Ever notice in reviews of animated movies they will say something along the lines of: “...but there’s plenty of adult references and jokes here to keep parents interested.” It’s a nod to the fact that parents take their kids to see animated movies like Frozen (2013) and the studios sneak in an adult joke every once in a while to keep the parents from dozing off.
Well, today we’re going to look at the wonderful, weird, and challenging animated movies that are intended entirely and without apology for adult audiences. And there’s no sneaking any little kid humor in there to appeal to the little ones. These are stories intended for grown-ups, with adult themes and characters. So, put the kids to bed, then fire up the DVD player for these, my favorite animated movies for adults.
Man, I love this movie, and it is so French. Written and directed by the French graphic novelist and comic book artist Sylvain Chomet, this tells the story of a grandmother searching for her kidnapped son, a Tour de France cyclist. Coming to her aid in this search are the triplet sisters of Belleville, who were once famous torch singers in 1930s pre-war Paris, but who are now elderly and slightly batty musicians (and, apparently, amateur detectives). This movie is relentlessly charming and amusing. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature but lost out to Finding Nemo (2003). I highly recommend it.
This is a searing animated memoir of an Israeli soldier’s experience of the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war. Written and directed by Ari Folman, this film may be animated, but it’s a documentary. It tells the story of Folman himself, who served in the Israeli army at the age of 19 during the war with Lebanon but has no memory of the experience. The film shows his attempts to recapture those memories, which prove to be horrific. Folman discovers that he witnessed and took part in a massacre at a Palestinian refugee camp. It’s a brilliant and deeply disturbing portrait of modern warfare and the toll it takes on soldiers.
This is another animated memoir, and well worth watching. Written and directed by Marjane Satrapi and based on her graphic novel/memoir of the same name, it tells the story of a young girl coming of age during the Islamic revolution in Iran in the late 1970s. Marjane is a lively teenage girl from an upper-middle-class family in Tehran. Initially, they are delighted with the revolution for deposing of the hated Shah of Iran. Meet the new boss, as The Who would say, same as the old boss. The religious oppression established by the new Islamic fundamentalist regime doesn’t offer much hope for a better life. The central character, Marjane (Marji) is a rebellious girl who just wants to have fun, listen to Metallica, and hang out with friends while wearing whatever she feels like wearing. That’s not going to work in revolutionary Iran, nor in a private Catholic girls’ school in Austria where she is sent. Marji is one of the most compelling teenage girl characters ever on film—she’s bold, self-confident, and positive. This might be the perfect film to share with your teenage daughter.
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track movie to rent and then say to your friends, “I can’t believe you’ve never even heard of this movie,” then this is the rental for you! Written and directed by Richard Linklater and based on a Philip K. Dick novel, I had never heard of this movie until a coworker told me about it. Psst…it’s really odd and pretty fabulous. Originally shot live action and then animated through a process called rotoscoping, it tells the story of a dystopian near-future in which 20% of the US population is addicted to a powerful hallucinogen called Substance D. An undercover drug agent (Keanu Reeves) is tasked with entering into the secret world of the drug dealers so the government can break up their grip on our society. It’s a creepy and unsettling film with a remarkable cast that also includes Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder. Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones also has a small role as a crazy street preacher with a megaphone. Hah! One of the few laughs in a dark and grim film that imagines a pretty terrible future for all of us.
We all know about hand-drawn animated movies because that’s the way they were all made until computers came along. Well, this is the first—and probably only—hand-painted movie. And appropriately so, because it’s a biopic about Vincent van Gogh. Using van Gogh’s paintings as the starting point for animation, it tells the story of the final days of his life and may be one of the most visually beautiful films ever been made. Every one of the film’s frames is an oil painting done in van Gogh’s style. It was co-directed by Polish film director Dorota Kobiela and British filmmaker Hugh Welchman, this astonishing film pulls you immediately into van Gogh’s gorgeous and tragic world. It’s unforgettable and you’ll want to watch it over and over.
One of my favorite TV shows of all time! Here, Jonathan Katz (or an animated Squigglevision version of himself) plays a therapist whose clientele consists entirely of comedians and actors. In each episode, Dr. Katz has a couple of famous comedians in his office for their therapy sessions. The comics basically do bits from their acts, while Dr. Katz patiently tries to help them work their way through their neuroses. And this isn’t even the funniest part of the show. The funniest part is Dr. Katz’s home life with his indolent adult son who still lives with him (voiced by Jon Benjamin), and his rude and equally indolent office receptionist (voiced by Laura Silverman). The entire series is available from DVD.com, and I recommend you set aside a weekend to binge on this very amusing show.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.