When you go looking for historic pieces of animation, it’s very difficult to find feature-length animated films that didn’t come out of Disney, and there are a few reasons for that.
For one, animation has always been a very labor-intensive process, and it takes a whole lot of time to do it well, even if you’re working with computer-generated models and sophisticated animation programs.
And so a lot of the early animated content being released in the first half of the 20th century was short cartoons or very short films.
Then, of course, Disney was the first to release an animated feature film with Snow White in 1937, helped along by the fact that the company was already a big name in both animation and entertainment as a whole.
Competing American animation studios of the time just didn’t have the resources to release animated feature films of their own, and even today, Disney continues to dominate the animated feature space.
But Disney has also stuck to largely the same guiding principles when creating their animated features, and that’s exactly why it’s worth your time to seek out animated movies not created by Disney.
We’ve put together a list of old animated movies: not Disney animated movies, though. These all come from outside Disney and its affiliate studios, and a few even come from outside of the U.S., where animation has been allowed to take on different visual styles and a wide range of subject matter.
It’s important to pay attention to these other voices in animation, and going forward, it’s important for animation studios to offer an alternative to Disney’s work, even if only to give audiences a taste of something different.
Let’s get started!
Fantastic Planet (1973)
Fantastic Planet consistently makes its way onto lists of the most important animated movies ever made.
This French animated feature was released in the early 70s, and it was one of the first pieces of sci-fi animation.
The story is simple enough: two alien races are locked in a rigid hierarchy where one race is essentially kept around as pets.
As you might have guessed, the story focuses on that dynamic starting to change.
It’s difficult to look at the story without reading into it some kind of political commentary or message about class conflict, and you can bet that was completely intentional.
Also, compared to Disney animated features, Fantastic Planet uses a compelling visual style and bold compositional choices.
Yellow Submarine (1968)
The movies that came out of Beatlemania are not all winners, at least in our opinion. Although A Hard Day’s Night has gained the status of being a culturally significant film, Help! and Magical Mystery Tour have not been viewed so kindly in the decades since being released.
Yellow Submarine came more or less at the tail end of the Beatles craze. According to legend, the members of the Beatles were contractually obligated to appear in several movies, with Yellow Submarine being the last.
The movie was also promoted as featuring The Beatles as voice actors for their own characters, but in a now-famous move, The Beatles opted not to handle the voice acting at all. Instead, imitators voiced their animated characters, and The Beatles themselves only appeared in a live-action segment at the end of the film.
As for the movie itself, the plot is as haphazard as you might expect, but film historians and animation fans have been much more interested in the movie’s aesthetic and its unique animation sensibility.
It’s not exactly ahead of its time, and don’t go into the movie expecting it not to feel dated, but it’s absolutely still worth watching.
Akira really is one of the most important animated features, and not in a dusty, academic, film school kind of way.
Maybe that’s because Akira doesn’t look nearly as dated as a lot of the movies on our list. And why doesn’t it look dated? Well, the movie is extremely intricate, visually. It also helped define the look of contemporary anime in a big way.
And that just brings us to another major note about the movie: it basically introduced Western audiences to Japanese animation (i.e. Japanimation, anime).
Our only word of warning to someone who’s about to sit down and watch the movie for the first time is that the storyline isn’t exactly simple.
Akira spells out a quite complex cyberpunk plot, and while character motivations are easy enough to keep track of, the tiny details of that storyline might whizz past you when you leave the room for a soda.
Everybody Rides the Carousel (1976)
This movie comes from John and Faith Hubley, a married couple who have become famous for being founding members of the independent animation scene.
Fired from Disney and later blacklisted from all of Hollywood during the height of McCarthyism, John Hubley moved to New York and started creating unique animated shorts with his wife, Faith, and some very talented animators.
The Hubleys only ever created one feature-length animated film, and it’s called Everybody Rides the Carousel.
Based on the work of Erik Erikson, the movie takes viewers through the eight major life stages, with little narrative vignettes to illustrate each one.
The voice cast ranges from friends and family members to musicians and actors, including a young Meryl Streep.
Originally aired as a television special, the movie has gone on to become one of the most renowned animated features of the 20th century.
Every Studio Ghibli Movie
Well, this entry is a bit of a cheat, but it’s also a goldmine if you want to dig into some non-Disney old animated movies.
It’s also a shaky entry on the list because, at least for a time, Disney had the distribution rights for Studio Ghibli movies here in the United States, but apparently those rights weren’t comprehensive as you won’t find any of the Ghibli movies on Disney+.
In fact, Ghibli has chosen not to let North American or Japanese viewers access any of their movies on Netflix, despite offering just that to the rest of the planet.
Regardless, Studio Ghibli has been creating unique and wondrous animated experiences for decades, and there’s a lot for young animators and animation fans alike to learn from these movies.