In recent years, audiences have begun to appreciate animation as cinema. Animation is not a genre, but a medium that can convey many stories in ways simply impossible with live action. Furthermore, once overlooked gems such as The Iron Giant and Megamind have received greater attention in recent years. However, audiences still overlook many amazing animated films. Here are ten of the most underrated films in animation.
10. Angel’s Egg
Before directing the legendary cyberpunk film Ghost in the Shell, Mamoru Oshii would direct the lesser known Angel’s Egg. Angel’s Egg follows a young girl exploring an abandoned city, until she finds a mysterious young man who gives her a strange egg. Apart from the gorgeously atmospheric city, the film also became famous for being notoriously open-ended. There are layers upon layers of symbolism and clues throughout the city. This film is especially interesting for fans of those weird, niche kind of films.
9. Napping Princess
Yet another film from a Ghost in the Shell creator, Napping Princess comes from Stand Alone Complex director Kenji Kamiyama. Unlike the darker series he worked on previously, Napping Princess stands as a decidedly lighthearted adventure. Within the film, Kokone, her boyfriend Morio, and her mascot plush Joy must go on a daring adventure to rescue Kokone’s dad from a corporate conspiracy. Along the way, the film drifts in and out of some truly awe-inspiring fantasy sequences set in a world of Kokone’s imagination. This title certainly shouldn’t be slept on by anime fans.
8. Early Man
Of all of the forms of animation, few carry the hands-on nature of stop motion, and few studios have a better grip on it than Aardman. While Aardman became famous for Wallace and Gromit, they made other gems such as Early Man. Going back to the stone age, it follows a tribe of cavemen who are displaced by “explorers” from the Bronze Age. Surprisingly, the film becomes an outright sports drama with plenty of Aardman’s British humour. This film is perfect for those who appreciate wacky concepts.
7. Treasure Planet
The aughts are remembered as an “experimental” year for Disney, from the misunderstood Chicken Little to the fantasy epic Atlantis: The Lost Empire. However, few were as original as Treasure Planet. Retelling Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Disney brings the story to the stars. However, this film uses its groundbreaking visual effects to create one of the most unique steampunk worlds ever seen. Additionally, Disney gives a more unique hero-villain relationship with the layered John Silver.
6. My Neighbors the Yamadas
When discussing underrated animation, Studio Ghibli is the last studio anyone would think of. However, there are several films in their catalogue that even fans overlooked. Case and point, My Neighbors the Yamadas. Adapting a newspaper comic, Isao Takahata once again shows his skills in adapting everyday life. Whereas Miyazaki is most well-known for his grandiose epics, Takahata gives audiences a lighthearted, episodic comedy about the simple joys of family.
5. Big Fish And Begonia
In general, East Asian animation outside of Japan tends to be overlooked, which is especially sad for many films. One example is 2018’s Big Fish And Begonia. The film follows Chun on her quest to defy the natural order to repay a debt. Easily the best part of the film is its gorgeous visuals, as it takes place in a spirit realm that would give Avatar a run for its money. Films such as this one demonstrate how important it is to appreciate international animation.
4. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
From legendary director Zack Snyder and the studio that gave audiences Mad Max: Fury Road comes 2010’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. Adapted from Kathryn Lasky’s books, the film takes audiences on a high-flying adventure through a breathtaking world. As for the characters, the VFX team manages to make its avian cast both realistic and deeply expressive. Furthermore, the film gives a heartfelt, if by the books, story about honor and what it means to be a hero.
3. Origin: Spirits of the Past
While this film is most known for its heavy Ghibli influence, it has much more to offer. Furthermore, apart from the film’s jaw-dropping opening sequence, few know of this film’s epicness. Set after a botanical apocalypse, the story follows hero Agito as he tries to find a balance between nature and humanity’s thriving. As stated earlier, this film takes many notes from Ghibli, but adds a heavy action and military sci-fi bend, creating and interesting fusion. Overall, films such as Origins show the transformative power of animation.
This is a story many viewers can remember from high school. Retelling the ancient tale of the Germanic hero Beowulf, the film is led by a furious performance form Ray Winstone. As one would expect, the film has all of the manliness and heroic valor of the original legend. However, instead of being a perfect icon, Beowulf now has a more flawed, human side as his character is explored. While the CGI was met with skepticism, here it makes the film feel like a cutscene to an epic fantasy video game.
1. The Hobbit
Decades before Peter Jackson gave his legendary interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic on the big screen, there was 1977’s The Hobbit from Rankin Bass. Unlike the infamously drawn-out trilogy, this film is grounded like the children’s adventure the book originally was. Every frame of the film looks like a classic storybook painting. Overall, its very interesting to see such an earlier version of the Legendarium from an era closer to Tolkien himself. Everything from the characters, the music, and the tone turn the film into a time-capsule to a long-lost era of campier fantasy.