In the history of modern cinema, there have been a slew of methods and fads to attract audiences to the theater. Gimmicks like eye-popping 3D, large format widescreen and immersive 4D motion seating have turned a simple trip to the movies into an experience that cannot be replicated in the comfort of one’s own home. Event films have also necessitated themselves to be viewed on as large a screen as possible through lavish grand scale productions and stories too big for the small screen. From the mid-20th century to now, studios have found ways to treat movie-goers to a spectacle unlike any other to compete with the advent of television and streaming’s convenience. One such method uses television’s appeal not as a competitor, but as an asset.
To animation fans, there is no greater cinematic thrill than seeing a favorite show being brought to the silver screen somewhere like free soap2day. Seeing characters and hearing voices that have existed solely on the airwaves propelled into a big-budget theatrical adventure is an event that cannot be replicated by multi-part episodes or even a TV movie. With plots, stakes, and visuals that tower over what was possible on television, here are ten of the best films that succeeded in being more than just feature-length episodes:
10. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
2018 was a year jam-packed with a higher-than-average output of superhero and comic book movies from Avengers: Infinity War to Incredibles 2. With a laundry list of mega-muscled tentpole films to round out the Summer box office, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies felt like the black sheep among them, at first glance. The irreverent cartoony antics of DC’s juvenile justice seekers have been met with scrutiny from diehard fans of its 2003 anime-inspired precursor ever since their revival in 2013, and their theatrical debut acknowledges this. The film not only finally pits the Titans against their most nefarious foe Slade Wilson (Will Arnett), but also sees the Titans struggle with their status as the butt-of-the-joke childish heroes not to be taken seriously. As a meta-response to the backlash and a celebration for its young fans, the film sees the Titans win the day by embracing their manically silly selves through slick action sequences and fourth wall jokes that can elicit a chuckle from even the most stubborn haters.
9. Beavis and ButtHead Do America
The mark of a great road trip movie is the call to action, the stakes of the journey ahead, and how its heroes are changed by the arduous adventure. In Beavis and ButtHead Do America, someone stole their TV… and that sucks! The film follows Mike Judge’s airheaded adolescents on a cross-country trip to get back their stolen TV and maybe even “score”. What makes this movie a riot for fans of the MTV series is how stubbornly thick-headed Beavis and ButtHead remain when faced with dangers and situations unlike anything they’ve experienced in their young lives. While on the road, the boys find themselves at the center of an intense political thriller and run afoul of assassins, domestic terrorists and federal agents. They are oblivious of the role they play in their own story and are ignorant of the severity of their situation, yet ironically emerge victorious at every turn and live to see tomorrow, laughing and giggling all the way.
8. The Wild Thornberrys Movie
The Wild Thornberrys Movie is exactly that: wild. In bringing a show that already illustrates the beauty of the natural world to the big screen, the movie utilizes its widescreen format to show the wilds of Africa with a broader scope and visually tell a more epic story than expected of the zoological NickToon. It is a prime example of a show using its jump to the big screen as an opportunity to tell a bolder story and break the rules of its premise. The Nickelodeon series follows a family of naturalist documentarians as they travel the world studying the animal kingdom, all while their daughter Eliza (Lacey Chabert) can speak to animals with a magical gift she must keep secret. In the film, Eliza faces trials that come at the cost of her secret power and put her own abilities to the test. It is a wild adventure fitting of the Thornberry name.
7. The PowerPuff Girls Movie
Cartoon Networks’ sole theatrical endeavor, The PowerPuff Girls Movie tells the story of how Blossom (Cathy Cavadini), Bubbles (Tara Strong) and Buttercup (E.G. Daily) came to be the saviors of Townsville. This is a rare instance of a cartoon’s cinematic outing telling an origin story set before the series as opposed to a brand-new adventure. The film shows the chemical explosion that created the girls, their first day at school and the rise to power of their greatest enemy, Mojo Jojo (Roger L. Jackson). In terms of art style, this is the finest a television cartoon has looked in its transition to film, especially in its many action scenes. The animation is tightly kinetic, the color direction is vibrantly expressively and the storyboards and layouts fully take into account that this is made for the big screen to show the scale of the high-intensity spectacle caused by its three perfect little girls.
6. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
What is it that makes a man a man? Is it the readiness to take responsibility and rise to the occasion? Is it the ability to meet one’s destiny without an ounce of fear or regret? Or is it the shape of his pants? These and similar questions are posed by The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie; the first in a trilogy of theatrical films and the defining childhood event of millennials everywhere. This film sets everyone’s favorite absorbent altruist and his sea star buddy on a journey that spans the entire ocean as they meet monsters, thugs, and David Hasselhoff to reclaim a royal artifact for King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor). The ever-optimistic SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) is faced with the naivety of his age and falls into despair when he himself and the world around him doubt his abilities to do anything but act like an immature kid. However, what makes the film a testament to the late Stephen Hillenberg’s beloved creation is that it shows SpongeBob’s kind nature and childlike optimism are what enabled him to do miraculous things and win the day.
5. The Transformers: The Movie
Before Infinity War wiped out half of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and before Michael Bay‘s bombastic blockbuster franchise, 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie introduced a new cast of heroes and villains in Hasbro’s highly popular toy line in the most spectacularly gruesome way possible: by killing off most of the established cast. It is the far future and the war between Autobots and Decepticons has ravaged their home planet of Cybertron. The film finds most of the characters that fans have followed since the 1984 cartoon series left for dead or given new toyetic forms for kids to ask their parents to buy for them. Characters like Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and Starscream (Chris Latta) met their grizzly fate while Galvatron (Leonard Nimoy) and Rodimus Prime (Judd Nelson) made their series debut. Despite the film’s commercial motives of trading in old characters for new ones, the film itself is a wildly thrilling slice of 80’s rock-and-roll and an exciting adventure with eye-dazzling animation and a voice cast featuring Orson Welles in one of his final roles.
4. A Goofy Movie
Although connected very loosely, A Goofy Movie serves as a cinematic time-skip follow-up to the Disney Afternoon hit, Goof Troop. Now a teenager, Max Goof (Jason Marsden) must survive a fishing trip across state lines with his dad, Disney’s classically accident-prone cartoon star, Goofy (Bill Farmer). Aside from the suburban setting and the inclusion of Max and his best friend P.J. (Rob Paulsen), the film carries over very little from the original Goof Troop series, with most of the show’s supporting cast noticeably absent from the story. What A Goofy Movie does retain from its Disney Afternoon forerunner is the relationship between well-meaning Goofy and his rebellious son as they learn to love and accept each other over the course of their vacation. A Goofy Movie has also remained a Disney cult classic thanks to its bopping soundtrack and lively animation.
3. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
Spoiler Alert: They killed Kenny! At its core, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is a meta-textual critique on the response its original series met upon release, albeit a satirized exaggeration of it. When an R-rated “Terrance and Phillip” movie hits theaters across the country, the upset mothers of South Park rally together to put a stop to the trash-talking toon once and for all, while the kids just want their parents to listen to them and help prevent the armies of Hell from walking the Earth. The film bases its premise on the outcry the foul-mouthed, hyper-violent South Park series received from parents and religious groups after its debut. The film’s discussion of who is accountable for children’s consumption of mature content is taken to its extreme when the moral compass of America’s parents incites an all-out war over simply talking to their children. Through biting satire and an Oscar-nominated soundtrack, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut preaches that if a child is influenced by questionable media, don’t blame Canada, blame the parents.
2. The Rugrats Movie
The Rugrats Movie is surprisingly dark. Throughout the Rugrats series, the adventures of Tommy Pickles (E.G. Daily) and friends were primarily kept to exploring the mundane world of suburbia from a baby’s perspective, always within earshot of their absent-minded parental guardians. In The Rugrats Movie, the babies find themselves in a world larger and far more dangerous than their sandbox and the playground combined. The arrival of baby brother Dil (Tara Strong) sparks discontent among the diaper-clad friends as they march through the wilderness of the forest, evading mad circus monkeys and hungry wolves to find a way home. The babies find themselves on a dire quest for survival with no parents for miles and limited rations. The film pits the babies against their first true adventure and sees them fall apart at the seams as they begin to mistrust and betray one another to find a way home. Their friendship prevails in the end and proves that when working together, anything is possible, even with a full diaper.
1. The Simpsons Movie
“I can’t believe we’re paying to see something we can get on TV for free!”
Nearly 20 years and 400 episodes in the making, The Simpsons Movie represents the apex of what the long-running The Simpsons had become by that point as a series. When Springfield’s eco-friendly initiative is undone by Homer (Dan Castellaneta), the Environmental Protection Agency seals the town in an impenetrable dome and vows to wipe it off the face of the Earth. The film utilizes the years of history put into its characters and the vastness of its supporting cast to tell a sprawling story that involves the entire Springfield community. The actions taken by Homer affect the entire town and the family must face the consequences along with him, bringing out the best qualities in each of the principal family members. Homer’s dimwitted mind and selfish tendencies are bested in the end by the good nature of his heart, Marge’s (Julie Kavner) protective instincts and conscience ensure the family’s survival, and Bart (Nancy Cartwright) and Lisa (Yeardley Smith) discover new relationships that allow them to flourish in the face of utter destruction. The film is also the culmination of prolific creative talents that have contributed to the series over the years to make it an unmistakably authentic Simpsons experience. Directors, writers, and showrunners from the series most iconic seasons joined together to deliver a movie worth waiting decades for. Funny, emotional, and beautifully animated, The Simpsons Movie goes beyond what was possible in a single episode to make America’s favorite nuclear family feel right at home on the big screen.
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About The Author
(14 Articles Published)
Austin Allison is an Animation Feature Writer for Collider. He is also a freelance artist, avid cartoon watcher, and occasional singer. His karaoke favorites include singing Rainbow Connection as Kermit the Frog and Frank Sinatra’s My Way as Goofy. Check out his Instagram (@a_t_allison) and Twitter (@atallison_) for his latest artwork and to submit commssions.