Since Steamer Willie for Encanto, animation has long occupied a prominent place in the world of cinema. It has evolved considerably over the last century; Once a painstaking process of hand-drawing animation cels, modern animated blockbusters are now rendered via state-of-the-art computer technology.
Yet what hasn’t changed is the propensity for weirdness within the medium. From the chilling fantasies of Tim Burton to the unforgettable weirdness of Fancy, animation allows artists to express themselves in a way that is not possible via conventional cinema. While many avant-garde anime offerings are overlooked by the general public, these ten are definitely worth a watch.
ten Heavy Metal (1981)
Striking, elegant and undeniably strange, 1981 heavy metal is an anthology film that tells the story of six individuals from across space and time who have encountered the strange orb of catastrophic power known as 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 it was released, it’s a landmark alt-animated film that likely influenced modern animated releases like Love, death and robots and Electric dreams.
9 The Black Cauldron (1985)
The story of a teenager named Taran who embarks on a high-fantasy adventure to challenge the evil Horned King, 1985s The black cauldron is often considered one of Disney’s worst animated productions. Released a few years before the Disney animated film revival in the 1990s, The black cauldron was so poorly received that it nearly bankrupted the studio.
That said, the film has, in recent years, achieved cult status among Disney fanatics for its dark undertones and spooky nature. It doesn’t look anything like a Disney movie, but, for some, that’s part of the appeal.
8 Fantastic Planet (1973)
Easily confused with the iconic 1996 alternative rock album of the same name by band Failure, 1973’s fantasy planet is relentlessly eerie and tells a dark tale of mass murder and interspecies struggle in a distant world inhabited by both ordinary humans and large blue human-like beings.
In a sense, fantasy planet is a sort of anti-Disney movie. While most animated films of the time sought to tell heartwarming stories of triumph and true love, fantasy planet is a morbid film that takes itself very seriously. Imaginative animation contrasts with a grim story to create something misanthropically beautiful.
7 Food Fight (2012)
In stark contrast to the distant fantasy realms of most weird animated movies, food fight is instead a bizarre and partly maligned production, riddled with glitches and product placement. Originally conceived as a blockbuster slated for release in 2003, the film floundered for years until the production company defaulted on a loan, prompting a straight-to-video release in 2012.
Featuring recognizable celebrities such as Charlie Sheen and Hillary Duff, food fight sees anthropomorphized food brand icons seek to save Marketopolis from Brand X domination. It’s awkward, confusing, and downright hideous in places, but it’s also weird enough to serve as the quintessential example of cinematic weirdness.
6 The Last Unicorn (1982)
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 coming to town, The last unicorn is a fantastic adventure which, like The black cauldron, failed to catch on when first created. However, it has since gained a major cult following.
The plot is about a unicorn looking to find other members of its species, but it quickly turns into some pretty weird territory. With all manner of beasts, villains, and truly hair-raising moments, The last unicorn offers an unforgettable viewing experience even four decades after its debut.
5 Watership Down (1978)
Based on the 1972 novel of the same name by author Richard Adams, boat down tells the story of a group of rabbits struggling to find a new home after their warren is threatened by urban development. While the author fervently asserted that there was no greater meaning behind the tale, many compared it to classic tales of freedom and totalitarianism and the classic epics of Homer and Virgil.
The 1978 anime adaptation, however, is known for ditching its idyllic source material, instead playing horror and war themes. Horrifying and blood-soaked, while the movie was probably aimed at kids, it’s a tough watch even for adults.
4 Consume Spirits (2012)
Painful saga of conflict and self-pity, Chris Sullivan’s Consume spirits is an animated feature that uses several different styles of animation to create something that feels uniquely misanthropic. The story of three people who all work for a local newspaper, the film is an examination of the dark secrets hidden by otherwise normal people.
Undeniably avant-garde, Consume spirits is certainly not for everyone, but those who enjoy the surreal weirdness of movies like Scrub or Céline and Julie go boating will definitely like it.
3 Yellow Submarine (1968)
The Beatles are probably the most recognizable musical group of all time. Influencing almost every aspect of modern music and creating some of the most famous albums of the 20th century, every music lover is at least aware of the Fab Four.
That said, only the true Beatles faithful have probably seen the 1968s. yellow submarine. Companion to the album of the same name, yellow submarine was arguably the pinnacle of the band’s psychedelic era. Filled with eerie, brightly colored pop art imagery and advancing no sort of cohesive narrative, it’s an eerie watch that pairs perfectly with the equally eerie album.
2 Gandahar – Light Years (1987)
The idyllic planet of Gandahar has not been threatened by any kind of outside force for ages, and the planet’s inhabitants have cultivated a passive and friendly society untainted by war or political unrest. However, this changes when a machine race targets the planet and begins to assimilate the population.
An allegory of fascism and the struggle to maintain an individualistic mindset, Gandahar is often compared to the equally odd animated feature fantasy planet. Both are extremely weird, though their eye-catching art styles and striking aesthetics have earned them cult followings over the years.
1 The Cosmic Eye (1986)
Directed by animation pioneer Faith Hubley, The cosmic eye is a bizarre series of almost inexplicable sequences that seem to tell the story of an alien race visiting Earth. Loaded with eerie imagery and evoking a kind of sketchbook style, The cosmic eye has to be one of the weirdest movies to come out in the last half century.
Although obviously not destined for commercial success, The cosmic eye, as was the case with the rest of Hubley’s work, helped advance the medium and break down the boundaries of the film world. It’s an unconventional piece, but, for many, that’s what makes Hubley’s work so appealing.
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