Ani-MAY-tion: 14 great animated movies you might have missed

You never need an excuse to watch a great movie. But it helps, especially when it comes to choosing something that might be off the radar. 

That’s why we’ve compiled a list of some of the best animated movies available to rent or stream for a little collection called "Ani-MAY-tion." (Get it? Like the month?)

These are some of the most beautiful, surprising movies you can see anywhere, running the gamut from madcap hijinks to immigration documentaries. 

Many are family-friendly; some are firmly for grown-ups. We’ll tell you which is which.

And while we love the American classics, only one of the movies below was made by Disney or Pixar – the goal was to choose some excellent flicks you might not have seen or even heard of. 

So grab the popcorn, say a (temporary) goodbye to "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" and "Frozen," and enjoy one of these gorgeous films. 

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Robot Dreams (in theaters May 31)

This recent Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature makes the bold choice of including no dialogue – but maybe you don’t need language when you’ve got a dog and his robot friend? "Robot Dreams" centers on a dog (named Dog) living in New York in the 1980s. Terribly lonely, he decides to change his situation and build himself a robot friend, a decision that leads to a lot of joy, but also to heartbreak after a fateful trip to the beach. Moving and funny, "Robot Dreams" is a simple but unforgettable story of gratitude, friendship, growth, and the incalculable power of "September" by Earth, Wind & Fire. 

  • Is "Robot Dreams" kid-friendly? It treads some complicated emotional territory and is best suited for older children and teens (as well as adults).
  • Where is "Robot Dreams" streaming? At present, it’s not – look for it in theaters at the end of May.
  • The details: Not rated. 102 minutes. Directed by Pablo Berger.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

One of director Wes Anderson’s best movies stars George Clooney as a fox. To be more specific, Clooney voices the titular Mr. Fox, a nattily dressed, occasionally reckless and inconveniently ambitious fox who has put his thieving days behind him – at least that’s what he’s promised his wife (Meryl Streep). This beautifully animated stop-motion film is one of the best Roald Dahl adaptations ever to make it to the big screen, made up of a richly-textured world, an endlessly charming story and a slew of great vocal performances. 

  • Is "Fantastic Mr. Fox" kid-friendly? Yes, but as with all PG-rated kid flicks, parents should use their best judgment when it comes to younger kids.
  • Where is "Fantastic Mr. Fox" streaming? It’s currently streaming on both Disney+ and Hulu.
  • The details: Rated PG. 87 minutes. Directed by Wes Anderson. In English. Featuring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

Producers Phil Miller and Christopher Lord ("Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse") dropped a lovable yet seriously dysfunctional family right into a robot apocalypse, and in "The Mitchells vs. the Machines," Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) and company more than rose to the occasion. Co-writers Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe blend pathos and humor as nimbly as the film's several animation styles, creating a treat for the eyes, ears (courtesy of Mark Mothersbaugh's excellent score) and heart. Oh, and it just might make you think twice about welcoming Siri and Alexa into your home, courtesy of a deliciously deranged vocal performance from Oscar winner Olivia Colman. 

  • Is "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" kid-friendly? Yes, but as with all PG-rated kid flicks, parents should use their best judgment when it comes to younger kids.
  • Where is "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" streaming? It’s currently streaming on Netflix.
  • The details: Rated PG. Runtime 110 minutes. In English. Directed by Mike Rianda. Featuring: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett.

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Any list of great animated films could include at least 10 from Japan’s Studio Ghibli, and even then there’d be some gems left out, so impressive is the studio’s filmography (which includes recent Oscar winner "The Boy and the Heron"). But we’re going to restrict ourselves to just one, and bypass the marvelous but well-known charms of "My Neighbor Totoro," "Kiki’s Delivery Service" and "Spirited Away" in favor of this beautiful little romance. The adventures of the heroine of "Whisper of the Heart," 14-year-old bookworm Shizuku, begin when she notices that all her library books have been previously checked out by the same person, a boy named Seiji. As she wonders about the mysterious reader’s identity, she finds herself drawn to an unusual antique store and an even more unusual cat statue, and the latter sends her imagination reeling in new directions and puts her on a new path. 

  • Is "Whisper of the Heart" kid-friendly? Absolutely.
  • Where is "Whisper of the Heart" streaming? It’s currently streaming on Max.
  • The details: Rated G. 111 minutes. Directed by Yoshifumi Kondo. Available both in Japanese with English subtitles, and dubbed in English with a voice cast that includes Brittany Snow, Jean Smart and Cary Elwes.

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The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

One of the very first feature-length animated films, director Lotte Reiniger’s breathtaking retelling of stories from "The Arabian Nights" would be impressive if it came out today, let alone nearly a century ago. Using shadow puppets, stop-motion animation and color tinting, it’s an incredible technical feat, but give your brain a few minutes to get past the "how did they do that?" of it all and you’ll be left with a visually stunning film and some captivating stories. 

  • Is "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" kid-friendly? Depends on the kid. The stories deal with some adult themes, and the lack of dialogue and slower pace may be a tough sell for kids with shorter attention spans.
  • Where is "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" streaming? You can stream this, and many other cinematic classics, via the Criterion Channel.
  • The details: Not rated. 66 minutes. No spoken language. Directed by Lotte Reiniger.

Flee (2022)

Deceptively simple and profoundly moving, "Flee" uses animation not to defy the laws of physics or to make cute animals talk, but to help someone draw back the curtain they've kept draped over a heartbreaking secret for decades. In Jonas Poher Rasmussen's deeply empathetic documentary, the grown-up Amin Nawabi recounts his childhood flight from Afghanistan, his life as a refugee and the wrenching sacrifices made by himself and his family to give him a chance at a safe and whole life. 

  • Is "Flee" kid-friendly? Best to leave this one for older teens and adults.
  • Where is "Flee" streaming? It’s currently streaming on Hulu.
  • The details: Rated PG-13. 90 minutes. In Danish with English subtitles. Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen; written by Rasmussen and Amin Nawabi, the subject of the documentary.

Vivo (2021)

In case Lin-Manuel Miranda didn’t have enough on his plate in 2021 — the year he produced "In The Heights," directed "Tick, Tick... Boom!," and wrote the songs for Disney’s "Encanto" — he also played a major role in this charming Sony Pictures animated flick too. Miranda voices Vivo, a music-loving monkey from Cuba who somewhat reluctantly finds himself on a wacky adventure with a free-spirited young girl named Gabi (Ynairaly Simo). With both goofy humor and heartfelt storytelling, "Vivo" is a bit of an underrated gem. Oh, and did we mention that Miranda wrote the movie’s catchy songs too? 

  • Is "Vivo" kid-friendly? Yes, but as with all PG-rated kid flicks, parents should use their best judgment when it comes to younger kids.
  • Where is "Vivo" streaming? "Vivo" is currently streaming on Netflix.
  • The details: Rated PG. 95 minutes. In English. Directed by Kirk DeMicco. Featuring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Zoe Saldaña, Brian Tyree Henry, Gloria Estefan, Michael Rooker, Nicole Byer.

The Boxtrolls (2014)

At one point in "The Boxtrolls," a film from the stop-motion animation studio Laika, 10-year-old Winnie (voiced by Elle Fanning) asks her new acquaintance Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) about his friends, the Boxtrolls. Legend has it that these sewer-dwelling trolls are quite fearsome. In reality, they wear cardboard boxes as clothes, steal bits of scrap metal in the night and are actually quite friendly, even merry. But Winnie doesn’t know that yet, and her hopes are high. "Did they eat your family, and did they let you watch?" she asks eagerly. Eggs expresses confusion, and she hastily corrects herself: "I mean, make you watch." She attempts to return her mask of ladylike propriety, but it's clear where her obsessions lie. Winnie’s fascination with the macabre — she’s heard about rivers of blood, and piles of bones from all the babies the Boxtrolls are said to eat — becomes both a funny running gag and a canny bit of characterization in this refreshing, underrated film." Read the rest of film critic Jesse Hassenger's retrospective.

  • Is "The Boxtrolls" kid-friendly? Yes, but as with all PG-rated kid flicks, parents should use their best judgment when it comes to younger kids.
  • Where is "The Boxtrolls" streaming? "The Boxtrolls" is currently streaming on Netflix.
  • The details: Rated PG. 96 minutes. In English. Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi. Featuring: Elle Fanning,  Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Toni Collette, Simon Pegg.

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Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021)

This kid-friendly A24 movie is somehow whimsical, bittersweet, life-affirming and a little bit heartbreaking all at once. It’s a delightful surprise to find all that emotional complexity rolled up in such an unassuming little package via the story of a one-inch tall talking shell with big shoes and bigger dreams. But if there’s one thing this lovingly crafted mockumentary drills home, it’s that it’s best not to underestimate Marcel. Perhaps that’s why the film that bears his name is one of the best of the year — a modern comedy that feels equally like a timeless fairy tale." Read the rest of film critic Caroline Siede’s review. 

  • Is "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" kid-friendly? Yes, but parents should note that it does deal with issues of aging, mortality and grief.
  • Where is "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" streaming? "Marcel" is currently streaming on Netflix, and can be checked out from Hoopla, a digital streaming service affiliated with many libraries.
  • The details: Rated PG. 90 minutes. In English. Directed by Dean Fleischer Camp. Featuring: Jenny Slate, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, Isabella Rossellini.

ParaNorman (2012)

During the summer of 2012, "ParaNorman" burst out of the gate with apparitional force. Directors Sam Fell and Chris Butler’s original, family-friendly horror-comedy family flick is a passionate ode to ’80s horror legends like Stephen King and John Carpenter. But it’s more than a nostalgic tribute: It also found room for a compelling theme of tolerance unlike anything else widely available to kids at the time." Read the rest of film journalist Rendy Jones’ retrospective

  • Is "ParaNorman" kid-friendly? Yes, but it's horror-centric story makes it a better fit for older kids.
  • Where is "ParaNorman" streaming? "ParaNorman" is currently available to rent from Amazon, Apple and other streaming retailers.
  • The details: Rated PG. 92 minutes. In English. Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell. Featuring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, John Goodman.

The Bad Guys (2022)

Mix one part "Zootopia" with two parts "Ocean’s Eleven" and just a dash of the visual flair of "Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse" and you’ve got "The Bad Guys," the new animated caper from DreamWorks. Based on a book series by Australian author Aaron Blabey, "The Bad Guys" anchors its story around a pack of career criminals who consider their lack of moral scruples a point of pride. But considering how sweet these bad guys are with one another, is there a chance they might have a good side after all?" Read the rest of film critic Caroline Siede’s review.

  • Is "The Bad Guys" kid-friendly? Yes, but as with all PG-rated kid flicks, parents should use their best judgment when it comes to younger kids.
  • Where is "The Bad Guys" streaming? It’s currently available to stream for Amazon Prime members.
  • The details: Rated PG. 100 minutes. Directed by Pierre Perifel. In English. Featuring: Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Awkwafina, Richard Ayoade, Zazie Beetz, Lilly Singh, Alex Borstein.

The Summit of the Gods (2021)

This adaptation of Jiro Taniguchi and Baku Yumemakura's manga series of the same name uses a deceptively simple animation style to tell a story of obsession, determination, the fragility of life and the beautiful wildness of the world, following — in dueling timelines — a photographer in pursuit of a once-in-a-lifetime find and a climber determined to become the best mountaineer in the world entirely on his own. Rarely has the sight of a straining rope created so much tension, or have grief and awe been so perfectly intermingled. 

  • Is "The Summit of the Gods" kid-friendly? While rated PG, "The Summit of the Gods" deals with some pretty heavy issues, including grief, mortality and obsession. Fine for older teens, but may be a lot for anyone younger.
  • Where is "The Summit of the Gods" streaming? It’s currently streaming on Netflix.
  • The details: Rated PG. 90 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Directed by Patrick Imbert. Featuring: Eric Herson-Macarel, Damien Boisseau, Elisabeth Ventura.

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Turning Red (2022)

This underrated Pixar gem follows 13-year-old protagonist Meilin "Mei" Lee (Rosalie Chiang) — a boy-band-loving, Tamagotchi-wielding, overachieving booksmart tween who’s certain she’s got adulthood totally figured out. Sure, she sometimes feels torn between her middle school social life and her relationship with her overprotective, family-oriented mom, Ming Lee (Sandra Oh), but it’s nothing Mei can’t handle. At least until she wakes up one morning as a giant red panda." Read the rest of film critic Caroline Siede’s review

  • Is "Turning Red" kid-friendly? Yes, but as with all PG-rated kid flicks, parents should use their best judgment when it comes to younger kids.
  • Where is "Turning Red" streaming? As with nearly everything in the Disney and Pixar libraries, "Turning Red" can be found on Disney+.
  • The details: 99 minutes. Rated PG. Directed by Domee Shi. In English. Featuring: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Wai Ching Ho, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee.

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

Animal testing, a brutal struggle between rival rat factions, a widowed mom with a sick kid and a potentially lethal housing crisis, plus an extremely creepy owl voiced by legendary character actor John Carradine, all in a movie somewhat inexplicably rated G. It's difficult to know what kids accustomed to the fast-paced digital animation of the 21st century will make of the hand-drawn "NIMH" — though anyone with an appreciation for the classic Disney cartoons might see how it fits just to the side of the Disney canon. In some ways, the movies Don Bluth made in the 1980s, including "NIMH," "An American Tail" and "The Land Before Time," feel like an alternate history of Disney: Here’s what those animators might have gotten up to if they hadn’t been floundering for much of the decade." Read the rest of film critic Jesse Hassenger's retrospective. 

  • Is "The Secret of NIHM" kid-friendly? Yes, but some moments are quite scary (and a grown-up is writing this), so older kids are a safer bet.
  • Where is "The Secret of NIMH" streaming? It’s streaming for free on Tubi. It’s also available to stream for Amazon Prime members and can be checked out from Hoopla, a digital streaming service affiliated with many libraries.
  • The details: Rated G. 82 minutes. In English. Directed by Don Bluth. Featuring: Elizabeth Hartman, Dom DeLuise, Derek Jacobi, John Carradine, Shannen Doherty, Wil Wheaton.