They’re Classics for a Reason
Whether it’s due to their timeless narratives, their iconic characters or the breathtaking visual art-style, certain animated films have managed to launch themselves into the upper echelons of cinematic mastery, to the point where everyone should make the time to check them out. After all, there’s a very good chance they will end up becoming instant favorites – especially when it come to these five!
#5: “Beauty and the Beast” (1991)
18 years before “Up” broke into the Best Picture race, this tale as old as time became the first animated film to contend for the Academy’s highest honor. Coming out towards the dawn of the Disney Renaissance, “Beauty and the Beast” kept the studio’s traditions alive while also redefining what animation could accomplish. With a modern heroine, a profound love story, and music worthy of Broadway, Disney’s wasn’t just making a comeback. They were taking animation to a new frontier, pushing the envelope in ways that hadn’t been attempted since Walt Disney’s death. Prior to its official release, an unfinished version of the film was screened at the New York Film Festival, where it earned a ten-minute-long standing ovation. Animation hasn’t been the same ever since.
#4: “Persepolis” (2007)
A graphic novel is like a detailed storyboard for an animated feature, although few have translated to the silver screen as masterfully as Marjane Satrapi’s life story. The simplistic character designs and black-and-white environments give “Persepolis” a personal touch, as if Satrapi’s drawing have come alive. The film is a must-see not only for its stunning artistry, but for its multi-layered themes regarding religion, war, and being a modern Middle Eastern woman. Above all else, “Persepolis” is about the confusing journey that is childhood and how these experiences shape the people we grow into. “Persepolis” presents the world from the perspectives of both a child and an adult, with the animation creating a brilliant contrast between the past and present.
#3: “Toy Story” (1995)
Pixar’s debut feature is often celebrated for being the first full-length computer-animated film, which earned it a Special Achievement Academy Award. The film’s game-changing technical innovation can’t be denied, especially since CGI became the new norm for western feature animation in the years that followed. Even more significant, though, was the film’s Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The dialog had a contemporary sensibility to it, while still sounding timeless, treating younger viewers like adults and making older viewers feels like kids again. The film also stood out by putting an emphasis on friendship over romance and not being a traditional musical. Proving that this town was big enough for more than one type of animated feature, “Toy Story” opened the floodgate for much more variety.
#2: “The Lion King” (1994)
Feature animation wouldn’t be what it is today without the Disney Renaissance, and “The Lion King” is widely considered the pinnacle of this era. The film became the highest-grossing animated feature of its time and for a while nothing even came close to topping its success. What makes this so ironic is that Disney actually wasn’t expecting it to become a cultural phenomenon during early production, with chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg reportedly having more faith in “Pocahontas.” Even without some of Disney’s top talents onboard, “The Lion King” emerged as an animated epic through its sweeping animation, grand musical numbers, and Shakespearean story. Just as Simba accepted his place in the circle of life, the film etched out a special place in cinematic history.
#1: “Spirited Away” (2001)
We’ve discussed several animation masters throughout this countdown, but even some of Disney’s key creative figures would point to Hayao Miyazaki as their idol. From “My Neighbor Totoro” to “Princess Mononoke,” this Japanese filmmaker helped turn Studio Ghibli into the animation powerhouse it is today. “Spirited Away” has been called Miyazaki’s crowning achievement, balancing a world of boundless imagination with a relatable story about finding oneself. It may be a 21st century film, but the characters, environments, and narrative all feel like the stuff of legend. In addition to winning the Japan Academy Award for Best Film, “Spirited Away” broke new grounds in the US, where it became the first anime film to win an Oscar, triumphing over the western competition in Best Animation Feature.
Be sure to check out the video below to see our picks for the Top 10 Worst Animated Movies.