The Lego Movie is out, and it seems to have the building blocks for success – both with the critics and the box office. But is this really such a big surprise? Last year, out of the top three highest grossing films worldwide, Despicable Me 2 and Frozen took both 2nd and 3rd place. So it’s pretty clear that the animation medium is a popular choice nowadays, and judging by the box office numbers, it’ll just get bigger and better. Everyone has a favourite animated movie, and in order to mark the release of The Lego Movie (and I guess Mr Peabody and Sherman…) I’ve decided to compose a list of my favourite cartoon gems on the silver screen. So without further ado, here are my personal top 15 animated films of all time!
15. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written By: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, Gary K. Wolf
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer
What better way to start off my list of animated films than to pick the cinematic love-letter of animation! Jam packed with cartoon cameos; one-liners; and the odd raunchy innuendo, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is as great a comedy as it is with its special effects. While Disney’s work on Mary Poppins pioneered the combination of live-action and animation, it was Robert Zemeckis who perfected the trick here as a gritty detective teams up with the titular toon to solve a murder. The story comes straight from a Saturday morning cartoon, yet the blending of animation in the real world is flawless even after 20 years. Plus, it’s still the only film with both Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, so it gets bonus points for that too.
14. Princess Mononoke
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Yoji Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Yuko Tanaka
Imagine if Pocahontas was raised in the forests of Middle Earth, and you essentially have the epic fantasy that is Princess Mononoke. The first of Miyazaki’s works on the list, Princess Mononoke explores ecology as many other animated films have done before, but with much greater success and skill than its predecessors. Instead of lecturing the audience on humanity’s cruelty to nature, or having a clear hero/villain, the distinction between good and evil is blurred, while the dilemmas of the subject are never really resolved. What Miyazaki does provide us however, is a landscape of wonder with imaginative creatures that dwell within them, and craft a story that rivals the most revered of fantasy films. If you want an intelligent fictional adventure, go watch this film!
13. Chicken Run
Director: Peter Lord, Nick Park
Written by: Peter Lord, Nick Park
Cast: Mel Gibson, Julia Sawhala, Phillip Daniels
How could I possibly not have at least one Aardman animation on this list? While Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was a contender for this spot, it is Peter Lord’s first flick that truly shows the greatness of his stop motion work. A rag-tag team of chickens battling wits against their psychotic owner does sound ridiculous (to put it lightly), but that quirky plot plays to the Aardman strengths of storytelling, wit, and a genuine sense of adventure. It’s a film of such dedication and quality in the animation as well as its script (alongside a a spectacularly absurd third act finale involving flying aircrafts and pie machines of death) that you can’t help but fall for this Plasticine poultry platter. Chicken Run reminds us the joy of stop motion, while also giving us that great British humour we expect from the Aardman gang.
12. The Lego Movie
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Written by: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Cast: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman
Yes, the film that inspired me to make this list is also on my list. And so soon? Well, that just goes to show how everything is awesome when it comes to The Lego Movie. My co-writer Jack reviewed it overwhelmingly positively, but I don’t want to delve too much into the film, as you should be going in the cinemas now to watch it. Not only is it perhaps the funniest film I’ve seen at the cinema in a long while; it’s also one of the biggest feasts for the eyes. I may need to see it again just because there was so much visual candy bursting from the seams of this flick. On top of all this however, there also lies one of the more original and touching themes seen in an animated film for a good while. Its story may stick for the most part to the building manual, but the gags, visuals, and onslaught of cameos make this film an instant classic for all. It’s too hard to tell now, but maybe in the future, this film might climb higher on my list.
11. The Iron Giant
Director: Bradd Bird
Written by: Tim McCanlies, Bradd Bird
Cast: Vin Diesal, Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr.
When I was making this list, I knew Bradd Bird had to have one of his films somewhere on the list. Before injecting some life into the Mission Impossible Franchise, he made both The Incredibles and The Iron Giant; and while I do love superhero films (The Incredibles only just missed this list), it’s the heart-warming tale of a robot and his friend that takes this slot. Despite the less than stellar performance at the box office, this film was a critical success and for good reason. Bradd Bird uses this animation to question ‘what if a gun had a soul’ and explore the implications that arise from it. What follows is an excellent science fiction set in the Red Scare that quickly turns into a pulp tragedy. It’s not a movie with musical numbers, or grandiose humour, or even much action until the end, but The Iron Giant is a heartwarming tale of a lovable machine that just wants to be a ‘superman’.
10. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Director: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Roald Dahl
Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Shwartzman, Eric Chase Anderson, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson
Not only being number 10 on my favourite animated films, but also being one of my favourite works of Wes Anderson, it seems no surprise that Fantastic Mr. Fox lives up to its name. Not only another stop motion on the list, but a farm related one as well, Anderson here displays that great oddball charm that’s all too familiar with his work. The symmetrical landscapes, chicken-wired puppets, and shifting eyeballs that bring these vulpine puppets to life give the film such a unique identity that it can’t be compared to any other animated film I’ve ever seen. The all-star cast really bring this Roald Dahl film to life as well, making this wild animation appear like a Royal Tenenbaums of the forest. Fantastic Mr. Fox doesn’t have any insightful pathos like some of these other films, but its sheer personality, like its protagonist, is so full of life and charisma that you can’t help but appreciate the retro escapades of these animals. It’s quirky, it’s strange, its uncanny and it’s bizarre… but it’s also bloody fantastic.
9. Waltz With Bashir
Director: Ari Folman
Written by: Ari Folman
Cast: Ari Folman, Ron-Ben Yishai, Ronny Dayag
Blending nightmare with memory, Folman crafts a documentary that brutally depicts the horrors he witnessed during the 1982 Lebanon War. Most films on this list have a loud style, boasting a hefty budget and fluid animation – Waltz with Bashir does not. Folaman’s budget is the smallest out of all the films here, and its animation in general is of a minimal, quiet nature, only showing off in the surreal dream sequences. It’s this direction however that really sells the documentary: the animation prefers subtle eye movements over grand spectacle, and the nuanced physicality of those interviewed really cements the realism of the horrors faced by the films subjects. Folman’s documentary is more thought stirring than it is emotional, but the rotoscoping here imitates the ghastly past Folman and his nation force themselves to forget, proving that animation can be for adults as well as children. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another animated documentary, but I know it already has some fierce competition.
8. Beauty and the Beast
Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Written by: Linda Woolverton
Cast: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Jerry White, Richard Obarch
Beauty and the Beast is the first animated film to ever be nominated for best feature film, and quite rightly so: it’s arguably the best Disney princess tale ever adapted. Boasting a marvelous blend of 3D and 2D; as well as Alan Menken’s plethora of songs like ‘Belle’, ‘Be our Guest’ and of course ‘Beauty and the Beast’; Trousdale and Wise make a formal masterpiece that started the 90s Disney Renaissance. With such a vibrant, ever-changing palette of blues, yellows, reds and pinks, the characters and settings act like they are from the pages of the fairy tale itself. The performances of Paige O’Hara and Robby Benson as Belle and the Beast are also due for acknowledgement, as they really make these characters shine in pathos and wonder too. There are various Disney classics I enjoy, but this film in particular is a exemplary of Disney magic, for the film stays true as a fairy tale, while adding an extra whimsical flare to the piece. No wonder the teapot in this film calls it a ‘tale as old as time’.
7. Spirited Away
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Susan Egan, David Ogden Stiers
In regards to their imaginative scope, worlds like Oz and Neverland can’t even measure up to the hand-drawn firework that is Hayao Miyazaki’s most critically acclaimed work, Spirited Away. Like a Japanese Alice in Wonderland, Miyazaki tells the story of a girl called Chihiro who must save her parents by working in a magical bathhouse, all the while encountering strange new people and fantastical worlds. This film deserves a spot in the list for visuals alone; the animation is so organic and detailed, every frame acts as a piece of art. The story itself is a simple coming-of-age tale intertwined with monsters and witches that all help (or hinder) Chihiro fulfil one of the most satisfying character arcs in a ‘children’s’ movie. As the animation market is dominated by computer animation, Spirited Away justifies not only why people still animate in 2D, but also how animated films provide the cinematic creativity that live action movies cannot achieve.
Director: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter
Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin
Another film on the list centred on robots, WALL.E shows us how showing is always better than telling in cinema – quite literally in fact, as the first half has around three words exchanged in the dialogues between WALL.E and EVE. In a film where the real villain is our consumerism, and the humans we usually relate to are presented as gargantuan man-babies, it’s the adorable protagonist WALL.E and his endearing relationship with EVE that we really connect with. The best moments in this film usually stem from the quiet moments between these two characters, as well as the simple interaction of WALL.E and everyone or everything he meets that oozes with magic. Sure, it’s clearly a cautionary tale about the environment and mankind’s indulgence with resources, but first and foremost it’s a film that centres on loneliness, and how everyone desires a bit of love in their lives. WALL.E may be number 6 on my list, but it’s a sure number 1 for animated romances!
5. Grave of the Fireflies
Director: Isao Takahata
Written by: Akiyuki Nosaka, isao Takahata
Cast: Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi,
As depressing as the death of Bambi’s mother is, or the farewell between closet-monster Sully and infant Boo, most animated classics also inspire hope and joy to their audiences. Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies on the other hand is a harsh, yet honest film on war, family and survival. Based on Akiyuki’s autobiography, Takahata takes us through the lives of Seita and Setsuko as they scrounge, beg, and just barely survive in a war-ravished Japan at the end of WWII, depending on each other to stay alive. This film can be beyond brutal as a Seita stares at his mother’s burnt corpse, but it also can be truly moving as the two children catch fireflies to illuminate their new home. The realism of the subject, performance and even animation style make us question “why on earth they didn’t just make this film in live action instead?”. But that’s why Grave of the Fireflies is so ingenious. Even when using cartoon characters, Takahata creates more humanity and realism than many live action films today. Grave of the Fireflies not only ranks as one of the greatest animated films of all time, but one of the best anti-war films ever made.
4. Laputa: Castle in the Sky
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Cloris Leachman, Mark Hamill, Richard Dysart, Jim Cummings
Laputa: Castle in the Sky is not the emotional roller-coaster like many films on this list, but rather the animated equivalent to the fun and excitement one gets from watching ‘Indiana Jones’. It’s a classic adventure story that incorporates pirates, robots, romance, drama, comedy, mystery, treasure hunting, spies, and the genuine childish wonder as orphans Sheeta and Pazu search for the fabled castle in the clouds. As a child, this was one of the first animated movies I watched – I loved it then and I love it now. Now that I’m older, I can truly appreciate the craftsmanship of the story, the gorgeous backgrounds, and the serene musical score in the film that first made me appreciate animated cinema. Typical Miyazaki themes on ecology are also present, but with a subtle nuance, intelligence and beauty as shown when a hulking weapon tends to the idyllic ruins of his makers. The characters are so full of life, and each voice actors really have fun with their roles; notably Mark Hamill from Star Wars fame as the big bad; Cloris Leachman as the bombastic pirate queen; and James Van Der Beek as the wide eye Pazu. Laputa is not a film about pulling heart strings or challenging what animation is; it’s a simple simple feast of the imagination that rekindles your inner child.
3. The Lion King
Director: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Written by: Irene Mechii, Jonathan Roberts
Cast: Mathew Broderick, Johnatahn Taylor Thomas, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Moira Kelly, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg
As the highest grossing traditionally animated movie of all time, The Lion King is literally the king of the 2D jungle. Following the Dinsey formula, Allers and Minkoff fire on all cylinders with a diverse voice cast, a tight script, high quality animation, and some of the catchiest musical numbers ever known to man or beast. Seriously, the average Disney film has about one or two memorable songs – in The Lion King every number is unforgettable: ‘The Circle of life’; ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’; ‘Be Prepared’; ‘Hakuna Matata’; and ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ really show the best of Hans Zimmer and his crew. Comedy also flourishes in this film more than any other work from Disney, as Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella (with the occasional quip from Rowan Atkinson’s character Zazu) as Timon and Pumbaa are such a hit, they even got their own spinoff film…not that it was worth seeing, but still! Blooming under the animated fanfare however is a moving story on legacy and life as shown in the opening sequence and, of course, the tragic moment when Simbaa tries to wake up his lifeless father. On the one hand The Lion King is a cartoon spectacle that flaunts everything which works with the Disney formula; on the other hand, it’s regarded as the animated equivalent of Hamlet. Truly, it’s a film fit for a king.
Director: Peter Docter, Bob Peterson
Written by: Peter Docter, Bob Peterson
Cast: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson
Up was actually a lot lower on my list before I re-watched it recently, only for me to remember just what a marvel this is as a movie. You see, Up has more heart, more emotion, and more tragedy in its first 10 minutes than most films do in their entire running time. Even if we ignore the opening sequence of the film, a tale about two unlikely protagonists trekking across South America with a house raised by balloons is so creative, so tender in its conception, that it just had to be in the top 3 of my list. The vibrant colours, and even brighter chemistry between Carl (Ed Asner) and Russel (Jordan Nagai) allow the film to indulge in cartoonish splendour of Snipes and ‘Squirrels!’, yet also continue to be endearing to children and adults alike. It’s this concept and presentation in all its sensation and absurdities that make it a definitive animated film. While Grave of the Fireflies is a film that could have been in live action, Up can only be in animated format. The charm and eccentricity of the adventure is so emotive yet imaginative that no live depiction could ever do the story justice. Animation is illustrated in this film not to imitate life, but symbolise it – turning the most relatable concepts into tear-jerkers. As human as some moments may be, Up shows us that animation sometimes gets the job done better than a camera lens.
1. The Toy Story Trilogy
Director: John Lasseter, Ash Brannon, Lee Unkrich
Written by: John Lasseter
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cussack, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenburger, John Morris
I know, I know, I know, I’m technically cheating here by putting three films in my number one spot – but the Toy Story Trilogy is not sold separately. Even if I were to give each film an individual spot, Buzz and Woody’s faces would get quite repetitive on my list.
With what may be perhaps one of the most creative concepts for a movie animated or otherwise, Toy Story 1,2, & 3 take this space for so many reasons it seems impossible to fit them all in a few lines. Of course, the first film was a game-changer for animation formally; inciting the computer animated revolution that now dominates the majority of cartoon films, as well as establishing Pixar as one of the big boys in the animation business. While the first feature still holds up in its design, if you compare all three artistically it is nothing short of amazing to see how far a simple idea (and Pixar itself) has gone from such humble beginnings. The film also consistently delights audience members of any age, while conveying a spectrum of emotions in their stories and characters. Each film not only keeps the quality of its predecessor, but builds upon it by establishing new character dynamics and amping up the excitement. In short, the Toy Story Trilogy turns us into children again, as that sheer childish hope that maybe, just maybe, our toys came to life when we weren’t looking is reignited in these films. I wrote at the beginning of this list that Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a love letter to animation – and now at the end of my top 15 I see that Toy Story is a love letter to imagination, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what animation is all about?
Therefore, Toy Story 1,2,3 takes my spot not only as my favourite animated movies, but my favourite trilogy period.
Honourable Mentions: Pinocchio, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Fantasia, Porco Rosso, Millennium Actress & Aladdin
Don’t agree with the list, or maybe you do wholeheartedly? Write your comments below and tell me what you would change or keep – better yet, tell me your top 15 animated films!