There Are Many Films, but Few Can Claim They Are the Best Animated Movie.
It seems like every year more and more animated films come out. There are films for kids, films for adults, and for every group in between. It’s been amazing watching this medium flourish. But that also means there is a lot of… well… not great stuff out there. Like Mockbusters (films that were made to rip off a Disney or other studio’s film), or low budget cash grabs. But there are also films that rise to the top and defy our expectations of animation. We love finding these gems. We decided that to help others discover the best of the best, we would share our top 10 list of best animated movies.
For this article, all forms of animation were considered: traditional, CGI, and stop-motion. Did your favorite make the cut?
This movie takes the 10th spot on our list for a couple of reasons. Shrek represents the first film that felt like Dreamworks wasn’t just copying Pixar. They spent their formative years in CGI trying to beat Pixar at their own game instead of trying to do their own thing, which wasn’t a great idea — and Shrek finally broke them free of it. And if that wasn’t enough, here is some Shrek-tacular trivia (that was terrible and we’re not sorry): Shrek was a project Dreamworks put its B-tier animators on. If an animator didn’t have the chops for Prince of Egypt, they were shuffled over to Shrek. We have to say we can’t tell. Shrek hasn’t aged as badly as a lot of CGI movies, and the animation still holds up today.
Shrek is hilarious, from its multifaceted script to its iconic soundtrack. Just tell us you can hear “I’m a Believer” and not immediately think of Ogres and swamps. Despite being a comedy, Shrek had its heart in the right place, and its overarching message of self-love and happiness (though it takes peeling back some layers to get there) is perfect.
9. The Iron Giant
The Iron Giant is one of those movies that comes along once in a great while and truly touches you. The storytelling is beautiful. The slow build of emotion throughout is perfect. The characters are believable as ordinary people in extraordinary situations. It’s a shame that it didn’t do well at the box office. Thankfully, as time went on people have embraced the film, and with the release of Ready Player One, people have been reminded of its existence.
Iron Giant shows the friendships that we form as children, and it has strong anti-war values. They perfectly capture the rebelliousness of childhood and the pain of loss. The final moments are some of the most captivating in animated film, and it is rare to finish a viewing without getting a little misty.
8. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Snow White marked a huge change in the history of cinema. As the first full length animated feature, it broke ground where others had only dared to dream. Animation at this point was expensive, time-consuming, and required specialized skills. But Walt Disney had a dream, and he set his animators to the task. They had been animating shorts for about ten years by the time they released Snow White and had the experience to do the impossible. And they did. That impossible task began a tradition of film that continues to this day.
Snow White was the first Disney Princess and she had a story far darker than many of the modern princesses. When Snow White came out, Disney didn’t balk away from things that might frighten kids. We can appreciate that. Sometimes things are frightening, but it’s the courage to overcome such hardships that help us grow. The music is beautiful and still iconic to this day, making this a great addition to our list.
7. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson is one of those directors who has a “different” way of telling a story. He finds the absurdity in the mundane and brings it to light. Fantastic Mr. Fox is no different, and the use of stop motion really makes this movie what it is. The delicate way the fur on the animals moves. The way they use “cuss” instead of…well, cussing. The animation style makes wonderful caricatures and the choice to make George Clooney and Meryl Streep Mr. Fox and Mrs. Fox was inspired.
When Mr. Fox breaks a promise to his wife, he puts the whole neighborhood in jeopardy — and his restlessness leads to no end of problems for everyone involved. The delightful expressions, playful characters, and endlessly breathtaking backdrops really set this movie up as a favorite. It teaches us that’ we’re all a little “different,” and that’s perfectly okay.
6. The Lion King
Sometimes it’s the spectacle of the thing, you know? The Lion King is one of those films that was meant for the big screen. The expansive shots, the use of color, and the compelling story draw the viewer in. It’s a film that people still quote 20 years later (yes, it’s really been over 20 years). The loss of Mufasa is felt so acutely, and the journey Simba takes to become King of Pride Rock is a tale that won’t leave you.
Perhaps it is the phenomenal score from Elton John that really sells this picture. Or perhaps it is Disney’s masterful storytelling. Regardless, The Lion King is as compelling as it is iconic. While there are many Disney films we could have chosen — from princesses to llamas — The Lion King was one of the stories that really wowed us.
5. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya
Much like we retell Grimm’s fairy tales in the west, The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is a Japanese classic — and by classic, we mean the oldest extant piece of Japanese folklore. Though the original is called The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a title which references the man who discovered her, the Studio Ghibli version chose to focus instead on Kaguya, a woman who was born from a glowing bamboo shoot.
They also chose to animate the entire film in traditional Japanese ink wash style. The fluid ink work and muted colors of the film create a dreamlike quality and evoke deep emotions. The style is so fluid, it morphs to meet the tone of each scene. We highly recommend you watch this film — it’s awe-inspiring.
4. Toy Story
This film marked the beginning of something extraordinary. Toy Story was the first full-length CGI film and the first full-length film Pixar ever produced. It also began a story that spans three films — and only gets better with each iteration. Pixar chose to focus their original film on toys because the CGI technology at the time wasn’t that great. The tools they had made everything look kind of shiny and plastic — thus, toys! This means it aged pretty well — except for the humans. While the toys still look fantastic, the humans in the movie look a little…dated.
Toy Story speaks to both parents and kids. It is full of the joy of our toys having lives all their own, and the fear of being replaced. It explores complex issues without making them impossible for kids to grasp, and that’s a tradition Pixar has continued through all their films. This film is not only a monument to the evolution of animation, but a truly powerful experience worth rewatching.
3. Your Name
This is one of those beautifully emotional films that sits with you long after it’s over. Your Name (or Kimi no Na wa, as it was originally released), is the story of two Japanese high school students, a boy and a girl, who trade bodies randomly when they wake up. Their mutual switching improves both of their lives, and they become friends through the messages they leave for each other. It’s perfect (well, not perfect, but good for them both) until they stop switching bodies and the boy is left to wonder why.
The story is emotionally captivating, and the animation is incredible. It’s a story that hasn’t been told before, and one that sits in your chest for a long time after watching. While it isn’t that well known in the states, it broke records in Japan and has been honored with awards both in the US and Japan. It won an award for being the best Japanese Animated Film (or Anime). It’s definitely worth your time, and if you’re not big into subtitles, it has been dubbed into English. It’s different than anything we’ve seen before, and you should take the time to watch it.
2. Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika is one of those studios who constantly surprises you, from their first film Coraline right up through Kubo. This is a story of loss, magic, and finding yourself. The stop-motion animation is breathtaking, and the origami is out of this world. Each character is drastically different and incredibly complex. The story captivates you from the first line and keeps you there until the very end.
The stop-motion style gives everything a powerfully tactile feeling and makes the whole experience seem grounded, despite the strangeness of it. The danger feels very real, and the ever-present fear of the monsters that follow you catching up makes Kubo’s quest feel dire from beginning to end. Just remember: his name is Kubo, his grandfather stole something from him, and that really is the least of it.
1. Spirited Away
Studio Ghibli has a way of telling stories that never truly leave you, and Miyazaki is the master of them all. Spirited Away is an unusual coming of age story. Chihiro is trapped working in a bathhouse for the spirits to save her parents after they greedily ate the spirits food. She is held under the spell of a witch and helped by a boy named Haku. The story is filled with wonder, magic, and demons. The characters are rich, the backdrop of the bathhouse is beautiful, and the story is unbelievably sincere in it’s telling.
If there is one Miyazaki film you need to watch (though you should watch all of them) Spirited Away is it. Everything from the music to the immaculate setting is rich and deep. Chihiro’s struggle is felt by the viewer, and her growth is organic and true to her character. Everyone who helps her on her way is interesting and feels as if they have their own lives separate from the main character. We can’t sing the praises of Spirited Away enough, and our only final words are this: Watch. This. Film. (You can thank us later.)