August 26 - 29, 2021

Metro Toronto Convention Centre

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LET'S RANK: 5 Best Animated Independent Films

By: Alan Abuchaibe

On the hunt to watch something new and unique while you're inside? Open your senses, turn on the subtitles, and join us on a trip around the world to revisit some wonderful contemporary independent animated films.

Note: Studio films were not considered for this list to allow space for truly independent films.


The Thief and the Cobbler (1992)
The Thief and the Cobbler (1992)

Canadian-British animation guru Richard Williams, famous for taking on the challenge of supervising the animation on Who Framed Roger Rabbit!, took over thirty years to finish this feature film. The movie is a trippy animation feast that looks like an M.C. Escher piece in movement. Unfortunately, this story has an artistically tragic end. 

In exchange for his work on Roger Rabbit, Disney offered Williams the financial support he needed to complete his film. But by the time the film’s story of a poor Arabic cobbler that falls in love with a princess while confronting an evil Vizier was ready, it was too close to Disney renaissance classic, Aladdin. Nevertheless, the film would launch, just a year after Aladdin, through production studio Miramax with a forced recut. Thanks to the re-cut, three different versions of the film would exist with the latter two being The Princess and the Cobbler (1993) and Arabian Knight (1995)--none of which were based on the director’s original idea. 

Regardless of its tumultuous story, this film is an animation wonder.

I Lost My Body (2019)
I Lost My Body (2019)

French director Jérémy Clapinpre’s award-winning film is a meditation on loss and grief, growing up, and the hardships of migration presented from two intertwined perspectives. One narrative takes us into the life of an orphan Moroccan young man navigating the ups and downs of his life as an immigrant in France. The other is a thriller in which a severed hand crosses a city while confronting unimaginable danger just so he can be reunited with its body. This Oscar-nominated Cannes sensation is an existential trip while also being one of the most exciting adventure films ever put on animation. The score and the ending are also sublime.

Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet (2014)
Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet (2014)

Based on the classic book The Prophet by Lebanese-American writer and philosopher Kahlil Gibran, this film is a passion project from actress Salma Hayek (the actress is of Lebanese descendant). Directed by Disney’s legendary animator Roger Allers, the film imagines eight of the twenty-six poems included in the book (freedom, parenthood, marriage, working, eating, love, good, evil) while following the final two days of a thinker put under house arrest by the Ottoman Empire in ancient Lebanon. The twist? Each segment is animated using a wide variety of techniques by the who-is-who of contemporary animators and graphic artists. The closest thing to Disney’s Fantasia done this century.


Waltz with Bashir (2008)
Waltz with Bashir (2008)

This Cannes’ Palme d'Or selection is defined as an animated docu-drama. Yes, there’s such a thing and it looks great. Based on the personal experiences of its director Ari Folman as an Israeli soldier during the 1980s Lebanon War, the animated film follows the steps of the Israeli army while invading various Lebanese cities. The structure illustrates the fuzzy, traumatic, and reflective memories of the war using a comic book-style look with various hand-drawn and computer-generated animation techniques. This is the thing that beautiful nightmares are made of. It isn’t an easy film, but the look of it makes the whole experience worthy.

Bombay Rose (2019)
Bombay Rose (2019)

This hand-drawn Indian film follows the seemingly not-related lives of a handful of characters living in the lower classes of an urban contemporary Indian metropolis. Director Gitanjali Rao, whose short films have been praised around the world, presents her first feature with a story that would make American director Robert Altman proud. Child labour, police abuse, dancing clubs, old lovers, young lovers, ethnic rivalries, and Indian mythology are all linked by flowers. From the films listed here, this is the closest thing to a regular narrative and, for a moment, you completely forget this is animation. Soon after, you will marvel at the art on display and the illusion of movement created by the individual hand-painted images.