The 100 best animated movies: the best psychedelic movies

World-famous animators pick the best animated movies ever, including Disney and Pixar movies, cult movies, kids movies, stop-motion, anime and more

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Now we know which are the 100 best animation movies of all time. But which are the best Disney movies and which are the best Pixar or Studio Ghibli films? Which are best for kids and families and which are strictly arty, political or edgy?

We’ve applied 26 handy labels to the 100 great animations in our list. Here you’ll find all the films that lean toward the psychedelic in some or all of their imagery.

But how many have you seen? Take our poll to find out.

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Miyazaki proves he has the heart of a child, the eye of a painter and the soul of a poet.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Best quote: “Trees and people used to be good friends.”

Defining moment: The first appearance of the roving cat-bus will have viewers of all ages gasping in delight.

Some filmmakers build their great artworks with blood, sweat and toil. Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki seems to sprout his from seeds, planting them in good earth and patiently watering them until they burst into bloom. My Neighbor Totoro is the gentlest, most unassuming film on this list, a tale of inquisitive children, mischievous dust fairies, magical trees and shy sylvan creatures. But in its own quietly remarkable way, it’s also one of the richest and most overwhelming.

This is a story whose roots go deep: into Japanese tradition and culture, into its creator’s personal past, into a collective childhood filled with tales of mystery and a love of all things that grow. There is darkness at the film’s heart—the fear of losing a parent, the loneliness and frustration of childhood—but its touch is gossamer-light, delighting in simple pleasures like raindrops on an umbrella, dust motes drifting in the sun and midnight dances in the garden. The visual style is unmistakably Japanese (unadorned and artful) and the theme song is so sugary-chirrupy-sweet that it’s impossible to dislodge once heard. But the cumulative effect is unique and utterly all-encompassing, returning us to a world we have all, at one time, lived in—and perhaps will again.—Tom Huddleston

Yellow Submarine (1968)

The cartoon Beatles rampage through a psychedelic Pop Art dreamscape.

Director: George Dunning

Best quote: “Nothing is Beatleproof!”

Defining moment: The gorgeously downbeat “Eleanor Rigby” sequence, utilizing monochrome photos of Liverpool.


This may prove to be the most divisive film on our list: Hardened Beatlemaniacs will tell you that Yellow Submarine is a travesty, employing fake (and not especially convincing) Liverpudlian accents to tell a nonsensical tale steeped in late-’60s acid-fried sentiment, never mind that the Fab Four pop up in person at the end to give their blessing. Art maniacs, meanwhile, will tell you it’s a dazzling work of the imagination, harnessing every animation technique available at the time to create an eye-frazzling, insanely inventive trip. To be fair, they’re probably both right: The script is silly, the story is cringeworthy, and the Beatle characterizations are a bit soft. But visually it’s breathtaking, one of the few genuinely hallucinatory cinema experiences, and fully deserving of its high placement here.—Tom Huddleston

Fantasia (1940)

In Disney’s extravaganza, eight fantastical vignettes are scored to music by Bach, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky.

Director: No less than 11 directors slaved on individual sequences, many without credit.

Best quote: “Mr. Stokowski! Mr. Stokowski!”

Defining moment: Sorcerer’s apprentice Mickey Mouse finds himself on the wrong end of the broomsticks.

By the end of the 1930s, Mickey Mouse, the bedrock character of a growing empire, had declined in popularity. So Walt Disney commissioned the elaborate short “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Accompanied by the highly hummable Paul Dukas composition of the same name, it follows the red-robed rodent as he magically brings an army of broomsticks to life. While in postproduction on the short, Disney decided to surround it with similar vignettes scored to other classical compositions, and Fantasia was born. Aside from some interstitial material narrated by Deems Taylor (during which Mickey himself greets star conductor Leopold Stokowski), the music dictates Fantasia’s visual-aural flow. Abstract color patterns rise and fall to Bach, life-size mushrooms dance to Tchaikovksy, a hippo and an alligator do a slapstick Ponchielli ballet, and the devil himself summons dark spirits to Modest Mussorgsky’s churning Night on Bald Mountain. Silly and sublime in equal measure—as well as a film that served to introduce generations of kids to the joys of classical music—this is one of the Mouse House’s finest.—Keith Uhlich

Akira (1988)

A biker teen unleashes a psychic with apocalyptic powers—oh, and it’s 2019.

Director: Katsuhiro Ohtomo

Best quote: “The future is not a straight line. It is filled with many crossroads.”

Defining moment: Motorcycle gangs tear through the night destroying all in their wake—a scene that would give Mad Max chills.

Anime’s breakout moment, this supercharged sci-fi thriller turned a niche subgenre into a global phenomenon: Western teens started using the term cyberpunk in casual geek-speak, while Japan’s printed manga suddenly flew off the shelves. To the nonfan dragged along for the ride, the movie felt a lot like Blade Runner and Brazil, featuring incredibly vivid details and attention paid to urban decay. But Akira was also a watershed moment for sci-fi in a larger sense, popularizing ideas of citywide ruination, futuristic rebirth and a distinctly Asian notion of psionic powers that would influence everything from The Matrix to Inception. The mutable setting of Neo-Tokyo anticipated the larger playground of the Internet, still years off but somehow of a piece with these youthful speed racers.—Joshua Rothkopf

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012)

A one-man masterpiece.

Director: Don Hertzfeldt

Best quote: “Someone sits on the shore and tells him how the waves have been there long before Bill existed, and that they’ll still be there long after he’s gone. Bill looks out at the water and thinks of all the wonderful things he will do with his life.”


Defining moment:
In the epic finale, a stick hero is reborn into an ageless existence and learns all the secrets of the universe.

How satisfying it is to find Don Hertzfeldt’s self-made saga of schizophrenia and self-loss nestling comfortably in the higher reaches of our rankings. Written, directed, produced, animated, photographed, voiced and distributed entirely by Hertzfeldt himself (he admits to getting a little help with the editing), It’s Such a Beautiful Day is the tale of a young everyman, Bill, who finds his mind and his world unexpectedly going to pieces. Hertzfeldt’s style may have started off simple, with stick figures and basic line drawings, but by the time of this feature, it had broadened to include a dizzying array of in-camera, nondigital visual effects. The result is one of the great outsider artworks of the modern era, at once sympathetic and shocking, beautiful and horrifying, angry and hilarious, uplifting and almost unbearably sad. Seek it out.—Tom Huddleston

Fantastic Planet (1973)

Surreal social commentary in a Gallic animated sci-fi milestone.

Director: René Laloux

Best quote: “I was only a tiny toy, but on occasion a toy who dared to rebel.”

Defining moment: A mother runs in terror cradling her child, only to be picked up and flung to the ground by a giant blue hand.

Take the big’uns-versus-little’uns conflict from Gulliver’s Travels, sprinkle with the Blue Meanies from Yellow Submarine, add a political allegory as forceful as Orwell’s 1984 and you’re beginning to grasp this unique combination of Gallic creativity and Czech production expertise. No other animated feature looks like this, since planet Ygam and its weirdly wonderful inhabitants are drawn in a deliberately antique fashion, like some illustrated bestiary from before Columbus set sail. The tiny Homs (think hommes, French for “men”) are kept as pets by their otherworldly conquerors, the giant Draags (perhaps drogues, French for “drugs”), but they have the spirit and ingenuity to turn the tables on their technologically advanced yet dangerously self-absorbed masters. This definitely prefigures the world of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicäa, even if it lacks his robust storytelling and crisp action. It’s a ’70s landmark all the same.—Trevor Johnston

Waking Life (2001)

Conversations swirl in a treatise on the need to stay curious.

Director: Richard Linklater

Best quote: “Are you a dreamer? I haven’t seen too many around lately.”

Defining moment: Floppy-haired Wiley Wiggins floats high above his suburban neighborhood, a black shape against the blue sky.

Trippiness of a highly verbal nature wasn’t unexpected from the director of Slacker and Dazed and Confused. Still, Richard Linklater’s hypnotic plunge into rotoscoping proved a litmus test even for his fans: You either let the flow of cosmic ideas sweep you up in a stimulating rush or you checked out somewhere. In either case, the filmmaker’s creativity was undeniable. Friends morph into banks of fluffy, chatting clouds; flirters launch words like love into earholes. Amateur philosophizing was never so well-supported or flattered by its form. Fans of Before Sunrise noticed Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke lounging in bed (a hint of two sequels yet to come). Yet for the most part, all footholds evaporated. Waking Life was—and still is—a surreal invitation to cut loose.—Joshua Rothkopf

Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

Animation meets classical music in an Italian-style Fantasia.

Director: Bruno Bozzetto

Best quote: “Someone called Disney has already made this?”

Defining moment: Humanity’s evolution scored to Ravel’s Bolero is a magnificent set piece.


Of course, Disney’s Fantasia is the acknowledged reference point for Italian mischief maker Bruno Bozzetto’s animated collection of classical pops, interwoven with boisterous live-action interludes in which a hard-pressed animator battles an egomaniac conductor, his shifty producer and an unlikely orchestra of geriatric ladies let out of their cages (no, really) to play the score. There’s definitely a Monty Python–style antiestablishment surrealism in both elements of the movie, not least the musical sections, in which we see humanity evolve from the sludge at the bottom of a Coke bottle, the serpent in the garden of Eden tormented by the sheer variety of the sins he’s about to introduce into the world, and the absurdity of materialism represented by the urge to erect higher and higher buildings. Certainly, it’s uneven, and some of the humor feels dated, but there’s not a hint of classical-music snobbery here.—Trevor Johnston

Fritz the Cat (1972)

Hard to be a collegian feline in the city? Not really, especially when there’s so much sex and pot to be had.

Director: Ralph Bakshi

Best quote: “I’ve fought many a good man, and laid many a good woman.”

Defining moment: Fritz gets handsy in a bathtub with at least three other animals.

It’s not an overstatement to divide the whole of animated cinema into two eras: Before Fritz and After Fritz. Aside from becoming a global sensation (and outgrossing most Disney films up to that point), Ralph Bakshi’s libidinous Greenwich Village romp was a slap in the face to purists who hoped to keep cartoons safe for kids. Notoriously, the film received an X rating (and includes a fair amount of bare-assed rutting), but that pejorative label might have also been due to its director’s overall vision, inspired by Robert Crumb’s countercultural characters and filled with Vietnam War–era surliness. Bakshi cut his teeth at Paramount Pictures and in advertising for clients like Coca-Cola; he was no fool to the realities of commerce. Still, it took someone familiar with the game to break the rules so completely. His triumph is animation’s puberty.—Joshua Rothkopf

Mind Game (2004)

This anime film is a searingly intense mash-up of styles, genres and narrative techniques.

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Best quote: “I was killed! Shot by that creep! Then I was sucked up to heaven.”

Defining moment: Nishi, the protagonist, is murdered and sent into limbo, where he encounters a shape-shifting god who’s preoccupied with grooming himself in front of a mirror.

This ambitious feature came out of nowhere in 2004 to rock the anime world, making stars of director Masaaki Yuasa and his Studio 4°C. The plot starts as typically convoluted gangster fare, before the main characters are plunged Pinocchio-style into the belly of a whale to embark on an utterly bonkers journey of self-discovery. Though little actually happens, the film somehow keeps up a blistering pace, propelled by a string of flashbacks, hallucinations, near-death experiences and other surreal flights of fancy. Throughout, the animation style shifts in accordance with the mood, even incorporating live actors at points. Disorienting on the first viewing, very funny on the second, and strangely moving on the third, this is bold, almost reckless filmmaking.—Alex Dudok De Wit

Heaven and Earth Magic (1962)

Wonderfully madcap early-1960s experimental piece.

Director: Harry Smith

Best quote: This is all about the imagery. Words are too pedestrian, man.

Defining moment: A machine that allows you to play a game of tennis with a baby.


Uncompromisingly experimental, U.S. filmmaker Harry Smith’s Heaven and Earth Magic existed in various versions in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before settling down into this final 1962 cut. Scrappy and fiercely DIY in its aesthetic and produced under the auspices of Jonas Mekas’s Anthology Film Archives, this black-and-white film uses stop-motion animation techniques to tell stories with roughly cutout photographs. In terms of story, maybe Smith himself best characterizes his avant-garde, surrealist approach: “The first part depicts the heroine’s toothache consequent to the loss of a very valuable watermelon, her dentistry and transportation to heaven. The second part depicts the return to Earth from being eaten by Max Müller on the day Edward VII dedicated the Great Sewer of London.” Got that? The film’s audio consists only of sound effects, and it’s become a popular choice for screenings with a live score.—Dave Calhoun

Rango (2011)

A talking chameleon, used to blending in, must take a bold stand as a Western town’s new sheriff.

Director: Gore Verbinski

Best quote: “You ain’t from round here, are you?”

Defining moment: Bellying up to the bar at the local saloon, Rango tells a whopper about killing seven outlaws with one bullet.

Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski had made magic before, in the first Pirates of the Caribbean, a project on which an actor’s wildest impulses met a filmmaker’s warmest encouragements. The sequels made them impossibly rich, yet that spirit of impulsive weirdness was something they wanted to recapture; it thrums through this computer-animated adventure, delightfully scuzzy in its dusty, Sergio Leone–esque locales. Rango follows the arc of many classic Westerns, and speaks strongly to principles of self-respect and inner heroism. But it’s also a creature of many colors, finding room for adult pop-culture references (a Kim Novak joke?) and Depp’s own filmography: Rango wears a garish Hawaiian shirt, and you can’t help but think of Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.—Joshua Rothkopf

Heavy Traffic (1973)

A grubby New York City, a murderous cast of characters and plenty of off-color jokes—Walt would not approve.

Director: Ralph Bakshi

Best quote: “Now listen here, boy: As long as Carole’s got this here good thing [Slaps own butt] and this here left [Taps head], she don’t need anything else unless she wants it—and child, I don’t want it!”


Defining moment:
A Mafia boss slurps up a forkful of pasta, out of which tiny, helpless figures fall, shaken from the strands.

“It’s animated, but it’s not a cartoon,” promised the trailer, yet the movie that followed, in scummy NYC theaters in August 1973, didn’t fulfill that pledge. Ralph Bakshi’s passion project, a swirling java of urban stereotypes (the overbearing Jewish mother, the Italian mobster, the sassy black girlfriend, etc.), is overstated in a garish, ethnically broad way, very much a cartoon. No matter: There was nothing like it at the time. It’s worth noting that potential viewers had to actively be told that animation could deal with adult subjects like crime, violence and poverty. The style is hand-drawn, superimposed over grainy photographs of Brooklyn’s decay. Though much of Heavy Traffic has since dated poorly, it’s closer to the vibe of early Scorsese than any other movie on this list—and it still represents an avenue that’s gone largely unexplored.—Joshua Rothkopf

Paprika (2006)

A gizmo that records people’s dreams goes missing, resulting in chaos.

Director: Satoshi Kon

Best quote: “Isn’t it wonderful to see inside a friend’s dream as if it were your own?”

Defining moment: The opening scene moves from a surreal chase sequence to playback of the same dream images now stored on computer.

It’s called the DC Mini, a flimsy headset that records our dreams as video files. There’s consternation at the research unit when one of the prototypes goes missing. Soon the very fabric of reality tears when the addled psyches of the scientific team and investigating cop take physical form. The last completed feature of the ill-fated Kon (lost to cancer at 46) exemplifies his uniqueness and his foibles, since the supernova of weirdness bursting from the characters’ imaginations is something to behold: fridges on the march, giant robots at large, a psycho-cutie Japanese doll. While the plot itself makes very little sense, Kon’s depiction of flexible reality inside others’ dreams parallels Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and his mind-fuck cavalcade truly has to be seen to be believed.—Trevor Johnston

The Lord of the Rings (1978)

Peter Jackson was only 17 when a brave filmmaker tackled Tolkien.

Director: Ralph Bakshi

Best quote: “My precious…”

Defining moment: The attack at the ford by Rotoscoped Black Riders is truly unnerving.


First, let’s get the standard complaints out of the way: Yes, it can be a bit goofy, and some of the voices are way off (whose bright idea was it to cast C-3PO Anthony Daniels as Legolas?). And yes, it unexpectedly stops halfway through, with Frodo and Sam still lost in the wild and the Riders of Rohan beating back the orc army at Helm’s Deep (a conclusion was actually shot for TV, without Bakshi’s involvement, but the less said about that the better). But please, let’s focus on the positives, and there are many. The characterization is simple but effective: We’d say that Sam Gamgee is more wholesomely Tolkienish here than in the Jackson version. The action scenes are genuinely gripping, especially the climactic battle. And most of all, the visual style is just glorious, from the ornate, convincingly twisted woods of Fangorn to those utterly unique Rotoscoped Ringwraiths.—Tom Huddleston

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Lewis Carroll is brought to the screen the Disney way.

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske

Best quote: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t.”

Defining moment: Alice disappearing down the rabbit hole is only the beginning of the weirdness.

Walt Disney had long had his eyes on adapting Lewis Carroll, and when he did so, the results were faithful enough to qualify as one of the studio’s strangest offerings. Evoking the books’ original John Tenniel illustrations but with more than a touch of Disney cuteness, the film as a whole is in thrall to Carroll’s singular visual imagination and his play with language. But it doesn’t quite know how to turn dotty schoolgirl Alice’s episodic odyssey following the white rabbit into anything resembling a satisfying story. One can only imagine what apple-pie audiences thought of it at the time, besieged by hookah-puffing caterpillars, hallucinogenic mushrooms, the Mad Hatter’s tea party and an evidently psychotic Queen of Hearts. It was subsequently a late-night favorite among the herbally assisted.—Trevor Johnston

Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985)

A cosmic journey through time, space and spirituality. With cats.

Directors: Gisaburo Sugii and Arlen Tarlofsky

Best quote: “I’m going to be just like that scorpion…”

Defining moment: An old woman sings “Nearer, My God, to Thee” in the most cracked and haunting voice imaginable.

Kenji Miyazawa’s 1927 novel is a standard text for Japanese schoolchildren but remains virtually unknown elsewhere. Combining eerie Christian mysticism, awestruck pseudoscience and bleak realism, the book follows two put-upon schoolboys, Giovanni and Campanella, as they board the titular train to the stars and beyond. Anime directors Gisaburo Sugii and Arlen Tarlofsky made one major change when they adapted Miyazawa’s work for the screen: They replaced all the central human characters with cute anthropomorphized kittens. But if their intention was to make the story more appealing to youngsters, they were way off. With its meditative pace, unstructured plotting, and rambling, often incomprehensible discourses on morality and mortality, this is about as kid-friendly as a morning in church. For those with patience, however, it is a beautiful, frequently enlightening trip.—Tom Huddleston

Fehérlófia (1981)

Hungarian folktales go psychedelic…and then some.

Director: Marcell Jankovics

Best quote: “Tell your mother to breast-feed you for another seven years, then you’ll be able to pull out the tree single-handed.”

Defining moment: When an animated film starts with a hallucinogenic birthing scene, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.

Any director who has written 15 books on folklore takes his ancient legends seriously, and in Magyar maestro Marcell Jankovics’s full-on fable, three princes ignore the king’s warning about “the lock which must not be opened.” All hell (literally) breaks loose, and a white mare goddess spawns three human sons—who subsequently take the fight back to the underworld. An archetypal saga involving daunting trials of endurance, it unfolds in a Day-Glo visual style suggesting Kandinsky’s colorful curves, Matisse’s cutouts and way too many prog-rock album covers. It is unlike anything else in the world, ever, which makes this a must-see, though the sheer brutality with which Treeshaker, Stonecrumbler and Ironrubber press through the pit of Hell and back may make this just a bit too heavy-duty for sensitive younger viewers.—Trevor Johnston


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