The first five to ten minutes of a film are crucial. During that time, the movie's job is to engage the audience. Music, grand visuals, performances, and storytelling are utilized to impress and captivate viewers. Some openings are mediocre, others are decent and the rest hit it right out of the ballpark. In animation there's usually more effort involved as everything from the characters, setting, lighting, ambiance, etc. has to be produced. However, when they manage to strike an emotional chord with us, excite us or captivate our attention the response is familiar to watching a masterpiece being created. Without further ado, here are the top 4 opening scenes in animated movies.
4. The Prince of Egypt 'Deliver Us'
The Prince of Egypt was released in 1998, and it's one of Dreamworks' few 2D films. The movie can be described as an animated revision of The Ten Commandments. The story chronicles a Hebrew named Moses who's saved from certain death and raised in the Pharaoh's palace. After a controversial accident, he runs away and leaves everything and everyone he knew and loved behind. Years later, he's assigned by God to free the slaves from his beloved brother Ramses a.k.a. Pharaoh.
In the opening, the song 'Deliver Us' played as we were transported to Ancient Egypt. It was a laboring, hot day and the slaves were being pushed to their limits as the construction of the pyramids and idols were underway. They cried for freedom, but their pleas went unheard. Meanwhile, soldiers were raiding homes of Hebrew families searching for newborn babies, so they could throw them in the Nile river to be drowned, or eaten by crocodiles. A Hebrew mother slipped right past them and retreated to the river and sent off her baby son Moses in a weaved bassinet in hopes that he'll be taken somewhere safe. Fortunately, the Queen finds him and decides to incorporate him in her family. The entire sequence is filled with goosebumps-inducing music, beautiful wide shots, and profound dramatic and emotional elements. Personally, every time I watch this scene it shakes my inner-core and sends shivers down my spine.
3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame 'Bells of Notre Dame'
Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame was based off of Victor Hugo's novel of the same name. While the book was considerably more morbid and disturbing this animated interpretation is renowned for being one Disney's darkest films. With underlying themes of lust, persecution, genocide, and manipulation it's definitely one of their most mature movies (if you discount the gargoyles, ugh). The story's about a deformed young man named Quasimodo whowas hidden in the bell tower by his caretaker Judge Claude Frollo. Quasi visited the outside world for the very first time during the 'Feast of Fools' celebration. There he met the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, who along with Pheobus (Captain of the guards) challenged the injustice of Frollo's jurisdictions against the gypsies.
In the intro; the bells of Notre Dame rang, and a choir and Clopin sang in impeccable harmony. Twenty years prior to the events of the film we're transported into the dark recesses of Paris. Gypsies tried to sneak in, but Judge Claude Frollo caught and had them arrested. However, a woman carrying a bundle ran away, and Frollo chased her down at Notre Dame, and inadvertently killed her. Discovering she had a baby (and repulsed by its misshapen appearance) he attempted to drown it before the archduke intervened, and reminded him that they eyes of god are watching him. To repent his sin Frollo unofficially adopted Quasi and raised him as his own. In similar vein to The Lion King's opening, Hunchback's is also big. The music, wide establishing shots, and landscape amplify this. The entire sequence is executed to perfection with dramatic lighting, beautiful animation, emotional performances and Gothic inspired backgrounds.
2. The Lion King 'Circle of Life'
Everyone and their grandmother knows The Lion King, but for those who (surprisingly) haven't seen or heard of it it's about a lion named Simba who's destined to lead his father Mufasa's pride. After the betrayal of a relative and the death of his dad he's banished to the desert. The young cub was rescued by a meerkat Timon, and warthog Pumba. They raised him into adulthood, and while Simba lived a carefree existence the presence of an old friend eventually forced him to face his demons and the past, for the sake of regaining his dying kingdom.
For an intro that's compelling and epic its concept was rather simplistic. As the sun rose herds of animals gathered at Pride Rock to celebrate the birth of Mufasa and his wife Sarabi's first child. However, what made this sequence memorable was the scale of it. Everything's huge, and small. At one moment we're the size of a beetle, next an elephant and then we're soaring behind a bird. The colors were complimentary iridescent, and pleasant for the eyes. Hans Zimmer's orchestration and lyrics were a key factor, as it built up the tension of the moment. It kept rising and rising, before taking a brief break, and then it resumed the same momentum before finishing out with a triumphant drum beat. The producers and filmmakers were so pleased about the opening that it was used as a trailer for the film.
1. Up 'Carl and Ellie'
Up was about a cantankerous widower called Carl or Mr. Fredrikson who unexpectedly went on the journey of a lifetime with a boy scout, talking dog and his flying house. This opening's remarkably different from the others in that it's simple. There's no grand visuals or thunderous music. In fact, throughout the clip a pleasant piano melody plays, and there's no dialogue. During these nine minutes we're shown the entire lives of this couple-- Carl & Ellie. We're there for their first meeting, wedding day, intimate moments, Ellie's pregnancy announcement and unfortunate miscarriage, and their various attempts to visit Paradise Falls before Ellie passed on.
It's incredible that this opening accomplished something in less in ten minutes that it takes some movies more than sixty minutes to achieve. That is becoming invested in the characters, rooting for them, and believing that (if they're in a relationship) their love is real. Another crucial aspect is its sentimentality. The emotional roller coaster ride we're taken on was just as enduring and powerful as Carl & Ellie's journey together was. The animation's also gorgeous, and pleasant to look at.
Openings like these are what partly make movies worthwhile watching. They set a standard other films to meet with impressive images, stirring atmosphere, shattering music, and profound emotion. They not only entertained us, but also captivated our attention the moment they began. The beauty of it is whether it's modest or epic an opening can provide the same effect. These four without a doubt fit that image.