Here are our top animated movies of the past decade. Purely in terms of technological advancement, the 2010s have been huge for animated filmmaking, and the leap in what is visually possible using both traditional and computer-generated techniques from 2010 to 2019 has been huge. Perhaps more significantly, however, animated movies have continued to push the boundaries of what the genre can achieve from a storytelling perspective. In decades past, the best animated films have been those designed to appeal to kids, but that keep adults entertained too. Nowadays, that divide is far less apparent, with some major theatrical animations appealing to all ages equally.
On the business side of the animation equation, the 2010s have seen much change. While Pixar went from strength-to-strength after being purchased by Disney in the 2000s, Dreamworks became a subsidiary of Universal Pictures and, over in Japan, Studio Ghibli's iconic Hayao Miyazaki entered retirement, before swiftly changing his mind and returning to the animation game without missing a beat. Aside from those big names, some animated gems came from unexpected places, creating franchises that no one had previously thought viable. Best of all, however, the world of animation offered a far better mix of original material and sequels compared to the live-action medium.
Taking into account every animated release between 2010 and 2019 (so far), here are our top animated movies of the decade, based on quality, technical achievement and overall cultural impact.
Due to the incredible quality of animated releases in the 2010s, some movies are worthy of an honorable mention before dipping directly into the top 15. Incredibles 2 lived up to the reputation of Brad Bird's original superhero offering, proving (not for the first time in this list) that Pixar know their way around making a sequel. Disney's Tangled reworked the Rapunzel story beautifully for a modern day audience, and showcased a hybrid style of digital and traditional animation. How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World concluded the story of Hiccup in style, living up to the reputation of the much-loved franchise. The LEGO Movie brought everyone's favorite Danish bricks to the big screen, spawning an entire franchise of spinoffs and sequels. And finally, Finding Dory saw the return of Ellen DeGeneres' super-forgetful fish.
15. Moana (2016)
Set within a Polynesian village, Disney's Moana respectfully adapted the subject matter at hand, and featured a cast that mixed A-list stars such as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson with newcomers to the industry. Moana took the traditional Disney musical setup and updated it for the present-day, most notably with the fully-realized, strong young title character, who sets out on a journey to find a demigod of her people and sing some chart-bothering hits along the way.
Bringing the vivid beauty of Polynesia to life in animated form, Disney's Moana boasts style and substance, acting as the perfect bridge between the Disney themes of yore - adventure, epic songs and light scares - and the modern direction of cinema, with crisper CG animation techniques and an increased focus on equality and representation.
14. Zootopia (2016)
As one of the few original movies in history to gross over $1 billion, Zootopia was a massive financial success for Disney - an achievement that was richly deserved. Starring Ginnifer Goodwin as an anthropomorphic rabbit police officer, Zootopia depicts a human society populated by animals in detailed and hilarious fashion. Marketed somewhat like a generic cuddly springtime animation designed to amuse the kids for two hours, Zootopia actually possesses far more depth than it might seem at first glance, containing a strong central message about discrimination and breaking down cultural barriers that balances out Zootopia's jokes.
Zootopia is one of the decade's best examples of a film that can entertain and deliver a politically-tinged message without feeling forceful and talk of a sequel continues to do the rounds three years later.
13. The Wind Rises (2013)
Studio Ghibli's The Wind Rises was originally intended to be Hayao Miyazaki's final project before retiring, but after four years tending his garden, the legendary filmmaker returned in 2017. Nevertheless, The Wind Rises would've acted as a fitting swansong for Miyazaki, encompassing everything fans across the world love about the Studio Ghibli canon. The Wind Rises may not have commanded the international attention that My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke have enjoyed, but the tale of Jiro Horikoshi, inspired by real-life events, is every bit as inspiring, thoughtful and beautifully-animated as its predecessors.
Dealing with the impact of war on Japan, The Wind Rises carries more real-world weight than many Ghibli movies, but its fundamentally pacifist message shines through, using the dream of becoming a pilot to represent war's habit of corrupting innocent ideals.
12. Ethel & Ernest (2016)
Best known for Christmas favorite The Snowman, Raymond Briggs returned in 2016, adapting his 1998 book Ethel & Ernest, a true story about the lives of his parents. What might initially sound like a personal project took on a life of its own in animated form, dealing with British history and culture in a way that both old and young could relate to. Witnessing events such as World War II through the eyes of an everyday couple (and later their young son) has an understated charm and the soft, dream-like animation suits this deeply personal story perfectly.
Featuring British acting legends such as Jim Broadbent, Brenda Blethyn, Pam Ferris and June Brown, Ethel & Ernest may have fallen under the radar in terms of feature-length releases, but is a hidden gem of the decade's animated output.
11. Frozen (2013)
Purely in terms of impact, Frozen might just be the top animated movie of the decade. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, Frozen had been in the works at Disney for years, with writers struggling to develop a workable story. Eventually released in 2013, Frozen surpassed all expectations, becoming a cultural phenomenon and one of the Mouse House's hottest properties. Centered on sisters Elsa and Anna, Frozen attracted a raft of top musical talent including Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell and Jonathan Groff and the film's soundtrack reads like a list of the decade's biggest movie hits.
Frozen 2 is due out later this year and it remains to be seen whether the sequel can match the acclaim and success of the original. In either case, "Let It Go" isn't leaving our ears anytime soon.
10. Toy Story 4 (2019)
With Toy Story 3 ending on an emotional note many deemed the perfect end to Buzz and Woody's story, Toy Story 4 seemed like a gratuitous entry into Pixar's most famous franchise but, once again, the studio succeeded in producing a follow-up that wasn't only worthy, but that arguably improved in certain areas. More than ever before in the series, Toy Story 4 delves into the philosophy of being a toy and the relationship these beings have with their child owners.
This plays out via the interactions between Woody and Forky, a plastic utensil that comes to life after Bonnie turns it into a toy. As the fork struggles with his new existence, Woody must show Forky how important he is to Bonnie and goes to extraordinary lengths to achieve this. As usual, the ensuing road trip teaches Buzz and Woody plenty about themselves and, by Toy Story 4's ending, the whole audience is in tears. Again.
9. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Riffing on video games of past and present, Wreck-It Ralph isn't just family fun, but a treat for geeks everywhere, with references to arcade classics, modern console franchises and everything in between. Wreck-It Ralph is far more than just a short-lived gimmick, however, and tells a heartfelt story of a video game villain wanting to get a fair shake in life. Set up similar to Toy Story in the sense that video game characters have their own personalities outside of their games, Wreck-It Ralph is a colorful adventure with more heart than most of its contemporaries, as Ralph meets Sarah Silverman's Vanellope von Schweetz and learns the truth of her existence.
With a smart script and incredible attention to detail, Wreck-It Ralph easily warrants multiple views and while 2018's Ralph Breaks The Internet failed to have the same impact on audiences, Wreck-It Ralph will always enjoy a diverse appeal among movie fans.
8. How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
After the success of Dreamworks' How To Train Your Dragon, a sequel seemed inevitable and while the studio's follow-ups have a hit-and-miss history, How To Train Your Dragon 2 proved to be just as witty and touching as the original. Greatly expanding on the core cast of the original, How To Train Your Dragon 2 offers character development not just for Hiccup and Toothless, but also for the colorful crop of young vikings introduced in the first movie.
The addition of Cate Blanchett as Hiccup's mother cracks open the mythology of the franchise's titular dragons and while kids can enjoy the accessible humor and Toothless being cute, older viewers can absorb the expansion of How To Train Your Dragon's fictional world and Hiccup's evolution into the leader of Berk. Directed and written by Dean DeBlois, How To Train Your Dragon 2 does a better job of highlighting the franchise's visual potential, with some beautiful dragon-based battles and flight sequences.
7. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe in full swing, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse was a far bigger hit than it had any right to be, with many calling it the definitive Spider-Man movie. Starring the Miles Morales version of Spidey, Into The Spider-Verse cracked open the Marvel Multiverse, introducing a host of different variations of the iconic superhero in gloriously animated splendor. Taking more inspiration from the comic books than most live-action adaptations, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is essentially a coming of age tale, but one wrapped in a classic superhero story.
Meanwhile, the collective inter-dimensional appearances aren't merely fan-pleasing cameos, but drive the plot and character development forward, all while building the legend of Spider-Man as a cultural icon both within the story and in the real world. Visually, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse has been labelled a game-changing release, and Lord and Miller even found room for a Spider-Ham appearance.
6. Coco (2017)
Pixar have promised to release original movies only over the next few years, and if Coco is anything to go by, that can only be a good thing. Marrying together a musical tale with Mexico's Day of the Dead festival, Coco tells the story of a young boy attempting to find his own identity, dealing with themes of family, death and legacy. With the Day of the Dead festival known for being a visually stunning event, Pixar had a blast translating the imagery onto the big screen and nowhere is this more apparent than in the gorgeous afterlife scenes.
Arguably one of Pixar's strongest releases in terms of score and music, Coco also takes great care to respect the Mexican traditions being explored, never resorting to stereotype or coming across as derivative. Coco proved to be a unique and striking visual feast and, as one might expect, an uplifting tale with a keen moral compass.
5. How To Train Your Dragon (2010)
While all of the How To Train Your Dragon movies have merit, the original remains the best of the bunch. Rarely has an animated beast been given more personality than Toothless, the deadly dragon that triggers Hiccup's evolution from boy to man. The symbiotic relationship between Hiccup and Toothless provides How To Train Your Dragon's emotional backbone, but equally as important is the fun depiction of a viking village, wisely removing the grizzlier parts of history in favor of Scottish accents and visual gags.
How To Train Your Dragon is, in essence, one unremarkable boy's mission to change the attitude of an entire town and this makes Hiccup both entirely relatable and completely sympathetic. Although sequels might offer improved visuals, How To Train Your Dragon stunned upon release with its visceral sky battles and intense action sequences, but most of the film's strength lies in the compelling relationship between a boy and his dragon.
4. Kubo & The Two Strings (2016)
Proving that the stop-motion technique is far from dead, Laika's Kubo & The Two Strings saw director, Travis Knight, on top form and was duly recognized come awards season, despite being one of the least financially successful entries on this list. Delving headfirst into Japanese culture, Kubo & The Two Strings tells an intricate story and combines traditional stop-motion with computer-generated graphics to spellbinding effect.
While the bright visuals and adventure elements will appeal to a younger audience, Kubo & The Two Strings is a sophisticated piece of storytelling that incorporates a beautiful, yet sometimes melancholic, score from Dario Marianelli. Although perhaps not the most accessible animated release of the decade, Kubo & The Two Strings deserves endless credit for its ambition, originality and vision, and continues the quirky spirit Laika began with Coraline.
3. Big Hero 6 (2014)
Uniting Disney's renowned animation skills with the superhero storytelling of Marvel, it's no surprise that Big Hero 6 proved so critically and commercially successful. Clashing together the cultures of Japan and the United States, Big Hero 6 deals with mature topics, such as the death of a loved one, with surprising clarity and care. By introducing traditional superhero elements into that mix, Big Hero 6 offers a truly unique experience that thrills thanks to a cast of wonderful, three-dimensional characters and a meticulously crafted world.
Yes, there's a cute robot character and, yes, he will make you cry, but the real emotional core isn't the cuddly Baymax, but Hiro's gradual acceptance of his brother's death. Surprisingly deep for a film with a stereotypical stoner dude that dresses up as a fire-breathing dinosaur. Despite its bombastic approach to superheroes, Big Hero 6 doesn't pull its punches in terms of real-world struggles and deservedly stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Marvel's other cinematic releases.
2. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Rarely does a franchise's third outing become the crown jewel of the series, but many would argue that Toy Story 3 is Woody and Buzz's best outing. Picking up on the gang during Andy's late teens, playtime is truly over for Toy Story's playthings and everyone is resigned to their fate of moving to the attic. After accidentally being sent to Sunnyside Daycare, however, a wild adventure ensues where Woody and his pals come across a corrupt toy-based dictatorship - a regime they both escape and take down for good.
Adding glorious new characters in Ken, Lotso and Bonnie's group of toys, Toy Story 3 breaks Woody and Buzz from the life they've known and helps them transition to a new stage, all of which proves emotionally devastating for viewers. As well as the expected improvements in animation, Toy Story 3's humor is sharper than ever before and shows even more shades to characters that have been part of fans' lives since the 1990s.
1. Inside Out (2015)
On every level, Inside Out is the 2010s' most accomplished cinematic release, and one of the most important animated stories ever put to film. Based on an incredibly ambitious concept, Pixar's Inside Out takes place in one child's head, with each main character representing a human emotion. The depiction of memories, feelings and everyday human processes visually expresses sensations that viewers of all ages can relate to, but might struggle to verbalize, while also touching upon the issue of mental health in a very Pixar-like way.
An animation it might be, but Inside Out offers one of the best representations of the human mind in movies and with so much detail in the creation of an inner world, it's impossible to enjoy every element in one viewing, such is the level of depth on offer. Of course, much credit must go to the central voice cast, with Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith and Bill Hader helping craft characters that the audience can't help but imagine sitting right there in their own heads.