Animation is not just for kids. But you already knew that, didn’t you? And if you didn’t, then you are really missing out on some beautifully crafted films that know how to take advantage of their mediums to tell stories that might otherwise be impossible to explore. Animation can go where live action cannot, or will not. It takes time and dedication, and when it’s done well, the attention to detail can be breathtaking. It is one of my favorite genres. And so, without further ado, here are my ten favorite animated movies:
Spirited Away (Studio Ghibli)
- I’ll be honest. The first time I heard about this movie, I was convinced that it was going to be terrible. That was so long ago, that I really cannot tell you why. Today, however, I will say that this movie is a lovely coming of age story, and my favorite Studio Ghibli film (though Howl’s Moving Castle is a very close second!!). The whimsy of this movie captivates me every time, as does protagonist Chihiro’s transformation from a selfish little girl to a kind and compassionate one. The designs of the spirits are beautiful, and there are a lot of instances of playful caricature exaggeration that say just as much about the characters as the film’s action and dialogue does.
How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks)
- This is one of those movies that I went in prepared to love… simply because it had dragons. (I have a small obsession with the things.) But it did not disappoint. Like all of the other movies on this list, it is beautifully animated, and the character designs are some of my favorites. (I’m also a huge fan of the sequel, especially the character designs for the older teens and new adults (Valka!), and not a single case of Same Face Syndrome to be found! Though not a flawless movie, it was really enjoyable to watch, and I had to give it a shout out in this parenthetical insert.) Story-wise, the movie stands on solid ground, and is another great coming of age story. It’s not flawless, but remains one of my favorites, and the father-son relationship between Hiccup and Stoic is both frustrating and touching for all of the right reasons. It’s a fantastic source of tension that lends itself to strong character development. Also, Astrid.
- Bet you were wondering when a Disney film would pop up. Well, sure, I like Disney movies, but do find that they don’t seem to hold up as they age. Or… as I age. That’s just my opinion, though. There are some exceptions, but Mulan definitely makes my favorites list. It has my favorite soundtrack, and Mulan is my favorite Disney Princess. I love the journey that she undertakes as she comes to accept herself in addition to, you know, saving China, and though the film is not without its problems, I will watch it again and again. And then once more, for good measure.
- Shrek is that special movie that shamelessly makes fun of other movies. And I love it for that. I love the humor of the film, the animation was incredibly innovative for its time, and yes, I do love this gushy romance story. In this case. Because it’s all about finding someone who loves you for who you are, flaws and all, rather than in spite of all your flaws. It’s also just a wonderfully snarky film.
The Prince of Egypt (DreamWorks)
- Though undoubtedly a problematic film due to its source material (and deviations from it), this movie makes my list. It is beautifully animated with stunning backgrounds (which DreamWorks did not skimp on… there are parts of the film where at least six backgrounds are featured in about thirty seconds, all of which are beautifully rendered and so detailed that your eye scrambles to take in the details before the next one pops up). Whether you believe in the story of Moses or not, the film offers up a solid plot with a very human struggle between Moses and Ramases. DreamWorks also made a point of fleshing out Ramases as a character, stressing the pressure of living up to his father’s legacy and refusing to bend as a leader for fear of weakening his kingdom. Does that condone his actions? Of course not. But it’s always great when villains are not just the face of evil, and have their own positive elements in addition to their flaws. Plus, this film has a great soundtrack.
Toy Story 3 (Disney & Pixar)
- This is one of those rare sequels that lives up to the predecessors. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are definitely high up on my favorites list, but #3 wins the spot. Maybe it’s the timing the movie had, being released just as I finished my first year of college, which tugged the heartstrings in ways that I could not believe, but the film stands on its own. It is just a wonderful, wonderful movie, and an incredibly strong conclusion to a trilogy. I’m hesitant to say series, because there are a few things that make me think that Disney would kill for the chance to make money off that franchise once again, but I’d love for that to be the conclusion. Little shorts are fun and welcome, but as far as the films go, this is a nearly perfect trilogy, and one that can speak to several generations. The third film is just as much fun as the previous two, but is not afraid to delve into darker issues, and really explore the emotions of the characters as they face this transitional period of their lives. Strong all the way through, this is an ending done right.
Finding Nemo (Pixar)
- Pixar’s solo films are notable for their incredible stories. This studio really stressed quality, and its solo endeavors were all fantastic. Even Cars. The first one. But my favorite Pixar film would have to be Finding Nemo. This film has so much heart, it’s next to impossible not to be moved by it. Perfectly paced and packed with interesting characters and strong emotional bonds, this is a beautiful movie all around. And Ellen DeGeneres is in it. She’s pretty great.
Treasure Planet (Disney)
- The only thing better than treasure hunters, pirate mutinies, redeemable villains, and a moody problematic teen turned heroic badass is treasure hunters, pirate mutinies, redeemable villains, and a moody problematic teen turned heroic badass in space. This is a bizarre genre switch, and I absolutely love it. I’m a scifi nerd to begin with, but give me pirates and treasure hunts in space and I’m sold. On top of that, this movie has strong characters and powerful emotional bonds mixed with fun humor. It drags a little with the introduction of B.E.N., but Martin Short has so much fun with the role that it’s forgivable. Some of the coolest scene transitions occur in this movie (like the intro of the Montressor space port), and the final scenes always have me on the edge of my seat. Even when I know exactly how they will end. The use of 3D in the background is blended fairly well with the traditional 2D animation, but also clearly freed up the artists and made for some fantastic character animation across the board.
- A wonderfully dark film and a beautiful adaptation of the Neil Gaiman story of the same name, this movie is a stop-motion (hybrid…) masterpiece. It is spectacularly animated with so much attention given to the details. Really, it’s just incredibly pleasing to look at. Story-wise, Laika had a solid foundation to work from, but made a few changes to flesh things out a bit more. And they work. The film is faithful to the source material while exploring minor aspects, adding other elements, and really picking up the tension. Not that the original story was without tension (it’s terrifying, adventurous, and creepy all at once), but this is a great translation from printed page to big screen.
Lilo & Stitch (Disney)
- All right, Disney makes the cut one more time. This time, it’s because Lilo & Stitch is a great movie and explores the relationship between two sisters. I can relate to its characters on a deeper level, and they manage to feel more human than a lot of other Disney characters do. (And no, that’s not just because Disney likes talking animals.) This film uses more realistically proportioned and detailed characters alongside bizarre aliens. It’s a fun, engaging movie that is not afraid to go emotionally deep, and then deeper still with small little details like certain dialogue points and objects in the background. (Someone recently pointed out to me that Nani was probably on her way to becoming a pro-surfer, as evidenced by the surfing trophies in her room, but gave that up to look after Lilo and keep what was left of their family together.) Rich characters, beautiful animation that draws on the Disney influence while adapting its own style, and a moving story about sisters, friends, and unlikely heroes. This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite movies, period.
So, there you have it. My favorite animated movies. In no particular order, I should mention. I will happily watch any of these on any given day, no matter how many times I’ve seen them before. There are a lot of honorable mentions that did not make the cut for one reason or another, but the main reason is because this list would go on forever if I included them all. But, just because I can’t leave them off, some Honorable Mentions:
Chicken Run, Pirates! Band of Misfits, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Wall-E, Monster’s Inc., Howl’s Moving Castle, The Thief and the Cobbler (Uncobbled), Princess Mononoke, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.