The 12 Best Movies To Combine Live Action And Animation

Pete's Dragon 2016 remake Elliot the Dragon first look

This August, nearly forty years after the original, Pete and Elliot are back on our screens with the Disney re-make of Pete’s Dragon, and it’s going to be adorable. Elliot even retains some of his cute and cuddly appearance, although he’s a far (CGI) cry from the original pink-haired cutie that we know from childhood. For some fans, the changes just bring this classic story up to date, but for others – well, nothing but an animated dragon would do. After all, part of the charm of the original was seeing a real live boy interacting with a cartoon.

Of course, Pete’s Dragon is far from the only film to combine live-action and animation. Some add one or the other to credits or intros (like the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, which rounded off an animated adventure with the fab four in live action at the very end), or include shorter sequences within the larger story (like the three brothers sequence in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows). But our favorite films to combine live action and animation are the ones that integrate the two throughout, even bringing live action and animated characters together side-by-side.

So in honor of the original Pete and Elliot, here are The 12 Best Movies To Combine Live Action and Animation

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The Phantom Tollbooth DVD cover
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12 The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

The Phantom Tollbooth DVD cover

It may be cheesy, but this 70s kids’ movie turned the concept of the imagination into a real (if animated) place with the help of a toy… tollbooth. When Milo (Butch Patrick), a bored little boy, receives a mysterious present, it takes him on an adventure that also teaches him to love learning! (We did say it was cheesy…)

He drives his toy car through the tollbooth (who doesn’t want to play pay-the-toll?), and turns from live-action to animation as he goes on an adventure to Dictionopolis (words are fun!), Digitopolis (numbers are fun!) and the Mountains of Ignorance (ignorance isn’t fun!) in order to rescue the Princesses Rhyme and Reason. Although its message gets a bit eye-rollingly obvious at times, it’s a cheerful and fun trip that encourages children to use their imagination and get out of the doldrums (and into their head).

11 Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Frequently compared to Mary Poppins, this later film featured many of the same elements – including a group of children and adults who find themselves in an animated world. This time, however, no bones are made about the magical powers of the female lead – Miss Price (Angela Lansbury) is a straight-up witch! One on whom the defense of Britain rests, in fact.

She, three children and a conman head to the cartoon aisle of Naboombu, where they must take part in a soccer game with anthropomorphic jungle animals in order to bring home a magical medallion. Like Mary Poppins, the animation sequence is only part of the film, and the characters are the only live-action elements in it. Also like Mary Poppins, it’s a feel-good film with plenty of magic for the whole family.

10 Space Jam (1996)

Space Jam: Bugs, Bill Murray and Michael Jordon

This hilarious ‘90s sports-comedy brings together our favorite faces from the Looney Tunes cartoons, along with Bill Murray and basketball star Michael Jordan. In this version of our world, cartoon characters live deep within the Earth in a secret world, and it turns out that there are cartoon aliens, too!

In a highly unlikely series of events, Bugs Bunny and the gang are enslaved by aliens, and their only hope of escape is to win a basketball game… Michael Jordan is their only hope for freedom. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but in the best possible way, and although it didn’t get the critical response that Warner Brothers may have hoped, it has a devoted fanbase who loved the escapism. Recently, a sequel was announced, although no release date has been set.

In the meantime, you can check out the official website for the original film, which has remained online, untouched since 1996.

9 The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou Submersible

Director Wes Anderson is his usual quirky self at the helm of this comedy-drama about an eccentric oceanographer out for revenge on the rare shark that killed his best friend. As usual, characters and visuals take precedence over plot or action, but here Anderson does something a little different – including animation for the sea creatures that Zissou (Bill Murray) and his crew encounter along the way.

Seahorses, fish, the jaguar shark they hunt, even the submersible they use appear in animated technicolor, adding to the slightly surreal vibe of the film. Although this animation lacks the hand-drawn aesthetic of the rest of the films on this list, there is no attempt to make the creatures appear realistic. In fact, the cartoonish appearance of the sea life is where the appeal of the animation lies.

8 Anchors Aweigh (1945)

Anchors Aweigh Gene Kelly and Jerry Mouse

One of the earliest films to combine live-action and animation in this way, Anchors Aweigh is a classic comedy musical starring Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Kathryn Grayson… and Tom and Jerry.

The iconic cartoon duo appear in a brief storytelling sequence in the film, as sailor Joe (Gene Kelly) visits a school and entertains the children with the tale of how he won a medal. Jerry Mouse becomes a lonely king, who is taught to sing and dance in order to become a happier king and bring joy to his animal subjects (through song and dance, naturally). It may not be the best of its era, but seeing Gene Kelly tap dancing with a cartoon mouse is just as awesome as it sounds, and that gives Anchors Aweigh a special place in classic movie-fans’ hearts.

7 The Congress (2013)

The Congress Robin Wright

This sci-fi drama plays with the boundaries of what is real and what is created by the mind, as a new technology allows people to turn into animated versions of themselves, living in an animated world. Robin Wright (playing a fictional version of herself) is an out-of-work actress who agrees (out of desperation) to spearhead this technology by allowing herself to be scanned, mind and body, so that Miramount (a film studio) can own ‘her’.

The film crosses between the animated and “real” world, and challenges concepts of who is “real” and who is a character. It’s touching and terrifying in equal measure, and uses the animated sequences perfectly. Opening at film festivals, The Congress was awarded Best Animated Feature Film at the European Film Awards in 2013 and is absolutely worth a watch.

6 Enchanted (2007)

Enchanted DVD Cover Amy Adams

Proving that Disney is more than capable of poking fun at itself, Enchanted begins and ends in the classic Disney-style animated fairytale land, but wanders into the “real world” (aka New York City) for the middle portion of the film. Its heroine, Giselle (Amy Adams), is a stereotypical Disney princess on steroids – kind, sweet, able to communicate with woodland creatures (or pigeons and rats), a gifted seamstress, and liable to burst into song at any moment.

Her adventures in New York City with cynical lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey) have all the charm of a classic romance. The best part of the film, however, is the humor. From Robert’s confusion over a girl who “stepped out of a Hallmark card or something”, to the bumbling ineptitude of Giselle’s Prince Charm- err, Edward (James Marsden), it’s hilarious and sweet from start to finish.

5 Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Monty Python And The Holy Grail

Monty Python’s inimitable style of silly comedy is the heart and soul of this full-length feature by the comedy group, and the animation sequences simply add to the surrealism. John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman and Michael Palin travel to the times of King Arthur’s court for this adventure, searching out men to join the Knights of the Round Table and seek the Holy Grail.

Among the various silly perils that they face is the Black Beast of Arrrggghhh, an animated monster who comes very close to eating the intrepid band. Luckily, in a twist that only these comedians could come up with, the cartoonist drawing the monster drops down dead, rendering the threat vanquished. It’s the kind of quirky addition that only this troupe could pull off perfectly – and they do. Animation also appears in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a similarly silly look at the story of Jesus Christ.

4 Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003)

Uma Thurman The Bride Kill Bill

This iconic Quentin Tarantino revenge flick takes place almost entirely in live-action, but does include a hugely popular animation sequence. In between the scenes of slaughter, we learn the backstory of Deadly Viper Assassination Squad member O-Ren Ishii. Leader of the Tokyo yakuza, O-Ren Ishii’s parents were murdered by the yakuza when she was a child, a story that we see told in classic anime style.

The animation was created by Production IG, the same studio that animated Ghost in the Shell and Blood: The Last Vampire. The decision to include anime suits the style of the film (with heavy anime and samurai influences) perfectly. As well as appealing to anime fans, the scene is a fantastically novel way to present flashback – no reliance on soft focus or sepia shots when you have brilliantly gory anime instead!

3 Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World 1 Up Animation

Based on the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs The World tells the story of a young man battling the evil exes of the girl he likes in order to win her over. A relatively simple premise, the charm of the film lies partly in the performance of Michael Cera (as Scott himself), but is also largely due to the integration of comic book and video game-style animation.

During scenes where a band plays, lightning bolts come from guitars, during fight scenes, health bars and batman-style sound effects show up on screen, and throughout the film effects are added to give the story a cartoonish feel. It’s a take on fantasy-action that is designed to appeal to fans of nerdier art forms, and it works perfectly, creating a world like our own, but with much better visual effects.

2 Mary Poppins (1964)

Mary Poppins Bert Dancing Animation

This classic musical is also getting a remake in the near future, but only time will tell if they choose to keep the more cartoonish elements, or if they go the CGI route. In the original, magical nanny Mary Poppins takes her charges on all kinds of adventures, including one straight into sidewalk chalk art.

Leaping through the image, Mary (Julie Andrews), Bert (Dick Van Dyke) and the children (Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber) find themselves (redressed) in an animated countryside scene, where Mary and Bert meet some singing farmyard animals, and are served tea by penguin waiters. There are carousel rides, a horserace, and a rescued fox, all with the four main characters as the only live-action elements. It’s the perfect addition to the magic and whimsy of the rest of the film.

1 Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit Jessica Rabbit

Unlike many of the films that combine live-action and animation, Who Framed Roger Rabbit doesn’t rely on alternate worlds, chalk paintings or magic as a reason for the mix. Instead, it simply takes place in a predominantly live-action world where humans and cartoons (and cartoon humans) co-exist on a day to day basis.

A murder-mystery, the film centers around Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer), suspected of murdering his cheating wife’s lover in a crime of passion. It’s up to detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to find out the truth. As well as the fresh concept and brilliant comedy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is famous for introducing the voluptuous Jessica Rabbit to the world – she’s not really bad, she’s just drawn that way!


Can you think of any live-action/animated hybrids that we missed? Let us know in the comments!

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