In case you haven’t seen it yet, there’s a documentary series on Netflix called Have a Good Trip in which celebrities like Sting and A$AP Rocky discuss their personal experiences with psychedelics. Many of the show’s segments are animated, not only because this makes them funnier but also because live-action simply couldn’t convey what’s happening inside the minds of these people.
Given how drugs alter the fabric of reality itself, animation may just be the perfect form to represent the effects they exert over the human mind. This, of course, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, especially when considering that, from its earliest inception, animation has always been about doing the impossible rather than the possible.
Needless to say, the singing and dancing animals that dominated the period which we now refer to as the golden age of cartoons constituted only the first attempt at figuring out what this new medium was truly capable of. In the decades that followed, animators from all over the globe devoted their careers, lives and, in some extreme cases, sanity to pushing its boundaries.
Along the way, they naturally came up with sights normally reserved for those under the influence of some or other narcotic. Here are some of them.
Fritz the Cat (1972)
Fritz is an anthropomorphic feline and a pseudo-intellectual who goes to NYU with the pretension of becoming a poet, though he mostly spends his days looking for young women to seduce. As is to be expected from the first animated feature in US history to be given an X-rating, it rips the walking, talking critters out of Disney’s fairytales and drops in the middle of Manhattan, where drugs, sex, racism, and fascism are the order of the day.
Fantastic Planet (1973)
This movie tells of a future in which we humans have been abducted by huge, blue humanoids that, thanks to a hefty language barrier, fail to recognize us as a sentient species and therefore treat us like pets. Most of the story is told through visuals rather than dialogue, as director René Laloux and his team traveled to and from the darkest, most screwed up corners of their imagination to design a world that feels truly alien.
The Thief and the Cobbler (1993)
When Canadian animator Richard Williams accepted a Special Achievement Award for his work on the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, he told audiences that “the best is yet to come.” Many think Williams was referring to The Thief and the Cobbler, a decades-long passion project which he originally envisioned as the most ambitious animated movie ever made. Unsurprisingly, he never finished it before his death, though a semi-completed version is available on YouTube.
This is the only classic Disney film on this list, and for good reason. While most features produced by the entertainment powerhouse when it was in its heyday have a soft and sparkly feel to them, Pinocchio is dark and gritty, perhaps more so than people give it credit for. From child slavery to substance abuse and stranger danger, the titular wooden toy must traverse all the dangers and perversions of the adult world if he ever is to become a real boy. On top of that, it’s also widely recognized to be Disney’s most technically superior movie to date, a claim which its gargantuan finale should render indisputable.
Because many of Satoshi Kon’s films cater toward adult audiences rather than families, as well as the fact that he died of cancer just when his career was reaching an all-time height, Kon never made much of a name for himself outside of his native Japan. Paprika features all of his trademark quirks and strengths: a surreal plot (one that has to have inspired Christopher Nolan’s 2011 film Inception), brought to life with mind-boggling animation filled to brim with spatial and optical illusions alike.
Yellow Submarine (1968)
This one is a cult classic amongst animators, regardless of whether or not they like The Beatles. Although the four superstars were initially supposed to voice their equally idiosyncratic cartoon equivalents from start to finish, they can only be heard in the closing segment. No worries, though, as the film still sports a conceptually challenging yet charming animation style as well as a surprisingly zany plot, both of which save it from becoming more than just another glorified music video.
Loving Vincent (2017)
The Vincent van Gogh museum is a popular destination for shrooms-consuming tourists wondering the streets of Amsterdam, and for good reason. Thanks to their flowing brushwork to their vibrant color palettes, the work of this famous Dutch painter has an extremely psychedelic quality to it. For this cinematic homage, directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman hired 125 artists who crafted 65.000 Van Gogh-style paintings to make an animated movie unlike any ever made before.
Genius Party (2008)
The premise: seven acclaimed animators contribute shorts to an anthology film. There were no requirements, limitations or expectations—and the result shows. Each segment provides a thunderstorm of artistic talent that’s been animated to perfection. On top of that, none of the stories connect, making for a delightfully disjointed viewing experience that never drops its pace or starts to feel stale. The film’s name does its content justice, as it showcases some of the best work in the industry.
Watership Down (1978)
Although this entry may look familiar to anyone who grew up on Bambi, make no mistake, Watership Down is far from your average kid’s movie, if a kid’s movie at all. While the story follows a familiar trajectory—that of a group of rabbits trying to find a new borough after their old one gets bulldozed by a housing development project—it features as much blood and gore as Lord of the Rings. Considering how the film also constructs an entire rabbit culture complete with its own language, that comparison may hold up in more ways than one.
Son of the White Mare (1981)
As far as psychedelic graphics go, this film might take the cake. Produced in Eastern Europe and based on a popular Hungarian folktale, its story follows three princes born from the womb or a horse goddess who embark on a quest to save their brides-to-be from the depths of the Underworld while reclaiming their forlorn kingdom in the process. The animators deliberately avoided using black contours to allow character and background seamlessly flow into one another. The result is a captivating fever dream of religious magnitude.