2D Animated Films That Remind Us Why We Should Still Be Making Them

2D Animated Films That Remind Us Why We Should Still Be Making Them

Way back in the days before Buzz Lightyear and Woody the Sheriff began their decades-long, highly-lucrative bromance, feature film animation was entirely two-dimensional — from Walt Disney’s seminal classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to My Neighbor Totoro and the acclaimed output of Studio Ghibli to Adam Sandler’s surprisingly depressing Hanukkah movie.

Click right here to get the best of Cracked sent to your inbox.

But this beautiful medium, cherished by generations, has sadly fallen by the wayside of late. 

Sure, anime will always be huge, and tons of TV cartoons remain 2D, but the majority of mainstream animated movies produced for Western audiences tend to be styled in 3D, often emulating the so-called “Pixar look.” And it’s gotten really boring. Exhibit A: We’ve even gotten to a point where a generic Pixar filter can be easily applied to any piece of visual media (no matter how upsetting the results might be).

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that 3D animation seems to feel dated more easily than 2D animation. Those early Disney classics, like Pinocchio and Fantasia, which were made close to a century ago, still look as impressive as the day they were released, but the first Shrek movie, on the other hand, looks like a janky karaoke video.

Still, there is a certain degree of hope for the future; some 3D animated movies are reminding mainstream audiences of the power of 2D animation. Take Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which incorporated several 2D elements in its bold visual style (which was apparently a nightmare to produce).

And Disney is rumored to be working on a new 2D animated film, which would be their first since 2011’s Winnie the Pooh (not to be confused with the live-action Christopher Robin, that movie in which Pooh and his friends were apparently left for dead in the Hundred Acre Wood).

Weirdly, the best argument in favor of preserving 2D animation in recent years was inadvertently made by Disney in a 3D animated movie. The 2019 remake of The Lion King objectively looked more realistic than its predecessor, sure, but it clearly lacked the soul/disquieting horniness of the 1994 original.

And the reasons why 3D animation has become the de facto norm for studio films presumably has less to do with artistic merit and more with the fact that 3D animation is often cheaper and quicker to produce. This isn’t to take away from the achievements of movies like How to Train Your Dragon or the tear-thirsty emotional vampire known as Up, but 3D has become the default due to widespread industrial change, not necessarily individual creative desires.

Thankfully, a number of intrepid filmmakers are still churning out animated films crafted in just two glorious dimensions — although, these days, they’re still usually created on computers, not in a giant warehouse full of artists wracked with carpal tunnel syndrome. Unfortunately, these flatter cartoon movies don’t always get the attention they deserve, possibly because a lot of them were released with little fanfare, straight to streaming — as opposed to receiving a more prestigious theatrical release like, say, that movie in which Sir Patrick Stewart voices a literal pile of poop. 

So here are some recent 2D animated features that will remind you of why we should never, ever give up on this medium, starting with…


Co-directed by Tomm Moore, who previously made the acclaimed The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, 2020’s Wolfwalkers is a good reminder that animated family films can be challenging, thrilling and contain precisely zero Minions. It’s all about an old-timey Irish girl who discovers that she has the power to turn into a wolf, but the film’s real strength is its gorgeous visual style. For comparison, Wolfwalkers’ budget was 10 times less than Lightyear.

I Lost My Body

The best movie about a disembodied hand since The Addams Family (or maybe 127 Hours?), I Lost My Body is the decidedly strange 2019 Netflix film about a severed hand attempting to track down its owner after embarking on an odyssey through the streets of Paris. This surreal gem was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature — but lost to Toy Story 4

Unicorn Wars

If you ever wished that the Care Bears would fight a blood- and gore-filled battle against the My Little Pony characters, the gleefully-deranged Spanish language film Unicorn Wars — about a violent rivalry between a race of cuddly teddies and a community of magnificent unicorns — is for you… you sicko.

The Spine of Night

A retro throwback to the rotoscoped 1970s trips of Ralph Bakshi (including The Lord of the Rings and Wizards), 2021 somehow gave us The Spine of Night, an ultraviolent fantasy film that feels like a stoner’s malevolent van art come to life. Come for the crazy visuals, and stay for the voice cast, which includes Lucy Lawless, Richard E. Grant and Patton Oswalt.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie

The rare musical cartoon murder mystery, last year’s The Bob’s Burgers Movie sadly flopped at the box office — audiences were apparently too busy watching Tom Cruise defend America from an ill-defined foreign threat to watch the exploits of the Belcher family. But it’s a fun movie that deserves to be seen. While other recent feature-length adaptations of TV shows (like Beavis and Butt-Head and South Park) have popped up on streaming sites, part of the fun of seeing a favorite cartoon turned into a movie is watching beloved characters on the big screen.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 

Scroll down for the next article


Forgot Password?