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Check out These Must-See Indie Animated Movies

For when you want to feel cultured AND have fun!

Adult clone of Emily in Don Hertzfeld's sci-fi indie animated film, World of Tomorrow, where she and a lover overlook a sunset.

Most moviegoers would consider animated movies to be strictly for kids, along the lines of Pixar and Dreamworks. But they’d be wise to hold their tongues, as there’s a whole other market for animated movies that transcend age limits and work to combine the artistry of animation with all the storytelling magic animation allows.

The history of indie animated movies goes back quite a ways and still has managed to uphold an impressive repertoire to this day. Here are some of the best when it comes to indie animated movies.

Fritz the Cat (1972)

As uploaded by YouTube user Bill Flippin, not suitable for viewing by younger audiences.

Many film buffs consider Fritz the Cat to be the progenitor of adult animation, for better or for worse. This raunchy movie was scandalous even for its time, and it’s still considered to be one of the most crass films ever made. To say that it hasn’t aged well is absolutely an understatement.

However, animation fans with a strong stomach ought to watch it at least once, because Fritz was, in its own way, revolutionary. It made animation a thing that everyone could access, and it proved that animation could touch on adult topics (such as sex, politics, and drugs) in ways that felt relevant. As a result, other cartoons of its ilk were allowed to prosper, such as the infamous Ren & Stimpy.

My Life as a Zucchini (2016)

French trailer, courtesy of Movieclips Indie.

Being that this French stop-motion film centers around children in an orphanage, there are some dark themes that are impossible to skirt around. Yet, even so, Zucchini has a childlike magic to it, where it feels light, hopeful, and inspiring to watch. Viewers can’t help but root for the kids as they go about their daily lives.

This is especially so for the main character, Zucchini himself (“Courgette,” in the original French dub). Even in the face of adversity, Zucchini is consistently an endearing protagonist who’s hard not to love. By the film’s conclusion, even the most miserly viewer will feel a heartwarming sense of resolution.

The Triplets Of Belleville (2003)

Trailer uploaded by user lenhadortv.

If Fritz proved that animation could be nasty, The Triplets of Belleville showed that animation could be artsy, and in a way that provoked such feelings as awe, contemplation, and pure bewilderment. This is a film that will make viewers scratch their heads just as much as they are enrapt.

With a zig-zagging plot and abstract visuals (not least of all regarding the character design), Triplets remains one of the most iconic, indie animated films of all time and should be considered mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to explore the genre more.

The Illusionist (2010)

Property of Sony Pictures Classics. Yes, the bunny is in the trailer.

This French animated title was made by the same director as Triplets (Sylvain Chomet), yet is significantly more down-to-Earth in style and tone. Following a traveling magician and his newfound assistant through various little towns, there’s an uncanny charm to this film that makes viewers wish they could follow them indefinitely.

Although there is a sense of sorrow to the film, it’s the sort of sorrow that is poignant and relatable: that which marks life’s ever-changing nature, and the inevitable end to all good things. Plus, there’s a cute little bunny—a magic hat bunny, to be clear.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Property of Searchlight Pictures.

As perhaps the most well-known title on this list, Mr. Fox continues to be a hallmark title in the realm of animated indies. It’s an incredibly inventive and eye-catching spin on a Roald Dahl classic, and it does nearly everything right in terms of cohesion between story and visuals.

The colors match resplendently, in typical Wes Anderson fashion, and the character design—be it animal or human—is remarkably iconic for how understated the clothes are. What’s more, the soundtrack hits all the right notes, with even a cameo from Britpop icon Jarvis Cocker. If there’s any film on this list not to miss, it ought to be this one.

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Property of Searchlight Pictures.

As Wes Anderson’s sophomore animated film, this film is disappointing in that it leans on western orientalist tropes, and its story isn’t as tight or engaging as its predecessor. However, it still merits a watch based on presentation alone—especially if the viewer loves dogs.

In fact, this movie should be mandatory viewing for anyone who’s ever loved a dog, as the dogs hold center-stage in all things and are simply delightful to watch. They’re funny, quirky, and adorable (even at their grimiest), and there’s something unforgettable about hearing Walter White’s voice come out of a pooch.

Song of the Sea (2014)

Courtesy of Movieclips Indie.

Being the middle child of Cartoon Saloon’s “Irish Folklore Trilogy,” it says a lot that this film is the one that stands out the most. It packs the studio’s iconic visuals and delightful storytelling essence, but the fact that this film is grounded in a more relatable plotline makes it ever so slightly lovelier.

After a young boy loses his mother (following the birth of his sister), he finds himself reluctant to spend any time with her at all. But when he discovers that she is a selkie, a mythical Irish creature that can transform into a seal, the story takes a turn for the whimsical, while still maintaining a sense of groundedness that only enhances its charms.

Mary & Max (2009)

Courtesy of Movieclips Classic Trailers.

This Australian film is perhaps the darkest on this list, yet is by far the most novel-esque. It follows the intertwining tales of two lonely people, the eponymous Mary and Max, who begin a correspondence as pen pals when Mary becomes curious about American culture.

The story follows them as Mary grows up from a child to an adult, and as Max begins seeing doctors for various issues relating to his mental health. Their friendship is treated with care and authenticity, and although the film is a roller-coaster of unfortunate events, it ultimately leaves the viewer feeling incredibly touched.

Anomalisa (2015)

Property of Paramount Pictures.

Managing to combine themes of mental illness within its presentation, Anomalisa takes surrealism in animation to another level. Its protagonist, a depressed motivational speaker, is unable to differentiate between others, finding them all to have the same face and voice. It’s both an allegory of his disinterest in others, and a representation of a real disorder called Fregoli delusion.

His world, therefore, becomes rattled when he meets a woman who’s completely unique, both in face and voice. Watching the protagonist try to navigate his fascination with her is both anxiety-inducing and engrossing, thanks to this film’s gorgeous mastery of its visuals and brilliant, evocative writing.

World of Tomorrow (2015-20)

Uploaded by Hertzfeld himself.

Don Hertzfeld is widely revered by animation fans for his strange, yet simplistic creations, but his series of short films, World of Tomorrow, touches a rare sensitive nerve for him. They follow a little girl as she explores the future with one of her future clones, and the tone consistently flits between gleeful innocence and melancholic resignation.

This is due to the dynamic between little Emily and her adult clone. Emily is only a child, full of joy and curiosity, while the clone lives in a future that’s so alien and untethered, her words always carry a tinge of sadness. It’s an incredible film series that will really make the viewer consider what’s worth cherishing in their lives.

(featured image via Hertzfeld’s YouTube trailer of World of Tomorrow)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer and dog mom. She aims to use her writing to positively represent mixed-race people like herself, and is currently working on a novel. However, when she isn't writing, she's either battling insomnia or taking too many naps. You can read her stuff at https://madelinecwrites.com/