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The 15 Greatest Animated Films That Aren’t For Children

Written by on January 13, 2016 


The great Charlie Kaufman has made his first foray into the world of animation with the critically praised Anomalisa, which we named one of the best films of 2015. Finally expanding over the next few weeks, to celebrate, we’ve decided to look back at some of the finest animated films that one might not want to show the entire family.

Who said cartoons were just for kids? As this week’s list will demonstrate, some of the finest weren’t necessarily designed with undiscerning young audiences in mind. Crossing genres and styles, these fifteen amazing features should probably be watched after this kids have been put to bed. Of course, there are many great examples beyond these, so please suggest your own favorites in the comments.

Watership Down / The Plague Dogs (Martin Rosen)

Watership Down

Martin Rosen‘s dark adaptations of Richard Adams‘s classic novels, Watership Down and The Plague Dogs, often feel like horror films told from the point of view of defenseless animals. The menacing psycho-killer antagonist is always us, mankind in our stumbling quest to expand our reach and conquer our environment. Treating their talking-animal protagonists with an utter lack of sentimentality, Rosen’s films beautifully mythologize the real-life plights of the little creatures living around us. In Watership Down, we follow a burrow of rabbits who run away in search of a new home following a ghastly premonition of doom. For many children, it was a sobering and important lesson in the sometimes violent psychology of animals. The Plague Dogs is an even bleaker portrayal, following two dogs who escape from an animal-testing facility and are mistaken for carriers of the bubonic plague. Ruled a public-health emergency, the dogs are chased across the country by men whom they believe will take them back to the cursed test facility. One of the most gut-wrenching scenes comes when one of the dogs encounters a kindly man who seems genuinely concerned about the animal’s safety. What plays out is so bone-chilling and horrible as to border on hopeless nihilism. Stunningly written and animated, the cinematic world of Richard Adams is dark, but painfully authentic.

Fritz the Cat (Ralph Bakshi)

Fritz the Cat

While disowned by Robert Crumb, the character’s own creator, Ralph Bakshi‘s Fritz the Cat is a seminal example of the adult animation genre. The X-rated film captured the culture’s attention immediately, grossing a whopping $90 million worldwide. Even today, Fritz the Cat is a must-see rite of passage for young movie fans, whom eventually find Fritz after Garfield’s novelty has become worn. I can even recall the night from my thirteenth year, in which I stayed up late to catch Fritz the Cat on cable, expecting a groundbreaking experience — one that promised to be not only hilarious, but sexy. I tuned in and found it to be… well, neither, yet its kitschy charm held me in a groping embrace until the goofy climax. If Fritz fails to live up to the source material, it’s no shocker. The blame can be laid on Bakshi’s creative sensibilities, which, as politically charged as they may be, fail to reach the festering level of subversion that Crumb’s voice attains.

Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud)


The critically acclaimed Persepolis is a young girl’s sincere coming-of-age story set against the violent backdrop of the Iranian revolution. It’s heartbreaking yet warmly funny, based on Marjane Satrapi‘s autobiographical graphic novel, which beautifully portrays the life of a woman grappling with the struggles of cultural identity. Rendered in a charming black-and-white color pallete, we see Marjane navigating the universal pitfalls of teenage life as she finds herself a terrified witness to the horrors of the ensuing revolution. It isn’t long before her home becomes too dangerous, and her parents send her away to live a better life in Vienna. All the while, the guilt inside Marjane builds, spared of a terrible and torturous fate that her family must still endure. Sobering and insightful, Persepolis is heartfelt proof that, as Marjane says, freedom has its price.

Mary and Max (Adam Elliot)

Mary and Max

The most uplifting and hopeful entry on this list follows Mary, a lonely Australian child who strikes up a long-distance friendship with Max, a socially fragile, obese, middle-aged New Yorker. Written and directed by Harvie Krumet creator Adam Elliot, the film may not be entirely appropriate for kids, due to some mild language and sexual innuendos, but thematically it’s perhaps the most essential movie on this list for an impressionable young viewer. The life of a social outcast is handled with remarkable tenderness and realism, despite the oddly disjointed world they inhabit. Victims of teasing and bullying by peers because of their looks or social standing, these occasionally pitiful characters carry on in spite of their pain and solitude. Complete with nearly unrecognizable vocal performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette, Mary and Max is an utterly unexpected and life-affirming stop-motion classic.

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut / Team America: World Police (Trey Parker)

Team America

It’s easy to forget the cultural tidal wave that was South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, a primitively animated and crudely profane R-rated comedy that brought everyone’s favorite Colorado children to the big screen. While the animation might not be cutting-edge, Matt Stone and Trey Parker‘s stinging and insightful comedy is always offensively top notch. Their cinematic follow up, Team America: World Police, irreverently skewered America’s action filmmaking and culturally corrosive political environment of the time. Indeed, Stone and Parker are two of the most prolific contemporary comedic minds as they continue to shell out hilarious and intelligent comedy on a weekly basis on Comedy Central. There is often a short shelf life for jokes to which the South Park creators seem immune, as their material remains as funny today as ever. Unlike a couple entries on this list (I’m looking at you, Fritz!) the power of Stone and Parker’s comedy will surely endure.

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