netflix has only produced original animated features for around five years, but it has been quite a successful start for the studio, so it may be a stretch to produce an “Of All Time” list. With that said, here are our favorite netflix Original animated movies of all time.
In its history, numerous netflix Originals have been nominated and scored wins for several high-profile animation awards, including seven nominations and one win at the Academy Awards in the Best Animated Feature category. They have worked with some of the best directors and artists with backgrounds at all the major studios, including Disney, Aardman Animations, & Cartoon Saloon.
While some of its success in animation can be attributed to striking major film distribution deals with the likes of Sony, netflix has made it a point to be a player in this space by creating several animated features a year.
Let’s dive into my picks for their Top 5 Original Animated Movies to date:
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5. THE WILLOUGHBYS
Directors: Kris Pearn, Cory Evans, Rob Lodermeier
Cast: Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Alessia Cara, Terry Crews, Ricky Gervais, Martin Short
Based on the children’s novel from New York Times bestselling and two-time Newbery Medal-winning author Lois Lowry (The Giver, Number the Stars), The Willoughbys is a devilishly fun twist on the average kids adventure story.
The Willoughby children – Time, Jane, Barnaby A, & Barnaby B – only ever wanted to have a normal family, but their loving parents have no love left over for them. Convinced they would be better off raising themselves, they hatch a sneaky plan to send their selfish parents on a less-than-safe vacation. After reports of their parents’ absence surface, the siblings and their new nanny embark on their own high-flying adventure to find the true meaning of family.
From Director Kris Pearn (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2) and co-directors Cory Evans (Invincible) & Rob Lodermeier (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), The Willoughbys was a breath of fresh air in the early stages of the pandemic shutdown. With lush animation from Bron Studios & Foreshadow Films, the movie is a well-crafted visual delight with a house design that would tickle the fancy of any Wes Anderson fan. The story is filled with dark yet family-friendly humor with some amazing voice work from SNL legends Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, & Martin Short as well as TV sitcom titans Ricky Gervais (The Office UK) & Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine).
While ultimately overshadowed during awards season by Glen Keane’s Over The Moon, I believe the critics (not me, of course) got this one wrong as The Willoughbys served up something fresh & different with a naughty bit of fun for the whole family. If you enjoy the insanity of a good Roald Dahl tale with a dash of Tim Burton & Wes Anderson influence, then check this out on netflix immediately.
4. THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT
Director: Wendy Rogers
Cast: Noah Jupe, Mandy Patinkin, Brian Tyree Henry, Benedict Wong, Aasif Mandvi, Natasia Demetriou
Based on the children’s novel of the same name by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie), The Magician’s Elephant is the entertaining & heartwarming story of young orphan boy Peter who lost his mother and sister during the Great Foreign War. Raised by Vilna, the aging soldier who saved him many years ago, Peter always thought his sister might still be out there despite the insistence of his guardian that she has passed on. After a chance encounter with a fortune teller, he is told he can find his sister by simply “follow(ing) the elephant”. What follows is a layered “wish-fulfillment” tale with heart, humor, and a series of impossible tasks that keeps its audience engaged with this game element throughout.
Featuring quality animation from newly acquired studio Animal Logic (Lego Batman Movie, Peter Rabbit) & steady direction from longtime Visual EFX Supervisor Wendy Rogers (Shrek, Puss In Boots), the film’s most impressive aspect may be in its all-star lineup of voices.
The film is narrated by the previously mentioned Fortune Teller voiced by the perfectly snarky Natasia Demetriou (Nadja in What We Do In The Shadows). Noah Jupe (A Quiet Place films) provides relentless hope & youthful exuberance with his performance of Peter. Legend of stage & screen Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride, Homeland) graces us with the range of emotions required to bring life to Sgt. Lutz. Oscar nominee Brian Tyree Henry (Causeway, Bullet Train) stirs up the whimsical nature of this film with the unreasonably hopeful Officer Leo. MCU star Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) brings his mystical art prowess to his role as The Magician. And last but certainly not least, former “Daily Show” correspondent Aasif Mandvi breathes life at the perfect time with his fun-loving, eccentric characterization of The King who makes Peter fulfill the impossible tasks that keep the audience engaged throughout the story.
The Magician’s Elephant gives us an original fairy tale that brings out the child in all of us. The central themes of Hope and the Belief in the Impossible mixed with indelible characters make this film a cut above for netflix Original Animation.
3. GUILLERMO DEL TORO’s PINOCCHIO
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Burn Gorman, Ron Perlman, John Turturro, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett, Tim Blake Nelson
Yes. I have some nerve putting the only Best Animated Feature Oscar winner at #3. But here we are.
While there have been many film adaptations of the classic 1883 children’s tale, the beauty of this version lies in the creator himself. Director Guillermo del Toro has dreamed of making this film since he was a little boy and it shows. Del Toro’s creation is a combination of his ever-present fascination with a “monster’s” interaction with human societal structure with the lens of child-like exuberance & naivety.
Likening the story of Pinocchio to that of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, del Toro’s Pinocchio story has more heart, more realism, & more darkness than the previous cinematic adaptations.
Set in a small Italian village during the rise of fascism under Mussolini’s authoritarian rule in the 1930s, the film does not shy away from the harsh realities of the period and how it would affect the decision-making of our protagonists as well as the village’s reaction to such a spectacle as Pinocchio. Meditations on religious ideology, collateral damage of wartime regions, and, above all else, grief are on full display without the typical guardrails set up in modern family film storytelling.
Buoyed by the bold, gothic claymation-style animation and a murderer’s row of voice-over talent, this version of Pinocchio very much deserved its impressive run through awards season last year.
Directors: Sergio Pablos & Carlos Martinez Lopez
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Norm MacDonald, Will Sasso, Joan Cusack
As much as Netflix is committed to producing animated films, they might be committed even more to outproducing their competition when it comes to their holiday film catalog. With successful franchises such The Christmas Chronicles & The Princess Switch and charming spectacles like Jingle Jangle, you could say they are pretty good at it too. So it should come as no surprise that the streamer would combine their shared interests and swing for the fences with a Christmas animated film and landing on a rewatchable instant classic.
From the mind, body, & soul of writer-director Sergio Pablos (story creator for Despicable Me & Smallfoot), Klaus brings to life an inventive & believable spin on the Santa Claus story that focuses on altruism, community, & heart more than the mystical being we’ve come to know.
The film follows Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), the postal academy’s worst student, who is sent to the frozen island of Smeerensburg, where the feuding locals barely exchange words, let alone letters. Jesper is about to give up when he finds an ally in local teacher Alva (Rashida Jones) and discovers Klaus (Oscar winner J.K. Simmons), a mysterious carpenter who lives alone in a cabin full of handmade toys. These unlikely friendships return laughter to Smeerensburg, forging a new legacy of generous neighbors, magical lore, and stockings hung by the chimney with care.
While the story will surely bring tears to the eyes and warmth to the heart, it’s the hand-drawn-style animation that might be the best present to unwrap. Pablos specifically chose a particular French animation studio that perfectly matched his vision for a classic touch with a modern rendering and it completely paid off to the tune of 7 Annie Awards, a BAFTA award, & Netflix’s best chance nominee at the Oscars.
With a strong voiceover cast & talent in every aspect of its creation, Klaus should firmly place itself in any family’s Christmas movie rotation every December.
1. THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES
Directors: Michael Rianda & Jeff Rowe
Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Eric Andre
Over the last decade, the animation game has been radically upended and massively improved by the creative outputs of two talented individuals: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller.
As writers, producers, & directors, they have made some of the most advanced & downright hilarious animated projects we’ve seen in a long time. The Oscar-winning Spider-Verse franchise. The Lego Movie franchise. The Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs franchise. The list goes on and on.
So, of course, when Sony Pictures decided to put a Lord & Miller animated movie on the market for distribution during the uncertain times of the pandemic in 2021, Netflix couldn’t wait to take it on.
Produced by Lord & Miller and co-written & directed by Michael Rianda (Gravity Falls), The Mitchells vs. The Machines blends the chaotic tempo of a Lego Movie with the sharp wit & personal family stories of Rianda himself.
The Mitchells are a quirky, dysfunctional family who are having trouble connecting with each other as of late. Katie, the family’s creative cinephile daughter, is accepted into the film school of her dreams and is looking forward to leaving home in search of like-minded people who will finally understand her. In a last-ditch attempt at bonding with his daughter, Katie’s well-meaning father, Rick decides to take the whole family on a road trip to drop Katie off at her new school. When this totally-not-awkward-or-forced road trip can’t get any worse, the family suddenly finds itself in the middle of the robot uprising. Everything from smartphones, to Roombas, to evil Furbys are employed to capture every human on the planet. Now it’s up to the Mitchells, including upbeat mom Linda, quirky little brother Aaron, their squishy pug, Monchi, and two friendly, but simple-minded robots to save humanity.
From the beginning with the simple family structure to the frantic, adventurous conclusion, Mitchells gives its audience every type of animation imaginable. From sock puppets to fluttering hearts, the film utilizes its film-loving protagonist to justify its genre-blending & style mixing that brings its audience into a completely unique but relatable world.
To complement its audacious visual display, Rianda brings on an exceptional voice cast that suits the characters well and elevates the smartly written script. From an Oscar winner (Olivia Colman) to SNL alumni (Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen), the deep bench of talent could rival the best Lord & Miller productions of the past.
While it may be overlooked because of its pandemic period release date, The Mitchells vs. The Machines has the notable distinction of being an Oscar Nominee AND a long-lasting meme at the same time. It’s a truly remarkable film that deserves its position as my #1 Netflix animated movie to date.
What are your favorite Netflix Original animated movies? Let us know in the comments.