12 Movies That Will Make You Love Hand-Drawn Animation

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Illustration for article titled 12 Movies That Will Make You Love Hand-Drawn Animation

Screenshot: The Triplets of Bellville/YouTube (Fair Use)

In the 20 years since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences introduced the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, a hand-drawn movie has claimed the award only once—Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 masterpiece Spirited Away. From Shrek to Wall-e to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, every other winner save one—the stop-motion animated Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005—was birthed by a computer (with 2021 nominee Soul likely to follow suit next month). And I think that’s a shame.

That’s not to discount the artistry of computer-generated animation. Many 3-D animated films are stunning in their beauty and complexity, and have only grown more so as the medium has matured (it’s eye-opening to compare scenes from 1995’s Toy Story, the first entirely CG-animated feature, and 2019’s Toy Story 4). But there are qualities to 2-D animation that 3-D will simply never replicate—quirks and styles and visual shorthand (for example, goofy over-exaggeration for a gag, like this half-second shot of The Little Mermaid’s flounder losing it at the sight of a shark) that don’t quite transfer to the solely digital realm.

Hand-drawn animation has never really gone away—a scant few are released every year—but it’s telling that the biggest animated films of the past two decades have eschewed the style, at least in the U.S. (Japan still has more of an affinity for the more traditional style.) From its hey-day during the 1990s Disney Renaissance, when The Lion King became one of biggest moneymakers of all time—and even as it thrives on television—feature-length 2-D animation has become more of a curiosity, something celebrated by hardcore enthusiasts more than mainstream audiences. Disney’s last hand-drawn effort, 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, did passably, but its box office paled in comparison to the likes of Tangled and Frozen, released just a few years later.

While I love animation in general, the hand-drawn style will always be my favorite. Here are 12 films, drawing from across the history of the medium, that might makes it yours, too. At the very least, watching these entries will prove that you don’t need a Pixar-sized budget and a server warehouse to make a memorable animated feature.

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