In my first Top 10 list a few weeks ago, I listed my All Time Favorite Movies, but I deliberately did not include any animated films. It would be impossible for me to consolidate the lists without my head completely exploding. So, in the interest of my own cranial integrity, this week’s Top 10 list is my All-Time Favorite Movies—Animated Edition. I’m a sucker for a good feature length animated film and have been obsessed with them since I was a wee little lad. In fact, I even wrote my senior Honors Thesis on Disney’s animated features during my senior year of college (Black Magic Kingdom Revisited: How Corporate Culture Dictated Lessons of Morality in Disney Animated Feature Films).
10. AKIRA (1988)
Prior to Japanese animation becoming part of the mainstream nerd culture in the late 90s/early 00s, few kids in my sleepy part of Iowa were exposed to much animation from our friends in Japan. Thankfully, I knew a few people who knew a few people who knew someone who had a VHS copy of Akira and my 13-year old understanding of the world pretty much exploded when I was first exposed to this instant sci-fi classic. Between the simply gorgeous animation, disturbing imagery, and well…flat out insanity of the premise, Akira was permanently implanted in my brain from the first viewing and has remained one of my favorite animated films to this day, even after I have been exposed to more Japanese animation.
09. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)
So, you take the inherent coolness of stop-motion animation and the raw creativity of a young Tim Burton, and then you add ridiculously catchy music? That is how you make a classic. I was ten when this movie was released and, in all honesty, I thought it was beneath me (I decided I was too cool for “kid stuff” around this time). Oh how stupid I was. The dark tone and sophisticated storytelling completely blew me away and reminded me that just because something is marketed towards kids, doesn’t mean that it isn’t incredibly creative and worthwhile for those who no longer view themselves as children. That lesson is something I took to heart and this film continues to inspire me to this day.
08. THE LION KING (1994)
It feels a little weird putting The Lion King in the 8th place of any list, which says more about films 1-7 than it does for this modern classic. The Lion King is, with good reason, one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of all time. It’s a simply beautiful film both in terms of its visuals and its touching story of personal responsibility in the face of adversity (of course, it helps that the film can be seen as a loose adaptation of Hamlet, my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays). The Lion King is universally loved and is one of the best films to show anyone who refuses to accept animated films as being just as powerful as live-action (something that, sadly, too many adult refuse to accept).
07. MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988)
Akira was the first animated film of Japan that I had ever seen, while on the extreme opposite of the spectrum was the second—My Neighbor Totoro. The simple, beautiful film was unknowingly my first exposure to the films of Studio Ghibli, which would become a major obsession of mine many years later. A film that is more about experience than plot, My Neighbor Totoro is unlike most movies I’ve ever seen, which is perhaps the biggest compliment that I can give it. It isn’t exciting or thrilling, but it is heartwarming and charming.
06. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010)
I will openly admit that I have an unfair bias against DreamWorks Animation. With very few exceptions, the studio has done nothing but disappoint me with its lackluster animation and, quite frankly, stupid films. I know that they are shockingly popular, but I just can’t stomach the likes of Shrek, Madagascar, etc. It is because of that bias that I nearly missed out on two of the studios hidden gems, Kung-Fu Panda, and this film, How to Train Your Dragon. Sometimes, I am pretty stupid like that. Anyway, How to Train Your Dragon is fairly formulaic, but incredibly well-animated and features one of the best casts of any animated film of the last several years. While I was disappointed by the follow-up TV series, the movie gets better and better with each viewing and was actually the first movie that I ever purchased for my Blu-Ray player.
05. TOY STORY 2 (1999)
I agonized over the fact that Toy Story 2 is the only Pixar film that made the list. I could easily (and probably will eventually) do a Top 10 list of just Pixar films. I’ve seen and enjoyed them all (except Cars 2, which was a misstep), so this only including one on the list was difficult, especially when each film has so much to offer. In the end, I didn’t go with the most emotionally powerful (Up) or the best animated (Wall-E) or even the most surprisingly enjoyable (Cars)—instead, I went with my favorite and the film to which I compare all other Pixar movies…Toy Story 2. This movie has it all from great animation to superb voice acting to a powerful story. Most of importantly of all it’s just really freakin’ fun.
04. THE IRON GIANT (1999)
The world has yet to realize just how lucky we are that Brad Bird made The Iron Giant. The movie was a huge failure when it was first released, but has been slowly building a cult audience since then. I didn’t see the film until a few years after it was released when I caught it on cable and was shocked that it was such an intelligent and thought provoking film. A heartbreaking film with unforgettable characters and strong moral themes, The Iron Giant sadly remains off the radar for too many viewers. Chances are, you either don’t remember the film being released or you dismissed it due to the poor marketing campaign, but I ask that you not let that hold you back from a truly powerful viewing experience. You need to see this film. I promise it will be your favorite Vin Diesel movie.
03. SPIRITED AWAY (2001)
Spirited Away is a bizarre film. It features some of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen in a movie and there are parts of the film that still do not make sense to me now, despite the fact that I’ve seen the movie dozens of times since it made its way to the US in 2002. And yet, every time I watch it, I simply don’t care. The weirdness comes and goes, but never actually seems out of place. It never pulls me out of the film or distracts me from the story. It’s hard to explain, but that is just part of the magic. If you’ve never seen this masterpiece from Studio Ghibli, you are probably a little dumbfounded by this “review,” but if you have, I know you can relate.
02. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)
Is there really anything I can say about Beauty and the Beast that hasn’t already been said? It is not only one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of all time, but one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time period. It’s a true masterpiece in every since of the word. It pushed the boundaries of animation, making it perhaps the first mainstream “modern” animated film, yet it retained all of the qualities of the classic animated films that the House of Mouse was built upon. If you had never seen an animated film and only had the opportunity to watch one single movie, this is the film that I would hand you as it encapsulates everything that makes the medium great.
01. ROBIN HOOD (1973)
This is not the most well-animated, well-written, or well-voice acted film on the list by any means. I’ll be totally honest with you, in all of the categories that you’d generally review when determining what is or is not a great animated film, Disney’s Robin Hood isn’t going to score terribly high. It doesn’t need to; at least, not to me. Robin Hood is the movie that made me fall in love with animation. When I was a kid and we would visit the local video rental establishment, the vast majority of the time I would leave with Robin Hood, even if I just rented it the weekend before. It captured my attention and heart at a young and never let go. Even now, over two decades later, I can pop this movie into the DVD player after a long day and remember what it was like to be a carefree child, fully engrossed in the anthropomorphic adventures of the woodland creatures that made up Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men. It isn’t the “best” animated film of all time by any means, but it certainly is the film I treasure the most.
What are your favorites?