Animation is an illusion-like art process that has been present for thousands of years, one of the earliest examples of animation being cave paintings. Of course, a more modern example of animation would have to be movies that are shown in theatres around the world.
Animated films have been a key element in the film industry for over 100 years, having entertained millions of people worldwide. We have witnessed many companies, such as Walt Disney Animation Studios and Warner Bros Animation, producing memorable films like The Lion King and The Iron Giant. With animation being a key element in the film industry, there has been many ideas from many creative minds; many are scrapped, but many are produced into an actual film. Although they are made, they are placed in the shadows of bigger and more memorable movies of such companies like Disney.
What are these films? What are they about? What happened to the films that caused them to stay undiscovered? Without further delay, here are 15 great animation films that, for one reason or other, no one has heard of.
15. The Black Cauldron
For many die-hard Disney fans, they’ll know what this movie is, but for the rest, this may seem like a completely unfamiliar movie to them. In the 1980s, Disney made many movies that were underrated and sometimes forgotten, such as Oliver & Company. Even though they were sometimes forgotten, many could recall them if they were shown an image or a clip. With the 1985 film The Black Cauldron, though, it’s a different story.
The story takes place in the land of Prydain, where the main protagonist, Taran (voiced by Grant Bardsley), wishes to become a knight. He is given a chance to prove himself knight material when he is called to save Hen Wen from the Horned King (voiced by John Hurt) as well as finding the Black Cauldron before the Horned King does. With the power of the Black Cauldron, the Horned King can summon an army of the undead, reigning down his evil upon the land. Taran, and with the help from his friends, plan to get the cauldron before the Horned King does.
14. The Brave Little Toaster
The Brave Little Toaster… yes, you read that right. Another example of an underrated movie Disney made during the 80s. Question is, why on Earth would Disney create a film about talking appliances? The answer is, why not?! The Brave Little Toaster was released in 1989 and was directed by Jerry Rees. The film had a budget of $2.3 million and made an estimated $2.3 million at the box office. The film is based on the book of the same name.
The story takes place in an abandoned cabin, where five appliances (Toaster, Blanky, Radio, Lampy, and a vacuum cleaner who went by the name Kirby) grow lonely. They miss their owner, or what they call “master,” and are waiting for him to come back home. Finally growing tired of waiting, they decide to go and find him, traveling on a dangerous journey through the wilderness and the big city.
Interesting plot for a movie about appliances, but surprisingly, Disney made it work. At that point, I think Disney could’ve made any movie based on a random set of objects. Heck, they could probably write a musical about potatoes. Any who, The Brave Little Toaster has a sort of watered down animation compared to other Disney films, but the story is surprisingly interesting enough to lure you back to watch more.
13. Cats Don’t Dance
Cats Don’t Dance. What an odd idea for an animated film, but it works! The film was directed by Mark Dindal and was released in 1997. Having a budget of $32 million, the film unfortunately only made $3.6 million at the box office. Pretty rough for an animated film.
The story is about a cat named Danny traveling from his hometown of Kokomo, Indiana to Hollywood, California in order to become an actor. Throughout his time there, he meets many animals such as himself who have become accustomed to Hollywood and have accepted the fact that humans aren’t looking for animal actors. With Danny’s inspiration and hope, he tries to encourage the other animals to use their talents to aspire to become actors. While he’s doing this, the antagonist of the film, Darla Dimple, who appears to be a parody of child actress Shirley Temple, has a plan to ruin the animals’ possible acting careers.
Despite its not-so-successful run at the box office, this film isn’t half bad. The music is like any other Disney musical, the characters are charming and funny in their own ways, and the animation itself is quite smooth. If you’re looking for a film that’s different, but it’s a good film to see, watch this one.
12. Watership Down
Alright, cute little rabbits. What could go wrong with that? I’m kidding, don’t show any child this movie. Watership Down is an animated drama and thriller directed by Martin Rosen. The film was released in 1978 and unfortunately didn’t do as well in the United States. With a budget of $4 million, the film fell a little under $4 million at the box office. As for the United Kingdom, the film was a grand success.
The story is about the young rabbit protagonist, Fiver, having a vision of the end of their home. In order to ensure survival from the end, Fiver and his friends travel away from their home in order to find a new one. On their journey, they face several obstacles along the way, from wild animals to snares. They have a long journey ahead of them, but anything is worth it in order to ensure their survival.
What’s interesting about this movie is it appears as if it were a kids film. But once you sit down and watch the film, which by the way has lots of death, blood and emotions to it, you get a feel that this film is not supposed to be for kids. There are many themes that can be taken from the film, whether it be survival or the relationship of man and nature, which makes Watership Down almost like a poetic animated story. Overall, many people have no idea what this British animated film is, but it’s one that requires time and plenty of tissues, because this film is a tear jerker.
11. The Last Unicorn
Remember in that movie Ferngully: The Last Rainforest the goal or the point of the movie was for the fairy and the human to stop a machine from destroying the last rainforest? This movie has a similar plot, but with a fantasy twist. The Last Unicorn was released in 1982 and was directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass. The film doesn’t have a specified budget, but it did make a little over $6 million.
The story is about an evil king named King Haggard (voiced by Christopher Lee) who plans to eliminate all of the world’s unicorns. Hearing this news, a unicorn (voiced by Mia Farrow) leaves her home in search of finding a solution in stopping King Haggard. She comes across a sorcerer named Schmendrick (voiced by Alan Arkin) who helps the unicorn in her long and dangerous journey to stop King Haggard and to ensure the continuation of her kind.
This film is a prime example of the animation styles of the late 70s and early 80s; mellow colors, a sort of old feel to it, etc. Even though it may seem like a product of its time, it still is quite captivating to watch and if you’re someone who likes unicorns, this is a fantastic movie for you!
10. The Great Mouse Detective
This is another example of one of Disney’s many underrated films, but the difference between this one and the rest is that this one was, in the words of David Spade, ama-za-zing!
The Great Mouse Detective was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker and was released in 1986. Luckily for this film, the budget was $14 million and made about $38 million at the box office, deeming it successful. The film is based on the children’s book Basil of Baker Street, which was written by Eve Titus.
The film’s story takes place in 19th century London, where Olivia, daughter of a toymaker named Hiram, witnesses her father being taken by a bat. In order to save her father, she goes to the one man, or mouse, that can save her father, that person being Basil of Baker Street. With the help of Basil and his ally, Dawson, they plan to help Olivia by saving her father from the notorious and sinister, Professor Ratigan.
It’s probably just me, but I love this film because it’s basically a Sherlock Holmes film. The Great Mouse Detective also has a great ensemble of actors, with the voices of Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone, Barrie Ingham and Candy Candido. I would consider this hidden gem to be a film worth watching.
9. The Thief and the Cobbler
The Thief and the Cobbler was directed by Richard Williams, an animator who’s better known for his work on the film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The film was released in the United States in 1995 and unfortunately, the film was a failure, having a budget of $28 million and only receiving $669,276 in the box office.
The story takes place in ancient Baghdad, where a cobbler named Tak has angered the evil sorcerer known as Zig-Zag. Before the sorcerer can do anything, the king’s daughter, Princess Yum-Yum, intervenes and protects Tak. Outraged by this, Zig-Zag turns to a barbaric warlord known as One-Eye. In order to protect Baghdad from Zig-Zag and One-Eye, Tak must step up and save the city.
Once released in Australia, Mirmax took over the film and changed it to Arabian Knights, soon releasing it in the United States. Some saw The Thief and the Cobbler as a knock-off of Aladdin, which hurt the film even more in regards of reception. Because of Disney’s Aladdin and its success, The Thief and the Cobbler didn’t stand a chance against Disney.
Even though it did poorly in the box office, there’s a happy ending for Williams’ film. The original direction of The Thief and the Cobbler, the film that was intended, can be seen in a restored edition that was created by a fan of Williams. The restored film has been named The Thief and the Cobbler: The Recobbled Cut. I recommend watching this because it really is a great film without everyone trying to change Williams’ vision.
8. Rock and Rule
One of the most fascinating movies I have ever watched, Rock and Rule is a movie that needs to be watched at least once in your life. Rock and Rule came out in 1983 and was directed by Canadian animator Clive A. Smith. The film unfortunately made $30,379 in the box office with a budget of $8 million. Even though it didn’t do so hot in the box office, it still is unique in its own way. What makes this film stand out from other films is the fact that it’s a style and idea of its own. Instead of following the footsteps of Disney or even Don Bluth, Rock and Rule is an edgy and loud animated feature full of dark colors, interesting characters and plot, and rock and roll.
The story takes place in the apocalyptic future, where our protagonists are in a punk rock band. Angel, the singer of the group, is kidnapped by the evil rockstar, Mok, in order to use her voice to summon a demon. In order to stop this from happening, the band goes after Mok to save Angel from him.
With this animated film being a musical, it’s not something to compare to other musicals within Disney. Before the musical Rock of Ages, Rock and Rule was a prime example of incorporating rock and roll music into a musical. The songs that are sung by each of the characters are portrayed by real life musicians Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Robin Zander.
7. Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem
By far one of the raddest movies I have ever viewed, Interstella 5555: The 5story of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem is one that many can easily miss. Directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi, the film was released in 2003 with a budget of $4 million.
The story of the film is about four talented musicians from another world who are taken from their world by an evil music executive from Earth. The executive wipes their memories clean and disguises them as a band on Earth called The Crescendolls in order to make him money. Fortunately though, the hero of the story, an astronaut named Shep, who is from their world, travels to Earth in order to save the brainwashed band members and return them home.
What makes the movie stand out compared to other movies is two words… Daft Punk. The electronic music group Daft Punk teamed up with Takenouchi to create a film with their music and Japan’s anime art style to create a science fiction story. Think of this film as Disney’s Fantasia, but instead of classical music, it’s electronic music instead.
6. The Lord of the Rings
Before Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy and The Lord of the Rings series, there was The Lord of the Rings. You’re probably thinking, “Duh! The books obviously. What are you, stupid?” No, I’m not talking about Peter Jackson or J.R.R. Tolkien, I’m talking about the animated movie. The Lord of the Rings animated version was directed by Ralph Bakshi and was released in 1978. With a budget of $8 million, it made $30.5 million at the box office.
The story takes place in the familiar Middle Earth, where Gandalf visits the hobbit Frodo in order to give him the magical ring. When Frodo comes face to face with the forces of evil, there’s one thing he can do… destroy the ring. He decides to leave his peaceful home behind in order to travel on a dangerous journey to Mount Doom, where he shall destroy the ring.
Basically the same story that we’ve come to know and love. It’s interesting though, considering it’s The Lord of the Rings, not many people know that there’s an animated version of the J.R.R. Tolkien classic. If you’re a fan of the franchise in general, this movie would be a perfect fit for you.
5. Make Mine Music
I loved Make Mine Music when I was a kid! Of course, you probably have no idea what this is, so let me explain. Make Mine Music is a film directed by Jack Kinney, Clyde Geronimi, Joshua Meador, Hamilton Luske, and Robert and Bob Cormack. The film was released in 1946 and with a budget of $1.35 million, the film made $2.25 million at the box office.
There is no one story of the film considering it’s set up like the film Fantasia, where several stories are incorporated with music. For Make Mine Music, the film features music from the 40s, jazz, classical and opera.
A lot of people haven’t heard about this film because it was one of Disney’s side projects. During Disney’s time of creating major films like Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella, movies like this would appear as a filler until the major film was made. Make Mine Music is just that— a filler movie. Having the same general idea of Fantasia, the film’s purpose was to entertain and to show off music. Fortunately, it did that and it’s a great film to watch if you love music or even Fantasia in general.
4. Titan A.E.
There’s one thing to say about Don Bluth: he’s very creative. Bluth has given us several movies that have been iconic, movies such as An American Tail, The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven, but once the 90s arrived, there wasn’t as many iconic movies being produced. Discounting Anastasia, there were many films that fell flat, movies like Rock-a-Doodle, A Troll in Central Park, and The Pebble and the Penguin. It seemed as if Don Bluth had lost his strive, but then, Titan A.E. arrived.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “What the heck is Titan A.E.?” The sci-fi animated film was directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman and was released in the year 2000. The film unfortunately fell flat in the box office, only producing $36.8 million when it had a budget of $75 million.
The story takes place in a distant future, where the surviving human race grow few after their home world, Earth, is destroyed by an alien race known as the Drej. The hero of the film, Cale (voiced by Matt Damon), has discovered a map his father left him in order for him to find the source that could save humanity. With the help of his new friends, they go on a journey to find humanity’s salvation.
Even though the plot may appear to be simple, the movie itself is quite fantastic. It doesn’t compare to classics like An American Tale or Anastasia, but with the combination of the classic Don Bluth animation and new age computer technology, there’s a unique film that’s produced. If you ever come across this film, I strongly recommend sitting down and watching it, because it honestly is a great movie.
Fun fact, Joss Whedon, director of Marvel’s Avengers, wrote the screenplay for Titan A.E.
Want to watch a film that has AMAZING animation and a powerful story? Persepolis is the film for you! What on Earth is Persepolis? How come I haven’t heard of it? Before I get into the story of the film, let’s start with the basics. Persepolis is a film that was directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud and was released in 2007. With a budget of $7.3 million, the film made $22.8 million at the box office. Persepolis is based on the graphic novel of the same name.
The story of the film is about the protagonist, Satrapi, who lives in Iran during the revolution in the 70s and early 80s. Satrapi accounts her experiences during the time of the revolution and her growth as a child, both physically and mentally.
What makes this film interesting is not only the story, but when you take a glance at it, you only think it’s a film that’s fictional, but uses history as the setting of the story. In truth, it’s actually about the director, Marjane Satrapi, during her childhood.
Now, why isn’t this movie more recognized? Simple. It relates to a lot of movies on this list… it stays in the shadows of a more successful and viewed movie. When it was released, it was nominated for a “Best Animated Feature” award. Unfortunately, the French film didn’t receive the award, instead, Pixar’s 2007 animated flick, Ratatouille, won the award.
This film is one of those hidden gems that people find when they’re feeling nostalgic about the 70s. Wizards is a film directed by Ralph Bakshi, the same man who directed The Lord of the Rings animated film. It was released to theaters in the year 1977 and the film itself was successful, having a budget of $1.2 million and making $9 million at the box office. Now, when people look at this picture, there’s a sense of misinformation. Many probably think this film is similar to The Lord of the Rings, but in all reality, it’s far from it.
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic universe. The antagonist of the film, an evil mutant wizard named Blackwolf, discovers military technology from the past, which he uses in order to dominate the world. In order to prevent world domination, Blackwolf’s kind brother, Avatar, plans to stop Blackwolf from ruling the world by using his own magic.
The plot seems very simple, but there have been plenty of movies that have been successful with basic plot points. Being a unique film, Wizards has a lot to offer, from an interesting art style to historical war footage. If you’re someone who loves sci-fi, fantasy or history, you’ll love Wizards.
Fun fact: this film was Mark Hamill‘s first project he worked on, having provided the voice of Sean.
1. Song of the South
Song of the South… what a film! If you’re a die-hard Disney fan like me, you’ll know what the film is about and why it’s unheard of. If you’re not a die-hard Disney fan and you’ve been to any sort of Disney theme park, you might recognize these characters. Song of the South was directed by Harve Foster and Wilfred Jackson and it stood as one of the many films Walt Disney had produced. The film itself was released in 1946 and with a budget of $2 million, the film made $65 million at the box office. Question is, with it sounding like such a successful movie, why is it unheard of?
There’s one word that makes the reason for this film’s disappearance sensible… racism. You might be thinking, “Racism! In a Disney film?! That’s outrageous.” Trust me, Song of the South did its job with being racist.
Throughout the film, the word ‘slave’ or ‘master’ is not uttered, which is fantastic for the movie’s case, but it is implied— strongly. We’ll spare you the details, but if you’re curious, it’s certainly worth the Google search. The film had embarrassed Disney so much that there’s very little traces of any sort of DVDs, VHSs, or media coverage of it.