Kids love animated movies. The vivid colors and seemingly endless possibilities suit a child’s developing mind. But animated conventions can also be intensely effective for adults as well. Although animated movies aren’t typically associated with grown-ups, there are in fact many wonderful films that take their stunning visuals to dark, violent and provocative places best left to those that have come of age.
1. Watership Down (1978) – This is a bunny tale unlike any other. Based on Richard Adams’ incredible book, this film tells the story of several rabbits in search of a new home after their’s is taken from them. Don’t let the these furry characters fool you, though. This is a violent, bloody and brilliant meditation on classic allegorical themes such a freedom vs. tyranny and the individual vs. the corporation. Heady stuff for such a pastoral setting.
2. Wizards (1977) – From the twisted, wonderful mind of Ralph Bakshi comes this post-apocalyptic sci-fi dreamscape that tells the story of two wizards, one representing magic and the other industrial technology. Can you guess the themes at work here? It is a psychedelic journey stuffed with ’70s motifs and big ambitious ideas.
3. Waking Life (2001) – Before Richard Linklater used rotoscope technology to depict his continually underrated adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, he used the animating technique to render this philosophical journey. The animation lends a surreal weight to the already lofty ideas and discussions on metaphysics, existentialism, and free will.
4. Waltz with Bashir (2008) – This Israeli feature centers on the film’s writer and director, Ari Folman’s story as he attempts to reacquire lost memories of his time fighting in the 1982 Lebanon War. Full of engrossing visuals and solemn examinations on the nature of man, this rewarding film is not for the faint of heart.
5. Ghost in the Shell (1995) – This stunning achievement in the realm of anime depicts a future in which technology binds and permeates every aspect of our lives. Following Public Security Section 9, a special task force, as they track a hacker named the Puppet Master, gender identity and humanity’s place in the cold and calculating world of technology is under the microscope. This film is the perfect introduction to Japanese animation.
6. Animal Farm (1955) – Animation and George Orwell fit together eerily well. Perhaps it’s how unnatural, yet somehow familiar his themes are. Telling the classic tale of a farm taken over by the animals, this chilling film offers some challenging and painful truths concerning man’s lust for power. It is riddled with Cold War references, making these troubling ideas all the more relevant today.
7. Persepolis (2007) – Rendered in stark black and white, this wonderful adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s beloved graphic novel tells the both familiar and gritty coming-of-age story of a young girl in Iran. Both honest and tragic, it is a story of survival and profound cultural pride.
8. Akira (1998) – Long considered a landmark in Japanese animation, this film adapted from the popular manga follows Tetsuo Shima, a teenage biker who seeks to release a notorious and destructive psychic in a near-future Tokyo. It is also a favorite in the canon of the cyberpunk tradition, where technology and social unrest are depicted on the very edge of societal implosion.
9. Up (2009) – This list could easily be made up entirely of Pixar films. Their ability to meld powerful cultural statements with humbling imagery is a legacy worth watching. This heart-warming story of an old man seeking to fulfill his lifelong dream to explore South America is utterly profound and very very funny.
10. Heavy Metal (1981) – This overtly sexual cult classic is a stylistic mainstay in an era of ambitious animation. Although more heavy on style than substance, this cross between an epic fantasy and musical landscape is full of devil-may-care whimsy and science fiction absurdity. As an underground sensation and visual time capsule, this one merits a serious look.