Animation is an under-appreciated artform that’s long had a stigma attached to it. Most people still think it’s for kids despite the existence of cartoons like Family Guy and South Park made for older audiences, themes and messages in movies and shows that resonates with older audiences as much as they do for kids, and of course, anime and other non-Western animation. If you let that stigma go, you’ll find one of the most creative and stylistic artforms in all of media. Even the most advanced CGI couldn’t do what animation can. It can wow you, it can make you laugh, it can make you cry, it can make you feel all of the emotions. Because it’s not constricted to the limitations of live-action, the sky is the limit when it comes to the possibilities and pure imagination. To celebrate, I decided to put together a list of my favorite animated movies of all time. A few things to note before I start: I’m only covering theatrical releases, I am considering all animation styles (traditional, computer, stop motion, etc.), there will be some anime movies, and this won’t be in any chronological order. So let’s begin.
THE LION KING
You’ve seen me praise this movie nonstop, so why not do it again? With the remake coming out next week, why not talk about the original? The Lion King is one of those Disney movies that resonates with audiences the most. It has this epic story about lions, yet it’s so relatable at the same time. We all aspire to have the same sort of parent-child relationship that Simba and Mufasa has and the latter’s death is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in film period. Matching the epicness of the story is the animation and music, which mostly captures the African landscape and provided us with music that we still remember to this day. I still get chills hearing Circle Of Life is an awesome way to start the film and Hakuna Matata is an earworm that stays in your head, love it or hate it. All of the characters are memorable and everyone has a favorite, whether it’d be Timon and Pumbaa or the dastardly Scar. This film was special, which explains why people are still fond of it 25 years after its release.
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
While superhero movies have become commonplace these days, there’s not a lot that fully captures the feel of being in a comic book. Then came last year’s Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, a stylistic take on the Web Swinger that we all know and love. Looking at the plot alone, this should have been a mess, but Phil Lord found a way to focus on Miles Morales’ story while weaving in other Spider characters and several nods to the Spider-Man mythos. No movie looks like Into The Spider-Verse as it looks and feels like a comic book come to life. This could only work in animation. Along with the animation is the music, which utilizes hip-hop like Black Panther did and not sound dated or corporate, it’s authentic to the film’s style. It’s also hilarious as hell thanks to the self-referential humor throughout. This is balanced out by a lot of heavy emotional moments as well. If you’re a fan of Spider-Man, then this film is for you.
TOY STORY 3
I could have put any of the Toy Story movies on here because they’re all great, but I went with the third one because it made me feel all the feels. Toy Story 3 was released 15 years after the first and 11 years after the second. Thanks to more advanced technology, the animation is a huge improvement. This movie will make you feel old if you grew up on Toy Story 1 and 2 as Andy is getting ready to go to college and the toys are unsure about their future. They get sent to a day care center and have to find their way back to Andy. It has all the things that made people love Toy Story in the first place; the adventure, the likable characters, and of course, the emotional moments. There were scenes in 3 that had me choked up like when the toys were going down the incinerator and they thought this was the end for them. And then there’s the ending where Andy gives his toys away to Bonnie and bids them farewell. That scene was a perfect conclusion to the story, Toy Story 4 aside, and reflects what growing up is, letting certain things go. Is it really a surprise that this connected with a lot of adults and older teens?
At some point, I need to talk about the works of Studio Ghibli, specifically from Hayao Miyazaki, a brilliant filmmaker behind anime movies that could rival the magic and wonder of Disney. I still have some catching up to do on Ghibli and Miyazaki’s catalog, but Princess Mononoke is easily one of my favorites. It’s one of the darker Ghibli films as it depicts a conflict between humans and gods of a forest and in the middle is a young prince who’s cursed by a demon. There’s an environmental message within the film, but unlike other movies and TV shows dealing with the environment, Princess Mononoke doesn’t present it in a black-and-white way. Both sides have reasons for their actions that aren’t “man bad, nature good,” which makes it refreshing. This isn’t a movie you show to the young ones as there’s a lot of blood, gore, dismemberment, etc. If you have to watch at least one Studio Ghibli film in your life before you pass, consider this as an option.
THE IRON GIANT
Here’s one of the more underrated films that’s gained a huge cult following over the years. The Iron Giant is the directorial debut of Brad Bird, who also wrote the script, and tells a story that we’ve all become familiar with, a kid befriending something from another world. In this case, we have Hogarth befriending a giant alien robot voiced by Vin Diesel and their relationship is the best part of the movie. This Iron Giant might seem intimidating, but he’s really like an overgrown child who doesn’t know much and Hogarth acts as a teacher of Earth customs. The military is also after the Iron Giant since he is an alien and it takes place in the 50s, so of course there’s that Cold War paranoia. Raise of hand, how many of you teared up at this scene?
Yeah, he survived at the end, but goddamn it, this scene gets me every time. ” You stay, I go, no following.” “Superman.” Stop punching me in the heart, Vin Diesel. Anyways, The Iron Giant. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now. You’ll thank me later.
There was a time in my life where I was interested in marine life and Finding Nemo was part of the reason why. The animation manages to capture the majestic beauty of the ocean and the scary parts of it as well. So much color pops out onto your screen like you’re at an aquarium. The movie is essentially a road trip where Marlin, a clownfish, sets out to rescue his son Nemo with help from an amnesic regal blue tang named Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. Through their journey, they come across all of the dangers that the deep blue sea has to offer. Whether you’re a fish lover or an animation lover, Finding Nemo has something for you.
THE LEGO MOVIE
The movie that surprised, well, everyone. Many thought that The LEGO Movie was just gonna be one long LEGO commercial disguised as a cheap animated movie. Well, the commercial part is kinda correct, especially with LEGO versions of popular characters being in it, but The LEGO Movie has a lot more going on for it than that. Even though it’s computer-animated, they really make the LEGO pieces look like real LEGO pieces and what they do with that is imaginative. Being a product of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, there’s a lot of self-referential humor throughout and these jokes land thanks to clever writing. Individuality is a core theme of the film, especially in the character of Emmet, who’s thought to be a big hero when he’s just an average guy. There’s also the stuff in live-action with the son and father that strengthens the film’s message that’ll stick with viewers afterwards. The LEGO Movie: a perfect example of not judging a book by its cover.
Now for another Pixar film and another film written and directed by Brad Bird. I saw The Incredibles in theaters when it premiered and it has always been one of my favorite films from Pixar. It deals with a family of superheroes in a world of superheroes. A lot of homages to 60s spy films are present in this film from the visuals to the score and even the plot itself. Good chunks of this movie feels like a spy film. I also like the family dynamic between the Parrs as they try to live a normal suburban life despite their superpowers. Syndrome was an entertaining villain who was also a legit threat, having ties to Mr. Incredible’s past. It’s basically the best Fantastic Four movie ever made without being a Fantastic Four movie.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
There was a time where DreamWorks Animation positioned itself as the anti-Disney studio. Then, at some point, they decided to make movies like Kung-Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon, the latter being on this list. None of the annoying DreamWorks tropes are present, they set out to do a (mostly) serious film and they’ve succeeded. It’s a coming-of-age story of a young Viking named Hiccup who befriends a dragon despite coming from a tribe of dragon slayers. It reminds me a lot of The Iron Giant with Hiccup and Toothless’ relationship being similar to that of Hogarth and The Iron Giant. Some of DreamWorks’ best animation went into making this film. Just watch the flying scenes and be blown away by how magnificent they are. This was the first of three movies that told an epic story and never faltered. I wish DreamWorks would make more movies like this and less movies like The Boss Baby.
And we end on an anime movie classic, one that influenced an entire generation of creators in all mediums. Akira is based on a manga series written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also directed this film adaptation. It takes place in a dystopian future where a member of a biker gang named Tetsuo gains psychic powers, which attracts the attention of the government. In terms of plot, the movie is kind of a mess (especially near the end) and a lot of the characters aren’t that likable, so why is it here? Well, for one, it has some stellar animation for an anime film in the 80s. Also, the cinematography is top-notch and is complimented by one hell of a score. Is it perfect? No. But if you like anime, then this is essential viewing. It’s not just a movie, it’s an experience.
And those were my favorite animated movies. What are your favorites? Comment below and let me know. To conclude, here are some of my other favorite animated movies (in no particular order).
- Beauty And The Beast
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
- The Prince Of Egypt
- Shrek 2
- The Great Mouse Detective
- Castle In The Sky
- Toy Story 2
- Kung-Fu Panda
- The Land Before Time
- Spirited Away
- The Peanuts
- Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm
- Rescuers Down Under
- Ghost In The Shell
- An American Tail