Animation has always been a part of me, ever since movies like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin enraptured me as a young girl. There’s something about the creativity and imagination of animation and its storytelling that transcends live-action.
Even though the Emmys and Academy Awards have added slots for animated media, the misconception that “cartoons” are only for kids is still out there; and sometimes, animated movies that have taken bold steps and taken creative storytelling to the limit, sometimes fall within the cracks, victims of huge multimillion Hollywood blockbusters that command our immediate attention. These underrated are grievously under-appreciated, perhaps because of a creative premise the public wasn’t ready for, marketing mistakes, or simply premiering at the wrong time. Those rare gems are out there and they’re worth seeing!
Here are eight of my favorite animated movies; give them a try and let me know what you think!
UPDATE: Get excited for part 2 coming this summer! If you have a suggestion for me to include, feel free to leave a comment :)
Titan AE‘s DVD cover declares that “this the movie ‘Star Wars’ fans have been waiting for,” and that can’t be more true: Titan AE is what science fiction aspires to, and it absolutely holds its own against recent live-action science fiction endeavors today (example: it’s better than Transformers). A thousand years into our future, the Drej have destroyed Earth, leaving humans scattered across the galaxy. Now, Cale is the only person who holds the key to humanity’s last hope for a future. The story is fast-paced, exciting, and totally unique; while it certainly draws on science fiction tropes, it is still imaginative enough to stand on its own. I love how this movie asks the question that has never really been explored before: what is humanity without Earth? and it really takes it to the limit. Titan also boasts a great voice cast, including Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore, but Nathan Lane totally steals the show as Preed. If you haven’t seen Titan before it is certainly a must-watch.
Dreamworks’ best known traditionally animated film is Prince of Egypt, and, even though Egypt was spectacularly done, all of Dreamworks’ subsequent animated films came and went with little recognition. Sinbad, however, deserves a lot more than what it got. The legendary sailor comes to life in this adventurous, lighthearted and beautifully animated film, in which Sinbad is wrongly accused of stealing the Book of Peace. Along with the beautiful ambassador Marina, Sinbad must retrieve the book from Eros, the goddess of chaos, and return in time to save his best friend. Kids will enjoy the adventurous romp and cool-looking monsters, while adults can appreciate the humor as well as Michelle Pfeiffer’s excellent performance as devious Eros. This is one of those movies that I can watch again and again without tiring of it.
During a rainstorm, young and perpetually frightened Richard Tyler (Macaulay Culkin) wanders into a massive library; he slips, falls, and wakes up in an animated version of the library. With the help of his newfound friends, books Adventure (Patrick Stewart), Fantasy (Whoopi Goldberg) and Horror (Frank Welker), Richard faces the wonder and terror of storytelling, journeying towards the Pagemaster (Christopher Lloyd) and the exit as well. With an excellent cast and engaging premise, Pagemaster is an imaginative and fun ride through literature. While the animation and song isn’t up to Dreamworks or Disney ‘s quality standards, it’s still one of those gems that isn’t watched nearly as much as it should be. Oh, and Leonard Nimoy is Dr. Jekyll. If that isn’t awesome, I don’t know what is.
I adore this movie, and it is one of the most underrated and under-marketed films on this list. Set in the 1950’s, a young boy, Hogarth Hughes, discovers an iron robot that has crash-landed on Earth. As the Giant discovers his own humanity, and Hogarth finds a true friend, their relationship is threatened by a government official and Cold War paranoia. Like every movie Brad Bird directs (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), there is true heart and soul in this film; even if WB didn’t give this movie the marketing it deserves, Giant believes in itself and harbors a truly beautiful message, and has some great laugh-out-loud moments–hopefully ‘squirrels’ is all I need to say. However, it’s also slower than the other films on this list, so keep that in mind if you have younger audience members. Be sure to listen up for Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel and Harry Connick, Jr’s voices too.
Treasure Planet remains one of the biggest box office bombs in history, costing Disney millions of dollars and one of their animation studios too. That’s the worst reputation an animated movie can get, but let me set the record straight: Treasure Planet premiered in between Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. That should explain everything.
And that is why you have to give Treasure Planet a chance. The film is a futuristic retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, in which Jim Hawkins finds a map to Treasure Planet (a whole planet full of gold beats a puny island, in my book anyway). As Jim crosses the galaxy he must contend with the cyborgs, space pirates, and an annoying talking robot. The animation is absolutely gorgeous; it seamlessly integrates CG and traditional animation, and the backdrops are stunning. Emma Thompson and David Hyde Pierce give wonderful supporting performances as Captain Amelia and Dr. Doppler, and you can’t forget Martin Short as robot B.E.N. While the kids will love Morph and BEN’s antics and the relatively simple storyline, adults can enjoy how Disney took a leap of faith venturing into a non-musical or Prince-Charming format–and songs by Goo Goo Dolls’ lead singer Johnny Rzeznik, too!
“I am Miguel.” “And I am Tulio.” “…And they call us Miguel and Tulio!” Oh, there are so many laughs in this movie–you can’t miss out on this one! Two Spanish swindlers stowaway on a ship heading for America with a map to El Dorado, the city of gold. But when Miguel and Tulio arrive at the city and pretend to be gods, an adventure they didn’t expect awaits them, which will test their greed and their friendship as well. El Dorado has great animation and an upbeat and fun storyline. What I appreciate about it most, however, is the witty humor that will leave adults chuckling all the way through, while there’s some slapstick reserved for the younger members of your audience. Kevin Kline and Kenneth Brannagh are spot-on in the lead roles, and the songs are excellent, written by Tim Rice and Elton John of Lion King fame.
Quest for Camelot is not the best animated movie out there, but I love it anyway. All Kaylee wants is to be a knight of King Arthur, and she gets her chance when Excalibur is stolen and all of Camelot is threatened. Much like Iron Giant, WB seemed to undercut this movie with low expectations from the beginning; the animation and song lyrics are certainly second-tier. At least the character development wasn’t sacrificed: Kaylee is spunky, courageous and a great role model for young girls, while Garrett is the only blind hero I’ve ever seen, yet also one of the most noble. Gary Oldman gives a hilarious performance as the lead villain, and the Arthurian setting is creative, magical and enchanting. While still underrated, don’t give Camelot huge expectations; give it a try on Netflix streaming.
Atlantis remains one of Disney’s most creative and underrated films, as it was quickly (and unjustly) panned by critics back in 2001. Michael J. Fox lends his voice as linguist Milo Thatch, who discovers a book to the lost underwater city of Atlantis. But the city is threatened when Milo realizes that the team he made the journey with didn’t have only exploration in mind. Unlike Treasure Planet, Atlantis completely forgoes the ploys at the younger crowd, providing a more adult and sophisticated film, while still keeping all the lightheartedness and adventure intact. The animation is wonderful, and the characters are endearing; French explosives expert Vinny is particularly hilarious. I highly recommend this one.