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Looking For More Visually Ambitious Animated Films Like Spider-Verse? Try These Next!

The Spider-Verse isn't the only cinematic source for visually ambitious animated films. 

By Tara Bennett
Watch A Disney Artist Share Animation Secrets & Sketch (Artists Alley)

You might have read or heard the recent rallying call from artists and creators in the animation field: "Animation is a medium, not a genre!"

The slogan's most vocal proponent of late is director Guillermo del Toro, who last year did the award circuit rounds promoting he and Mark Gustafson's stop-motion adaptation of Pinocchio. Along the way, he had to push back on plenty of media outlets and industry organizations that pigeonhole animation as a "kiddie" pursuit and a genre, rather than the elevated artistic expression it is. In case you've been living under a rock, the animation medium has evolved into one of the most experimental and technically audacious branches of filmmaking as artists use mixed media, stop-motion, computer animation, and traditional 2D techniques to bring an array of stories to life. 

As it turns out, del Toro's Pinocchio won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in March 2023, just like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did in 2019. Both are premium examples of what filmmakers are doing to preserve the artistry of the medium while incorporating technological advancements to push the boundaries of storytelling. Today's release of the much-anticipated Sony Animation sequel, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, will show audiences the next level of superhero storytelling through its signature mixture of computer animation and traditional 2D graphic and illustration styles. 

RELATED: Best Animated Films Streaming Now: The Super Mario Bros. Movie, The Smurfs & More

If you love what the Spider-Verse is doing with design and conceptual animation, there's a whole world of other superb titles that also push the boundaries of design and aesthetics in the medium. SYFY WIRE has collected just a few to add to your viewing queue.

So, what are some good animated movies to watch if you loved Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse?

The Peanuts Movie

Back in 2015, Blue Sky Studios took their signature, house style of 3D computer animation and merged it with the hand-drawn style of cartoonist Charles M. Schulz to create The Peanuts Movie. By adhering to the 2D design principles of how the Peanuts characters move within a comic strip frame, the Blue Sky animators were able to retain the look and feel of those beloved characters while subtly expanding their world into a broader 3D environments. Using tactile textures to capture Snoopy's fur or the quilting of Charlie Brown's winter clothes, The Peanuts Movie brings those flat comic strip characters into our 3D world with care and warmth. It's an early proof of concept experimentation that has been fully embraced today.

The Bad Guys

DreamWorks Animation's first foray into the hybrid style of stylized 2D animation and design placed inside 3D, CGI environments, The Bad Guys (now available from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) used proprietary software to integrate the two styles into one slick and stylish aesthetic. Inspired by what other CGI animation studios were doing to break out of the same stylistic boundaries, director Pierre Perifel integrates a cartoony cast of anthropomorphic animals into a realistic world of museums, high class restaurants, and sleek hot rods for them to pilfer. Using animation flourishes to augment the action, The Bad Guys is a breezy action adventure enhanced by a visual style that breaks out of the traditional conformity of similar offerings. 

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

The classic hybrid live-action, animated tour du force turns 35-years-old this summer, and it remains a marvel of animation ingenuity. The noir mystery poses a world where cartoons and humans live alongside one another, for good and for bad. Director Robert Zemeckis and his incredible team of animators pulled off a visual miracle, individually rotoscoping the 2D cartoon characters into every frame so they would integrate almost seamlessly into our 3D world. Using practical filming techniques to make it look like the toons were physically reacting to everything around them, Roger Rabbit remains a dizzying experiment of creativity that has never been repeated. It's the gold-standard example of animation and live-action hybridization. It even won the Best Visual Effects Academy Award in 1989. 

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Another big jump forward in the development of hybrid CG animation with 2D techniques and aesthetics, DreamWorks Animation's Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (now streaming on Peacock!) is the gorgeous realization of a fairy tale world brought to life with an illustration-style aesthetic placed on top of a CGI spine. Director Joel Crawford and his animation team bring to life a far more complex and dramatically rendered Puss in Boots, but place him inside a hyper-stylized world that looks like its been ripped from a lush storybook's pages. Using an unconventional frame rate for its action sequences and dream sequences, The Last Wish is a feast for the eyes, and an emotional story about fear, grief, and death that packs an emotional punch. It was deservedly nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards in 2023. 

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Another animation project from medium super fans Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, The Mitchells vs. the Machines takes its aesthetic inspiration from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse but also very much paves its own quirky path. Director Mike Rianda and his animators render the characters of the Mitchell family in cartoony extremes, but places them in a world that feels hand-painted in watercolors. The film also goes on a mixed-media binge when expressing Katie Mitchell's inventive emotional world that she captures in an array of handmade films. It's fast-paced, absurdist, and a wacky ride of visual styles and high concept sci-fi ideas that has won a slew of awards.

You can watch Puss in Boots: The Last Wish now on Peacock, along with a deep catalog of other beloved animated classics.