The majority of moviegoers still think animated films only serve to cut the edges of reality, and in this way, to invent stories that are more digestible and more fairytale-like for children. Some may look at this genre as secondary compared to films that are shot in a traditional way.
Even if you have this mindset, after watching some animated adult films from this list, your idea about this form of art may be altered.
The word ‘animation’ comes from the Latin word ‘anima’, which means soul. The animator’s’ job is to fill something lifeless (an object, a drawing, a picture) with ‘soul’. The possibilities are endless; every animator on this list has his or her own unique style of telling a story. Some can really deliver the above mentioned fairytale atmosphere, but watching some others may make you forget that you are actually watching an animated film.
The common characteristic of the movies on this list is that their target audience are adult; this doesn’t necessarily mean that all of them are too gory or erotic for youngsters, but rather that they contain a message that would be hard to understand under a certain age.
1. Chico & Rita
Do you enjoy jazz and Cuban rhythms, or are you just a hopeless romantic? Well, this heart-rending animated film could be just the right pick for you. The three Spanish directors (Fernando Trueba, Tono Errando, and Javier Mariscal) paint a mesmerizing picture of 1940’s Havana, and tell the story of a young Cuban pianist who falls in love with a woman named Rita the second he hears her singing for the first time.
Although it is fictional, some of the characters are based on real people, mostly jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Chano Pozo. Chico’s character also shows significant similarities with the life and appearance of Bebo Valdés, who happened to be the composer of the music of the film, which was dedicated to him. Also, aside from Cuba, the viewers get some insight of the jazz scene of New York and Paris as well.
The neat mixture of the animation and authentic music makes you feel like you are dancing a passionate rumba in the outskirts of Havana.
2. The Art of Happiness
The debut feature (original title: “L’arte della felicità”) of cartoonist Alessandro Rak as a director allows you to witness the inner journey of Sergio, who drives around the rainy city of Naples with his uncle’s taxi.
Sergio is an ex-pianist who has lost a grip on his life since his brother, with whom he used to play music, left the country to be a Buddhist monk. When his brother passes away, he feels completely lost and he struggles to face the facts, along with his family and his own life.
Passengers come and go and he sees various approaches toward life, and various battles for survival and happiness. Even though he is not religious, his brother’s Buddhism has an undeniable effect on his point of view. It is a touching and melancholic story of a man looking for his place in the Samsara, and a perfect watch on a grey day or even during a life crisis.
This is probably the most realistic stop-motion film you may get the chance to watch; the puppets and the props are printed in 3D and the shooting style follows a classical method. The viewer could easily forget that there are no real actors on the screen. It is directed and produced by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, based on Kaufman’s play.
Michael, the hero of the story, is a customer service expert who attends a convention at a hotel called ‘The Fregoli’ (hint here!). He feels he had lost himself in his grey life with his wife and child, and his past haunts him as well. At the hotel, he meets a shy woman named Lisa, whose company soothes his mood and makes him feel alive again. They both start to feel close to each other, but Michael starts to have delusions and is not able to tell the difference between dreams and reality, and more shockingly, he is not able to tell the difference between people as well.
Based on Paco Roca’s comic and directed by Ignacio Ferreras (original title: “Arrugas”), this Spanish cartoon takes place in a home for the elderly. It represents the rare case of overwhelming success equally between the audience as well as the critics.
As we know, being old is not a joyride, and living in a humdrum nursing home can be incredibly grey and hopeless. Watching this, one can realize that life relentlessly goes away and we end up in a prison of our own decaying body. The clean-cut animation style is a perfect match for the theme; in fact, it is rather relaxing. To save your dignity, you try to not lose your marbles; you have to keep yourself busy. Waiting for the end can be fun sometimes, and even if you could do everything to reclaim your independence in the end, no one can dodge the inevitable. Or can they?
“Flatland” is based on a 19th century novel, “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions”. The main character is a two-dimensional square living in a two dimensional world, and has no idea that the society around him has no clue about any other dimension’s existence. This includes him, until the day that somebody visits them from ‘above’, from the 3rd dimension.
Don’t get uneasy due to the scientific topic; even without any knowledge of geometry, this film is lively and entertaining. We learn the problems of a 3000-year-old 2D empire on the edge of an existential crisis, and the protagonist discovers the importance (and the existence) of a point of view when he manages to leave the 2nd dimension for the first time in his life. It is definitely a criticism to our society, notably the hierarchies in the Victorian era.
The animation style is simple and bold, and makes you realize that you don’t need to use complicated animation techniques to be stimulating. This film is not to be mixed up with “Flatland: The Movie”, which is a short film (based on the same book).
6. Waltz with Bashir
The only documentary and possibly the heaviest piece on this list was written and directed by Ari Folman. The plot is mostly based on the director’s personal memories of the 1982 Lebanon War, including the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which claimed an abundant number of civilian lives.
Yoni Goodman, the animator of the film, used a unique mix of flash animation and classical animation technique creating a comic book-like atmosphere.
Despite the fact that it is animated and spiced with great music from the 80s, it makes you gloomy inside, and shows the hellish and inhumane elements of war. No wonder, even for the main character (the director himself), it is easier to hide these horrid memories and forget you participated in such events. Through the movie, he talks to his friends and others who were there to pick up the pieces and sort out what really happened. The result is “Waltz with Bashir”, which is unsurprisingly an un-cheerful dance.
7. Extraordinary Tales
In his second feature film, Raul Garcia delivers us a real peculiar 5-in-1 deal. Unlike the other films on this list, “Extraordinary Tales” contains five different stories written by Edgar Allan Poe (“The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Masque of the Red Death”).
The production started as a short film project based on the comic book by Alberto Breccia, featuring Bela Lugosi as a narrator. Since Lugosi passed away in 1956, they used the archival recording of the story read by him, giving a new meaning of the expression “beyond the grave.” After the success of “The Tell-Tale Heart”, the director decided to add four more stories connected with the conversation of the Death and Poe as a crow.
Each story has a different 3D animation style, but at the same time, they are equally able make you feel Poe’s eternal struggle with his demons. All of the narrators have had a close connection to the horror genre before, partly because Garcia’s prime directive was to make it as authentic and Poe-esque as possible.
Poe fans will be able to notice plenty of references to the poet’s life and legacy, such as the roses and brandy at the end in memory of the ‘Poe Toaster’.