The 100 Greatest Animated Films of All Time (20-11)

“[Animation is] not a genre! A Western is a genre! Animation is an art form, and it can do any genre. You know, it can do a detective film, a cowboy film, a horror film, an R-rated film, or a kids’ fairy tale. But it doesn’t do one thing. And, next time I hear, ‘What’s it like working in the animation genre?’ I’m going to punch that person!” Brad Bird

Two of the worst camps of people are: 1) People that automatically dismiss animation as a children’s medium; and 2) People that argue that film isn’t art because it’s the byproduct of multiple collaborators and not a singular vision. This is ironic considering the process of making an animated film consists of a rapid succession of hand-drawn images in a sequential order. This is to say, every frame of an animated film is a work of literal art. And it might be the most important art form because as Bird put it, an animated film can be anything.

Not only is every genre available, but animation also affords artists the canvas on which to create anything. There’s always a level of suspension of disbelief when it comes to live action that animation never suffers from. Animation taps into the primordial part of our brains that separates the real and the unreal, the logic and the surreal. We subconsciously understand that since real people aren’t involved, the rules are different. There’s no other art form that speaks to every generation and culture. Because imagination is universal. And this list will be a celebration of the makers of imagination.

These are the 100 Greatest Animated Films of All Time.

20. The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

Before Disney, Lotte Reiniger was animation’s reigning genius. She made close to 30 shorts before he made Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but only one (that we know of considering most are lost to time) was feature length. Released in 1926, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is widely considered to be the oldest surviving animated feature film and according to many historians, one of the best. One of the most remarkable aspects of the film is its unique silhouette animation technique. Reiniger and her team brought to life the characters and the entire world of the film using cut-out silhouettes made of cardboard and thin pieces of metal meticulously handcrafted and manipulated frame by frame. The resulting visuals are mesmerizing and truly unlike anything seen before or since in animation.

The story follows Prince Achmed who embarks on a series of magical adventures after being tricked by a sorcerer. Along the way, he encounters mythical creatures, falls in love with a beautiful princess, and has to overcome various obstacles and villains in order to save her. The narrative draws inspiration from classic Arabian Nights tales blending elements of fantasy adventure and romance. If you’re at all familiar with the fantasy genre, I don’t blame you for immediately checking out. The story will come across as basic but you can’t fault a film for adhering too close to the formula. Reiniger set out to translate the old stories, not adapt or modernize them. Your mileage may vary but keep in mind that the tropes or cliches that will detract from your experience were basically brand new when this came out. And furthermore, the film doesn’t need a deep and complex story to be captivating. The art style will already pull you in, so Reiniger knew all she had to do was deliver on a bare-bones story and she knew she’d have a homerun and she was right. It

Sailor Monsoon

19. Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Written, directed, and produced by Ari Folman, Waltz with Bashir tells the story of his experiences during the 1982 Lebanon war. Importantly for a documentary, it feels like his story is told from a balanced point of view, considering the extremely delicate subject material. Something that elevates the storytelling to an extra level is the accompanying soundtrack from Max Richter. Richter is better known for his work on films like Arrival and Ad Astra, here his soundtrack is as important to the storytelling as the unique animation style. Speaking of which, the dark hues of the graphics give the look of rotoscoping, while still feeling like nothing I’ve seen before. All in all, Waltz with Bashir is an incredible work of art.

Lee McCutcheon

18. The Little Mermaid (1989)

The Little Mermaid has become the butt of a lot of jokes over the years, with people saying the message is to give up everything for a man you don’t know. It’s true that the story is a bit wonky, but that doesn’t temper the other masterful elements of the film. The music is some of the catchiest of the Disney Renaissance. We were all singing “Under the Sea” constantly back then and “Part of Your World” remains a force to be reckoned with. And Ursula is a great villain that stands out with a Drag Queen-inspired design, her eel henchmen, and those creepy, creepy tentacles. And “Kiss the Girl” may be technically problematic, but it’s still one of the most iconic and romantic scenes Disney has ever made. These are those old Disney masters at work with a story that has now been successfully adapted in live action as well as countless musical productions for the stage.

Jacob Holmes

17. Pinocchio (1940)

Pinocchio is a timeless classic that has captivated audiences for generations. Directed by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske, this animated musical adventure tells the story of a wooden puppet named Pinocchio who longs to become a real boy. Based on the Italian children’s novel by Carlo Collodi, this Disney adaptation is a masterpiece of storytelling and animation. It was made at a time when children’s films weren’t afraid to get dark, nor were the messages (the film tackles important themes and life lessons such as honesty the consequences of lying, and the power of making choices) annoyingly obvious. To be clear, the film isn’t complex, it just weaves its themes within the narrative seamlessly. The story encourages viewers to be truthful brave and kind teaching valuable lessons that are relevant to audiences of all ages. The music is another highlight. The film features several memorable musical numbers including the catchy “When You Wish Upon a Star”, which has become a signature song for Disney. The music helps enhance the emotions and themes of the story making it even more impactful. Its beautiful animation, memorable characters, enchanting music, and impactful themes make it a film that continues to resonate with audiences today. It is a testament to the skill and artistry of the Disney animators and storytellers of the time that we keep coming back to this classic over 80 years later.

Sailor Monsoon

16. Persepolis (2007)

Based on the popular graphic novel of the same name, Persepolis is a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Iranian revolution in the late ’70s. The main character Marji goes through a vast array of life experiences, including many battles with Islamic traditions as she longs to wear Western style clothes and make up. She is a really likable young girl and her endearing rebellious nature makes the whole film work. The black and white animation style is simple yet gorgeous, with the story moving in parts, funny in parts, and mesmerizing throughout.

Lee McCutcheon

15. The Incredibles (2004)

In 25 years, Brad Bird has only ever directed four animated films, believe it or not. But all four of those films appear on this list. What a legend. And amazing that this masterpiece is only his second-best film despite being Top 15 of all time! Many people have called The Incredibles the best Fantastic Four movie ever made because of how Bird really captured the family dynamic of the Parr family. But that still fails to capture the magic that Bird created here. A fat, old out-of-shape superhero dad could have easily gone the wrong way. In fact, the teaser trailer was just Mr. Incredible struggling to buckle his old superhero belt because he gained weight. But Bird mines something much deeper here about the gifts we have and how we use them. And the family dynamic is so fun, the powers are brilliantly animated, Helen/Elastigirl kicks so much ass both as a hero and as a mom, and she flies a plane! It’s hard to really pinpoint a single thing that makes this movie so great, but it’s undeniable when watching it.

Plus, this has probably the darkest line in a Pixar movie ever: “You didn’t save my life, you ruined my death!”

Jacob Holmes

14. Toy Story 3 (2010)

Who wasn’t concerned when Pixar announced they were picking up the Toy Story trilogy? Sure, the first sequel is an all-time great, but that was 10 years prior. This seemed like a potential cash grab for a studio that could be running low on ideas. Thank God we were all wrong (although Toy Story 4 somewhat fulfilled these prophecies). Instead, Toy Story 3 gives us a fitting end to the story of Andy, Woody, and Buzz. It also puts the rest of the gang through the existential crisis Woody had in Toy Story 2, allowing Woody to be the wiser toy knowing the limitations of that approach. And yet, the movie doesn’t shy away from the truth: kids grow up, and adults don’t play with toys, not like kids do. And Woody realizes the attic is no place for him and his friends to spend years; neither is a daycare run by a lunatic CareBear knockoff—they needed a new owner who would love and care for them and play with them with that same imagination that Andy had. It gives us that beautiful moment of Andy taking the toys on one last playdate before passing them on to a new kid, and its genuinely touching. Plus all the prison break stuff is fun as well. Shoutout to Spanish Buzz who is particularly fun. 

Jacob Holmes

13. Dumbo (1941)

One of Disney’s crowning achievements of the golden age of animation, Dumbo is a remarkable achievement in animated filmmaking. Blending charming characters, heartwarming storytelling, and captivating visuals to create a timeless classic, director Ben Sharpsteen (along with a team of talented animators), infuses this film with a level of emotional depth seldom seen in animated features. The portrayal of Dumbo is the epitome of innocence and vulnerability. With his endearing large blue eyes and delicate movements, Dumbo quickly becomes an empathetic character evoking our sympathy and rooting for his success. The animators’ attention to detail in capturing his emotions is commendable as we can’t help but get emotionally invested in Dumbo’s journey. The film’s themes of acceptance and self-discovery are liberally sprinkled throughout the film, like a banana split covered with nuts. Dumbo’s transformation from a timid character to a confident one mirrors the journey we all undertake in discovering our own strengths and embracing what makes us unique. The film beautifully captures the idea that our perceived flaws can often become our greatest strengths encouraging viewers of all ages to embrace their individuality.

Sailor Monsoon

12. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

There are many films that can claim to perfectly encapsulate the essence of childhood, and I’m pretty sure My Neighbor Totoro is up at the very top of the list. This heartwarming story about a family making a new life out in the countryside has been a favorite of mine since the very first time I saw it. I feel like everyone can enjoy this story because it brings back memories of being a kid and running around (mostly) carefree when the biggest worries we had were school, chores, and what adventures we wanted to get up to in the summertime.

One of my favorite things about My Neighbor Totoro is how Totoro and the other forest spirits are presented. Even if you know nothing about Japanese spirits, the way Totoro and the others are woven into the story is just so charming and innocent, you can’t help but feel a connection with them. Even though these forest spirits never say a word, you can clearly see what they’re thinking and their good intentions are never in doubt.

What I also enjoy about My Neighbor Totoro is how such a sweet film doesn’t shy away from more adult topics. It’s stated quite bluntly that one of the characters has been in the hospital for a long time with an illness that may or may not be life-threatening. Instead of trying to cover this up as other stories might, the story is plain and open about the realities of life, but not in a way that makes it overly scary. That’s something I’ve always appreciated about Studio Ghibli films, and about this film in particular.

Becky O’Brien

11. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

The first chapter in what is set up to potentially be the best animated trilogy since Toy Story, Spider-Verse isn’t just a good movie—it is revolutionizing the industry. Pixar is the last studio to massively change the animated landscape, but the advent of 3D animation has led to a bit of overuse and lack of imagination in animated style. But Spider-Verse came through and shocked the system with its vibrant, comic-coded design. Already, it has helped give us more varied animation styles, including last year’s excellent Puss in Boots: The Last Wish and the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Outside of the groundbreaking animation, the story is also one of the best Spider-man iterations put on screen, as well as appropriately handling a multiverse concept, which some other recent films have struggled with. The writing in this movie is just next-level, filled to the brim with wit and heart. It’s honestly a work of genius. I know everyone has hopped on the “The sequel is even better” train, but for now, I stand by the original as one of the best-animated films of all time.

Jacob Holmes

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What are some of your favorite animated films that haven’t shown up on the list yet? Do you think they will be in the Top 10?