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.
60. Piper (2016) | directed by Alan Barillaro
Since its inception in 2001, Pixar pretty much owned the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars but ironically, they went home empty handed every year for their shorts. Piper, the tale of an adorable little sandpiper popping bubbles on the beach, was the first to break the streak. Arguably one of their worst shorts in terms of character and story, what it does offer instead–the best visuals they’ve ever created–is enough to earn it a spot on this list.
59. Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936) | directed by Dave Fleischer, Willard Bowsky
Inarguably the peak of Popeye the Sailor’s extremely long career, this lavishly animated, full-color cartoon with amazing 3-D backgrounds brings together a crisply paced plot with impressive action scenes and comedy. It might’ve lost the Oscar to some obscure short called The Country Cousin but it ended up getting the last laugh when it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
58. Destino (2003) | directed by Dominique Monfery
Born out of an unlikely collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí, Destino started production in 1946 but wouldn’t be finished until 2003. Based on a Mexican love ballad, the short is a surrealistic love story that perfectly blends Dalí’s abstract aesthetic with Disney’s immaculate animation to create a truly original work of genius.
57. Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953) | directed by Ward Kimball, Charles A. Nichols
Borrowing heavily (some would say stealing) from their competitors animation style, Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom was Disney’s attempt to do outdo UPA and while the motivation behind its existence is transparently shady, there’s no denying the shorts quality. An animated history lesson on music, from prehistoric times up until present day, the short is radically different than anything else Disney was producing at the time and still remains a delightfully entertaining oddity among their filmography.
56. Feed the Kitty (1952) | directed by Chuck Jones
Marc Anthony–a big, brutish-looking-but sensitive bulldog–has a new friend, a tiny little kitten named Pussyfoot, who makes it a habit out of sleeping on Anthony’s back. Eventually, the big dog takes a shine to the lil kitty and then does everything in his power to hide said kitty from his owners who explicitly told him not to bring anything or anyone inside the house. It’s a cartoon that milks the same gag over and over again but because Chuck Jones is a genius, the milk never sours.
55. Madame Tutli-Putli (2007) | directed by Chris Lavis, Maciek Szczerbowski
What starts off as a Buster Keaton-esque train comedy that eventually takes a sudden left turn into Hitchcock suspense, Madame Tutli-Putli is a one of a kind stop motion story. Unique in that everything was made for the film except for the main character’s eyes (which were real and were superimposed onto the main puppet), the short is an eerie, dreamlike journey you won’t soon forget.
54. Get a Horse! (2013) | directed by Lauren MacMullan
First theatrical Mickey Mouse short since Runaway Brain in 1995, Get a Horse! is an exquisitely made love letter to the golden age of animations greatest creation. A perfect blend of 2D and 3D, the short is a celebration of the new and the old by meticulously reusing the original vocal tracks of Walt Disney as seamless as possible, as well as including sound effects from the old cartoons and characters audiences haven’t seen in 40 plus years. This short proves why Mickey was and will always be the king of cartoons
53. Porky in Wackyland (1938) | directed by Robert Clampett
One of the few Looney Tunes cartoons to star Porky Pig, Porky in Wackyland is about as crazy as a Looney Tunes cartoon ever got. The entire cartoon is a relentless blitzkrieg of jokes, puns, and free-wheeling mayhem brought on by Dodo the dodo bird, a foul fowl who can manipulate reality much like Superman’s nemesis Mr. Mxyzptlk. Woefully underutilized for the rest of the rest of Looney Tunes‘ run, the absolutely bonkers Dodo is used to great effect here. It’s just a shame he never became a series regular because his fourth wall breaking comedy could’ve been further explored in dozens of cartoons but as Porky always says “that’s all folks!”
52. The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1997) | directed by Sylvain Chomet
Before he was nominated for two Oscars for his 2003 feature-length animated film The Triplets of Belleville and well before he animated what is, arguably, the weirdest couch gag on the Simpsons, Sylvain Chomet directed this weird little story about a starving policeman who dresses up as a pigeon in order to trick an old lady into feeding him. Told entirely without dialogue, the short feels like Chomet took Jacques Tati, injected him with dark humor and then cranked the bizarre up to 11.
51. The Man With No Shadow (2004) | directed by Georges Schwizgebel
Some films are on this list because of their impact on pop culture, some due to their overwhelming influence, others based on the style of animation used. The Man with no Shadow might be the only one to make the cut based on the movement of the camera. Roving forcefully around the action; the way it effortlessly glides in and around the main character makes it seem like the camera was mounted on a magic carpet. The direction is superb and that’s only one aspect of this film. On top of having some of the best camera moves in any short, it’s also remarkably gorgeous to look at.
70-61 | 50-41
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!