10 Best Animated Movies of 2021: 2021 was surprisingly a year with abundant releases in the world of animation. And the diversity of the genres that were adorned with animated titles is exciting, to say the least. On one hand, we had a festival favorite in Flee, an animated documentary on the migrant crisis, while on the other hand, we found ourselves charmed by a couple of Disney releases. The year was also overwhelmed by animated musicals namely Encanto, Vivo, Sing 2, Belle, and On-Gaku: Our Sound. Streaming giant Netflix managed to distribute two animated films that became immensely popular namely The Mitchells vs. The Machines and The Summit of the Gods. Not only did these two films turn out to be popular but they were also revered across all audiences.

To summarize, 2021 was a year of surprises and pleasure. Most strikingly, the year also reflects how the technological boom is changing the stories we tell, and not just how we tell them. The reasons can be found in the themes of the films that were released by some major studios/filmmakers.

Honorable Mention:

Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Watery Rebus

Best animated movies of 2021 honorable mention

A culmination of all things indecipherable stitched into motion with photographs, canvases, footage, and broken bits of speeches abandoned in pages of books, read but not registered. The luxuriance is intended and might accidentally please a certain section of its audience, for sensory pleasure is dependent upon subjective experience. When I read my own analysis of the film, or rather an attempt at it, I find it a glib but such is the effect. Beyond positivity and negativity. Beyond logical comprehension. And most importantly, beyond a complete disregard. Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Watery Rebus is a vibrant collection of homages to the genre it is experimenting with, sci-fi and noir, and therefore, to the giants of the genre. You cannot point out anything with confidence and thus, the film takes a unique shape for you. Accidental Luxuriance of the Translucent Watery Rebus is so personal a work of cinema that it is off-limits for a concrete perception. The most you can do as an audience is to describe your tryst with the film from an emic perspective.

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10. Vivo

Best animated movies of 2021 10 Vivo

This turned out to be the surprise entertainer of the year, considering the world around this film has been low and underappreciative. One aspect of this musical is that while all songs have their unique role to play in the worldbuilding, they converge in a few sequences to render the melody much more vibrant. Fortunately, I was able to groove, shake and tap on all the songs featured to the point that the narrative became completely secondary to me. How the conflict is established, how the motive is provided, how the screenplay is divided into three acts, how the characters develop in the journey, and what are their individual motivations, are some of the key questions you look for answers for while watching a film. When you scrutinize Vivo on these key aspects, you will be provided with a lot of room for criticism, for it has a very simplistic progression of the plot, and the resolutions are tropical. But a body that is moving to the beats finds itself either exhausted or uninterested to look for answers. A part of me was periodically screaming “Who cares?” to remind me that I’m watching something that is relaxing my senses, and giving me a joyride. This is the film meant to be enjoyed for what it is unabashedly. But here’s a catch. The entertainment factor of this film completely relies on its musical numbers, for there is absolutely nothing rewarding in the narrative itself. Therefore, if the songs don’t work out for you, Vivo will not work out for you either.

9. Josee, The Tiger, and The Fish

Best animated movies of 2021 09 Josee

Kotaro Tamura’s anime adaptation of a classic Japanese story has all elements of a sweet little melodrama rendered through gorgeously animated designs. It has an interesting interplay of warmth and frigidness as if different sequences have their personal moods. But unfortunately, the familiarity of this story doesn’t act as a source of nostalgia, for a number of tropes have been outdated now.

I am particularly disappointed with the continued treatment of a disabled person as an object of pity, even if the film tries to talk against looking at them with sympathy and even if the film makes them its protagonist. This story of a disabled person who is sour due to their relentless struggle and a caregiver of extreme tolerance relies too much on the struggles of the disabled individual, their trauma, and their difficulties that it almost never provides them with any agency. On the other hand, it paints an unrealistic portrait of another individual who is/are acting as an ally to the disabled individual. And then arrives the trope of karmic fate that renders the other individual struggling in almost the same manner for their awakening. The reliance on tragedy to evoke inspiration has become a cliché. But all is not lost in this film. The inability of the individuals to never be able to look at the world from the eyes of the disabled and yet, reflect faux sympathy is questioned. And in the majority of parts, it soothes your senses with a tale of love, friendship, and passion.

8. Cryptozoo

Best animated movies of 2021 08 Cryptozoo

Cryptids are unique sentient beings, some animal-like, some amalgams of animals and humans, some amalgams of different animals, owners of qualities, powers, and capacities with massive potential. There is a war between preservationists of cryptids and the government(s) that wishes to capture these creatures and use them as weapons for conflicts. Obviously, there is a binary of good and evil, with the evil being personified by the military agents and hired contractors, and the good being personified by the protectors of cryptids. To prevent the capture of a powerful cryptid by the government, which can turn out to be catastrophic for the counterculture movement in a sociopolitically heated America, our protagonist, a veterinary doctor, and a protector/preservationist, goes on a life-threatening mission.

Cryptozoo is an entertaining thriller of political relevance. The animation style is vibrant and imaginative but something that doesn’t win a personal admiration, for it lacks continuity in some places and is too uneven in many sequences of crucial actions, which compromises the overall beauty of the film. But that doesn’t strip Cryptozoo of its fine attributes such as its criticism of state-led violence against subcultures, communities, and movements.

7. Raya and The Last Dragon

Best animated movies of 2021 07 raya

It is easy to reject Raya and The Last Dragon as a mega-Studio’s effort to appropriate diversity and enter a progressive conversation. After all, a corporate giant is attempting its best to penetrate the Eastern markets. However, with that criticism on one side, there is no denying that the hitherto myopic focus of Disney on mythologies built with white people has turned stale. In an increasingly globalizing society, it is tiresome to watch characters from a homogenous group playing saviors, and adventurers. Therefore, the diversity of characters is refreshing, to say the least, if not revolutionizing.

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Raya and The Last Dragon is an entertaining affair with a better-than-the-rest story to keep you invested. At its heart lies the preaching of human unity and the need to see the beauty in heterogeneity for a stronger society. But most importantly, men do not dominate or propel any arc or invade into spaces that don’t belong to them by the virtue of their gender in this film.

6. Belle

Best animated movies of 2021 06 Belle

Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle was the most anticipated animated feature film of 2021. Does it reward your anticipation? Absolutely yes. But does it rise to the ranks of great films almost immediately? I am afraid not. Belle is gorgeous to hear and to look at. Its magnificence is an outcome of an animation industry that is vital to the culture of the nation itself. Then again, there’s the need to aesthetically stand out in an era where giants like Ghibli and Makoto Shinkai are active. But unlike the latter two names that have become institutions in themselves, Hosoda’s style has no unique aesthetic signature. Nevertheless, his stories feel personal and conscious of the sociopolitical shape of the eras they are set in.

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Belle is a rendition of a classic tale, set in a futuristic era of virtual reality, and it explores the association of identity with appearance. How a look influences a perception, how reality has become vulnerable to the influence of social media, and how personal tragedies affect not just us but also those around us, are some of the questions that are examined in this film. It becomes an essential watch if you have been an admirer of the filmmaker.

5. Ron’s Gone Wrong

I would name Ron’s Gone Wrong as the surprise of the year. I hadn’t even heard the name of this film until this month. It can be double-billed with Sony’s The Mitchell vs. The Machines released earlier last year. Needless to say, Ron’s Gone Wrong is centered around the growing encroachment of technology in our personal lives and how it is eroding our physical social interaction with people in favor of a virtual one. You might feel unexcited as it starts, for it tries to tell another story about an oddball schoolgoing child who is to come to terms with his reality and challenge his social anxiety that is an outcome of changing technological landscape, which has enslaved children to the companion of their personal buddy bots. And from time immemorial, American animation has been serving us the stories of oddballs, the majority of which treat these characters as anomalous. Ron’s Gone Wrong becomes a victor when it exposes how every child is unique and is going through the same problems as those of the film’s protagonist, regardless of their individuality. At that moment, the protagonist ceases to become an outlier.

In addition to this, Ron’s Gone Wrong is a heartfelt tale of friendship. It hits the right notes when it tells what being a friend essentially means, and is overloaded with the cuteness of archetypal bot ally, Ron, much like Baymax and Wall-E. And since it doesn’t come from a conglomerate studio but a couple of individual producers, you don’t feel an irony when the film satirizes the tech giants for their overreaching effect on our reality. It will definitely provide its audience with a pleasant experience. Highly recommended when you are in a need of honest entertainment.

4. The Mitchells vs. The Machines

Sony Pictures Animation has long been overshadowed by Pixar and Disney in the American children’s animation arena, even though it has managed to mark a pleasant departure from the latter’s aesthetics. Into the Spiderverse not only became successful but also established as the finest Spiderman film since Sam Raimi’s trilogy. The Mitchells vs. The Machines continues with the tradition and comes out to be refreshing when it doesn’t only focus on a single protagonist but an entire family riddled with dysfunctionality and yet, bound by love.

While the story is merely a reiteration of something that has been told before, The Mitchells vs. The Machines relies on pretty little elements, quirky characters, and slapstick comedy to provide entertainment. Netflix has managed to distribute a number of interesting titles in the last year and this film has to be one of them.

3. On-Gaku: Our Sound

Kenji Iwaisawa’s manga adaption Our Sound is an anti-musical, for it utilizes unexceptional sounds, and noise to create music from, and escapes all the tropes of a standard coming-of-age musical film. Designed with minimal aesthetics and rotoscoped to render a realistic appeal to movements while maintaining the comical look for its characters, On-Gaku: Our Sound eliminates expressions and exaggerated physical comedy for deadpan humor and archives it with rigor.

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Iwaisawa has been vocal about his inspiration from Aki Kaurismäki, which also becomes evident in the characters he has designed. In addition to all the interesting ways in which this film creates comedy, there is a reliance on fantastical escapism to visually express the range of emotions felt during an act or event, reminiscent of Isao Takahata’s family comedy My Neighbour The Yamadas. This is the most hilarious film to come out last year and it should be watched without failure.

2. The Summit of the Gods

When the entire life is reduced to a singular meaning derived from the mix of passion and tragedy, and that meaning manifests itself into the relentless effort, all other acts for sustenance become secondary, death becomes meaningless, and the journey becomes perpetual for as long as the body lasts. And when the body is devoured by the pursuit, the spirit is left somewhere along the path for those to feel who would take the same route. If spirit meant anything, it would be the knowledge that someone walked on the same ground as you with the same zeal as yours.

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Patrick Imbert’s The Summit of the Gods is a French animated drama based on a manga of the same name by Jiro Taniguchi. The aesthetic appeal of French-Japanese coproductions is charming to the senses, for it bears its originality along with the precision of anime. What makes The Summit of the Gods one of the most important films of 2021 is the interplay of passion and obsession, and its effect on a man’s life. It is as much a film on investigative journalism as it is about mountains. In its 90 minutes runtime, The Summit of the Gods rewards you with beautiful canvases and a chilling narrative about devotion to a cause and competitive spirit.

1. Flee

Our modern history is about nations killing other nations. The global North killing the global South. And we are on the verge of inheriting a future that is marred by the pessimistic possibility of collapse, both political and environmental. Flee’s appearance is that of another story about a migrant’s crisis. But it carries so much sociopolitical weight that its rendition becomes an act of aggression against the society that harbors this degree of cruelty.

Flee is a coming-of-age story enveloped in the skin of an escape thriller, with the latter possessing a horrifying tragedy that cannot be utilized for the ephemeral rush. However, it isn’t soul-killing per se because there is a window for catharsis but it will trigger a few between-the-lines thoughts that will feel like the effect of gravity increased on your existence and you will passively pray to never get stuck in a limbo that has an almost certainty of death. Death might not be as harrowing as subjugation, as an end, but the fact that it’s lurking can kill all life even if you breathe. Films like Flee expose that the world isn’t cruel by default but by design. And the violence on people is not only disproportionate but also intrinsically originated than extrinsically imposed by some foreign agent. We, as a species, are caught up in purgatory, and to have some hope, heat, and vision, we are burning a lamp with the lives of our own people for fuel.

Best Animated Films of 2021 Lists on FilmSchoolRejects, Screenrant

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