This year’s list features mad gods, shells with shoes on, and the best Shrek movie ever.
This article is part of our 2022 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we assemble the best animated movies of 2022.
This year’s Best Animated Movies list was easily the toughest to construct. There is no padding found below. Each film represented succeeds in what it’s offering and showcases the medium’s power. Compared to the last few of these I’ve put together for Film School Rejects, I can proudly proclaim 2022 as the finest year for animated features I’ve ever had the pleasure of covering.
Clearly, Netflix is taking a page from its true crime playbook, scooping up as many flicks as possible, forcing animation fans to pay attention to its platform. Walt Disney Animation Studios is typically represented, and Universal Pictures uncovered several gems this year. There are also the usual strong anime showings and the occasional weirdo Brad pick (go ahead and jump to my number fifteen).
However, the real joy in 2022 was stop-motion animation’s total domination. As you work through the movies below, you’ll discover my obsession with the most obviously effortful art form. We receive some golden stop-motion beauties every year, but we have five (FIVE!) stop-frame animated flicks represented this year and one rotoscoped cosmic jewel. That’s crazy. Please keep ’em coming, filmmakers.
15. Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie is not interested in bringing new or old fans to the franchise. This brisk, action-heavy, chaotic adventure is designed only to please those obsessed with this latest Ninja Turtle iteration. The movie begins in the far future. The Krang are minutes from conquering the planet. An old Leonardo and Michaelangelo combine their talents and propel a young Casey Jones back to modern-day New York mere moments before the alien baddies gain the upper hand on the Splinter Clan. Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie is the end that the series never got on television. It’s a little gift to the faithful, a sweet but radical goodbye to our heroes before they’re rebooted in Seth Rogen’s Mutant Mayhem.
14. The Bad Guys
My first response toward The Bad Guys was that it was a sinister slide on the whole Zootopia thing. Based on the illustrated kids’ books of the same name, the computer-animated heist flick focuses on a cadre of animal reprobates. They all think they’re too cool for school, but when a job goes wrong and they find themselves behind bars, they promise quick reform. In faking it, they make it. The Bad Guys soon seek to be genuine good guys. The animation is slick; the voice work is recognizable and obvious but charming. Any excuse to hang out with a snarky Sam Rockwell is a good one.
13. Strange World
Disney animation tackles the generational divide via fifties-soaked B-movie science fiction. Strange World does wonders with its backdrops, recalling the best Weird Tales and Amazing Stories magazine covers. While the inspirations are clearly mined from the pulpiest of pulp, the family drama driving the narrative feels utterly contemporary. Fathers don’t get their sons; sons rarely get their fathers.
Unity only occurs when one (if not both) tries on the other’s perspective for a moment. As the warring dudes, Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Jaboukie Young-White supply the heat and the heart. It’s easy to take sides with any of them at any given time.
Mostly, though, Strange World looks stunning: the gelatinous critters, the trippy fauna. Creators Don Hall and Qui Nguyen wanted to leave our world behind and go somewhere alien but still speak to Earth’s ecological crisis. Mission accomplished. Strange World proposes a harmony between the dog and the flees on its back.
12. My Father’s Dragon
Told in a deceptively simple 2D-animation style, My Father’s Dragon is another viciously imaginative exploration of the human condition from Cartoon Saloon (Wolfwakers, Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner). A woman recalls her father’s adventures when he was a young boy after he escaped to a magical island on the orders of a talking cat. Once abroad, the kid rescues a ridiculous dragon named Boris. They make a pact to help each other, which includes raising serious cash to save the kid’s family business. My Father’s Dragon never takes a breath, rapidly propelling itself to a bittersweet conclusion that doesn’t quite surprise but utterly satisfies.
Originally premiering during last year’s Cannes, where it received a fourteen-minute standing ovation, Belle finally arrived on our shores in early 2022. The hype was intense, but thankfully, Mamoru Hosoda’s latest anime delivers. Inspired by the classic Beauty and the Beast fairy tale (and mostly the 1991 Disney adaptation), Belle lightly examines the internet and celebrity culture as two lonely users find themselves in a metaverse-like platform called “U.” The world within the world provides a soul-stirring sit, finely detailed and masterfully manipulated by its director. Like several movies on this list, once I got access to it at home, I found myself revisiting scenes, playing back shots repeatedly. Belle makes use of its classic narrative spine, generating a shortcut to your emotions but taking absolutely none when it comes to the visuals.
10. Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
Another rotoscoped delight from Richard Linklater. Not interested in merely celebrating the space race through a nostalgic lens, the one-man movie band adds an imaginative curve to his memory. What if, before the Apollo 11 mission succeeded, Nasa accidentally built a capsule too small for their astronauts and required a young kid to test it first?
Ten-year-old Stan (voiced in the past by Milo Coy and voiced in the present by Jack Black) is recruited by two anxiety-riddled government agents (Zachary Levi and Glen Powell). While American society and culture rage in the background, driving small wedges in his family, Stan and his new pals secretly prepare for a miniature moon launch. Linklater never quite pulls the curtain back on his fantasy, which administers just the right amount of charm to keep the pseudo-history lesson interesting.
9. The House
Three stories, three ridiculously disparate tones, one utterly bizarre residence. The first chapter follows a human family after they accept an invitation to move into the titular domicile. A young girl wanders through halls and rooms that refuse to keep their shape as her parents slowly mold into the furniture. The sequence is one of the most frightful cinematic passages I watched all year. Chapter two involves a rat living in the house’s basement while he attempts its renovation, hoping to make a significant buck by flipping it. Enter some buyers who refuse to leave…or pay. The third chapter features some cats navigating a watery apocalypse. The house operates as an island and a prison.
The House originated as a possible television series before confining itself to a singular anthology, and its ambitious beginnings create an irresistibly wobbly watch. Directed by Irish playwright Enda Walsh, The House never settles into one vibe, and that unease makes the viewer vigilant. Horror and humor make for naughty neighbors. Grab the popcorn and play voyeur.
8. Wendell and Wild
Henry Selick, the unsung hero and director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, partners with Jordan Peele to serve up a grotesquely delicious adaptation of Selick’s unpublished novel co-written by the creepy teller of terrors, Clay McLeod Chapman. Wendell and Wild features the magnificently demented spark found in every Selick production. Cranked to eleven.
Young orphan Kat Elliot is shipped off to Catholic school, where Father Best makes under-the-table deals with the private prison company Klaxon Korp. Kat suddenly receives a skull-faced mark on her hand, which alerts the titular demons that a “Hell Maiden” has been chosen. They escape their dastardly devil dad and convince Kat to aid them in their schemes of resurrecting the dead. She goes along with it as long as it means seeing her folks one more time.
Things devolve, or decay, from there. Wendell and Wild is icky in all the right places and equally heartfelt in all the other places. Selick proves no one can spin a tale as he can, with Wendell and Wild sitting proudly next to his other works.
In some respects, Inu–oh operates in blasphemy. Director Masaaki Yuasa injects Noh-style Japanese musical theater with hair metal sensibility. The rock opera soundtrack tears through tradition and requires a few extra moments for your brain to adjust to its vibe. Once settled, Inu-oh offers its viewer a prime orchestra pit position for an absolutely unhinged arena show.
Tomona is the mystically blinded biwa musician who partners with Inu-oh, a disfigured Noh performer. Their team-up creates a hypnotic production, blending various animation styles that eventually climaxes in a revelatory entertainment for the Shogun. Inu–oh is a funky film that challenges its audience almost to the point of repulsion but critically reels them back in with sequences unlike any other experienced this year.
6. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Inspired by Spider-Man: Into the Spider–Verse‘s animation style, the Puss in Boots sequel is the best damn-looking movie in the Shrek franchise. Forgoing the expected DreamWorks house style, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish reflects its illustrative storybook origins more closely, or at least, those comic book adaptations kids like myself ran to when forced to examine the classics in school.
Five minutes into the film, during Puss’ battle with a giant cyclops, the brazen kitty expires his eighth life. Now, forced to examine the finality of his ninth, Puss runs from danger until Goldie Locks and her three bears expose his newfound cowardice. With Death, in the form of the most demonic-looking wolf you’ll ever encounter in a children’s film (no offense to The Neverending Story), nipping at his heels, Puss confronts how he squandered his past lives. The braggart he once was no longer looks as handsome or dashing.
5. The Sea Beast
The Sea Beast is the streaming surprise of the year. If the computer-animated movie had made it to theater screens instead of being buried on Netflix in July, I think it would have earned some serious pop culture conversation. As is, you have to hunt for the bloody thing on their platform, but your toggling efforts will be mightily rewarded.
Directed by Chris Williams (co-director of Moana) and written by Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde: The Musical), The Sea Beast pairs two monster hunters together in a quest to rid the ocean of serpents. In the process, the young one discovers the humanity in all living creatures and attempts to teach such empathy to her old, hateful partner. The creature design is basic but top-notch, and the animation creates awe, especially when depicting the infinite watery landscapes. Added bonus, stellar vocal performances from Karl Urban, Jared Harris, and Zaris-Angel Hator.
4. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Based on a series of shorts written by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On explodes its central character’s inner life, using his minuscule perspective as a scalpel to dissect, mock, and proclaim the human experience. A blend of live-action and stop-motion animation, the film documents Marcel’s quest to find his family after they were accidentally packed away and carried off in the suitcase of a fleeing Airbnb guest.
Sorta playing himself, Fleischer Camp is the next resident who becomes enamored with the miniature squatter and his leftover companion, Nana Connie (played by the only actor who could challenge Jenny Slate as the vocal performer of the year, Isabella Rossellini). Fleischer Camp uploads Marcel’s wisdom onto YouTube, creating a viral sensation. On the surface, or in a trailer, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On appears a tad twee. And it is, but it’s also deeply genuine in the love it celebrates. When reunion occurs, there’s not a dry in the house. Best use of the Eagles ever.
3. Mad God
Mad God is as beautiful as it is grotesque, and no film released in 2022 looks or feels like it. Slowly cooked over thirty years by stop-motion legend Phil Tippett, the film details a perpetual apocalypse where an assassin dodges and confronts absolutely vile beasts. Don’t get hung up on the plot; embrace the emotion of the film’s creator.
Tippett is seemingly working out a vomitous pile of anger and worry. Or does that mound belong to us? To me? To hear him tell it, he made the movie free of intention. He was never sure where the project was going or how he would get there. The images entered his brain from someplace else, and he merely needed to translate them to the screen. What to make of them is not his problem. It’s ours. Mad God leaves you feeling icky, troubled, fascinated, and exhilarated.
2. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinnochio
After years of languishing in limbo, Guillermo del Toro finally saw his Pinocchio passion project realized on Netflix, achieved in collaboration with co-director Mark Gustafson. Del Toro claims a profound kinship with the wooden puppet who dreamed of being a real boy, and that love is felt throughout every frame of the film.
Borrowing its aesthetic from Gris Grimly’s illustrations of the 2003 edition of Carlo Collodi’s classic fairy tale, Guillermo del Toro‘s Pinocchio frees itself from comparison to the other numerous adaptations. Transplanting the story to fascistic Italy also neatly aligns the film with the themes del Toro previously explored in The Devil‘s Backbone and Pan‘s Labyrinth, making his Pinocchio a surprising and hopeful trilogy capper.
As with every del Toro achievement, the foreground and background are equally engaging. I’ve already found myself revisiting the movie, peering into the corners, and discovering treats left unseen during the first pass. Guillermo del Toro‘s Pinocchio feels classic and modern simultaneously, presenting its morality with a loud, necessary urgency. Kids, young and old, listen up.
1. Turning Red
First, let’s get this out of the way. Turning Red being dumped on Disney+ while the painfully passable Lightyear soared on the big screen was a damn travesty. Sucks. But movies ultimately thrive on the small screen, and Turning Red will have a life that stretches far beyond 2022. What’s that Dunkirk tagline? Survival is victory.
Fresh off her Academy Award win for the exquisitely brilliant Bao, director Domee Shi supernaturally elevates her childhood as a pop-culturally obsessed Chinese Canadian. Thriteen-year-old Mei hides her crushes from her mom, but when a few secret sketches are uncovered, those innocent fantasies transform into a catastrophic humiliation. The next morning, Mei mutates into a giant red panda, the symbol of her family temple.
Turning Red cleverly marries the banal with the incredible, mining comedy and spectacle from adolescence. Domee Shi provides a unique and often ignored perspective on puberty’s horror and the unavoidable mortification that comes with it. Her film navigates the war between the expectations you have for yourself versus those held by your parents. Whoever you decide to become, everyone will see it and witness it. Gross! Such exposure is raw and unavoidable. Safe harbor exists on the other side. If you can make it. Again, survival is victory.