14 Best Animal Tales Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

Through positively adorable characters and zero dialogue whatsoever, Shaun the Sheep Movie reminds viewers young and old of the sheer artistry that goes into a truly great children's cartoon. Animated by British stop motion godfathers Aardman Animations, the film delivers one excellent visual joke after another, while still telling a coherent story that arrives at surprisingly tender places touching on the importance of community and home. In an animation industry that's constantly trying to innovate, a movie like Shaun the Sheep stands as a reminder that there are certain fundamentals in storytelling that deserve to be preserved and passed down to every new generation. It's the loveliest thing around.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Kids

Actor: Andy Nyman, Emma Tate, John Sparkes, Justin Fletcher, Kate Harbour, Mark Burton, Nick Park, Omid Djalili, Richard Starzak, Richard Webber, Sean Connolly, Simon Greenall, Stanley Unwin, Tim Hands

Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

Rating: PG

In a global movie industry of children's entertainment that often feels like it isn't even trying, this little Peruvian bear coming to England is a wonderful reminder that films aimed at younger audiences aren't inherently limited. If anything, Paddington challenges itself to come up with a far more creative (and effective) way to talk about the lingering scars of colonialism manifesting as discrimination in everyday "civil" society. It sounds like heavy stuff, but Paddington approaches its fish-out-of-water story with the exact counterbalance of silliness, and a riotous cast that's far funnier than anyone would have expected them to be.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family, Kids

Actor: Alexander Bracq, Alice Lowe, Ancuta Breaban, Asim Chaudhry, Ben Whishaw, Catherine Shepherd, Cleo Sylvestre, David McKail, Denis Khoroshko, Dominic Coleman, Faith Elizabeth, Geoffrey Palmer, George Newton, Gus Brown, Hamish McColl, Hugh Bonneville, Iain Mitchell, Imelda Staunton, James Bachman, Javier Marzan, Jim Broadbent, Jude Wright, Julie Vollono, Julie Walters, Justin Edwards, Kayvan Novak, Kenneth Hadley, Llewella Gideon, Lottie Steer, Madeleine Harris, Madeleine Worrall, Mary Roscoe, Matt King, Matt Lucas, Michael Bond, Michael Gambon, Nicole Kidman, Nigel Genis, Peter Capaldi, Ross Boatman, Rufus Jones, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Joslin, Simon Farnaby, Steve Edge, Steve Oram, Stuart Matthews, Tarik Blake, Theresa Watson, Tim Downie, Toby Williams, Tom Meeten, Vic Waghorn, Will Smith

Director: Paul King

Rating: PG

Marona’s Fantastic Tale is a rich story about life and death and everything in between, told entirely through the eyes of a dog. With breathtaking visuals and unmatched empathy, the film implores us to think about what might count as joyous and heartbreaking for our four-legged friends. Told normally and in any other way, we might not care as much, but in a story as artful and compassionate as this, we can't help but listen. 

Unlike other films about pets, Marona’s Fantastic Tale isn’t cutesy—its art is dizzying and demanding, but beautiful nonetheless. And isn't afraid to confront tragedy (in fact, it begins with it). But it buoys reality with dreamy art sequences and even finds humor along the way. All in all, it’s a mature film that poses big existential questions that will intrigue adults as well as kids.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family

Actor: Annie Mercier, Bruno Salomone, Georges Claisse, Isabelle Vitari, Lizzie Brocheré, Maïra Schmitt, Nathalie Boutefeu, Thierry Hancisse

Director: Anca Damian

, 2017

With its detailed portraits of seven of Istanbul’s most adored felines, Kedi affirms what anyone who’s spent some time with a cat will know: they really do all have fully-fledged, complex personalities of their own. More than just a celebration of some supremely cute kitties, though, this documentary about the city’s teeming street cat population also presents a moving example of a way of living that embraces — rather than tramples over — our animal neighbors.

Immersive cinematography from the cats’ eye levels is weaved with interviews with the people who care for them, whether voluntarily or because the cats simply demand it. That independence emerges as a much-admired characteristic in the documentary; as one interviewee puts it, “Dogs think people are God, but cats don’t. They’re not ungrateful, they just know better.” It’s impossible not to read a wistful note in the interviewees’ odes — indeed, for many of the people featured here, cats are a point of spiritual and personal reconnection, a reminder of what life is really about underneath all the mind-numbing dross we’ve made up. The magic of Kedi is that it not only perceptively recognizes the healing effect that cats have on humans, but recreates it so that these 70-something minutes feel like therapy.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bülent Üstün

Director: Ceyda Torun

Rating: NR

Ernest is an old bear and Celestine a young mouse; he lives above ground, while she lives underground. Their kinds fear one another, and borders are set in place so that they never intermingle, but despite all the odds, Ernest and Celestine form a bond—they share one similarity, after all, which is that they’re both outcasts. 

Ernest & Celestine is a classic buddy tale of outsiders finding their place in the world. The story and its messages of acceptance and equality are already charming and weighty on their own, but the hand-drawn and watercolored animation gives the film an extra rush of nostalgia and delight. Beautifully made and surprisingly relevant, it's a children’s film for all ages. It makes sense that it was nominated for Best Animation in the 86th Academy Awards (what doesn't is it losing to Frozen).  

An English dub is available on most streaming platforms, but we highly recommend watching it in French, how it’s originally meant to be heard.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Adeline Chetail, Anne-Marie Loop, Brigitte Virtudes, Colleen O'Shaughnessey, Dominique Maurin, Emmanuel LeMire, Féodor Atkine, Forest Whitaker, Jacques Ciron, Jennifer Fauveau, Lambert Wilson, Lauren Bacall, Léonard Louf, Mackenzie Foy, Maxime Bailleul, Michel Elias, Nathalie Homs, Patrice Dozier, Patrice Melennec, Paul Giamatti, Pauline Brunner, Perrette Pradier, Pierre Baton, Spike Spencer, Vincent Grass

Director: Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar

Rating: PG

Best in Show’s cast list reads like a catalog of comic greats. Among others, it includes Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Jennifer Coolidge, and the unbeatable duo that is Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy. Their participation alone should you clue in on what kind of film this is: a delightful exercise in improvisational comedy. The jokes roll in fast and the spoofs are spot-on (Parker Posey gets a special mention for playing the faux-calm handler with rage issues bubbling up to a tee). And thanks to the mockumentary format, they’re supported by an abundance of visual gags. 

The cherry on top of this fun sundae is the adorable dogs who amusingly participate in human shenanigans. If you're ever looking for a watch that is equal parts comedic and cute, then this underrated comedy gem of a film could be it.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Andrew Johnston, Andrew Wheeler, Bob Balaban, Camille Sullivan, Carmen Aguirre, Carrie Aizley, Catherine O'Hara, Christopher Guest, Colin Cunningham, Corrine Koslo, Deborah Theaker, Doane Gregory, Don Lake, Don S. Davis, Ed Begley Jr., Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Fulvio Cecere, Hiro Kanagawa, Jane Lynch, Jay Brazeau, Jennifer Coolidge, Jim Piddock, John Michael Higgins, Larry Miller, Lewis Arquette, Linda Kash, Lynda Boyd, Malcolm Stewart, Merrilyn Gann, Michael Hitchcock, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Patrick Cranshaw, Rachael Harris, Scott Williamson, Stephen E. Miller, Steven M. Porter, Teryl Rothery, Tony Alcantar, Will Sasso

Director: Christopher Guest

Rating: PG-13

, 2022

It’s a bold move, centering a drama around a creature as docile as a donkey, but EO pulls it off without ever leaning on the crutch of CGI. Instead, the film makes ingenious use of a hundred-year-old film technique: the Kuleshov effect. By splicing the image of the titular donkey’s placid, expressionless face against visual stimulus, the illusion of a genuine reaction is produced.

But don’t be mistaken: this is no twee Disney-esque tale of anthropomorphism. Inspired by the classic Au Hasard Balthasar, EO tracks the haphazard journey of a former circus donkey across Europe — one that is often depicted in surreal psychedelic reds instead of idyllic picture-book tones, and punctured by more horrors than joys (though we do, thankfully, get to see him munch away on some well-deserved carrot treats). EO’s docility frames him as a kind of holy innocent, making the cruelty meted out to him feel all the more like a grave violation of something sacrosanct. Seeing the world through his oft-neglected perspective also makes this a movie about humans by proxy — a fresh, empathetic approach that, even in its obvious dramatic liberties, makes us meditate on both the depth of experience that may be unfolding in our animal neighbors and our role in shaping it.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Isabelle Huppert, Kateřina Holánová, Lolita Chammah, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Sandra Drzymalska, Tomasz Organek, Waldemar Barwiński

Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Rating: NR

Isle of Dogs has all the hallmarks of a Wes Anderson picture—it's stylish, otherworldly, and deadpan hilarious. But the film is also uniquely its own thing, a stop-motion animation deeply and gorgeously immersed in Japanese history and lore. Instead of merely relegating culture in the background for mere aesthetic purposes (as Anderson has done in the past with The Darjeeling Limited), culture here plays a vital role in the adventure and overall plot of the film. It's up to the viewer to decide whether Isle of Dogs is a case of appropriation or appreciation, but what can't be denied is that this is a movie with a strong and unforgettable bite to it. 

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Akira Takayama, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Chris Benz, Courtney B. Vance, Edward Norton, Elaiza Ikeda, F. Murray Abraham, Fisher Stevens, Frances McDormand, Frank Wood, Greta Gerwig, Harvey Keitel, Jake Ryan, Jeff Goldblum, Kara Hayward, Ken Watanabe, Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Liev Schreiber, Mari Natsuki, Nijiro Murakami, Roman Coppola, Ryuhei Matsuda, Scarlett Johansson, Shota Matsuda, Taichi Kodama, Takayuki Yamada, Tilda Swinton, Yojiro Noda, Yoko Ono

Director: Wes Anderson

Rating: PG-13

, 2019

Togo may be set in a cold Alaskan town, but the story it tells is nothing short of heartwarming. It follows a pup who starts out as an unwanted underdog but who quickly becomes a beloved leader thanks to his tenacity, pluck, and undeniable charm. Watching Togo onscreen, whether as a puppy escaping his cage or as a senior leaping through sea ice, is a marvelous sight to behold, not least because of the sans-CGI direction.  

And like many a dog tale, Togo is a sure tearjerker, but unlike most of them, this specific story never feels exploitative. Togo is given a proper backstory and sufficient characterization, a refreshing focus that makes every emotional curveball well-earned. Watch this and you'll never take a day with your pet for granted again.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Family

Actor: Adrien Dorval, Brandon Oakes, Christopher Heyerdahl, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Gaston, Michael Greyeyes, Michael McElhatton, Nikolai Nikolaeff, Nive Nielsen, Richard Dormer, Thorbjørn Harr, Willem Dafoe, Zahn McClarnon

Director: Ericson Core

Rating: PG

Vivid, sweeping landscapes surround the simple beauty of a Mongolian family navigating the pressures of globalization while still practicing their traditional nomadic lifestyle. Ostensibly it's about the charming, captivating relationship that forms between a young girl, Nansal, and a dog that she finds. However, the magic of this slow, enthralling film is that it captures the brilliance of familial relationships and power of culture and stories through this simple backdrop. And it is a simple film; everything you can learn from this film comes through its gentle storytelling that invites you to recognize the beauty and profundity that exists in everyday lives.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Babbayar Batchuluun, Batchuluun Urjindorj, Buyandulam Daramdadi, Nansal Batchuluun, Nansalmaa Batchuluun

Director: Byambasuren Davaa

Rating: G

If you’re ever in the mood to watch a documentary about the wild, you can look no further than Predators. The thrilling docuseries is divided into 40-minute episodes, each one dedicated to a specific animal and how it thrives in an unforgiving environment. We get crisp close-ups of the creatures hunting and feasting on their prey, with Tom Hardy poetically narrating the events and music thrillingly playing in the background. Though rare, there are times when the footage and sound resemble the license-free stock you can easily get online, but for the most part, the visuals are impressive. Teeth tearing into meat, eyes widening in fear, and sprinting, so many limbs sprinting out into the open field as the beasts chase their next meal. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Tom Hardy

A college professor (Richard Gere) provides a home for the abandoned Akita he encountered at the train station, against the wishes of his wife (Joan Allen). As a bond develops between dog and master and tragedy suddenly strikes the family, a true act of devotion is displayed by the pup. Based on a supposedly true story which played out in Japan in early 20th century, Lasse Hallstrom's Hachi finds beauty in its simplicity without being overly cloying and gets empathetic, frankly really strong performance from Gere.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Adam Masnyk, Bates Wilder, Becki Dennis, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Davenia McFadden, Erick Avari, Jason Alexander, Joan Allen, John Franchi, Kevin DeCoste, Richard Gere, Rob Degnan, Robbie Sublett, Robert Capron, Robert Degnan, Roy Souza, Sarah Roemer, Tora Hallström, Troy Doherty

Director: Lasse Hallström

Rating: G