In order to best tell one man’s real life story, director Jonas Poher Rasmussen used animation.
For one thing, it’s a great way to obscure the identity of a subject who wants to remain anonymous (which was the case for Flee’s central subject, whose real name is kept a secret but who appears as Amin in the documentary).
For another, it’s an ideal medium by which to illustrate the dynamic internal experiences and emotional memories of Amin—who grew up in Afghanistan, fled to Denmark as a refugee, and now reflects on the impact of that displacement on his identity and intimate relationships, including with the man he is about to marry.
While it makes perfect sense for Rasmussen’s bold and introspective doc, animation usually doesn’t stray so far from the family-friendly and fuzzy-feeling genre well trodden by studios like Disney or DreamWorks. So Flee joins a not-so-long list of works that bend, blur and even bulldoze the boundaries of what it means to be an animated movie. If that sounds like your cup of tea, here are a few to get you started.
Flee is now playing in select theaters.
Like Flee, this animated doc uses hand-drawn animation to represent its subject’s troubling nightmares of war—and because it’s autobiographical, that subject is filmmaker Ari Folman himself. Waltz With Bashir is the very personal project through which Folman tries to recover blocked memories from his time as a young Israeli soldier in 1980s Lebanon. He turns conversations with old friends and therapists, and the resulting flood of memories, into a stream-of-consciousness flow of evocative animated sequences. And clearly to strong effect: Waltz With Bashir was nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film at the 81st Oscars.
Raunchy, R-rated comedy probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think “animated movie,” or at least it wasn’t before Sausage Party. But how else do you bring grocery store food items—and the dread they feel when they realize humans plan to eat them—to life? Animation was perhaps the only choice, and it delivered outrageous voice performances from its all-star cast, which includes Michael Cera, Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen as three anthropomorphic sausage pals, Kristen Wiig as a voluptuous hot dog bun and Salma Hayek as a taco who has an insatiable crush on her.
While “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” portion of this 1940 musical spectacular is beloved and recognizable, the sum of all of Fantasia’s parts is far from the usual Disney feature fare. Its seven distinct segments are built more around music than one cohesive Mickey Mouse plot, and the result is a collection of bold, colorful sequences that visually represent the classical music they accompany. Its distribution method was unconventional as well: The movie spent its first year playing on a screen on Broadway before continuing to tour the country as a roadshow special.
Even without its otherworldly, rotoscope visual effects, Richard Linklater’s Waking Life would be trippy enough for most moviegoers. After eavesdropping on folks engaged in deep discussions about the meaning of life (two of whom are Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, reprising their roles from Before Sunrise as pretty people who ponder), a man begins to suspect he is actually living in a dream state. As the character cycles through different states of mind, Linklater cycles through a variety of animation styles, all of them laid on top of live-action film footage to create an appropriately surreal effect.