This is a simple list about some animated films (mainly from the '80s and '90s) that I sincerely believe made much less money than they should have. None of these movies are bad (some of them aren’t exactly masterpieces) but every single one of them achieved a higher echelon of animation than they were compensated for. For some of these, it’s a downright sickening crime that they didn’t receive more attention. Here they are.
You know what? I initially included Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire in this spot, and something just didn't feel right. I knew there was another film I wanted to start out with; Metropolis.
Aside from being the most visually stunning animated film I've ever seen, there is a good handful of material in this film that makes it worth watching.
It just sucks you into its world. I could watch this movie if it was 4 hours long. It's that good. The story is great, but you know something? I didn't even really care. I was invested in the story to a degree, but these visuals were the story.
This movie is really about one thing. It shows you the dangers of a society that grows too large, and the consequences of corruption, and class segregation. It's a really really important subject matter. I almost wish the visuals sucked so that the story received more attention. It's just simply beautiful!
I mean. Look at this. Here is a scene with little FIREFIGHTING ROBOTS.... seriously FIREFIGHTING ROBOTS!
And the music. Oh good God! The music is insane. It is just too good. Not until The Triplets of Belleville have I seen music this good in an animated movie. Well, that was only two years later, but seriously, this film (along with Triplets, which was too young to make this list) marks the end of what I consider to be a great era in animation.
9. Princess Mononoke
As with many, many great things in America, sometimes they simply go unnoticed. Princess Mononoke was the most successful film in Japan in 1997 until Titanic made its way across the pacific (no pun intended). For serious, everyone in Japan praised this as one of the greatest movies ever made. It was then released over here and people were like “the fuck is this?” Even though Roger Ebert sang its praises, and it had a star-studded, English dubbing, no one gave a hoot. While the movie is not perfect, and I don't think it is quite the masterpiece that Japan hails it to be, but it's still a really good movie. It deserves a viewing or two.
8. All Dogs Go to Heaven
Here is the point in the list where I start to get into the territory of films tragically not being recognized. I think All Dogs Go to Heaven is one of those films.
This is not a great film. It is a very very very good movie. But I would be shouting at you through a nostalgia megaphone if I told you it was great. The characters are insanely compelling, though. To be fair, I cry at a lot of films. But I did not think I was going to cry at this one. I mean... c'mon. But, after watching this movie, I don't think twice. The waterworks flow.
It's highly flawed. It's dark and depressing at times, and sometimes it just doesn't make sense. That said, it is still very enjoyable. I agree with the nostalgia critic on this one: this is the 4th best Don Bluth movie. The big-lipped alligator is... weird... But, as far as underrated sleepers go, it's up there.
This is a truly moving film that doesn't pull any punches on thematic elements that are heavy for children to stomach. It's a good movie that just gets better with age.
7. DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp
It made back its budget but didn't turn a profit. I don't know why because this is a fantastic film. It is not on the level of the films I've listed below, but it has a special place in almost all of our hearts. Scrooge is a great character because he is relatable in a moral sense. We all are greedy in some way or another, but we find ways to do good. That's Scrooge McDuck. He's... human?
Rip Taylor turns in a manic performance that is hilarious with heart at the same time. He deserved more attention after this, but I don't think that he got it. Terrible thing to happen to such a talented guy. Maybe not a huge career resurgence, but seriously why was he not in more stuff? This movie is fun, and I'm fine with that. Great stuff here: Christopher Lloyd, Alan Young, Indiana Jones type theme. It's a full-length movie of The DuckTales series. God, what a treat and no-one cared.
6. The Great Mouse Detective
Okay. This isn't exactly a sleeper hit. This is the Disney successor to The Black Cauldron. So, lots of people were hoping for something good, and they got it! This is a very very very good movie. I wouldn't call it great, but I never had any trouble calling this a memorable Disney film. The best thing about this movie is the protagonist, Basil, and the villain, Rattigan. They are solid characters which are very fun to watch.
As a kid, I knew I was watching dialogue, and performances that were more adult than the average kid film, and I really appreciated that as a kid. This movie doesn't talk down to its viewership. It cracks silly jokes every now and then, but it is a strangely sweeping adventure with some memorable, dark characters (kind of like All Dogs Go to Heaven). Good movie.
5. The Rescuers Down Under
Another film with talking animals. I know. But it's great at it. As long as you can get past the surprise in the opening where Cody talks to a Kangaroo in the forest like he just did it yesterday, you are going to be alright. As far as Disney kids go, Cody is actually the kind of kid you root for. He's completely unselfish and is simply trying to protect animals when the biggest jerk known to man kidnaps him from the Australian backyard. Or should I say "outback"-yard. Oh, that was terrible.
This film opened alongside the most successful film of 1990, Home Alone. Because of that, it just really underperformed and sealed it officially as a sleeper. Lots of critics gave it lukewarm reviews, while surprisingly, Roger Ebert gave it a very positive review. I'm of the camp that this film has many redemptive qualities that tons of Disney films have not revisited. What are those qualities?
This film is sweeping, good lord is it fast. Exactly what a film about a rescue in the Australian outback should be. Good job, Disney. Plus, there is not one musical number with singing. Thank you, Disney. I love a great musical. West Side Story is freaking amazing, legendary, and tremendous, but sometimes there are incorrect places to arbitrarily stick musical numbers that hold a film back. Thank God they chose to just go with a solid musical score because it's incredible.
George C. Scott is the evilest human being that ever existed, I'm convinced. There is no way a good person could turn in a performance like that. Overall, this is an incredible Disney film that is far better than some late 90's Disney fare, and certainly better that lots of computer animated Disney film. Why, oh why, does no one really care about this movie?
4. The Iron Giant
Yep. This is an "alright" movie.
This film severely underperformed at the box office but performed severely well on screen. Vin Diesel is the robot (win). I don't know what else to say about this movie. It's hard to believe this film went under by 40 million dollars. How is that possible? According to many internet sources, it only made around 30 million with a budget of 70-80 million. That's terrible!
There're a few reasons why it could have underperformed. Marketing was not strong. Brad Bird, the director, has gone on record stating that Warner Brothers neglected to promote the film properly out of ignorance of what a great product they had. That's pretty shitty. A test screening for the film was apparently the highest rated in 15 years for a film of it's kind.
I didn't even really give this film the time of day until it was released on DVD. I thought, why not, I'll check it out. IT BLEW ME AWAY. It's near perfect. The set up of the story, the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously until it has to, the characters are freaking astoundingly believable and hilarious are all great things about this film. It hits you right there. In the heart.
It's a great film, which makes these next three films I'm going to name absolute masterpieces.
3. Watership Down
OH GOD, do I love this movie. It was not made in the '80s or '90s, but it's close (1978). It did not perform well at the box-office, only turning in about 3.7 million on a 4.8 million dollar budget. Definitely underwhelming financially.
What is so great about this film? Much like Rescuers Down Under, it has talking animals, great music, great acting, and great pacing. The only thing it does that I'm glad that Rescuers didn't do is include a soundtrack with Simon and Garfunkel's music. It works with this movie. Probably wouldn't have worked in Rescuers, although I would have enjoyed the original Rescuers film more if it also had them. This movie just gut punches you with some seriously haunting classic tunes. Yeah, that dates it a little, but I honestly don't care. It's a good date. I'd go on a date with this movie anytime.
Richard Briers and John Hurt are simply astounding as the central characters in this film. Dare I say, Fiver is perhaps one the greatest underdog screen heroes in cinema. Why? He is such an unlikely hero. He is weak, afraid, small, and considered a nuisance. Yet, he is the one with the premonitions and psychic powers that eventually cause all of the rabbits to leave the warren, and embark on this epic adventure (that was not a spoiler). Fiver, you are an inspiration. I could write pages and pages on why this movie is so great.
2. The Brave Little Toaster
The Brave Little Toaster... didn't make so much as a splash when it hit theatre's... and I don't know why. Incredible story. Incredible soundtrack with some of the very best animated movie songs ('It's a B-Movie Show', & 'Worthless'). Incredible voice acting. Very solid animation. It was so influential that the woman who voiced the toaster had to sign autographs for a horde of American soldiers who brought toasters to a deployment ceremony where her son was a part of in going to serve in Afghanistan in 2010 (23 years after the movie came out!) I mean. That's just... wow. This movie means a lot to people.
It has garnered such a huge cult following since its release, and rightly so. The fact that this movie gained attention at Sundance tells you something. There was a lot more going on in the production of this film than just 'making a kids movie.'
Director, Jerry Rees cares. He really cares about making art. He cares about telling a compelling story. This film is an undeniable work of art. If it can move director Roland Joffe to tears (which he said it did), then it deserves an Oscar. Wish that it would've gotten one for crying out loud.
1. The Secret of NIMH
I know what you're thinking: "Everyone knows this movie and loves it."
It's true. Everyone loves this movie (nowadays). It garnered critical acclaim and made back twice its budget. However, twice its budget was only 14 million. A paltry sum compared to the massive profit animated films make in this day and age. The film only saw a limited release and was so poorly marketed (I'm detecting a trend here) that it did not attract the large crowd it could have.
It is, dare I say, The Shawshank Redemption of animated movies. It gained a huge following after being released on home video and has gone down in history as a beloved film classic that many children have watched on their TV's in the comforts of their own home. To me, that's a sleeper. It also just couldn't compete with E.T. back in 1982, much in the same way that Shawshank just couldn't compete with Forrest Gump, in '94. A shame, because this is such a good movie. It is, arguably, Don Bluth's finest work.
And that's pretty much it. If you'd like, feel free to comment on what you personally think are the greatest sleeper animated films.