The Best Animated Movies on Netflix
Cartoons aren't just for kids!
With HBO Max nabbing the exclusive rights to stream Studio Ghibli films and the existence of Disney+, Netflix is facing an increasingly competitive landscape for animation. But don’t let the absence of Ponyo or WALL-E turn you off from its animated film offerings. For now, there are still some Disney classics, modern surrealist flicks from France, and existential shorts to suit every taste. Here are your best animated movie options currently streaming.
April and the Extraordinary World (2015)
This French animated film might be the one good thing to ever come from steampunk. Set in a 1930s where the world's greatest scientists have disappeared, leaving society to smolder in a coal-burning dystopia, April (Marion Cotillard) is on the run from the state police, who believe she holds the secrets to her late parents' anti-aging serum (which has also gifted her pet cat the ability to speak). With the imagination of Studio Ghibli and the action-pacing of a Guillermo del Toro movie, April and the Extraordinary World is a sci-fi thriller that manages to be whimsical through gunfire and clouds of black smoke.
Bee Movie (2007)
Oh, man. This unbelievable Jerry Seinfeld vehicle, in which a talking bee sues the human race for stealing HONEY, registers high on the ridiculous scale. Renée Zellweger voices a woman who kind of falls for said bee, they land an airplane together at one point, and, well, you just have to go along for the ride, because people STILL LOVE IT. Maybe it's because of the all-star cast (Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, Chris Rock, and Kathy Bates), maybe it's because people like the justice-for-bees message, or maybe -- just maybe -- it's because it is highly, highly memeable. Not saying you necessarily have to love what everyone else does, but aren't you just a tad curious about this 21st-century chunk of Seinfeld gold?
After a handful of efforts from Disney in the '00s didn’t quite hit, they released Bolt, which was like a surprising super-sonic boom. Bolt is a dog (voiced by John Travolta) with superpowers, or at least he thinks so, having spent his life working on a TV show about a dog with super K9 abilities. He doesn’t realize his true shortcomings until he's accidentally shipped cross-country and has to find his way home, sans powers. A Homeward Bound-like story follows as he meets some special furry friends along the way, and who doesn't love that? Bolt is a pure joy, and the animation has its own one-two-punch, playing up the Hollywood magic of Bolt's doggie world.
The Breadwinner (2017)
Based on the novel of the same name by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner tells the story of Parvana (Saara Chaudry), an 11-year-old living in Kabul, Afghanistan under the reign of the Taliban. After a young member of the Taliban arrests her father, Parvana and her family are left without a means of support given that they cannot travel outside unaccompanied by an adult, male relative. Facing dire circumstances, Parvana disguises herself as a boy in order to earn money for her family and find her father. The film, which was directed by Nora Twomey (The Secret of Kells) and executive produced by Mimi Polk Gitlin (Thelma & Louise) and Angelina Jolie, features stunning animation and a compelling narrative of human resilience.
Chicken Little (2005)
Everyone knows the story of Chicken Little: a chick feels an acorn fall on his head and proceeds to blab to his animal friends that "the sky was falling." In the midst of Disney's strange '00s entries, they turned the tale into a full feature film -- flipping a bit so that the sky actually is falling because aliens are invading earth. Really, what's happening is that the aliens lost one of their own, which only Chicken Little knows and takes upon himself to see that the baby from outer space is returned to safety. It's definitely a bonkers, albeit apt, action-adventure spin, but with Zach Braff, Joan Cusack, and Amy Sedaris among the lead voice cast, the animal characters are quirky enough to make the movie so cute its utter weirdness works.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
It might seem like a dream come true if, say, burgers started falling from the sky whenever you're really hungry -- or any time, really. This, plus other snack-based precipitation, is in the forecast of this animated feature loosely inspired by the picture book of the same name. In the movie, Bill Hader voices an awkward, unaccomplished scientist who tries to invent a machine that turns water into food when his town hits an economic crisis. But things go awry when his invention is accidentally launched into space, which is where the meatballs come in, as well as a whole lot of silliness. In other words, it's exactly what you want out of a solid animated movie.
The Croods (2013)
The Croods are your stereotypical, nuclear family of five, including a set of overprotective parents constantly at odds with their rebellious teenaged daughter. They're also cave people from a prehistoric era who strictly live according to their father's age-old lifestyle, which is totally thrown off when their daughter encounters another, more inventive caveman who warns her that her family must relocate caves before an impending disaster. DreamWorks has an affinity for adventure tales -- some hits and some misses -- and this is one of their exceptionally fun must-sees. Voice talents from A-listers like Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, and Ryan Reynolds make the predictable plot watchable and the jokes aplenty, and against the "Croodaceous" period backdrop, the classic family journey tale is made even more vibrant.
The Grinch (2018)
OK, yes, it’s 2018's The Grinch, but hear us out -- Illumination’s remake of this tried-and-true holiday classic actually manages to add new flavor to a very familiar character. Unlike other adaptations of the classic Dr. Seuss story, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Grinch has a pretty simple backstory: He grew up in an orphanage and is jealous of everyone's familial yuletide warmth. As an adult, he’s surprisingly relatable, living alone with only his dog and having to force himself into any kind of social interaction. A genuinely emotional retelling of a well-tread tale, The Grinch is worth a holiday watch. Also, Tyler, the Creator did a remix of the classic "You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and it totally slaps.
I Lost My Body (2019)
A loose adaptation of Academy Award nominee Guillaume Laurant's (Amelie) 2006 novel, Happy Hand, I Lost My Body is perhaps the most unodorothox and surreal animated feature of 2019. In short, this French film is about a severed hand attempting to reunite with the rest of its body, but it's more a meditation on humanity and wholeness than it is a gross-out horror film. Netflix acquired the movie after it premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival to critical acclaim and was nominated for a 2020 Oscar in the Animated Feature category -- all signs that the streaming giant's creative ambition is pushing it into exciting new territory.
Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus (2019)
Invader Zim has always been weird as hell. Almost 20 years after it's 2001 premiere, Enter the Florpus is pure Invader Zim shenanigans in the most endearing way possible. Zim and Dib are still locked in their everlasting rivalry, Dib is still trying to get through to his father, Gaz still likes video games, and GIR is… well, GIR is GIR. The film brings all of Invader Zim's trademark weirdness back into play and finally gives us some closure through what very well may be Zim's most apocalyptic scheme yet. For fans of the original series, Enter the Florpus is a must-watch spectacle that'll send you straight back.
By returning to 2D, hand-drawn animation, writer/director Sergio Pablos (Despicable Me, Smallfoot) creates a contemporary holiday marvel (and Oscar-nominated feature) in Klaus. The gorgeous film gives an origin story to Santa and the tradition of children writing him letters by following a postal service worker named Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) sent to work on a desolate, wintery isle where he eventually meets a reclusive toy maker named Klaus (J.K. Simmons). Rashida Jones and Joan Cusack join an A+ cast that brings their charm, but it's the detailed backdrop of the endearing Nordic-inspired art that gives this movie all the whimsical joy needed to warm your heart around the holidays, or anytime, we guess! We wouldn't be surprised if this goes on to become a new Christmas classic.
The Little Prince (2015)
Netflix rescued this animated adaptation of the popular French sci-fi novel after a major Hollywood studio dumped it. Watching The Little Prince, you can see why; following a girl who tests her overbearing mother's life plan by dreaming big and adventuring into space, the movie is a little too melancholy, a little too freeform, and a little too poetic -- at least side-by-side with the Ice Age movies. For Netflix, the result is a huge win.
Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa (2008)
2005's Madagascar was a pretty big deal among families at the time. The animated comedy featuring Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, and Jada Pinkett Smith as animals from the Central Park Zoo accidentally shipped to Madagascar was an outrageous romp quoted by kids everywhere, and eventually spawned a franchise. Standing apart from many cartoons, the sequel actually did the movie justice, catching up with Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo, Marty the Zebra, and Melman the Giraffe as their plan to return home reversed course and crash-landed them on the mainland of Africa. Introducing each zoo animal to their own tribe out in the wild, the follow-up introduces a whole new cast of characters and even more laughs. It's a rare family sequel that truly delivers (and leaves "I Like To Move It" stuck in your head for days).
Mary and the Witch's Flower (2017)
Created by former Studio Ghibli illustrators, this Japanese film features similar-looking beautiful, fantastical imagery to tell a mystical story. Inspired by the classic children’s book The Little Broomstick, Mary and the Witch's Flower follows the magical journey of a young girl sent to live in the country who stumbles upon a charmed broomstick and a flower in the forest that send her away to a secret school for magic. There, a wildly fantastical adventure told through powerful animation unfolds like a storybook.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
The Princess and the Frog is a return to form for the Disney: It's one of the House of Mouse's last hand-drawn films, it reimagines an existing fairytale, and helped move Disney forward by (finally) being the first animated feature with a black princess. The film transports a familiar story down to the New Orleans bayou, where a witch doctor turns a prince into a frog, and inadvertently gets an ambitious young waitress named Tiana caught up in the voodoo mysticism. The spirited animation and music will call back Disney's Golden Age, but based on its Jazz Age and Creole references, this has its own flare, too.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
It's nigh-impossible to make a movie that accurately spoofs the internet. Given that internet culture, humor, and trends fall in and out of favor at the tip of hat, making a movie that captures the experience of being online at any given moment is a tall order. While Ralph Breaks the Internet felt almost outdated by the time that it premiered (it's all about apps, apps, apps!), it does its best to tackle concepts like virality, online community, and the fleeting connections we attempt to maintain online. There's also some great riffing off of basically every single IP that Disney owns as well as a genuinely charming number about Vanellope's infatuation with the gleefully violent Slaughter Race.
Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling (2019)
It's been a hot, hot minute since Rocko's Modern Life was on air. A beloved '90s Nickelodeon cartoon, it was known for its earnest charm, slapstick comedy, and social satire. Static Cling brings all of that same charm with a bit of a twist: the special takes place in the present. After Rocko and his friends Heffer and Filburt spend 20 years careening around space, they return to a present day O-Town full of smartphones, coffee shops, and other 21st century technological marvels. Much to Rocko's dismay, his favorite TV show The Fatheads has also gone off the air. Rocko sets out to find Rachel Bighead, the creator of The Fatheads, who was previously known as Ralph in the original series and has transitioned in Rocko's absence. Rachel is reluctant to leave her life selling Fatheads-inspired ice cream, and Rocko must convince her to come back to O-Town and help reboot the series. Perfectly nostalgic and genuinely warm as ever, Static Cling is a fitting addition to the series.
A Silent Voice (2016)
Based off of Yoshitoki Ōima’s manga of the same name, A Silent Voice follows teenager Shōya Ishida, who spent his elementary school days bullying deaf classmate Shōko Nishimiya. As a result, he ended up being ostracized by his classmates throughout the rest of his school years. Now in his last year of high school, Shōya attempts to reconnect with Shoko and some of their other elementary school classmates in the hopes of mending what has been broken and finding personal redemption. Beautifully animated by acclaimed studio Kyoto Animation (K-On!, Violet Evergarden), A Silent Voice is a moving coming-of-age story.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
In this shrewd twist on the superhero genre, the audience's familiarity with the origin story of your friendly neighborhood web-slinger -- the character has already starred in three different blockbuster franchises, in addition to countless comics and cartoon TV adaptations -- is used as an asset instead of a liability. The relatively straight-forward coming-of-age tale of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn teenager who takes on the powers and responsibilities of Spider-Man following the death of Peter Parker, gets a remix built around an increasingly absurd parallel dimension plotline that introduces a cast of other Spider-Heroes like Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glen), and, most ridiculously, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a talking pig in a Spider-Suit. The convoluted set-up is mostly an excuse to cram the movie with rapid-fire jokes, comic book allusions, and dream-like imagery that puts the rubbery CGI of most contemporary animated films to shame.
Yeah, sure, Disney launched a successful, beloved franchise about race cars with the Cars movies, but those were just about cars (obviously). Imagine if there had also been a racing animal in the mix, like, say, a snail? DreamWorks actually did imagine that with their movie Turbo, about a tiny snail whose greatest dream to race in the Indy 500 might actually come true after he miraculously gets the power of super-speed. It's definitely a silly concept, but the animation is a joy and its wholesomeness is enough to excel this one into the winner's circuit.
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