Top five: Hardworking animations

We believe that animations have an important job to do in the world. Scratch that, we believe they've got several. And that means the best of them, in our book, are the ones that work really hard for their audience; carrying information, tackling difficult subjects, focusing on the message, and communicating it with absolute clarity. 

We gave creative director, Chris Wilson, the near-impossible task of picking his top five hardworking animations: animations that, for one reason or another, really exemplify the kind of heavy-lifting that we aim for in our own work

So, sit back and enjoy his selection. Gems, all of them. 

Andreas Hykades's short film Nuggets is a masterpiece in stripped back storytelling. It’s the story of addiction told through the experience of a small bird who discovers a golden nugget that becomes too delicious to resist. Everything that isn't essential to the message of the film is cut out, squarely focusing your attention on the character and its experience. It breaks my heart every time I watch it. Honestly. That last wee blink from the kiwi is soul destroying.

This film was commissioned by the World Health Organisation and is an ‘animated’ version of the book by Matthew Johnstone – though, you’ll notice there’s very little animation in it. It’s defined by its simplicity - just simple camera moves and cuts – and that’s what I love about it. The visualised concepts are strong enough to hold your attention, without the need for any other trickery. It reminds me of the animations I used to watch on children’s BBC as a kid; economically produced, yet still totally captivating. And, maybe I’m showing my age here, but I like things that take their time to tell a story well. 

The UK created some amazing public service animations in the 70’s but the Charley Says series were my favourites. Created by Richard Taylor (who also created the classic Crystal Tips and Alistair cartoons) the cut-out style and the jerky movements of the characters give them bags of charm. At the end of each film Charley the cat miaows the lesson that they have both learned, then Charley, the kid, translates: “Charley says…”. Those lessons could be repeated verbatim by an entire generation of British kids – a testament to how brilliantly these animations were at engaging their target audience engage with a tricky issue, and imparting an important message. It doesn't get more hardworking than that. And remember, ALWAYS tell your mummy before going off somewhere.

Holy shit. This is one of those animations that makes me want to stand up and applaud everyone involved. Animated by Passion Pictures, it’s an unflinching portrayal of an abusive parent’s violence against his child. Yet, by representing the child as a cartoon character that bounces back after every blow, it portrays a level of violence that would never normally slip under the radar of the broadcasting regulators. Genius. When the realisation comes that the victim is, in fact, a real boy who doesn’t bounce back, it hits you like a sledgehammer. As a viewer you’re on the hook: forced to replay in your mind the horrors you’ve just witnessed, but this time, with the child in mind. Like the best of teachers, this unforgettable NSPCC campaign does a fantastic job of making its audience do the thinking.

The Snafu films were directed by Chuck Jones for the US Army Air Force between 1943-45. Faced with a concern that not all conscripted men were literate enough to read important army-issued information, the cartoons were designed to teach the troops about a variety of issues they would face during service. Despite a six-week production schedule for each instalment, they are first class from concept to execution – and entertaining, too. Perhaps not surprising when you realise the all-star team responsible (including Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Theodor ‘Dr Seuss’ Giesel). They understood that, an audience of soldiers facing the hardships of conflict, wouldn’t stand to be patronised. They had to speak their language (SNAFU, by the way, is an unofficial military acronym for ‘Situation Normal: All Fucked Up’) and show them a world they would recognise. And only once they’d established that trust, could they start to communicate.