Animated films often are labeled as simple stories for kids with fluffy and colorful characters, but this is not always the case. Although many are created exclusively for youngsters, there are also many amazing animated films aimed purely at adults. There are then many great in-between films which have humor for both groups, such as Shrek, but today we will be focusing on animated films which have mature themes and subject matter which would be deemed not appropriate for children. Move aside, Woody, Elsa and Nemo, these are animated films for adults only.
10. A Scanner Darkly
There are few directors as experimental as Richard Linklater, and a great example of this is his fantastic 2006 animated science fiction thriller A Scanner Darkly. This was created using the interpolated rotoscope technique, where the film was shot digitally and then traced over frame by frame, which gives it a very distinctive look. The film, based on the novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, tells the story of a near-future dystopia with increased surveillance under intrusive technology in the midst of a drug epidemic. An undercover detective, Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), is assigned to immerse himself in the drug’s underworld, but he soon struggles to maintain a grip on his own identity and is forced into psychological testing. It is a fantastic, and very relevant, story which deals with mature themes in a stylish and dramatic presentation.
Based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical novel of the same name, Persepolis is a French-Iranian-American animated film that has been heavily praised since its 2007 release and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature (losing to Ratatouille). The film follows a young girl who is growing up during the Iranian revolution, and this is the backdrop for her experiencing all the difficulties and stress of turning into an adult. The subject matter is gritty and mature, and this is accentuated by the stark black and white animation style. Although not completely unsuitable for children, it is certainly targeted at adults and is a fascinating coming of age tale. The film has caused plenty of controversy, particularly with the Iranian government, but it has been widely praised by critics and is a fantastic example of how animation can be used to heighten drama and emotion and tackle complex subject matter.
8. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
When you think of adult animation, it is likely that South Park will be the first thing to springs to mind. This is for good reason, as the immensely popular show has been at the forefront of adult humor for many years, despite its childlike appearance. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone took this to the next level in 1999 by releasing an outrageous feature-length film titled South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. This did not disappoint, and is 80 minutes of unforgettable rude songs, swearing, X-rated themes, toilet humor, satire and political themes. Unsurprisingly, it caused a lot of controversy upon release, but for most fans of the show it exceeded expectations and is still heavily quoted almost two decade later. The film earned a Guinness World Record for “Most Swearing in an Animated Film” for a whopping 399 profanities. This is certainly an animated film not for kids.
7. Waltz with Bashir
Waltz with Bashir is an incredible 2008 Israeli animated war documentary written and directed by Ari Folman, and is a film unlike any other. Folman helps to piece together lost memories of his experience of being a soldier in the 1982 Lebanon war by interviewing other veterans, and this is all animated in a beautiful and striking fashion which makes it a compelling watch from start to finish. Although a remarkable film and very gripping, due to the subject matter it is also dark, gritty, emotional and even haunting at times. Because of this, it is certainly not for kids and a film probably best enjoyed by yourself. The film has won dozens of awards and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and is perhaps the most engaging and original history lesson you will ever receive.
6. Heavy Metal
This Canadian-American cult classic from the ’80s is based on the magazine of the same title, and features a huge amount of sex, violence and nudity which makes it an animation made not for kids. In addition to this, it has a rocking soundtrack with the likes of Devo, Blue Oyster Cult, Cheap Trick and Black Sabbath adding to its appeal. It is an anthology of numerous fantasy and science fiction stories from the magazine, with names such as Ivan Reitman, Len Blum, Daniel Goldberg, Eugene Levy and Harold Ramis attached. Fans of South Park will recognize the film, as it was the source of inspiration for the hallucinations that Kenny and Gerald Broflovski have after “cheesing” in the episode “Major Boobage.” The film became a hit after midnight theatrical showings, and there has since been a sequel, Heavy Metal 2000, which was released in 2000.
5. Grave of the Fireflies
A striking, sad and powerful piece of film, Isao Takahata’s 1988 Japanese animated drama is based on the semi-autobiographical short story of the same name by Akiyuki Nosaka. Set in Kobe, Japan, the film follows the story of siblings Seita and Setsuko, who are trying to survive on their own towards the end of World War II. With their father away fighting, they must survive and maintain hope in dire circumstances. Animation proves to be the perfect medium to explore these tragic circumstances and it is a visually stunning piece of film with a desperately sad story, and should be considered one of the greatest modern war films of all time. It is considered one of the key anime films, which helped it to popularize the form in Western culture. Two live-action remakes have been created since, 2005 and 2008, but the heartbreaking original is a must-watch.
4. Waking Life
Prior to Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, he created another animation using the same interpolated rotoscope technique. This was 2001’s Waking Life, which is an incredibly thought-provoking and artistic piece which explores philosophical themes such as the nature of reality, dreams, free will, existentialism, consciousness and the meaning of life. This is told by a young man who wanders through a range of dream-like realities where he converses about many philosophical ideas with those he comes across in these realities. There is nothing particularly X-rated or not-for-kids about this film, but most children’s animated features don’t leave the audience completely mind-melted and questioning their entire existence and everything they know about reality. Not only is it incredibly thought-provoking and eye-opening, but it is also visually stunning which helps it to be a fascinating, yet very odd and trippy watch.
3. Watership Down
Anybody who claims that an animation would never be able to make them cry has clearly never seen Watership Down, a 1978 adaptation of the novel by Richard Adams. An allegorical tale of a group of anthropomorphized rabbits who seek a new home after escaping the destruction of their warren, they encounter all kinds of obstacles and temptations along the way. It may look like a friendly kids animation on the surface, but it is an incredibly powerful, tense and emotional story that is expertly crafted and more gripping than most Hollywood films. There are a number of themes including the struggle between tyranny and freedom, the individual and corporate state, heroism and there are also suggestions of religious symbolism. It is a film that often is watched by children, but due to the themes, bloody violence and heavy emotion it is most likely to have been made for adults.
Based on Katsuhiro Otomo’s manga of the same name, Akira is deemed a classic anime and one of the very first to permeate Western culture upon its release in 1988. There are many Japanese animations that are created exclusively for an adult audience, but this is perhaps the key piece. The film shows a dystopian version of Tokyo in the year 2019, where teenage biker Tetsuo Shima has psychic powers and is the leader of a gang. He attempts to release the imprisoned psychic Akira, but there are several groups who stand in his way. It is striking and stylish, but also brutally violent, disturbing and nightmarish and absolutely should not be shown to kids. Although those unfamiliar with the comic series will struggle to follow, it is an influential film and one which many claim to be one of the greatest animated and science fiction films ever.
1. Animal Farm
For those unfamiliar with George Orwell’s shocking and powerful allegorical and dystopian novel, Animal Farm will initially sound like a nice kids story of a farm where pigs, horses, hens, sheep and dogs live, but this is absolutely not the case. The story, made into a brilliant animated film in 1954, is a political tale which, according to Orwell, reflects the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and onto the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union. This all unfolds on Manor Farm, where Old Major (a prize boar and second-oldest on the farm) calls on the animals to break free from the humans and the ineffective and aggressive owner, Mr. Jones. They drive the humans out and create The Seven Commandments of Animalism, with the most important being “all animals are equal.” Soon, however, a committee of pigs run the farm, led by the fierce Napoleon.