Saturday, 1 February 2014

Top 10 Animated Horses

Special mention to the horse from "What's Opera Doc" for being fantastic

Chinese New Years just ended, and 2014 marks the year of the horse! Because of this event, and because the internet likes lists (my Top 10 Animated Dragons article is still one of my most popular blog entries) I present to you my top 10 animated horses! Because why not!

Yup plain and simple, the horse character has been around pretty much as long as animators needed to do a 4-legged walk cycle, but these horses, in my opinion, go above and beyond their colt brethren to become the best of the best! I'm only looking at horses represented in animation (comics and video games are a neigh,) and only 1 entry per franchise. Points for horses with memorable personalities, cool design, or just something funny or interesting about them. So without further ado, let's get started!

10) Bullseye (Toy Story)

It's kind of a played out cliché in western animation: if you want to make an audience connect with a non-human character, make it act like a dog. People love dogs. Whether it be objects, like a lamp in Luxo Jr., or more recently a moose in Frozen, dog mannerisms are always a sure fire way to instantly love a character, even if you don't pick up right away that this thing, that is clearly not a dog, is acting like a dog.

Horses, being a reoccurring companion to hero characters, are no stranger to being "dogified," but Bullseye from the Toy Story franchise is definitely the least subtle about it. From jumping up and licking people on the face, to his fierce loyalty, I in fact find Bullseye's dog-like behaviour to be even a little too on the nose. However, what saves Bullseye from being cut on this list is the way he's animated. Being a toy horse, Bullseye moves with the same lanky, rag-doll movements that his owner Woody does. It's this extreme acting and overshooting action that makes Bullseye fun to watch for me. His animation kinda reminds me of the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees from Raggedy-Ann and Andy...but, you know, more energetic...and not as depressing...and also not a camel...

9) The Headless Horseman's Horse (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

Most of the time animated horse characters are companions to the archetypal hero. Usually they're kind, bright, loyal, or as mentioned before, dog-like. Very rare do we get a truly terrifying beast of a horse....but that's what we got here!

The Headless Horseman from Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (one of two shorts on Disney's film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad) is a superbly animated force of terror. His pursuit of Ichabod in that short is a great blend of fun and scary, and of course it would be nothing if he wasn't racing along on his manic horse from Hell! (May not actually be from Hell, the ending's a bit vague.) With his blood red eyes, this horse means business...and in this case, business is killing you! Because after all, what's the Headless Horseman without a horse?? Just...."The Headless," and that's not nearly as scary. So points for evil Hell horse for being different, and being an essential part to an awesome villain.

8) Khan (Mulan)

Okay, not all of these are Disney horses, I swear!! But I felt I needed to put Khan in here somewhere. Not as memorable as other horses on this list, or even as memorable a character in this movie, but I really liked Khan because this horse was There was very little "dogifing" like other animated horses, yet he still had a very distinct personality. He was a warhorse. A horse who is serious and brave; the perfect companion for Mulan to ride into battle! And on top of that, the character design of this horse is truly awesome. He looks very muscular, with such a thick neck, but skinny legs. Plus the style of drawing on Khan goes with the movies Chinese painting motif, making this horse a unique looking entry to the list. Not as memorable, but I think cool enough to make it to number 8. 

7) James Baxter the Horse (Adventure Time)

Hurray!! It's time for some animation inside jokes!! So...

To those not in the know, the Adventure Time episode "James Baxter the Horse" might seem odd. The plot is there's a horse named James Baxter who balances himself on a beach ball while saying his name in a horse whiney-like way. Whenever anyone sees James Baxter the Horse, they get so happy that they forget all their troubles. Finn and Jake see this, and they try to emulate what James does, but they just can't seem to spread cheer the same way James Baxtor the Horse can, even outright failing.

Folks watching this episode might have some questions like, "who the hell thought up this plot?!" or "why is that horse really, really well animated?!" Well, the answer to that last question is because legendary animator James Baxter (animator on films such as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) guest animated the titular horse (as well as provided the neighing of his name.) The quality of animation on the Horse is so much more detailed compared to the simplistic and stylish characters that normally populate Adventure Time, it really does cheer people up, both in and out of the show. But even more to that, if you read between the lines of this episode, it could be a metaphor for a wishful animator (maybe even Adventure Time creator, Pendleton Ward) wanting to be as good as these classic Disney animators. However, failing to reach that quality of work, they just have to appreciate the work they do and embrace their own style and techniques. But hey! That's just how I read the episode. Maybe I'm not supposed to read too much into a show where a horse balances on a beach ball...but hey! At least that's a good segue to...

6) Spirit (Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron)

Maaaaatt Daaamooon horse
Yes, James Baxter (the animator, not the horse) was the supervising animator on the titular character from Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron (there's your reason he was a horse in Adventure Time! Ya happy now??)

Now, I know a lot of people haven't seen this movie...and let me say, if you want some beautiful animation, check this shit out! Oh man! Most of it is stunning sweeping shots, amazing scenes of running horses, and just jaw dropping animation. And it's one of the few 2D animated features done at DreamWorks Animation, so that alone makes it a unique feature. Like Khan from MulanSpirit's horses are more realistic in their horse animation. In fact the main character, Spirit, doesn't talk or make pop culture references, or anything! Well...there is internal horse monologues provided by Matt Damon, but still!

Now, to be fair, the character of Spirit is a bit bland, but in my book you can still get to number 6 on this list if you just look really awesome. And yeah...the animation, again, is just really awesome. If you missed this film and are craving the traditional hand-drawn animation of yesteryear, track this one down. 

5) Derpy Hooves (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

Ermahgerd! Mah lerttle perner!
Ok, you knew there had to be at least one mention to My Little Pony on this list, right? And I know technically this entry is a pegasus, not a "horse" per say but you know what? Fuck it. It's my list. If I want a wing-a-ling pony on my list, gosh darn it I'm gonna have my wing-a-ling pony! And truly, out of all the My Little Pony characters I could have put on this list, no character is as "special" as the fan named character Derpy Hooves. 

As the tale goes, this grey background pony appeared in the first episode of the series with inexplicable crossed eyes. Was it a slip up? A layout artist having some fun with the background characters? Who knows! But pony fans loved this goofy background character, dubbing her with the moniker "Derpy Hooves." But wait! It gets better! The show's creator, Lauren Faust, loved the fan reaction so much that the character was brought back, messed up face and all, to be hidden in future episodes! Starting with their second season the cross eyed wonder played the role of "Where's Waldo." Eventually, even the character name "Derpy" became cannon within the series! Finally Derpy made her way into an episode in a talking role, even being called by name. But of course, controversy over if this character was poking fun at the mentally handicapped was brought up (which, you know, is totally a legit complaint,) and since then all official mention of this character's name was removed. However, love for the pony formally known as Derpy still persists. Even after they removed her name from episodes, Hasbro released a special edition 2012 Comic-Con figure of Derpy just for the fans! The figures don't have the name of the character anywhere on the package...but we all know who she really is...we all know... (PS, it's Derpy.)

4) Horace Horsecollar (Mickey Mouse)

Ohhh...Mr Horsecollar... What happened to this character?! At one point he was pretty much Mickey Mouse's best friend and sidekick! Mickey frickin' Mouse! And hell! This rubber hosed horse even has the honours of being co-created by the same duo that made that massively marketable mouse: Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney! And Disney himself originally voiced Horace, much like when Mickey first got to speak! So I ask again...what happened to him?!

I guess the easy answer is he just got pushed aside. Other Disney side characters Goofy and Donald were, in many ways bigger and more interesting personalities than good ol' Horace. Horace wasn't as dumb as Goofy, or as temperamental as Donald. So even though he was still featured in groundbreaking Mickey Mouse shorts like "The Band Concert," this "cheerful know-it-all" character just remained on the sidelines of Disney history. He remained more prominent as a side character in the Disney comics for a while, acting as a detective partner with Mickey, but even that faded away eventually. I've always had a soft spot for this relatively obscure character though. And hey! We're even beginning to see a reemergence of Horace! Whether it be self-referential about his obscurity in the Epic Mickey video game series, his role as the technician on the TV series House of Mouse, or as a main character in the 2014 short that appeared before Frozen in theatres, Get a Horse, we're seeing a lot more of Horace! Could this be the triumphant return to form for one of animations long-lost sidekicks?? not. But still! It's cool that he's still around. Keep on truckin' Horsecollar. Keep on truckin'.

3) Twinkles the Wonder Horse (Dave the Barbarian)

Ok, if you haven't seen Dave the Barbarian, you should probably get on that. One of the, in my opinion, many underrated Disney saturday morning cartoon shows from the early 2000s, Dave the Barbarian was created by Doug Langdale (creator of The Weekenders) and Savage Steve Holland (creator of Eek! The Cat) and the result is...strangely a perfect blend of those two shows, but with a fantasy setting. It's weird, I know, and by all accounts I would say that wouldn't be a good mix of styles but...surprise! The show is actually really hilarious. It parodies tropes and clichés commonly found in fantasy, has a biting and oftentimes brilliantly sarcastic script, and features some wonderfully strange side characters. For example, the minor character Twinkles the Wonder Horse. A girly looking horse with a beautiful pink and yellow mane who talks like Christopher Walken and has a extreme case of depression.

...yeah...the jokes just write themselves. Twinkles the Wonder Horse: nuff said. 

2) Maximus (Tangled)

This character made this movie for me. Not to say Tangled isn't a good movie. It's fine. It has a nice fairytale plot, an interesting villain, decent songs, yadda, yadda, yadda. But this horse! My God this horse! This took me by surprise!

There's been so many horse characters from Disney, but Maximus stands out to have the most unique and fun personality of the bunch. Charged with the task of hunting down the thief Flynn Rider, Maximus quickly proves that he's more capable than the captain of the guards who's riding him. And this is where we see the sheer determination of Maximus. He's on a one-horse mission! His persistency won't let up! He's an unstoppable force! Like The Terminator....but a horse!! And that premise alone leads to some of the funniest jokes and scenes in the movie. Much like other horse characters, many dog-like characteristics are given to Maximus, but what makes Maximus even more hilarious is when they give him human-like acting to do. Actions such as shaking hands, or sword fighting (a horse in a frickin' sword fight!) just become that much more hilarious when it's animated with a regal, fairly realistically designed horse.

And hey, that leads perfectly too...

1) Mr Horse (The Ren & Stimpy Show)

Truthbomb time: I'm not a huge fan of Ren & Stimpy. Even as a kid, I just found it too juvenile. I know I'm in the minority here, but I don't know. Gross out humour never really appealed to me. And that, for the most part, was a lot of what Ren & Stimpy had to offer. But I watched it anyway. I have no idea why. It was...mesmerizing? Confusing? A bit of both?

And once in a while, a moment will catch me off guard. Sometimes a pose, or a drawing would be so wacky, so off model, so detailed in weird ways, that it would be beautiful in a strange way. And of course, sometimes there were jokes that still, despite my feelings for the show, just made me laugh. And thus we have Mr Horse, voiced by John K himself.

Mr Horse is one of those jokes that, again, baffle me. I don't even know why I love this guy, but maybe it is because, compared to the rest of the animals on Ren & Stimpy, Mr Horse looked more like a realistic horse, and stands out from the crowd simply by looking normal (relative to the rest of the cast, that is to say.) And on top of that his mannerisms as so very human. The way he talks, the way he dresses. We've seen horses acting like dogs to cute effects. We've seen horses kinda acting like humans for hilarious effect. Well here's a horse who straight up acts human in every way, and it's hilarious. The juxtaposition is so ridiculous, but he acts so serious. It's a simple joke, but for some reason, he stays in my thoughts and is the #1 horse I think of when I try to think of animated horses. 

And hey! If you don't agree with me and my list, at least Mr Horse has the perfect response for you.

Happy Year of the Horse, folks!

- Moo