Last Updated: September 22nd
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.
Despicable Me (2010)
Run Time: 95 min | IMDb: 7.6/10
Steve Carrell voices the criminal mastermind Gru in this animated adventure, which contains a surprising amount of heart. And minions. There are so many minions. Gru adopts a trio of orphans (Margo, Edith, and Agnes) to help pull off his latest scheme but gets more than he bargained for when he begins to form a real family with the girls. Of course, going soft isn’t good for business, so most of the fun in this film comes from watching Gru try to hang onto his hard rep and failing, miserably.
Run Time: 98 min | IMDb: 7/10
This Japanese anime flick was nominated for an Oscar just a couple years ago, and it’s one of the few animated adventure movies that doesn’t hail from famed animation house Studio Ghibli. With a voice cast that includes Rebecca Hall and Daniel Dae Kim, the movie follows the story of a young boy who discovers a magical garden that allows him to travel back in time to visit his ancestors in different eras, guided by his younger sister from the future.
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.
Run Time: 94 min | IMDb: 6.7/10
This wildly-imaginative sci-fi film is based on a comic of the same name and set in a place called Dark Meat City (DMC). It follows the story of a young man named Angelino who meets a beautiful girl, gets hit by a truck, and begins seeing weird sh*t all around the city. Eventually, he becomes the target of some mysterious government agents and gets roped into an alien conspiracy ring trying to take over the planet but if the plot gets too convoluted, just marvel at the stunning visuals of this film instead because, yeah, it’s a work of art.
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.
All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989)
Run Time: 84 min | IMDb: 6.8/10
Okay, if we’re being upfront, this animated fantasy film starts off a bit dark. Like a dog gets murdered by his best friend, dark. But things pick up when that same dog, now a canine angel, returns to Earth to help his old pals get revenge, he befriends a human girl who can speak to animals and, well, there’s still the threat of Hell and kidnappings and Ponzi schemes but there’s also a lot of heart and humor to lighten the mood.
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.
The Willoughbys (2020)
Run Time: 90 min | IMDb: 6.4/10
This Netflix animated adventure sports a ridiculously-talented voice cast — think Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, and Martin Short — and a surprisingly heartwarming story about the meaning of family. The film follows the unruly Willoughby siblings who, convinced they’d be better off raising themselves, arrange for their parents to take a permanent vacation. Of course, things don’t work out the way they planned, which is where the fun starts.
Run Time: 96 min | IMDb: 8.4/10
Normally, Christmas movies trademarked by Netflix come with sappy romances, mistaken princesses, and Vanessa Hudgens but this original animated feature is the exception, and the best holiday flick the streaming platform has given us yet. It imagines a different origin story for Saint Nicholas, one that involves an eager-to-please postman voiced by Jason Schwartzman and an isolated, gruff Santa voiced by J.K. Simmons. The two go on a toy-making adventure together that ends up mending old wounds and bringing entire villages together. Oh, and the animation is a visual feast. Prepare yourself.
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.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017)
Run Time: 103 min | IMDb: 6.8/10
This Studio Ponoc adaptation of Mary Stewart’s 1971 novel The Little Broomstick reimagines the story of a young girl named Mary Smith a mysterious flower that can give her the power to become a witch for only one night. The plant grants her supernatural abilities, but it also gets her into trouble with a school of real witches, who covet the flower and the power it holds.
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 quickly made its way to Netflix last year, 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.
I Lost My Body (2019)
Run Time: 81 min | IMDb: 7.6/10
This beautifully animated French fantasy film follows the story of a young man named Naoufel, or rather, his hand which has been severed from his body and spends most of the film escaping labs and trying to get back to its owner. The film flits between the past and present, watching Naoufel’s life unfold from a young orphan to an accidental carpenter’s apprentice — which is how he lost his appendage — all while exploring themes of love, loss, and destiny.