Traditional Animated Features That Might Have Flown Under Your Radar

In an effort to inspire and educate, I present a list of cartoon movies you may not have heard about, much less seen! Since these are lesser known films, I’m not including any Disney or DC Universe films or Tolkien stuff, and I’m assuming everyone who’s reading this sentence already knows about Heavy Metal and Iron Giant. There will be scant Studio Ghibli entries. Also I will avoid films I deem to be of low caliber, such as Wizards or Rock and Rule. Lastly, these are traditional animation, so no CG or stop-motion. If you have something you think should be added to the list, let me know in the comments or @ me on social media!

YOU CAN SEE THE ENTIRE LIST ON LETTERBOXD HERE

The Adventures of Prince Achmed / Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (1926)

I’m starting out with a cheat already because this is kind of puppet animation, but since it’s basically the first ever animated feature film it’s worth checking out. I gave it 7/10

Gulliver’s Travels 1939

From the studio that brought you Popeye, Betty Boop, and the Superman shorts comes this mix of classically drawn Lilliputians and heavily rotoscoped giant. I actually haven’t seen this so can’t give you my rating. Oops!

Mr Bug Goes to Town 1941

Another Fleischer production, While an impending human construction project imperils the insect city, a power struggle develops between an upstanding grasshopper and corrupt business owner. Also known as Mr Hoppity Goes to Town. No Toren rating yet!

Fantastic Planet / La planète sauvage 1973

This is a weird one from France/Czechoslovakia that requires a lot of patience but it’s an experience you won’t forget! It does what animation should do. 6/10 from me.

Belladonna of Sadness / Kanashimi no Beradonna (1973)

Big trigger warning on this one. Super artsy and very 70s. I saw this at a local repertoire theater and it was one to remember! 7/10 from me.

Watership Down 1978

Another movie of cute animals to traumatize children. 7/10

Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro / Rupan sansei: Kariosutoro no shiro 1979

Pre-Ghibli and directorial debut of legend Hayao Miyazaki. Amazing work and not to be missed! Go in cold and be delighted. 9/10 from me

The Plague Dogs 1982

Two dogs escape from a research facility and run afoul of sheep herders as they try to survive in the countryside. Great stuff with John Hurt, Nigel Hawthorne, and Patrick Stewart. Easily 8/10 from me. You can watch it on Tubi

The Last Unicorn 1982

Not 100% sure this belongs on the list because probably you have watched it. But if not, get on it. Brilliant performance by Rene Auberjonois as a thirsty skeleton plus Mia Farrow and Alan Arkin. 6/10 from me only because the ending is so limp and the maudlin songs.
You can watch it on Tubi

The Flight of Dragons 1982 Rankin/Bass

Weirdly proportioned dragons but they didn’t skimp on the linework. Pairs great with The Last Unicorn, James Earl Jones and Harry Morgan with John Ritter of all people. 7/10 from me.

The Secret of NIMH 1982 Don Bluth

Masterful animation, great story with great villains, and Dom DeLuise really delivers as the comic relief crow. Just thinking about this makes me want to watch it again. 7/10
You can watch it on Tubi

Time Masters / Les maitres du temps 1982

What if Moebius made a movie? Well, it would be kinda weird. But also kinda cool. What a year for animation 1982 was! 6/10 from me.

Fire and Ice 1983 Bakshi

Do you love rotoscoping? Think Frank Frazetta is keen? This movie is for you! 6/10 from me.
You can watch it on Tubi

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind 1984 Studio Ghibli

The first Ghibli film and for me the most underrated. I wrote a whole blog entry about this movie. 10/10 from me.

Angel’s Egg / Tenshi no tamago 1985

Unconventional, inscrutable, weird – A young girl wanders a desolate, otherworldly landscape, carrying a large egg. That’s… pretty much it, though there is an ending. Not for everyone but it might be for you, unless you’re prone to falling asleep during films in which everything is grey and there is a monotonous droning while holding on still images for several minutes. It’s a 6.5/10 from me.

When the Wind Blows 1986

When the Wind Blows (1986) stars Peggy Ashcroft and John Mills. Dir: Jimmy Murakami

This is where my fascination with post-apocalyptic movies and love of animation intersect in a traumatizing way. A naive elderly British rural couple survive the initial onslaught of a nuclear war. 6/10 from me.

Light Years / Gandahar 1987

A really involved and interesting story and characters in a fantastical world + boobies. One of my favourites that I still have on VHS. With Glenn Close, Penn & Teller, Christopher Plummer, and Paul Shaffer??? My rating: 8/10

Only Yesterday / Omohide poro poro 1991

A twenty-seven-year-old office worker travels to the countryside while reminiscing about her childhood in Tokyo. This is on my to-watch list so I’ll rate it as soon as I can.

The Thief and the Cobbler 1993

An unfinished film 29 years in the making, you can still watch ‘restored’ cuts on youtube. I hope to watch this very soon and give my take.

Ninja Scroll / Jûbê ninpûchô 1993

It’s about what it sounds like. Trigger warnings abound. 7/10 from me.

Pom Poko / Heisei tanuki gassen ponpoko 1994

Giant balls! You won’t regret watching this. A community of magical shape-shifting raccoon dogs struggle to prevent their forest home from being destroyed by urban development. 7/10

Memories / Memorîzu 1995

3-part film anthology with great visuals and interesting stories, except for the last one was light on story. 7/10 from me.
You can watch it on Tubi

Perfect Blue / Pâfekuto burû 1997

The Japanese are on a roll! A pop singer gives up her career to become an actress, but she slowly goes insane when she starts being stalked by an obsessed fan and what seems to be a ghost of her past. 7/10 from me

I Married a Strange Person! 1997 Bill Plympton

A newlywed develops a strange lump on his neck that gives him the ability to transform people or objects at will. Animation doing what it does best! 8/10 from me.
You can watch it on Tubi

Titan A.E. 2000 Don Bluth

Ooookayyyyy I’m being very lenient including on this list this only PARTIALLY traditionally animated movie with a run-of-the-mill story. But with Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Jim “Winnie The Pooh/xxx” Cummings, and Ron Perlman, it’s worth checking out. 6/10 from me.

Metropolis / Metoroporisu 2001

Another melding of 2D and 3D. Based on a manga by Osamu “Astro Boy” Tezuka and Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film of the same name. 8/10 from me

The Triplets of Belleville / Les triplettes de Belleville 2003

When her grandson is kidnapped during the Tour de France, Madame Souza and her beloved pooch Bruno team up with the Belleville Sisters–an aged song-and-dance team from the days of Fred Astaire–to rescue him. I have the DVD but haven’t watched it yet. Poor me!

Tekkonkinkreet / Tekkon kinkurito 2006

This isn’t your grandpa’s anime! Two boys defend their territory when Yakuza try to take over and clear it for new development. Striking visuals. 7/10 from me

Paprika 2006

When a machine that allows therapists to enter their patients’ dreams is stolen, all hell breaks loose. Only a young female therapist, Paprika, can stop it. Gets weird. 7/10

Persepolis 2007

A precocious and outspoken Iranian girl grows up during the Islamic Revolution. Get’s good ratings but to my shame I haven’t watched it yet.

Idiots and Angels 2008

A movie by Bill Plympton. Have you seen it? Is it good?
You can watch it on Tubi

Ed, Edd n Eddy’s Big Picture Show 2009

Despite the fact that I know tons of people who worked on this, I haven’t been able to track it down. Shame on me!

A Cat in Paris / Une vie de chat 2010

In Paris, a cat who lives a secret life as a cat burglar’s aide must come to the rescue of Zoe, the little girl he lives with, after she falls into a gangster’s clutches. I haven’t seen this one, if you have tell me if it belongs on the list!

The Illusionist / L’illusionniste 2010

A French illusionist finds himself out of work and travels to Scotland, where he meets a young woman. Their ensuing adventure changes both their lives forever. Follow up to Triplets of Belleville, still on my list!

The Rabbi’s Cat / Le chat du rabbin 2011

One of my favourite comic artists made a movie and I just learned about it! Set in Algeria in the 1920s, a rabbi’s cat who learns how to speak after swallowing the family parrot expresses his desire to convert to Judaism.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices / Hoshi o ou kodomo 2011

A coming of age story involving young love and a mysterious music, coming from a crystal radio left as a memento by an absent father, that leads a young heroine deep into a hidden world. No rating yet

It’s Such A Beautiful Day 2012 Don Hertzfeldt

From the genius who brought you “my spoon is too big.” Get ready for something unusual. 7/10 from me

Ernest and Celestine 2012

Celestine is a mouse trying to avoid a dental career; Ernest is a bear craving an artistic outlet. When Celestine meets Ernest, they overcome their natural enmity by forging a life of crime together. Not yet rated by Toren

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya / Kaguya-hime no monogatari  2013

If there’s one Ghibli film you haven’t seen, it’s probably this one! Delightfully different. 7/10

Boy and the World / O Menino e o Mundo 2013

I haven’t seen this one but it was recommended to me and has good reviews. Have you seen it? Let me know your thoughts!

Bird Boy: the Forgotton Children / Psiconautas, los niños olvidados 2015

Three children decide to leave their homes looking for a better life. Really quite something! Not for kids. 8/10 from me.

April and the Extraordinary World / Avril et le monde truqué 2015

It’s 1941 but France is trapped in the nineteenth century, governed by steam and Napoleon V, where scientists vanish mysteriously. A teenage girl goes in search of her missing scientist parents. I haven’t seen this but it looks great!

Long Way North / Tout en haut du monde 2015

In 1882, a young Russian aristocrat goes on an epic adventure to find out what happened to her grandfather and save her family’s reputation.

Nova Seed 2016

An evil scientist creates a super weapon beneath the surface of a decaying world. Story shortcomings but a stylistic trip, for sure. Harkened me back to the animation style of the 80s. 7/10 from me

The Breadwinner 2017

In 2001, Afghanistan is under the control of the Taliban. When her father is captured, a determined young girl disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family. Powerful stuff. 7/10

Loving Vincent 2017

Animation depicted in oil paintings – worth the price of admission for that alone. Not shabby storytelling either. 6/10 from me.

Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles / Buñuel en el laberinto de las tortugas 2018

In Paris in 1930, Luis Buñuel is left penniless after a film leads to a falling out with Salvador Dalí. On a whim, a friend buys a lottery ticket and promises to devote his winnings to fund Buñuel’s next film. Not yet seen by me but comes recommended

The Spine of Night 2021

The spiritual successor to Heavy Metal and Fire and Ice. Ultra-violent, epic fantasy set in a land of magic follows heroes from different eras and cultures battling against a malevolent force. 7/10 from me.

Unicorn Wars 2022

‘War-hungry teddy bears journey from bootcamp to the psychedelic terrors of the Magic Forest in this darkly beautiful horror animation’ – imdb. Yup, another home run from the creator of Birdboy. Weird, grotesque, clever. 8/10 from me.