Animated feature films have over the decades evolved more than any other genre. Moving away from short, simple productions purely aimed at children to being some of the highest grossing movies of all time, with awards and constant industry recognition, too .
With animation there really is no limit bar the imagination of the artist and writer, and that means movies can explore themes and ideas previously deemed impractical or impossible.
Here are a three movies available to watch on the popular streaming services that we feel pushed boundaries and became examples of what can be possible in the genre.
- Where: Netflix
- Directed by: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane
- Stars: Chloe Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed
Originally a production of Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age, Rio), Nimona was cancelled and pretty much forgotten about when the studio was bought by Disney in 2021.
And so, with no faith, no support and no interest in the project, the almost complete film was sold to Netflix with the presumption that it would come to nothing. It was destined to become another instantly forgettable piece of animation destined to lurk in the depths of the service's algorithm.
Or so they thought.
The movie follows the story of Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed), a betrayed and abandoned Knight in a futuristic, yet medieval society, and the eponymous Nimona (Chloe Grace Moretz), who is a shapeshifting outcast. It has proved to be what many consider a modern masterpiece of storytelling, tone and stylised writing.
There is beautifully rendered cell animation, razor sharp editing and a script that delivers real depth and emotion, and so Nimona caught many by surprise, especially considering it received almost zero publicity, marketing or promotion from the network.
The very definition of a hidden gem, it is the kind of film that is a delight to watch and stays with you long after the credits. Go into this one with zero expectations and you will be rewarded with something truly innovative, singular and refreshingly individual.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines
- Where: Netflix
- Directed by: Michael Rianda, Jeff Rowe
- Stars: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph
When rogue AI threatens to destroy mankind, who is there to step up and save the day?.. the Avengers?.. Superman?... Nope, you need The Mitchell family and their dog Monchi.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines is from the brilliant minds of Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem), and is simply outstanding in every way. From a filmmaking point of view it is stunning, with beautifully designed and rendered animation, a level of tone and stylisation that sets it above everything at the time, and a script that is not only unbelievably warm and heartfelt but also very funny.
Performances from the voice cast are fantastic, with even British film royalty such as Olivia Coleman making an appearance as only she can do.
It's impossible to recommend The Mitchells vs. The Machines more than I have already – to anyone who will listen. It honestly falls into the essential viewing category. Hilarious, beautiful, smart and has a level of deeply understood family drama that very few movies achieve, especially animated ones.
Oh, and the dog…. just, the dog… amazing.
- Where: Netflix
- Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
- Stars: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino
There is simply no denying that director Miyazaki is the godfather of Japanese animation. Time and time again, he delivers works of such incredible beauty, such stunning visual and sensory delights, such mastery of storytelling, that one can only be left speechless. Overwhelmed. Intoxicated with wonder. Such is the magic of Spirited Away.
Much like his previous feature, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away is an epic fantasy that deserves no better medium than the stunning animation work of Studio Ghibli.
This multiple award-winning masterpiece has grown to become the largest grossing film in Japanese history, and rightly so.
The film has spawned an entire genre and industry with even now a huge and lavish stage show preparing to open in London in 2024. It's impossible to really comprehend the influence Spirited Away has had on bringing Japanese culture and mythology to the western market.
A beautiful, bold and heartwarming piece of cinema that deserves to be viewed by young and old.