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Why Doesn’t Criterion Release Animation?

How’s this for a startling fact:

There aren’t all that many animated films in the immaculately curated Criterion Collection. In fact, of the 556 DVDs that have been released under the Criterion banner, approximately 556 of them have been not been animated.

That’s Cinematical writer David Ehrlich asking why the discerning cinema buffs at Criterion have never released an animated film. He suggests that they begin looking in the direction of animation and offers a list of ten animated films they should consider releasing. What’s your wishlist of animated films that Criterion should release? Perhaps someone at the company will take notice of the possibilities.

FOR THE RECORD: A few commenters have pointed out that Criterion has released animation in the past–they put out Akira on laserdisc in 1995, and have released a few DVD anthologies of work by experimental animator Stan Brakhage.

(Thanks, PH)

  • This isn’t a single film, and since Criterion has released short films in the past, many people (myself included) feel that Tex Avery’s shorts for MGM are the most important animated works that have yet to see a legitimate DVD release in the format’s existence. I think that, as a whole, they’re more important to the legacy of this artform than just about any single animated feature has ever been, those ten definitely included.

  • I’ve been waiting for them to release Fantastic Mr. Fox as part of the their Wes Anderson fawning, making it most likely their first animated film.

  • Al

    There’s a reference to Walt Disney’s frozen corpse in the paragraph about “Spirited Away.” Yup…

  • i am on board with many of ehrlich’s suggestions, but the one that sprang to my mind instantly was masaaki yuasa’s “mind game” (2004). the film hasn’t had any sort of proper US release, so this would be a great chance to pack it up nicely and really give it the treatment it deserves. if criterion has gotten to a point where they are releasing stuff like “house” (which is great, don’t get me wrong), it wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be a stretch for them to put out “mind game.”

  • A collection of the short films of the Brothers Quay would seem to be in order. And since we’re going there, a series of Jan Svankmajer releases as well.

    Of course, both of those have had U.S. releases in the recent past, so probably the more critical area to which Criterion could turn its eye is U.S. releases of Soviet Russian animation. There’s plenty of material to cull from previously curtained animators like Ivan Ivanov-Vano, Yuriy Norshteyn, or simply a boxed set of select Soyuzmultfilm films.

  • Melissa

    I think that Criterion should be knocking down Disney’s door for Song of the South. It’s material that Disney doesn’t want to touch, so why not put it in to objective, capable hands that can give it a great DVD release?

  • Oliver

    Criterion’s contempt for animation is the Dumbo in every cinephile’s viewing room.

  • Brian D. Scott

    I’d like to see “Twice Upon A Time” which was directed by George Lucas John Korty from 1983.

    • Yes. I “have Twice Upon a Time” on VHS. It need some sort of digital release.

    • Mike Johnson

      I certainly hope that if they do (and that’s a really big “if”) they release the unedited version with the stronger language. Marshall Efron’s voice work on Synonamess Botch is a wonder to behold…

      • Brian D. Scott

        Exactly – I still have the rated R version on a VHS tape in my closet!

  • Adding to the ones already mentioned in the article and in previous comments, how about some of Ralph Bakshi’s earlier films, specifically Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, Coonskin/Street Fight (Still unavailable on legitimate DVD), and Wizards.

    And I second the Tex Avery MGM shorts, mind game, Song of the South and Twice Upon a Time.

    • Ignatz the Brick Pitcher

      I endorse your petition for Criterion to release the mentioned animated films from avant-garde movie director Ralph Bakshi.

      If fact, I sent Criterion an e-mail last year suggesting they release Heavy Traffic with the 1970 German documentary on R. Crumb as bonus feature. Footage of Bakshi in the studio making Fritz the Cat is in the documentary.

      Jerry posted this documentary on CB in Nov. 2009 –

  • Oh, and how about the Theif & The Cobbler: The Re-Cobbled Cut?

    • Funkybat

      Absolutely. Unlike a lot of other important animated classics that have already had a DVD release, the re-cobbled “Thief & the Cobbler” is something that wouldn’t interest a lot of “mainstream” movie-renter types or fit in the Wal-Mart kids section, but IS of great interest to cinephiles and animation fans. It deserves a proper release, even if it is not 100% complete.

  • toni

    Not exactly Dumbo, but doesn’t this count?

  • Scott

    For the record, Criterion released Akira.

    • The Gee

      I couldn’t find it on the site. Kurosawa films, yes. But, not just Akira.

      Perhaps you could search for it and link to it. I didn’t even find it on Amazon.

  • pizzaforeveryone

    there’s a stan brakhage collection–a couple I think. But yeah, animation is still pretty underrepresented.

  • Interesting recommendations. Odd that when picking a Satoshi Kon project he chose Paranoia Agent, a TV series. However given that show is impossible to come by in the US I’d be first in line to buy it if they did release it. I’d also recommend Princess Mononoke for the same reason.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I think all of Satoshi Kon’s films as well as Paranoia Agent need to be re-released in a special deluxe box set edition with everything we ever wanted to know about the man behind the films (and more)!

  • Just out of curiosity, is it possible for Criterion to release most of these films without having gobs of money to convince Disney, Fox, and whoever else currently has the distribution rights to these various movies? I’d be interested to know if there actually is a chance of Criterion getting to release some of these movies if they ever feel so inclined or it’s just wishful thinking on our parts.

    I don’t think the total lack of animated films in the current Criterion catalog is shocking. Sad, yes, but unfortunately not shocking.

  • zeptum

    They released Akira on laserdisc. Does it not count because it’s out of print?

  • Spencer

    Agreed on TWICE UPON A TIME.

    I’d say ALLEGRO NON TROPPO by Bozzetto. A perfect satire, stunningly beautiful animation, ahead of its time. Masterful.

    The cobbled version of Dick Williams’ Thief and the Cobbler for achievement in animation.

    Dali’s Destino?

  • Sat

    They can’t release anything they want.

    And I guess they’re going to get Fantastic Mr. Fox someday.

    There’s also a stop-mo short in the Jean Painlevé collection (which is a must own anyway).

    But for the joy of speculation/suggestion/namedropping:
    – Only Yesterday (Isao Takahata, 1991) (They can get stuff from Disney, right?)
    – Tex Avery MGM shorts collection (please please please)
    – Feherlofia (Marcell Jankovics, 1981)
    – Coonskin (Ralph Bakshi, 1975)
    – Le Roi et L’Oiseau (Paul Grimault, 1980)(owned by Studio Canal… but who knows)
    – Wanpaku Ouji no Orochi Taiji (Yugo Serikawa, 1963) (I’d buy the whole collection for that!)
    – a zillion of short films.

    • amid

      Great list, Sat. I second Feherlofia, Coonskin and Le Roi et L’Oiseau.

      Perhaps Mind Game and The Tune. Also, plenty of great work by the Hubleys, Jiří Trnka, Karel Zeman, and Raoul Servais.

      And György Kovásznai’s Hungarian feature Foam Bath:

    • A.C. the actress

      A thousand times yes to Only Yesterday. I want a region 1 DVD to share with my friends. It’s such a good film, more people need to see it.

  • I agree with the choice THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, definitely. It’s a gorgeous and intelligent production, apart from its historical value.

    I think adding contemporary anime productions, television or film, is somewhat debatable. GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES is a classic, understandably. But I would tread into those waters very, very carefully… is SPIRITED AWAY even the best Miyazaki-directed film? I don’t think so, personally.

    Animation to add? A collection of animation firsts from around the world… namely features from China, Thailand, and from early Japan, and so forth.

    • Oliver

      So recent live-action films such as ‘Che’ or ‘Revanche’ are deemed worthy of the Collection after just 2 or 3 years but animation still has to wait at the back of the bus?

  • Lots of great suggestions here. In addition to many of the above, I’d recommend Criterion release restored versions of GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (Public Domain) and MR. BUG GOES TO TOWN (recently restored by the UCLA Archive).

    • Robert Barker

      I would go more for Mr. Bug because good DVD versions of Gulliver’s Travel are available. They also did a W.C. Fields collection of shorts, so why not a collection of Fleischer Talkartoons?

  • Here are literally the ones I can just think of off the top of my head. I have been raging about this very issue ever since I started watching the Criterion Collection on hulu. They can stick ever Zatoichi movie ever made in the collection but can’t find room for one animated film? This is ridiculous. I wonder if we could write to them or start some kind of online campaign.

    1. When the Wind blows
    2. Mary and Max
    3. Triplets of Belleville
    4. Twice Upon a Time (I’m with you Brian)
    5. I know they had it on their list but Fantastic Planet. If only because its expensive to get a nice dvd copy and I still cling to my well loved VHS.
    6. Night on the Galactic Railroad
    7. Tokyo Godfathers (or Perfect Blue)
    8. Prince of Egypt
    9. The Last Unicorn or…Rankin bass’s the Hobbit is a treasure in my opinion.
    10.Plague Dogs or Watership Down…Plague Dogs is probably the better movie but Watership Down is the better known.
    11. An American Tale You could have a whole Bluth Blitz really with his early films.
    12. Cats Don’t Dance
    13. I know its a short but Brian Williams Christmas Carol deserves to be preserved in some way. I would buy it so fast if it was included with a DVD of his commerical work.
    14. Ivan and the Hunchbacked Pony
    15.Wallace and Gromits three shorts collection including a Grand Day Out,The Wrong Trousers and A close shave.
    17. Pick something from the Disney Golden age. Anything really. Personally I would pick Fantasia.
    19.Yellow Submarine
    21.Hugo the Hippo
    22.The King and the Mockingbird (Le Roi et l’oiseau)
    23. Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels
    24. Coonskin(or Fritz the cat)
    25. Alice
    26. Pom Poko

    There…that should get them started.

    • Steph

      6. Night on the Galactic Railroad

      A thousand times this.

    • killskerry

      Oh! I forgot the Point and The Mouse and his child. Oops.

    • killskerry

      Oh god I just realized that in my frenzy to write all the movies down… I wrote BRIAN Williams instead of RICHARD Williams That is really embarrassing. Color me ashamed. I’m sorry CartoonBrew …I do not deserve to darken your doorstep ever again.

      ~walks off into the night~

    • Sat

      As I said earlier they can’t just go pick anything they want like a golden age Disney (Disney would never do that). There’s money and rights in that business.
      And some films like The Last Unicorn already have a very nice Blu-Ray. Or are going to get one soon without the help of Criterion.

      Other than that, Night on the Galactic Railroad is a nice suggestion. The OOP DVD is very expensive now (and I missed it) and I wonder who have the rights in North America now that Central Park Media is gone. It’s also something that could fit the Criterion Collection.

  • the adventures of prince achmed
    le roman de renart (tale of the fox, starewitch)
    feherlofia (or anything else jancovics did)
    havoc in heaven/golden monkey king defeats the evil (or any of the other films in the shanghai studios sun wukong series, i’ve only found those two)
    nezha conquers the dragon king
    princes and princesses (the dvd could use some serious sprucing up!)
    the jungle book & rikki-tikki-tavi (the soviet ones!)

    • killskerry

      Oh man! how could I forget the Russian jungle book! Yes, yes all the way as long as its subtitled. The english dub is nigh unwatchable.

  • Oliver

    Criterion: It’ll release a documentary about a cartoonist (Robert Crumb) but not actual cartoons.

  • Thomas Hatch

    He-man Christmas Special.

  • Matt Jones

    Little Prince & the 8 headed Dragon
    Thief & the Cobbler
    Twice Upon a Time

  • Trnka’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • Perhaps part of their calculation is… can a substantially better release be done?

    “Fireflies” is already on DVD. Is there something missing?

    “Achmed” is on DVD, apparently based on a surviving 16mm print. Are there any new materials come to light since that release to make it better?

  • Charlie Judkins

    The Iron Giant and Fantastic Mr. Fox over Coonskin and Heavy Traffic?? What the hell??

  • baby grace

    -Tex Avery MGM shorts collection.

  • Toei’s entire 50s-60s anime movie collection is dying for a legit release, and I’d love to see Criterion look into those! And release the Japanese versions as well.


    -MAGIC BOY (with either Turner or MGM)

    And even release some of Yasuji Mori’s short films (with Pero the Cat) as well!

    -Osamu Tezuka’s “Animerama” films (including CLEOPATRA: QUEEN OF SEX and 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS) cry for a DVD release here in the US.

  • Britt Reed

    I’d like to see Brian Williams make a cartoon. All by himself. With a red oil pastel.

  • Clint

    – Picha’s THE MISSING LINK (1980) or THE BIG BANG (1987)

    – Ralph Bakshi’s HEY GOOD LOOKIN’ or even COONSKIN


    That would be my list.

  • Gareth

    I would nominate “Marco Polo Jr. vs The Red Dragon”.

    Yes, it’s not exactly high art, but it was Australia’s first ever animated film. At the least it deserves better treatment than it received recently, which was used as the basis of a DTV abomination called “Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu”.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      It’s a start.

      Someone mentioned anything else from Marcell Jankovics. I was reminded of his first feature film he directed, which was also Hungary’s first animated feature called “Janos Vitez” (or “Johnny Corncob”). Scenes from this film once showed up on a Hanna-Barbera music video compilation years back…

      Bothering to think another way, there’s South Korea’s first animated feature from 1967, “Hong Gil-dong”, though that’s rather a long shot and probably not worth the trouble tracking down.

  • +1 for “Twice Upon A Time” on DVD–I have it on VHS but no VHS player anymore!

  • Michael Rosenberg

    Here’s my list of animation IMO Criterion should release:

    -The complete MGM filmography of Tex Avery.
    -The complete works of experimental animator Len Lye.
    -George Pal’s puppetoons
    -“The Thief and the Cobbler: Recobbled Cut” with William’s earlier short films as bonuses.
    -A disc with the essential UPA cartoons
    -Bakshi’s Coonskin
    -Allegro Non Troppo
    -Mr. Bug Goes to Town & Gulliver’s Travels as a double feature

  • I agree with the early work of Ralph Bakshi, and the others deserve releases too. My suggestion is to have a Criterion Release for the Zagreb and NFBC cartoons. There are real gems there. How about a release of the complete work of John Hubley?

  • Martin Juneau

    MGM Cartoons filmography complete. Not just Tex Avery.
    Grimault’s The King and Mr. Bird

  • Blasko

    There are a few “missing” animated films I’d like to see on Region 1 DVD, but I’m not sure they’d be a good fit for Criterion: Trnka’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Gemes’ Dalias Idok (Heroic Times) come to mind. But I do think that Toe Yuen’s My Life as McDull would be a PERFECT fit for Criterion. The film is quirky and can be enjoyed on several levels.

  • Nobody’s mentioned Criterion’s 1994 laserdisc of “The World’s Greatest Animation”? Argue with the title if you will (and I’m sure you will), but who can argue with a compilation that includes “Creature Comforts,” “Your Face,” “The Great Cognito,” “Tango,” “Special Delivery,” and to my knowledge the only non-tape release of the exquisite “Crac.”

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I would’ve said something about that (I own that disc), though it was released through “Voyager”, though it was a joint company with Criterion I think. “Crac” did get released on VHS too since I used to borrow a tape of that at the public library back in the 90’s that had all the films on it, though their LD arrangement sometimes put one or two out of order than they appeared on VHS. The LD also included other goodies like a still-frame gallery with some clips from interviews and other tidbits (like how Bill Kroyer almost lost the negative to Technological Threat on his way back from Korea), as well as two audio commentary tracks from Charles Solomon and Bill Moritz. Too bad the Image Entertainment DVD that came out later never had the commentary tracks included as they do say some interesting viewpoints on each film.

    • Sat

      Crac! was released on DVD, at least in Canada. If we’re talking about the Frederic Back masterpiece.

      But yeah, I certainly wasn’t aware of such a collection. Though the laserdiscs, with it’s number of odd titles, are saying little about the “current” collection.

  • GSW

    I’m going to reiterate what’s been said many times before just because it was the first thing that jumped into my mind – COONSKIN.

  • GW

    Have I got quite a few. I’ll go with mostly practically unknown titles for my list since that will help keep my choices from being repeated.

    Klyuch-The Key This is, from what I can tell from the raw version, Lev Atamanov’s best feature film, not the Snow Queen, which has too much Disney influence.

    Ubu and the Grande Gidouille{or if still exists, Adam 2)-This must be out there somewhere in some format. There’s a ten minute clip on the Motion Brigades YouTube Channel.

    Ra: Path of the Sun God-This is a very interesting mythological, pictographic film about Egyptian mythology.

    Andrey Khrzhanovsky’s series: The School of Fine Arts

    Habfurdo(Foam Bath): Kovasznai’s satrical musical made at Pannonia

    Bennys Badekar(Benny’s Bathtub)-A film about a boy’s fantasy escapes away from his uncaring parents

    Out of an Old Man’s Head- A Swedish animated-live action film about an old man thinking about his life

    Maria, Mirabela and other works from Ion Popescu-Gopo

    Tadanari Okamoto’s short films

    And last, Otogi’s World Tour

    There’s many others than that, but some films like the Bulgarian 80’s film film Treasure Planet and The Invisible Child, I really don’t know very much about.

    • Funkybat

      Even if they completely eschewed well-known classic animation, even ones that haven’t gotten a proper DVD release, it sounds like there is a ton of foreign and “indie” animation that deserves a release and hasn’t gotten any, either in the last 25 years or perhaps ever. Issuing DVDs of these obscure and sometimes forgotten films seems like a good niche for them to fill.

  • Robert Schaad

    I too would fall into the reiteration category on this one:

    Prince Achmed
    Allegro Non Troppo
    John Hubley
    Tex Avery MGM’s
    Len Lye

  • DB

    Most mentioned by others, but animated films I would like to see get the Criterion Treatment:

    The films of Ladislas Starevich (this guy should be an ICON)

    Night on the Galactic Railroad (boy I would LOVE to see a DVD of this with colors that looked as gorgeous as the film I saw projected in the 80’s)

    Mister Bug Goes to Town

    Films of Karel Zeman

    Out of the Inkwell Koko the Clown shorts

    Somebody mentioned Soviet Animation – I really haven’t seen much so I would be all for seeing more!

  • Michel Van

    i got Criterion AKIRA Laser Disk ;-))
    a master piece with complet storyboard on disk 3
    but to day AKIRA rights are now at Honneamise, they sell it as Blu-ray

    David Ehrlich List is wishful thinking
    all Studio Ghibli Movies US rights are in hand of DISNEY
    The Iron Giant is own by Warner Bros.
    the german ‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’ 1926
    and french ‘Fantasic Planet’ 1973 have the same problem:
    No one know who got the Movie rights Today
    and many firms eschew the high cost and legal problems
    to work out, who got the rights and who much money they want…

    ‘5 Centimeters Per Second’
    ‘Allegro non Troppo’
    ‘The Illusionist.’
    ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox.’
    there little masterpice but Firm like Criterion will think triple
    to buy the rights and relase on DVD or Blu-ray
    because it’s low selling value, means not make a killing (in business term)

  • Russell H

    Given all the 1940s-1950s Japanese films Criterion has released, I’d add MOMOTARO UMI NO SHINPEI (Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors), the first *anime* feature-length film, released in 1945.

  • I second or third the Quay Bros and Jan Svankmajer suggestions.

    I would like to see Criterion a Fleischer Brothers Popeye DVD with as much extra as they can possibly find (which might not be much).

    A Ryan Larkin collection would also be nice.

  • Matt P.

    Definitely Ralph Bakshi’s first 4 films, The Thief & The Cobbler and perhaps a complete Felix The Cat collection and a Pre-Code Betty Boop collection.

    • Funkybat

      Felix and Pre-code Betty Boop… don’t know why no one (including me) thought of these before now!

      I think a Fleischer collection in and of itself would be a major undertaking, but worth it. There are a lot of individual shorts and bits and pieces floating around out there of the Fleischer Studios’ work, but nothing akin to the Warner Bros. Gold Collection (which isn’t even “complete” itself, but a very good effort nonetheless.)

  • Animal Farm
    Grendel Grendel Grendel
    Angel’s Egg
    dunder klumpen
    Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird
    Reynard the Fox
    Heavy Traffic
    hey Good Lookin’

  • Oliver

    License the Betty Boop films from Republic!!

    And the 2 Fleischer feaures (Mr. Bug & Gulliver) as a restored double-feature! There’s no reason an already established company like Criterion who caters to an already niche collector market of art house and classic cineasts couldn’t be hugely successful with these. If they can license Chaplin and Keaton shorts, there’s no reason why Betty Boop would be out of their range. Without competition in any regional market, it’d be huge for their catalog and surely a top seller.

  • Mamoru Oshii’s ‘Angel’s Egg’

  • Has anyone said “Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure” yet? Also, since Criterion has released television specials on DVD, how about releasing a complete “Beany and Cecil” collection?

    Could you imagine if they did a Disney collection? Not only for movies like “Song of the South”, but how great would it be to see how they would package and supplement “The Lion King”, “Aladdin”, or even “Fantasia”? It would definitely be much classier than Disney’s DVDs.

    The hope is that if “Armageddon” can make it to Criterion, then anything can.

  • Jack

    It’s always been my understanding that films released on the Criterion label paid for the privilege. It follows then that no penny pinching animation company would ever pay to be a Criterion release. Even Pixar, with Disney accountants looking over their shoulders, could not shell out for Criterion.

  • JB Kaufman

    I’ve only skimmed over these comments, but I’ve only seen one acknowledgement that “Adventures of Prince Achmed” is already on DVD — a beautiful disc from Milestone, made from a transfer by the archives at Bologna, and accompanied by a new recording of Zeller’s original 1926 score. (And I’ve seen no mention at all of the original writer’s description of it as “the oldest surviving animated film,” but we’ll let that go.) Criterion doesn’t need to re-invent this wheel. Apart from that, let me add my voice to those calling for collections of animated shorts. We have (with many thanks to Jerry) great laser and DVD collections of Betty Boop, Popeye, and Superman; maybe the last frontier in sound Fleischer animation would be the Screen Songs!

  • Someone has to email Criterion all these wonderful suggestions…

  • Michael Young

    Excellent news, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is getting the Criterion treatment!

  • Marl

    The films of Karel Zeman on a box set (NOT Eclipse).