The best films that mix live action and animation
Walt Disney Pictures

The best films that mix live action and animation

There are a lot of animated movies. There are also a lot of live-action movies. On occasion, though, those worlds collide. In that classic peanut butter cup style, we get animation in our live-action. Among the movies that mix these two mediums, these are some of the most noteworthy, as well as some of our favorites. We tried to focus primarily on movies where animation and live-action truly mix, not merely live-action films with an animated sequence. If the animated section is notable enough, though, we considered it for the list as well.

 
1 of 25

“King Kong” (1933)

“King Kong” (1933)
RKO

Hey, stop-motion animation is very much animation. They aren’t always drawn cartoons in our real world. One of the first, iconic examples of stop-motion is in “King Kong,” one of the legendary monster movies. Sure, the Kongs in future movies aren’t exactly real either, but this is the one that most feels like animation.

 
2 of 25

“Anchors Aweigh” (1945)

“Anchors Aweigh” (1945)
MGM

This is a light musical comedy co-starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. It’s really mostly remembered for one segment in the movie, but in that segment, Kelly dances with Jerry the mouse of “Tom & Jerry” fame. It made sure “Anchors Aweigh” has not been forgotten.

 
3 of 25

“Forbidden Planet” (1956)

“Forbidden Planet” (1956)
MGM

“Forbidden Planet” is considered one of the best sci-fi films in the ‘50s. It introduced Robby the Robot, one of the more famous robots in cinema history. Also, it starred Leslie Nielsen before he started making comedy. There are also some notable animated segments. They probably helped “Forbidden Planet” get an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.

 
4 of 25

“Mary Poppins” (1964)

“Mary Poppins” (1964)
Disney

When we mentioned animation mixing with live-action, “Mary Poppins” is probably one of the first movies you thought of. Mary is a magical lady, though she couldn’t use her magic to give Dıck Van Dyke a plausible Cockney accent. This includes bringing the kids into a world featuring animation for portions of the film.

 
5 of 25

“The Incredible Mr. Limpet” (1964)

“The Incredible Mr. Limpet” (1964)
Warner Bros.

Don Knotts made a lot of high-concept comedy movies. He’s usually dealing with ghosts or animals or what have you. In “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” though, he actually becomes an animal. The premise of the movie is that Mr. Limpet becomes a fish (animated, naturally) and then helps the U.S. Navy find Nazi submarines. Yes, that’s the premise of this movie.

 
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“Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971)

“Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971)
Disney

To some “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” is a poor man’s “Mary Poppins,” but with more explicit magic and with Angela Lansbury instead of Julie Andrews. Part of the reason for that comparison is that both films involve animated sequences featuring live-action people.

 
7 of 25

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)
EMI Films

Mixing animation into live-action was a big part of Monty Python’s thing. Terry Gilliam would add his animated flourishes to their work, usually as transitions between scenes and sketches. There is naturally a heaping helping of animation in “Holy Grail,” the first narrative film from the iconic British sketch troupe.

 
8 of 25

“Pete’s Dragon” (1977)

“Pete’s Dragon” (1977)
Disney

Obviously, you can’t have a real dragon in a movie. “Pete’s Dragon” gets around that by using animation. Not in some sort of CGI Smaug style, though. The titular dragon in this children’s movie is quite cartoony, but that adds to the movie's charm.

 
9 of 25

“Tron” (1982)

“Tron” (1982)
Disney

Originally, “Tron” was going to be animated. Then, they decided to make it a live-action movie with a lot of animation in the mix. It was actually one of the first movies to make extensive use of computer animation, though obviously over time the quality of the animation is less impressive. Jeff Bridges, though, remains just as impressive.

 
10 of 25

“Better Off Dead” (1985)

“Better Off Dead” (1985)
Warner Bros.

A couple of 1985 movies feature brief animated sequences. The animation in “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” is so quick, though, we decided not to include it. Also, to not scare people by reminding them of Large Marge. However, while “Better Off Dead” isn’t as good of a movie, it has a dream sequence involving a hamburger that comes to life that is pretty memorable and has a lot of fans.

 
11 of 25

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988)

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” (1988)
Disney/Touchstone

To us, this is the quintessential mixture of animation and live-action. What Robert Zemeckis did is so impressive. The movie takes place in a world where cartoons and real people live in the same world. Human Eddie Valiant has to head into Toontown to figure out, well, who framed Roger Rabbit. It’s a weird mix of film noir and goofy animation, but to many, it’s a classic.

 
12 of 25

“Army of Darkness” (1990)

“Army of Darkness” (1990)
Universal, MGM

There’s some stop-motion animation in all three movies in Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s “Evil Dead” trilogy. However, the third of those films involves the most animation, and also makes the best use of it. Perhaps in a nod to “Jason and the Argonauts,” there are a lot of skeleton soldiers in this movie.

 
13 of 25

“Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990)

“Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990)
Warner Bros.

Joe Dante opens and closes his movie with animated sequences involving Daffy Duck, mostly because he loves Daffy Duck. That’s not the end of the animation, though. There’s also the electric gremlin, and also a couple of other moments of stop-motion animation involved as well.

 
14 of 25

“Cool World” (1992)

“Cool World” (1992)
Paramount

Look, “Cool World” isn’t “good” per se. That being said, it’s one of the primary examples of traditional animation and live-action mixing together. It’s basically “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” for people who are really into Jessica Rabbit. Also, it features one of the first film appearances from Brad Pitt, so that’s notable.

 
15 of 25

“The Mask” (1994)

“The Mask” (1994)
New Line Cinema

When Stanley Ipkiss puts on the mask that makes him “The Mask,” he basically becomes a live-action cartoon. Well, except for the fact that they use actual animation to make him that living cartoon. Without those flourishes, “The Mask” would lose a lot of its charm.

 
16 of 25

“Casper” (1995)

“Casper” (1995)
Universal

Much like with dragons, you can’t have real ghosts in films. In “Casper,” they brought the ghost boy to life through animation. There are other animated ghosts in the movie as well beyond Casper. Using animation was smart, giving that Casper has to seem harmless and, you know, friendly.

 
17 of 25

“A Very Brady Sequel” (1996)

“A Very Brady Sequel” (1996)
Paramount

The arch “Brady Bunch” movies from the ‘90s are better than they have any right to be. In the sequel, a con man poses as Carol’s long-lost first husband to try and steal a priceless work of art. During the process, though, he is accidentally dosed with a bunch of hallucinogenic mushrooms and “trips” with the Bradys. During that segment, he’s dropped into an animated world akin to the “Brady Kids” cartoon.

 
18 of 25

“Mars Attacks!” (1996)

“Mars Attacks!” (1996)
Warner Bros.

Tim Burton has mixed a bit of animation into his movies here and there, but he goes all out with it in “Mars Attacks!” In addition to a killer cast, there’s a lot of animation. Burton has originally wanted to use stop-motion animation but was convinced to use computer animation. It still feels like a real mix of animation and live-action, though, and also we’re fans of the film.

 
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“Space Jam” (1996)

“Space Jam” (1996)
Warner Bros.

We know we risk the wrath of Millennials by saying that “Space Jam” isn’t good, but it’s definitely a famous example of what we’re talking about here. In this case, it’s humans literally interacting with cartoons. Like, Michael Jordan realizes Bugs and company are cartoons, specifically from the world of Looney Tunes. Jordan isn’t much of an actor, so thankfully Bill Murray and Wayne Knight are on hand to keep the film from being a title disaster.

 
20 of 25

“Scooby-Doo” (2002)

“Scooby-Doo” (2002)
Warner Bros.

“Scooby-Doo” debuted as a cartoon, but they decided to turn it into a live-action movie with some very early-2000s names like Matthew Lillard, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Sarah Michelle Geller. Instead of a real dog, though, they used an animated dog, though the animation isn’t as fun as the cartoon versions of “Scooby-Doo.”

 
21 of 25

“Looney Tunes: Back in Action” (2003)

“Looney Tunes: Back in Action” (2003)
Warner Bros.

As we said, Joe Dante loves Daffy Duck, and he’s a fan of Looney Tunes in general. That’s why he was happy to make a Looney Tunes movie, and he got the chance with “Back in Action.” Like in “Space Jam,” Bugs and company are treated like cartoons by the humans they interact with. The movie was a flop, which put the kibosh on future Looney Tunes movies for a while and also Dante’s career, but the film has its charms.

 
22 of 25

“The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” (2004)

“The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” (2004)
Nickelodeon

SpongeBob is one of the most beloved animated characters of the new millennium, and he and the denizens of Bikini Bottom have gotten to have a few movies. In their first big-screen appearance, there are a couple of live-action scenes. One of those feature SpongeBob and Patrick interacting with the real David Hasselhoff, who gives them a ride back home. It’s a delight.

 
23 of 25

“Ted” (2012)

“Ted” (2012)
Universal

What if your childhood teddy bear came to life? That’s the premise of Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted.” Basically, the entire joke is that Ted also grows into being an adult, so he’s a raunchy teddy bear. Despite the slim premise, “Ted” was a big enough hit to get a sequel, and it’s not without some charms.

 
24 of 25

“Christopher Robin” (2018)

“Christopher Robin” (2018)
Disney

Winnie the Pooh films often involve a bit of live-action, but “Christopher Robin” takes it to the next level. The movie is primarily live-action, with Ewan McGregor playing the grown-up Christopher Robin. His childhood friends return to his life, but Winnie and the crew are animated.

 
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“Space Jam: A New Legacy” (2021)

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” (2021)
Warner Bros.

We go back to the realm of “Space Jam,” because this is the latest significant example. It’s basically “Space Jam” but with LeBron James instead of Jordan, an improvement in acting ability. Also, somehow they conned Don Cheadle into being in this? The man is an Oscar nominee! It seems like “A New Legacy” is going to have even more animation in it, bringing this mixture to a whole new level.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

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