The Most Beautiful Animated Movies


In New York City and Los Angeles this week, the award-winning animated feature Long Way North opened in theaters (with future city dates to come). The captivating tale set in 1882 about a young heroine who sets out on an epic adventure to discover her family’s story is composed of hand-drawn animation that captures the imagination and the film’s emotional center. We look at several other beautiful animated movies that feature exquisite artwork and stunning visuals. What other films would make your list?

The Garden of Words (2013)

From DVD Talk:

Visually sumptuous anime The Garden of Words tells a simple, real-world story with a great sensitivity and attention to detail. In telling the tale of a high school boy who falls for an enigmatic older woman, director-writer Makoto Shinkai channels the more subtle, realistic Studio Ghibli output.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

From MaryAnn Johanson:

You simply can’t imagine how weird and wonderful and lovely this film is. I can go on and on about its odd beauty, how it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen and at the same time like a recurring dream you can always just barely remember when you wake up, and still you’ll be astonished by it. Because words fail. The Triplets of Belleville must be experienced. I could not truly convey what it’s like to laze in its saucy, sweet otherworldliness if I sat here for hours trying to find a precise turn of phrase.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

From Roger Ebert:

Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation. Since the earliest days, most animated films have been “cartoons” for children and families. Recent animated features such as The Lion King, Princess Mononoke and The Iron Giant have touched on more serious themes, and the Toy Story movies and classics like Bambi have had moments that moved some audience members to tears. But these films exist within safe confines; they inspire tears, but not grief. Grave of the Fireflies is a powerful dramatic film that happens to be animated, and I know what the critic Ernest Rister means when he compares it to Schindler’s List and says, ‘It is the most profoundly human animated film I’ve ever seen.’

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

From the Village Voice:

For the reportedly painstaking labor it took to create, the film is a marvel to behold—with wonderful shifts in perspective, an intensely tactile design, and an intentional herky-jerkiness of motion that only enriches the make-believe atmosphere. Clooney (speaking as if everything were a self-conscious aside) and Streep (resplendent as a former wildcat turned Earth mother) do some of the best work of their illustrious careers. Among the movie’s many virtues, they render an unusually convincing portrait of a marriage, a reminder that the most unexpected thing about Anderson’s film may be—underneath all the carefully affixed, wind-sensitive whiskers and fur—how deeply human it is.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)

From the A.V. Club:

Much of what works in Legend can be credited to Animal Logic, the studio behind 2006’s Happy Feet; its animators have created a vivid world with deep, gorgeous spaces that become stunning in 3-D, and owls that would have made Walt Disney weep with their feather-perfect realism and natural movement. And to anyone young enough to have not already seen dozens of rote Chosen One Vs. Generic Evil fables, Legend may well be as exciting as it is beautiful.

Song of The Sea (2014)

From Slant Magazine:

Song of the Sea takes place in a semi-realistic Irish setting perpetually on the verge of disintegrating into an amorphous space of lines, shapes, and colors. Tomm Moore, the director of the critically successful The Secret of Kells, has pushed his distinctive hand-drawn and hand-painted style further into wispy abstraction, juxtaposing his minimalist, clean-lined drawings of people against backgrounds of expressionistic watercolor and other organic textures. Sometimes these backgrounds are so cloud-like that they seem to be disintegrating at the edges of the frame; other times they approximate the jagged, shiny surface of an emerald rock. In one of the film’s recurring visual gestures, environments collapse around characters until they’re floating in layers of circles, a sign of Moore’s willingness to visualize his metaphors directly.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

From the New York Times:

This exotically beautiful action film features gods and demons locked in a struggle for the future of the unspoiled forest and an elaborate moral universe that Mr. Miyazaki has created. As such, it is a sweeping, ambitious version of the comic-book storytelling that engendered it. Frequent battle scenes, graphic enough to make a sharp distinction between “Princess Mononoke” and animation made for children, keep the story in motion. These are often breathtakingly rendered, but it is the film’s stirring use of nature, myth and history that make it so special.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

From BFI:

The film is most obviously separated from other cartoon features by its gorgeously handmade appearance. It uses deliberately incomplete watercolours, complemented by white space. The look is less sketchy than Takahata’s 1999 film My Neighbours the Yamadas but more stylised than the childhood scenes in his Only Yesterday (1991). The palpably drawn quality of Kaguya, if not its art style, may remind British viewers of The Snowman (1982). In one of the most impressionistic scenes, Kaguya flees into the wilderness, landscape and girl half-dissolving into angry dashing scribbles of movement.