The 100 Greatest Animated Films of All Time (40-31)

“[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.

40. Castle in the Sky (1986)

While I love all of Miyazaki’s animated films, sometimes I feel like Castle in the Sky doesn’t get enough love compared to other of his works like My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke. What I’ve always liked about Castle in the Sky is the glimpses of a larger story that are teased throughout but never expanded upon. I mean, just think of the bigger questions teased in this film: why did the Laputans leave their floating cities? What all could the technology do? How many words of power are there? None of these questions are answered, but they also don’t need to be. Just having these little hints and clues seeded through the story is enough to hint at the larger world out there.

Another thing I’ve always enjoyed about Castle in the Sky is the contrast between nature and technology that exists throughout the story. Even before the characters reach the floating city, there’s a conflict between nature and the technology of the miners. But once we reach Laputa, it becomes even more obvious, especially as you see all the sculptures and details covered with beautiful flowers and trees. The fact that certain characters don’t understand why nature is more important the technology is one of the more heartbreaking points of the story. Castle in the Sky might not be quite as well remembered as some of the other Ghibli films, but it remains a charming story that continues to amaze and delight everyone who comes to see it.

Becky O’Brien

39. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

The hilarious, foul-mouthed, not-suitable-for-children cartoon about children was a perfect candidate to make the leap from the small screen to the big screen. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut so perfectly expanded on the already outrageous world created by comedy duo Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Their love for musicals really shines here. The original songs are some of the funniest I’ve ever heard in a movie (see: “Blame Canada”). They often times deliver the movie’s jokes better than the punchlines of the written dialogue. This is a must-watch for anyone who is a fan of the South Park TV series or just a fan of good old-fashioned low-brow toilet humor.

Raf Stitt

38. Bambi (1942)

When Walt Disney released Bambi in 1942, it had some tough acts to follow in two of the most beloved and influential Disney films of all time: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinnochio. Bambi is a significant departure from those two films, trading in a world of fantasy for the realism of the American woodland. And it soars. The artwork is absolutely beautiful, and the musical score captures the best element of Fantasia with the music and animation aligning in a way that so satisfactorily tickles the brain. And it thematically sets the natural seasons to the seasons of life: Spring represents the birth of new life and of Bambi. In summer, Bambi begins to experience the beauty of the world and explore. Fall brings storms, and fear. And winter, unfortunately, brings death. 

Many people consider Bambi to be one of the saddest films of their childhood, which is understandable, but the iconic death of Bambi’s mother is actually quite quick. Yes, it is still a sucker punch, but after realizing that he is now alone in the world, Bambi curls up to sleep and it immediately cuts to spring and transformation. Now Bambi is a young adult looking for love, and finally, takes his place alongside his father as a fully formed Buck, having experienced the highs and lows of life. This movie holds a special place in my heart for not anthropomorphizing the animals as so many modern animated films have done, but instead weaving a story into the natural movements of animals and making it work in a way no film has since been able to replicate.

Jacob Holmes

37. World of Tomorrow (2015–20)

A heady mixture of sci-fi tropes and philosophical concepts, World of Tomorrow (a combination of three short films) is Hertzfeldt’s most ambitious project yet; which is saying a lot considering he made an entire short examining the meaning of life. Emily is an infant from the present day who meets an adult clone of herself from the future. The malfunctioning third-generation clone time traveled for two reasons: 1) To tell the extremely disinterested child what life will be like in about 100 years and 2) To retrieve a memory from the child the clone can no longer remember. Hertzfeldt’s vision of a world made up of scientifically created orphans, human life cycle as an art exhibit, and romantic entanglements with a rock, is the most cerebral and profoundly moving depiction of the future I’ve ever seen.

Sailor Monsoon

36. Fantasia (1940)

It’s easy to forget how monumentally ambitious this film was. Keeping in rhythm with music is hard enough in live action but animating a two-hour film that syncs up with music is a tremendous feat. The music was so instrumental to the experience, that it was first released in theatrical roadshow engagements.

They had to create theaters all over the United States that could produce stereophonic sound. Walt Disney also had plans to re-release it every year but with new segments (most of which were used in the sequel) and he even entertained the idea of introducing various fragrances into the theater at certain points during the movie to heighten the experience. He wisely decided against it because, besides being impractical, it would smell like the worst drunk uncle in history by the end of the week.

Disney really wanted this to be his magnum opus, which is hilarious considering it originally tanked at the box office. People weren’t ready for the brilliance. Or maybe people were offended by that infamous controversial moment in the film. You know the one. The one with the crocodile dancing with a hippo. I consider myself a pretty tolerant man when it comes to other people’s views on the topic of religion, politics, or sexual preference but god never intended this. It’s an abomination and an affront to the Lord. Let’s keep crocs with crocs and hippos with hippos, m’kay?

Sailor Monsoon

35. A Town Called Panic (2009)

Okay, so, A Town Called Panic is a movie based on a Belgian TV show that features three friends – Cowboy, Indian, and Horse – who are all toy figures. Everyone in the movie is a toy figure. It features a birthday order of 50 million bricks, a trip to the center of the earth, horses playing piano, and a giant, robot penguin that throws snowballs. It’s madness incarnate, a riot of color, fun, and weirdness. Just thinking about it makes me smile.

My enjoyment of the film is also colored by a particular day with my nieces Sam and Maddie. They were staying with us and, if I’m honest, we were having a hard time entertaining them. Somehow they found and picked this film to watch – it might have been on Netflix at the time. Unfortunately, the film is in French with subtitles and Maddie was too young to read. I sensed boredom rising again, so I started reading the subtitles aloud. And doing the voices. And acting things out. And it turned into the most hilarious afternoon I think we’ve ever had with the girls. They were literally falling on the floor laughing and we often had to pause and rewind because we all were laughing too hard.

I’ve watched A Town Called Panic a couple of times since then, and it’s still hilarious. I even bought a copy for Sam and Maddie. It’ll never quite be the same as that one, laughter-filled afternoon, but it’s still weird and funny and super enjoyable and one of my favorite animated films of all time.

–Bob Cram

34. Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin came right at the heart of the Disney Animation Studios renaissance of the early 90s and it’s still one of the best movies in their history. It’s got all of the hallmarks of a great Disney movie: a lovely protagonist, a wonderful princess, and cute animal sidekicks. It also introduced the idea of bringing in a big-name celebrity to be part of the voice cast. Aladdin certainly works without the addition of Robin Williams as The Genie. However, his presence elevates the movie to an absolutely ridiculous level. His energy is infectious; his joke delivery will leave you in stitches (especially as an adult). It’s an undeniably brilliant performance and perhaps the best in Disney Animation Studios’ history.

Raf Stitt

33. Shrek 2 (2004)

The first Shrek was basically the anti-Disney movie, serving as a parody of the studio’s animated classics. Shrek 2 continued the trend but also managed to one-up the first Shrek in almost every way. If Shrek is Batman Begins then Shrek 2 is The Dark Knight.

I mean, let’s run down some of the film’s highlights. Prince Charming is a twat. The Fairy Godmother is his mother. Donkey is a horse. Puss in Boots makes his grand debut. There’s a giant gingerbread man. Pinocchio wears a thong. Oh, and the DVD version has an interactive game called Far Far Away Idol with Simon Cowell. This movie has it all. I repeat: This movie has it all! (Also, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is also a damn fine film. One of DreamWorks Animation’s best in a long time.)

Marmaduke Karlston

32. Finding Nemo (2003)

Three little words. They’re so simple but carry oh so much weight. “Just keep swimming.” In that phrase lies the emotional core of a surprisingly emotionally poignant film. Marlin’s perseverance and persistence in finding his son, Nemo, can be summed up in those three. It’s an inspirational tale of love and the ends to which we’ll go to for those we care about. There are also surfer dude turtles, sharks in recovery, and a menacing tweenage girl who only exists to terrorize fish. The animation style remains awe-inspiring as underwater ecosystems are brought to life in a dazzling display. Finding Nemo is still a treat and another great notch in the belt for the great Pixar studios.

Raf Stitt

31. Tower (2016)

A profound and haunting documentary that explores the tragic events of the 1966 University of Texas shooting in Austin, Tower masterfully combines archival footage, animated reenactments, and emotional interviews to reconstruct the harrowing experience of the survivors and the lasting impact it had on a community. Director Keith Maitland’s storytelling is meticulous as he weaves together different perspectives to create a comprehensive narrative of the events. The film primarily focuses on the individuals who were directly affected by the shooting such as students faculty and law enforcement. Through their candid interviews, we gain a deeper understanding of their emotions fears and resilience in the face of unimaginable danger.

One of the most compelling aspects of Tower is the use of animation to recreate the events of that fateful day. This unique approach enhances the storytelling as it allows viewers to visualize the chaos and terror that unfolded on the campus. The animation also adds a layer of distance allowing the audience to engage with the material without becoming overwhelmed by the trauma.

What makes Tower particularly impactful is its exploration of the long-term effects of trauma on survivors. The film goes beyond the immediate aftermath of the shooting to delve into the emotional scars left on the individuals involved. We witness their struggle to come to terms with the tragedy and see how their lives were forever altered. This personal and intimate approach adds depth and humanity to the story reminding us of the lasting impact of such acts of violence. This is a film about bravery, courage, and the survivors, not the shooter. It is refreshing to see a true crime doc not be entirely about the killer but instead, give a face and name to the survivors.

Sailor Monsoon

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What are some of your favorite animated films? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!