I could go as far as to say that there hasn’t been a single animated movie I’ve seen that I’ve hated, which is why this list was really tough to make. It’s funny to see how one’s taste in animation changes so much as you get older. If I was making this list when I was a kid, it probably would’ve included movies like Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, and Pocahontas, as well as 101 Dalmatians, All Dogs Go to Heaven, Oliver & Company, and others. In other words, I really loved Disney princesses and dogs. There are some that I watched when I was a kid that stick with me to this day, however, and the rest are more recent and modern additions to animated history. Although this list is a bit limited to American-made movies with the exception of a couple Japanese, I am still discovering more and more great animated movies made outside of the U.S. that were never readily available to me when I was younger.
10. Up (2009)
Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Cast: Edward Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer, Bob Peterson, John Ratzenberger
Carl (Edward Asner) decides to fulfill his dream and promise to his late wife of going to South America, so he ties a bunch of balloons to his house and flies away on an adventure. Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young boy scout who’s just trying to earn another badge, accompanies him on this journey (albeit accidentally), and they encounter a bird named Kevin and some talking dogs. It’s a heartfelt story, and it made me sob like a baby in the first 20 minutes. The relationship between Carl and his wife is the sweetest, saddest thing I’ve seen in an animated movie in a really long time. I both love and hate that it makes me so emotional. Unfortunately, I can’t watch it too many times unless I fast forward through the beginning because it kills me. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of favoritism.
9. Akira (1988)
Director: Katsushiro Ohtomo
Cast: Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama, Mitsuo Iwata
Kaneda (Mitsuo Iwata) is the leader of a bike gang in Neo-Tokyo. He tries to save his friend, Tetsuo (Nozomu Sasaki), a boy who becomes involuntarily included in a secret government project named Akira, experimenting on kids with psychic capabilities. This Japanese anime movie is different from any other movies on my list because it’s not really for kids. It’s violent and bloody. It’s a dark story of morals and society, and it also explores the ideas of energy and the universe. Society is in a state of collapse, with teenagers running rampant and involved in gang violence. Others are involved in revolutionary groups, with the military being enemy #1. The old Tokyo had already been destroyed once by a strong psychic boy named Akira, and another possible impending doom is keeping everyone afraid. On top of that, the impending doom is in the form of an angry teen. This movie reminds me of Chronicle from 2012, or rather, Chronicle reminds me of Akira—an angst-filled teen with the ultimate ability of mass destruction, and the friend who doesn’t give up on trying to save him no matter how bad he becomes. The visuals in this movie are stunning for an animation in the 80’s. Most of the scenes take place at nighttime and they are filled with a lot of vibrant colors and details. Kaneda’s bike is awesome looking as well. Needless to say, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it.
8. The Iron Giant (1999)
Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel
Hogarth (Eli Marienthal) becomes friends with a giant alien iron robot (Vin Diesel) and tries to hide him from government officials who will try to destroy him upon learning of his existence. The story is a classic case of government paranoia. It takes place in the 50’s, around the same time when America was scared to death of Communism and the idea that the Soviets were going to come and drop a bomb on them at any minute. So, of course, they would be afraid of a giant robot who reacts instinctively to guns. Hogarth teaches the robot the differences between good and evil, and that he’s “not just a gun.” Sure, there are some underlying messages of gun control here, but it’s more so about friendship and acceptance of the unknown. I loved this movie when I was a kid. To this day, I still find it very funny and endearing.
7. Spirited Away (2001)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki
Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi) wanders into a spirit world where she meets Haku (Miyu Irino), a boy who helps guide her through the strange place, as well as other strange spirits and “gods” who come and go in a bath house run by a witch named Yubaba (Mari Natsuki). This movie brings us into a fantastical world of strange and unexpected things. It’s really a magical film and so different than something you would see from a Disney or Pixar film. It’s not how I would picture a spirit world, it’s more like a regular world, with spirits who work as hard as any regular person. There’s still a hierarchy, there’s still greed, there’s friendly spirits, apathetic spirits, and lonely spirits. Chihiro comes into contact with all different kinds of characters. The movie takes you through the journey as Chihiro becomes more brave with time and experience with the unknown. It’s a different kind of movie, but different in a good way. It’s not easily forgettable like so many others often are.
6. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Director: Lee Unkrich
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, Don Rickles
Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang are accidentally delivered to a child’s daycare after Andy packs up his room to leave for college. Woody has to try to convince his fellow toys that they were not abandoned and help them bust out, which, thanks to a rather mean purple bear leader named Lotso (Ned Beatty), isn’t so easy to do. The Toy Story trilogy really is one of the best trilogies I’ve seen, mainly because every movie is on par with one another, which is so very rare. It was hard to choose which one I like best, and it would’ve felt cheap to put the whole Toy Story trilogy at my #6, but alas, I’ve chosen the third. Why? It has the most heart. With Andy going away for college, the toys now have a good reason to feel unwanted. The ending of this movie even made me a little teary-eyed. What kind of a grown woman cries over toys? This one does. Growing up is bittersweet, and this movie really explores that theme. It has a lot of emotional depth you wouldn’t expect to see in an animated film about talking toys, and that’s why it’s the best of the bunch.
5. Wall-E (2008)
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger
Wall-E (Ben Burtt), a garbage collecting robot is alone on Earth after the humans deserted it because it has become so cluttered with garbage. He encounters another robot named EVE (Elissa Knight), who is sent to Earth to see if there is any proof that humans can once again live there. Wall-E is almost like a cautionary tale for us humans. Our way of polluting the Earth and our need for immediate satisfaction is inevitably going to be the death of this planet someday. Humans in this movie are fat and ride around in scooters with their eyes glued to a screen in front of them. Well, we’re halfway there. Eyes glued to either the TV or our cell phones (I’m talking about myself as well), I can see that happening. If one day robots come to care about our planet more than humans do, well then we are in trouble. But it’s also more than that. It’s not just about pollution and lazy humans. It’s about a simple robot who finds love. It’s a cute story, and truly one of the most enjoyable Pixar films I’ve ever seen.
4. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Directors: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Cast: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Craig Ferguson
In the attempt at trying to disprove his father and join in the fight against the dragons, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) ends up befriending a dragon he shot down, and learns that there is more to the dragons than the humans previously thought. Just judging by the cast, you can imagine this movie is not only a stunning visual of animation at its finest, but also a very humorous endeavor. It’s enjoyable in every way. A sentimental story about a misunderstood creature and the human hero who stands behind him no matter what. What is more genuine than the story of a boy and his dragon? OK, maybe there are a lot of things, but this movie, for some reason, really sticks with me. If there is ever that time when you finish a movie and think to yourself “Wow, I really really loved that,” then you lucked out. I rarely ever find new movies anymore that I absolutely love, and this just happened to be one of them. Also, I have to add that How to Train Your Dragon 2 comes out this weekend (June 13th) and I am really, very excited about this!
3. Fantasia (1940)
Directors: Norman Ferguson, James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, & others
Cast: Leopold Stokowski, The Philadelphia Orchestra
When I was young, there were days when I would watch Fantasia over and over again. It’s hard to imagine a movie like this appealing so much to kids today. There weren’t any words in it besides the composer introducing the music. I was captivated by the music and the colorful images. There are segments in this movie I will never forget even if I go years without seeing it. For example, the dinosaurs and the battle between the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Stegosaurus alway stuck with me. To this day, I will claim that Stegosaurus is my favorite dinosaur, and I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the fact that it always made me feel bad when I saw the T-Rex kill him. Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice is still an iconic scene. The dancing hippos in tutu skirts is another segment I loved. I even loved “Night on Bald Mountain” even though it scared the crap out of me, with that crazy demon guy summoning tiny demon minions out of the fire. For me, it didn’t need dialogue or a set story, the mixture of the music and the amazing animation was enough to carry me into a whole other world.
2. The Lion King (1994)
Directors: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Jeremy Irons, James Earl Jones, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Moira Kelly
Simba (Matthew Broderick) is young lion who is supposed to succeed his father, Mufasa’s (James Earl Jones) rule after his death. However, he is tricked by Scar (Jeremy Irons) into thinking he is responsible for Mufasa’s death. He eventually flees and on his journey to discover himself he meets Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), who teach him a lot as he grows up to the be the king he was always meant to be. The Lion King was by far the most popular animated movie that existed when I was growing up. There wasn’t a single kid I knew who hadn’t seen it and loved it. In school, we would pretend that we were all characters from the movie. It was a movie that really touched the hearts of kids, and probably some adults as well. It had great characters, it was a fun story about a lion’s adventure into finding himself, and the songs were really upbeat and catchy. This is the epitome of a successful Disney movie. I love it as much as I did back then and that just goes to show how it is able to stand the test of time.
1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Cast: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury, Richard White
Belle (Paige O’Hara) sacrifices herself to be a prisoner of the Beast (Robby Benson), in order to save her father who was captured by him. Eventually, she learns that he isn’t really a beast at all, but a prince who was cursed by an enchantress, and true love is the only thing that can save him. Like so many of the other movies on my list, this is one that really left a lasting impression on me when I was young. Belle was a Disney princess you could look up to. She was smart, independent and selfless. Her main goal wasn’t to find a prince or find love, she even avoided the advances of Gaston, even though he was the town “hunk” and all the other women swooned over him. She saw through people and could see who they really were on the inside and not on the outside. She’s an example of how Disney women started to change throughout the years. Aside from that, the animation was beautiful, and I always loved Belle’s pretty yellow dress. The songs are amazing as well, so catchy I can still remember most of the words to them. It was also the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. I rarely ever agree with the Oscars, but this was one nomination I definitely can agree with.
Pinocchio (1940) – magical and disturbing all at the same time.
Dumbo (1941) – about an elephant (my favorite animal), it broke my heart over and over again and also, it taught me where babies come from (storks!).
Grave of the Fireflies (1988) – a very sad, yet truthful story about life in Japan during World War II.
Aladdin (1992) – just plain enjoyable, and it gave me the imagination to use my mother’s carpet to slide down the stairs and claim it was a magic carpet ride.
Finding Nemo (2003) – great jokes and also created Dory, one of the best comedic characters I’ve seen in an animated movie.
The Incredibles (2004) – is just as awesome of a superhero story as any other live action film.
Brave (2012) – has one of the most enjoyable main female characters to watch since Belle.