Watch These Overlooked 2D-Animated European Movies - VRGyani News and Media


Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Watch These Overlooked 2D-Animated European Movies

It may be strange to Americans who always have animation juggernauts like Disney and DreamWorks slugging it out in the parking lot, but European animation studios run on teamwork. All three of the films featured today - Long Way North, Loving Vincent, and Zarafa — were produced as a joint effort across at least two different European countries.

A majority of the animated films produced in Europe are 2D-animated. Compared to the American market's insistence that animated films equal family fun/safe for kids, many European animated films are made primarily for adults and are treated more like an arthouse film that might be critically discussed but also narrowly released.

Some of the recent critical darlings of European animation include The Illusionist (2010), The Triplets of Belleville (2009), and Tomm Moore's "Irish Folklore Trilogy". (This loose trilogy includes The Secret of Kells (2009), Song of the Sea (2014), and Wolfwalkers (2020), all of which were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature).

Despite these films' (well-deserved) recognition, there were some other really great films that fell to the wayside that are well worth checking out if you're interested in digging deeper into the world of European animated cinema.

Long Way North

Long Way North is a 2015 French-Danish film directed by Rémi Chayé. At its heart, this film is a traditional adventure story. The main character, Sasha, is looking for her grandfather's disappeared ship, the Davai, believed to be marooned somewhere near the North Pole. Sasha has all of the traits of a hero perfect for this adventure: hardworking and socially rebellious, and an initiative to look in unexpected places. The mourning of her grandfather gives her drive even more fuel, and it's the push forward that leads the movie.

There are a lot of scenes in the movie where there is no dialogue, held up by the perfectly colored scenery that gives the film emotional weight. Although the film may seem simple, the execution is top-notch and definitely deserves a watch.

Loving Vincent

Another story about following in the footsteps of great men, Loving Vincent is a 2017 Polish/United Kingdom partnership that investigates the somewhat mysterious death (and life) of the posthumously famed impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh.

For anybody who's been following Loving Vincent from its days as a Kickstarter, there's no surprise that it looks fantastic. This film uses rotoscoping, the art of painting over real actors that were specially chosen because of their facial similarities to Van Gough's portraits. Loving Vincent uses the artist's paintings as backgrounds, going so far as having the color palette emulate the bright yellows and muddy greens of Van Gough's art. Instead of traditional transitions, each scene swims into the next one, with a dreamlike fluidity.

What may come as a surprise to most viewers is the movie’s writing. It turns the shady circumstances of Van Gough's death into a sort of mystery where everybody is at least a little guilty based on their helping or forsaking Van Gough in his final days. It makes sense that the main character (who is more of an audience surrogate) is an outsider, which allows him to consider all kinds of angles. The movie itself has its own ideas of what may have led to Vincent Van Gough’s death, but tries its best to remain “ambiguous”. It focuses on the fact that whatever really happened doesn't matter. In the end, Van Gough died early and the art world is worse for it.


The first shot of Zarafa is of a young boy and girl whose villages have been burned down, leaving them orphans, chained together to be sold into slavery. It's a gut-punch. From there, the film could have easily just become a “slavery movie” that objectifies the pain of ensalved people. It doesn't. It doesn't even have a white savior narrative.

Zarafa is a 2013 French/Belgian film written and directed by Rémi Bezançon. The film was inspired by the arrival of France's first giraffe Charles X by Muhammad Ali of Egypt in 1827 as a diplomatic gift. It follows the sometimes formulaic but still exciting (there are hot air balloons, pirates, and murderous polar bears) adventure of our characters trying to get the giraffe to France.

Additionally, the film uses some fun animated humor, interesting match cuts, and a found family dynamic that make some of its realistic scenes easier to stomach. In contrast, the comedy of a lot of American animated movies isn't usually balanced out by serious subject matter.

There are two main reasons for this. American Animation is normally marketed with bright colors, pop music, and with a "fun for the whole family" vibe. The child-friendly perspective of American animation predates modern films — going back to Walt Disney's success in heavily paring down the darkness of Grimm Brothers' fairytales. He also added comedic elements (such as the Dwarves in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1939) and the Talking Mice in Cinderella (1950)) as a way to pad out runtime and give a little extra oomph to lean fairytale plot. Although this may be the start of humor in American animated movies, nowadays many movies put the comedy front and center while the story and characters take a backseat.

Additionally, the films above also stand apart from American works and their more popular European counterparts by the diversity in their protagonists. Long Way North follows a driven young woman with aspirations she pursues through hard work. Although it's more known for its experimental style, Loving Vincent doesn't shy away from the fact that van Gogh was extremely mentally ill. Instead of mental illness presented as the reason van Gogh can make good art, the movie actively contradicts that idea, and presents van Gogh's emotional disorders with empathy and care. As mentioned above, Zarafa is one of the few movies that is about slavery without being about slavery. It presents us with a young boy whose strength of character makes him a hero.

So if you're interested in watching some animated films that are a bit outside the norm, check out these aforementioned European features.

KEEP READING: These 2D-Animated Films Are Keeping Chinese Animation History Alive

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