Animated films have been made since the birth of cinema. While the format has had its creative ups and downs, there are tons of excellent animated movies that go down as hidden gems of film history. Although Disney has a monopoly on the entire field of children’s animation, especially before some legitimate competitors began to surface in the ’80s, there’s a wealth of animated flicks that go far beyond your traditional Disney fare.
From the silent era, during which theatrical animation was still in its infancy, to the classic fairy tale adaptations that defined our childhoods, to the modern, innovative films that break new grounds every day, animation is an incredibly expansive medium with much to offer to the audiences.
We’ve enlisted animated movies from every decade that probably weren’t the biggest hits but deserve attention. So, check out these awesome yet underrated animated movies of every decade and unearth the easter eggs!
1940s – Bambi
Out of all the films we have on the list, Bambi is probably the one with the least amount of replay value. However, that has got nothing to do with the film’s quality. If people find it difficult to rewatch Bambi, it’s because it’s too painful. Well, it is time to remind the audiences that Bambi was the Disney movie that taught us all that an animated film can make a powerful emotional statement.
Bambi starts as a cute romp starring anthropomorphic woodland animals, following a baby deer who grows up and befriends rabbits and skunks and other small creatures. With absolutely no warning, the film goes to the darkest place imaginable, forcing the audience to watch a child grieving its mother’s death while casting humanity as the villain. With its gorgeous, Japanese-inspired backdrops and powerful emotional core, Bambi is perhaps the most moving and artistic early film pieces from Disney.
1950s – Animal Farm
Animation film based on George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm was released in 1954, soon after the novel came out. The movie, like Orwell’s original story, was a brilliant metaphor for the Russian Revolution and Stalinism. There was so much brilliance in the original story that the film couldn’t help but be excellent as well. It tells the timeless story of farm animals seeking a life of equality, harmony and prosperity. This animated film is terrific. It is reasonably true to the style of the book, while taking liberties.
The message that the film imparts is more powerful than the drawings or the art of adaptation. There is no doubting the value of the story or the intelligence of the source material and the decision of the film to stick closely to Orwell’s book is where its strength comes from. Animal Farm is one of the early animated movies that was not just aimed purely toward a younger audience.
Quite ahead of its time considering the period during which it was released, Animal Farm was seen as a valuable beginning and an experiment that worked wonders.
1960s – A Boy Named Charlie Brown
The first Charlie Brown theatrical release from 1969 finds the titular blockhead hoping to turn his stock around as he triumphs at a spelling bee. Brown goes through the motions of dealing with a failed baseball season, never quite getting a chance to successfully kick that football that Lucy seductively entices him with, he finally realizes he has found his acumen when he becomes a finalist in the school’s spelling bee.
The classic carries a message of perseverance and battling through a state of adversity. The movie is uplifting, inspiring, and should be viewed by anyone and everyone who had doubted themselves. A Boy Named Charlie Brown is sure to resonate with you because the film tells its audiences that even when they feel worthless at any given point in life, even when they have let everyone down, it is going to be alright in the end!
1970s – The Aristocats
The Aristocats came out at a time when Disney had unquestionably lost a little bit of its luster. Somewhere between the pinnacle of classic Disney but not quite part of the Disney Renaissance, The Aristocats sneaks under the radar. Basically, there’s a beautifully regal cat (played by Eva Gabor) and her three stupidly adorable kittens who end up lost because their owner’s butler catches wind that they’re in line for a hefty inheritance and plots to dispose of them.
Ultimately, The Aristocats is just tons of fun animal antics set to a cool, jazzy soundtrack. But, let’s be honest, the movie is here because it contains the single greatest Disney character ever created: Uncle Waldo, the comically drunken goose. An absolute treasure, he reflects a Disney that’s willing to embrace the unconventional and irreverent, and the movie is better for it.
1980s – An American Tail
Animator Don Bluth was on a pretty impressive run during the late ’80s. After parting ways with Disney in 1979, Bluth went on to create some of the only animated films that were able to challenge the Mouse at the box office. And An American Tail, released in 1986 as part of a collaboration with Steven Spielberg, was one of his absolute best.
A historical musical, An American Tail told the story of a young Russian mouse who emigrates with his family to New York City at the turn of the century to escape a dangerous massacre led by cats, only to be separated from his parents and forced to face a brave new world all by himself. Fievel Mousekewitz is probably the sweetest, cutest, most endearing cartoon mouse ever committed to celluloid. His journey through New York City is terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure, held together by Fievel’s ongoing sadness over his lost family, beautifully expressed by the devastating song, ‘Somewhere Out There’.
1990s – The Prince of Egypt
Jeffrey Katzenberg, ousted from Disney Animation, co-founded his own studio (DreamWorks SKG) to break into the animated musical arena of the 1990s. Katzenberg and his team went all out to create 1998’s The Prince of Egypt, an animated retelling of the biblical story of Exodus, filled with emotionally wrought musical numbers, an all-star cast (including Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, and Michelle Pfeiffer, among many others), and the epic scale that such a literal biblical undertaking demands.
The Prince of Egypt is surely one of the most underrated movies of the ‘90s. Although it was nominated for two Oscars and won one for the song ‘When You Believe’, it has since been forgotten, despite all the amazing aspects that keep the movie going. The cast, beautiful animation, gorgeous visuals, amazing songs, an Oscar-nominated score, and strong vocal performances from Val Kilmer as Moses and especially Ralph Fiennes as Ramesses ll is unparalleled. Not to forget, the film’s powerful ending put together with all the superlative elements makes it unforgettable and a must-watch faithful adaptation.
2000s – Howl’s Moving Castle
A young, mild-mannered hat-maker named Sophie is cursed, becoming a 90-year-old woman. In an effort to break the spell, she heads off on an adventure with a wizard named Howl, who is facing his own battles. Howl’s Moving Castle is an immensely imaginative story with fascinating side characters that flesh out the film wonderfully. Hayao Miyazaki’s films are never what you might call pro-war, but his particular anger at the Iraq War is felt especially strongly here, creating an eccentric fairy tale with lots going on underneath the surface.
The film is a beautiful adaptation of the book of the same name by Dianne Wynne Jones and boasts the credits of the majestic animation studio, Ghibli. Like all of his works, Miyazaki introduced us to yet another gorgeous world of magic with an equally engaging story. The picturesque animation interspersed with melodious background music sets the mood for the whimsical and mystic aesthetic. If you are fan of fantasy flicks, this masterpiece is totally unmissable and worth a watch!
2010s – Wreck-It Ralph
Even if you’ve seen many Disney masterpieces throughout your life, this one is fit enough to classify as one of the best and most definitely takes the cake. It takes the cake for ultimately everything – from the characters, story, effects, feelings to the animation and the fantastic world of various arcade games.
Clever jokes, an amazing soundtrack, and the sheer brilliance with which the film is made, definitely makes it a Disney gem! It is a blessing in disguise for all the video game-lovers and the premise doesn’t fail to entertain every time you watch it. The best part about the animated flick is the easter eggs and cameos of other video game characters that make the movie re-watchable.
Even though Wreck-It Ralph is not based on a real game, it was still groundbreaking since Disney explored things outside fairy tales, legends, and musicals. The titular character, Ralph, has a lot of depth. Although he is a heavy-handed wrecking’ riot who is unhappy as people fail to see that he’s only playing his part and that he also has a heart. The message the movie shares is all about self acceptance.
2020s – Onward
Coming to the ongoing decade, the 2020s, the choice was difficult to make. The decade has just started and we are yet to witness tons of creative geniuses. So, out of what has been released so far, Onward makes the cut.
The film’s first half somehow compiles the worst parts of even the best Pixar movies. It’s aggressively high-concept and shows what would happen if magical creatures were dulled by generations of capitalism into losing everything magical about them. It features yet another protagonist who feels displaced from their home and yearns for a past they feel deprived of.
The characters, the story, the feelings, the musical score, the adventure, the animation, the bond between two wonderful brothers, everything about the film is incredible and captivating. Seeing characters escape tight situations and end up bettering themselves is something that we think is super-important for children and teens to see; even if they struggle they can do amazing things.
~ Did you enjoy the list? Which ones out of the lot have you seen already?