In cinema, there are two filmmaking methods that rarely intersect: animated movies and live-action movies.
Sure, today’s live-action movies often involve CGI and special effects, and you might argue that as a kind of blending between animation and live-action techniques. But that’s not what we’re talking about.
We’re talking about fully animated characters interacting with true live-action characters, or true live-action characters interacting with fully animated worlds and locations. This approach was more popular back in the 1970s and hasn’t been done much since, save for a few times.
Most of the time, a film only blends true animation with live-action performances when that film has children as its target audience, using the blend of mediums to incorporate big star celebrities and setting a foundation for gags and funny scenarios. But not always!
Here are our picks for the best movies that combine animation with live-action, including several that were made for adults!
8. Cool World (1992)
You know that meta moment in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the animator “suffers a fatal heart attack” and can’t complete the cartoon? Well, Cool World is kind of like that in feature-length form.
The black comedy stars Gabriel Byrne as an animator who finds himself in a world of his own creation… or so he thinks. When he falls for a femme fatale, he’s warned about sexual intercourse between “noids” and “doodles”—but, of course, he ignores those warnings.
However, this comic strip universe that he dubs “Cool World” actually existed long before him, thanks to a WWII veteran (played by Brad Pitt) who first drew it out.
Ralph Bakshi’s feature movie is certainly one-of-a-kind, lauded for its creative visuals but criticized for its strange story and performances.
7. Space Jam (1996)
Space Jam 2, which released in 2021, was one of the few modern movies to still use this technique of blending live-action with animation. But unlike its predecessor, it used CGI rather than classic hand drawings.
For that reason, we think the original Space Jam (directed by Joe Pytka) is more suitable for this list. In Space Jam, NBA star Michael Jordan is enlisted by the Looney Tunes gang to help them win a match. Yeah, it’s pretty random, but tons of fun!
The fictionalized version of Jordan’s initial retirement received mixed reviews, mainly for its odd concept of having a basketball superstar kick around with old-school cartoon bunnies. However, fans loved it, and its technical achievements were praised.
6. Pete’s Dragon (1977)
Pete’s Dragon is one of the rare films where its live-action remake actually surpasses the original, but the original Pete’s Dragon is a proper 1970s British kids’ film that’s still worth watching.
Don Chaffey’s musical was originally supposed to be a two-part TV series, but that was shelved for two decades before producer Jerome Courtland picked it back up.
Based on an unpublished short story—Pete’s Dragon and the USA (Forever After) by Seton I. Miller and S. S. Field—the film Pete’s Dragon follows a young orphan who seeks the help of a giant green dragon to escape his evil foster parents.
Set in the early 20th century, Pete’s Dragon teaches kids all the moral lessons about being good and accepting loss, especially when the dragon must leave Pete to save another struggling child. Plus, the soundtrack even bagged a few Oscar nominations!
5. Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Take a dip under the sea with this animated classic film. No, we’re not talking The Little Mermaid, but actually Bedknobs and Broomsticks! This was a classic British kids’ film released in the 1970s, and another example of a film that was shelved for years before production.
When three kids are evacuated to Dorset in 1940, they find their new guardian flying around on a broomstick. Is that exciting? Or is it creepy? Well, since this is a Disney film, of course she’s a good witch!
Bedknobs and Broomsticks was initially delayed for having too many similarities to Mary Poppins: same company, same animation techniques, same composers, and even cast members.
Ten years later, it was released—and became a hit success! It now has its own stage adaptation that’s currently touring the UK, as of this writing.
4. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run (2020)
SpongeBob Squarepants probably isn’t the first franchise that comes to mind when you think of great cinema. But, hey, it has Keanu Reeves!
Unlike the rest of this list, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run doesn’t use traditional animation like the TV show and the first movie did. Instead, it uses stylized CGI for that crisp, modern sheen.
So, why is it featured on this list? SpongeBob and his gang leave Bikini Bottom to retrieve Gary, who’s been “snail-napped” and taken to Atlantic City. Here, in the real world, they’re the only characters who remain in CGI form. Everyone else is live-action.
The film features well-known faces like Keanu Reeves (who plays a tumbleweed spirit that’s basically a floating head inside glowing hay), Danny Trejo, and Snoop Dogg in the flesh. Hilarious!
3. Mary Poppins (1964)
If you’ve seen the 2013 biopic Saving Mr. Banks, you already know what a hassle it was to get Mary Poppins made. We’ve all heard of fussy writers, but P. L. Travers takes the biscuit for her perilous involvement in bringing her book series to cinematic life.
Nonetheless, it was worth it. Mary Poppins became an instant British cinema classic, with Robert Stevenson directing Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke as two old friends—a magical nanny and cockney street painter—in Edwardian London.
In this film, Mary Poppins, who’s looking after the Banks children, takes them on a bunch of whirlwind cartoon adventures. The blockbuster musical took Walt Disney almost 20 years to negotiate the rights to, but at least Julie Andrews got an Oscar out of it!
2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Robert Zemeckis is the king of feel-good family films, and what’s more fun than Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Not to be confused with Bugs Bunny—who does make an appearance, the only one in history where he’s seen alongside Mickey Mouse—Roger Rabbit is a zany, kind, but not overly clever cartoon bunny.
Roger Rabbit has been framed for murder, so private investigator Eddie Valiant (played by Bob Hoskins) must track him down. Set in 1947 Hollywood, Zemeckis paints a world where people and “toons” naturally co-exist. (Characters conceived after 1947 also make cameos.)
Considered to be quite groundbreaking for its time, Who Framed Roger Rabbit won three Academy Awards and went down as an animated legacy. What else would you expect from Zemeckis?
1. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Edgar Wright is known for his inventive, fast-paced methods of filmmaking and editing, which makes him the perfect director for a film that’s based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley.
Similarly, Michael Cera is the only actor who truly fits the character of Scott, who’s an awkward wannabe musician and slacker. He’s ridiculed for dating a girl five years his younger, and his indie garage band is a failure.
But when he finds a new girlfriend in Ramona Flowers, Scott must fight off her “seven evil exes” to win her over.
Wright incorporates satirical comic book visuals and video game effects into live-action scenes, and that’s just one factor that led to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World garnering a huge cult following.