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Top 10 Animated Films

By Noelle Buffam · October 17, 2011

There's something special about animated films. They seem to move audiences on a more emotional level than other genres. Perhaps it's due to the fact that generally, animated films have a pleasant tone. They leave the audience feeling happy, content, and utterly delighted. Even more so, animated films usually aim to teach the audience a simple moral; always value your family, rely of your friends for support, have faith and all your dreams will come true.

However, we don't just love animated films because of their message and tone. Animated films are a throwback to our childhood. If you grew up like most kids, animated films are like an extension of your family. Not only did they teach you right from wrong, they were there for you when you were home sick from school, having a bad day, or just needed an escape from reality.

Everyone I know has his or her own favorite animated film and are willing to defend it to the death (it's 101 Dalmatians for me, thank you very much). It's like having a favorite Disney princess (Jasmine, of course). These are the things that helped define you at the cafeteria table, and still hold a special place in your heart. Yes, animated films, perhaps more than any other genre, are a part of the fabric that makes up our identity as adults.

Below are the Top 10 Animated Films. It's a hard thing to do to narrow down such a celebrated category of film. So read, and enjoy. Just remember, there's about a hundred honorable mentions to go along with this list- Shrek, The Little Mermaid, The Three Caballeros, Up, Peter Pan

… and of course, [insert your favorite childhood film here].

10. The Iron Giant (1999)

I can see the tag line now, "In a world dominated by Disney animation, comes The Iron Giant.” Here's the thing: when Warner Bros. released The Iron Giant in the United States, it was a flop. The film made a little over $23 million at the box office. However, the film grossed $103 million worldwide and has since garnered a cult following. It’s a great example of a fantastic film with horrible marketing. Set in 1957, The Iron Giant follows a little boy (Hogarth) as he finds a giant, iron man who has fallen from space. Hogarth sets on a journey to protect the giant from the United States military and the federal agent searching for him. Since it’s opening, the film has acquired much critical acclaim. Roger Ebert noted, "it must be tough to get a movie like this made. Disney has the traditional animation market locked up, but other studios seem willing to throw money at Disney musical look-a-likes." However, The Iron Giant "is not just a cute romp but an involving story that has something to say.” No doubt, The Iron Giant sets itself apart as a different kind of animated film.

9. Cinderella (1950)

Let's put this into perspective. The money Cinderella earned from its release, subsequent record sales, publishing, and merchandise profits, gave Walt Disney the opportunity to finance a plethora of projects including the establishment of his own distribution company, entering television production, and creating Disneyland. In 1950, the cost of making Cinderella topped a whopping $3 million. Disney insiders have long agreed that if the film had not been a success, the Disney Studios would have been forced to close. However, Cinderella was a huge box office success. Not only that, but the film has been celebrated as one of the best animated films ever made. The vivid colors and memorable songs make Cinderella an unforgettable classic. Don’t tell me you’ve never sung along with “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo,” or referred to someone as an “ugly stepsister,” or wished that your pumpkin would turn into an automobile of your choice. Most importantly, Cinderella was the first big success after Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In a sense, Cinderella ushered in the Disney animation dynasty. 

8. Finding Nemo (2003)

The fifth film produced by Pixar, Finding Nemo tells the story of an overprotective clown fish as he searches for his lost son. The film opened to critical acclaim, and even won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Not only that, but Finding Nemo currently holds the title of best-selling DVD of all time. Yes, the film is loved worldwide. With its witty humor and hilarious banter, it's no wonder whyFinding Nemo has become a modern day classic. From whale talk to talking seagulls (Mine. Mine. Mine.), the film captured the imagination of audiences everywhere. Even more so, it secured Pixar the crown of animation glory. Yes, Finding Nemo did all this while teaching important life lessons like… just keep swimming (swimming, swimming).

7. The Lion King (1994)

Like any child of the 90s, I admit I have a soft spot for The Lion King. Apparently, the film was heavily influenced by Bible tales, the Epic of Sundiata, and Shakespeare's Hamlet. It tells the story of Simba, the predestined king of Pride Rock, who runs away in guilt after he “causes” his father’s death. The film is the highest grossing hand-drawn film in history, and won two Academy Awards for its musical score. As of 2011, the film has earned more than $902 million worldwide. The Lion King is a perfect combination of elements that lead to a wonderful animated film. Its hand drawn animation is superb. Its music and characters bring an air of jovial celebration for entertainment value. And finally, the story of Simba traces its roots back to classic story of good vs. evil. These elements provide a perfect combination for an animated film that is unmatched and timeless. After all, the re-release in 3D did just dominate the box office… 17 years after it premiered.

6. Fantasia (1940)

Fantasia is a 1940 animated film released by Walt Disney Productions. It’s the third feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, and was aimed at developing the comeback of Mickey Mouse. The film consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of music conducted by Leopold Stokowski and performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The film was first released in thirteen U.S. cities in November of 1940. However, it was unable to make a profit due to WWII cutting off the European market. Since then, Fantasia has grossed $76.4 million in domestic revenue, and is considered the 22nd  highest grossing film of all time in the U.S. when adjusted for inflation. The best and most remarkable thing about Fantasia is its daring escape from the traditional animated feature. Upon it’s release, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times stated that “motion history was made last night… Fantasia dumps conventional formulas overboard and reveals the scope of films for imaginative excursion… Fantasia… is simply terrific.” Fantasia proved to be a landmark in the animation world, pushing the envelope of traditional expectations of this film genre.

5. Spirited Away (2001)

Hayao Miyazaki is the world’s most celebrated animator, and his 2001 film Spirited Away is his calling card. In the film, 10-year-old Chihiro is on her way to her family’s new house in the suburbs when she wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and monsters. Her parents are turned into pigs, and Chihiro must find courage and strength inside herself in order to escape. Upon its release, Spirited Away was hailed as one of the best films of the year. It’s the animation sequences that first garnered the attention; however, its success worldwide is due to the depth of emotion Miyazaki portrays in the story. It’s a vivid story, with nonstop images to match. Critic Joy Boyar described it as “visually imaginative, thematically instructive and thoroughly delightful.” Yes, Spirited Away takes us a “ roller-coaster ride from innocence to experience.” It’s the perfect animated film, with a bit of a bite. Think Japanese anime isn’t for you? This film will have you thinking again.

4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Few films are as loved by fans like Tim Burton’sThe Nightmare Before Christmas. The film itself is a stop motion musical fantasy. It tells the story of Jack Skellington, a being from Halloween Town. When he finds a portal to Christmas Town, he decides that Halloween Town will take over Christmas. The film is a stunning example of stop-motion animation. Not only that, but the characters and storyline are delightfully original. This combination grabs the audience and throws them into a new world. Perhaps the best thing about The Nightmare Before Christmas is the way it weaves together “fun and fright.” Regardless, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a truly original piece of work, delighting audiences of all kinds throughout the world.

3. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

The film is the epitome of the Disney Renaissance- an era in the late 80s and 90s during which Disney returned to making successful animated films based on classic fairy tales.Beauty and the Beast was a significant commercial and critical success, earning more than $403 million worldwide. However, the film’s biggest claim to fame is that it was the first ever animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. In total, Beauty and the Beast received six Academy nominations, winning two. The film was the second movie produced using CAPS (Computer Animation Productions System). This allowed for a wider range of colors, the illusion of depth, and soft shading colored line effects for the characters. While the film used these new techniques, it was hailed for returning to the “older and healthier Hollywood tradition.” It’s a film that, in Roger Ebert’s words, was made by “the best writers, musicians and filmmakers [who] are gathered for a project on the assumption that a family audience deserves great entertainment, too.”

2. Toy Story (1995)

Here changes the animation world as we know it.  It was the first full-length feature film created in its entirety with computers. With Toy Story as the leader of the revolution, the world fell in love with CGI look and techniques. Within a few years, the hand-drawn animation that had dominated for decades would become a nostalgic “thing of the past.” ButToy Story’s place on the Top 10 Animated Films of all time isn’t secured just by the introduction of computer generated animation, but by the actual story. The characters of Toy Story are unique, quirky, and lovable. They took the world by storm and ushered in a new decade of inventive animation, with comedy for all ages. The proof is in the numbers.Toy Story was not only hugely successful at the box office, but it spurred two sequels, with Toy Story 3 achieving the 7th highest gross of all time, earning more than $1 billion worldwide. It is no doubt that Toy Story is one of the greatest and most revolutionary animated films of all time. To infinity and beyond, indeed.

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

It's the film that started it all. Based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first in the Walt Disney Animated Classics cannon. Oh, yeah. It was also the first full-length animated film produced in America. And the first produced in full color. And it was the first full-length cel-animated feature in motion picture history. That's a lot of firsts. When Walt came up with the idea, his wife, Lillian, famously told him that "No one will ever pay a dime to see a dwarf movie.” Boy, was she wrong. When adjusted for inflation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs still holds a place in the top 10 movie moneymakers to date. Walt Disney even won an honorary Academy award for the film, and the American Film Institute has hailed it as the best American animated film of all time. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is now seen as not only a tremendous animated film, but in the words of the Academy, "as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field.” Not bad for a dwarf movie.