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Top Ten Animation DVDs of 2003
by Jason Bovberg

Animated films continued to shine on DVD in 2003. The DVD format is particularly well-suited to the medium, offering brilliant colors and vivid detail, as well as the opportunity for the creators to supplement their films or TV shows with fascinating behind-the-cels featurettes and in-progress animatics that show us how animated films come together. And, as DVD is proving, animation isn't just for the kids. The majority of the titles on this list — yes, even the Looney Tunes set — will provide many hours of enjoyment for discerning viewers of all ages. The universal element of these titles is intelligent writing, most often barbed and hilarious (e.g., The Simpsons) but also weighty with emotional resonance (e.g., Finding Nemo). Yes, 2003 was a banner year for animation, so full of intricately hand-drawn cels and brilliant CG art that we decided to devote an entirely separate list to anime. (See Don Houston's Top 10 Anime DVDs of 2003 for that list.) Without further ado, here are the top 10 animated titles of the year.

1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Vista Series
You know the film. You know the legend of animation it's already become. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those films that shoved the boundaries of special effects and film trickery to a new level, and raised the bar for whatever might come after it. It's an original concept turned brilliant by a dedicated cast and crew who were reaching far beyond themselves. Pay no attention to the film presentation on the so-called Family Friendly disc and go straight to the Enthusiast's disc, which offers a spectacular widescreen presentation and scrumptious extras, including a fascinating commentary, deleted scenes, special-effects breakdowns, and a multiparticipant documentary. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is itself a celebration of the form and history of animation, and the 2-disc special edition that holds it is a spectacular set that belongs in every film lover's library. (Review by Jason Bovberg)

2. The Looney Tunes Golden Collection
Fifty-six cartoons. Four discs full of unedited Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and Porky Pig shenanigans. And the rest of the gang is here, too, in this wonderfully irreverent selection of classic toons from the vintage Warner Brothers/Mel Blanc/Carl Stalling animation era. Completists cried foul, but seriously, did they really expect Warner to churn out a chronological hundred-disc set of the purported 1100 cartoons that the company produced-without testing the waters first? What we have here in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection is nearly eight hours of cartoons, historical commentaries, isolated music tracks, and a whole lot of zany fun, and it's more than enough. This set will bring back those cherished moments of your childhood when you spent long Saturday mornings being thrilled by a bunch of wacky, violence-prone talking animals. (Review of the Looney Tunes Premiere Collection by DVD Savant)

3. Finding Nemo: 2-Disc Collector's Edition
Pixar continues its amazing dominance in the realm of CG animation with Finding Nemo, one of its very finest concoctions. It's no accident that this is the highest-grossing animated film in history-it's a spectacular and emotionally involving tale about a father and son, two tiny fishes separated in the middle of a vast ocean. But it's not just the heart-warming story and imaginatively voiced characters that will win you over. The gorgeously colorful and rich animation will astound your eyes, and the creative surround track will amaze your ears. Quite simply, the image and sound quality are the greatest of any animated title released this year. The only aspect of this DVD presentation that keeps Finding Nemo from the top spot of my list is the tendency of its supplements to target the kids. I yearned for the "enthusiast" treatment of Nemo and didn't quite get it. (Review by John Sinnott)

4. Futurama: The Complete Seasons 1 & 2
In the words of Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, "Good news, everyone!" Not one but two entire seasons of Matt Groening's underappreciated sci-fi/animation geekfest Futurama appeared on DVD in 2003. The show is an insane amalgam of obscure science trivia, homages to cult sci-fi TV shows and films, and of course, that odd brand of Groening-flavored humor. Like most science fiction, Futurama serves as a potent — if absurd and cartoony — sociological commentary about our own present-day world. And that's how the show works best. The nerdily obsessive attention to pop-culture satire and scientific minutia is an almost unending source of intellectual fun. The image and sound are top-notch, and Groening continues his Simpsons trend of recording multiple-participant commentaries over every episode. Also, watch for a generous array of deleted scenes and animatics presentations. (Review of Season 1 by David Blair, and Review of Season 2 by Jason Bovberg)

5. King of the Hill: The Complete Seasons 1 & 2
Not to be undone by the inestimable Mr. Groening, Mike Judge (Beavis & Butthead) released two complete seasons of his sly animated series King of the Hill in 2003. The more episodes I watch of this show, the more I find myself invested in the often riotous, sometimes heartfelt adventures of Hank Hill, a proud good ol' boy whose business is the sale of "propane and propane accessories." The collection of episodes that make up the first two seasons are a blast, not only because you can follow the show's first unsure steps toward the hit it is today, but also because you can see that it was hilarious from the start. You'll also get a kick out of seeing how the animation and line work have evolved, and how the voice actors have slowly become more at home in their characters. Image and sound feel more low-rent than the presentation of Futurama, but I wouldn't have King of the Hill any other way. (Review of Season 1 and Review of Season 2 by Jason Bovberg)

6. The Lion King: Special Edition
Here's the movie that Finding Nemo usurped from the top box-office spot! And for good reason is The Lion King universally beloved. Capping a legendary string of Disney classics that included such gems as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King roars with confidence in the midst of its musical, feel-good template. For the first time in a long time, Disney found a Greek-tragedy story and warmly drawn characters that really resonated. The video and audio presentations are terrific, particularly the sound quality — Disney has come up with an Enhanced Home Theater Mix made specifically for the confines of your viewing room. Aside from the confusing menus that you must wade through, the supplements on this set are quite generous. (Review by Aaron Beierle)

7. The Simpsons: The Complete Season 3
Truly a TV show that needs no introduction, The Simpsons is currently enjoying its fifteenth season and holding court as the longest-running television show in the history of the medium. The fact that we're getting only one season per year on DVD is what keeps this set from inching higher up the list. At this rate, we'll get the currently airing season in 2015. But if you set aside this glacial DVD-release pace, you're in for a genuine treat. We're entering the finest period in the show's run — the third through the sixth seasons — so we have much to look forward to over the next half-decade. Commentaries over every episode, and a variety of short pieces, make this set a must-own.

8. Treasure Planet
Here's an under-appreciated gem if there ever was one. A stunning disappointment at the box office, Treasure Planet offered a soaring concept — Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island in space! Best of all, the film fully lived up to its imagery potential, showcasing exquisite hand-drawn animation alongside breathtaking CG animation. Treasure Planet effortlessly brings to life a vividly colorful universe in which pirate ships glide through space and crusty aliens pursue lost treasure on strange worlds. The humor is infectious, the music appropriately uplifting, and the action is exhilarating. (Plus, it's the very first film I took my young daughter to see, so it holds a special place in my heart.) The film looks and sounds wonderful, exactly as you'd expect, and the supplements are generous if not exhaustive. (Review by Aaron Beierle)

9. South Park: The Complete Seasons 2 & 3
Yes, it's true. The raunchy, juvenile genius that is South Park beats the warmly regarded Disney classic Sleeping Beauty on this list. If you're a fan of the show, you understand the crazy, dirty appeal of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's cardboard-cutout creation. Every single episode of this great, boundary-crushing show provokes gut-busting laughter from this reviewer. South Park is an eye-popping thing of unlikely brilliance, spawned from the minds of a couple of Colorado oddballs. South Park's second and third seasons can't help but lose a little bit of the luster with which its first season glowed. By the time the show returned for its sophomore stint, we'd all had our turns being appalled by the show, and South Park lost the element of surprise. But the manic and carefree duo have produced two strong follow-up seasons, full of lunatic highs and groan-worthy lows, but entertaining throughout. Image and sound quality are predictably average, but that's part of the show's charm. (Review of Season 2 by Jason Bovberg, and Review of Season 3 by John Sinnott)

10. Sleeping Beauty: Special Edition
Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty is more powerful in memory than in actual viewing. Watching the film, you become aware of its shortcomings as a cohesive narrative. But looking back on the film, or remembering your first Sleeping Beauty experience when you were a child, you recall the spectacular images and the memorable moments more than you do the film as a whole. Sure, it's a classic fable, but if you really look at Sleeping Beauty, you see that it's actually an awkwardly assembled and somewhat lackluster endeavor that contains undeniably powerful singular moments. Regardless, Disney has lavished its utmost attention on the film, which clearly holds a special place in the corporate behemoth's large heart. The image has been cleaned and polished down the tiniest detail, and is breathtaking. The sound presentation is surprisingly strong for a film that's approaching the half-century mark. And the supplements will take a lot of your time — particularly if you're one of Sleeping Beauty's enchanted fans.

DVD Talk's Top Ten Lists for 2003
DVD Talk's Top Twenty DVDs of 2003
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