Stop-motion, or “claymation,” is a style of animation in which objects are meticulously moved one frame at a time, which, given that most movies run 24 frames per second, has sealed its reputation as a seriously time-consuming and painstaking animation process. And although hand-drawn and computer-generated animated films vastly outnumber those of the stop-motion variety, the genre does boast an impressive assortment of above-average fare:
1. 'Mary and Max' (2009)
Though it’s won several awards and earned rapturous praise from critics, Mary and Max, having debuted on home video in North America, seems to have unfortunately become one of those movies that’s fallen between the cracks – which is a shame, really, given its consistently entertaining and unexpectedly moving atmosphere. The simple storyline, which follows an eight-year-old Australian girl and a 44-year-old New Yorker as they become unlikely pen pals, exists primarily as a springboard for a series of inventive and thoroughly engrossing animated sequences, with the utterly charming nature of the central characters’ friendship paving the way for a climax that packs the sort of emotional punch that’s rarely glimpsed outside of a Pixar film.
Filmmaker Wes Anderson’s animated debut, Fantastic Mr. Fox brings Roald Dahl’s acclaimed novel to life in a fashion that’s nothing short of breathtaking. Anderson, best known for live-action movies like 1998’s Rushmore and 2004’s The Life Aquatic, brings his infamously off-the-wall sensibilities to the animated realm with impressive ease, while the movie’s stars, including George Clooney, invest their respective characters with a gusto that ultimately proves impossible to resist. The frequently hilarious screenplay, written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, ensures that Fantastic Mr. Fox holds just as much appeal for adults as it does for kids (if not more so), with the vivid stop-motion animation ultimately standing as the icing on the cake.
Directed by Coraline filmmaker Henry Selick, The Nightmare Before Christmas brilliantly transplants producer Tim Burton’s famously gothic sensibilities to the world of stop-motion animation. The movie, which follows Jack Skellington as he attempts to bring Christmas to Halloweentown, is largely credited with introducing stop-motion to a whole new generation, as the genre had previously been best known for such beloved Rankin/Bass Christmas specials as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without a Santa Claus. It’s also worth noting that in the years since its 1993 release, The Nightmare Before Christmas has become a Halloween favorite that is re-released every October (and there’s even a sing-along version that tours the country).
4. 'Chicken Run' (2000)
Prior to the release of Chicken Run in 2000, Aardman Studios had made a name for itself by cranking out such Oscar-winning stop-motion shorts as Creature Comforts, The Wrong Trousers, and A Close Shave (with the latter two featuring the company’s most beloved characters, Wallace and Gromit). Though some fans worried that the studio’s signature style would be lost in the transition from shorts to features, Chicken Run contains all of the touchstones that viewers have come to expect from Aardman – including quirky, adorable characters and an emphasis on satirical elements. The movie possesses an unexpected depth that ensures it holds up extremely well on repeat viewings, and it's clear that Chicken Run remains Aardman’s crowning achievement.
Having cut his teeth in the stop-motion genre with behind-the-scenes work on genre favorites The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, Tim Burton finally took a stab at helming his own animated endeavor with Corpse Bride (which the Alice in Wonderland filmmaker co-directed with Mike Johnson). The movie, which follows a young man (voiced by Johnny Depp) as he inadvertently marries a corpse (Helena Bonham Carter), amplifies the off-kilter style that was prevalent in The Nightmare Before Christmas to such an extent that it’s impossible to mistake it for anything other than a Tim Burton endeavor, while the stunning animation and uniformly captivating performances led to a well-deserved nomination for Best Animated Feature.