In 1994, a group of animation professionals collaborated on a ranking of the greatest animated shorts ever made for the book The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals. Written by animation historian Jerry Beck, the novel has since become the definitive word on the subject, and while the undertaking is certainly impressive, time–as well as the animators own set of rules–has dated it severely.
Besides the obvious problem of being written 15 years ago, their guidelines for what should be included (e.g., no stop motion, foreign or anything not cell animated), essentially narrowed the field to American cartoons from 1923 to 1957, which excludes far too many great shorts from all over the world. To rectify this problem, I’ve decided to modernize the list by including every animation type and every country on earth. The only rule that will remain consistent is the running time of 30 minutes.
The aim of this list isn’t to one up the accomplishments of Jerry Beck’s novel but to merely add an asterisk to an already stellar list of shorts. This list is a celebration of animation; honoring those who create the cartoons we love as well as shining a light on everything else (the ones that don’t involve a cartoon mouse or cat essentially).
This is the 100 Greatest Theatrical Animated Shorts of All Time.
40. Thru the Mirror (1936) | directed by David Hand
Cherry picking elements from Alice in Wonderland, Thru the Mirror has Mickey falling asleep while reading Lewis Carroll’s famous book. In his slumber, he interacts with various inanimate objects who can now suddenly move, duels with an army of playing cards and dances with a pair of gloves. One of the few solo films were he isn’t rescuing Pluto or Minnie, this is just Mickey having fun without any stakes and the results are great.
39. Feast (2014) | directed by Patrick Osborne
The many ups and downs of a relationship told through the perspective of a dog eating food. A heartwarming tale with perhaps the cutest dog in animation, Feast tells a bare bones romantic story in the most ingenious way possible. Based on just the food the dog is eating, you can tell that she’s a health nut, he’s a slob but despite their differences, they’re happy. It’s simple but effective.
38. Jumping (1984) | directed by Osamu Tezuka
Told entirely through the main character’s point of view (much like the Oscar winning short The Fly), Jumping is about a young boy discovering that with every leap he makes, he can get higher and further which leads the viewer to wonder where the hell is he going to end up. Directed by animation god Osamu Tezuka, the short is energetic and fun but like everything Tezuka made, there’s a message at its core.
37. Brave Little Tailor (1938) | directed by Bill Roberts
Based on The Brothers Grimm story of the same name, The Brave Little Tailor sees Mickey in the role of a tailor during the Middle Ages, who, through a miscommunication, gets mistaken for a killer of giants. Only after the prospect of marrying Princess Minnie, does Mickey agree to the dangerous task. Filled with what many believe to be (including Disney veterans Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston), some of the best animation acting of the golden age of cartoons, the Brave Little Tailor is among the best of Mickey’s solo outings.
36. The Dam Keeper (2014) | directed by Robert Kondo, Daisuke ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi
A little pig, who keeps his town safe from a cloud of pollution with his windmill dam, is ignored by a thankless public and bullied at school. When a new kid arrives, things begin to change. With an animation style similar to a children’s book and with a story that deals with isolation, alienation and depression, it’s no reason why this was immediately optioned to be turned into a feature length film.
35. Street of Crocodiles (1986) | directed by Stephen Quay, Timothy Quay
If you watched MTV at any time in the 90s, there’s a strong possibility that you saw one of the weird ass videos by the band Tool. Depending on your age, you either thought they were freaky nightmare fuel or freaky nightmare fuel that was cool. Well, none of that would exist if it wasn’t for the work of the Brothers Quay. Creating stop motion works of art that were unlike anything else at the time, the brothers tapped into the surreal better than anyone outside of Lynch.
34. Red Hot Riding Hood (1943) | directed by Tex Avery
The short starts off as a typical retelling of Little Red Riding Hood—that is, until the Big Bad Wolf, Red and even her Grandma become annoyed at the narrator and complain about how stale and overused the premise is. They demand a new take on the story which the narrator is more than happy to give them. With subversive humor, a smoking hot red head and exaggerated animations, Red Hot Riding Hood is Tex Avery at his Tex Avery-ist.
33. The Cat Concerto (1947) | directed by Joseph Barbera, William Hanna
Winner of their fourth consecutive Oscar (little known fact–Tom and Jerry have more Oscars than any other cartoon character; more than Bugs, Mickey and Wallace and Gromit combined), the Cat Concerto abandons the cat-chases-mouse-around-the-house formula of a typical Tom and Jerry cartoon to tell a more unique story. Released at the exact same time as the nearly identical Bugs Bunny short Rhapsody Rabbit, the short involves Tom trying to play play the piano, while Jerry disrupts him. With the action synchronized to “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2”, the Cat Concerto is the most ambitious and entertaining short featuring the duo.
32. Ali Baba Bunny (1957) | directed by Chuck Jones
After taking a Wrong Turn at Albuquerque, Bugs and Daffy find themselves inside the cave from “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”. At the sight of a cave filled to the brim with treasure, Daffy immediately loses his mind to greed, which leads to a comedic series of attempted backstabbings and betrayals. When he was first introduced, Daffy was much more like Dodo– absolutely insane but over time, he went from being crazy to being obsessed with wealth and/or fame and this is the best and most funny example of that turn.
31. The Three Little Pigs (1933) | directed by Burt Gillett
There is probably no other short before or since that has come close to the Three Little Pigs success. Playing in theaters for months after its release, it is still considered the most profitable short ever made. Chuck Jones referred to it as an inspiration saying “That was the first time that anybody ever brought characters to life [in a cartoon]. They were three characters who looked alike and acted differently” and it pushed Disney to implement storyboard artists to make sure story and character came first. Whether it was due to envy or fear, this is the short that made everyone in the business better.
What do you think of the selection so far? What are some of your favorite short films that you saw in theaters? Maybe they will show up further on the list!