Family films are usually of the animated variety, meaning any feature that’s not live-action has a stigma attached to it that it’s exclusively for the juice box crowd. But in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Animation is simply a type of art form filmmakers use to tell their stories, and every once in a while, the narrative is something that both kids and their parents can connect to. It actually happens more often than you would think, and not just with Pixar.
Due to their box office prowess, it’s clear that animated films aren’t going to go away any time soon. And if Hollywood keeps up their decades-long tradition of delivering wonderful movies through this medium, nobody will be complaining. Here is our list of the 10 Best Animated Movies Ever.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The original animated production from Walt Disney Studios, Snow White changed the industry in more ways than one. At the time, the project was as technically revolutionary as something like Gravity is for today’s audiences. Disney pioneered a whole new way to make a movie, bringing the world of the fairy tale to life with vibrant colors and stand out musical selections. Even if the substance wasn’t up to par, Snow White would still be a treat to look at.
But fortunately, the film delivered a complete package when it was released back in 1937. Populating it with a collection of memorable characters, viewers responded strongly to its story of a young princess hoping to be saved from the clutches of her evil stepmother. If you need proof of Snow White‘s resonance, consider that the titular seven dwarfs still rank among Disney’s most marketable creations, even though they have 79 years of other releases to go through. Both a timeless classic and a watershed moment for movies, Snow White paved the way for animated storytelling.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Revolutionizing the technique of stop-motion animation, this Tim Burton production was seen as an extremely inventive and technically superb work that blew people away with its craftsmanship. Both kids and adults could appreciate the time and effort put into the film, as the gorgeous visuals and creative character designs made the film stand out. It also found a way to entertain audiences on a variety of levels, mixing in bits of comedy, music, and romance to craft a well-rounded narrative that captivated viewers and gave them something that they have never seen before.
Fans of the film also expressed enthusiasm for the movie’s characters, which were also a treat to watch on-screen. People like Jack Skellington were rich individuals with a lot of depth, and their trickster actions challenged audiences and how they viewed the world around them. In that respect, Nightmare Before Christmas made for an interesting film, with the character dynamics giving it a daring edge that is rare to see in family affairs. Fun, magical, and even a little scary, this is a movie that appeals to so many people because it does a lot of stuff so well.
The Lion King
Kicking off a new age of Disney animation, The Lion King was the comeback project the Mouse House needed and it quickly became one of their most famous productions. Technically, the film was a massive achievement, with the animators creating lush, rich environments that were gorgeous and stunning to look at. Even if you were one of the ones who felt that the story has some flaws and the movie didn’t quite live up to the massive hype, you had to admit that it was a visual masterpiece that showcased the progress of classic cell animation.
But complaints about the narrative were few and far between. Many felt that it was comparable to a Greek tragedy, as the emotionally-driven plot dealt with serious themes of death and redemption to give the characters surprisingly compelling arcs over the course of the film. At the same time, The Lion King didn’t shortchange viewers on comedic hijinks, combining both dramatic heft and humor to create something that was entertaining and captivating. Plus, the musical numbers were some of the best Disney came up with, as “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata” are still sung to this day.
Leave it to Disney to change the game again in the realm of animation. Teaming up with the geniuses at Pixar, the Mouse House distributed the first ever full-length computer animated film, launching what is considered the premiere animation studio in modern Hollywood. The innovation behind the project was definitely impressive, ushering in a new age of filmmaking. Toy Story easily showed off the benefits of the new technology, crafting richer, denser environments that were fully immersive. And even though the “limitations” are more apparent now 20 years later, the design of the film still holds up and is still great to look at.
But the techniques behind its creation are hardly the only reason why Toy Story became a generation-defining film. Its screenplay, which was nominated for an Oscar, entertained both young and old with a thrilling adventure that dealt with emotional themes anyone could relate to. It set the template on which all future Pixar films were based, showing that their directors weren’t just in the business of making great animated films; they were making great films in general. With instantly iconic characters, crisp production values, and a theme song that tugged at your heart strings, Toy Story raised the bar for what an animated movie could be.
The Iron Giant
Brad Bird is famous for his collaborations with Pixar, winning Oscars for both The Incredibles and Ratatouille. But he made a name for himself with this animated feature from WB about a young boy and the big robot he befriends. The Iron Giant was a variation of the classic “boy and his dog” trope, but with a sci-fi spin. Viewers of a certain age were captivated by its awe-inspiring feelings of movie magic, wishing they could spend their days with a strong-hearted A.I. Long before his days as Groot, Vin Diesel proved he was a terrific voice actor, injecting the titular character with uncanny emotion.
Like so many other entries on our list, The Iron Giant is elevated by its ability to mix in material for adults as well. The story works as an allegory about politics and powers, highlighting the fear of the great unknown and why it isn’t always so scary. Those themes gave the movie some narrative complexities that made it a wonder to behold for anyone watching it. Food for thought is always appreciated in a film, but especially in something considered a family offering (where directors can shortchange certain elements). Hogarth may have to stay, but everyone wants to go with the Iron Giant.
Though they don’t have the box office track record (domestically speaking) of a studio like Pixar, there’s no denying that Studio Ghibli is at the top of the industry from a critical perspective. They have many hits to their name, but arguably the most prominent one is Spirited Away, which took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2003. One of the more beautifully realized projects in the genre, the film got lots of attention due to its jaw-dropping visuals and extremely creative design. It was hard not to appreciate the artistry that it took to bring the project to the screen.
Everything from the voice acting to the direction was praised by critics, who felt that Spirited Away dealt with very relatable themes and was something that should be seen by all children, particularly those who have recently moved into a new home and are looking to adjust. Not every animated movie dives head first into heady social commentary to deliver deep concepts that speak to all viewers, but this one did and it truly paid off. Between its captivating narrative and memorable characters, there aren’t many faults with this film, and it’s arguably more compelling than many of the animated movies American studios produce.
The 2000s is considered Pixar’s heyday, as the animation powerhouse churned out one original hit after another. They arguably reached “peak Pixar” with this tale about a clown fish father who embarks on a journey across the ocean to save his son Nemo from captivity. As you would expect with the studio, the animation was beyond top-notch, taking viewers far below the depths of the water and creating a photo-realistic environment that made it look like the action was actually taking place in the ocean. If nothing else, one has to admire the level of detail and hard work that was put into making everything look right.
Finding Nemo also featured one of the studio’s most mature stories to date, providing valuable morals for both children and the parents that took them to see it, giving the two sides plenty to contemplate about their relationship well after the film was over. The bond between Nemo and Marlin served as the story’s primary catalyst, but there was much more to the movie than that. Nemo sports one of Pixar’s best set of characters, as the lovable tank gang and especially Dory went on to earn a permanent place in our hearts, adding to the anticipation for next year’s Finding Dory. More than a decade has passed since its release, and Nemo is still one of the greatest Pixar works out there.
How to Train Your Dragon
DreamWorks has the unfortunate fate of playing second banana to Pixar, but that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of producing a smash hit of their own. Though their track record isn’t as clean as their competitor’s, DreamWorks won everyone over in 2010 with the release of How to Train Your Dragon. Arriving at the dawn of the latest 3D craze, the film took full advantage of the format, showcasing jaw-dropping aerial battles that demanded to be seen on the biggest of screens. Thanks to its lush, beautiful animation, the movie was a gorgeous one to look at and represented what was possible with all of the tools available to directors these days.
What made viewers actually care about what was happen on the screen, however, was the healthy amount of substance that was thrown in to make the project appeal to moviegoers of all ages. The touching friendship that developed between Hiccup and Toothless spoke to many who saw it and gave How to Train Your Dragon a healthy does of heart to compliment its thrills. Overall, the screenplay was one of its strongest points, crafting an intelligent and witty narrative that provided more than its fair share of dramatic heft and insight. Its lessons on tolerance and understanding your enemy were important ones to teach. A single viewing is all you need to understand why this became one of DreamWorks’ flagship franchises. It’s a wonderful melting pot of so many things we love about the movies.
The Minions emerged as the stars of Universal’s animated hit, becoming more popular on their own than the film they first appeared in (giving way to the spinoff). But the little yellow creatures (while adorably cute) are not the only reason Despicable Me became a modern animation classic. Arriving just a couple of years before we reached maximum superhero, the film featured an unlikely protagonist in Gru, a super villain obsessed with taking over the world, to the point where he’ll use three orphaned girls as pawns in his vile schemes. Having fun with the concept, the filmmakers used the setup of an evildoer being front and center as a vehicle for comedy (with the Minions lending a helping hand there, of course).
But where Despicable Me really shines is its core narrative, in which Gru starts to develop fatherly like feelings towards his surrogate daughters. Won over by their love for him, Gru is faced with a tough choice when asked which life priorities take more importance. It’s an interesting angle on the “workaholic” dad trope, and it gives the film the necessary heart it needs to be able to draw all viewers in. It might even give the working parent more to think about than their offspring, as some of the questions posed here are extreme examples of relatable issues families face. Thoughtful, funny, and well-crafted, Despicable Me shows there’s good in all of us.
The LEGO Movie
Many scoffed at the notion of The LEGO Movie when it was announced, and then those many swiftly ordered their plate of crow after they saw the crowd-pleasing film that directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller had delivered. Subverting expectations, this movie showed that it was possible to make an entertaining, heartfelt flick based on a popular toy line, borrowing from the Pixar formula to give us something with cross-generational appeal. Between the exhilarating genre thrills and the well-timed pop culture references, there was certainly enough here for anyone to find something to latch on to.
And while it was thought that LEGO would end up being a fun little kids’ movie, it ended up being a lot more than that. Not only was the humor sharp on multiple levels, Lord and Miller ended up turning LEGO into a social commentary piece that dove head first into themes about individuality and the corruptness of big corporations – with a third act twist that gave it a dimension that sucked in parents and their children with surprising amounts of emotion. Chock full of crazy characters, great gags, and rich narrative arcs, WB found yet another franchise that we can’t wait to see be developed. Everything is awesome.
Even more so than a regular live-action film, finding the “right” way to crack an animated movie is a tough job. Not only do filmmakers need to find a way to keep kids entertained for its run time, but it’s vital for them to incorporate elements that speak to the adults driving them to the theater (without going so far over the kids’ heads they lose interest). It’s a tricky balance to find, and it’s a reason why it’s hard to find animated films that transcend their boundaries and become something anyone can enjoy. But luckily, there are those who manage to do it.
As always, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so be sure to share your picks for you favorite animated movies in the comments section below.