5 “Coraline” (2009)
Wedding stop-motion animation with 3-D turned out to be a match made in heaven for 2009’s “Coraline.” Based on Neil Gaiman’s book by the same name, the 3-D effects add tremendous texture to a dark and ominous palette. When Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) falls into the fantasy world, you fall with her. Stop-motion already has a more 3-D feel than either drawn or CGI animation, so filming it in 3-D might seem like overkill, but in this case the two flow together in such a way that standard definition stop-motion seems, well, flat in comparison.
4 “Up” (2009)
If there was an award for most charming movie of the year, 2009’s trophy would probably go to Pixar’s “Up,” made even more spectacular in 3-D. Pixar combined breathtaking cinematography with a subtle attention to detail that made the film more intimate and nuanced in 3-D. Clothing and material had a depth of texture not present in standard definition animation, and the vivid colors packed emotional signals that reverberated with audiences. Part action-adventure, part love story, “Up” captivated and, yes, charmed viewers with its light-hearted warmth. Flight is one of the most beautiful uses of 3-D, but no one ever thought to fly a house with hundreds of multi-colored balloons—until Pixar did.
3 “TRON: Legacy” (2010)
Sometimes if you want to do a sequel right, you have to wait a couple decades. This was certainly the case with “TRON: Legacy,” which picked up 20 years after the original Disney movie “TRON” left off. In the film, the “real world” scenes are filmed in 2-D, while all of the action on the Grid, the virtual world inside the computer, are in 3-D. Although the switching back and forth might give some viewers an eye strain-induced headache, the effect paints a clear and immediate picture of the difference between the two worlds.
2 “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010)
The new buzz words for 3-D are “depth” and “immersion,” and DreamWorks’ 2010 animated feature “How to Train Your Dragon” ran a clinic on how to present both of those things to your audience. Take a rather cliché story about a wimpy outcast who becomes the hero. Place it in a beautiful setting that provides a lot of opportunity for depth—oceans, cliffs and such—and use 3-D visual effects to accentuate that. Add Vikings and dragons. Stir in believable characters and top-shelf voice actors, and you’ve got a 3-D film even the biggest 3-D skeptic will admit he enjoyed.
1 “Avatar” (2009)
It’s kind of a given. The film won three Academy Awards—for art direction, cinematography and special effects—and became the highest-grossing film of all time. The depiction of the fictional world of Pandora in “Avatar” was so vivid and deep, viewers felt transported to this beautiful, idyllic place—and they didn’t want to leave. Compared to Pandora, the real world felt dull, gray and flat. Thousands reported feelings of depression after watching the film, in part because the 3-D effects were so immersive people walked away feeling as though they had been there, and somehow been a part of the events depicted on the screen.