Not all movies need to be seen in HD, but if there’s one type of filmmaking that regularly benefits from the Blu-ray format, it’s animation. Let us cite one example at random: My Neighbour Totoro. Until fairly recently, the only copy we had on the shelf was an early, imported version on DVD, which was grainy and a little washed-out.
When Studio Canal issued Totoro on Blu-ray in 2012, the difference in image quality was little short of a revelation: Hayao Miyazaki’s colours and fluid lines positively shimmered. In short, it was like seeing this fresh, sun-drenched film again for the first time.
The same could be said for so many other animated films, no matter what country they come from: in high-definition, we can truly appreciate every detail of the artists’ work. But sadly, there are some animated films that, for one reason or another, have yet to appear on Blu-ray. Although there are too many to list in full, here’s a selection of features we’d very much like to see.
Fritz The Cat (1972)
Ralph Bakshi’s adaptation of Robert Crumb’s underground comic strip was a huge, huge hit in 1972, particularly when compared to its low budget. Costing an estimated $850,000 to make, Fritz The Cat clawed in approximately $190m worldwide – a remarkable figure, particularly when you consider that the MPAA slapped an X rating on it in the US.
Violent, bawdy and anarchic, Fritz The Cat is very much a product of its time, but it remains a must-see for students of animation and the work of Crumb and Bakshi: the former wasn’t too happy with the results, but Bakshi arguably manages to capture the unpredictable spirit of Crumb’s original comic strips.
A cleaned-up, high-definition Fritz The Cat would be exciting to see, and we’d be thrilled if it came with a documentary covering the film’s making. Ralph Bakshi remains a refreshingly outspoken voice in animation, and his memories of producing Fritz would be fascinating to hear.
Yurusei Yatsura: Only You (1983)
Spawning a long-running animated TV series as well as several feature films, artist and writer Rumiko Takahashi’s Yurusei Yatsura (translation: Those Obnoxious Aliens) was little short of a phenomenon in Japan. A mix of teen romance, science fiction and Japanese folklore, there are elements in Yurusei Yatsura that would probably baffle western audiences on occasions – but on balance, the comedy is so broad and colourful, it would work well in any language.
Yurusei is essentially a manic drama about an alien princess’s unaccountable love for a feckless, lecherous high-school student. The student, Ataru, succeeds in preventing the princess’s alien race from subjugating Earth, but unwittingly ends up engaged to the princess in the process. Both the series and the feature films – starting with Only You in 1983 – unfold as surreal relationship dramas, and the first film, in particular, offers some real laugh-out-loud moments.
With the DVD release now more than a decade old (it was last issued in 2001), Yurusei Yatsura: Only You is becoming increasingly hard to find through legal channels. A cleaned-up boxset of Only You, packaged with the other four animated features, would be a real treasure for 80s anime fans.
Vampire Hunter D (1985)
If you’re unfamiliar with the name Toyoo Ashida, you may well have seen some of his work: he directed episodes of the classic Mysterious Cities Of Gold, served as animation director on another east-west TV collaboration, Ulysses 31, and directed the unfeasibly violent Fist Of The North Star movie in 1986.
One of his finest pieces of anime, however, was his 1985 adaptation of Vampire Hunter D, a series of novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi. A dark and quite strange fusion of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and western, it saw its wandering hero (complete with cyborg horse) defend a young woman from a powerful vampire named Count Magnus Lee. It’s a great, atmospheric and entertainingly gory movie, and deservedly earned a cult following in the west.
Vampire Hunter D was issued in restored form in 2003, which was a huge step up from the grubby print that appeared on VHS in the UK years earlier. A high-definition transfer on Blu-ray would be a treat, though. The gaudy blues, moody blacks and crimson geysers of gore in Ahida’s animation would really stand out in HD.
The Black Cauldron (1985)
Infamous for its darkness and unusual violence for a Disney animation (even in its cut form, it received a PG rating), The Black Cauldron is still something of a diamond in the rough. But its animation is unusual, inventive – and features computer graphics for the first time in a Disney feature – and its murky fantasy story provided a refreshingly different direction for the studio.
Negatively received and a bit of a non-starter at the box-office, The Black Cauldron‘s achievements have become more widely recognised with time – and the 2012 rerelease of its Elmer Bernstein soundtrack finally allowed us to hear the composer’s work in full.
And yet there’s no Blu-ray, despite Disney’s general enthusiasm for reissuing films from its archives. With next year being The Black Cauldron‘s 30th anniversary, we’re hoping that a special edition will be announced very soon.
The Land Before Time (1988)
While the House of Mouse struggled somewhat in the 1980s, former Disney animator Don Bluth enjoyed a string of hits through his own Sullivan Bluth Studios. Dinosaur adventure The Land Before Time was one of his biggest successes, beating Disney’s rival film Oliver & Company (released on the same day in the US) to the top of the box office and going on to spawn a TV series and a string of direct-to-video sequels.
The DVD issue of The Land Before Time wasn’t a great one, so a proper HD transfer would really allow Bluth’s animation to sparkle. Before its release in 1988, The Land Before Time reportedly had 10 minutes of footage cut to avoid a PG rating. A special edition which included these scenes would make the disc an essential purchase.
DuckTales: The Movie: Treasure Of The Lost Lamp (1990)
This spin-off from the hit DuckTales TV series was sorely overlooked on its theatrical release – so much so, we even included it in our top 20 underappreciated films of 1990 list. Compared to most of the other films collected here, Ducktales: The Movie isn’t exactly a technical wonder, but it is full of wit and humour, and provides a thoroughly enjoyable bit of family entertainment – think Indiana Jones, but with lots of feathers. Unfortunately, DuckTales‘ financial failure not only halted plans for future sequels, but also prompted Disney to hide the film down the back of the proverbial sofa – its US DVD version was only released in small quantities (and is quite expensive as a result) and, to date, there appear to be no plans for a Blu-ray release.
Only Yesterday (1991)
Director Isao Takahata’s best-known film is probably Grave Of The Fireflies, his unflinching, heartbreaking World War II drama told from the perspective of two young survivors. His next film, Only Yesterday, saw him explore far less harrowing territory, it being a low-key drama about a young woman taking a trip to the countryside and falling in love both with the beauty of her surroundings and a local friend of her family’s.
Gentle and infused with nostalgia, Only Yesterday isn’t necessarily the kind of thing western audiences raised on My Neighbor Totoro or Spirited Away would associate with Studio Ghibli, but its animation is absolutely exquisite. What a pity, then, that it’s one of the few Ghibli films that isn’t currently available on Blu-ray in the US or UK. If you want to see it in high-definition, you’ll have to order it from France (a version that doesn’t come with English subtitles), or you’ll have to import it from Japan, and prices are quite steep.
With the recent success of Studio Ghibli’s From Up On Poppy Hill – itself a nostalgia-filled drama – and Hayao Miyazaki’s similarly dramatic The Wind Rises on the horizon, maybe Only Yesterday will soon get the Blu-ray release it deserves.
Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993)
Running for three years, Batman: The Animated Series was a superb rendering of the Caped Crusader, with a distinctive graphic style and some faithfully-adapted stories from the original comic books. Batman: Mask Of The Phantom transferred that brilliance to the big screen in 1993, and although it wasn’t a big box office hit, it was several times better than the live-action Batman movies which followed later in the decade. The voice cast was magnificent, too, with a terrific turn as ever from Mark Hamill as the Joker, Kevin Conroy as Batman, and Hart Bochner, Dick Miler and Stacy Keach among the supporting cast.
Mystifyingly, Mask Of The Phantasm not only appears to be out of print on DVD, but also has yet to make its debut on Blu-ray. Given that it’s arguably one of the best Batman films yet made (live-action or otherwise), we’d say a high-def transfer is more than overdue.
Antz (1998), The Prince Of Egypt (1998), The Road To El Dorado (2000)
When DreamWorks opened its doors in the 1990s, animation itself was undergoing a huge change. The success of Pixar’s Toy Story had opened the world’s eyes to the storytelling possibilities of CGI just three years before, and its follow-up picture A Bug’s Life was due out that year. It’s telling, then, that DreamWorks’ opening pair of movies covered both traditional hand-drawn animation (The Prince Of Egypt) and CGI (Antz, with its suspiciously similar premise to A Bug’s Life).
Both did well at the box office, and The Prince Of Egypt, brilliantly directed by Simon Wells, Brenda Chapman and Steve Hickner, was nominated for several awards for its music. DreamWorks’ third release, The Road To El Dorado, was less successful critically and financially, yet there was still much to enjoy in its visuals and music.
As you’ve probably gathered, not one of these three films is available on Blu-ray – a surprising state of affairs, particularly given the Oscar-nominated status of The Prince Of Egypt.
The Rugrats Movie (1998) and The Rugrats In Paris (2000)
Animated TV series The Rugrats was popular enough to spawn two spin-off movies, and they’re both light, funny and hugely entertaining. Both films did well on relatively lean budgets, too, and if anything, the sequel, Rugrats In Paris, was even funnier than its predecessor. The standard dipped with the third Rugrats film (Rugrats Go Wild, released in 2003), to be fair – any sequel that has to resort to scratch-and-sniff cards to interest audiences has to be a bit desperate for ideas – but the first two remain refreshingly witty.
The Iron Giant (1999)
Regular Den Of Geek readers will need little introduction to The Iron Giant, which remains one of our favourite animated films of recent years. A Blu-ray version of Brad Bird’s film would not only be a wonderful opportunity to see the film in high-definition (something it would benefit hugely from), but also because we could get a fresh insight into its making.
The film celebrates its 15th birthday this year, and it’s surely high time that Warner Bros Home Entertainment considered a HD re-release. Brad Bird certainly thinks so, and tweeted as much only a few days ago. We remain hopeful that, if Warner gets enough responses from fans, an Iron Giant Blu-ray may soon become a reality.
Titan AE (2000)
Animated by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, Titan AE was an extremely daring and expensive science fiction epic. Fusing CG and hand-drawn animation, it certainly looked quite unlike anything else coming out of America at the time, and while it’s an undeniably flawed film, it deserved to do better at the box office than it did. The film’s failure not only hastened the closure of Fox Animation Studios, but also served as Don Bluth’s last animated feature to date.
In more recent years, Titan AE has garnered a healthy cult following, no doubt drawn to this rare example of an animated sci-fi action movie. A film with a considerable amount of detail as well as action, Titan AE could look great on Blu-ray. A detailed insight into how the film was made, and an examination of its disappointing marketing, would also be a bonus.
In the late 1940s, the godfather of anime Osamu Tezuka created Metropolis, a manga loosely inspired by Fritz Lang’s seminal science fiction film of the same name. Years later, animation studio Madhouse took on the task of adapting Tezuka’s story about humans and robots in a distant future city. Directed by Rintaro – whose previous work included Galaxy Express 999 and the brilliantly dark Doomed Megalopolis – Metropolis was written by Akira‘s Katsuhiro Otomo, and on a $15m budget, looked absolutely stunning.
Despite its broad story and sumptuous visuals, Metropolis didn’t perform as spectacularly overseas as something like Akira, which was an unexpected cross-over hit. On DVD, Metropolis is now becoming difficult to find – copies of its 2002 issue are increasingly scarce. A Blu-ray release could bring this magnificent film to a whole new audience’s attention.
Chicken Run (2000), Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005) and Flushed Away (2006)
The end of the 90s saw the UK’s Aardman Studios forge a partnership with DreamWorks, and Chicken Run was their first film together. It was a success in every respect – a sprightly, intelligent homage to The Great Escape, with game voice acting from Mel Gibson and Miranda Richardson, and sure-footed direction from Peter Lord and Nick Park. Chicken Run was a hit at the box office, critics loved it, and award nominations duly rolled in.
Wallace & Gromit’s big-screen outing, The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, wasn’t a huge hit in the US, but did make almost as much money as Chicken Run when its global receipts were added up – and it even earned itself an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. The extremely expensive Flushed Away (budget: $149m), meanwhile, had much to recommend it, but it was less enthusiastically received by audiences or critics.
Aardman and DreamWorks parted ways not long after, and sadly, that separation may be why none of the three films listed above have appeared on Blu-ray in the US or UK; of them, only Chicken Run has appeared on the format, and that was only in France and Germany. Like all the films on this list, Chicken Run, The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit and Flushed Away are great pieces of work, and richly deserve a release on Blu-ray.
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