A lot of cartoons can be too flashy and yell-y for our tired adult eyes and ears. While sitting through another episode of Happy Tree Friends may make you want to push your TV out of an actual tree, these animated shows and movies will keep both you and your kids entertained.
Stop-motion, computer animated, and traditional 2D masterpieces are all represented in this new-age era of animation. I mean, if you loved playing with Lego's as a kid, the movies are a total game changer. It can be hard raising a kid in today's technology savvy world, but these shows actually stand the test of time.
Join Jake the Dog and Finn the Human as they fight evil in the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo. This show is a surrealist masterpiece that revels in the unexpected. It's as silly as it is profound, as dreamy as it is grounded, and as intricately plotted as it is blatantly hilarious.
Characters include a rainbow-unicorn hybrid who only speaks Korean, a dog who is able to stretch into any shape, a small elephant with a southern accent named Tree Trunks, and The Earl of Lemongrab, the lemon-headed heir to The Candy Kingdom who consumed his own clone.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
This Wes Anderson stop-motion comedy is based on a Roald Dahl children's novel of the same name. Its themes are suitable for audiences of all ages, and it's pretty darn cool to look at. Fantastic Mr. Fox stars more A-list actors than you'll know what do with: Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Bill Murray, Willem Defoe, Michael Gambon, and Owen Wilson all lend their voices to the film.
The movie's soundtrack features music by The Beach Boys, Burl Ives, and The Rolling Stones. Time magazine named it one of the ten best films of 2009. This is a movie that your kids can revisit and re-understand when they're older, but love and appreciate now.
Over The Garden Wall
I want to yell about this miniseries from a rooftop. I've shown Over The Garden Wall to a class of 12th graders, recommended it to young cousins, and emailed it to every adult I know. If you watch nothing else on this list, watch this series. It took creator Patrick McHale ten years in total to create this ten episode gem, from the time it was first envisioned to the time that it aired on Cartoon Network in 2014.
The whole series is two hours (each episode is around ten minutes). Everything from it's pre-1950s Americana soundtrack to its animation to its endearing yet creepy tone is pitch perfect.
My Neighbor Totoro
The first film from Studio Ghibli to grace this list, My Neighbor Totoro is perhaps Hayao Miyazaki's most recognizable movie. It tells the story of two sisters and their interactions with friendly wood spirits in postwar rural Japan. Miyazaki's films often explore family, nature, art, and peace, and My Neighbor Totoro is no exception. His protagonists are often strong young women who fight for what they believe in.
Although this film was released in 1988, it more than holds up as fresh and morally relevant today. My Neighbor Totoro is both timeless and ageless. Read ahead for another Miyazaki film that features dragons, which is an easy hook for children.
The Lion King
If you consider The Lion King the crowning jewel of the Disney Renaissance (which I do), there is no reason not to share it with your children (and their children, and their children, forever and ever).
Based on William Shakespeare's Hamlet, this movie has it all — exuberance, sadness, revenge, Elton John... There is literally nothing not to like. The Lion King is entertaining for people of all ages, and if your kid gets obsessed and makes you play it a million times, at least you won't have to listen to "Let It Go."
Rebecca Sugar, the creator of Steven Universe, developed this series while she was working as a writer and storyboard artist for Adventure Time. It follows the coming-of-age of Steven, a half-Gem boy who lives with the crystal Gems, these magical aliens who protect humanity from monsters.
The series has gained a large following and critical acclaim for its treatment of LGBTQ themes, body image, and diversity. The LGBTQ representation in the show appeals to an older audience but is also intended to help children understand themselves and develop their identities.
Miyazaki is back at it again with the beautiful anime. Ten-year-old Chihiro Ogino accidentally enters a magical world with her parents, but then her parents are turned into pigs and she becomes trapped with the spirits. This film has been compared to Alice in Wonderland—but with a dragon and a faceless creature and a radish spirit.
Spirited Away is completely mesmerizing for people of all ages. While Totoro was initially created for a younger audience, Spirited Away is Miyazaki's gift to ten-year-old girls. He has said that most manga magazines only discuss crushes and romance, and he felt that this is not what most girls "held dear in their hearts." Read on for a Tim Burton classic that never goes out of style.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
OK, so I'm cheating a little. This movie isn't fully animated, but it does have some animated elements. This Edgar Wright film is based on the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Michael Cera stars as the title character, a slacker musician who must battle the seven evil ex's of his new girlfriend, Ramona.
This film is best suited to kids ten and up, and adults of all ages. Michael Cera is at top quirk and Wright's visual storytelling is on point as always.
The Lego Movie
You would need 15,080,330 individual Lego blocks to recreate The Lego Movie from start to finish. Although Warner Bros. opted for computer animation over stop-motion, this movie mimics traditional Brickfilm productions. It uses the official Lego brick library to create and animate all sets and characters.
Chris Pratt voices Emmet, an ordinary construction worker who has been selected to save the world from evil Lord Business. This movie is colorful and fast-paced enough for kids, but intricate and sophisticated enough for adults. It may even inspire you to pick up a Lego set and build some quality time with your kids.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
There is much debate over whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie. It was released on October 29th, 1993, meaning it was initially marketed as a Halloween movie, but I'm pretty sure that its ability to bend either way has kept it relevant for a quarter of a century.
Whether you watch this movie in October or December (or all year round), it's a great piece of animation to introduce to your kids. Read ahead for another Disney film with a sequel fourteen years in the making.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? A fry cook sea sponge with the most iconic laugh in cartoon history (I know you just heard it in your head). This animated series took the world by storm when it began in 1999, and has since become a wildly successful media franchise (generating $13 billion in merchandising revenue for Nickelodeon).
We already know that SpongeBob is popular with kids, but it's also jam-packed with innuendos and adult humor. Join SpongeBob, his best friend Patrick, Squidward, Sandy, and Mr. Krabs as they navigate undersea life and somehow step on a beach underwater.
This 2006 sci-fi anime film has been compared to Christopher Nolan's Inception— and by "compared to" I mean people think that Christopher Nolan intentionally copied Paprika's shots and overall concept.
The film follows Dr. Atsuko Chiba, who uses her alter-ego, Paprika, and a psychiatric device to enter her clients' dreams. Although Nolan has never stated that Inception is a live-action adaptation or even a homage to Paprika, the similarities between the two films are undeniable. Paprika is a great movie to watch with your kids, as long as they're old enough to read subtitles.
Although this Disney film was released in 2004, Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) asking his wife for his "super suit" hasn't left our collective consciousness since. Syndrome is widely considered the most complex and compelling villain in Pixar history, and the central "Incredible" family has the sort of dynamic that leaves viewers wanting more.
This is why audiences have been begging for a sequel for fourteen years. Incredibles 2 has finally been set for release in 2018, which means we get even more Frozone, and even more Edna Mode. Read on for an animated hit that you should only watch with grown-up kids.
Dipper Pines (voiced by Jason Ritter) and his twin sister, Mabel (voiced by Kristen Schall), spend the summer with their great-uncle (or "Grunkle") Stan (voiced by creator Alex Hirsch). Gravity Falls, Oregon is a strange town, full of paranormal forces and supernatural creatures. It is also home to Grunkle Stan's Mystery Shack, a tourist trap with an interesting backstory.
Gravity Falls has received tons of critical acclaim. Brian Lowry of Variety stated, "The show has a breezy quality that should play to kids, and tickle some twinges of nostalgia among their parents."
Avatar The Last Airbender
Avatar The Last Airbender is an animated television series set in a world in which some people can manipulate and control the classical elements: Air, Water, Fire, and Earth. Its animation style combines traditional Japanese anime with American cartoons. This is a beloved series that always tops favorites lists. It has won Annie Awards, Genesis Awards, a Primetime Emmy, and a Peabody Award.
The success of the first season of The Last Airbender prompted Nickelodeon to release a live-action film version of the series, which is nowhere near as good as the animated original.
Rick And Morty
Ok, so this show is not safe for young children. It's full of crude humor and dreary realizations and shock value, but it's so creative and funny that it's worth cringing at with your teenagers. Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon have proven to be a dream team of animated comedy. Roiland's antics and superb voice acting provide the comedic core of the show, and Harmon's philosophical leanings add depth and dimension(s).
Join Rick Sanchez and his grandson, Morty, a parody of Doc and Marty from Back to the Future, as they move through the multiverse to sometimes save the day and sometimes cause more trouble.
Although Bob's Burgers is marketed towards adults, it is nowhere near as NSFW as Rick and Morty. Another one to watch with older children, Bob's Burgers centers on the Belcher family, who run a burger restaurant on Ocean Avenue. The series has been nominated for several awards, including an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.
The show has even spawned a real-life cookbook called, The Bob's Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers. Recipes include the "Sweet Home Avocado Burger" and the "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Zucchini Burger."
Toy Story 3
While all of the Toy Story movies are great to watch with your kids, the third one really hits the nostalgia factor home. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll side-eye your toys to make sure they haven't moved all on their own while you weren't watching...
The original Toy Story is a tale of jealousy and acceptance; Toy Story 2 is about perseverance and friendship; Toy Story 3 teaches us about new beginnings and moving on with grace. Pass this trilogy down to your kids. Watch it with them to remind yourself of simpler times.
The Iron Giant
This 1999 science fiction film makes use of both traditional and computer animation. It is set during the Cold War in 1957 and follows a young boy named Hogarth who discovers a giant robot who fell from space. Hogarth tries to prevent the U.S. military from finding and destroying the robot.
The Iron Giant is based on the novel, The Iron Man by American Poet Ted Hughes. In the film, Hogarth is given the last name, "Hughes" as an homage to the story's original author. This movie has stood the test of time. Hopefully, parents and children will watch it for years to come.
This animated sitcom centers around the lives of two working-class friends, Mordechai, a blue jay, and Rigby, a raccoon. They work as groundskeepers at a park and try to entertain themselves to pass the time. They usually try to solve a simple problem only to cause more surreal and sometimes supernatural trouble. This annoys their boss, Benson, who is a gumball machine, and their yeti coworker but delights their other boss who has a lollipop head.
Animation's appeal lies in its ability to stretch limits and reimagine what is possible or even "regular." Regular Show showcases this concept perfectly. Watch it with your kids, your parents, or just yourself.