Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Stop-Motion Animation

In this age where computer-generated animation has largely supplanted older traditional methods, the labor intensive stop-motion process is a dying breed. This week, studio Laika keeps the format breathing with ‘The BoxTrolls’. Whether this movie will be held up as a classic over time remains to be seen, but we’d like to celebrate the effort by remembering some of our other favorite stop-motion productions, both from cinema and TV.

Shannon Nutt

As most of you know, the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated specials were a big staple of the 1970s, particularly during Christmas. While most will point to ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ as the best of the lot, I hold a special place in my heart for 1974’s ‘The Year Without a Santa Claus‘, which introduced us to the most famous set of siblings this side of Frank and Jesse James: the Miser Brothers. Heat Miser controlled all the warm weather in the world, but it was his frigid brother Snow Miser (who, of course, controlled all the cold weather) that really caught my attention. Voiced by Dick Shawn, Snow Miser and his band of miniature-sized minions bring down the house in what just might be the best musical number ever in a kid’s holiday special.

Junie Ray

Perhaps because of childhood memories of ‘Davey and Goliath’ (literally the only kids’ show on early Sunday mornings growing up), when ‘Wallace & Gromit‘ came out in the late 1980s, I was immediately drawn in. The characters are silly and endearing, and the storylines appeal to grown-ups and kids alike. It’s hard to watch these productions without a grin of wonder and joy. Wallace has his silly contraptions, while Gromit gives sideways looks at his master. My favorite has to be the evil penguin in ‘The Wrong Trousers’. One would expect that two simple black balls of clay for eyes would by definition be “beady,” but these were really beady. I recommend any of the ‘Wallace & Gromit’ movies for all ages.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox‘ – Wes Anderson directing, based on a Roald Dahl book, with voices by George Clooney and Meryl Streep, and an opossum with spinning eyes. Check, check, check, check, check – all great ingredients for a great animated movie. It’s another favorite for all ages.

Mary and Max‘ – I can’t call this a favorite, really, but it’s the most recent stop-motion animated movie I’ve seen. It’s one of those movies that I’m glad I watched, but I’m not sure quite whom to recommend it to, and I would not recommend it for kids. The main characters are voiced by Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Mary is a lonely young girl who lives in Australia with her alcoholic mother and becomes a pen pal to Max, an older man in New York City with multiple mental health issues. It’s an odd journey through the letters and their lives. It’s like one of those upbeat pop songs that has crazy lyrics (“Lust for Life” comes to mind). It has all the visual details and great design you expect, but the overall plot is far beyond the childish quirkiness that normally accompanies animation.

Mike Attebery

After at least ten years of watching and rewatching the ‘Wallace & Gromit’ short films, the feature length ‘Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ was a bit of a disappointment when it came out in 2005. While that film had some high points, it never achieved the level of cleverly wild action and humor in what I think is the best of the shorts.

‘The Wrong Trousers’ follows Wallace and Gromit as they rent out a room to a inscrutable chicken, actually a tiny penguin in disguise, who is planning a bank robbery using Wallace’s latest invention, a pair of mechanical pants. The film is so well made that we actually studied the final train scene in one of my freshman film editing courses. If you haven’t seen any of the other ‘Wallace & Gromit’ shorts, this is the one to watch first.

M. Enois Duarte

A recent stop-motion flick that I found myself really enjoying was Tim Burton’s remake of his own live-action short film, ‘Frankenweenie‘. It had been a while since I loved anything from Burton (although ‘Sweeney Todd’ was quite enjoyable), so I was surprised and mesmerized by this animated movie. What I love best is the atmosphere and throwback to classic horror, filled with lots of references to the genre. For a fan such as myself, this was a great joy and source of constant laughter. It made me feel a bit like a kid again. The movie will become a Halloween staple around my house.

Brian Hoss

When it comes to stop-motion animation in 2014, there’s no way you can ignore ‘Robot Chicken‘, which has employed the medium to hilarious effect for the better part of decade. While segments on the show typically will spoof a given TV series, movie, toy line or whatnot, it’s how the show can creatively and effectively mesh iconic designs and excellent facial expressions that makes the animation stand out. There are tons of great episodes and segments, but 2006’s ‘A Very Dragon Ball Z Christmas’ (in the Easter Basket episode) takes the cake.

Luke Hickman

With each new feature film the studio puts out, I’m becoming a bigger fan of Laika’s stop-motion movies. While ‘Coraline’ was awesome, ‘ParaNorman‘ came out of left field and returned me to my childhood. We’ve seen the concept of kids who see dead people before, but not from the aspect of the kid accepting and not being haunted by what he’s able to see. Because of that, the character is a misunderstood outcast, which is easy to sympathize and connect with. On top of that, the story that Norman finds himself caught up in is downright scary! It reminds me of the creepy 1980s horror movies I grew up watching – you know, the kind that were rated PG but definitely shouldn’t have been. When you finally see the whole picture of the story, it’s a pretty dark and disturbing little tale with a completely relevant and important moral. The animation is fluid and gorgeous. The voice actors are perfect (Casey Affleck owns it). My kids love ‘ParaNorman’, but I’ll bet they don’t love it as much as their dad does.

Josh Zyber

A lot of good selections are taken above. I hate to sound like a cliché by saying that my favorite stop-motion movie is ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘, but c’mon… ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is amazing. A demented Rankin/Bass holiday special by way of a German Expressionist silent, a classic Universal horror picture and a Hollywood musical, the movie is a giddy mix of pop culture influences yet unmistakably Tim Burton at his best. The intricate animation is a wondrous thing to behold as the camera restlessly swoops through the twisted Gothic sets and past all manner of color creatures that go bump in the night. The story delivers valuable moral lessons for the kiddies without ever turning preachy, and Danny Elfman’s catchy songs are a treat. I love everything about this film.

From ‘Chicken Run’ to ‘Corpse Bride’, from ‘Gumby’ to that Season 2 Christmas episode of ‘Community’, plenty of other stop-motion productions deserve mention here. Tell us about your favorites in the Comments.


  1. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ all the way. Superb movie, brilliant voice cast and one of the best soundtracks of all time. Who robbed Elfman of an Oscar that year? Oh, John Williams. And Bruce Springsteen. I can see that. But still. ‘Jack’s Lament’ is a masterpiece of a song. As are all the others.

    It’s not too often that a full album of soundtrack excellence comes along. Mostly, it’s just one or two standout tracks. But ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ soundtrack is on a par with ‘Tron Legacy’, ‘Hook’ and ‘Juno’.

  2. Out of those mentioned above, I would say The Nightmare Before Christmas and ParaNorman rank among my top favorites. Coraline would come in very close as well. I also love the character designs in Corpse Bride, they just make me laugh. It’s kind of cool how a lot of these movies all share a kind of dark and twisted tone that makes them great for the Halloween season. Speaking of dark and twisted, I absolutely love Tool’s videos for Prison Sex, Sober, and Aenema which utilize stop motion. There’s some amazing imagery in those videos.

  3. Alex

    I wrote my Film 101 midterm paper on Chicken Run. In my mind, it’s not just the best stop-motion movie of all time, but one of the best movies I can think of period.

  4. Chris B

    I really enjoyed the swashbuckling hilarity of The Pirates! Band of Misfits from a few years back. Top-notch animation mixed with wry British humor (Hugh Grant’s character is simply named The Pirate Captain), is a joy to watch. Grant’s comedic timing is phenomenal and the whole movie just had such a fun vibe. Like other people have said about their own picks, this movie made me feel like a kid again.

  5. merlich

    This goes back more than a few years, but Ray Harryhausen’s “Jason and the Argonauts” must be mentioned. The combining of live action and stop-motion, especially the battle with SEVEN animated skeletons, is breathtaking.

  6. All of the Original Christmas Classics, hell yeah.

    Also enjoyed Gumby back in the day. It was purposely cheesy, sort of like South Park in it’s animation methods.

    Almost anything with Harryhausen (butchering his name I’m sure) doing the effects. He was one of the best at it.

  7. Timcharger

    Hey the Lego Movie filmmakers, have you noticed that no one worships the Lego Movie’s faux stop-motion style?

    Real stop-motion or don’t.

      • Timcharger

        I would wager that WHAT-YOU-DID-LOVE about the Lego Movie
        would NOT be changed (and perhaps be improved) if the animation
        was not jittery faux stop-motion and was buttery smooth fluid CG
        animation instead. Your love, Julian, of the Lego Movie would not


        And it’s fair to point out that in a Roundtable discussion of the Best
        Breasts, no one nominated a fake pair. 🙂

          • Timcharger

            Favorite Breasts contests can and often have fake breasts. 🙂

            I glad the stop-motion nominee are real. Don’t mistake my point.

          • Timcharger

            At least there is a market (a big market) for fake breasts.
            Are there really any people who are clamoring for more
            faux stop-motion?

            Let the Lego Movie lovers get a sequel with smooth, fluid
            CG animation, instead. (Or make it real stop-motion.)

          • Josh Zyber

            $461.8 million worldwide gross. 95% positive critical consensus at Rotten Tomatoes. While a minority of viewers didn’t like the story or humor, or thought that it was nothing but a feature-length product placement ad, of the more than 7 billion people currently alive, you are literally the only person on Earth who has complained about the movie’s animation style.

          • Timcharger

            Again, you are misunderstanding my point.

            Do you think the box office numbers would be LESS if the film
            had smooth fluid animation?

            You may NOT be complaining about the faux stop-motion style,
            but are you worshiping it? Are you clamoring for more of that
            faux stop-motion style? After buying your Transformers 4
            Steelbook Josh, are you hoping to watch Optimus move jittery
            in a faux stop-motion style?

            No one, no one prefers that faux stop-motion style. But I’m
            sure a nice gentleman would prove me wrong. Someone from
            the 7 billion cited by you Josh, stand up and champion for more
            faux stop-motion films. Please…

          • Timcharger

            Keeping that anology…

            millions of box office sales, millions of merchandise, millions of beer…
            are sold with fake breasts, too.


            I will be the champion and clamor for more real breasts (and real
            stop-motion [or smooth CG animation]).

          • Timcharger

            And in a world where Peter Jackson is trying to go from 24 frames per second to 48, the Lego Movie goes backward to 2.4 frames per second.

            And I’m the backward thinker on this, Josh?

  8. EM

    The Lost World (1925), from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel of explorers encountering dinosaurs in the jungles of South America! Yup, this is where Spielberg and Crichton got the “Lost World” name from. It’s a mix of live action and Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion, much like his more famous 1933 King Kong. The Lost World has less ape, less city, and no synchronized sound, but it’s got a heck of a lot more giant extinct reptile. 🙂

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