Groundbreaking Stop-Motion Films

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Stop-motion animation is a very time consuming art form, with hours and sometimes days spent on the smallest detail; a human expression for example.

But sometimes the most difficult and frustrating things in life and art can yield beautiful results. So sit back and enjoy as I handpick for you a selection of groundbreaking stop-motion films.

Top: Coraline (Dakota Fanning) crosses into another world.
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Autumn colours in Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009).

Fantastic Mr. Fox

In the past many have found the kooky comedies of Wes Anderson, full of synchronized outfits and 70s soft rock tunes, a tad on the precious side but he hit his stride with his debut animated feature, “Fantastic Mr Fox.” Loosely adapted from the beloved novel by Roald Dahl with a cast of American A-Listers (Meryl Streep and George Clooney), all of the quirky touches that Anderson is known for work wonderfully within the stop-motion medium. The film is like watching a doll’s house with all your favorite and coolest toys come to life. It is by adding layers of relatable real-life themes (growing up different, marriage) that in the end “Fantastic Mr. Fox” becomes so groundbreaking: it is Anderson’s most human film so far.

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The beautiful Gothic design of “Coraline” (2009).


Adapted from a best selling Neil Gaiman story and directed by the undisputed master of contemporary stop-motion, Henry Selick, “Coraline” can easily lay claim to the finest stop-motion animated film ever made. Full of whimsical Gothic visuals and a tutti fruity colour scheme, Selick coats the whole thing in a sea of enchantment, as Coraline (Dakota Fanning) is transported from her drab family life into another world through a door in her house. From scenes of magic gardens exploding into life to a circus performance attended by hundreds of Scottie Terriers, “Coraline” is awash with technical mastery.

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The very British looking “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” (2005).

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

From the heart of the beloved British animated studio, Aardman, this stands as their finest full-length animated film. Mainly because “Chicken Run” is so awful. “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” is on the other hand charming and full of the groundbreaking Plasticine animation style that the studio is so reputable for. It’s funny, in that very dry British sort of way, and is peppered with some inspiring big scale set pieces, like the transformation of the Were-Rabbit.

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Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993).

The Nightmare Before Christmas

This is another Henry Selick directed feature, although “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is more often associated as a Tim Burton picture, rather unfairly. Visually it is hard to beat this Halloween/Christmas crossover tale as Mayor of Halloween town Jack Skellington develops a taste for the yuletide period. What makes it so revolutionary is the stunning stop-motion effects: Purple fields of sculpted jack-o-’lanterns under a white moon and dark woods with leafless trees are just a couple of the visual treats on offer in this animated classic.

Images © respective film studios
Christopher Smail

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Christopher is based in the UK, the former assistant editor of Illusion magazine. Follow the author @ and view more articles.