When you ask most adults what movies they like, they will likely respond with a name from a trending superhero franchise. Few adults will admit they enjoy watching animated movies. But animation is for everyone, and adults can find more than entertainment when they relax and enjoy animated films.
1. A Scanner Darkly
This futuristic movie shows a fifth of the U.S. addicted to “Substance D”. The country is watched by computerized police surveillance, including a policeman named Bob Arctor. In the movie, policemen wear ‘scramble suits’ to disguise their identities. Bob’s assignment is to find the source of Substance D, but he becomes addicted to it.
Bob tries to discover the source of Substance D through his dealer, Donna. However, his supervisor ‘Hank,’ discovers his addiction and orders him to enter an addiction treatment facility called New Path. As “Hank” leaves the room, it’s revealed he is Donna (Bob’s dealer) in disguise. The identity of “Hank” as a dealer leads to the revelation that New Path (the rehab clinic) is secretly the source of Substance D.
A Scanner Darkly was filmed with a unique animation style called rotoscoping. 1 This provides a unique experience and demonstrates one way animation is for everyone. This style filmed the movie with live action first, and the animators drew over it. Viewers found the style fascinating and unsettling, which is what the director intended.
2. Osmosis Jones
The story is about Frank, a zookeeper who loves unhealthy food and has an unhealthy body. Frank has a daughter named Shane, who loves him and is concerned for his health. One day, Frank eats a germ-covered, hard-boiled egg, and we see the chaos caused by those germs in Frank’s body. The germ-laden egg transmits a deadly virus inside Frank’s body, named Thrax; and the ensuing battle between body and virus shows how animation is for everyone.
Frank takes a cold relief pill called Drix for his symptoms. Drix partners with a wisecracking white blood cell named Osmosis ‘Ozzy’ Jones. Ozzy and Drix confront Thrax inside one of the pimples on Frank’s face. Their fight kills the pimple better than any commercial acne cream.
Thrax survives the pimple’s demise and travels toward Frank’s hypothalamus – to spike Frank’s temperature and steal his DNA. Frank’s temperature goes up to 108, and he almost dies, but Osmosis confronts Thrax and kills him. Ozzy grabs the stolen DNA and hops into one of Frank’s daughter’s tears, which flows onto Frank. The healthy DNA saves Frank’s life, and he promises Shane he’ll improve his diet.
3. A Bug’s Life
Flik is an ant living on Ant Island, which is ruled by evil grasshoppers. Flik and the ants are forced to gather food to appease the grasshoppers. One day, Flik accidentally knocks over the pile of food meant for the ants’ offering to the grasshoppers. The ruling grasshopper is angry and demands the ants provide double the food at their next offering time – which would mean the ants wouldn’t have food for themselves.
Unfortunately, the ants don’t have a crop insurance plan to recoup their losses, so Flik decides to try and save his fellow ants. Flik sets off to Bug City, hoping to find some ‘warrior ants’ to chase away the grasshoppers. Flik meets a group of ragtag bugs who are circus performers. Flik misunderstands the bugs’ mission and hires them to fight grasshoppers.
When the bugs arrive at Ant Island, they believe they’ve been hired to perform circus tricks. When the circus bugs learn they’re expected to fight grasshoppers, they try to escape – but are interrupted when a bird attacks Princess Dot. The bugs and the ants work together to save her. This movie is fun for all ages and is another example of how animation is for everyone.
Madagascar is about four animal friends at the Central Park Zoo. Marty, the zebra, wishes to return to the wild, while Alex, the lion, prefers to stay at the Zoo. The other two friends are Gloria, the hippopotamus, and Melman, the giraffe. Marty decides to escape the Zoo on his tenth birthday, to see the world.
Marty’s friends go to find him, and the friends converge at Grand Central Station. When they are seen by crowds, it causes public chaos and a call to wildlife control. When a wildlife officer hits Alex with a tranquilizer, he passes out – and the four animals end up on a boat and wash up in Madagascar. In Madagascar, they meet a group of dancing lemurs and their flamboyant King, Julien.
The lemurs are being attacked by animals called fossa. The movie continues with entertaining stories about interactions between lemurs, fossa, and zoo animals. Everyone becomes friends, and the zoo animals return to New York. This movie was so amusing it spawned two sequels, and they’re all ample proof animation is for everyone.
5. The Year Without a Santa Claus
Santa Claus gets a cold and decides to take a year off from delivering presents. Mrs. Claus recruits Jingle and Jangle to convince Santa he’s needed. Jingle and Jangle, joined by Vixen, the reindeer, travel to find kids who still believe in Santa. The three arrive in Southtown to find skeptical kids, and the ailing Vixen ends up in an animal shelter.
When the elves ask the mayor to free Vixen, the mayor demands they prove they’re elves by making it snow. The elves beg the Snow Miser (who controls cold weather- and enjoys cold so much he could be an ice cube distributor) to make it snow. He can’t because the town is in the territory of the Heat Miser (who controls heat.) Heat Miser demands control of the North Pole in exchange.
The Misers fight but are forced to compromise by Mother Nature. Kids worldwide who hear of Santa’s planned vacation decide to send him presents. Santa is grateful and decides to make his annual ride. They make a stop in Southtown, and the whole town celebrates. Ultimately, everyone agrees Santa will always make his annual ride, and the movie becomes an enjoyable example of how animation is for everyone.
6. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph is a young reindeer expected to follow in his father’s footsteps as one of Santa’s reindeer. However, Rudolph has a bright red nose, which causes him to leave his home in disgrace. We also meet Hermey, one of Santa’s elves, who prefers to be a dentist. Rudolph meets Hermey, who’s quit his job to find a dental school.
The pair end up on the Island of Misfit Toys (toys that aren’t gifted because they’re imperfect). While on the island, Rudolph learns his parents are out searching for him, so he travels to find them. Rudolph’s parents were captured by The Abominable Snowman. Rudolph rescues them with the help of Yukon Cornelius, a prospector looking for gold buyers.
Rudolph and Hermey return to the North Pole to find a glum Santa, daunted by a snowstorm. Santa realizes Rudolph’s nose can guide the sleigh through the storm. Rudolph agrees – and becomes a hero. This movie is shown on TV at the start of the Christmas season – as perennial proof that animation is for everyone.
As the story opens, animated race car and racing novice Lightning McQueen is preparing to race rival Chick Hicks and defending champ Strip Weathers. During the race, Lightning is trailing, so he refuses to take a pit stop and ruins his tires. While rushing to the next race, Lightning ends up in Radiator Springs.
On the way into town, Lightning damages the town’s roads and is ordered to repave them. Lightning does a poor job on the roads. He’s sentenced to race by Doc, the town judge, who says if Lightning loses the race, he must repave the road. Lightning loses the race, so he stays in Radiator Springs and befriends its other residents.
Lightning is encouraged to race again, and his new friends help him. During the race, Chick tries to wreck Strip Weathers, but Lightning helps Strip finish second. The crowd condemns Chick for cheating and praises Lightning. Lightning returns to Radiator Springs to start a racing headquarters with his new friends: a happy ending illustrating animation is for everyone.
8. Grave of the Fireflies
In a train station in war-torn Kobe, Japan, we see a dying boy named Seita as he slumps lifelessly against a pillar. A janitor later finds a candy tin in his pocket, which holds the ashes of his sister, Setsuko. When the janitor throws away the candy tin, Setsuko’s spirit is revived and joins with Seita’s spirit, as fireflies in the train station. Seita tells the movie’s backstory, which begins after the Americans firebomb Kobe.
After the bombings, Seita finds out his mother is injured, and runs to find her. But, when Seita arrives, he learns medical care wasn’t enough for his mother, and she died. Seita and Setsuko go to live with their aunt, which causes tension due to lack of money. One day, Seita discovers hidden money in their mother’s clothing and runs from their aunt’s home, with Setsuko, to an abandoned bomb shelter.
Inside the bomb shelter, they capture fireflies, which light the room at night. When they are out of money, he takes Setsuko to a doctor – but it’s too late, and he helplessly watches Setsuko die of starvation. A grief-stricken Seita cremates her body and places her ashes in the candy tin. This anti-war story is hauntingly beautiful evidence that animation is for everyone.
9. Ghost in the Shell
In 2029, in Japan, technology allows people to upgrade their bodies with computer-generated parts. In those days, the body could be the ultimate custom built computer. The most advanced part is a mechanized “Shell” – a casing for the brain that allows the brain direct access to the internet. We learn about the hacking of Megatech Body, the maker of the brain “shells.”
When the escaped hacker of Megatech is hit by a truck, an examination reveals a human ghost inside the hacker’s brain shell. The police captain believes the ghost is the evil Puppet Master and captures the ghost-laden shell, with Kusanagi in pursuit. Major Kusanagi follows the car with the ghost but is brutally attacked. To save her, Kusanagi’s partner, Batou, attaches her body to the Puppet Master’s brain.
Snipers attack the merged new being, and Kusanagi is again rescued by Batou. Kusanagi wakes up the next day in a new body and realizes she is now a combination of herself and the Puppet Master. This thoughtful study of the future is another excellent example of how animation is for everyone.
10. The Lego Movie
In Lego Land, the wizard, Vitruvius, tries to protect his Lego friends. We also meet a commercial builder named Emmet, who joins Vitruvius and his friends Wyldstyle and Batman at a meeting of the Master Builders. The group is trying to protect Lego Land against the evil Lord Business. Emmet realizes the Master Builders are too hung up on each person’s individual failings to explore the power of working together to defeat Lord Business.
Emmet and the other Master Builders try to fight Lord Business but are captured. Emmet makes a last effort to save his friends by launching himself off the Lego Universe into the Real World. In the Real World, Emmet learns the story has been occurring inside the mind of a boy named Finn. Finn’s dad is angry because Finn isn’t playing with the Legos “his way,” while Finn argues that Legos are for kids.
Finn’s dad then looks at the Legos again and realizes Finn’s creations are fantastic, so he agrees to let Finn play with the Legos any way he likes. In the Lego world, Emmet makes another plea to Lord Business, who is impressed by Finn’s dad’s compromise and surrenders the superweapon. With the unique perspective of characters made of Legos, this movie is another entertaining confirmation that animation is for everyone.
This list has movies with many animation styles. Some movies are amusing, while others have profound messages. But all the movies showcase the impressive talents of animators. These ten examples of first-rate animated movies are ample evidence that animation is for everyone.