Top 5 Most Depressing Animated Films

When first trying to compile this list, it was starting to look more like the Top 5 films of Don Bluth. An American Tail, the Secret of NIMH, A Land Before TimeAll Dogs Go To Heaven and Titan A.E. all include their share of disturbing images, characters in peril and overall bleak situations. But in the end they all also have more or less happy endings. The films as a whole do not convey the levels of despair and hopelessness that the five films below. At times, these films almost give off the sense that the filmmakers were going out of their way to affect the audience in the most melancholy, and memorable ways possible. Whether they be animal or human, Japanese or British, the characters in the following films will endure some of the worst mental and physical pain and suffer that has been seen on screen. Some other films that were considered were: Watership Down, The Snowman, Animal Farm, The Mouse and his Child, The Iron Giant, Heavy Traffic, and American Pop.

5. Chirin no suzu (the Ringing Bell) (1978) – Masami Hata

At a healthy 48 minutes long, this is the shortest film on this list. Part Babe, part Lone Wolf and Cub, part Bambi, part Rocky, part Kill Bill, this is hands down one of the weirdest animated movies I have ever seen. What starts of as a playful film about the relationships between lambs and their mothers, turns into carnage on the level of Heavy Metal proportions. There are more animal deaths in this movie than Cannibal Holocaust. It is about a small, apparently slightly autistic, lamb named Chirin that is so spastic that his mother has to put a bell around his neck in order to keep track of him. One night he witnesses the death of his mother at the hands of the evil Wolf King (think of a canine version of Scar from Lion King). Chirin tracks down the wolf and declares that he will be his apprentice and learn how to become a wolf. Thus follows one of the more bizarre training montages on film and before you know it the little lamb has turned into the most pissed off ram you can imagine. I won’t spoil the ending, but lets just say that Chirin’s past comes back to haunt him. All the death, despair and morbid imagery is enough to put this film on the list, but the mother’s death scene mixed with following sequence of Chirin realizing what has happened to his mother is something to behold. He shrieks and clammers up and down and around his mother’s lifeless corpse as the rest of the heard of sheep look on in a mix of what appears to be horror and fascination. The moral at the end of this story almost seems to be “Don’t leave home.”

4. Vals Im Bashir (Waltz with Bashir) (2008) – Ari Folman

Waltz with Bashir is an autobiographical animated movie of the director’s search for the lost memories of his time in 1982 Lebanon War. More specifically his involvement in the Sabra and Shatila Massacre. A chance encounter with an old army buddy brings to light the fact that Ari Folman has a large gap of his service missing from his memory. As he tracks down one by one the men that he served with, slowly the memories begin to flood back and the truth of what happened to him and the people of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps start to unfold. Now it is true that the most depressing part of the film is the actual footage of the aftermath of the massacre in which Israeli forces let a group of right-wing Lebanese extremists come into the camps and slaughter up to 3,500 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. However, the rest of the film is no walk in the park either. Like many war films, one of the main themes is the loss of the innocence of youth. As Ari remembers piece by piece the events of that year, he also begins to understand how they shaped the person that he has become today. The most critically acclaimed movie on this list, Waltz with Bashir won awards for best Foreign Film (Golden Globes), Best Documentary (Director’s Guild of America & Writer’s Guild of America) and Best Animated Feature (Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards).

3. The Plague Dogs (1982) – Martin Rosen

Where to start when it comes to the Plague Dogs? Of all the films on this list, this is the one that I still scratch my head over on how it was actually produced. Coming off the success Watership Down, director Martin Rosen decided to bring another Richard Adams’ novel to the screen, the Plague Dogs. This is a heartwarming story about two dogs who escape from a testing laboratory and try and survive in the wild by picking off sheep and the occasional human. They are befriended by a fox named “the tod” that goes back and forth between helping them and screwing them over. Before too long, the army comes looking for them after the media gets ahold of a report that two dogs carrying the plague (hence the name) are wandering the countryside killing sheep and humans. What puts this movie high on the list is simply the overall bleakness of it. There are some happy moments here and there, but the majority of this film consists of these two dogs barely clinging to life and the horrific outcomes of their actions to stay alive. Oh, and the movie begins with a dog being repeatedly drowned and resuscitated for some type of “research”. All that said, I should add that this film is worth seeing. The relationship between the two dogs is very well portrayed and by the end you may find yourself extremely emotionally invested. Plus it has a great canine Thelma & Louis ending. There are two different cuts of this movie available. The original theatrical release was at 86 minutes and there is a rerelease of the film at 103 minutes. Most of the footage that was cut out isn’t anymore disturbing and was simply taken out for time. Though there is one shot from a helicopter that shows the mutilated body, suggesting that the dogs were feeding on it. Listen closely towards the end for a young Patrick Stewart.

2. Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fireflies) (1988) – Isao Takahata

Grave of the Fireflies begins with our protagonist, Seita, dying in a subway in post-WWII Japan. This should give you a clue on what type of film you are in store for. The film takes place during the final days of the war in a rural suburb. 12 year old Seita and his younger sister Setsuko run for cover as bomb’s fall around them. They are separated from their mother as Seita runs back to their place in order to bury items they may need later. What follows is the story of the two siblings and the lengths they go to make their own in this new barren version of the world they once new. Seita does his best to provide a proper life for his little sister, but is not willing to sacrifice his family’s honor by taking handouts from disrespectful neighbors. As a result they are forced to move into a cave and live off the land. One of the objects that Seita later retrieves from the objects he buried as the bombs were falling, is a tin box of hard fruit candies. This serves as the one object that ties Setsuko back to her life before the war. As the candies dwindle, so does her hope and health. As the his younger sister holds on to a physical object for strength, Seita envisions himself going off to war and fighting for the honor of his family and country. I will go into greater detail of the themes of this movie in comparison to the next film I discuss. All of the movies featured on this list, aside from Waltz with Bashir, are able to affect the viewer on such a level because of the intensity and honesty of the relationships between the main characters. Despite being animated, the realism in this film is nothing short of heartbreaking. Apparently two separate live action adaptations have been produced in Japan, but as of yet neither has been translated into English. Below, Roger Ebert does a better job explaining the beauty of this film than I can.

1. When the Wind Blows (1986) – Jimmy Murakami

Truth be told I have not actually been able to watch the end of this movie. I fell so deeply in love with the kindly old naive British couple in this 1986 film that I haven’t mustered up the strength to watch their inevitable fate. Based on the 1982 graphic novel of the same name by Raymond Biggs, the story revolves around the Bloggs, an elderly couple living in Sussex, England. Biggs has stated that he based the characters on his own parents. It starts with live action footage of a the transportation of a missile through England and fades into Jim Bloggs reading about it in his paper. The film continues through out to combine actual footage with animation over it. Jim returns home from a trip to town with a pamphlet and his newspaper warning of a possible nuclear attack by the hands of the Russians. Jim begins to create a makeshift bomb shelter following government guidelines from his pamphlet. Through the confusion of their age and the situation, the elderly couple bumble through there day, playfully sparring at each other in ways that only two people that have been together the majority of their lives can. There is a touching combination of reality and delusion that plays out. As Jim begins to dismantle the doors of their cottage in order to construct his shelter, Hilda reprimands him for scratching the paint, he simply replies “Don’t worry love, I can soon touch it up after the bomb has gone off.” Just as Jim finishes his shelter the bomb rears its apocalyptic head. The remainder of the film deals with the couple living in the aftermath. Much like the previous film discussed, the main theme is delusion as a method of survival. In Grave of the Fireflies, Seita projects the illusion to Setsuko that life will return to normal as long as they just survive. Despite his younger sister’s continued deteriorating health, Seita continues to live in denial long after it is all to apparent that their world will never be the same. There comes a point in the film where Seita and Setsuko switch roles. Setsuko becomes aware of her failing health, but stays positive and encourages her older brother’s delusions in order to keep him from falling apart. The same dynamic can be seen between Jim and Hilda in When the Wind Blows. From the moment the bomb is dropped, Jim is steadfast in his assertion that everything will be back to normal soon enough. As long as he sticks to his official government sectioned guide book, the England that they have known will be again. Despite all of the signs of the world crumbling around him, he holds on to his mantra that everything will return to normal. Hilda hides her quickly slipping health as best she can, and even when her symptoms are too great to ignore, she plays them off as minor irritations. She knows that all that they have to hold on to is the illusion of hope. The soundtrack was done by Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, however the real musical gem of this film is the title track, which is the best David Bowie song you have never heard.

Special Features:

Vote on which film you think is most depressing!

Top 5 Non-Depressing Family Animated Films

Now that I have sufficiently bummed everybody out with my list of death and dismay, here is my list of my favorite not so depressing animated films that won’t scar children (too much).

5. the Three Caballeros (1944) – Norman Ferguson

4. Ratatouille (2007) – Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava

3. The Point (1971) – Fred Wolf

2. Spirited Away (2001) – Hayao Miyazaki

1. Robin Hood (1973) – Wolfgang Reitherman

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4 Responses to “Top 5 Most Depressing Animated Films”

  1. Thanks! I just finished Plague Dogs and am now looking for more depressing animation. 😉 When the Wind Blows isn’t available on Netflix, but I’m sure I’ll find it somewhere.

    • Glad you enjoyed Plague Dogs! When the Wind Blows has not been released as a Region 1 DVD yet. You can find a British Region 2 DVD (if you know someone with a regionless DVD player). Also, it was released in America on VHS. And if all else fails, the whole thing is on Youtube. Hope you get to check it out someday.

  2. I think I saw when the winds blows on google video or youtube. It’s surprisingly not that depressing considering the outcome and the topic of the film. Maybe it’s because they were so in love, and they were together at the end. I wish i didn’t have this morbid fascination with terrible and depressing things.

  3. What about Watership Down?

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