From Steamboat Willie to Encanto, animation has long been a major part of the world of film. It’s evolved drastically over the past century; once a painstaking process of hand-drawing animation cels, modern animated blockbusters are now rendered via cutting-edge computer tech.
Yet, what hasn’t changed is the propensity for weirdness within the medium. From the frightening fantasies of Tim Burton to the unforgettable oddness of Fantasia, animation allows artists to express themselves in ways not possible via conventional filmmaking. While many avant-garde animated offerings are disregarded by general audiences, these ten definitely warrant a watch.
Striking, stylish, and undeniably strange, 1981’s Heavy Metal is an anthology film that tells the tale of six individuals from throughout space and time who’ve come across the strange, catastrophically-powerful orb known as the Loc-Nar.
Replicating the ethos of the titular magazine on which it was based, Heavy Metal is full of sex and violence, so much so that it would have been considered incredibly taboo at the time. While the only audiences interested in the film today are likely nostalgic for the decade in which it was released, it’s a landmark alternative animated film that likely influenced modern-day animated outings like Love, Death & Robots and Electric Dreams.
The tale of a teen boy named Taran who embarks on a high fantasy adventure to challenge the evil Horned King, 1985’s The Black Cauldron is often regarded as one of Disney’s worst animated productions. Released a few years before the Disney animated film renaissance in the 1990s, The Black Cauldron was so poorly-received that it nearly bankrupt the studio.
That said, the film has, in recent years, attained something of a cult status among Disney fanatics for its dark undertones and creepy nature. It doesn’t feel like a Disney film whatsoever, but, for some, that’s part of the appeal.
Easily confused with the iconic 1996 alternative rock album of the same name by the band Failure, 1973’s Fantastic Planet is unrelentingly strange and tells a dark tale of mass murder and interspecies struggle on a far-off world inhabited by both regular humans and large, blue human-like beings.
In a way, Fantastic Planet is sort of an anti-Disney movie. While most animated films of the era sought to tell heartwarming tales of triumph and true love, Fantastic Planet is a morbid movie that takes itself very seriously. Imaginative animation is contrasted with a sinister story to create something misanthropically beautiful.
In stark contrast to the far-off fantasy realms of most odd animated movies, Food Fight is instead a bizarre and partly maligned production riddled with issues and product placement. Originally intended as a blockbuster slated for a 2003 release, the film floundered for years until the production company defaulted on a loan, resulting in a direct-to-video release in 2012.
Starring recognizable celebrities such as Charlie Sheen and Hillary Duff, Food Fight sees anthropomorphized food brand icons questing to save Marketopolis from the dominion of Brand X. It’s awkward, confusing, and downright hideous in some places, but it’s also strange enough to serve as a quintessential example of cinematic oddity.
Produced by Rankin/Bass, the studio best known for stop-motion animated Christmas specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, The Last Unicorn is a fantastical adventure that, much like The Black Cauldron, failed to catch on when it originally premiered. However, it has since gained a major cult following.
The plot concerns a unicorn questing to find other members of her species, but it quickly spirals into pretty strange territory. With all manners of beasts, baddies, and some genuinely hair-raising moments, The Last Unicorn makes for an unforgettable viewing experience even four decades after its debut.
Based on the 1972 novel of the same name by author Richard Adams, Watership Down tells the tale of a group of rabbits struggling to find a new home after their warren is threatened by urban development. While the author earnestly claimed that there was no greater meaning behind the tale, many have likened it to classic tales of freedom and totalitarianism and the classic epics of Homer and Virgil.
The 1978 animated adaptation, however, is notorious for abandoning its idyllic source material, instead of playing up themes of horror and war. Gruesome and blood-soaked, while the movie was likely meant for children, it’s a tough watch even for adults.
A sorrowful saga of strife and self-pity, Chris Sullivan’s Consuming Spirits is an animated feature that employs multiple different styles of animation to create something that feels uniquely misanthropic. The tale of three individuals who all work for a local newspaper, the film is an examination of the dark secrets hidden by otherwise normal people.
Undeniably avant-garde, Consuming Spirits certainly isn’t for everyone, but those who enjoy the surreal strangeness of films like Gummo or Celine and Julie Go Boating will definitely love this.
The Beatles are probably the most recognizable music group of all time. Influencing nearly every aspect of modern music and crafting some of the most-renowned albums of the twentieth century, every music lover is at least casually aware of the Fab Four.
That said, only real Beatles faithful are likely to have seen 1968’s Yellow Submarine. A companion piece to the album of the same name, Yellow Submarine was arguably the pinnacle of the band’s psychedelic era. Filled with strange, brightly-colored pop art imagery and advancing no kind of cohesive narrative, it’s a weird watch that pairs perfectly with the equally-odd album.
The idyllic planet of Gandahar has not been threatened by any kind of outside force in ages, and the planet’s people have cultivated a passive, friendly society untainted by war or political turmoil. However, this changes when a race of machines targets the planet and begins to assimilate the populace.
An allegory for fascism and the struggle to maintain an individualistic mindset, Gandahar is often compared to the similarly-strange animated feature Fantastic Planet. Both are supremely weird, though their eye-catching art styles and striking aesthetics have earned them cult followings over the years.
Directed by animation pioneer Faith Hubley, The Cosmic Eye is a strange series of almost unexplainable sequences which seem to tell the tale of an alien race visiting Earth. Loaded with odd imagery and evoking a sort of sketchbook style, The Cosmic Eye has to be one of the strangest movies to release in the past half-century.
While obviously not destined for commercial success, The Cosmic Eye, as was the case with the rest of Hubley’s work, helped to advance the medium and break boundaries in the world of cinema. It’s an unconventional piece, but, for many, that’s what makes Hubley’s work so attractive.
NEXT: 10 Animated Disney Movies With The Most Songs, Ranked