There’s nothing like the ingenuity and the magic of animated movies. With a medium so flexible in terms of how you can tell and depict stories, we’ve watched the wackiest and most wonderful plots and characters come to life. Some of these stories have shaped us and our childhoods or have even become staples as adults for when we want a little more whimsy–and we definitely don’t give them enough credit. And not all of these captivating animated movies have come from the animation giant Disney!
Here are 20 animated movies that are so incredible and often underrated it hurts–let’s give them some more love!
20. Monster House
Monster House was released in 2006 as a supernatural horror-comedy film about a young boy, D.J., who has suspicions about his neighbor and his tattered old house. Joined by his best friend, Chowder, and neighborhood girl, Jenny, they unravel the mystery behind the old house and the dark secrets it holds. It’s exciting, surprisingly touching, and has you rooting for almost everybody at some point!
19. The Page Master
The Page Master was a 1994 film about a young boy played by Home Alone’s Macaulay Culkin who is timid and uses statistics in his day-to-day. One day, as he’s caught in a storm, he seeks shelter in a library where the fun really begins. The animation is magical, fun, and the stories are all lifted from classics–characters like Long John Silver, Captain Ahab, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, and more! He navigates his way through these stories, learns about himself, and finds joy in these books, fantastical and all.
The 2012 stop-motion animated film Paranorman is also another horror-comedy that centers on Norman, an 11-year-old-boy who has the uncanny ability to speak with the dead. He talks to his grandmother, as well as several ghosts around town but nobody believes him and he becomes ostracized. After his uncle gives him a daunting warning of a certain ritual and subsequently passes from a heart attack, Norman is tasked to perform a ritual. As the title suggests, paranormal activity happens around him–but this time he isn’t the only one there to see it. A tale of lighthearted fun that meets zombies and touching acceptance.
17. FernGully: The Last Rainforest
A film that spells urgency now more than ever in terms of climate change, FernGully: The Last Rainforest was a 1992 animated musical fantasy film that depicted an enchanted rainforest full of fairy creatures and animals that are threatened to be razed to the ground by loggers and Hexxus, a dark being that feeds on pollution. The creatures and fairies join together with the help of a human named Zak–whom Crysta (a young fairy) accidentally shrunk while trying to save him–in order to defeat Hexxus and save FernGully. It’s got music, it’s got romance, it’s got Robin Williams as a bat–what else could you ask for?
16. How to Train Your Dragon
Awkward protagonists being thrust with responsibilities are my favorite kinds of protagonists and this 2010 animated film has just that. Hiccup is a 15-year-old boy who lives in a village that fears and abhors dragons for the destruction they cause to their properties. After one of Hiccup’s inventions successfully takes down one such dragon (and a rare one at that), he searches for the creature but can’t kill it–so he sets it free instead. What follows is a touching and often funny series of events that go over family, loyalty, and newfound friendship. It’s definitely a heart-warmer!
15. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
2009’s super charming Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is seriously not talked about enough. It is incredibly witty, cleverly funny, and never fails to make me smile. It follows the story of Flint Lockwood, an inventor in the very conservative Swallow Falls, known only for their sardines and their mini-celebrity Baby Brent Sanders. One day, he creates a machine that, in theory, can create any food imaginable but it goes haywire as it rips through town and through Swallow Falls’ newest attraction: Sardine Land. Not long after, however, the clouds become wildly colorful and it begins to rain cheeseburgers, catapulting Flint into superstar status and Swallow Falls into a food wonderland. Hilarity ensues as people begin to encounter problems with the food and Flint has to save the day alongside weather reporter Sam Sparks. It’s sweet, very funny, and a great reminder to believe in ourselves. Also, the food looks A+.
This 2009 adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline is nothing short of fantastical and even a little creepy. Stop-motion at its finest, I would claim, and the fact that it is so beloved and considered a classic is just a testament to how good it is. Coraline and her family move to a new town and a new apartment in the complex called the Pink Palace Apartments. She finds life there dull and uneventful and is often left alone with how busy her parents are. Soon enough, she discovers a small door in their new home that leads to a more colorful, more enchanting version of her new home with warm parents, fantastical neighbors, and a mother that dotes upon her. But is everything really as it seems? Soon, the film takes turns in ways that are hard to peel your eyes from.
13. Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is often considered a masterpiece in storytelling, art, and film–and we can see why. The 2001 animated movie has captured hearts globally with its heartwarming story, memorable characters, and gorgeous art. Chihiro and her parents are driving towards their new home when they make a wrong turn and end up at an abandoned village where her parents immediately begin to eat. As they do this, a boy named Haku warns Chihiro to cross the riverbed before sunset–or it’ll be too late. Soon enough, Chihiro’s parents have turned into pigs and they are trapped in the spirit world where Chihiro is renamed, employed at a bath-house, and has to figure out a way to leave. The story is fantastical and full of all kinds of magic, dragons, and delicious-looking food art. It’ll definitely be a favorite of yours.
12. Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
2005 brought with it this British gem called Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and it’s all kinds of wacky and fun. In an almost Mr. Bean-esque fashion, it’s got that British humor to it that seems to permeate the rest of the world in terms of comedy. Wallace and Gromit, a man and his mute but highly intelligent dog, run a humane pest control company called Anti-Pesto that’s incredibly popular now that the town’s annual vegetable competition is underway. After trying out his new invention that will essentially control the minds of rabbits not to eat the vegetables, an error occurs where Wallace and the rabbit (whom they name Hutch) are stuck together for a bit before Gromit turns off the machine. It proves successful, however, as Hutch shows no interest in the veg. Soon enough, there are reports of prized vegetables being eaten deep in the night and the mystery hilariously unfolds from there.
11. The Prince of Egypt
Created way back in 1998, The Prince of Egypt is still lauded as one of the most beautiful animated movies to ever exist in terms of art, music, and storytelling. It follows the biblical story of Moses who discovers his real heritage and flees from the high thrones of Egypt to find himself. He creates a life with Tzipporah, the daughter of a Midian man who was previously captured and given to him as a prize when he was still a prince of Egypt. He eventually finds the burning bush and follows the call of God. The movie is beautiful, the music is wonderful, and even those who are not religious can find the majesty in this film.
10. The Book of Life
I believe that 2014’s The Book of Life does not get enough credit at all. The art and its very heart are touching and charming in every single way. Following the wager of La Muerte, ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, rule of the Land of the Forgotten, the story unfolds to be a love triangle injected with the fantastical afterlife and the adventures it brings. Maria, Joaquin, and Manolo are all friends as children when Maria is sent away to “become a lady.” Years down the line, she returns and La Muerte bets that she will marry the sweet bullfighter who loves music Manolo and Xibalba wagers on Joaquin, the heroic military man. If La Muerte loses, she must swap places with Xibalba. If Xibalba loses, he can no longer interfere with mortal happenings. Xibalba is determined to win, however, and pulls strings to do just that, causing Manolo to embark on a new adventure he’s never experienced before in order to return to Maria and unite with her in love.
9. Corpse Bride
More stop-animation musicals? Yes, please. 2005’s Corpse Bride is another foray into the colorful afterlife. Victor, a young man, is arranged to marry Victoria, the daughter of aristocrats who have slowly lost their fortune over the years. While their union is arranged, they fall in love pretty fast (and cute) but Victor stumbles through his vows out of nervousness and embarrasses himself. In an effort to practice, he delivers his vows perfectly in a forest and slips the ring on a branch, not knowing it was the finger of a dead bride, Emily, who now claims him to be her husband and brings him to the Land of the Dead. He tries to get back to Victoria but slowly also sympathizes with Emily, who was murdered when she was supposed to elope with her beloved. It’s touching and there’s a great punch-in-the-air victory moment in the end.
8. A Troll in Central Park
A Troll in Central Park was released just a year after I was born (1994) and I vividly remember scenes of it so well. Many of grew up with Stanley, the sweet troll with a green thumb, and his affinity for flowers and for life. Despite being exiled from the Kingdom of Trolls for being a disgrace (because of his powers), he finds refuge under a bridge in Central Park where he eventually meets Gus and Rosie, two local kids who are in awe of his prowess. The Queen of the Trolls, Gnorga, is unhappy about this and sets off to devastate Stanley and use the kids as bait. It’s a wonderfully touching tale of hope and courage.
7. Kubo and the Two Strings
Kubo and the Two Strings is an artistic stop-animation feat created just in 2016. Its sets and creation process quickly went viral–and for good reason. Not only is it gorgeously animated, but it also dives deep into samurai lore and the bravery that children can have. Set in feudal Japan, Kubo is a 12-year-old boy who helps out his ailing mother by using his special skill to animate origami and tell stories. He, however, can never finish the story of his father as he doesn’t know how he passed nor does his mother’s failing memory remember. When a festival comes that will allow him to speak to the deceased, he tries to take the chance to speak to his father when his sisters, who are after him, find him and try to kill him. Before they can, however, his mother magically sends him away to find his father’s armor. He goes on a journey to discover himself and what happened to his family and ultimately wears his courage proudly. It’s a beautiful story that was criminally snubbed.
Another Don Bluth masterpiece, 1994’s Thumbelina was as cute as Thumbelina was tiny. Thumbelina emerged from a barley seed that a witch gives to a widow who longs for a child. The widow cares for Thumbelina as her own and loves her just as she would a child. And while Thumbelina is loved and cherished, she longs for someone her own size. While singing one night, fairy prince Cornelius hears her and they fall in love. But he isn’t the only one enchanted by her singing, Mrs. Toad decides to kidnap her and have her marry her son, Grundel. This starts a series of events where Thumbelina must find herself out of different situations and back to Cornelius, who is desperate to save her and be with her. It’s adorable and charismatic, a movie that you won’t forget.
5. The Swan Princess
The best-known version of the classical ballet Swan Lake is probably Black Swan nowadays but 1994’s The Swan Princess, preceded the Natalie Portman thriller in a musical fantasy animation. Following the Swan Lake story and deviating a bit, we follow Odette, a young princess who meets with Prince Derek every summer at the demand of their parents in hopes that they will fall in love and unite their kingdoms. While they struggle at first, they do eventually fall for each other. However, King William’s (Odette’s father) chancellor, Rothbart, masters dark magic and fatally wounds the King and kidnaps Odette in order to try and take over the kingdom. Derek searches for her high and low while she is magically turned into a swan by day in Swan Lake where Rothbert keeps her captive. It’s a romantic story full of thrill and whimsy, one that’ll have you rooting for the animals all the way through.
4. Your Name
Your Name (or Kimi no Na wa) was released in 2016 and has not slowed down in terms of popularity since. People still gush about it, cry about it, and talk about it until now–and we can’t blame them. A romantic, comedic, and tragic story of love, loss, and unity, Your Name really packs a heavy punch straight to the feels. When Mitsuha, a small-town girl, is bored of her life in their little town, she wishes to be a boy in the big city instead. This is when she and Taki, a boy from Tokyo, begin to switch bodies intermittently, living life as each other and recording what’s happened. Slowly, they fall in love. But there’s a twist to their story–and you have to see it to feel the hurt. Brb, gonna go load this up now.
Can you believe that Shrek has been around for 19 years? The 2001 film was a surprise to everyone with how it took the fairytale tropes, with all their daintiness and whimsy, and turned it around for something hilarious, often-gross, but still wildly entertaining. Despite the meme status it has nowadays, Shrek was truly a turning point in animated movies, brazenly making fun of not just itself, but of trends and nuances we always see in fairytales. And it does so successfully–just think about the iconic opening sequence, everyone knows it. Shrek follows the story of a green ogre who loves his swamp and prefers to be alone, scaring off anyone who tries to interfere with his solitude. Despite angry mobs, he isn’t fazed, and he just scares them away. His life of solitude is interrupted, however, when exiled fairytale creatures invade his space and his swamp. He marches to Duloc to interrogate the ruler, Lord Farquaad, and is launched into a journey with a talking donkey, a trapped princess, and the layers he has to peel back in order to be true to himself and to others (like an onion!).
2. The Road to El Dorado
This movie was released in the year 2000 but it’s set in the early 1500s in Spain where two con artists, Tulio and Miguel win a map to the fabled city of El Dorado, the city of gold. After stowing away on conquistador Herman Cortes’ ship, they stumble upon some markings that resemble those of the map and eventually, find passage into El Dorado, being hailed as gods. It’s funny, it’s got a lot of heart, and it’s action-packed (the scenes where they play the ball game are some of my favorites!).
How could anyone ever forget this gem? This 1997 beauty has enchanted all of us for years with its stunning music, memorable art, and kickass main character. Anastasia follows Anya, an orphan, as she tries to find herself and finds herself inexplicably drawn to an old palace where royals used to rule. Enter Dmitri and Vladimir and their cunning plan to try and reunite an ailing royal grandmother with her last living granddaughter. It’s full of romance, color, and showmanship. Truly something you cannot miss.
Which one are you going to watch first? Let us know!
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