Animation, it goes without saying, is one of the most difficult forms of filmmaking ever developed; having debuted in 1906 with J. Stuart Blackton’s short film Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, the animated medium has existed almost as long as its live-action brethren, and is still continuously improved upon to this day, finding new styles, tricks, and stories to dazzle us all and the children too. With the release of Dreamworks’ Abominable this weekend (you can read my review for it here), and Toy Story 4 (review here) about to hit retail shelves in just a couple of weeks, I thought now would be a nice time to talk a little bit about my favorite animated films of all time. A few disclaimers before we begin: firstly, I haven’t seen enough anime/Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki features as of yet to know whether any should be on this list, nor am I going to go back and trudge through the whole catalog of animated films in the world just to see if I would’ve put one or two more movies on this list that I otherwise wouldn’t have – this list represents only how I feel about these movies right now, and I can only use films I’ve actually watched and have knowledge of. Secondly, it goes without saying that this is a subjective list; it is not definitive, nor do you have to agree or disagree with it. You may hate some of the films on here, or you may love them; either way, you feel how you feel, and I am not here to tell you you’re wrong, or congratulate you on agreeing with me. Secondly, this list is subject to change (as all lists are) with the advent of upcoming films within its category, should they warrant a spot, as well as re-visits to other animated features I haven’t seen in a long time (I have yet to go through Pixar’s entire catalogue). You might not see this list again for a while, but if changes need to be made, it will be back. With all that said and out of the way, let’s get on with the show! Here are my Top 10 Animated Movies of All Time.
10. Toy Story 3
I love Toy Story 4 with my entire heart and soul; it is perhaps the most beautiful-looking animated film to ever come out of Pixar’s animation house, and an astounding achievement in storytelling for a franchise in need of a conclusion for its leading character. However, by the slimmest of margins, 3 barely manages the win against that latest entry in this quadrilogy by having a slightly bigger task to pull off in “concluding” the journey for all of us who had been there since the beginning. It’s that rare trilogy closer that really worked on just about every level, and in re-visiting the series with my girlfriend, I had to conclude that this (barely) is the best of the bunch, with 4 not far behind. How great are these films? The first one is one of the most groundbreaking animated features of all time, a fantastic film in its own right, and yet each film after is as good or better than the last.
9. The Lego Batman Movie
The original Lego Movie (which we’ll get to later) broke new ground in the animation medium by creating its entire world out of real, functioning Lego bricks, and the Batman character was such a smash hit with audiences, stealing the show at almost every turn, that he was the first to get his very own spin-off. This absolutely could have been just a feature-length run on that character as he interacts with the Lego worlds we came to know and love from the 2014 original, but instead, director Chris McKay and the team behind this animated comedy classic decided to make what could arguably called the best (okay, second best) Batman movie ever made. It frequently poked fun at the darker, brooding nature of the character, and reveled in its story about finding family in the people around you.
8. How to Train Your Dragon 2
The original How to Train Your Dragon has been my favorite animated film for a long time (almost 6 years!), and when this released, I went to the very first IMAX showing I could find near me to catch it. While not quite as tight on storytelling, and a bit more “animated”-feeling on dialogue, this hit sequel expanded the world of dragons in fantastic, mesmerizing ways, and challenged the characters by going darker than most mainstream animations had gone in quite some time. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful-looking animated films ever, with some shots you’d swear were live-action if you hadn’t seen any of the ones before or after them. The overall trilogy may have slightly declined in quality with each subsequent entry (The Hidden World being the worst of them whilst still being really good), but how much can they really decline when two of them occupy spots in the top 10?
Yes, I know, Tangled was really the ground-breaking return to form for Disney animation that paved the way for this Broadway-esque musical extravaganza, but this (at least to me) was a whole new level. Disney animation wasn’t just here to remind everyone what they’re capable of, they were here to take over the world, and judging by the over-marketing that continued up to two years after its release in theaters, it was safe to say they weren’t going anywhere. The songs were impeccably written and fun, the animation was stunning, and the characters were dynamic and memorable, all great recipes for not just success, but greatness, and Frozen is great. As the sequel gears up to chew up and spit out box office records this Thanksgiving holiday, maybe it’s time we all re-visited this once more, just to remind ourselves how incredible it actually is (but please, no singing and quoting every line this time).
6. The Lion King
I desperately tried to find room to put Aladdin on this list, but alas, this is the only 2D animation present (Aladdin would have ranked number 11 if the list were any longer than 10 films). Disney animation’s CG branch wouldn’t be developed until later, but this masterpiece showcased just how capable they truly were all the way back in 1994, and it’s a real shame that all their Oscar campaigning power was thrown to the following year’s Pocahontas, which Disney felt was a more sure thing at the time (but my, how time changes things, doesn’t it?). If the Animated Feature category has been part of the Oscars at this time (the category wouldn’t be developed until 2002), you can bet this likely would have run away with the gold. The songs are iconic, the score remains one of Hans Zimmer’s finest works, and the spirit of the film and its characters impacts us all to this very day. In fact, one of the chief criticisms non-fans of the 2019 remake (including me) had of that film was that it failed to capture the spirit of the original. Some things really are untouchable.
5. The Lego Movie
Now this is where we start getting into the heavy-hitters. Pretty much anything ranking below Frozen is up for debate, and even that film and Lion King are mostly just pretty great, but when The Lego Movie released, we had no idea the storm that was about to hit us all. And would you like to know something else? I didn’t think it looked any good! Boy, oh boy, how wrong I was. Egregiously snubbed of a nomination for Best Animated Feature (an award it easily could have won), this fun-filled, hilarious, heartwarming, and innovative story about the child-like joy of creating made Phil Lord & Chris Miller household names after having burst onto the scene with the hilarious 21 Jump Street reboot, and released just ahead of their other 2014 hit, 22 Jump Street. The voice cast is impeccable, every character is dynamic and interesting, and those final fifteen minutes hit like a bullet to the heart. I’m still astounded this movie even exists, and even more that it’s as fantastic as it is.
4. Finding Nemo
Pixar has a long and storied history about making films that focus on parent/child relationships, particularly the father/son dynamic, and Finding Nemo might just be the best one they’ve ever made with that as its central thematic pull. The film continues to be a classic to this day, with some of the most memorable dialogue, characters, animation, and set-pieces not just in Pixar’s entire library, but in the entirety of animated filmmaking, especially wherein it concerns a perfectly-cast Ellen DeGeneres as the voice of Dory, who got her own spin-off film in 2016. Director Andrew Stanton would go on to helm that spin-off, as well as the 2008 hit Wall-E, but this remains his most classic work.
3. Inside Out
I had only just started working for Cinemark Theaters when Inside Out was released, and like the eager young movie fan I was (okay, am), I went to see it four times, the most times I would ever see any movie in theaters, right up until that record was broken on my 5th time seeing Avengers: Endgame. But I didn’t have people I was showing Inside Out to that were trying to catch up on their Pixar franchise films to aid me in returning to the theater time after time, as I did with Endgame; I went to see this one four times by myself, just because I loved it that much. It still kind of blows my mind that director Pete Doctor and the entire writing team behind this film made an intricately plotted, razor-sharply-written comedy about the mental psychology of children as they grow up, and still managed to make it accessible and understandable to the children they were writing it about. This movie will age beautifully to those children as well, as there’s a whole lot to unpack here for adults reflecting back on their own childhoods (especially wherein it concerns sadness and allowing your emotions to process). The score by Michael Giacchino is also one of the finest Pixar has ever produced, and every note rings so true, you can feel it on your soul (Soul, incidentally, is the name of Pete Doctor’s next Pixar film, to be released in 2020, so get ready for that). I always cry at the same four spots in this movie, but I won’t spoil them here in case anyone hasn’t seen this yet, so if you want to know what they are, just ask me directly.
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
You would not believe how many times during the course of the past week that I was tempted to make this my #1, because yeah, this movie is that good. It’s no easy task to challenge the film in the #1 spot (even more difficult to unseat it), but Sony Animation came back and then some to give us the greatest Spider-Man movie ever made (which I’d wager was something no one could have predicted they would be able to do after putting out The Emoji Movie in summer 2017). All the characters are drawn and shaded in their respective styles as those relate to their individual dimensions (movements are unique to characters too), and the film pulls of a glorious feat of looking exactly like a comic book come to life by employing a healthy mix of 2D and 3D animation so fluid you could practically drink it. Above all that, though, are some fantastic characterizations of all the different Spidey’s, some of Lord & Miller’s trademark perfect humor, and an inspiring story that not only introduced Miles Morales to the silver screen world, but spoke to the hero in all of us by telling us that we too could wear the mask; all it takes is a leap of faith (and that “leap” for Miles is one of the most cathartic in all of animated movie history).
1. How to Train Your Dragon
Perhaps from a more “objective” standpoint (at least as objective as anyone could be when considering subjective rankings of a subjective form of media), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is probably the best movie on this entire list; for me, though, there’s just something about the grandiosity and majesty of the first How to Train Your Dragon that takes a hold of me every time I watch it, and every single time the title comes up at the end, I want to stand up and cheer no matter where I am. When we look back at the ten greatest animated films of all time, but especially of the 2010s, this should surely make a number of those lists as well. Many who know me will say they weren’t surprised at all this this film is at the top of my list, and they’re right not to be surprised. The characters and voice performances are as close to perfect as they could probably ever get, the narrative is incredibly focused and brilliantly conceived, the “camerawork” is immaculate, and this was the first animated film I ever watched where I was genuinely in awe of what the animation looked like (and then they stepped it up again…twice). I posed a question to John Campea on his show the other day pitting this and Spider-Verse against each other, and while he went the other way (for totally understandable reasons), I simply could not get over the way this movie makes me feel after every viewing, and that makes it my favorite animated movie that’s ever been made. How to Train Your Dragon is a remarkable, beautiful, powerful film, with one of the greatest scores ever created (courtesy of John Powell), dialogue that feels so natural you’d swear these characters had existed forever, breathtaking visual design, and is perhaps the definitive “man and his dragon” relationship of the silver screen; when all is said and done, this could very well go down in history as Dreamworks’ finest animated feature ever, and in my book, it more than likely will.
And those are my Top 10 Animated Movies of all time! What do you think of this list? Any you would put on or take off? What are your favorite animated movies? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you back in a couple of days for my upcoming Top 10 Movies of 2014!
Honorable Mentions: Aladdin (1992), The Incredibles, Shrek, Tangled, Toy Story/2/4, Kubo and the Two Strings, Your Name, Wall-E, Up, The Little Prince, Moana, Zootopia, Shrek 2, Finding Dory, Monsters, Inc., Ratatouille, Beauty and the Beast (1991)
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Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.