Gift Ideas for the Animation Inclined
Plus: animation news.
Happy Sunday! We’re here with the latest from the Animation Obsessive newsletter. Our plan today goes like so:
1️⃣ Our 2023 Christmas gift guide.
2️⃣ Animation newsbits, and the sabotaging of Anton Dyakov.
New here? You can sign up to receive our newsletter in your inbox every Sunday, for free:
With that out of the way, here we go!
1: The gift of animation
It’s become a tradition here. Christmas is less than a month away — and it’s gift-buying season. Around this time each year, we publish a new list of gift ideas related to animation. This is our 2023 edition.
Most of our recommendations from 2021 and 2022 would still make great gifts. You can’t really go wrong with things like Anime Architecture, Son of the White Mare, The Art of Jay Ward Productions, the Ghibli art books from VIZ or Cartoon Saloon’s Irish Folklore Trilogy. But we always set out to compile a unique list — and today’s is all new and all different.
A note before we begin. More Animation Obsessive readers live outside the United States than in it, and some products below may not be available in your country. We’ve added Amazon links wherever possible to help with access and international shipping. (That said, we have no ties to Amazon — please order from whichever retailer you prefer.)
Designing the Secret of Kells (Amazon) — the one and only compendium of art and production details from Cartoon Saloon’s first big movie.
Studio Ghibli Storyboards Collection: Spirited Away (Amazon) — switch this out with any other Ghibli storyboard book, but this import lets you read Spirited Away exactly as Hayao Miyazaki first drew it, in his uncopiable style.
Dream Worlds (Amazon) — a book by Disney legend Hans Bacher, full of his concept paintings for films like Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, The Lion King and more.
Lilo & Stitch: Collected Stories From the Film’s Creators (Amazon) — out of print but relatively affordable, this book of artwork and first-hand production stories is a goldmine for those who love Lilo & Stitch.
Across the Spider-Verse: The Art of the Movie (Amazon) — probably the year’s hottest art book, certainly a gorgeous tribute to a gorgeous film, absolutely something we’re happy to have in our own collection.
The Archive Series: Layout & Background (Amazon) — it’s another out-of-print book, and spendy, but this collection of classic Disney art is something to see.
Somewhere Out There: My Animated Life (Amazon) — Don Bluth’s autobiography is a candid and valuable portrait of an animation giant.
The Dodals: Pioneers of Czech Animated Film (Amazon) — a whole book about the origins of Czech animation and the great Hermína Týrlová, with a pack-in DVD of rare early work.
Lotte Reiniger: Pioneer of Film Animation (Amazon) — for anybody who wants to study one of the first and best animators of all, this is the place to start.
Coraline: Limited Edition Steelbook (Amazon) — a chance to watch Coraline in 4K, along with a good number of special features.
Spirited Away: Live on Stage (Amazon) — while supply problems may make it hard to get a copy in time for Christmas, this filmed version of the Spirited Away stage show has won wide praise.
Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Cracking Collection (Amazon) — a compilation of Aardman’s iconic Wallace & Gromit short films, now on Blu-ray.
Little Vampire (Amazon) — another standout by the director of The Rabbi’s Cat, and an essential for fans of modern European animation.
The Last Unicorn: The Enchanted Edition (Amazon) — this film is as unusual as ever, but it’s fascinating, and this Blu-ray edition is the best way to watch it.
Children of the Sea (GKIDS) — an anime journey into mind-blowing psychedelia, with lots of bonuses.
The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Amazon) — a British import, this is a Blu-ray release of Lotte Reiniger’s beautiful feature film from 1926.
Subscription to The Criterion Channel — it’s only in the United States and Canada, but this streaming service is making leaps forward in its animation catalog, especially with its collection of restored John and Faith Hubley films.
The Skull (Amazon) — a richly illustrated children’s book by artist Jon Klassen, known for his work on animated films like Coraline.
Mina (Amazon) — another eye-grabbing book for children, this time by Matthew Forsythe of Adventure Time and Robin Robin.
Hilda and the Midnight Giant (Amazon) — it’s famous for its Netflix series, but Luke Pearson’s Hilda books are even better, and this early installment is one of the best.
Samorost 3 (Google Play, App Store, GOG) — a quiet video game that’s actually more of a playable piece of animation, heavily influenced by Eastern European animators like Yuri Norstein, Karel Zeman and Bretislav Pojar.
2: Animation news worldwide
The trials of Anton Dyakov
Russian animation and the Oscars don’t really mix. Only one animator from Russia — Alexander Petrov, for The Old Man and the Sea — has taken home the statuette. Few others have ever been nominated. That by itself makes Anton Dyakov special.
At the 2022 Oscars, Dyakov got a nomination for his gem BoxBallet (2020). He didn’t win, but the recognition alone brought media coverage, especially in Russia. Yet Dyakov isn’t politically useful at home. When Russian troops invaded Ukraine last year, he posted a message on Instagram that ended, “There is no justification for this war.” He spoke to the now-banned Novaya Gazeta about his disgust with the situation.
Dyakov doesn’t play ball. His more recent I’m Burning (2022) was an open attack on the failures of Russian society. Since the Oscars, his career has struggled.
The latest example came this week, when Dyakov’s feature film pitch Savely the Cat was rejected by the Cinema Fund — a state body pivotal to the support of animation in Russia. The film adapts Savely’s Days (2018), a novel by Grigory Sluzhitel about a cat’s life in Moscow. It was a strong pitch. But it met the same fate that Dyakov’s sci-fi feature project The Expeditor did last year: the Cinema Fund cast it aside.
On Telegram, animation scholar Pavel Shvedov wrote, with obvious sarcasm, that the Fund had “decided to replace the quite remarkable Savely the Cat by Anton Dyakov with a, so to speak, less successful project.”
Shvedov then shared a message sent over by Dyakov himself — an exasperated, profanity-filled tirade against the suppression of his career. “A couple of my projects, which were in development, were censored,” he wrote. “For me it’s all pretty clear!”
Dyakov fired at the “conformists” in Russian animation who remain silent and compliant, and he dismissed many of the domestic films being made right now. As he wrote, “Being honest is not a [penal] sentence, but salvation!”
While Dyakov is the highest-profile animator to experience (visible) career sabotage in post-invasion Russia, this comes as part of a trend.
In October, Russia opened criminal cases against animator Oleg Kuvaev and producer Pavel Muntyan (both expats) for their remarks about the invasion. And live-action director Alexander Sokurov had his animated film Fairytale refused for distribution. Sokurov called it “a censorship ban on showing the film in my homeland. And an unspoken ban on showing all of my cinematic works created previously.”
In his Telegram message, Dyakov offered a reassurance to those he called the “decent people” working in Russia today:
Friends, hold on and don’t despair; this darkness will lift!
The Peasants, the hand-painted feature by the team behind Loving Vincent, went big in its home country of Poland. It’s attracted 1.41 million theatergoers there — only Oppenheimer, Barbie and the Puss-in-Boots sequel have had more this year.
Studio Eeksaurus of India dropped its new film The Legend of Arana. It’s a sequel to their hit Seen It! — and it’s great. Watch it on YouTube with English subtitles.
The American film Wish, the newest from Disney, is “struggling to reach even the most conservative of expectations” at the box office. Its five-day Thanksgiving opening was slightly higher than Elemental’s three-day opening earlier this year.
In China, Wuhu Animator Space wrote about this year’s domestic animation boom at streamers like Bilibili (68 projects), Youku (74) and Tencent Video (111). The blogger Muzi argues that companies are investing locally because regulations have made their old standby, imported Japanese anime, harder and harder to work with.
In India, Vaibhav Studios premiered its feature film Return of the Jungle. In the works for more than a decade, it’s “100% self-financed by Vaibhav Studios, Mumbai, and truly a labor of love.” See the trailer on YouTube.
Cartoon Brew has a good article about Ghee Happy by Sanjay Patel (Sanjay’s Super Team), formerly of Pixar. It’s a visually experimental preschool series — animated in France, canceled by Netflix, then revived on YouTube.
DNEG Vancouver is now “the first service-side group of VFX workers in Canada to form a union.” The Canadian animation labor movement notches another win.
See you again soon!