4 Animated Sci-Fi Films You Should Check Out – Friday Four
After discussing the natural connection between sci-fi and animation on Monday, it seemed only appropriate to give you all a head start on finding some good animated sci-fi. Sure, some of them might be kids movies, but a lot of them have a level of awareness of their periphery demographic among older sci-fi fans that might just leave you surprised.
4. The Iron Giant
Long before Vin Diesel was saying “I am Groot!”, he had another beloved sci-fi character with a limited vocabulary. While I’d hate to get into the “90’s kidz” meme, it’s true that this film in particular seems to resonate with that generation, to the point where uttering certain lines from the film can actually get them to tear up even today. Set in the late 1950’s, the film follows a kid named Hogarth who finds a giant robot, which is something that rarely happens to kids outside of Tokyo. At first, it’s all about keeping the robot out of the military’s hands, but it soon becomes apparent that giant robots don’t just fall out of the sky (with Tokyo once again the exception) and that his extraterrestrial origins might be far more dangerous than anything the military could do. The Giant will have to choose for himself who he wants to be: the alien hero like Superman, or the alien invader.
The film has some great themes and its 50’s Cold War era setting is the perfect one in which to tell this story. It regularly makes top ten lists for Animation, and it’s easy to see why. What’s really unfortunate is that it never received its due at the box office and the Warner Brothers division for animated films more or less died off with it.
3. The Animatrix
This spinoff of The Matrix film series is probably one of the best things to come out of that franchise since the original movie. A collection of nine short animated films, The Animatrix displays a wide variety of styles and explores the backstory of the world, showing some of the war with the machines and their earlier attempts at dealing with humans. A lot of the shorts are written by the Wachowskis themselves, and directed by well-known animated sci-fi directors like Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop fame. This is absolutely not for kids, with lots of intense violence and some nudity, although a lot of it is narratively justified. The shorts really take full advantage of what was set up in the first film, making it clear that The Matrix trilogy didn’t have to be as shallow as it ended up being.
It’s a matter of debate as to whether this should be considered anime or not; clearly its use of anime directors means that the style is there, but it was primarily developed for Hollywood and some of the actors from the film do reprise their roles.
9 was a 2009 film (release date: 9/9/2009–yeah, that’s not a coincidence) about a very unique-looking post-apocalyptic world, populated by nine little sackdolls who appear to be AI robots underneath the surface. While it was mistaken for a kids movie, as so often is the case for animated films, 9 actually has a very dark plot (as if “post-apocalyptic” isn’t clear enough). Its association with Tim Burton probably didn’t help in that regard, either, but it was actually directed by Shane Acker, who originally created an Oscar-nominated short based on the idea. Our protagonist, the doll labeled number 9, comes to in a destroyed city and gradually has to figure out what’s happening as he runs into the other dolls, who all seem to exhibit certain defining traits. All organic life appears to be dead, and the only other beings are vaguely monstrous machines that attempt to destroy the dolls and steal their souls. As one might expect from that description, it doesn’t shy away from death and destruction, and that’s on top of all the death implied by its setting.
This movie actually managed to launch its own little subgenre that’s referred to as “Stitchpunk,” and I definitely remember at the time expecting it to take off. The only other thing I can think of that might qualify as “stitchpunk” is the Sackboy from Little Big Planet, however.
1. Treasure Planet
Okay, so it’s literally Treasure Island “in space,” but that’s not why this underappreciated film usually catches a bad rap. Instead, it’s because it was the last Disney animated film for seven years, when they finally decided to give it another try with The Princess and the Frog, which ended up being the final nail in the coffin for 2D animation at Disney (the same thing that happened with The Iron Giant, unfortunately). But the film itself is quite striking visually, with its steampunk aesthetic splattered across actual sailing ships in space and a cast of odd-looking aliens. The sails are justified through the revival of other Victorian era concepts like the Ether, which makes for a fairly unique setting. It had an interesting mix of CGI to it as well, helping to give the ship the feeling of size that it needed.
The story is darker than your average Disney film, and it was apparently meant to appeal to single-parent families and teens, which is something that, once again, everyone missed out on by assuming it was for little kids. It managed to get very nice reviews from the critics, but alas, critics are rarely enough to save a film. But it does stand as a testament to the kind of fantastic vistas that are possible by combining science fiction and animation.
Have you seen these animated works, or plan to watch them now? Are there any you think I should’ve included? Let me know in the comments or on twitter @RetroPhaseShift. Next week, we’ll keep this topic going with some must-see anime.