Fairy tales. Fantasies. Good old-fashioned family values. The kid-centric films of the Noughties were dominated by CG animation, performance capture, and Harry Potter. G- and PG-rated entertainment grew scarce, as did traditional hand-drawn animation (revived again, to mostly glorious effect, for 2009's The Princess And The Frog). And while Disney/Pixar continued to capture the imaginations of cinema-goers worldwide (with Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up), their chief rival, DreamWorks, fancied in-jokes over genuine storytelling (Shrek, Madagascar). The ultimate Family flicks must not only do without the heavy profanity, violence and sexuality required of other genres, they must also engage adults and children alike.
5. Enchanted (Kevin Lima, 2007)
Disney satirizes itself to such a spectacular degree you'd be hard- pressed to look at any of their animated classics the same way again. It's a canny twist on an age-old formula, complete with wink-wink nods to past studio successes and hummable song score from Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz ("That's How You Know," their centerpiece ballad, is a genuine crowd-pleaser). The whole thing actually plays like an answer to DreamWorks' Shrek, with jokes that poke fun at storybook conventions only to succumb to them, proudly, at the end. And while the 12-or-so minutes of featured animation are as sublime as anything Disney's done before, the movie really comes alive during its live-action sequences, with a game cast led by Amy Adams in the very definition of a star-making performance. She's delightful enough all on her own to make you believe in the corniest of fairy tales.
4. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarón, 2004)
Harry Potter's third year at Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry is also the first to succeed as an actual movie, rather than just a stolid re-enactment of J.K. Rowling's blockbuster novels. It's also the first to create a real sense of urgency, a real sense of magic, and it raised the bar for every chapter that followed. Credit the influence of Alfonso Cuarón, who not only manages to conjure up real performances from his three leads (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson finally felt as if they'd grown into their roles), but also gives the movie an other-worldly sheen to match its wondrous special effects. Then there's the film's playful wit, its ingenious new characters – I could go on about Azkaban's many pleasures all day. The highest compliment I can give it, though, is how much it finally endeared me to the delights of this peculiar fantasy world.
So many Pixar gems to choose from – yet none of them as slyly subversive as this. Andrew Stanton's second directorial feature leapfrogs past initial comparisons to Short Circuit or R2-D2: The Movie with its bold conceptual choices, from the photo-realistic animation (veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins was hired as a visual consultant) to its virtually wordless opening 40 minute stretch. And WALL-E himself is an adorable creation, plucky, resolute, and completely oblivious to the way he charms everyone around him. Still, it's the subtext that really sneaks in there. Yes, on the surface it's about a robot who falls in love, and I still don't understand how 700 years can turn humans who look an awful lot like Fred Willard into cartoons, but I can see the point: that mindless consumerism will eventually lead this planet (and ourselves) to rot. That Pixar is able to raise such high-minded stakes without bogging down the kiddies is another testament to their continued domination of the market.
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009)
Dominated, but hardly cornered. Wes Anderson started the decade with one masterpiece (see 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums, discussed here), so it's only fitting that he ends it with another, this impishly entertaining expansion of the children's classic by Roald Dahl. Anderson's signature style had been wearing a little thin in between, which is why the switch to animation comes as such a welcome surprise; the cadences, minute attention to detail, and droll sense of humor all survive intact, and actually seem better suited to this world of anthropomorphic animal characters than the director's live-action comedies. That said, the stop-motion animation really seems to discourage people from even giving it a chance, and that's a shame – this kind of lovingly-crafted technique is nothing to sneeze at. The puppets (by Ian MacKinnon and Peter Saunders, the same guys behind Corpse Bride, among others) are often hilariously expressive, and every frame is filled with its own special pleasures.
1. The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)
Pixar's first computer-animated feature with human characters front and center is also the only one I completely lost my mind over during the last ten years. The animation is stylized, yes, but remarkably fluid, and the wit and imagination on display are often so exhilarating it begs the question, Why can't other studios treat their big- budget extravaganzas with the same spit and polish? As with any Pixar film (or any great film, for that matter), its surface delights are merely a cover for richer, deeper stuff – here, it's about reclaiming your true inner self, and the importance of family. The surface is pretty swell too, a rollicking superhero adventure in the James Bond mold, and paced so that each action sequence packs twice the scope and excitement of the one that preceded it. Brad Bird's mad genius even extends to the movie's quieter moments, as when Mrs. Incredible warns her children about the reality of violence. Some critics cried foul at this scene, lambasting Pixar's attempts to de-glorify its thrills while reveling in them at the same time. I say it's more a glorious case of having your cake and eating it, too.
And another one bites the dust. Like that one? Any you disagree with? Any I forgot? Please comment below - otherwise I won't know what you think! Up next: Historical Dramas. See you then.