Fantastic 9 Animated Films For Adults: It’s incredible to think that, in the century and a half since Winsor McCay and the French Fantasmagorie first made moving drawings on a screen a form of popular entertainment.
Animation has given us everything from steamboat-steering mice and sly stop-motion foxes too, well, you name it:
a septet of singing dwarves, psychic Japanese teens, counterculturally hip cats, crooning French triplets, classically What was once thought to be a harmless cinematic diversion for kids has evolved into a medium that’s as creatively fertile and emotionally resonant as any live-action film aimed at an adult audience.
So we’re counting down our top 9 animated films of all time – the features (plus a few important shorts too wonderful to leave out) that have pushed the frontiers of what drawn lines, digital pixels, and manipulated puppets can do for moviegoers.
These are the ones that scare us, move us, make us laugh, and remind us how much fun and movement it is to watch cartoons with a group of people.
1. Rango (2011)
After working together on the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski reunited for this delightfully weird animated western about a pet lizard that becomes left in a desert hamlet and reluctantly becomes its rescuer.
Rango makes parallels to everything from Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” films to Depp’s own gonzo Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but it’s the surreal visual jokes and deadpan tone that make this a must-see — it’s like a cartoon version of a Coen Brothers comedy.
The Nightmare Before Christmas has its frightening moments, but Henry Selick’s Neil Gaiman adaptation book is simply creepy.
The main character, fed up with her inattentive parents, stumbles into a world where everyone she knows has been replaced by a cheerier but hollow clone, their living eyes replaced with hard black buttons.
It would be straight-up horror in another medium (imagine a tween Invasion of the Body Snatchers), but Selick’s stop-motion and deft use of 3D give us just enough distance to keep us from watching through our fingers while yet making us terrified to turn away.
3. Up (2009)
Look up the definition of “tearjerker” in the dictionary: The unforgettable opening sequence of this Pixar film — a full marriage in just over four minutes — should be the first entry.
The narrative of an odd friendship between a young child and a lonely old man (complete with a house dragged by hundreds of balloons, talking dogs, and a good ol’ zeppelin fight) is a touch of magical realism befitting its subject of never being too old for an adventure.
With its eye-popping animation and surprisingly deep emotional impact, it’s no surprise that Up received a Best Picture nomination and was the first animated film to headline the renowned Cannes Film Festival.
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In this antiwar fable, largely based on a novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones, Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki effectively mixes Eastern and Western perspectives.
One of Studio Ghibli’s most imaginative set-pieces is Howl’s Moving Castle: a movable steampunk castle lorded over by a bellicose wizard and driven by a wisecracking fire demon.
It’s a visually magnificent love story that’s also a scorching indictment of the human and environmental toll of war, filtered via the aesthetics of Old World Europe through an Eastern lens.
The English dubbing was overseen by Pixar’s Pete Docter, who enlisted the help of heavyweight vocal talents such as Lauren Bacall, Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, and Billy Crystal.
Sylvain Chomet, a Frenchman with a background in Jazz Age stage acts and silent comedy, turned up the whimsy and vintage grotesquerie for this old-timey thriller involving American gangsters, Tour de France cyclists, and the title trio of strange sisters out to expose a crime ring.
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The film has plenty of great songs and wry physical humor, but its most endearing quirk is its delight in laying out moving elements — a makeshift treadmill, a daily routine, a song – and watching them move.
Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel is one of the most important works in comics history: it’s a one-of-a-kind view inside Iran during the ascent of the fundamentalist Islamic government, told through the eyes of a punk young girl.
The film adaptation (created in partnership with French animator Vincent Paronnaud) is equally as entertaining, following the heroine as she resists and makes mistakes like any other kid, but in a world where even wearing lipstick can lead to arrest.
The film is a fascinating and revolutionary as the original book, with thick-lined monochrome art and an eye-opening story about Satrapi’s migration to Europe.
Before Christopher Nolan’s Batmans made superhero movies gloomy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe made them mythically interwoven, Pixar’s version of the caped crusaders made them more innovative and enjoyable than they’ve ever been.
Countless superhero films deal with public outrage over collateral damage, but “Supers” trying to fit into conventional, buttoned-down, middle-class society provides limitless comic mileage for writer-director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant).
The delights come not only from the Incredibles saving the world but also from the freedom to be their genuine selves when they’re ultimately called to action. Keep in mind that a family that battles super villains together stays together.
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Ari Folman, an Israeli documentarian, was used to shooting live-action films, but he chose animation to investigate the ephemeral nature of memories, particularly those he and his comrades repressed after fighting in the disastrous Lebanon War.
Folman’s chats with friends and the gradual unraveling of his own recollections become increasingly upsetting as the video progresses; because it’s totally animated, the traditional documentary style of going from talking-head interview to re-enactment is replaced by a hazy present and past.
The outcome is a cry de Coeur that combines personal experience, political protest, and poetry, and is both hallucinogenic and unsettling.
Director Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s brilliantly wacky take on those little building blocks made Chris Pratt a star, leveraging both his innate charm and his command of dumb-guy humor, proving that the Toy Story trilogy isn’t the last word on the secret life of children’s playthings.
Emmet, an everyLego who learns he’s the chosen one who must save the universe from the wicked Lord Business, is voiced by the Parks and Recreation actor (Will Ferrell).
Sure, hero’s-journey stories are cliches — but they’re only one of several action-movie tropes mocked in this wonderfully self-aware comedy.
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