The second golden age of animation is well under way, with Aardman, Miyazaki, Disney Pixar and DreamWorks rolling out rather good stories on a fairly regular basis. But which characters of the stop-motion, CG or hand-drawn world really make the grade? Which existing characters made the leap from short form to full-length feature with their dignity intact? How do the newcomers really compare to old hands of earlier eras? Read on to find out.
Best Animation Movie Characters - Totoro - My Neighbour Totoro
Cuddly, gentle and peace-loving, Totoro is a pure forest spirit who comes to the assistance of people in emotional need. He and his small friends also make kick-ass stuffed toys. Created by Japanese animation king Hayao Miyazaki, his gang resemble a cross between a rabbit and a Moomin, but have a quirky personality all of their own - they carry around bags of acorns (which they use to grow trees), use umbrellas and travel in a cat bus. That's right: a cat that is also a bus. But even amid such cuties, Totoro's round and cuddly self is still our favourite.
Best Animation Movie Character - Dory Finding Nemo
Animation's answer to Leonard Shelby, Dory is as sunny and good-natured as she is incapable of remembering your name for more than a few moments. Her short-term memory problems make for easy jokes within the context of the film, but as the story builds they acquire immense poignancy as she tries to overcome her limits and remember.
Best Animation Movie Character -Cruella de Vil - 101 Dalmatians
About as subtle as a Simon Cowell critique, the clue to the true nature of Dodie Smith's great villainess can be found in her name, like Dr. Evil, or Truly Scrumptious, or former Celtic defender Rafael Scheidt. In other words, beware a woman named de Vil, who smokes liberally, cackles malevolently at the drop of a hat, swans around in a car that has a King Kong-sized carbon footprint, and wants to make a fur coat out of the skins of gorgeous little Dalmatian puppies.
Best Animation Movie Character - Coraline
Neil Gaiman's dark-tinged children's tale combines perfectly with stop-motion genius Henry Selick's signature style, and Coraline herself pops off the screen even without the 3D glasses. She's a fully-realised kid, prone to annoying her parents and going off in a huff and being irritated by a neighbouring geek.
Best Animation Movie Character - Tetsuo - Akira
You know how motorcycle gang members are. Tetsuo's always been the odd man out, reliant on his friend Kaneda for support and protection. But when he is picked up by government scientists, and starts experiencing strange headaches, it becomes clear that Tetsuo may have more going on upstairs than anyone realised.
Best Animation Movie Character - Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story
The beauty of Buzz Lightyear is that, beneath the superficiality of the initial premise he's an utterly delusional toy who thinks he's a real Space Ranger there's real emotional depth and endless capacity for reinvention.
Best Animation Movie Character - Lilo and Stitch
Alien mayhem machine Stitch steals the show, of course, but in terms of character he isn't a patch on his human counterpart, the adorable Lilo. A recognisably flawed little girl, she's often moody and badly behaved, and has a creepy/cute fondness for things that are ugly or deformed.
Best Animation Movie Character - Puss In Boots in Shrek
The chief failing of the Shrek series is that the title character has always been a little bland, and always a lot overshadowed by the more colourful supporting cast. But who cares when, as in the case of Puss In Boots, they're this entertaining? A glorious reimagining of the swashbuckling charm of Zorro, transplanting his derring-do spirit and Latino swagger into the body of a cat just about higher than the boots he wears, Puss In Boots gave Shrek 2 a welcome shot in the arm just as Shrek and Donkey's banter was beginning to wear thin.
Dug - Best Animation Movie Character - Up
Many films have presented us with animals made human, but few have managed to give an animal speech but still keep their essential personality intact. Three cheers then for Dug, a recognisably doggy dog whose unfailing cheer and surprising complexity lift the second half of the film almost to the heights of that unforgettable opening.
Dumbo - Best Animation Movie Character
Oh, Dumbo. There aren't enough tear ducts or heartstrings in the world to absorb the emotional impact of the little elephant who thought and could, as it happens fly.
The Iron Giant - Best Animation Movie Character
f you're not quite sure why everyone's looking forward to Brad Bird's take on Mission: Impossible IV, check out this beautiful and moving adaptation of Ted Hughes' already-powerful children's book.
Maleficent - Best Animation Movie Character - Sleeping Beauty
ands down, no argument, the greatest animated villain ever. She's sexy, she's sensuous - in a Disney cartoon! - and she can TURN INTO A DRAGON. For added badassishness, she takes revenge on poor, defenceless infants in retaliation for perceived social snubs.
Jessica Rabbit - Movie: Who Framed Roger Rabbit
I'm not bad, drawls Jessica Rabbit, I'm just drawn that way. She can say that again. The loyal (as it turns out) wife of the incredibly annoying rabbit (seriously, what does she see in that guy, other than a way with a carrot?) is drawn many ways, all of them guilty as sin.
Proof, if proof were needed, that strong silent types are infinitely preferable to their chattier counterparts, Wall-E is an almost-mute waste-shifting robot who is easily the most adorable automaton ever created. With R2D2 genius Ben Burtt giving him a voice comprised chiefly of exclamations, hums and snippets of the Hello Dolly soundtrack. Combined with Pixar's genius for creating character with the twitch of an eye-shade, and you have someone who won audience hearts in about ten seconds flat, despite being rusty and rickety and probably smelling of trash. No mean feat for a guy who hangs out with a cockroach.
Baloo - The Jungle Book
Most bears will rip your face off as soon as look at you. You think Yogi hasn't racked up some collateral damage en route to ransacking those pic-a-nick baskets? But Baloo, aka the bear who takes Mowgli under his, erm, wing in The Jungle Book and shows him what's what and who's who, is the type to give bears a good name again after that unfortunate Grizzly Man business.
Best Animation Movie Character - Woody Toy Story
How could we separate Woody and Buzz, you ask? Well, because Woody just edges his spacey BFF in the character stakes, springing fully-formed from the screen as a living, breathing, er, child's plaything. He always tries to do the right thing, but it's not always easy for him, and Pixar's genius lies in showing that even such a Dudley Do-Righter sometimes wishes he could take the easier road. Still, his intense loyalty to his friends, palpable humanity and the deeply emotional character arc he's given put Woody head and shoulders above the rest.
Mickey Mouse - Movie: Fantasia - Best Animation Movie Character
The most famous cartoon of all time, all the way down here? Why yes, because Mickey Mouse has never been a big character in feature-length animation, and his best performance was in a tiny segment of classical music oddity Fantasia. Here, he's the over-enthusiastic but under-disciplined assistant to a sorcerer, who tries to take a short-cut when his master is out of town and ends up with hundreds of magical mops flooding his home - and he's wonderful at it.
Z - Movie: Antz - Best Animation Character
Who the hell casts Woody Allen in a kids' film, the debut film from the new DreamWorks at that? Bloody geniuses, that's who. While the film's been overshadowed by Pixar in the years since, Z himself is a distillation of every character Woody Allen ever played, a handy introduction to the director for kids. He's also really, really funny - the middle child of five million, barely able to lift ten times his own bodyweight. His performance makes this more than yer average, "boy-meets-girl, boy-likes-girl, boy-changes-the-underlying-social-order story".
Fiver- Movie: Watership Down - Best Animation Movie Character
How sweet and innocent is Fiver, the visionary rabbit hero of Watership Down? Well, he's voiced by Richard Briers, perhaps the nicest man in the history of Planet Earth. And that's pretty much all you need to know about a character who somehow manages to retain its innocence through the heartbreaking slog of Watership Down, through the savage dog attacks, environmental destruction and perilous journey, and somehow through Art Garfunkel's blinking Bright Eyes.
Daffy Duck - Movie: Who Framed Roger Rabbit - Best Animation Movie Character
Tricky one, this. Based largely on his movie career, you can't include Daffy Duck - arguably the greatest of all the Looney Tunes, with his scheming and his skiving and his suffering suckatash speech impediment - on this list. But you can't not include Daffy Duck on this list, and you shouldn't hold it against the character that Warner Bros. hasn't found a vehicle worthy of its greatest assets, from Daffy to Bugs to Elmer to Wile E.
Toad - Movie: Flushed Away - Best Animation Movie Character
Criminally underrated, and implicated as the main cause of Aardman's acrimonious split from DreamWorks, Flushed Away is actually an enormously fun film, that may not have the soul or finesse of a Wallace & Gromit flick, but which has a joke ratio that's up there with Zucker Abrahams Zucker.
Aisling - Movie: The Secret of Kells - Best Animation Movie Character
Generally speaking when countries are embodied in the form of people, they're big strong muscly men, or women who make up for in weaponry what they lack in coverage around the bosom region. Aisling represents the spirit of Ireland in this medieval adventure, but instead of being powerful or a bit slutty she's a tiny sprite, an impish younger sister who irritates Brendan as much as she helps him.
Thumper - Movie: Bambi - Best Animation Movie Character
The thing about Thumper is that he's so cute he almost helps you to forget that Bambi's mum has, um, [sob] died. The scene where the rabbit and the young faun venture out on the ice during their first winter, slipping and sliding around, remains one of the happiest things you'll ever see, guaranteed to raise a smile even if you've just eaten venison before watching the movie and are feeling horrendously guilty.