You’re never really too old to watch cartoons. Of course, there are the classic Disney and Pixar films, which come with some of the most enduring songs and characters in all of kids’ movies (animated or not). But there are also greats from smaller studios, too.
Animated films have grown ever more artful and affecting, as more and more folks realize that it’s never just been a medium for kids, with studios and indies alike creating stop-motion marvels, hand-drawn standouts, and CGI spectacles.
Here are a few must-watch animated movies that move us, crack us up and remind us of how fun and moving it is to watch cartoons.
Pixar’s Oscar-winning “Coco” was a long overdue moment for representation at the animated studio as it was the first project to feature Mexican characters in leading roles, and taking Mexican culture and heritage and making it so universal.
The story follows an aspiring young musician named Miguel who gains access to the ‘Land of the Dead’ in an attempt to find his great-grandfather musician and get rid of his family’s ancestral ban on music. Director Lee Unkrich and co-director Adrian Molina create such a vibrant, eye-popping Land of the Dead that to watch “Coco” is to get lost in its transfixing colors and imaginative world building.
Kung Fu Panda trilogy (2008-2016)
All three vibrant films in this series are highly recommended—but part two is the best. A sequel that’s deeper, darker, more artistic and ambitious than its predecessor, Po (Jack Black) and the Furious Five battle evil white peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), who’s attempting to conquer China.
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Kung Fu Panda 2 grossed $665 million. It was the highest-grossing film directed by a woman until Frozen two years later; the highest-grossing film directed solely by a woman until 2017’s Wonder Woman.
Thanks to a rich narrative—and superb visuals matched with a memorable score—this animé teen rom-com body-swap fantasy became a critical darling, and the fifth highest-grossing movie in Japanese box-office history, and is available dubbed or with subtitles.
This movie describes the strange connection between a girl named Mitsuha, who lives in a rural town, and a boy named Taki, who lives in the city. When the two start dreaming about each other, they have to figure out if what they’re seeing is happening in real life or just their imagination.
Pixar showed gravitas to release “WALL-E”, a post-apocalyptic romantic comedy epic about robots that is completely wordless for long stretches. How could a general audience in the twenty-first century relate and empathize with a robot who barely says a word?!
Well, big-eyed, kind-hearted, sensitive and romantic WALL-E is one of Pixar’s greatest wonders, and his perilous journey through outer space for the woman (female-sounding robot) he loves, is nothing short of riveting. WALL-E is a genuinely provocative work of science fiction to boot.
The second animated film in history nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture after ‘Beauty and the Beast’, “Up!” is Pixar at the peak of their powers, and their commitment to creating intelligent cinematic events that appeal to audiences young and old.
The story of an unlikely friendship between a little boy and a lonely old man (with a house towed by thousands of balloons, talking dogs and a good ol’ zeppelin fight thrown in for good measure) is a bit of magical realism that befits its subject of never being too old for an adventure. Bold, magnificent art and entertainment.
“Inside Out” is a profound and deft exploration of emotional regulation that is somehow both nimbly funny and gut-wrenchingly sad. The Academy Award-nominated screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley taps into the intricacies of the human condition like nothing you’ve ever seen.
With its whimsical hook of a premise, about five emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust) running a control board in a little girl’s mind, the pitch probably sounded like the digital animation company’s answer to Herman’s Head. But as the child reacts to difficult changes in her life, the movie shifts into a full-blown tearjerker about growing up, and the bittersweet feelings that go along with it.