Who’s In AniMadness?

Over the course of the next few weeks, MiNext will ruthlessly pit animation studio against animation studio (sometimes we’ll even make them fall on their sword and take down one of their own: Disney vs. Disney, brother against brother) to determine the studio with the greatest consecutive five movie run. We’re watching over 100 animated films, from the likes of Disney and Pixar, Dreamworks, Sullivan Bluth, Studio Ghibli… Long list. Today, I’m sharing with you how exactly we plan to accomplish this monumental task in a way where you’ll be able to keep track.

We’ve revealed the full bracket of 11 different studios broken into 4 regions and 20 groups or “teams.” (Some studios have multiple teams. Disney, it should not surprise you, has enough great animated films to sustain many more teams than any other studio could even fathom.) We’ll be going region by region, watching the 25 movies in that region and eliminating studios until we have a regional winner. We’ll kick off with our first region, headlined by the “Disney Renaissance” period that probably consumed most of your childhood. When we reach our final four movie groups we’ll do something special and select our finalists for the championship and then, with the fanfare it deserves, the overall winner.

Now let’s answer the big question: Who’s in?

Below for your perusing pleasure, I give you the 20 “teams” that will be competing for the crown. Click the image to enlarge!

2013-03-03 - Bracket

I’ll list out the teams by their first matchup. If you’re a big animation buff (or a solid mathematician who can count to five), you may notice some things look a bit fishy. I’ll do my best to explain those instances in the footnotes. So the teams are:

The Simba Region

Battle 1: #4 Sullivan Bluth Studios vs. #5 Walt Disney Animation (1982-1988)

Sullivan Bluth Studios: All Dogs Go to Heaven, An American Tail, The Land Before Time, Rock-A-Doodle, The Secreth of NIMH

Disney 80s: The Black Cauldron, The Fox and the Hound, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver and Company, Who Framed Roger Rabbit 1

Battle 2: #1 Walt Disney Animation (1989-1994) vs. Play-In Winner

Disney Rennaissance: Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under

Battle 3: #2 Pixar Studios (1995-2003) vs. #3 Dreamworks Studios (1997-2001)

Early Pixar: A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., Toy Story, Toy Story 2

DreamWorks: Antz, Chicken Run, The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Shrek 2

Naussica Region

Battle 4: #4 Mad House Animation vs. #5 Walt Disney Animation (2000-2004)

Mad House: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Godfathers, Metropolis, Millennium Actress, Nasu: Summer in Andalusia, Paprika, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust 3

Disney Sci-Fi: Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Brother Bear, The Emperor’s New Groove, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet

Battle 5: #1 Studio Ghibli (1984-1989) vs. Play-In Winner

Early Ghibli: Castle in the Sky, Grave of the Fireflies, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Battle 6: #2 Walt Disney Animation (1950-1959) vs. #3 Walt Disney Animation (2007-2012)

Disney Post-War: Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty

Disney Late Aughts: Bolt, Enchanted, Meet the Robinsons, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled. Winnie the Pooh, Wreck-It-Ralph 4

Mickey Mouse Region

Battle 7: #4 Warner Brothers (1994-1998) vs. #5 ImageMovers

Warner Brothers: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Cats Don’t Dance, The Iron Giant, Quest for Camelot, Space Jam 5

ImageMovers: Beowulf, A Christmas Carol, Mars Needs Moms, Monster House, The Polar Express

Battle 8: #1 Walt Disney Animation (1937-1941) vs. Play-In Winner

Disney Classic: Bambi, Dumbo, Fantasia, Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Battle 9: #2 Walt Disney Animation (1967-1977) vs. #3 Bakshi Productions

Disney Post-Walt: The Aristocats, The Jungle Book, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Rescuers, Robin Hood

Bakshi Productions: Coonskin, Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, The Lord of the Rings, Wizards

Wall-E Region

Battle 10: #4 Burton/Selick vs. #5 Aardman Animation

Burton/Selick: Coraline, Corpse Bride, James and the Giant Peach, The Nightmare Before Christmas 6

Aardman: Arthur Christmas, Chicken Run, Flushed Away, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Battle 11: #1 Pixar Studios (2004-2009) vs. Play-In Winner
Late Pixar: Cars, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, WALL-E

Battle 12: #2 Studio Ghibli (1997-2003) vs. #3 Walt Disney Animation (1995-2000)

Late Ghibli: The Cat Returns, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbors the Yamadas, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away

Disney Post-Renaissance: Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, Pocahontas, Tarzan

Got questions? Okay, I’ll try and answer as many as I can.

Each team, with one or two exceptions, has five feature films. (We limited the field to feature animation because shorts would have been to difficult to consider. If we’d included them, this would’ve probably been Warner Brothers’ competition to lose.) These films had to come out consecutively – no skipping around in the studio distribution order to try and put together a better group of films. So, if I’m not a Cars fan, no skipping past it to include some other film I like more. The point here is to let the studio tell its own story – sometimes that story isn’t the greatest story. But failures can be just as interesting as successes. We decided to just let it happen. (For the record, I like Cars. James doesn’t. Haven’t seen Cars 2 and I’ll probably leave it that way.)

We looked at many more studios than the ones that made the cut – some even sat in our bracket as placeholders for a while – but we limited the field to twenty to keep the teams to a relatively high standard (and to keep us from having to watch too many bad movies and losing our minds). Many great films just didn’t have the support around them to sustain a respectable team, and much of the feedback we’ve heard since passing this bracket amongst our friends has been, “But where’s (blank)?” We imagine you’ll have similar feelings. We hear ya. As we get ramped up we’ll post about some of the movies and studios we were most upset to leave out. We’ll call this “The Animation Bubble.”

Unfortunately, though, not every film could make it to the studio bracket – getting in required a solid foundation of other films around you. A star needs a team. Our teams are many and they are large. Even without the films we were sad to leave out, we have plenty to consider. More than plenty. In total, we are left with more than 100 films sorted into various studio teams. As James discussed yesterday, we are going to, in fairness to the studios participating, watch each of these films and only do the judging once we’ve reappraised them all with eyes that aren’t seven-years-old and on a sugar high. (Okay, we can’t promise there won’t be sugar highs.)

The tournament works like the NCAA tourney if it were quartered. There will be four play-in games – one in each region – where our lowest seeded teams fight to earn their way into the Big Dance. The play-in winners will be rewarded for their victory by facing off against one of the tournament #1 seeds. Yikes!

Those big fish are: Disney’s first five films (from Snow White to Bambi); Studio Ghibli’s first five films (Nausicca Valley of the Wind – which Hiyao Miyazaki technically directed before he started the Studio, but which we lumped in because it works with the story we want to tell and Ghibli considers it one of its own – to Kiki’s Delivery Service); the films of the “Disney Renaissance” (Little Mermaid to The Lion King, like I needed to tell you that); and the Pixar films released between The Incredibles and Up. That matchup will probably not go well for the play-in winners, just saying.

The winner of the #1 vs. #4 matchup will then go on to face the proud victor of the #2/#3 contest. Whoever takes the crown in the Elite Eight will then move on to the Final Four, where we’ll slow things down and bask in the glory of the individual films we have left before we crown an ultimate champion.

If you think the seeding seems completely arbitrary, it’s not. How’d we arrive at the top seeds we have? I took every film on the list and gave it a score out of 10. Since I haven’t seen these movies in many years in most cases, it wasn’t my opinion that mattered when doling out 10s or 4s – I tried to go with the consensus on each film and give what I think people would expect it would deserve. When I gave out way to many 9s and 10s in my first pass (I’m too kind), I knocked everything back a notch so I had a nice bell curve. Out of the 100 films, only 6 recieved 10s – I reserved that number for consensus masterpeices and worked my way down from there. 9s were beloved classics. 8s were ambitious successes and so on and so on until I reached my disgraces and embarrasments.

Once that was done, it was just a matter of totaling up and ranking. Let’s look at our overall #1 real quick to see how we arrived at these seedings:

Our overall #1 seed consists of these five films: Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi. That’s a murderer’s row right there. Of those five films, only one got the full-out ten – Pinocchio, which many consider the greatest animated film of all time. Few tens didn’t affect the team much though. This group is consistant: Snow White and Fantasia both more than earn their 9s in consensus view, and, with 8s, Dumbo and Bambi barely deserve the idiom bringing up the rear, considering the fact that, combined, they outpace most team’s best THREE films. This Disney team comes in with a scary total of 44 out of 50, enough to outpace every other top seed by at least 3 points. Yikes!

Does this mean the Snow White team can’t lose? Heck no it doesn’t! All of those films have legacies out the wazoo, sure, and that’ll buy them the respect they deserve, which is a plum top seed spot, but will they hold up? We’ll only know if we watch. Maybe a big upset awaits. That’s why we play the game.

  1. The first of three examples of a half live-action, half animation movie making the cut. (And no none of them are Mary Poppins… Bad timing for that film, sad trombone…) We tried to avoid these at first, but each time one came up, the implications of the studio deciding to do one of these was just to juicy. In each of the three cases, the hybrid film adds so much to the narrative of what was going on at the studio at that time, so we left them in. And yes, this means that, once or twice we did bite our thumb at the official “Disney Canon.” We’ll live. 
  2. Chicken Run is, by a bit of a loophole in our rules, the only film we’ll watch twice in the competition. We didn’t strictly prohibit purely distribution-type deals, like the one Aardman Animation had with DreamWorks in the early Aughts. In the end, though Chicken Run feels more like an Aardman film than a DreamWorks film, we gave DreamWorks credit for having the guts to bet on the little British shorts studio and recognize that, stateside at least, Aardman did play a pretty big role in giving DreamWorks the cred it needed when it was young. So Chicken Run is on both teams. It’s pulling double-duty. I think it can handle it. 
  3. This is one where you mathmeticians out there are probably saying “What?” Yeah, there’s seven films here. The fact is, we knew we wanted Mad House in the bracket – it has too good a reputation to ignore it – but we know so little about these films that we’re not sure what the best five-film stretch even is. Metropolis and Paprika are six films apart, making the decision rather difficult. So we’re going to watch the seven film-stretch we decided would probably be best, and we’ll draw a line in the sand once we’ve seen the films and can better judge their quality. 
  4. Enchanted sneaks in here because the fact that it came out when it did and how it did is a nessecary part of the story when it comes to Disney in the late Aughts. Is it in the “canon”, per se? No. But it’s in the canon in our hearts… Yeah… Also, Wreck-It-Ralph is so great it threw a wrench in our carefully laid plans. To make sure the team wouldn’t be better served by including it, we’re watching two more films here. 
  5. And I mean we couldn’t do this without Space Jam could we? It would have been a crime against animation to do any of this without the greatest animated… Yeah, okay, I’m not going to continue with that line of reasoning. We all know Space Jam isn’t very good, even if it was our favorite movie as a kid and we’re secretly afraid to watch it again because we don’t want to feel like we had horrible judgment and hate ourselves. (This is purely hypothetical… No, it’s not. That’s me. I so don’t want to watch it. Don’t make me!) So why’d we pick Space Jam over Osmosis Jones? Because it wouldn’t have felt right to talk about animation at Warner Brothers without having at least one movie with Bugs Bunny in it. Is it a great movie with Bugs Bunny in it? Probably not. But that’s sort of the point. By the mid-90s, when it got into feature animation, Warner Brothers could do something great like Iron Giant, but they could not do two things for their life: they could not figure how to make money off animation, even during an animation boom, and they could not figure out how to use their greatest assets: The Looney Tunes. More on that when we get to the Warner-ImageMovers battle. 
  6. We’re breaking our biggest rule here. What can we say, we’re rebels. Burton/Selick is not technically a studio. It’s more like an identity, or an aesthetic. Burton and Selick worked together on The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, as the producer and director, respectively. After they went their seperate ways, they each directed films (Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie for Burton, Coraline for Selick) that called back to their collaborations so clearly that it was hard not to see those those films as being of the same piece, even though no one studio had technically distributed them all. (As a sidenote, you will never see me call this team “Burton’s team,” even though most people associate all these films, even the one Tim Burton had no hand in, to be Tim Burton films. Selick played a larger role in most of these productions and while much of the vision may be the more famous director’s, much of the vision is also Selick’s.)