The Lion King, the Toy Story franchise, WALL-E — these are all champions of their field, every Tom, Dick, and Harry knows those names and has watched at least one of them. They are titles that often work for all age groups, unimpeded by the myth that animated features are for kids. Such films are thin on the ground though — those that your six-year-old preschooler can enjoy as much as you, those that have significance beyond entertainment, and those that can stand the test of time. Here are some animated films, available online, maybe not as widespread but are equally admirable and impactful.
What nudged Santa Claus into giving toys to children during Christmas? This film has a very peculiar interpretation of his origin story — where a rich, postal politician banishes his son to an island where Klaus lives, making him deliver over six thousand letters in a year, which laters turns into leaving gifts and lumps of coal with children alongside Klaus at night. It’s a simple, delightful journey — from selfishness to selflessness. There is warmth in the wintry village and compassion amidst grudging communities.
The 12 Tasks of Asterix (Amazon Prime Video)
Asterix, known for his fearlessness and valiance in the comics, is nothing short of a gallant warrior in this 1976 Franco-Belgian film. While its animations don’t hold up to our current 3D, Pixar-accustomed palettes, its plot remains just as pleasurable and cheerful as the Asterix and Obelix series. After being challenged by Julius Caesar to complete twelve tasks, the duo embark on an adventure trying to carry out tasks that only Gods have been able to do — putting together a tale of hard work and perseverance.
The Book of Life (Disney+ Hotstar)
Visually striking and colourful, The Book of Life is an enchanting story about a romance being withered by a conniving and greedy man. Here, wooden figurines are brought to life in the Mexican land of the dead — through which their folk and culture is celebrated with glory and style. Produced by Guillermo del Toro, the film’s imagery is vibrant and flavourful, it swoops you into a realm of music and spirit.
Kung Fu Panda (Amazon Prime Video and Netflix)
The protagonist, a panda, works at a noodle restaurant, worships kung fu masters, and later, faces off against a nefarious snow leopard. Little of it makes sense, even in the bizarre universe of animated films. But the blossoming, nerdish personality of Po, the lead, doesn’t let you remember any of that. It’s not the first or the last film to sermonise the idea of “never giving up,” but there is a certain charm in seeing a collector of action figures, an indolent slug, turn into an animal-bashing Bruce Lee.
Pinocchio (1940) (Disney+ Hotstar)
Pinocchio and his nose are hallmarks of Disney and popular culture. It goes back to the late 1800s and is almost common knowledge even now. The chances are, you know this story well — a woodworker’s puppet is brought to life, and the fairy that does this deed tells Pinocchio that he has to remain honest and unselfish if he wants to remain alive. Despite its overt moral message, this Disney classic is never overbearing and remains timelessly magical.
Animated spaghetti Westerns are few and far between and especially those that look like they’ve come straight out of Sergio Leone’s filmography. The animation is meticulously detailed, all complemented by Hans Zimmer’s striking score. Set in the wild west, the film follows Rango, a sheriff, who helps solve the mystery behind his town’s water crisis. This Academy Award winner is similar to most Westerns — the metamorphosis of a man from a coward to a hero. But it is the inventiveness of this movie that makes it freakishly exceptional.
Hercules (1997) (Disney+ Hotstar)
Part of the Disney Renaissance, this story is a loose adaptation of the Greek and Roman mythologies — where Hercules, a celestial human, needs to earn back the Olympian immortality he lost in infancy. Hades, played by James Woods, is divinely menacing, not to the extent that would frighten the wits out of children but one as memorable as Robin Williams in Aladdin. This is a fable on moral redemption, peppered with musicals and wisecracks to suit those younger viewers as well.
The Polar Express (Amazon Prime Video and Netflix)
As Tom Hanks says, “It doesn’t matter where they [trains] are going, what matters is deciding to get on,” the film takes a definitive turn into becoming an adventure epic. A young child decides to board a train that takes a trip to the North Pole every Christmas, in the hope of meeting Santa Claus. Director Robert Zemeckis adds tenderness to this roller-coaster ride of a train, the thrill and adrenaline are constantly offset with unrestrained emotional punches.
Flushed Away (Netflix)
It takes an innovative plot and equally solid negotiation to get Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet to play sewer rats in an animated feature, and its uniqueness is what makes this film stand out amongst others. The equivalent of a high-brow, English gentleman, Roddy, a rat, accidentally gets flushed away into the sewer inhabited by rats, toads, and rodents. Regardless of its scatological title, Flushed Away is sweetly silly and consistent — it is the perfect story for a few hours’ respite.
The Gruffalo (Amazon Prime Video)
Based on a children’s book, this Academy Award-nominated short continues to be a testament to the ability of short films to remain as engrossing as long-form films. The movie chronicles a mouse trying to dodge a set of predators along the forest he is in. It is intimate and focused. It is not simply the action that shows the mouse’s resilience, it is a combination of James Corden’s compelling voiceover and phenomenal animations.
Peter Pan (1953) (Disney+ Hotstar)
Here is the archetypal Disney fantasy — there are fairies, a Neverland, a sinister villain, and a hero who cannot be loved more. This is Disney at its most classic and finest. This film, pretty transparently, is the kind where it grows more and more engaging as you suspend disbelief — as the luminous Tinker Bell and Peter Pan fly about and cause their rumpuses, you are reminded of the carefree entertainment you need every once in a while.
Inside Out (Disney+ Hotstar)
You probably have heard of this film or have seen it, but there are films that warrant multiple viewings where you have a distinct experience in each one. And Inside Out has rightfully earnt that position. Quite literally a cauldron of emotions, we see a series of personified emotions through an eleven-year-old’s mind. Even after having a narrative so magnified that it focuses on the mental faculties of one person, it remains universal and penetrating.
The Little Prince (Netflix)
Another splendid film by Mark Osborne, director of Kung Fu Panda, this here is the story of a young girl trying to fit into a world filled with adults, their desires and their authority. It is irresistibly beautiful, all backed by the youthful charm of Mackenzie Foy, who voices the child and Rachel McAdams, her fictional mother. The two plots, that harmonise each other, are put together delicately, leaving us with one lesson — the transience of life.
How To Train Your Dragon (Amazon Prime Video and Netflix)
Hachi, Marley and Me, A Dog’s Purpose are all tales of men with an affinity for their pets. This, too, is one of them. Except here, the pet is a toothless dragon. Their world is fiction, characters otherworldly, and emotions real. Hiccup, a Viking, instead of maiming a dragon terrorising his village, he befriends him — it’s a soaring fable of humanity, on bonding and companionship, and most importantly, acceptance.
Spirited Away (Netflix)
Chihiro, a ten-year-old, is going back home and on the way, her family enters a town consumed by spirits, who later convert her parents into pigs. What starts as a grim, illusionary plot is, in fact, Chihiro’s bridge to self-discovery. Writer and director Hayao Miyazaki builds an environment so intricate and gorgeous, that it looks like one straight out of a fairytale. It is a mix of the real and the surreal, enough to captivate the younger audiences and haunt the older ones.