Animation has always been integral to cinematic history, but over the past decade animated filims have flourished in terms of variety, technological innovation and emotional depth. From traditional to mixed-media, here are the best animated movies and shows to stream.
Hayao Miyazaki is no stranger to the fantastical. Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away conjure worlds of spirits and demons, monsters and witches, imaginary wars and extraordinary heroes. But in Kiki’s Delivery Service, the real magic arises from the mundane.
The titular teenaged Kiki leaves home, setting out to become a better witch. She arrives in the idyllic seaside town of Koriko with only her broom and best friend, a black cat named Jiji. When she serendipitously meets Osono, the gentle owner of a bakery, Kiki begins a delivery service as part of her training.
Kiki’s Delivery Service may be one of Miyazaki’s more understated films, but it’s a beautiful reminder that believing in oneself is a magical act of courage that we should all undertake.
Studio Ghibli has brought us moving, remarkable animated films such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke. One of Studio Ghibli’s most overlooked movies is Yoshifumi Kondou’s Whisper of the Heart, which finds magic in the ordinary every day. Shizuku is a young girl with great aspirations to become a writer—the only thing stopping her is herself. When she comes across a curious antique shop, she befriends a mysterious boy and his grandfather, who are just the push she needs to look inward and discover her own artistic capabilities.
If you have ever wanted to create something bigger and better than yourself—a story, a song, a poem, a painting, a work of art—then Whisper of the Heart will excite you, will call to you, will remind you to answer your heart’s calling.
Two storylines take place in this Parisian animation: one of a Moroccan immigrant who works as a pizza delivery guy, and the other of his hand, somehow no longer part of his body, but also going on a trip around Paris.
The hand storyline is not gory by the way, except for one or two very quick scenes. Mostly, this is a film about loneliness and not being able to find your way back, both as an immigrant who misses how they were raised and as a hand who misses its body.
Sporting some of the most beautiful animation work this year, this movie premiered at Cannes where it became the first-ever animated film (and Netflix film) to win the Nespresso Grand Prize.
This beautiful, realistic, and nostalgic anime movie about childhood is one that almost anyone can relate to. Set in the year of 1982, twenty-seven-year-old Taeko Okajima is traveling to the countryside by train. Along her journey, she gets flashbacks of her childhood: mostly in elementary school, stealing glances at a boy, and navigating puberty. The movie goes back and forth between past and present, easily making one long for sun-filled summers of yesteryear and silly jokes between playfriends. As well as telling a story about Taeko's past, Only Yesterday also tells a story about her present, and the combined realism of the plotline with the beautiful animation grips you and doesn’t let go. Only Yesterday truly feels like home.
In what was originally intended to be his final film, Hayao Miyazaki is at his most lucid with The Wind Rises. Fluid and luminous, it cleanly moves between a grounded, historical reality and an intuitive, imaginative dreamscape. Here Miyazaki reflects on the process of creation and what it means to be an artist, drawing parallels between his own meticulousness as a filmmaker with Horikoshi’s immutable passion for flight and efficient design.
But questions of responsibility and duty arise, as Horikoshi—and by extension, Miyazaki—must reckon with the reality that even things as beautiful as aeroplanes can be destructive, and that even dreams can be violent. This meditative film does not offer any easy answers but it provides solace in its prevailing sentiment: The wind is rising, we must try to live.
As impressive as Studio Ghibli’s collection of films are, I am still stubborn to believe that Porco Rosso is its most underrated film. Porco Rosso, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is the story of a World War military aviator-turned-bounty hunter who has mysteriously been transformed into a pig.
Bright with humor, heart, and flight (Miyazaki is largely influenced and inspired by the art of aviation), Porco Rosso manages to also acknowledge and reckon with the horrors of war. It also boasts one of, if not the greatest, line in any Ghibli film: I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.
Narrated by the familiar voice of Jack Black, Apollo 10 ½ is a throwback story told with admirable specificity and imagination. Black plays a grown-up Stan, who looks back on his younger years with a mix of fondness and wonder: how did they get away with the things they did then? American suburbia in the 1960s was both loose and conservative, caught between a generation holding on to the reins of the earlier century and one eager to launch into the next.
Stan, as the youngest child of a big, rowdy family, gives us a charming look into the times, as well as a projection of his own fascination: Apollo 11 and the space age. He inserts himself in this monumental narrative and generously brings us along in his fantasy. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether Stan’s recruitment by NASA is actually fact or fiction, but that’s part of the fun, especially since Stan himself doesn’t seem to mind at all.
Prior to being defined by that fateful bombing in 1945, Hiroshima was like any other city outside of Tokyo; small but full, quiet but busy, and in the midst of a slow-but-sure journey to modernization. We experience the rich and intimate details of this life through the kind-hearted Suzu, who herself is stuck between the throes of old and new. She is an ambitious artist but also a dedicated wife; a war-wearied survivor and a hopeful cheerleader.
Set before, during, and after the Second World War, the film starts off charmingly mundane at first, but it quickly gives way to inevitable grief in the second half. One stark tragedy follows another as it becomes increasingly clear how much we lose our humanity in war.
In This Corner of the World is the rare film outside of the Hayao Miyazaki canon that captures the latter's heart for detail while still being graciously its own.