“[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.
60. Consuming Spirits (2012)
Rich with symbolism, intricate animation, and layered storytelling, Consuming Spirits delves into the lives of its flawed characters, ultimately highlighting the interconnectedness of their struggles. Combining hand-drawn illustrations, stop-motion, and collage techniques, the visuals of Consuming Spirits create a visually arresting and immersive experience. With meticulous attention to detail, Sullivan seamlessly blends 2D and 3D elements resulting in a dynamic and enchanting visual narrative. The film’s narrative structure is as complex as its animation style. Consuming Spirits weaves together multiple storylines interconnecting the lives of three central characters: Gentian Violet, Earl Gray, and Victor Blue.
Each character embodies a different aspect of human despair and their stories unfold with a sense of gentle melancholy. Gentian Violet a radio host and writer who struggles with guilt and finds solace in alcohol and storytelling. Earl Gray, a newspaper columnist, is haunted by a mysterious family secret that fuels his obsession with uncovering the truth. Victor Blue is a middle-aged alcoholic who battles both inner demons and the external challenges of his job at the local nursing home. The beauty of Consuming Spirits lies in its ability to navigate these narratives with grace and restraint. The film delicately peels back the layers of its characters revealing their hidden pains and desires as well as the consequences of the choices they’ve made. It’s a testament to Sullivan’s skill as a storyteller that he never resorts to heavy-handedness or melodrama. Instead, he imbues each scene with emotional depth and subtlety allowing the audience to connect with the characters on a profound level.
59. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
This film is the culmination of eighteen years of perseverance, hard work and not listening to your boss. The story was inspired by an actual dog, Lady, the pet of animator Joe Grant (who also co-wrote Dumbo because everyone did everything back in the day), who started writing it all the way back on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It kicked around the studio for damn near two decades before it was finally put into production. It only took eight writers and countless scripts but Grant’s perseverance won the day. Or maybe they were desperate for scripts and they just greenlit whatever was lying around. Oh and if it wasn’t for Frank Thomas (one of the legendary nine old men), we never would’ve had the spaghetti scene. Disney hated it but Thomas did it anyways. Because he was a badass.
58. Chicken Run (2000)
Aardman Animations is simply delightful. The British equivalent to Disney, they’ve been producing high-quality work for the last forty years or so but everything before the 1989 short Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out feels like the prep. The only reason that short didn’t win the Oscar, was because Creature Comforts was released the same year. Also made by Aardman. They are the only company whose only competition is themselves. After decades of producing shorts for the BBC, they decided to throw their hat into the feature film ring with the utterly charming Chicken Run. Borrowing heavily from prison escape films like The Great Escape, Stalag 17, and Hogan’s Heroes, Chicken Run is a sharply written comedy that flies high like a chicken.
57. Waking Life (2001)
Richard Linklater’s ode to lucid dreaming and LSD trips. Made up of a series of vignettes involving characters waxing philosophical, this is made for fans of films like My Dinner With Andre and Coogan and Brydon’s Trip film series. Tackling topics such as free will, post-humanity, existentialism, and metaphysics, it’s like like sitting in on a great conversation or an amazing lecture. Or it’s like taking drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.
56. The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
If you distill every film down to its mechanics, you realize there are only seven different stories that any film could possibly tell. Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch made a list that was greatly revised and expanded by Christopher Booker but both limited their choices down to seven. 2003 saw the release of my favorite example of this rule. Because at first glance, Finding Nemo and The Triplets of Belleville couldn’t be further apart. One is American, the other is French. One is about talking fish and various other Australian animals and the other is about illegal underground bicycling competitions and a trio of retired vaudeville singers. They’re almost polar opposites. Again, this is at first glance but according to Booker, they’re both classified as Voyage and Return. Because strip away everything else and you’re left with films about a parent trying to save a kidnapped child. That’s the magic of storytelling. That the same exact story could be told as wildly different as humanly possible but both ending up as masterpieces. Oh, and I can’t stress this enough: frog legs are gross.
55. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Some people view Shrek as Dreamworks’ crowning achievement, but for me, there is no movie in their arsenal that tops How to Train Your Dragon (except maybe HTTYD 2). I believe this movie works so well where other Dreamworks pictures fail due to the gravitas of the thing. That’s largely attributable to the terrific design and characterization of Toothless, a friendly yet intimidating beast, and the iconic score of John Powell. The story is also well-told, if a bit well-worn in some areas. Unfortunately, the film does suffer a bit in my regard due to some of the surrounding cast of kids around Hiccup, which are often used to make immature jokes that occasionally cap the otherwise epic sensibilities of the movie. Hiccup is a great protagonist, and the chemistry between him and Toothless makes the movie soar (credit to the animators for this chemistry since it is largely body language and facial expression). This film has become so iconic, it not only spawned a terrific sequel, but also a serviceable third chapter to bookend a trilogy plus a host of other garbage TV shows and specials to water the franchise down.
54. Paprika (2006)
If you’ve ever watched Inception and thought to yourself “I wonder what trippy Japanese animated movie inspired Christopher Nolan for so much of this?” then this is the film for you. Satoshi Kon was an absolute legend in the world of animated filmmaking but unfortunately passed away far too soon at the age of 46. His last theatrical work is Paprika, which is one of the most beautiful and stunning movies ever made. The animated medium allows Kon to dive deeply into the world of its characters’ dreams to great effect. Kon also masterfully took advantage of the medium’s ability to use editing as a crucial aspect of building tonal and emotional clarity. Paprika is truly a thing of beauty and must-watch viewing for all.
53. Cinderella (1950)
Released in 1950, this animated film brought the beloved fairytale to life in a way that only Disney could and also marked a major comeback for the studio after a hiatus during World War II. The stunning animation brought the story’s whimsical world to life, from the grandeur of Cinderella’s ball gown to the intricate details of her enchanted pumpkin carriage. With an effortless blend of romance, and adventure, Cinderella became the kind of heartwarming narrative that Disney became known for.
Watching this as a kid, I can clearly recall how much I envied Cinderella – she had a fairy godmother for god’s sake! – and I desperately wanted a pumpkin carriage of my own. Not to mention how tense it felt, watching the mice try to unlock Cinderella from the attic before the Prince left the house, glass slipper in tow. A movie that can make you feel every possible emotion is one that will continue to thrive, no matter how old it may be. The success of Cinderella led to an entire genre dedicated to princesses that continues to succeed, even today. Beyond its technical achievements and cultural impact, Cinderella transformed the animation industry by establishing Walt Disney Studios as a powerhouse brand synonymous with high-quality animated films.
52. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
Aardman Animations second full-length feature, Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is also their last. (At least until 2024, as Netflix has announced a NEW Wallace and Gromit movie!) Perhaps it’s all for the best, as Nick Park didn’t have the best experience with Dreamworks during the making of the picture, and the studio took a writedown on the film despite it making nearly 200k against a budget of 30k. That’s Hollywood accounting for you.
And the film is fantastic! As enjoyable as Chicken Run is, the cheese-adoring duo of inventor Wallace and long-suffering (and much smarter) dog Gromit and the world they inhabit is more my cup of tea (or slice of Wensleydale). Add in a plot that echoes Universal Monster movies (and Hammer horror films and King Kong and… well, lots of things) and CotWR seemed designed to make me fall in love with it. I enjoyed the hell out of the short films that preceded it (The Wrong Trousers in particular), but I wasn’t sure Park and Aardvark could pull off a feature-length film. I’ve rarely been so happy to be wrong.
The plot features our title duo as pest-control workers, specializing in preventing rabbits from harming local gardens. When one of Wallace’s inventions – intended to remove the rabbits’ predilection for farm goods – goes awry, a monster is loosed on the town! It’s up to Wallace and Gromit to figure out what’s going on and put a stop to it before Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes) can find the were-rabbit and kill it. Lots of shenanigans, plot twists, movie references, and even a little romance leavens the proceedings. It’s all just so damn fun and satisfying, and eminently re-watchable. I just looked, and somehow I don’t have a copy of the film. I need to head to my local Bullmoose and remedy that immediately.
51. Son of the White Mare (1981)
When discussing animation, there are only like five studios that pop into anyone’s mind. Two of which are essentially the same studio now. Disney has such a stranglehold on animation that they’re damn near synonymous with the entire genre. The novel Cloud Atlas took it a step further and just replaced all films with “Disneys.” That’s how immense they are as a studio.
This means that every other animated film struggles to escape the enormous shadow that covers everything. Unless you have a character that can easily be turned into a toy or have a song that kids can’t stop singing, your film will eventually get lost in the shuffle.
Son of the White Mare is the definition of getting lost in the shuffle. It doesn’t have any product placement money, no catchy ass pop songs to memorize, no adorable animal character and it’s foreign. It has everything going against it. But what it has that Disney will never possess, is badassitude. This film is crazy (with emphasis on crazy) badass. Picture the greatest episode of Samurai Jack dipped in LSD and you’re halfway there.
What are some of your favorite animated films? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!