The Best Animated Movies on Netflix Right Now (May 2018)
Last Updated May 24th
The phrase “best animated movie” means different things to different people. Some will automatically think of classic Disney movies or similar family-friendly feature-length cartoons from their childhood, while others will automatically gravitate toward adaptations of their favorite comic-book stories. Others still may consider the exotic appeal of anime or the avant-garde style of artists outside of the mainstream as the “best” animation has to offer. The only thing these disparate features have in common is that they’re devoid of live-action components; anything else goes.
With this broad range of animated movies in mind, we’ve combed through the available features streaming on Netflix to bring you the best of the best. There’s something here for everyone, including Disney features, Oscar-nominated animations, classics and contemporary movies alike, all representing a stunning variety of animation styles. Whether you’re a casual fan or a longtime devotee of animation, there’s something for everyone here.
Directors: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson
Writers: William Steig (novel), Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S.H. Schulman
Cast: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow, Jim Cummings
Released back in 2001 to critical and audience acclaim, Dream Works Animation’s Shrek remains one of the best CG-animated features ever made. Not only does this fractured fairytale flip the tropes that Disney made famous on their heads, it manages to be more than just a satirical comedy by injecting heart, humor, and drop-dead-funny one-liners into the high fantasy adventure tale.
Before it went on to make an ogre-load of money and launch multiple sequels and spin-offs, Shrek stood as the pinnacle of what computer-generated animation could achieve in 2001. Above and beyond that, when audiences finally got a chance to see that animation in action on the big screen, they found themselves face to face with an ogre who wasn’t so scary, a princess who wasn’t so dainty, and a fairytale world that wasn’t trapped in the conventions of the past. Shrek has become a contemporary classic and almost 20 years later, it still hasn’t lost its unique brand of magic. - Dave Trumbore
Directors: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
Writers: Robert D. San Souci (based on a story by), Screenplay by Rita Hsiao, Chris Sanders, Philip LaZebnik, Raymond Singer, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer
Cast: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, June Foray, Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Fierstein, Freda Foh Shen, James Hong, Pat Morita
As of this writing, Disney’s arguably most progressive and forward-thinking “princess” film Mulan arrived in theaters, impressing audiences with its story, its style, and its Oscar-nominated score. (You’re probably already singing/humming Christina Aguilera‘s “Reflections” right now.) And though it’ll never be forgotten, Mulan‘s rebellious story will be getting the live-action treatment thanks to Disney’s penchant for reviving classic animated tales with modern casts and filmmaking technology. But if you need a refresher…
Mulan is the retelling of a Chinese folktale about a young maiden who disguises herself as a man in order to take her ailing father’s place when he’s conscripted into the military. Learning of this, her ancestors send a small messenger dragon in order to dissuade her from her plan, but Mulan’s courage and charisma sways the miniscule Mushu to her side instead. The story’s impact can still be felt today, perhaps more than ever, in society at large but also in films like The Breadwinner, which shares some themes in common. Watch Mulan again for a revisit with old friends before the new movie arrives in 2020!
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Writers: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don McEnery, Bob Shaw, Irene Mecchi
Cast: Tate Donovan, Josh Keaton, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Bobcat Goldthwait, Matt Fewer, Rip Torn, Hal Holbrook
One animated Disney classic that isn’t likely to get the live-action treatment anytime soon is Hercules, an underrated iteration of one of mankind’s most ancient myths. It’s a little odd to think that Hercules, from the writing-directing duo that brought us The Little Mermaid, Moana and more, came out just a year before Mulan, which is a much more forward-thinking film. Hercules, as it should be, is a classic action-adventure flick that brings the title hero’s labors to life in family-friendly ways that the likes of Kevin Sorbo and Dwayne Johnson could not.
But while a story about a demi-god/god going about his business in ancient times and performing heroic deeds would have been entertaining, Hercules goes a step further by removing the title hero’s immortality entirely. The only way he’ll get it back is if he goes the distance, trains religiously, and eventually becomes a hero. Like all of the best fables, fairy tales, and Disney stories, it’s not strength of arms but strength of heart and moral conviction that ultimately saves the day, even if it costs the hero everything. Check this one out again because it’s unlikely to make its way back in live-action Disney form in the years ahead.
Directors: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
Writers: Carl Binder, Susannah Grant, Philip LaZebnik
Cast: Mel Gibson, Irene Bedard, Christian Bale, Billy Connolly, Linda Hunt, John Kassir, David Ogden Stiers, Frank Welker
Pocahontas is one of Disney’s iconic pictures that’s tailor-made for a live-action remake, but oddly enough, it’s not on the list. Maybe that’s because some of the colonialist themes of the story are a tough sell in the current era, or maybe it just wasn’t on this wave of productions, but Pocahontas is right up there with Mulan as a way for Disney to both capitalize on their popular IP and provide opportunities for marginalized and minority cast and crew members alike.
Ultimately, Disney’s 1995 take on the history of Pocahontas opted to explore a love story between the titular Native American woman and English colonialist John Smith. Historians likely take issue with this interpretation, but as a Disney film, the plot was serviceable. Most memorable, of course, is the movie’s fantastic music, for which Pocahontas won two Oscars.
Mune: Guardian of the Moon
Directors: Alexandre Heboyan, Benoît Philippon
Writers: Benoît Philippon, Jérôme Fansten
Cast: Omar Sy, Izïa Higelin, Michaël Grégorio, Joshua J. Ballard, Nicole Provost, Rob Lowe
Back in 2014, a French film by the name of Mune, le gardien de la lune arrived on the festival circuit. It would go on to win the Best Feature award at Annecy 2015 and the Young People’s Jury Award at that year’s TIFF Kids International Film Festival. In other words, it’s a film worthy of your attention, though you’d be forgiven for having missed it. In the U.S., nearly three years after its premiere, it arrived as Mune: Guardian of the Moon. And it’s now available on Netflix!
This kid-friendly feature has a very different look than what you might be used to when it comes to CG-animated films. It centers on a literal world-building mythology that incorporates guardians of both the sun and the moon who are responsible for maintaining a harmony between the two celestial bodies and the people of their small world. The people of the moon and the people of the sun co-exist peacefully as long as everything goes according to plan, but when some unforeseen events throw a wrench into the works–complete with an ancient darkness plotting to steal the sun’s light–it’s going to take more than one hero to put everything right again. Mune is a wonderfully unique tale that’s gorgeous to watch and introduces lovable characters that might jus become some of your favorites. Check it out today! - Dave Trumbore
This entry originally appeared under our Best Horror Movies on Netflix article.
Director: Raul Garcia
Writers: Raul Garcia and Stéphan Roelants, based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe
Cast: Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi (archival), Julian Sands, Guillermo del Toro, Roger Corman, Stephen Hughes, Cornelia Funke
If you’re a fan of Poe’s works and would love to see unique animated adaptations of some of his best titles, Extraordinary Tales is a must-watch. If you only have a passing interest in Poe’s tales but would love to hear from horror genre icons like the late Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi, and the blessedly still with us Julian Sands, Guillermo del Toro, and Roger Corman (ever so briefly), this is also of interest. It’s a dark, macabre anthology that explores Poe’s equally morbid imagination, and it’s perfect dark-and-stormy-night entertainment.
Garcia’s Extraordinary Tales features five distinct types of animation to bring each of the stories to life. Some of them are easier on the eye than others, but don’t be dissuaded by the rather clunky visual aesthetic that greets you with the anthology’s frame story … in fact, don’t be too put off by the frame story overall, which is unnecessary but not indicative of the tales themselves. Instead, you’ll be treated to interesting adaptations of “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, and “The Masque of the Red Death.” Check it out the next time you’re feeling a little Gothic; you won’t be disappointed. - Dave Trumbore
Director: Nora Twomey
Writers: Anita Doron, Deborah Ellis
Cast: Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Noorin Gulamgaus
The Breadwinner has been nominated for a 2018 Oscar in the category of Best Animated Feature Film. If that’s not enough to entice you, how about the fact that this beautifully animated tale does more to humanize the people living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan than just about anything else we’ve seen over the last 20 years. It also deftly lays out the beleaguered history of the region across the centuries as wave after wave of would-be conquerors and subjugators storm into the area only to leave it in disarray.
But The Breadwinner quickly moves away from this framing of the story and gets to the heart of the story itself. Centering on the young Afghanistan girl Parvana, it tells of her defiance of Taliban rule in the face of violence and certain death in order to provide for her family. Women and girls are second-class citizens under this regime, and the fact of this oppression is felt so strongly throughout the early telling of the tale that, when Parvana disguises herself as a boy in order to buy food, fetch water, and earn a living, her relative freedom and joy are palpable. It’s a tough tale at times, but a heartening one, and beautifully told. - Dave Trumbore
The Land Before Time
Director: Don Bluth
Writer: Stu Krieger, Judy Freudberg, Tony Geiss
Cast: Pat Hingle, Judith Barsi, Gabriel Damon, Helen Shaver, Bill Erwin, Burke Byrnes, Candace Hutson, Will Ryan, Frank Welker
The Land Before Time, a classically animated tale about a group of young dinosaur friends in prehistoric times that kickstarted a series of direct-to-video animated movies that continues to this day. The original was producer by the super-team of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathleen Kennedy, and Frank Marshall back in 1988, who all did pretty well for themselves even after leaving Littlefoot and company behind.
The first of the 14 films introduced young audiences to the Longnecks, Three-Horns, Spiketails, and more, names of different dinosaur species that had all historically kept to themselves. However, when an earthquake fractures the land and separates a group of young dinosaurs from their herds, they must put their differences aside to reunite with their families and maybe even find the fabled Great Valley along the way. - Dave Trumbore
Berserk: The Golden Age Arc
Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka
Writer: Kentara Miura, Ichirô Ôkôchi
Cast: Hiroaki Iwanaga/Marc Diraison, Takahiro Sakurai/Kevin T. Collins, Toa Yukinari/Carrie Keranen
Netflix is decidedly light on anime features as compared to some of the other streaming platforms out there—though it does have a pretty impressive roster of anime series—but this one should make for a decent introduction. It’s a dark fantasy story inspired by Medieval Europe that features bloody battles, over-the-top heroes and villains, and a more extensive mythology than you’ll find in most contemporary animated features. There’s also quite the twisting, turning evolution of political machinations and personal aspirations that runs though it all.
Based on the long-running manga series from Miura, the story follows a lone mercenary named Guts and his relationship with Griffith, the leader of a company of mercenaries known as the Band of the Hawk. However, I’ll forewarn you that this feature is only part of the Berserk story. It’s a good retelling of the introduction of these two characters, but if you find yourself wanting more, you can seek out the two follow-up sequels, the 1997s animated series, or the new 2016 series. Update: As of this writing, Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II – The Battle for Doldrey and Berserk: The Golden Age Arc III – The Advent are available now! – Dave Trumbore
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Writer: Jared Bush
Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk
One of the most refreshing animated movies in years is Disney’s Moana, the Oscar-nominated film that tells the tale of a young Pacific Island girl’s confident rise as a leader and visionary. Complicating her quest is the demigod Maui, played particularly well by Dwayne Johnson, though he’s clearly met his match with newcomer Auli’i Cravalho. The on-screen chemistry here is fantastic and reminiscent of some of the best pairings throughout Disney’s historic filmography.
Moana not only brings a rarely seen mythology and history to the big screen, it does so with earnest respect for the living culture that still exists today in the Pacific Islands. It’s a movie that will satisfy everything you’re looking for in a Disney movie but will also leave you wanting more because of how rich the world is, the film’s compelling and engrossing mythology, and just because Moana and Maui are so much fun to watch. I’d love a sequel and I’d love a spin-off series (we were robbed of more time with Heihei and the kakamora), but for now, at least Moana is on Netflix!
Kubo and the Two Strings
Director: Travis Knight
Writers: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler, Shannon Tindle
Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes, George Takei
The latest LAIKA effort Kubo and the Two Strings might just be the stop-motion animation studio’s best effort to date. Nominated for 2 Oscars, Kubo is an original story that centers on the title character, a young boy who cares for his ailing mother on the outskirts of a small, shoreline village in Japan. He earns a meager living by acting out mythological stories in the village square, using origami figures that he brings to life with his magical musical instrument, the shamisen. But one fateful mistake leads Kubo on a dangerous adventure where he’ll cross paths with powerful creatures in order to right an old family wrong.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a gorgeous viewing experience and a wonderfully mythological story with a lot of heart. In other words, it’s textbook LAIKA. The studio’s films are the rare artistic animated efforts that are both entertaining for kids thanks to their eye-catching visuals and colorful characters but also offer up something deeper for adults and parents to discuss long after the movie’s over. Check this one out before it’s gone!
An American Tail
Director: Don Bluth
Writers: Judy Freudberg, Tony Geiss, David Kirschner
Cast: Phillip Glasser, Dom DeLuise, Amy Green, Nehemiah Persoff, Erica Yohn, Christopher Plummer, John Finnegan, Will Ryan, Pat Musick, Cathianne Blore, Neil Ross, Madeline Kahn
More than 30 years after its debut, An American Tail is perhaps more relevant than ever. I wrote about the film’s messages on racism, immigration, and human decency a little while back, and I argue that those lessons have either been forgotten along the way or learned by too few to begin with. Now’s as good a time as ever to revisit Fievel Mousekewitz and his family’s journey to an America that was not exactly how they imagined it would be.
And if you’d love to see the continuation of Fievel’s story, the sub-par but still entertaining sequel Fievel Goes West is also available on Netflix, as are the more recent sequels An American Tail: The Mystery of the Night Monster and An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island, if you’re up to the challenge.
The Prince of Egypt
Director: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells
Writer: Philip LaZebnik, Nicholas Meyer
Cast: Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin, Martin Short, James Avery
The music from this film alone makes it worth the watch, as evidenced by the Oscar-winning song “When You Believe.” And yet the power of The Prince of Egypt is in its ancient, religious story that is still at the heart of many cultures today. While it might not be the most historically accurate retelling of the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, and the Exodus that you’ll ever see, it’s an honest attempt to present that telling in a mature fashion.
One of DreamWorks Animation’s earliest pictures, The Prince of Egypt tells the well-known story of the life of Moses, from his inauspicious beginnings, to his young adulthood in the court of the Pharaoh, to his eventual realization of his true heritage and the ultimate achievement of leading his people out from under the Egyptian leader’s cruel rule. It’s an impressive visual and aural display that’s a worthwhile adaptation of an ancient story, and one that brings archaic practices into a contemporary light. - Dave Trumbore
The Little Prince
Directors: Mark Osborne
Writer: Irena Brignull (screenplay), Bob Persichetti (screenplay), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (novel)
Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Riley Osborne, Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Bud Cort, Paul Giamatti, Albert Brooks
It’s not every day you get to see a modern animated adaptation of an iconic bestselling story like The Little Prince, but thanks to Netflix and the talented cast and crew assembled to bring Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s story to life, a whole new generation can now enjoy the classic tale. Now while it’s not a point-for-point translation of the tale, it does pay homage to the novella’s fan-favorite characters and scenes. The Fox, The Snake, and The Rose are all present, and they’re brought to life in contrasting animation styles that help to conjure up images of the original drawings alongside the cutting-edge computer-generated characters common in today’s kids movies. This contrast also sets apart the book’s story, which itself exists as a story within a larger framing story following The Little Girl (Foy) and her uptight, hyper-organized Mother (McAdams). Their addition brings a new wrinkle to a familiar story, but the movie’s at its best when it sticks to the original tale. If you haven’t read The Little Prince or seen any of its adaptations over the years, this is a great place to start. — Dave Trumbore
Directors: Peter Lord, Nick Park
Writers: Peter Lord, Nick Park, Karey Kirkpatrick, Mark Burton, John O’Farrell
Cast: Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, Julia Sawalha, Tony Haygarth, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton
It’s not like the House of Aardman has never had a dud. Flushed Away wasn’t particularly great and not every single short needs to be seen to understand the dry, comical appeal of Aardman’s style and perspective. Most of the time, however, Aardman leads the charge for stop-motion animation through new classics like Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit and this oft-forgotten, exquisite takeoff on The Great Escape. Julia Sawalha voices Ginger, a chicken who is looking to lead a rebellion amongst her sisters against her evil farmer owners, the Tweedys, voiced by Miranda Richardson and Tony Haygarth, and gets a miraculous bit of help from a damaged rooster named Rocky (Mel Gibson). Not only is the movie a marvel of clever parody in its conflation of something like Peter Rabbit with The Great Escape, it’s also a very open appeal for labor reform and animal rights. All that, however, ends up beind secondary to sheer thrill of watching Aardman’s world of wonders, giving a full sense of a farm as a living ecosystem and a realm of unending physical work. A weaker film would put all the focus on the romance that blooms between Ginger and Rocky, whereas in the finished product of Chicken Run, their cute courtship is merely a facet of a much larger, endlessly entertaining whirligig. - Chris Cabin
Kung Fu Panda
Directors: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Cast: Jack Black, Ian McShane, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Dan Fogler, Michael Clarke Duncan
Back in 2008, Kung Fu Panda not only earned an Oscar nomination, but it kickstarted a major film franchise for DreamWorks Animation. The origin story for the title character is perfectly cast thanks to the antics of Jack Black and the diverse, talented, and experienced supporting cast that surrounds him. It also introduced a wholly original character in audiences young an old, an unconventional hero who didn’t rely on strength and skill alone, but rather in developing his own unique talents and working alongside his friends and allies. That’s a rarity in these times of super-muscley superheroes and ultra-violent actioners. Do yourself a favor and revisit the original Kung Fu Panda or discover this fun, food-filled adventure for the first time! - Dave Trumbore
Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon
Writers: Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jonah Hill
Cast: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, James Franco, Bill Hader, Nick Kroll, Salma Hayek, David Krumholtz, Danny McBride, Edward Norton, Craig Robinson
You guys, Sausage Party. That’s all I should have to say. For those of you who have seen it, you understand that it’s very difficult to sum up this adult-oriented, animated feature except to say that it’s one of the most outlandish, over-the-top, and unfettered feats of filmmaking ever attempted in the world of cartoon foodstuffs. For those who haven’t seen it, hold onto your pork butts! Don’t make the same mistake parents of little ones across the country did when this movie came out; it’s 100% not for kids. It’s Rated R for “strong crude sexual content, pervasive language, and drug use” which doesn’t even include the prevalence of food porn, orgies, and the certainty of feeling guilty for laughing so damn hard. - Dave Trumbore
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse, Bob Peterson, Angus MacLane
Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Bob Peterson, Kate McKinnon, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Hader
Though it was infamously snubbed from this year’s round of Oscar nominations, Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory remains as enjoyable a watch as its predecessor and even makes a case for the rare sequel that surpasses the original. Finding Nemo was all about one father’s quest to locate his missing (and physically disabled) son before something awful could happen to him. Finding Dory goes deeper. The title character, afflicted from birth with a mental disability that makes it nearly impossible for her to focus or remember things after more than a few moments, goes on her own personal quest to rediscover her long-lost parents. It’s an emotional and at-times frustrating watch because you get so wrapped up and invested in Dory’s persistence and optimism despite her impairments, but like Disney/Pixar’s best, the ultimate reward is worth the journey. - Dave Trumbore
Director: Simon Wells
Writers: Cliff Ruby, Elana Lesser, David Steven Cohen, Roger S.H. Schulman
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Bob Hoskins, Bridget Fonda, Jim Cummings, Phil Collins, Jack Angel,
Balto, a blast from the past, brings the true story of a half-husky, half-wolf hero to life in fantastic animated form. Inspired by the real-life Balto, who led a dog team on the final leg of a 600 mile journey through the Alaskan winter to deliver medical supplies to help treat a diphtheria outbreak, Balto is an absolute classic that’s been all but forgotten. Thankfully, Netflix now has this 1995 film available for your viewing pleasure, which comes more than 90 years after the original story played out in the Alaskan wilderness. You owe it to Balto and his canine companions to give this movie a watch. - Dave Trumbore
Director: Henry Selick
Writers: Henry Selick, Neil Gaiman
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, Robert Bailey Jr., Ian McShane
If it’s spooky, quirky, stop-motion animation you’re looking for, look no further than Coraline. The Oscar-nominated adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved story earned Selick his only Oscar nomination and remains his last feature directorial effort to date. However, Coraline was also the first feature film for now-iconic stop-motion animation house LAIKA, which has gone on to make more Oscar-worthy fare like the recent Kubo and the Two Strings over the years.
Coraline tells the tale of the title character, an adventurous girl who discovers a parallel world to her own hidden away behind a door in her new house. Despite the denizens of this other world having buttons for eyes, they all seem to be much better alternatives to Coraline’s own neighbors, friends, and even her family. But those of you who know Gaiman’s storytelling style can probably guess that there’s much more to them than meets the (button) eye. Be prepared for a twisted yet delightful tale! - Dave Trumbore
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