17 animation masterpieces that you can stream
It has long been (fortunately) that animation ceased to be considered an expressive form of cinema and television relegated to children. Its multiplicity of forms, styles, arguments and aesthetics make up its own history, sometimes parallel to that of live image productions, sometimes following an independent path. And in that long history, centuries old like that of cinema, there are abundant masterpieces.
We have selected 17 of those essential pieces, as always adhering to personal criteria and debatable, and that you can find right now on streaming platforms. We invite you to include your titles in the comments and tell us what essential wonders you miss. Options, of course, you will not lack.
‘Spider-Man: A New Universe’ (2018)
Not just the best Spider-Man movie, but perhaps, the best superhero movie you can throw at your face. No one captures so creatively so many different aspects of masked fictions, from the ecstasy of the superpower to the meta reflection on continuity and the continuous soap opera nonsense, from the loneliness of the hero to the codes of apprentice and student. All this with an innovative staging and literally different from any other product of the genre, animated or not, and that pays tribute to the paper heroes while creating their own language. A true wonder.
‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ (2009)
Wes Anderson’s cinema, hyperaesthetic and somewhat prim, is subject to a thousand discussions. But the stop-motion animated films he has directed to date, ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox‘ e ‘Isle of Dogs‘, no: they are absolutely captivating. The first of them is based on a classic of children’s literature by Roald Dahl, and is a real delight at the level of scenery, design and script. Fast-paced and at the same time with spectacular visual lyrics, it is a milestone in animation. stop-motion that opens new commercial avenues for the genre. More like you, Wes.
Few anime classics are as utterly flawless as ‘Akira,’ who has not lost an iota of his energy and vibrant personality since 1988. Katsuhiro Otomo not only raised a visionary and credible NeoTokio (about to EXPLODE) (if you want more details go to the manga, also essential), but he also drew a vibrant story of friendship and absolutely immortal violence. Eerie kids with powers, motorcycles zipping through metal jungles, conspiracies in post-bomb Japan (not Hiroshima: the next one) … everything fits into an essential film.
‘Panic on the Farm’ (2009)
Don’t be fooled by its naive aesthetic and its plot apparently conceived by a hyperactive child: Indio and Cowboy, preparing a birthday party for their friend Caballo, receive a strange order for bricks that they will have to return while traveling off the farm. A crude language stop-motion with delightfully recognizable cowboy and Indian dolls make up the grammar of this paced wonder similar to a roller coaster with no brakes. Crazy fun with a French accent.
‘The Iron Giant’ (1999)
Before directing things like ‘The Incredibles’ or ‘Finding Nemo’ at Pixar, Brad Bird has already set this jewel in the last throes of traditional animation mainstream. An emotional story of friendship between a boy and a giant robot (voiced by Vin Diesel) destined to be a weapon of mass destruction, which is also a huge showcase of the expressive possibilities of animation as always, and to which computers still they are far from close. Nostalgic, hilarious and guaranteed to tear you down: keep an eye out for the influences of classic American illustrators like Norman Rockwell.
‘Perfect Blue’ (1997)
Belonging to the first batch of anime feature films that left Japan behind the cult of ‘Akira’ (despite having been released almost a decade later) and with the advantage of being aimed at an adult audience, but with a very different tone to Otomo’s masterpiece. In fact, this marvel by Satoshi Kon (another essential of Japanese animation: look for series like ‘Paranoia Agent‘or movies like’Millenium Actress‘) has a more Hitchcocknian tone than anything else, and poses a very classic suspense, with a former teen idol who wants to reorient her career being harassed by a lethal fan while reality and fantasy intermingle disturbingly.
‘South Park’ (1997-)
After a brief visit to Prime Video in its full version, a selection of episodes of ‘South Park’ can now be enjoyed on Netflix: seasons 1, 20, 21, 22 and 23 complete and a compilation of episodes from the rest of the seasons. That’s a good amount: some seventy episodes of the most foul-mouthed and incorrect series in television history, a long-lived living legend that continues to amaze with its corrosive ability to shoot in all directions. If you haven’t been offended at least once by ‘South Park’, something is wrong with you.
‘BoJack Horseman’ (2014-2020)
One of the undisputed modern classics of adult animation is this Netflix series created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, and which tells the story of an anthropomorphic horse who triumphed in the 1990s with a sitcom and who lives in a life of nostalgia for missed opportunities and unable to break through in the face of constant depression. One of the most incisive and profound series in recent years (we also count non-animation, of course), perfect proof of the incredible expressive and thematic tools of the animated format.
‘Gravity Falls’ (2012-2016)
The perfect proof that a series that dazzles adults and children can be just as fascinating in both registers. This story of a pair of brothers spending the best summer of their lives in the mysterious ‘Gravity Falls’ brims with nostalgia for the lost years of childhood, but also genuine childish delight in the wonder of constant discovery. With fast-paced, hilarious and highly intelligent humor and an absolutely devastating catalog of characters, ‘Gravity Falls’ is one of those reasons that alone justifies the Disney + share.
Absolutely the entire Adult Swim catalog that HBO has brought to Spain is an absolute must, but if you have to choose, the incredible ‘Primal’ is a must. A series without dialogue about the alliance between a prehistoric man and a terrifying saurian, directed by the great Genndy Tartakovsky, of extraordinary and hyperaesthetic violence and that, even with a blurred plot between dozens of combat to the death and images that remain on fire in the retinas, manages to trace an essential story of camaraderie and respect.
‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995)
Forget about the very weak real image adaptation: ‘Ghost in the Shell’, more than a quarter of a century after its premiere, continues to amaze by his visionary conception of a future dominated by artificial creatures, his influential vision of action and violence and his disturbing eroticism. Its thematic impact on things like ‘The Matrix’ is absolutely devastating, but this Mamoru Oshii masterpiece is much more than an influential anime – it is a more imaginative piece of historical science fiction.
‘The Jungle Book’ (1967)
Choosing a single film from among all the masterpieces that have come out of the Disney factory is an absolutely foolish task: from its timeless classics to the resurgence of the nineties, through all the modern wonders that Pixar has invoiced and that are now part of the catalog mammoth of the House of the Mouse. I am left with ‘The Jungle Book’ and its contagious song to freedom and to move the cuckoo no matter how adverse the circumstances.
‘Rick and Morty’ (2013-)
Animation for adults in the most frontal sense of the term (swearing, sex, violence), but also in the most suggestive: very complicated space-time paradoxes and arguments that look like an Escher lithograph son the core of this sensational sci-fi series which, paradoxically, has become a hit far beyond the reach of its original home, Adult Swim. A veritable avalanche of suggestive ideas that are not very common on television, seasoned with the coarse salt of a lifetime.
The Polish master of surreal animation Jan Svankmajer was the ideal creator to adapt the indomitable classic of the wildest children’s literature ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (which already gave rise to another undisputed masterpiece: the Disney version). Result: one of the biggest follies on this list, a mixture of nightmarish stop-motion and a master class on how to make other people’s delusions your own. Disturbing and atrocious, it draws poetry from the dreamlike absurdity and extreme mythical imagery of Carroll’s book.
‘Spirited Away’ (2001)
As with Disney, it is a ridiculous task trying to keep just one Studio Ghibli movie. Luckily you have them all on Netflix to enjoy them, from classics like ‘Porco Rosso’ to lesser-known delusions like ‘Pompoko’. This is an extraordinary starter if you do not know the films of Miyazaki’s studio, and also a splendid work of maturity if you already know his cinema thoroughly: the story of a girl who wanders through a magical country trying to save her parents is terrifying and surprising at the level of the best in the studio.
‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993)
Although today we have it very assimilated, and even somewhat burned, this marvel by Henry Selick produced by Tim Burton grabbed very traditional Christmas tale codes (essentially, ‘The Grinch’ by Dr. Seuss) and it totally refreshed them thanks to immortal character design and a plethora of absolutely stunning Danny Elfman songs. The result was not a success at the time, but the home video made it a cult classic, to the point of making Jack Skellington and his people an inescapable presence in the darkest Christmases.
Mortadelo and Filemón against Jimmy el Cachondo (2014)
I did not want to leave this list without a Spanish film, very different from the somewhat leaden torrent of imitations of foreign successes that often plague our contribution to the animated world (although not always: there are such great and recent things as’Klaus‘or’ Psychonauts’). And I have decided on this film by Javier Fesser, superior even to its famous precedent in real image. Although it is not absolutely round (oh, those dream sequences), his frenetic pace and how well he understands the essence of Ibáñez’s creation, brimming with visual poison, make it a real wonder.