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15 Unforgettable Stories From Topic’s Animation Nation

Anyone who grew up with Saturday morning cartoons can probably remember the pure joy that animated stories gave us as children. As adults, our eyes might not light up at the sight of Care Bears anymore (or maybe yours do — no judgment), but we can still find the same joy in animated stories geared towards older audiences. Topic is always on the lookout for the best new animated films or series because we firmly believe that they have the power to evoke universal human emotions just as effectively as live action stories. Here are 15 animated titles that do just that.

Fired on Mars

Jeff is just your typical graphic designer on Mars, plugging away at his desk day in and day out while missing his wife on Earth. When he gets the news that his job is in jeopardy from a company exec on Earth named Brandon, his comfortable, if not mediocre, life starts unraveling until he finds himself jobless, wifeless, and addicted to barbecue-flavored potato chips. That’s when he decides to turn his life around. In the end, Jeff wins a small victory against Brandon and answers an immense calling for himself: he becomes a colony of one.

Florida Man

Using real-life headlines starting with the two most notorious words in local news, “Florida Man,” this short reenacts some of the more bizarre stories using elegantly animated silhouettes. Some noteworthy ones include “Florida Man Removes Facial Tattoos With Welding Grinder,” “Florida Man Wearing Bucket on His Head Breaks Into Store to Steal Pigeons,” and “Florida Man Escapes Prison to Buy Beer, Returns Unnoticed.” Again, these are real-life headlines.

Museum of Human History

This short animated series is set in the distant future, when the human race has become extinct and nothing more than ancient relics to be studied and intellectually prodded. Alien kids learn about the many strange traits and habits of humans from a docent at the titular Museum of Human History. For example, humans formed something called the NRA, which either stands for the National Rifle Association or the Neurotic Republican Army, America was really good at imprisoning people, dieting was an odd thing that only people in first-world countries did, and Twitter was something that lonely humans created to communicate only through birds. While some of the minor details might be wrong, these facts track overall.

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Beach Flags

Who knew that a beach racing competition could teach such a powerful lesson in camaraderie? Vida is a natural at the Beach Flags race and is poised to represent Iran at the Australia lifeguarding competition, but her chances are dashed when a fierce competitor named Sareh joins the class. In class, Vida views Sareh as her arch nemesis, but when she sees Sareh’s life outside of class, her view completely changes. "Beach Flags" is a reminder that, depending on your perspective, the same person can be your enemy or your teammate.

An Island

In this animated short, a man sets out for a deserted island with the goal of climbing the looming mountain at its center. As he climbs and faces the natural elements, which are both beautiful and treacherous, he starts getting flashes of a recent loss that is clearly still weighing heavily on him. With a classical score of soaring strings paired with gorgeously animated landscapes, An Island is the perfect allegory for grief — it’s a difficult journey, with many deep pits and high walls, but taking it can be liberating, cathartic, and beautiful. But can you really outclimb your grief?

Aliens of Extraordinary Ability

When it comes to immigration and nationality law, there are pages upon pages of rules, definitions, and stipulations — over 1,000 pages in fact. Narrated by an actual immigration officer, this four-episode series explores a very unique category of non-immigrant visa: the O-1, intended for aliens of extraordinary ability. By looking at the cases of an acrobat, a video game programmer, a microbiologist, and a hair stylist, we see the labyrinthian eligibility requirements that these visa applicants must meet, and by seeing who gets denied or approved, we see just how arbitrary it all seems. Apparently, not even winning the gold medal at the European World Cup is enough to qualify you as extraordinary!

Sad Animal Facts

Did you know that sheep can only remember up to 50 faces? This simply animated series reveals complexities about the animal kingdom that you may never have imagined. Each episode focuses on a different animal and teaches us a sad fact about it through relatable scenarios. So when a male sheep proposes to his girlfriend at a restaurant and the waiter comes up to take their order, they both immediately forget who the other is because the waiter has taken up that last face slot in their memories. If you think that’s sad, did you know that fire salamanders eat their siblings? Guess how that one turns out.

The Nib

Like an animated version of the online publication of the same name, The Nib offers fast-paced, bite-size political vignettes satirizing every facet of our modern-day dystopia, like health care, the alt right, fake news, reproductive rights, and the gender pay gap. This series is at once a caricature of our reality, a hilarious escape from it, and a rude wake-up call that the world is so absurdly messed up right now it hardly needs to be caricatured. Every episode features different styles of animation, which means you’ll see Trump in various shades of orange. Funny, but also terrifying.

You Are Good at Things

Like a colorful daily affirmation, this series reminds us of all the various random things we’re good at, like knowing how high to toss a baby, choosing donuts, and trying on cheap sunglasses like you’re in a movie montage. Even if they’re pretty useless things — hey, at least we’re good at them.

Obits

"Obits" tells the life stories of three people who all died on March 6, 2018, but that’s hardly the only connection between them. Turkish archaeologist Muhibbe, 97, was known for her discovery of rare eroded hieroglyphics during an excavation. As a child, Eli, 82, was fascinated with trinkets and sundries and as an adult, he amassed a collection of hand-sewn quilts that he exhibited around the country. And John, 75, won a Nobel Prize for his work in decoding the genome of the nematode worm. Can you see the connecting thread between all three of them? They all made big discoveries by studying the smallest details, much like the film.

Symphony No. 42

Like one of your wildest dreams in animated form, Symphony No. 42 is made up of a series of vignettes illustrating utterly imaginative, sometimes morbid, scenarios featuring humans and animals with human-like abilities. A fox seems to have discovered the secret to the universe and then promptly shoots himself. A house cat grows 20 times its size and cuddles its human. A group of apes tap away on their “Pear” laptops. Wonder how Freud would interpret these.

Tram

Riding the tram becomes a very erotic experience in this bawdy short. A buxom tram conductor spends her day lustfully daydreaming, seeing all the mundane details in a very sexual light. She gets increasingly excited each time a passenger sticks their ticket into the slot and starts enthusiastically handling her steering sticks. But will her desires stay inside her head or will she find a willing...rider. (Sorry.)

Phenomena Exotica

This animated short explores the phenomenon that is synchronicity by illustrating some truly mind-boggling examples, all said to be true stories. The most bizarre story involves King Umberto I of Italy, who was eating at a restaurant one day and met his doppelganger. The two identical men soon learned that they were both named Umberto, both born on the same exact day in Turin, both were married on the same day to women named Margarita, and both had sons named Vittorio. As if that weren’t incredible enough, the two men were both shot to death the same day. If you believe in coincidences, could you believe in five?

Negative Space

As a child, his father taught him how to pack the perfect suitcase — roll your cotton clothes, fold your wrinkle-prone clothes, nooks and crannies for socks, and shoes on top. End goal: zero negative space. By the time he was 12, he was packing for his dad. They bonded over this seemingly simple task that became a powerful source of pride for both father and son. But no amount of packing skills could have prepared him for the negative space he would feel in his life as an adult.

The Zo

In this short documentary, narrated by “The Wire”’s Michael K. Williams, the nightmarish reality that is life in a U.S. prison is juxtaposed by beautiful illustrations by artist Molly Crabapple. Through her watercolor drawings, viewers learn about the disturbing and inhumane tactics that prison guards use to disorient, degrade, and dehumanize the incarcerated. From assigning impossible tasks to randomly throwing them in isolation with no explanation, these tactics are tantamount to psychological terrorism. No wonder they call prison “The Zo”—it can be surreal and disturbing like “The Twilight Zone.”

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