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Fantasy is a mind-bending kaleidoscopic short by Vince Collins: Step 1: Take Mushrooms. Step 2: Watch this short on repeat with no volume or pair with Drake’s vibey song “Jungle”. Step 3: Have your brain melted

The darkest animation films you’ll ever see

Stalker subplots, Islamic Fundamentalists and a gnarly take on Alice in Wonderland

Opening in Pilsen this month is an exhibit on the life and work of Jiří Trnka, known to many as the Czech Walt Disney, a master animator, illustrator, and artist. The in-depth retrospective is three years in the making and lovingly curated by Trnka's son and grandson. For those new to Trnka, it's a way to dive head first into the mind of a genius through a mix of hundreds of artifacts including puppets from his films, prints, painting and so much more. The second half of the exhibition is Trnka’s Garden 2, an immersive experience that brings the artist's beloved book The Garden to life as it's never been seen before.

It's always impressive when an exhibit gives adults the feeling of seeing things through a child's eyes. It's a priceless experience because once you grow up, it all goes to shit. Animation has evolved over the years, from simple hand drawn shorts to what is now standard larger than life CGI rendered characters that feel human like. Trnka’s films are lovely, magical and brilliant and not just for children. In honour, here are some animated films that fearlessly jump off the page and make us appreciate the genre's darker points. Who says cartoons are just for kids?


This movie has no chill. Rowf and Snitter are two dogs who are subject to repeated cruelty in an animal research facility in England. An unlocked cage leads them to freedom, and as we collectively breathe a sigh of relief watching these mutts frolick in the English country side chasing sheep and sleeping under the stars, the movie turns bleak. We learn that the sick fucks that used to torture them are in hot pursuit, leading the pair to desperate acts of survival and dwindling dreams of finding a new home.

When Snitter, a terrier,  encounters an actual friendly human his hopes of being adopted are quickly crushed when he accidentally shoots the man in the face. Yeah, we’re still talking about an animated movie and not an HBO miniseries. It becomes The Road with canines as they brave the elements, potential  starvation and more terrible humans. This has dismal Dear Zachary vibes for the animated set but a brilliant film none the less and somehow only rated PG-13.

On a scale from Saturday morning cartoons to something that could only be aired after midnight on Adult Swim: 4/10

The Plague Dogs is the opposite of what we’re used to seeing in regards to animated movies about dogs. For some that is appealing and for others it could be traumatising. This ain't All Dogs Go to Heaven or Huckleberry Hound.


It's crazy to think that the MTV of yesteryear introduced a generation to Bill Plympton through a fourteen second branded short called Noodle Ear. When you revisit his early work, it's amazing to see how ahead of the curve he was with his cartoons. Plympton was a precursor to the Vine video, cramming absurd visuals and a dry sarcasm into bite sized clips.

Sex and Violence is the perfect example of such a feat, a primer for those new to Plympton that captures his dark humor and dirty minded jokes in twenty four vignettes in just under eight minutes. Topics include sex as the title implies, a suicide attempt, an upskirt photo studio, lunar bungee jumping and humans being ridiculous in general. There’s also toon nudity (toonity?) sprinkled in. The “Rollerblading”, “God’s early sketches of human reproduction” and “Lost Key” chapters are personal favourites. Bill Plympton understands people, and reminds us that we are simple creatures if nothing else.

On a scale from Saturday morning cartoons to something that could only be aired after midnight on Adult Swim: 7/10

There’s a few clips featuring sex, and the aforementioned violence is silly but watching a man rollerblade himself into the ground might not be for the little ones.

ALICE (1988)

Jan Svankmajer’s gnarly take on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is a trippy ride that might give you nightmares. In Alice, the animals she encounters aren’t cute and cuddly but grotesque: a mixture of puppets and taxidermied animals with glass eyes and in one case human dentures. This is the nightmare inducing bit I warned you about. Instead of intriguing, these animals find Alice’s curious nature to be a huge pain in the ass. She’s the party guest that stays too long and drinks all the good tequila but only brings a six pack of Corona Light. No one wants that!

Svankmajer breathes new life into this young girl’s misadventures using a mixture of live action, stop motion and puppetry that creates a layered diorama feeling that never feels static. If you want a darker Alice in Wonderland than its earlier interpretations this one stands out.

On a scale from Saturday morning cartoons to something that could only be aired after midnight on Adult Swim: 6/10

This movie has many moments of creepy, some of which will stay with you. The creature with the dentures is the definition of a brain stain. Sleep with one eye open!

HUNGER (1974)

We want to have it all but how much is too much? Hunger is movie about treating yo' self, and treating yo' self some more. Cars, food, women, our thinly drawn protagonist’s appetite cannot be stopped. During one epic scene he doesn't simply order a meal, his nimble hands slide down both sides of the menu as we watch him order everything and not to be outdone he even eats the table cloth. Have a post-dinner cappuccino and call it a day bro!

As we move through the story we begin to see the affects of his gluttonous behavior. He grows in size and eventually resembles a disgusting figure with distorted features like the 4Chan frog with man boobs and drooping skin. Swipe left! There’s a quick interlude with a bikini babe dancing a la Goldie Hawn in Laugh In which is fun and possibly drug induced. Hunger is a satirical take on our overindulgent society and I’d love to see director Peter Foldes take on consumption culture today. Cue man eating an Apple iWatch. Hunger also boasts being one of the first animated films to use a computer.

On a scale from Saturday morning cartoons to something that could only be aired after midnight on Adult Swim: 3/10

This clip is for everyone. Good to teach these lil' millennials early that its not good to be so greedy.

FANTASY (1976)

Step 1: Take Mushrooms. Step 2: Watch this short on repeat with no volume or pair with Drake’s vibey song “Jungle”. Step 3: Have your brain melted. Fantasy is a mind-bending kaleidoscopic short by Vince Collins. He made this in 1976 and describes it on Youtube as: “A star-driven spiraling machine of hallucinatory wonder!” If you say so Vince! I like your style!

Collins’ simple hand drawn and painted images feel refreshing compared to today’s ultra real CGI and animation. His figures take on fluid shapes and morph into one another in a vibrant color palette reminiscent of auter Kenneth Anger. There’s no storyline, and the music can be intense at times (see above Drake suggestion) but just go with it and enjoy the ride. If you want to kick the intensity up a notch watch his other short Malice in Wonderland, where a girl doesn’t fall down a rabbit hole but disappears into her vagina. Malice brings new meaning to the word cray. My only gripe with Fantasy, is that I wish it was longer.

On a scale from Saturday morning cartoons to something that could only be aired after midnight on Adult Swim: 2/10

The fluid images in this short are like a rainbow Rorschach test, everyone will feel and see something different.


Before he made the ultimate surrealist animated film in Fantastic Planet, French animator René Laloux made an adorable little short called Les Escargots, about a farmer struggling to grow his crops. The man tries many tactics to lure these greens from the ground but they only flourish when he fertilises them with his own tear: an ingredient that is not available in the Home Depot garden centre. I love the way his tears are animated as a geyser of tiny spiralling drops streaming out of his eyes. It has a childlike wonder that is part of what makes this short is so special. Overnight the farmer has enough kale to shut the farmer’s market down! But crops sometimes have pests and his are big ones: an army of reckless destructive snail-zillas. In Les Escargots, Laloux perfects his visual style, and reminds us that he’s a director whose films are filled with both panache and substance.

On a scale from Saturday morning cartoons to something that could only be aired after midnight on Adult Swim: 1/10

Les Escargots is whimsical enough for children and has strong visuals to interest us big kids. The watercolor texture on the drawings doesn't hurt either.


I would love to see Law & Order do a treatment of this movie. Perfect Blue starts off innocently enough at a J-Pop concert for a girl band named CHAM!. Their lead singer Mima-Rin! is having a 2002 Beyoncé moment and decides she wants to be an actress. Her fans are not feeling her decision to leave CHAM! for a TV thriller called Double Blind which is not exactly Emmy award winning material. One scene sees her cast as the rape victim in a strip club, as her handlers look on in horror from the sound booth. They shed anime tears of anguish, crying over Mima’s lost innocence or maybe it's the lost endorsement deals and royalties. Hard to tell.

There’s a subplot about Mina’s stalker Me-Mania, who might be a serial killer and how Mina-Rin! is haunted by her former self. She struggles with the trappings of fame and losing her pop star status. Somewhere in America, Ke$ha understands these feelings. It's complicated stuff for a cartoon, which is why it's so perfect and unique. Some even speculate Darren Aronofsky was inspired by PB when creating The Black Swan. On a side note: I’d happily add some of CHAM!’s singles to my Spotify gym playlist.

On a scale from Saturday morning cartoons to something that could only be aired after midnight on Adult Swim: 9/10

Perfect Blue is a thriller with a plot that will likely go over your kid’s head unless they watch Empire like my four year old niece.


On paper, the premise of Persepolis could have been a real bummer. “An animated movie about a girl growing up in Tehran”... It would be like when Carrie pitched the children’s book about little Cathy and her magic cigarettes on Sex and the City. Instead Persepolis succeeds, and is a beautiful little film that manages to be both troubling at times and infectiously enjoyable.

Marji is a girl growing up in a world of turmoil. She’s part of the me generation, proudly outspoken, and frustrated by the Islamic Fundamentalist takeover and oppression of Iranian society. She struggles with a need to be herself, in a time when she is being told to be quiet and fall in line. Listening to Iron maiden, wearing a Michael Jackson pin, being rude to nuns, holding her boyfriends hand (gasp! could you imagine if they Snapchatted!) are a few of her many mistakes. Everyone has to go through their awkward phase but many are not set amongst the backdrop of an tyrannical government. Persepolis is a coming of age story that brought a different society into American (art)households. Not the version that we see in the headlines but a genuine tale of what it’s like on the other side.

On a scale from Saturday morning cartoons to something that could only be aired after midnight on Adult Swim: 6/10

Persepolis looks like a kid’s movie (it was adapted from a graphic novel) but the themes might be too complex for them to follow. Or maybe your kid’s read the Drudge Report and are all caught up on today’s politics. It's your call.


Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin was one of those movies that pissed off a lot of people when it was released. When the Congress of Racial Equality heard about it they protested a screening held at MoMA. Al Sharpton called it "shit" before even seeing one frame. Yet Bakshi stood firm. He wasn’t a newbie to controversy as he created Felix the Cat, the oversexed feline whose drug habits and general malaise would definitely not be welcome in a cat cafe.

Where Disney’s thinly veiled stereotypes found a home in jive talking crows, a wise ole Uncle Remus or Siamese cats who play piano using chopsticks Coonskin put racism, violence, and class issues front and center, boldly forcing us to face them. Throughout the film America is represented by a buxom blonde painted in stars and stripes who seduces and draws in various black men only to destroy them. In one particularly cruel vignette she cries “rape!” and a cartoon is quickly lynched in retaliation. Rough. Bashiki also has a strong ear for dialogue reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino. It has a natural feel but he adds just enough flare to remind us that we’re watching a movie. It seems fitting with the civil unrest in the US to revisit this film. Is it a perfect representation of these issues? No, of course not. But its bold approach to this subject matter cannot be ignored.

On a scale from Saturday morning cartoons to something that could only be aired after midnight on Adult Swim: 10/10

Bakshi’s films are definitely NOT for kids and this one is possibly his most aggressive. Show them Dumbo’s southern crows scene or introduce them to the centaur Sunflower in Fantasia and then explain why that shit is just not cool.

PAPRIKA (2007)

Satoshi Kon’s Paprika is an animated film with one of those “wait, what?” kind of premises about dreams and reality and other versions of ourselves that excites some and turns off others. Luckily, it's entertaining and eye popping enough to satisfy both camps. I think it's best to go into it knowing very little. But if you need a little taste… The story mainly centres around the creation of the DC-Mini, a device that let’s therapists tap into your dreams, which you can analyse and try to understand.

Of course, something like this is enticing to criminals, weirdos and the like and it is stolen and used for evil. If you’ve seen A Nightmare on Elm Street you know that having other people popping up in your dreams and doing whatever the hell they want can be terrifying. Christopher Nolan was in part inspired by Paprika when making Inception and it's easy to see the parallels. I think Paprika wins in taking itself less seriously and makes you feel a little less pretentious when trying to describe its plot at a dinner party.

On a scale from Saturday morning cartoons to something that could only be aired after midnight on Adult Swim: 4/10

Paprika’s color palette and fast pace will help distract kids so this is a great movie for parents who want to sneak away and do adult things. I’ll let you decide exactly what those things are.