The animation genre has always been a breeding ground for cutting-edge science fiction fare, as it’s certainly much easier to envision an entirely new world in the realm of animation than in live action. The following five titles stand as the best and most memorable animated science fiction fare:
Perhaps the most daring film in Pixar’s body of work, WALL-E follows the robotic title character as he initially goes about his business on an abandoned Earth and, eventually, saves a spaceship of humans from a malevolent computer. (Oh, and he also falls in love with a fellow artificial lifeform along the way.) Andrew Stanton uses this simple premise as a springboard for an engrossing cautionary tale that’s filled with indelible instances of sci-fi imagery, with WALL-E himself joining an elite club of memorable movie robots that includes 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL, Star Wars’ R2-D2, and Short Circuit’s Johnny 5. (Roger Ebert confirmed WALL-E’s place as a pivotal sci-fi flick by calling it “the best science-fiction movie in years.”)
2. 'The Iron Giant' (1999)
Though it was criminally overlooked during its original theatrical run, The Iron Giant has become a bona fide classic of both the animation and science fiction genres in the years since its 1999 release. The film, set in the 1950s, follows a young boy as he befriends the title creature, with problems emerging as the government gets wind of the enormous robot’s existence. Brad Bird, making his debut here, does a superb job of blending the film’s science fiction elements with a conventional coming-of-age story, and the director manages to evoke the Cold War paranoia of the ‘50s without sacrificing the palpable friendship between the two central characters - with Vin Diesel's striking voice work bringing humanity to his mechanical character.
The first science fiction release from DreamWorks Animation, Monsters vs Aliens has been jam-packed with an almost ridiculous number of sci-fi elements – including, among others, technologically-advanced aliens and genetically-enhanced humans. Reese Witherspoon provides the voice of Susan Murphy, an ordinary young woman who is transformed into an enormous giant after she’s hit by a meteorite on her wedding day. The character is subsequently transported to a secret government facility that houses four other monster inmates, and the five unlikely heroes are eventually forced to battle a malevolent alien (Rainn Wilson’s Gallaxhar) bent on world domination. The film mostly comes off as a fun ride that's also a perfect sci-fi primer for kids.
4. 'Akira' (1988)
The granddaddy of Japanese anime films, Akira is a landmark science fiction thriller that packs just as potent a punch today as it did more than two decades ago. The complicated, densely layered storyline follows several scrappy protagonists as they attempt to thwart a far-reaching government plot, with the plot used as a launching point for a series of exciting, thoroughly brutal action sequences. The film features an almost impressively pessimistic view of the future, and although the conclusion doesn’t make much sense, Akira remains one of the most disturbing and gripping post-apocalyptic thrillers to ever hit movie screens. (It’s no wonder that Hollywood has been trying to get a live-action version off the ground for ages.)
After a run of disappointing science fiction films, including 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire and 2002’s Treasure Planet, Disney finally managed to crank out an indelible sci-fi offering with 2007’s breathlessly entertaining Meet the Robinsons. The surprisingly complicated storyline details the chaos that ensues after a lonely young boy is contacted by a mysterious figure from the future, with the movie primarily transpiring in a future society that’s rife with flying cars, robots, and singing, dancing frogs. Meet the Robinsons follows in the footsteps of a long line of entertaining, thought-provoking time-travel movies and ultimately establishes itself as one of the most successful animated efforts of its kind.