Since the beginning of animation, filmmakers have asked the question: “Are these cartoons for kids? Or for grown-ups?”
Surely, Walt Disney, the man who most thoroughly championed animated movies for the masses, was fully on the side of children’s fare — even if some of his movies, like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” or “Bambi,” scared the bejeebers out of younger audiences. But even before Disney gave us Snow White, the Fleischer brothers gave us the short-skirted Betty Boop.
The PG-13 drama “The Breadwinner” — a powerful story about a girl growing up amid the Taliban in Afghanistan (opening Friday in Salt Lake City) — is another example of animation serving a story that isn’t for younger viewers. Here, in chronological order, are seven more animated films made with adult viewers in mind:
1. Fantastic Planet (1973)
Director René Laroux’s surreal adaptation of Stefan Wul’s novel imagines a world where human Oms are kept as pets or slave labor by the giant blue humanoid Draags. The oppression of the Draags is challenged when one of the Oms, named Terr, steals the Draags’ learning device and uses it to acquire the giant race’s knowledge.
2. Heavy Metal (1981)
The science-fiction/fantasy magazine inspired this animated anthology, framed by the story of a girl confronted by a glowing green orb that represents “the sum of all evils.” The stories feature an array of outlandish animation, plenty of sex and violence, a rock ’n’ roll soundtrack, and a voice cast that includes “SCTV” alums John Candy, Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty.
3. South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut (1999)
Trey Parker and Matt Stone expanded the universe of their foul-mouthed Colorado kids to encompass Saddam Hussein, Satan, and a war against Canada over the profanity spewing from the mouths of comic characters Terrance and Phillip. Raucous and raunchy, the movie’s musical numbers presaged Parker and Stone’s Broadway triumph, “The Book of Mormon.”
4. Paprika (2006)
The Japanese have always seen drawn art — manga or anime — as expansive enough for any audience or story. One of the trippiest examples is Satoshi Kon’s hallucinogenic story of a “dream detective,” a psychotherapist who uses a device to cross into people’s subconscious minds, and a cop who team up to stop a criminal who steals a similar device and threatens to break down the wall between dreams and reality.
5. Persepolis (2007)
Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud directed this adaptation of Satrapi’s graphic-novel autobiography, which splits between her girlhood — coming of age in Iran at the time of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution — and her adult exile and sexual awakening as a college student in France. Satrapi’s experience of crossing between cultures is deftly handled in the animation, shown in stark black-and-white for the Iranian flashbacks and rich color for the French scenes.
6. Sita Sings the Blues (2008)
Nina Paley applied her own heartbreak — when her husband moved to India and broke up with her over email — to the ancient Sanskrit epic The Ramayana and the virtuous but maligned Sita. Paley, who made the entire film on her home computer, turns Sita into a Betty Boop-like heroine singing jazz standards by the ’20s torch singer Annette Hanshaw, to create a colorful depiction of good women done wrong.
7. Anomalisa (2015)
The first R-rated movie to be nominated for the Academy Award in the animated-feature category, “Anomalisa” tells of a customer-service expert (voiced by David Thewlis) beset by loneliness until he meets a woman (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who’s different from everybody else (who all have the voice of Tom Noonan). Animator Duke Johnson and director Charlie Kaufman use stop-motion figures to tell this odd and frankly erotic story about finding the one in a sea of familiar faces.