The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
I’m a sucker for a good animation. Creative art combined with a compelling story is a combination that can never go wrong, whether it’s a nostalgic TV show, an action-packed feature, or a heart-warming classic. There’s really nothing like watching unique characters and plotlines peel out from realism.
However, it’s no surprise that with the steady popularity of animation, some productions have fallen through the cracks without ever receiving the attention they deserve. In no particular order, here are five animated movies that are criminally underrated.
“Megamind” made its mark on cinema with its unprecedented hero narrative, showcasing the complex existential dread that Megamind, the villain protagonist, faces after defeating his self-proclaimed nemesis. The movie rewrote the superhero-and-villain dynamic, dismantled the “nice guy” trope, and drew a distinction between evil from entitlement versus evil as a result of bad circumstances.
Regardless, “Megamind” was outperformed by “Despicable Me”, which was released a few months prior and much more commercially successful. As a result, the story never received any elaboration, whereas “Despicable Me” got two sequels and two spin-off movies, one of the latter having been released as recently as July of this year.
For reference: “Despicable Me” and “Megamind” both came out in 2010—twelve years ago.
It’s of common opinion that “Megamind” is the better of the two for redefining the supervillain genre, having a more interesting character arc, and of course, being the harbinger of many memes. Still, the box office numbers are what matter most in the industry, hence this being a perfect example of a film being underrated not by the audience, but by the studio.
THE MITCHELLS VS THE MACHINES
Yes, it was Netflix’s most viewed animation release. Yes, it was the first movie since “Soul” to lead all streaming movies for a week. Yes, it has a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.
I still think more people should be talking about it.
Coming from the team that made “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse”, “The Mitchells vs The Machines” is about an unconventional, dysfunctional family that finds themselves to be the last free humans in a robot apocalypse. In true Spiderverse style, it takes advantage of the animation medium, delivering a fantastic viewing experience that just can’t be replicated by live-action. The art pops right out from the screen and the funny, heartfelt story made me cry so hard I had to take two Advil afterward.
However, this movie had one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it releases. It’s only available on Netflix, under-marketed, and though it received lots of praise while it was featured, as newer titles were promoted, it flowed right back out from the public consciousness and seems to be in danger of fading into obscurity.
This is going to be a controversial opinion, but I’m going to stick by it: I don’t think the criticism towards “Luca” is fair.
When it first came out, everyone was quick to compare it to films such as “Soul” and “Inside Out”, complaining that it was not nearly as sophisticated or deep as other Pixar productions. I have to disagree with those claims.
Storywise, “Luca” is a lot more put together. The other films tend to get lost in the whimsy of their world-building, replacing substance with jokes and magic dust and following a meandering pathway that, while creative and insightful, can feel a bit slow. They also tend to hit the nail on the head with the biggest hammer imaginable.
A common criticism of “Luca” is that it’s hard to be invested in the stakes—that is, the kids’ goal to win the Portorosso Cup and use the award money to buy a Vespa. I have two responses to this.
One: it’s a film about twelve-year-olds that are also sea creatures; it’s kind of unreasonable to expect the same level of gravitas as you would from “Soul”. What would be more ridiculous is if these children were having the same existential epiphanies as a grown man.
Two: “Luca” doesn’t end with the kids winning a Vespa and riding it off into the sunset, because that is not the point of the movie. It was never the point.
I feel like a lot of people miss that “Luca” is a coming-of-age story. Through dream sequences, character revelation, and (as mentioned previously) the ending of the film, it’s made clear multiple times that the Vespa is a symbolic vehicle of escapism—of which each protagonist has a different reason to want—and a mode of travel from one stage of life to another.
“Inside Out” tells you that it’s important to let yourself feel sadness. “Soul” tells you that life is about the experience, not the goal. Point blank, they hand out their themes at the climax of the movie and do all the critical legwork for the audience, promoting a lack of media literacy.
Though never stated so blatantly, “Luca” covers topics of friendship, childhood, and freedom, as well as what it’s like to be an outsider. Notably, some people have even drawn comparisons to the LGBTQ community.
Regardless of whether or not it’s an allegory for the queer experience, it’s still a very sweet and fun story. Just because it’s not what is conventionally considered “deep” doesn’t mean its messages aren’t valuable, and I don’t believe that the childhood experience should be valued less than the adult one. If anything, it should be valued more, due to how short-lived it is.
The animation of “Luca” is, of course, gorgeous too, but what sets it apart from other recent Pixar films is how little it does the thinking for the audience. Instead, it simply places us in a setting—a small town on the coast of Italy—to take in the atmosphere and remember what it was like to be a kid again. Unfortunately, with today’s demand for more profound, hand-holding media, “Luca” was not destined to be grouped with the giants.
A MONSTER IN PARIS
There’s a giant, French flea that plays guitar and sings in a cabaret. Need I say more?
Okay, but in all seriousness, this is one of the most wholesome movies I’ve ever seen.
The story follows a cast of three human characters: Emile, a shy film projectionist at a movie theater with a crush on his coworker; Raoul, delivery driver by day and amateur inventor by night; and Lucille, a cabaret singer at a club called L’Oiseau Rare (“The Rare Bird”).
Our fourth protagonist is conceived when Raoul brings Emile to make a delivery to the Botanical Gardens. Finding the professor absent, Raoul fools with several concoctions around the lab, inadvertently causing an explosion and catching a nearby flea in a mixture of chemicals; these cause the flea to grow larger than a man and gain the voice of an opera singer.
“A Monster in Paris” is basically “Frankenstein”, but if the scientist welcomed his creation instead of shunning it. Lucille invites the flea to sing at her club and the rest of the runtime is spent evading the Police commissioner as he searches for Paris’s “monster”, as each character endears themself to the audience with their individual quirks.
There are many charming moments that make this the perfect comfort movie, for when you want something short, sweet, and unique, and the music (both the French and English version) slaps. “A Monster in Paris” is truly a hidden treasure that everybody should watch.
Based on the anime and manga franchise with the same name, “Astro Boy” begins with Doctor Tenma, a revolutionary robotics scientist, losing his son in a tragic lab accident. Unable to cope with his grief, he uses his expertise to create a robot in perfect replica of his son, uploading his memories and manipulating it into believing it is a real person.
However, even science cannot replace what’s been lost, and fed up with his son’s flawed replacement, Tenma eventually casts the robot aside. The movie follows the robot, Astro, as he grapples with his newfound knowledge of his existence and learns what it means to be a human.
Despite the original series being wildly successful, the western adaptation was a box office failure, earning 42 million dollars against its 65 million dollar budget and receiving mixed reviews from critics, doing especially poorly in Japan. As a result, any public memory of it has disappeared into the void.
While being far from the best movie on this list, it has a lot of personal significance to me, and even if the execution was a bit rough around the edges, I believe many of the themes brought up are stand-out and still unparalleled to this day. It has one of my favorite scores to date; it makes me cry every time I watch it and keeps me awake at night. Worse movies have received more acclaim, and I think “Astro Boy” deserves more love than it’s been given. Or, at the very least, a better reboot.
And there you have it: five movies that are underrated by studios and audiences and deserve more recognition than they’ve received. I hope you enjoy these recommendations as much as I do; you can find them on Netflix, Disney Plus, and/or Amazon Prime Video.