When it comes to the global stage, the largest companies have the upper hand in presenting their art to the world. Because of this, many projects are denied the spotlight they deserve, even if they do get recognized by the critics and their peers. From myths and folktale to adventures in fantasy realms and experimental animated films, these are the 25 most underrated movies we’ve discovered.
1. Ernest et Celestine (Ernest and Celestine, 2012)
Based on a children’s book series of the same name written by Gabrielle Vincent, Ernest et Celestine is a French-Belgian animated feature film that earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film in 2014. It is a hand-drawn 2D animated film with watercolour painted backgrounds and a playful, yet serene score that perfectly embellishes the art.
This beautifully animated movie tells a story of an unlikely friendship between a bear (Ernest) and a mouse (Celestine) in a world where bears and mice are the greatest adversaries. With incredibly winsome and lovable characters, this charming story features some of the sweetest and warmest displays of kindness and friendship expressed in the simplest ways imaginable. Showing what it means to cherish someone and be cherished in return, this one is an unmissable experience.
2. Mary and Max (2009)
Written and directed by Adam Elliot, this film tells a profoundly emotional and psychologically heavy story in one of the simplest ways imaginable. Made as claymation, the movie focuses on a young girl from Australia who one day decides to write to an unknown person whose name she learned from a phonebook. The man, who became her pen pal, is a forty-four-year-old living in New York.
Through their story, we get to see the world through the eyes of a lonely girl from a broken home who is fighting through life in search of happiness, and a lonesome, severely obese middle-aged man whose mental health makes everyday life and maintaining connections with others a great challenge, as he simply lives his life day by day. This bittersweet story sheds light on many things which are taken for granted in everyday life and is yet another display of a friendship that is nothing short from estimable.
3. Song of the Sea (2014)
Based on an Irish legend of the selkie, Song of the Sea is a beautiful, enchanting tale of 2 siblings journeying through a magical world, struggling to unveil its mysteries. The story of sibling and parental love is entwined in the fantasy adventure set in a bewitching world. Stunning animation, along with incredibly sweet, loveable characters and tender musical score, earned this 2D animated film an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film in 2015.
4. The Secret of Kells (2009)
Set during the time when the Vikings raided the Irish lands, The Secret of Kells‘ medieval setting achieved through 2D animation successfully merged the aesthetic of the old times with modern animation and presented a story rooted in history. Brimming with references from folktale, Irish legends and religion, the movie focuses on an Irish village to which The Book of Kells was brought by a master illuminator.
The artistic approach to this historical and fantastical tale resulted in one of the most ravishing, impactful, and acclaimed animated feature films of all time. The first widely-recognised, masterful achievement directed by Tomm Moore was awarded an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film in 2010.
5. Wolfwalkers (2020)
The latest installment in Tomm Moore’s directorial filmography of animated feature films, which he co-directed with Ross Stewart, is a touching story about friendship connecting 2 girls struggling to overcome the fear, hatred, and ignorance of those around them, a story about family and a desire to protect and defend what one holds dear.
The vividness of the colorful, enchanting artwork is beautifully accompanied by fairytale-like musical scores and the most memorable animation sequences, granting this movie a spot on the list of most acclaimed animated features ever. Wolfwalkers is another masterful cinematic achievement nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.
6. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
This wonderfully witty stop-motion animated film is nothing short of fantastic. Directed by one of the most distinguished Hollywood directors, Wes Anderson, the movie features lively, comic characters and writing, both fantastically embellished by the animation style, great voice acting, character design, and upbeat musical score. A group of animals comes together in order to defend their neighborhood from 3 notorious farmers.
This heartwarming and fantastically amusing movie, featuring names such as George Clooney, Meryl Street, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Willem Dafoe, is considered a triumphant achievement in animation and filmmaking overall.
7. Isle of Dogs (2018)
Another animated feature from the exceptionally crafty storyteller and director, Wes Anderson. Isle of Dogs is teeming with details in both the writing and animation sequences. The peculiar adventure takes place on an isle littered with rubbish and waste, on which a boy crashes into his aircraft in search of his dog. Mainly, dogs have been outcasts from human society and are condemned to dwell on the isle, scraping for food in the befouled environment.
Anderson’s recognizable charm in both writing and animation, along with superb voice acting performances by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand, Scarlet Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, and Bob Balaban (among others), make the key points in this humorous adventure convey the social message of the film without fail, while also being incredibly entertaining.
8. It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012)
The complexity behind this perplexing experimental animated film is utterly gripping. Written, photographed, directed, narrated and produced by Don Hertzfeldt, this movie brings a unique portrayal of a shattered mind. A person’s struggle with mental illness and the role they play in the universe, all entwined in a visually captivating and peculiar animated film that will not leave its viewers indifferent.
9. Over the Garden Wall (2014)
Arguably one of CartoonNetworks most overlooked projects, Over the Garden Wall started off as a 9 minutes long animated feature created by Katie Krentz and Patrick McHale. The imaginative odyssey crosses the border of the mundane to venture into a magical realm veiled in mystery. The potential was recognized quite soon, and a mini-series was made in 2014, starring Elijah Wood, Collin Dean, and Melanie Lynskey.
The peculiar story filled with metaphors, follows 2 brothers who, in their attempt to find a way back home, travel together through the enchanted forest, witnessing various stories of the strangers they come across, and ultimately learning about each other and the meaning of a brotherly bond. With likable and interesting characters, comedic writing, an alluring narrative, captivating musical score, and underlying messages in every episode, these 10 episodes make for one adventurous evening watch.
10. Iron Giant (1999)
Another tale of a friendship that opposes the views and teachings of the ignorant and apprehensive, The Iron Giant is a beautiful story that connects a young boy and a giant robot that came from outer space. The well-known idea of “fear of the unknown” being the catalyst of people’s wrongdoings has matured into a lovely, picturesque, and bittersweet story of kindness and warmth standing against paranoia and destruction. One of the most memorable animated films, directed by Brad Bird and starring Eli Marienthal, Vin Diesel, and Jennifer Aniston (among others), was inspired by Ted Hughes’ book The Iron Man.
11. Wallace and Gromit (1989)
Wallace and Gromit started their adventures in a short film back in 1989. The pilot, titled A Grand Day Out, immediately appealed to the audience with its witty, comedic writing, claymation as its go-to style, and incredibly likable characters whose chemistry functioned amazingly on the small screen. Years later, the Wallace and Gromit franchise finally got a full-length animated installment. The Curse of the Wererabbit is as humorous and adventurous as can be. The film won the favor of the critics and took home an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2006.
12. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
From the writer and director Satoshi Kon, comes a story of a baby born on Christmas Eve and its 3 godfathers. This splendidly animated feature follows 3 homeless people living in the streets of Tokyo, whose lives get shaken by the appearance of a baby they found among the trash out in the street. Caring for the child and searching for its mother, the 3 journey through the city and face their past, as well as the judgment and abhorrence of the society.
The movie brings forth matters of social importance, as it portrays hardships people can face in the world and how little mercy is left for those who seem to have lost themselves at some point in their lives. Grasping for a second chance, redemption, and a new beginning, this film simply portrays life within modern society in an indelible manner.
13. Klaus (2019)
One of the warmest films to have graced the small screens in the past few years, Klaus is a harbinger of kindness and goodness we all needed. Beautifully themed, the story is set around Christmas – the most wonderful time of the year.
Following a spoiled, selfish young man doomed by his father to perform an impossible task in a remote town in which a local war has been ongoing for decades, the superbly written and beautifully animated film starts to crack the hostile, grim shell and brings color into the forgotten part of the world. As one good deed sparks another, the people of Smeerensburg begin to exchange violence with kindness and see their town change, with just a little help from a postman and a toy maker.
14. Balto (1995)
Loosely based on real-life events, Balto is a story of an outcast husky that led the sled carrying medicine to a remote town that was cut off due to a heavy storm. As his mother was a wolf, Balto was deemed a dangerous stray and rejected by the very townspeople he helped rescue.
The movie features a group of somewhat goofy characters; two polar bears voiced by Phil Collins, and a snow goose called Boris, who together with a husky called Jenna aid Balto on his quest to bring the medicine to Nome. This courageous adventure, which showcases the struggle and the importance of accepting who you are and being at peace with it, is a rather forgotten gem, dating back to VHS days.
15. Us Again (2021)
Us Again is an incredibly upbeat short animated film about an elderly couple reigniting the spark that bound them in the past, and ultimately making peace with the passing of time. The jazz score superbly celebrates the passion of two young people who are in love with each other and have a whole lifetime ahead of them.
The blues of old age and the dying spark that used to ignite the joy and passion they shared are masterfully set as the climax of the movie, after which Us Again ends in a beautiful depiction of life as is. With playful animation, this movie is an irreplaceable addition to Disney+ and Disney’s short films library as a whole.
16. Burrow (2020)
Arriving at the small screens from Disney’s Pixar Studios, Burrow is a precious story of a home. In the beginning of one’s independent life, creating a home is invaluable. The precious animation and art style, along with a high-spirited score and incredibly sweet characters, make for an incredibly heartwarming short film about home and friendship which was among the Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Short Film in 2021.
17. Changing Batteries (2015)
A story of an elderly woman who lives alone in a small house in the countryside and is given a help-o bot was turned into a 3D animated short film as a final year animation production project at Multimedia University, Cyberjaya, Malaysia. The low-budget short is one of the most beautiful displays of care, compassion, and kindness, all making for a genuine message of love and sincerity that graced the small screens.
18. Destino (2003)
The collaboration between Salvador Dali and Walt E. Disney is an absolutely ravishing display of pure art and emotion growing in intensity and brimming with passion. The animation masterfully portrays a tragic love story between Chronos and his mundane lover, as they venture through a gallery of Dali’s surreal paintings in astonishing animation sequences beautifully embellished by a composition performed by Dora Luz and written by Armando Dominguez.
The enchanting movie came into being more than half a century after the collaboration between the two artists commenced, and it is truly a celebration of the 2 artists’ joint effort.
19. Quest for Camelot (1998)
Another forgotten adventure from VHS days, the WB production animated fantasy is set during Arthur’s rule in Camelot. A young, courageous girl sets off on a quest to find the missing sword, Excalibur, and return it to its rightful owner and the one true King.
The movie features zestful voice acting performances by Gary Oldman as Ruber (the main villain), Eric Idle and Don Rickles as the two-headed dragon, Gabriel Byrne as Lionel and Pierce Brosnan as King Arthur, as well as a memorable score and singing performances by Celine Dion, Bryan White and Andrea Corr. The song titled The Prayer granted this film a place on the list of Academy Award nominees for Best Music, Original Song.
20. Vincent (1982)
One of Tim Burton’s early projects, Vincent tells a story about a young boy, named Vincent Malloy, who’s always polite and well-behaved, but aspires to be like Vincent Price. An amazingly written narrative visualized in Tim Burton’s recognizable style is a wonderfully charismatic black-and-white piece from 1982, starring Vincent Price himself.
21. Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)
One of the most enjoyable and entertaining adventures on the open sea. Sinbad ventures on a quest to find the stolen Book of Peace and save his childhood friend’s life. Featuring a goddess Eris, who framed him for the theft she committed, Sinbad is challenged by more than the unsteady waters as his quest progresses. The amazing cast, among which are Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Joseph Fiennes, create a delightfully amusing atmosphere, ultimately conveying the importance of friendship, loyalty, and integrity.
22. Hotarubi no mori e (To the Forest of Firefly Lights, 2011)
The bittersweet story of a young girl that grew closer to a mysterious ghost, Gin, who helped her find a way out of the forest when she had gotten lost as a child. As she grew older, she visited the forest summer after summer, and Gin was always awaiting her arrival. While he has the appearance of a young boy, he is neither human nor a spirit.
A spell that had been cast on him by the mountain God allowed him to keep on living among the spirits, but also made human touch fatal to his fragile body. This serene, gentle fantasy bewilders with its simplicity and amazes with its compelling narrative of genuine joy, devotion, and affection.
23. Byôsoku 5 senchimêtoru (Five Centimeters per Second, 2007)
Composed of 3 parts, Byôsoku 5 senchimêtoru is a love story, unlike all happily-ever-afters. This emotional drama exposes young love to the passing of time and leaves it at its mercy. The speed that the petals fall is 5 centimeters per second – this fleeting moment suggests the evanescent love story of 2 people whose heartfelt desire for one more chance lingered throughout their lives, as they went day by day trying to move on.
24. Anastasia (2007)
Oftentimes mistaken for a Disney film, Anastasia is an animated film about the last of the Romanov family. Young Anastasia who seeks to unravel her past and reunite with the family she lost. The musical numbers and vivid animation allow the story of this princess to shine and easily claim a spot on our list.
25. Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya, 2013)
Written and directed by Isao Takahata, this Ghibli movie is an incredible, magical tale of a mysterious young princess who was found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an elderly bamboo cutter. With stunning animation and masterful storytelling, Kaguya-hime no Monogatari is a timeless tale that resonates with the audiences, as it effortlessly blends the olden setting with fantasy and a story of a young lady brimming with life, curiosity, and joy.