Last Updated: November 21st
Now that Disney+ has more animated films than we know what to do with, it’s easy for animation buffs to get discouraged flipping through Netflix’s offerings, which skew heavily toward mass-produced kiddie TV programs and dire-looking CGI direct-to-video sequels. But a little digging turns up quite a few unexpected animated gems — and what Netflix’s animated offerings lack in depth, they make up for in breadth. The range of techniques and narrative approaches on display here highlights what makes the animation medium so exciting and fruitful. So here are the best animated movies on Netflix right now.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Run Time: 97 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
Anika Noni Rose and Oprah Winfrey voice this imaginative Disney flick about a waitress in New Orleans with dreams of leaving her small-town life behind. Rose plays Tiana, a young woman who hopes to one day open up her own restaurant who gets entangled in a magical adventure when she makes the mistake of kissing a frog — who’s really a prince named Naveen that’s been cursed by a Voodoo doctor. When Tiana also turns into a frog after the smooch, the two are sent on a journey through the bayou, outrunning demons and hunters in order to find a real princess for Naveen to kiss before midnight.
The Incredibles 2 (2018)
Run Time: 118 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
Our favorite superhero family is back with a new mission that requires a reversal of roles for its patriarch. Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) is forced to stay home and look after the kids — including Baby Jack Jack whose powers continue to grow — while his wife Helen (Elastigirl) saves the world, becoming the new face of the superhero presence. While Elastigirl goes on covert missions aimed at restoring her family’s good name, Mr. Incredible struggles to raise the kids. There’s plenty of humor to be mined from his parental woes, especially when it comes to Jack, who eventually requires a special suit to control his abilities. Unfortunately, Elastigirl’s new employer plans to wreck the reputation of superheroes once and for all, using her family to do it, which means it’s up to the kids to save the day (again).
The Breadwinner (2017)
Run Time: 94 min | IMDb: 7.7/10
Based off a best-selling book by Deborah Ellis, this Angelina Jolie-produced animated drama follows the story of a young girl named Parvana, who’s forced to disguise herself as a man in order to provide for her family when her father is sent to prison by the Taliban. The film is set in war-torn Afghanistan, in a village under Taliban rule where women aren’t permitted to hold jobs or even buy food without the presence of a male relative. When Parvana’s father angers a member of the Taliban, he’s thrown in prison, and she pretends to be a man in order to earn money and food for her mother and sisters. The film is a gripping, honest look at some difficult-to-swallow issues, and it’s done in the most visually-stunning of ways.
An American Tail (1986)
Run Time: 80 min | IMDb: 6.9/10
Another non-Disney offering, An American Tail is a 1986 animated musical adventure about a tiny mouse named Fievel Mousekewitz who emigrates from the Imperial Russian territory of Ukraine to New York City. His family is seeking freedom and Fievel just wants to explore the world but tragedy strikes when he’s separated from his family and forced to fend for himself on the mean streets of the city. Again, the music is stellar in this, so much so that a duet between Fievel and his older sister, Tanya, has been known to cause grown men to burst into tears. You’ve been warned.
April And The Extraordinary World (2015)
Run Time: 105 min | IMDb: 7.3/10
In an alternate version of 1941 where France has been led by a line of Napoleons and leading scientists mysteriously disappear, young April, her talking cat Darwin, and the shady Julius go searching for April’s missing parents. It’s an interesting take on a history where technological advancement isn’t a thing, where “steampunk” is reality and TVs and cars don’t exist. April’s journey starts in the dreary, stuck-out-of-time France but leads her to fantastical advancements that still make sense in the world we’re presented with. The heart of the film lies in the love that plucky, stubborn April has for those she cares about, and the film’s driven by charming animation and a genuinely interesting concept. It’s a fun trip that’s just out-there enough for adults while being accessible for the young and young at heart.
Run Time: 100 min | IMDb: 7.7/10
Dakota Fanning voices the titular young heroine of this fantasy drama about a girl who discovers a secret world much like her own. Coraline is a preteen, disappointed by her current reality, who finds the door to another world that resembles an idealized version of her own. She enjoys this alternate reality for a time before realizing this version of her life holds sinister secrets that might threaten her real family. It’s a strange, beautifully-drawn world, one that’s probably better viewed by the older-kid crowd or adults who just don’t want to grow up.
Run Time: 105 min | IMDb: 8.5/10
Disney continued its trend of spotlighting underserved communities and lesser-known cultures with Coco, a Pixar project that follows a young boy learning the importance of family during a traditional Mexican celebration, “Dia de Los Muertos.” The Day of the Dead is probably a holiday you’ve heard of before, but the film adds a rich history and vibrancy to a time held sacred by so many. Coco has dreams of becoming a singer but when he finds himself amongst the dead, he must rely on his courage and his ancestors to help him return to the living. Bring your tissues for this one.
My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea (2016)
Run Time: 75 min | IMDb: 6.1/10
This animated drama feels like it belongs on Adult Swim, not Netflix, but it’s a refreshing change-up from the rest of the family-centric options on this list. With a voice cast that includes Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, and Lena Dunham, the film follows a group of students whose seaside high school falls off a cliff, forcing everyone trapped inside to go into survival mode. Think Lord of the Flies but stranded at sea. Schwartzman plays Dash, a young kid forced to reconcile with his ex-best friend to save a group of students, and Susan Sarandon pops up as a lunch lady named Lorraine who displays some heroics of her own. It’s quirky and crudely-drawn, but that’s part of the charm.
Run Time: 88 min | IMDb: 7.3/10
The most memorable thing about Tarzan is probably the Phil Collins-led soundtrack. That’s not a dig, because every song in this movie is a banger, but the story is fun too. It follows a man named Tarzan who was raised by gorillas in the jungle when his family was killed. As a man, he encounters a new set of colonizers, one of whom he falls in love with, that threaten his family, his home, and his way of life.
The Croods (2013)
Run Time: 98 min | IMDb: 7.2/10
Prehistoric times were rough, you guys and this film is proof. Ryan Reynolds, Nic Cage, and Emma Stone lead an impressive voice cast for this Dreamworks movie about a family of cavemen (and women) whose home, errr cave, is destroyed. They’re forced to trek through a fantastical land to find shelter with the help of a strange newcomer. It’s silly, though beautifully animated, but the comedic chops of Reynolds and Stone keep things afloat.
The Little Prince (2015)
Run Time: 108 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
Pulled from its theatrical release mere weeks before it was supposed to hit theaters, this adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved children’s book combines several different types of animation to mixed but ultimately winning results. One’s a charming stop-motion retelling of the original book. The other’s a more familiar Pixar-ish tale of a young girl pushed too hard to succeed who meets an aged Aviator. The film’s not entirely successful, but ambition and lovely visuals go a long way.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)
Run Time: 117 min | IMDb: 8.5/10
The Oscar-winning animated film is making its way to Netflix this summer, which means if you didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters, you no longer have to wonder what all the hype is about. The story follows a young kid named Miles, who becomes the web-slinging hero of his reality, only to cross paths with other iterations of Spider-Man across different dimensions who help him defeat a threat posed to all realities. Mahershala Ali, John Mulaney, and Jake Johnson make up the film’s talented voice cast, but it’s the striking visuals and daring story-telling technique that really serves the film well.
Run Time: 75 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
Kevin Bacon voices this animated tale of an outcast half-wolf who saves an Alaskan town when an epidemic breaks out. Balto is shunned from his community of purebred sleigh dogs because of his mixed heritage and unwelcomed by people in town who fear his wilder nature. When he falls in love with another dog, he goes to great lengths to help her save her human from an outbreak that cripples the town. It’s a wintry adventure that has some good lessons mixed in.