Animation is an eclectic art form that has long been entertaining viewers of all ages, and there’s so much more to love and enjoy than the Western animation we’re used to. If you’ve already consumed all your cartoon classics during this most unprecedented year, then this list is here to help. From beautiful and moving anime to fantasy family movies, vintage gems and new masterpieces, you’ll definitely find something to love in our shiny treasure chest of under seen animated flicks.
A dreamlike anthology from the masters of anime, Memories is finally streaming and that’s a blessing for movie lovers everywhere. Executive produced by Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo, the film’s three intricate chapters are each based on stories by the famed mangaka. Magnetic Rose is a deep-space locked-room mystery directed by Kōji Morimoto and written by Satoshi Kon; Stink Bomb is a sci-fi nightmare about deadly BO; and Cannon Fodder is a dystopian parable about unquestioned faith in leadership and the dangers of a never-ending war.
You can stream Memories on RetroCrush now.
Kirikou and the Sorceress
Michel Ocelot’s ’98 animated movie is beloved amongst fans of the art form. Inspired by West African folklore, the beautiful film follows a unique young boy named Kirikou. Pitted against an evil sorceress, Kirikou uses his smarts to save his village and all the young people who live there. Using classic hand animation and emotional character-driven storytelling, Kirikou and the Sorceress is a stunning visual achievement, and still holds up 22 years later.
You can stream Kirikou and the Sorceress on Kanopy now.
Whisper of the Heart
Though Studio Ghibli is a world-renowned animation studio, this adorable slice-of-life movie often gets left out of the conversation. One of the few Ghibli movies to be set in the urban sprawl, this is a lovely addition to their canon that feels both familiar and unique. Shizuku dreams of being a writer and loves nothing more than curling up with a good book. Her quest to rewrite the lyrics to “Country Road” and become a professional writer don’t come easy, but after following a cat to a strange antique shop, she finds the inspiration she needs in this delightful adventure.
You can stream Whisper of the Heart on HBO Max now.
The Secret of Kells
Cartoon Saloon produced this intricate historical fantasy about the creation of the titular 9th century scriptures. Set against the violent background of Viking invasions in Ireland, The Secret of Kells follows a brave boy who sets out on a quest with an illuminator after their home is destroyed. Art, adventure, courage, and family are all woven into this utterly singular cartoon period piece.
You can stream The Secret of Kells on Kanopy now.
Song of the Sea
If you’re looking for a sweet escape from the horrors of 2020, then Song of the Sea is a perfect choice. Another stunning hand-drawn movie from Cartoon Saloon, this charming story centers on a young boy, Ben, who discovers an unbelievable family secret tied to the myth of the mermaid-like figures known as Selkies. Shape-shifting seal creatures might not sound cute, but this is one of the loveliest animated movies you’ve never seen. Ben’s journey of love and discovery with his sister is one filled with hope, happiness, and magic.
You can stream Song of the Sea on Netflix now.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Kadokawa Herald Pictures
Based on the novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a stunning story that you won’t soon forget. Playing with the classic time loop trope, the film sees high school student Makoto trapped on the same day after being hit by a train on her way home. Her new found conundrum also gives her the ability to leap through time—hence the title—and she uses it with all the imagination and import that any teenager would. Sci-fi meets slice of life; this is a gorgeously animated movie that will move and entertain on every watch.
You can stream The Girl Who Leapt Through Time on Funimation now.
Long Way North
Directed by Rémi Chayé, who was assistant director on The Book of Kells, this cut-paper-style animated film is a visually enticing period adventure. When her grandfather goes missing during a dangerous voyage, his young granddaughter sets off into the freezing Russian waters to find him. Not only a story about family, love, and inspiration, but also one about a woman finding empowerment and freedom in a male-dominated world, Long Way North is a hopeful romp.
You can stream Long Way North on Shout Factory TV now.
Welcome to the Space Show
When a group of children in rural Japan spend the summer in their local school, they never expect to end up on an intergalactic adventure. With a doglike alien as their guide, the crew heads to the stars on the unexpected space-cation of a lifetime. This charming and futuristic film is one of the best anime of the last few years, and Welcome to the Space Show will fill you with childlike joy at every turn.
You can stream Welcome to the Space Show on Kanopy now.
A gorgeous love letter to reading and the power of stories, Eleanor’s Secret will make you feel young again. Nat is our protagonist and although he loves listening to stories he’s always struggled to read. But when his aunt leaves him the keys to her magic library, he’s swept into a magical world. Fairytales are real, books come to life, and heroes are in need of saving. Taking full advantage of the massive catalog of out-of-license literary characters like Peter Pan, Pinocchio, and Alice in Wonderland, this French animated movie is stuffed with wonder.
You can stream Eleanor’s Secret on Kanopy now.
Unico in the Island of Magic
If you like your kids movies both cute and extremely terrifying, then you’ll love Unico in the Island of Magic. This sequel to The Fantastic Adventures of Unico was nearly lost to history, but is thankfully streaming now and it is a wild ride. The story begins with our cute hero losing his memory to then be thrust into a horrifying and surreal existential journey… and that’s just the beginning. But if you like cute creatures, and your favorite kids movies were Return to Oz and the Brave Little Toaster, then Unico needs to move to the top of your watchlist.
You can stream Unico in the Island of Magic on Prime Video now.
Featured Image: Studio Ghibli