Animated films often offer a bit of escapism, roping us into fantastical candy-colored worlds and investing us in the lives of scrappy heroes and heroines. Animation can also explore the human condition and play with darker themes and emotions. Here are some animated films on Netflix that do both.
1) World of Tomorrow
Don Hertzfeldt previously released shorts like “My Anus Is Bleeding,” but this 2015 short tackles a more abstract idea: how we shape and store memories. A young girl is taken on a journey 227 years into the future by her third-generation clone. Digital transfers of consciousness are a reality and loved ones’ faces can be stretched over robot faces, so they can live (and terrify us) forever. This vision of the future is a lonely one—her clone falls in love with fuel pumps and rocks—but there’s humanity deep within Hertzfeldt’s spare line drawings.
This Disney film explores a world where mammals live peacefully together and have human jobs, but Lt. Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) finds out it’s still not easy to be the first bunny cop. It’ll make you sympathize with sloths, elephants, and rodents, and perhaps that’s why Disney employed an interesting marketing strategy: aiming the film at people in the furry community.
3) The Little Prince
An adaptation of the classic children’s book, this version exists as a story within a story. Director Mark Osborne employs two different styles of animation to contrast the modern setting of the film with the more well-known style of the book. When the Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) meets her eccentric neighbor the Aviator (Jeff Bridges), the story gets a charming update.
You ever watched Fantasia? You ever watched Fantasia… on weed? The 1940 Disney classic has no doubt induced many drug-fueled viewings, but 75 years later, it remains an experimental melding of orchestra and animation, and in the internet age, it’s become a crucial text for conspiracy theorists and Disney fans alike. What other movie can you say that about?
5) It’s Such a Beautiful Day
This is another Don Hertzfeldt jam, though much heavier than World of Tomorrow. Philosophical explorations are the foundation of many of Hertzfeldt's works, and in his first feature-length film, we follow a stick figure named Bill through different points in his life. It’s Such a Beautiful Day doesn’t follow a traditional narrative, as Bill is afflicted with memory loss and the film mirrors that fractured feel. However, its blank spaces allow for reflection, anchored by a stirring soundtrack.
6) BoJack Horseman Christmas Special
Netflix’s original series BoJack Horseman has evolved since debuting in 2014, moving from an exploration of fame and depression to a satirical look at Hollywood ethics. As with any good sitcom, it debuted a Christmas special in 2014, and rest assured there will be no heartwarming lessons or holiday cheer, just the thud of reality.