Chloë Grace Moretz as Nimona and Riz Ahmed as Ballister Boldheart hiding in Nimona on a train.

Essential Animated Films Released in 2023—That Aren’t From Disney

As lovers of the medium of animation, Disney holds a special place in our hearts. The studio has been at the forefront of many innovations, from the popularity of the multi-plane camera to producing the first feature-length Technicolor, animated movie in English. Many Disney movies make up our childhood faves and the studio continues to craft new classics. (Looking at you Turning Red.)

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However, despite how award shows treat the medium, there’s more to animation than this one company. In that spirit, we wanted to share some of our favorite animated movies of this year that were not made by the House of Mouse or its subsidiaries.

Like other collaborative lists, there are conflicting opinions. Still, we love to have a diverse collection of animation because there are more than one or two styles worthy of exploration. Make sure to revisit this list in the future because some highly anticipated animated movies are coming out through the end of the year!

Nimona (Netflix)

Nimona, wearing large bat wings, rides on top of Ballister. There are spears pointed at them. Nimona is grinning, while Ballister looks scared.

Nimona, the adaptation of N.D. Stevenson’s graphic novel, immediately earned critical and audience acclaim when it came to Netflix. Nimona is a shapeshifter living in a futuristic medieval kingdom. When Ballister Boldheart is framed for the murder of the queen, Nimona latches onto him so that she can fulfill her desire to become a villain’s sidekick.

The film is full of slapstick comedy and rambunctious fun, but what makes it a modern classic is its heart-wrenching portrayal of Nimona’s past. This movie is a beautiful celebration of queerness and acceptance in a funky science fantasy setting.

Suzume (CoMix Wave Films)

a teen girl and boy opening a door in a free-standing frame to a lush pastoral environment which is dramatically different from the environment behind them seen on the other side of the doorway

Although originally released in Japan in 2022, Suzume (すずめの戸締まり) was not released in the U.S. until 2023—and it can easily be considered one of the best animated features of the year. This coming-of-age fantasy was written and directed by Shinkai Makoto, the beloved creator of Your Name.

A high school girl named Suzume encounters an older boy, Souta, who is traveling across Japan to try to prevent natural disasters that are being caused by a supernatural worm. Souta is a Closer tasked with sealing portals to the supernatural dimension called the Ever-After by literally locking doors in free-standing frames scattered across the countryside. Shinkai achieves beautiful movement with hand-drawn animation, creates lush pastoral scenes, develops genuine tenderness between characters, and makes subtle use of callbacks for unexpectedly comedic moments. Suzume proudly acknowledges its Studio Ghibli influences (and there are more than a few) but incorporates Japanese mythology and folklore into its modern narrative in a truly unique way.

Justice League: Warworld (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman in Justice League: Warworld
(Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

While this is not the first or last movie that will star the Justice League, Warworld flips the team on their heads as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are scattered throughout different time periods without the knowledge that they’re superheroes.

It’s interesting to see how their dynamics form no matter when or where they are because, deep down, they know they were always meant to be a team. Warwold does allow the characters we’ve come to know and love for decades to explore other lives, like Wonder Woman being a gunslinger or Clark Kent being a federal agent.

Warworld also showcases DC’s idea of the multiverse, which is cool as it’s only been Marvel dabbling in other timelines lately. Now if only James Gunn and Peter Safan can take the interesting plots from the animated films and transfer it to the big screen.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: Mutant Mayhem (Paramount)

Turtles in TMNT all hovered over a phone call.

Did you know that beyond Spongebob and pro-cop propaganda Paw Patrol, Nickelodeon still makes animated movies with theatrical releases? TMNT: Mutant Mayhem released late in the summer and is a blast. While some of the ending messages didn’t quite stick with me, the story itself and the animation are stunning. Yes, I’m talking about frames that look like they were chewed on, spit out, and then ran over several times by a car. It helped convince the audience the turtles’ lives were indeed spent in the shadows and sewers!

This iteration of the TMNT felt like it both improved on the existing canon in regards to Splinter and stuck very close to it by allowing the main cast to actually be portrayed by young teenagers. Once you finish the movie you’ll immediately want to stay in its soundtrack, masterfully mixed by Nine Inch Nails members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Sony Pictures)

Gwen and Miles hanging in Spider-Verse
(Sony Pictures)

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is every bit as creative, eye-popping, and moving as its predecessor. Miles Morales encounters a new supervillain who calls himself the Spot, and Gwen makes contact from her own corner of the multiverse. Together, Miles and Gwen take on the Spider-Society, which has some misguided ideas about how to protect the multiverse from collapse.

This movie is a feast for animation lovers. Whether it’s innovative animation techniques, hilarious blink-and-you-miss-it gags, or unforgettable characters like Hobie Brown, Across the Spider-Verse has something for everyone.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (Universal Pictures)

Mario, Peach, and Toad stand looking out at the sunset.
(Universal Pictures)

With what was arguably the biggest debut for an animated film in 2023, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is an adaptation of the beloved video game franchise that’s been pumping out games since 1985.

Even though Mario is voiced by the questionable choice that is Chris Pratt, the movie as a whole is incredibly cute and well put together along with having one of the best love songs of the year with Bowser’s ballad to Princess Peach.

It would have been easy for an animated film adapted from one of the most popular video game characters of all time to end up feeling cheap or flat, but The Super Mario Bros. Movie managed to make the characters feel fresh, taking the well-worn story of Mario rescuing the princess and turned it into the brother-buddy duo film of the year!

Lackadaisy (Iron Circus Animation)

Ivy and Rocky at the bar in 'Lackadaisy.'
(Iron Circus Animation)

This short film based on an Eisner award-winning webcomic of the same name was the first motion picture from indie comics publisher Iron Circus Comics. And, they freaking killed it. The short tells the story of two cats caught in the middle of rival gangs during Prohibition. Not only is the story fun and animation hilarious, but the soundtrack does a fun mix of electronic music mixed with swing! Lackadaisy was so beloved by new and old fans that the studio began a new crowd-funding to expand this into a show. Despite the initial goal of $125,000, the studio raised over two million on Backerkit. You can and must go watch the short that’s making the show possible for free on YouTube!

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken (DreamWorks Animation)

a yellow anthropomorphized sea creature putting her arm around the shoulders of a purple anthropomorphized sea creature; it is a grandmother and a a granddaughter from the 3D animated movie Ruby Gillman Teenage Kraken
(Universal Pictures)

Released only three weeks after the super inventive Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and two weeks after the extensively marketed Elemental, this 3D animated feature was drowned at the box office. Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken begins with a sequence that recalls the kind of fourth wall breaking that was made famous by John Hughes, and some similar visual design flourishes as The Mitchells vs. the Machines. As the story develops, it also recalls the family dynamics of coming-of-age stories like Turning Red and Lady Bird, but before long, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken finds its place.

The story is buoyant with emotional intelligence and gentle humor. Ruby’s journey of self-discovery is animated with vivid colors—including lots and lots of underwater phosphorescence. Themes of immigration, assimilation, and self-determination take the story to unexpected depths, while never drifting too far from oceanic cuteness and easy likeability.

Deep Sea (October Media)

a little girl viewed from above, lying on a bed of sand, pulling water from the shoreline up to her chin as if the water is a blanket
(October Media)

Written and directed by animator Xiaopeng Tian, Deep Sea (深海) is a mesmerizing dive into childhood grief. Its plot outline might remind some viewers of Spirited Away, but its story is ultimately inventive and memorable on its own terms. A girl named Shenxiu makes a wish that immediately comes true when a magical creature called the Hyjinx arrives and plunges her into a magical underwater city, where she meets a human named Nanhe. Their interaction leads them to a place of unexpected emotional resonance.

The original Chinese release was in IMAX 3D. The computer animation balances ornate textures with layered dimensionality and painterly whimsy. Some scenes feel like swimming through a wet painting, and this dreamlike visual design demands an immersive in-theater experience.

Deep Sea has already been well received at international film festivals and won an award for Best Visual Effects, so it will be no surprise if we eventually see it nominated for an Academy Award. Its North American release date is coming soon. We can only hope for an English language dub because so many scenes are in such undulating motion that subtitles might actually be challenging for some viewers to read.

(featured image: Netflix)

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