky, bittersweet tale which has stayed with me ever since I first saw it – and another Burton effort, naturally.
8) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
This was one of the first anime movies I ever saw – and still one of the best. It is, in the most basic terms, a high school romance with a bit of art, sci-fi and time travel thrown in. The main character – Makoto – is somewhat maddening for most of the film, and appears to have the decision-making skills of a confused goose. She does however, gradually endear herself to the viewer as her time-travelling abilities begin to affect her in ways she never expected…and on that ominous note, I’ll move on.
7) Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland
Alice is one of my favourite childhood books, and Tim Burton’s adaptation is probably one of the weirdest I’ve ever seen. For one thing, it’s an almost completely new story – but its inaccuracy doesn’t make it a bad film, just something a bit different. Burton’s heroine is, in this version, nineteen years old, and tasked with the terrifying prospect of slaying the Jabberwocky (in this case, a giant, dragon-like thing), and deposing the tyrannical Red Queen (played by the always-excellent Helena Bonham Carter). There is also a clear romantic undertone to her relationship with the Mad Hatter – portrayed by Johnny Depp with about ten layers of eccentricity piled on. Yes, certain elements of it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s still thoroughly well done: everything from the CGI to the setting, costumes and even the dialogue is pleasingly Burton-esque.
6) Big Hero 6
This is a recent one – an animated Disney/Marvel Comics crossover that I couldn’t resist going to see twice. Yes, it has taken a more modern direction than most of the previous classics, but BH6 is still Disney magic at its best; the witty dialogue, sight gags, beautiful CGI and awesome characterisation make the film an almost revolutionary masterpiece in its own right. Set in Sanfransokyo – a fictional San Francisco and Tokyo hybrid – BH6 depicts the coming together of five technological geniuses (plus a lovable healthcare robot) to make a super-group. It is also a heartfelt exploration of the themes of mourning, revenge, and friendship – making it thoroughly relatable for almost anyone. I also enjoyed the apparent feminist undertone, made most obvious through Go-Go Tomago’s (one of the main female protagonists) witty catchphrase: ‘woman up!’ Add to that an amazing musical score and undeniably cool action sequences and you have something truly brilliant.
5) Howl’s Moving Castle
This is another book-to-film adaptation, based on welsh author Diana Wynne Jones’ 1986 novel of the same name. A little Studio Ghibli magic has been added to make an anime spectacular, as we enter the weird and wonderful misadventures of Sophie, an eighteen-year-old hatter and the film’s protagonist. Transformed into a ninety-year-old woman by the apparently evil ‘Witch of the Waste’, Sophie seeks refuge in the giant mechanical castle of Howl, a cowardly but kindly young wizard. Physically unable to reveal her secret curse, Sophie employs herself as his ‘cleaning lady’, and soon becomes a source of encouragement, comfort, and eventual love for the wayward Howl. Along with such fantasy elements, the film also questions the importance – and true meaning – of beauty, and deals with the struggles one can experience in findings one’s true personal identity. It’s high-fantasy at its best, and will always be one of my Ghibli favourites.
4) Spirited Away
Spirited Away is probably the most famous of the Studio Ghibli efforts – and with good reason. It is, like Howl’s Moving Castle, a beautifully animated fantasy adventure, laced with the most brilliantly bizarre characters imaginable. Ten-year-old Chihiro Ogino becomes trapped in a hidden spirit world when her parents insist on exploring what is apparently an abandoned fairground. After an unsightly show of gluttony at a seemingly empty restaurant, they are transformed into pigs, leaving Chihiro with the daunting task of restoring them to their human form whilst ensuring her own survival in this strange, carnivalesque world. As the sun goes down, the world’s inhabitants – spirits of all shapes and sizes, including a radish spirit – come out and their surroundings come to life. Helped by Haku – a boy able to transform into a dragon – Chihiro finds work in the spirit bath house, under the cunning witch Yubaba, and embarks on her complicated (and crazy) quest. It’s moving, gorgeous to watch and one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.
It’s a tale of love and harmony, beautifully told. It’s always a challenge presenting kids with issues such as race relations, conflict and prejudice. But Pocahontas somehow manages to deliver a clear, memorable message whilst also producing a highly enjoyable story. It also poses interesting philosophical questions, such as the extent of man’s connection with nature and the idea of everything being interdependent. Such issues are also seamlessly weaved in through gorgeous cinematography and equally beautiful songs, perhaps most notably Colours of the Wind. Pocahontas herself is the ultimate free spirit and headstrong woman, with wisdom beyond her years. She’s everything I aspired to be, and, for me, still one of the most inspirational, revolutionary Disney princesses.
The eponymous protagonist is one of my greatest lifelong role models, and probably Disney’s most obvious proto-feminist characters. Trapped in a society obsessed with patriarchy, she risks her life to protect her family and her country by replacing her strict, traditionalist father in the war against the Hun army. Accompanied by her wise-cracking dragon guardian, Mushu, she almost single-handedly saves her friends, the emperor, and all of China. This is a film which addresses the inherent sexism which exists in society, and exposes the ludicrousness of such prejudices. Mulan fights for her right to fight, to be heard, and to decide her own future. She refuses to simply crush herself into the mould created for her, and becomes a national hero in her own right. Here, Disney teaches an important lesson about gender equality, and, even more impressively, it does so in a way which is understandable for its young target audience. Such a lesson has stayed with me my whole life; for me, Mulan is an immortal masterpiece.
1) Edward Scissorhands
Yes, it’s another cinematic victory for Mr Tim Burton. The film tells the story of gentle outcast Edward, a humanoid man with scissors for hands. He leaves his lonely castle for the grotesque brightness of the suburbs, and is initially accepted into the community. However, their misunderstanding, judgement and eventual fear of him cause irreparable damage to his tender spirit, and drive him back into solitude. Edward comments on the deceptiveness of appearances, and the kindliness, perception and compassion of those who may at first seem most dangerous. However, somewhat tragically, it also suggests that they perhaps must remain outcasts – away from the forces of corruption and hypocrisy – to maintain such a nature. It’s also a story about love, shown through the deep connection between Edward and suburban teenager Kim. Kim is initially spoilt, superficial and rude, but transforms into an altogether more understanding and compassionate human being as she learns to look beyond Edward’s sinister exterior. Both are, in a way, made all the more human by their feelings for each other. The ending is somewhat bittersweet, but it’s still a beautiful tale, and one which is well deserving of its top spot in this list.