Top Ten Uses of Animation in Live-Action Movies

Image via Warner Bros.
Image via Warner Bros.

Animation and live-action films have co-existed for over a century. In fact, Winsor McCay’s 1914 animated short film Gertie the Dinosaur is considered to be one of the earliest examples of combining hand-drawn animation and live-action footage.

Since then, we’ve had many different forms of animation appear within primarily live-action features, we’ve even started having animation in the porn industry, it honestly takes a look to believe it, go and have a look at cartoonporno xxx and see for yourself. Anyway, I digress, sometimes animation in films can be great; sometimes it’s awful. Today, we’ll be focusing on the former. This list offers a look at ten times where modern day cinema has brilliantly fused the two art forms together.

Number 10: Last Action Hero (1993)

Arnold Schwarzenegger made some bold choices back in the ’90s. From family comedy Kindergarten Cop to failed superhero movie Batman and Robin. Not all his choices went according to plan, and many were simply a far cry from his usual high-octane action films. Although it didn’t knock it out of the park at the time, this highly meta action film from 1993 was actually quite fun. It follows Danny Madigan, a New York kid whose only escape in life is a quiet local cinema run by his friend Nick. When Nick gives him what he says is a magical ticket to see his action star hero Jack Slater (Arnie), everything goes nuts. Danny is magically transported into Jack Slater IV. After finally coming to grips with his predicament, Danny tries in various ways to convince Slater that they are both in a movie. He points out that broken windows offer no cuts, every woman walking the street is absolutely stunning, and of course by pointing out the talking cartoon cat, Whiskers, who happens to also be one of the best police officers on the force. One could argue that Last Action Hero has become a cult classic over years. The film went underappreciated upon release, mostly due to the fact that it was rushed into release without the time needed for editing or fine-tuning.

last action hero - whiskers

Number 9: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

If there were anyone who could make a stylish, violent, live-action anime-style film it would be Quentin Tarantino. In this 2003 star-studded film we have Uma Thurman as our lead, known only as the Bride. After being brutally beaten to within inches of her life by the group of assassins she used to be part of, she is shot in the head by her ex boss, Bill. Miraculously, she survives, albeit ending up in a coma for 4 years and later discovering that the child she was carrying is gone. During the Bride’s journey of vengeance, we’re introduced to each assassin on the hit list. When we get to Lucy Liu’s O-Ren Ishii, the film flips to actual anime, allowing Tarantino to display a whole new level of violence and style. The scene still offers up the signature Tarantino style that we’ve come to love, but it also allows him to play with elements that work so well with animation. It’s a small, but deeply effective, highly stylised, and beautifully animated scene, showcasing the tragic events that would cause a small child to become a deadly assassin.

Just a heads up, this clip is most certainly red band:

Number 8: Pete’s Dragon (1977)

This film was initially a failure for the Disney, but would eventually gain a cult following, boosted by the fact it was the first Disney film to be released on VHS. The film tells of the titular child, who is unhappily living with an abusive family in the town of Maine. Fed up with being treated like a slave, Pete flees from home with his invisible friend. We discover his imaginary friend is a 20-foot tall, animated green dragon with purple hair named Elliot. Only ever letting Pete see him means the dragon can get up to all sorts of mischief but never gets the blame. By the time Disney released this they were quite proficient at blending animation and live action. Regardless, here it was very well done; Disney seamlessly had the two interacting. A live-action reboot hits cinemas this year and if The Jungle Book is anything to go off, we could be in for quite a treat

Number 7: The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000)

The adventures of this moose and squirrel hit the big screen early in the millennium. Based off the late 50s and early 60s cartoon variety show, the film followed Natasha, Boris and the nefarious villain Fearless Leader as they find a way into the real world. They hatch a plan that involves brainwashing all of America in an attempt to rule over them. Enter our titular heroes to stop them yet again and save America, but will they be able to do it without Rocky being able to fly anymore? Celebrity guests on board included Whoopi Goldberg and John Goodman. Let’s be honest, the film wasn’t very well received critically, but the animation was extremely well done. And it used 4th wall-breaking to good effect.

Number 6: (500) Days Of Summer (2009)

A year before hitting it big in Inception, Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred in this sweet little romantic movie directed by Marc Webb, who would go on to direct both of Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man movies. Levitt plays Tom, a greeting card company worker who falls for the new girl at work, played by the loveably quirky Zooey Deschanel. So begins a little cat-and-mouse-style love story told in a non-linear format. After a few attempts at trying to woo her, Tom finally succeeds in getting his dream girl. The morning after sees Tom strut out of his apartment with a massive smile on his face and some upbeat music playing in the background. He proceeds to dance in the streets with people joining him, dropping some pretty slick moves. And that’s when an animated blue bird flies by and proceeds to sit on his shoulder. He holds out his hand, the bird lands, he pets it. Before you know it the bird has taken off and he carries on his dance. For such a short scene, it’s a fun and very amusing illustration of how Tom is feeling, and it doesn’t distract from the film itself.

More animation-infused goodness on the next page…