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These Films Aren't for Children: 8 Profound Animated Movies

Persepolis, 2007

Persepolis, 2007

8 Best Animated Films for Adults

Just because a film is animated doesn't necessarily mean that it's made for children. This couldn't be more true in the case of these eight exceptional, profound animated films.

8. Persepolis (2007)
7. The Plague Dogs (1982)
6. Akira (1988)
5. Spirited Away (2001)
4. Princess Mononoke (1997)
3. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999)
2. Watership Down (1978)
1. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

8. Persepolis (2007)

Based on Marjane Satrapi’s critically-acclaimed graphic novel, Persepolis follows the experiences of a young Iranian girl as she grows up during a volatile period in Iran's history.

Released in 2007, Persepolis utilizes a visually striking style of black and white animation to capture the tone and atmosphere of this touching coming-of-age story.

7. The Plague Dogs (1982)

The Plague Dogs is based upon the third novel by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down.

For an animal lover, this film can be difficult to watch. It follows two dogs who escape from an animal testing facility only to be subsequently hunted down by the government and media.

Both thought-provoking and heart-wrenching, The Plague Dogs is not light viewing. Watch with a supply of tissues nearby.

6. Akira (1988)

Released in 1988, Akira is a landmark anime film based on the manga by Katsuhiro Otomo. The film follows Tetsuo and his friends, members of a motorcycle gang who get involved in a secret government project. After Tetsuo begins to develop psychic powers, he attempts to reach and release the entombed Akira while being pursued by robotic police as well as his own gang through the dystopian post-apocalyptic world of Neo-Tokyo.

Akira is violent, dark, and deeply cynical about mankind and its future.

5. Spirited Away (2001)

From the Studio Ghibli production company and renowned director Hiyake Miyazaki, Spirited Away is a movie embedded with metaphor. Can children watch this movie? Yes, absolutely. Will they understand any of the rich subtexts running through it? No way.

The movie centers around a ten-year-old girl named Chihiro, who is moving with her parents to a new town. When her parents take a shortcut while driving to their new home and get lost and discover the entrance to an abandoned theme park. There, her parents gorge themselves on food and turn into swine. Chihiro is subsequently swept up into a mysterious world where she encounters strange spirits and a malevolent sorceress who tries to steal her name in order to prevent her from ever returning to the human world.

Miyazaki's films are known for being interwoven with metaphors, and Spirited Away does not disappoint. In fact, Miyazaki has said that he set the film in a bathhouse because he wanted to tackle the issue of children being exposed to Japan's growing sex industry. Among the characters that Chihiro encounters while working at the bathhouse are a polluted river spirit, a No-Face spirit that gives away gold and then eats the people who accept it, and Yubaba, the sorceress who runs the bathhouse, who keeps the girls working there by stealing their identities.

4. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke follows Ashitaka, a young warrior who becomes infected while protecting his village from a berserk boar god. He will die unless he can rid himself of the curse, and so he sets out on a journey to seek succor from a deer god who lives deep within the forest.

Ashitaka arrives to find that the animals of the forest are at war with a nearby mining town that is destroying their home. Led by Lady Eboshi, the townspeople are determined to use their modern weapons to strike down the gods of the forest. The denizens of the forest, led by Princess Mononoke, a human girl who was raised by a wolf god, are equally determined to neutralize the encroaching threat of man. Ashitaka sees the validity of each side and tries to end their hostilities, but both sides distrust his motives.

This is a bloody film with a message about what might be considered the necessary evils of modernism. It is an apt reflection of the societal conflicts within Japan between traditionalist Shinto beliefs and the rampant modernism and industrial growth of the twentieth century.

3. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

From South Park's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, comes South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, an R-rated animated musical that sets out to smash as many conventions as it can get its hands on.

This film is an irreverent, funny, and satirical movie about censorship that contains a score of tunes that are uproariously funny, raunchy, and often downright catchy as well.

2. Watership Down (1978)

Based on Richard Adams’ award-winning novel, Watership Down follows a group of rabbits who flee when their warren is destroyed, setting out to find a new home for themselves.

The group encounters other warrens in their travels, including that of the despotic General Woundwort, from whom they must defend themselves.

Be warned: this is not your typical bunny movie. It is dark, bloody, and likely to traumatize any child who watches it. It is, however, a brilliant film that adults should see.

1. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

Grave of the Fireflies is a film that is beautiful, touching, and intensely sad.

Seita and his little sister Setsuko are children living in wartime Japan. When their mother is killed in an air raid, the pair set out in search of shelter and food. As the days wear on, survival becomes more and more difficult for these two abandoned orphans of war.

Though set far away from the combat, this deeply moving film is probably one of the most profound anti-war films ever produced.

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© 2013 Alisha Adkins


kotobukijake on July 06, 2014:

Interesting list here, and you do a good job giving your reasons for each choice. I have to say, though, that I disagree with the inclusion of Spirited Away. The argument that it has too much meaning to be "gotten" by kids makes sense, but one could apply the same logic to nearly ALL of Studio Ghibli's films, most of Pixar's (especially Up and WALL-E), those from Aardman Studios, and even Disney films like Wreck-It Ralph. Spirited Away probably is shown to kids who are too young, but I would have given that slot to Only Yesterday or The Wind Rises if it had to go to Studio Ghibli. An even better choice (especially since you've already made room for two films from that studio) would have been one of the masterpieces of the late, great Satoshi Kon, especially Perfect Blue or Paprika. Also, Makoto Shinkai's 5 Centimeters per Second, the fascinating documentary Waltz with Bashir, and Richard Linklater's trippy Waking Life would all be great choices; all of the above are excellent films, but are not only not meant "for kids" but might actually be better held off from them. As to the others on your list, The Plague Dogs and Watership Down are the only ones I've yet to see, and all the others I did not see until I was an adult, but the ones I've seen are all well worth watching. One last thought--I'll never forget how surprised I was when a Japanese friend of mine told me she'd grown up with Grave of the Fireflies, but she seemed pretty well-adjusted; without question, it is the finest animated film ever made, and arguably the third-best production about war (behind Schindler's List and Band of Brothers)--mad props to you for using it as a teaching tool in high school.

Alisha Adkins (author) from New Orleans on April 03, 2014:

It happens - no worries! I appreciate you taking the time to comment!

hlwar on April 03, 2014:

Sorry for the double post! HubPages is being weird with posting comments today. (o_O;)

hlwar on April 03, 2014:

Definitely true, and I know sometimes I'm the anomaly in my opinions and not at all an expert on raising children. However, major kudos to you for showing Grave of the Fireflies to your students. It's a movie that stays with you; I don't know if I was angry or sad, but by the end it was difficult to watch. ( /)u(\ )

hlwar on April 03, 2014:

Definitely true, and I know I'm the anomaly in opinions and absolutely no authority on raising children. However, major kudos to you for showing students Grave of the Fireflies. That was one movie that left a lump in my throat; I didn't know if I was angry or sad, but the end was difficult to watch. ( /)u(\ )

Alisha Adkins (author) from New Orleans on April 03, 2014:

An argument can be made for exposing children to more mature and profound content. When I was teaching, I used to show Grave of the Fireflies each year to my (high school) students. But these animated movies, although they certainly may serve as thought-provoking material for children in some situations, were definitely made with adult audiences in mind.

hlwar on April 03, 2014:

I grew up watching Watership Down and The Plague Dogs, and while the animation and stories contain mature content, I personally think children shouldn't be coddled with only sugary-bright cartoons. Granted, parents should take into account their individual kid's personalities and limits (I remember trying to watch Watership Down with my cousin when we were like 5 and 6, and she freaked out at the "bloody" sunset in the beginning, whereas I always found it creepy but not scary) but c'mon. I turned out fine! (LOL)

Excessive blood and profanity of course shouldn't be shared with kids. Which is why I didn't see Akira until I was a teen. XD And even in my 30s I don't care for South Park. It's all personal taste and moderation, I suppose.

I do think The Plague Dogs and Grave of the Fireflies should be played in schools, however. The have truly important messages and valuable history you don't really get taught in school but I think necessary all the same.

Thanks for a great hub!

Luke Ellis from Nottingham, England on March 01, 2014:

Great list, I remember watching Watership Down and being amazed at how little they shyed away from the blood, especially in the snare trap. Spirited Away is something I've been meaning to check out for a while.

Alisha Adkins (author) from New Orleans on December 20, 2013:

I'm not suggesting that Spirited Away will emotionally scar children (unlike Watership Down, for instance), but there is a lot that they will miss.

Zelkiiro on December 20, 2013:

I don't know if I would include Spirited Away on this list, really. It has some moments that would be tough to handle as a kid, but let's be honest, so does every Disney movie ever made. It's perfectly within the PG-rating range, and I would have no qualms about showing it to children. It's in the same boat as Castle in the Sky in terms of child friendliness to me (though Castle is a far, far superior film).

Barefoot Gen, on the other hand...

Megan Carroll from Boynton Beach, FL on September 05, 2013:

Great hub! Akira and Spirited Away are fantastic. I saw a few of these far too young, ha!

cbarbar on August 30, 2013:

I definitely agree that Watership Down is not a film for children. I remember watching it as a child and it was very disturbing--to this day I have not watched it since, but now that you have brought it to my attention, I want to watch it. Good hub.

Majidsiko from Kenya on August 24, 2013:

Watched Watership Down as I'm still scared of rabbits to this day. Why would a rabbit kill.

Some cartoons like the lion King taught me about death and that it is a reality in our lives. A bit of death, (not gruesome) is not bad if done in the right way. It teaches such that we are mortal.

Alisha Adkins (author) from New Orleans on August 23, 2013:

Jen, I don't think that your reaction was so unusual. I also saw Watership Down as a child, and I cried my eyes out. Despite being a film with animated animals, it is definitely not one intended for children.

Jennifer F from Australia on August 23, 2013:

Maybe I'm just a big sook though.

I didn't like the Neverending Story because of the scene when the horse drowns in the quicksand.

Is that any more or less 'for children'. Or Bambi, which begins with the deer's mother being shot? They both bring back bad memories from childhood interestingly.

Yes, they're about 'loss' and loss is part of life and we have to learn to grow and step through that. But in Bambi's case, for example, did it have to be the mother being shot dead?

Interesting conversation piece, and thus, a good article which has made me consider it and think. Well done.

Jennifer F from Australia on August 23, 2013:

With complete honesty, I will never forget Watership Down. My Mum rented it (I'm not gonna blame her because I probably liked the bunnies and asked to watch it) when I was about hmmm, 4,5 years old.

It's my first traumatic memory.

I still cannot listen to 'Bright Eyes' without in some way thinking about cute little bunnies killing each other. I know, it's a literary classic. But even now, I wont read it.

There is a lot of truth to this article. Perhaps some other kid of the same age could've watched it and not been disturbed at all. I can't even remember what happened in the film if I'm being honest. I just remember it really upset me and I started to cry and had to be calmed down. That's not to say that in any way, shape or form it bothers me now as an adult. But probably not the movie I should've picked at that age.

Very interesting article.