Animated films are getting better and better. There are so many, it’s hard to keep them all straight. While we think some films get more attention than they deserve (we’re really trying to…ahem…let it go), we want to focus on the ones that don’t get enough. Sometimes an outstanding animated film will come around and fly under the radar. There are a few reasons this happens — sometimes they are too dark, sometimes they have a terrible release date, and sometimes they come from an unknown studio. But what we do know is that everyone should watch these 10 underrated animated films. 


The Black Cauldron


Underrated Animated Movies - an image from The Black Cauldron

Of all the movies Disney has produced, this is the darkest. The Black Cauldron is often forgotten, but we think it deserves better. The film is full of violent imagery, necromancy, captivity, and death — which was a little much for a lot of parents. There are monsters and the Fair Folk as well as many strange creatures. The story follows Taran as he tries to stop the Horned King from raising an undead army. Most of the movie feels bleak and somewhat hopeless. It lost 21 million dollars on its release, and put Disney near bankruptcy. While it may not be a good movie for children, it’s a great watch and will remind you what it truly means to be a hero.


Balto


Underrated Animated Movies - an image from Balto

It seems like every other talking animal film when you look at it on the surface, but Balto is based (loosely) on a true story. It used to be impossible to get medication to rural parts of Alaska in the winter without using sled dogs, and Balto was a hero amongst them. He helped to ensure diptheria medication made it to Nome, Alaska, to help stop an outbreak. The story focuses on the wolf-dog hybrid, Balto, who is an outcast in his community. Rejected by both humans and other dogs, Balto must struggle to fit in. He exists between two worlds and neither trusts him. The movie examines determination despite discrimination. We love that Balto’s bravery is in every moment of the film and it shows what determination can do.


Meet the Robinsons


Underrated Animated Movies - an image from Meet the Robinsons

Meet the Robinsons is a very roundabout movie about found family. It’s loud, unapologetic, and teaches audiences that it’s okay to fail. Failure is just a stop on the road to success, after all. Through an incredibly silly plot about time travel, singing frogs, and hats (yes, hats), Meet the Robinsons is charming and will delight you the whole way through. It deserves to be talked about and watched a lot more than it is. 

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Anastasia


Underrated Animated Movies - an image from Anastasia

This classic would be further down our list, but it recently received a little boost to its notoriety when Disney acquired the rights to Fox — and thus, it isn’t as unknown or unrecognized as some of the films on our list (and she’s pretty much a Disney Princess now). Anastasia is a story about belonging and discovering yourself. While we know from the start that Anya is the missing Princess Anastasia — the con-men Dimitri and Vladimir don’t when they try to use her to claim the reward for finding her.

The story is a change of heart for the men — who fall for Anya’s charms, and for Anya — it’s finding a home she’s never known. The movie boasts a soundtrack to rival any Disney production, and visuals well worth the watch. It was a little grotesque for some parents when it premiered (the villain literally falls to pieces) which is why it came to be on the underrated animated films list in the first place, but its charm makes it a must-see for fans of animation. 


Brother Bear


Underrated Animated Movies - an image from Brother Bear

This was a film we didn’t really connect with the first time we watched it. But as we rewatched Brother Bear, we realized it’s got a lot more going on than we first admitted. For one, it has Phil Collins music — including one of our favorite Disney songs “I’m On My Way.” It’s a story about taking responsibility for your actions, unlearning prejudice, and about finding a home with people you choose. It’s about developing an understanding for people (and creatures) who aren’t like you. The movie is touching and absolutely earned its spot on this list. 


Atlantis: The Lost Empire


Underrated Animated Movies - an image from Atlantis

When it came out, Atlantis didn’t fit into the usual princess movie narrative. Much like Aladdin, it followed the leading man instead of the leading lady — and Milo wasn’t precisely a savvy or strong character like Al was. He was a misfit who was considered crazy for following in his grandfather’s footsteps. But in the end, his knowledge is imperative to finding the lost empire. The characters are all fully developed and likable (even the villains, to a point), which makes it fun to watch. No one in the main cast feels like a background character. The story is compelling, the setting is beautiful, and the characters are wonderful. It’s hard to see how this movie didn’t become an instant classic. We think this movie deserves so much more love than it gets.


Secret of Nimh


Underrated Animated Movies - an image from Secret of Nihm

You’d think that a movie revolving around a widowed mother mouse would be a quaint romp — but Secret of Nimh is anything but that. It includes science experiments, magic, sword fights, and most of all, kindness. Ms. Brisby is trying to save her family from the farmer when he starts to plow his fields early, but her son is too sick to move. She meets rats who use human technology, and they agree to help her in her quest.

In the end, she saves them as they helped to save her — but it is her own courage that saves her family. It’s an incredible story that shows that anyone, no matter how shy or who they are, can be a hero if given the right moment. Like many of the underrated animated films on this list, it was a little too dark for parents, and it fell short of expectations. However, we recommend you add it to your must-watch list.


Song of the Sea


an image from Song of the Sea

This film is one of the least known on this list. It’s made by a small company called Cartoon Saloon, and it was only the second they ever made. It’s a story about finding out who you are — and not denying any part of yourself. Song of the Sea follows a selkie (seal) woman and her human family. Well, it follows her disappearance and its effects on her family. Her daughter Saoirse is revealed as a selkie, and they must hide in the city from the Faerie folk. It is a story about old legends and magic. The art style is very different from most animated films, and it invokes a yearning for the world it imagines. The movie covers grief, and in the end, despite the sorrow, it offers hope. If you have not heard of this film before this list — you should watch it. 


The Road to El Dorado


an image from Road to Eldorado

We all know Elton John can write an epic soundtrack (look at Lion King), so when Dreamworks hired him for The Road to El Dorado, we knew it would be great. The story is playful and follows two Spanish con-men, Miguel and Tulio, who end up discovering El Dorado. Mistaken for gods, they plan to scam the people, only to be trapped between the kind leader and a religious zealot. In the end, they fall in love with the people and are forced to choose between untold riches and saving the city from colonial conquest. This is an example of a time when one of these underrated animated films wasn’t too dark, but instead came at a time when most studios were shifting to CGI.


The Iron Giant 


an image from Iron Giant

This film was a needed message and one that sadly was not well heard. The Iron Giant is about a giant automaton made for war, falling to earth and “forgetting” what it was. It learns right and wrong from a little boy, and with the help of his eccentric junkyard artist friend, they try to keep the giant out of the hands of the military, who would seek to destroy it. But everything goes wrong, and in the end, this machine of war seeks peace.

It’s a sad story with a hopeful ending — and it actively encourages finding a way to solve our problems without violence. The animation is beautiful, the story is heartwarming, and it’s filled with so many good humorous moments. It’s a must-watch for anyone who loves animation. Our hope is that it will hopefully one day be well enough known to get off our underrated animated films list..


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