The 15 Most Beautiful Animated Movies Ever

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson’s first stab at animation is still his best. Based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book of the same name, Fantastic Mr. Fox made a great argument that our most symmetrical auteur was meant to work in animation this entire time. Animated at just 12 frames per second, Fantastic Mr. Fox ‘s stop-motion animation proved to be the perfect outlet for Anderson’s meticulous idiosyncrasies and his fantastical visual style. That odd blend of childlike wonder and adult humor that pervades all his films fell comfortably into place with Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s story of a trickster fox who returns to a life of crime for one last disastrous job.

4. Akira

Katsuhiro Otomo’s masterpiece of animation looks, acts, and breathes like a live-action film, but goes places that live-action could never dream. Every frame of this 1988 anime film is painstakingly animated, right down to the vibrant colors, the intricate backgrounds, and the groundbreaking depiction of light. Animated strictly through traditional cel animation, Akira manages to look both painfully realistic and eerily uncanny at the same time. You know how Pixar was lauded for mimicking live-action camera movements with WALL-E? Otomo does all that and more with Akira, and by hand. The bright lights of Neo-Tokyo pulsate and glow, while the city itself brims with such life that it feels like it could emerge from the screen. And that’s not even getting to the film’s heart-pounding bike sequences and disturbing shocks of body horror, all barreling toward a weird, metaphysical finale.

3. Waltz With Bashir

Waltz With Bashir is perhaps the most unique entry in this list, boasting an animation style that was created solely for this film alone. A documentary about the experiences of a 19-year-old IDF infantry soldier during the Lebanon War, Waltz With Bashir is animated through a combination of Adobe Flash cutouts and classic animation in a unique style invented by Yoni Goodman at the Bridgit Folman Film Gang studio in Israel. Not to be confused with rotoscoping — though the animation’s uncanny realism and bold lines would make that an easy mistake to make — it’s not dissimilar to the cut-outs used in The Adventures of Prince Achmed, but done in a much more painstaking manner: each animated hand drawn puppet is sliced into hundreds of pieces and moved in relation to one another to create the illusion of movement. All that hard work paid off, resulting in a stark, surrealistic animated film that feels like a cross between a comic book and the manifestation of memory.

2. Paprika

I don’t think I’ve seen anything as imaginative, anything as bold, and as weird as Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. Sure, live-action films have tried to imitate its premise to lesser effect — you can see its influence in Inception and other mind-bending films that try to capture the effect of dreams. But nothing beats this epoch of Japanese animation (well, apart from the No. 1 choice). Kon plays with our perceptions in an elusive and almost invisible way in his final feature film. In his more grounded, but still surreal, dramas you can see it: his reality-distorting editing in Perfect Blue, his quick inserts and cuts in Millennium Actress. Kon is firing on all cylinders with 2006’s Paprika, which takes his envelope-pushing directorial flourishes and applies them to the world of dreams in a story following psychologist who enters her patients’ dreams. It’s a simple premise that begets a rather convoluted story, but in the end, this cerebral oddity of a film is something better experienced than explained.

1. The Garden of Words

“In the mornings, in the moment I woke up, I realized I was praying for rain.” Makoto Shinkai, the director behind last year’s global mega-hit Your Name, has become known for layering metaphysical plots onto photorealistic renderings of modern-day Tokyo. Together with his studio CoMix Wave Films, Shinkai brings to magical, ethereal life the otherwise unremarkable settings of Tokyo’s streets — usually under a hazy layer of rain, snow, cherry blossoms, or a combination of all three. But boy, no one can animate rain like Shinkai. Especially in The Garden of Words, the anime filmmaker’s 2013 short film that follows a teenage boy who keeps running into a mysterious 20-something woman at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden where they both take shelter on rainy mornings. Using a combination of hand-drawn animation, rotoscoping and computer animation, Shinkai expands this barebones premise into a tender, atmospheric experience that envelops the viewer and turns mundane scenery into pure visual poetry.

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