There’s no shortage of animated movies coming to the big screen each year, and 2016 is ending in a big way with the release of Disney’s Moana, a fantastic musical that can be enjoyed by kids and adults. We love Disney movies and animated films in general because of how dynamic the art form is and how it can uniquely tell different kinds of stories that live-action ones can’t.
For that reason, many adults go to the movies to enjoy the latest animated film without children, not because they want to delight in “kid’s stuff,” but because the genre offers poignant messages in a beautiful format that only these types of movies can really deliver.
That said, not all animated movies are meant for adults at all. For every Disney and Pixar movie that is released, there are plenty more family movies that won’t challenge an adult’s ideas or tastes in any new ways.
This list of recent animated films overlooks those films in favor of the ones you might not have heard of or bothered to check out because you may not have thought it was for you. It also skips over recent Pixar films, simply because those movies have done well to establish a reputation for high quality entertainment and storytelling. So if you’re looking for some good animated films to get into as an adult, here are just a few you shouldn’t miss.
Song of the Sea
This 2014 Irish film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and rightfully so. It boasted impressive visuals and hand-drawn animation, and its story about a brother and sister who live in a lighthouse is as simple as it is heart wrenching.
Their adventure is a great introduction to Celtic folklore as well, similar to another recent film by the studio, The Secret of the Kells. If you’re curious about well-written stories made by other western countries, then Song of the Sea is one of the most visually striking offerings you can find.
When Marnie Was There
Believed to be Studio Ghibli’s last film by Hayao Miyazaki until he came out of retirement this past year, When Marnie Was There had a lot of longtime fans to please when it was released in 2014. And for the most part, it fully delivered a compelling and beautiful tale about the friendship of two girls in a dreamlike fairy tale.
When Marnie Was There seems like the most fitting one for older audiences to enjoy. It relies heavily on a deeply emotional ending that is tough to handle for younger viewers, but it will leave an impact on just about everyone.
The Little Prince
You’ve probably seen this unassuming stop-motion animation feature on your Netflix queue recently, as it was essentially saved by the streaming giant after getting mysteriously dropped by theater distributors. This 2015 film was finally released on Netflix this past August, and it’s well worth the quick watch for its stunning animation and interesting story-within-a-story approach.
Based on a 1943 novel of the same name, The Little Prince is a reworking of the original story, set around a young girl who learns of a strange, imaginative world that challenges her perceptions about childhood and growing up in general. Though the lesson here seems to be about how we deal with coming of age, it’s really about human interactions and holding on to childlike faith.
Kubo and the Two Strings
Another stop-motion animation film released in 2016, Kubo and the Two Strings comes from the same studio that brought us The Boxtrolls, Paranorman, and Coraline. But it’s probably the most innovative and jaw-dropping feature Laika has done yet.
On the surface, Kubo is an original story about a young boy who uses his magic powers to fight dangerous villains in a mythological setting. He uses music to turn origami to life and is guided by two animal protectors.
The movie certainly builds upon themes that Christ-followers might find challenging and counter-intuitive to western culture, but certainly in an insightful way that’s also benefitted by some impressive voice acting and unbelievable set pieces you won’t expect from a stop-motion film.
Like Zootopia, Disney’s Moana is actually a great film for adults, too. The music, made in part by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, is some of the best Disney has made in years. And the main character of Moana is devoid of the typical Disney princess cliches we’ve come to expect over the years.
There’s no love interest for her to swoon over, and she’s heir to a leadership position that actually doesn’t require marriage for once. Instead, the story focuses on some more interesting, thought-provoking themes, like balancing the obligation to family with the desire to branch out and explore the world, similar to The Little Mermaid, but without the lovesick teenage rebellion.
For young people who wonder if they should leave home and their loved ones behind in pursuit of big cities and bigger dreams, Moana tells a touching story about how to deal with that decision in a meaningful way. And that’s not even mentioning how fantastic the visuals are, even for Disney.
Animated movies can be some of the best experiences you have at the movie theater or in your living room, but it’s definitely irritating to get into one that talks down to its viewers or uses tired gags and slapstick to keep children entertained for the sake of it. Thankfully, we have plenty of great animated films coming out every year that are made to be thoughtful, captivating the depths and heights of life to be enjoyed by all ages.