Mike’s Favorite Animated Films of the Decade (50-41)
Our first official list. My favorite animated films of the decade. What I love about animated films in particular is that, in a lot of ways, they’re the first films we’re exposed to as children. Anyone growing up pretty much from the 80s onward grew up with these films in our lives, because of the home video age. Before we went to theaters to see stuff and before we got into ‘movies’ at large, there was all those movies we grew up on. And now, even though I’m not of the age for most of the animated fare to appeal to me like they used to, there’s still some amazing stuff that comes out each year that’s worth talking about, because they, while entertaining for all, are an art form of their own.
So we’ll shout out the 50 that I liked best over the past decade. Animation is a genre with some great stuff, but overall a very limited number of films that come out each year, owing to the length it takes to actually make one of them. So 50 feels right, rather than trying to stretch it.
So here are my top animated films from the decade 2010-2019:
I want to shout out an unofficial #51 for this list — The Congress, from 2013 (released in 2014 in the U.S.). It’s only half-animated, with large chunks of live-action stuff, which is why I felt weird about including it on what is meant to be about pure animation. But it’s an incredible film and one of the films of the decade that asks the most questions and does more than just anthropomorphize animals who say silly things. It’s really great. But it’s kind of between two worlds of animation and live-action, which prevents me from fully putting it on this list.
Anyway, let’s get into it…
50. The Boss Baby (2017)
I love this movie. I still don’t know if my love for it is a case of Stockholm Syndrome or if it’s actually good. I remember when the trailer came out, and I saw it and thought, “That’s ridiculous. This is gonna be terrible!” And then I started showing it to people to make fun of it with them. I started calling it ‘the greatest film ever made’ and proclaiming it a masterpiece before it even came out. And somewhere along the way, the irony got lost and I actually started to come around on it and root for it, in a weird way. So when I saw it and went, “Is this actually good? I think it is!” I still wasn’t really sure if it was really good or if it was all of that going on. But honestly — who cares?
The premise is really funny — it’s about adjusting to life with a little brother, and the little brother just happens to be a little CEO. So you get half ‘businessman’ jokes and half brother bonding stuff. And the bonus of casting Alec Baldwin as the Boss Baby, allowing him to parody his Glengarry Glen Ross character and tell someone that “cookies are for closers.”
There are a lot of animated films from the past decade that are not on this list that are certainly better films than this is. But you know what? I don’t like ’em as much as I like this one. And since this is ultimately a list of my favorite animated films, this 100% belongs on it.
49. Cinderella the Cat (2017)
An Italian film that takes place in the future on a high-tech ship that’s meant to be the future. The man who invented the ship marries a woman who is secretly with a mob boss. The mob boss kills the man, leaving the man’s daughter in the care of the woman. Of course, they treat her like a servant and plan to steal control of the ship from her when she turns 18 — it’s Cinderella. Just with an Italian twist. It’s really nice.
You don’t see animation from more than the same four or five countries, and you almost never see anything from Italy, so this feels like a breath of fresh air for the genre. Give me something like this over most standard American studio animated fare any day.
48. Tito and the Birds (2018)
This is one of those films that’s all about style over substance. It looks incredible and it’s beautifully designed. And it’s not really a film for adults or children, so it just kind of exists in that weird nether region of animation that’s really just about the pure artistic merit of the output.
The film is an allegory, about an epidemic of fear sweeping Brazil. Fear begins spreading all throughout the country, and the main boy is attempting to work on a device with his father that can understand birds. And eventually it becomes up to him to resist the fear that is spreading and finish the machine before his father (and everyone) become lost.
It’s gorgeously animated and only about 70 minutes long. So it’s a quick one. But it’s really well done and shows the kind of beauty that can be created through the medium should people choose to do so.
47. A Cat in Paris (2010)
This film came on my (and I imagine a lot of people’s) radar when it got nominated for the Animated Feature Oscar in 2011 in the year when the Academy rejected both Cars 2 and Adventures of Tintin in favor of smaller, more artistic fare (a trend that has been pretty great throughout the decade and has introduced us to some wonderful films we might not have otherwise known about or seen).
The animation style here is just so vivid and really shows how great the medium can be when people aren’t just making things on computers. I always love when animated films go for a look that’s more inspired by artwork than straight realism. And this is a beautiful example of that.
The film is about a cat… yes, in Paris… who by night helps out a gentleman thief who steals precious jewels and during the day lives with a young girl. And of course the burglar, the cat and the girl all get embroiled with an evil gang who murdered the girl’s father and now is after her.
It’s really well done and very short. Only 65 minutes. It’s an easy film to watch and one you’ll enjoy just because of how well it’s made. The directors of this also made another film that looks as good as this, called Phantom Boy, about a boy in a wheelchair who has the ability to astrally project from his body and helps a policeman in his attempts to bring down a gang leader.
46. Missing Link (2019)
Shout out to both ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. Both were also released by Laika this decade and didn’t make the list. But everything Laika makes is wonderful. They’re truly what an animation company is all about. They make stop-motion films built around artistry. The sets and characters are just beautifully designed and lovingly rendered in films that just feel personal to everyone involved. So, even if one of their films isn’t necessarily on my list of favorites, they’re a studio who I will always respect and love just because they’re doing it all the right way.
This one is surprisingly their lowest profile film of all, which is a bit surprising. This seems like a pretty straightforward and likable story. I wonder why no one bothered to go see it.
It’s a very colorful story, though, about a world famous explorer who encounters the Missing Link, who, to his surprise, can read and write. And he wants the explorer’s help to go find his family. It’s a very simple story, and it’s very fun. In a way, it’s a visual step forward for Laika, whose films were more in the realm of Henry Selick/Tim Burton/Nightmare kind of gothic vibe, and this is the first time they went all out on a bright color palette (even more so than Kubo, which was stunning, but not as bright as this one is). It’s a nice film that shows that Laika is worthy of mentioning among the top tier film studios, separated from the rest of the usual shlock that gets put out.
45. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
They diluted it with unnecessary sequels that are entirely forgettable and designed to purely further the brand and sell toys, but this first one still holds up as a really nice movie.
You’ll notice a distinct trend among animated plots on this list (and all time, really) — kid grows up in a society that does things one way. The kid doesn’t really fit in and can’t (or doesn’t want to) do things that way, but is told that’s how it has to be. Then they go on an adventure where they discover another way, and that maybe the way things are being done maybe isn’t the right way. You can even broaden that out to something like Monsters, Inc. And the only real difference is whether the plot is more of a misunderstanding and they have to come together to realize they need to change or if there’s a villain who is behind it all, making things stay the way they are for their own personal gain.
That’s really the plot of this movie — we kill dragons. You’re the chief’s son, but you’re weak. You’ll never be worthy. Oh, but I met a dragon, and he’s pretty great, and maybe we have dragons all wrong and maybe we can work together with the dragons. No, that’s not how it’s done, and now we’re gonna go kill those dragons you found. And… well, who are we fooling:
But you know what? The way they handle it really does work and it becomes this really touching story of friendship between outsiders, Hiccup and Toothless. And as much as the sequels really do nothing but hurt it (much like the Shrek sequels do), this first one really is a terrific movie (and, you’ll notice, one of the few American studio animated films not made by Disney, Pixar or Laika on this list).
44. Brave (2012)
Oh hey, isn’t that nice. Basically everything I said about How to Train Your Dragon’s plot is kind of the plot about this one. Though on a much smaller scale. It’s about a headstrong girl who wants to be able to shoot arrows and do things the boys are able to do and isn’t interested in getting married, which is all that women are meant to do. So she goes on an adventure to come to terms with her mother and come to an understanding. Of course, it goes a bit sideways after that first act when Mom turns into a bear and there’s bear stuff for the middle of the film, but the crux of the story arc is kind of in that same realm.
This is one of those movies I wish I were able to rank higher on this list. Merida is a great character, Scotland is a great location for a Pixar film and I just wish the film did more than just make Mom a bear. Because there’s such great stuff to be gotten out of that central relationship that isn’t fully capitalized on.
But, it is Pixar, and at a base level, unless they’re making something purely designed to sell Toys (Cars), they’ve really only ever fully missed once (The Good Dinosaur, and even that’s okay and only a disappointment when you consider how amazing everything else they’ve created is). There’s a lot of wonderful stuff in this movie, and it’s nice to see them venturing out of their comfort zone a little bit and go international in a way they really hadn’t done before this, in terms of getting into another culture and a history the way this does.
43. Klaus (2019)
I truly did not expect to love this movie as much as I did. It seemed like a throwaway Netflix Christmas movie, in league with a lot of the foreign animated fare they’d picked up in years past (none of which anyone would ever remember, if they even saw it). But there’s a real warmth and charm to this movie that works.
It’s a roundabout telling of the origin of Santa Claus. It stars a Postmaster General’s son who grew up rich and takes his life for granted. His father, trying to whip some responsibility into him, sends him to the North Pole, the furthest and most remote possible post office location. And he tells him he has a year to make it a functional post office or else he’ll be cut off from his inheritance. And then when he gets there, he gets involved in feuding families, who are illiterate and aren’t interested in sending letters, which makes his job impossible. But then he meets an old woodsman who keeps to himself but builds these beautiful toys. And eventually the postman and the woodsman team up to bring presents to all the children who do little drawings and send letters asking for toys and telling how good they’ve been (all the Santa stuff). Like I said, it’s roundabout, but it keeps itself firmly on the rails and actually ends up being really touching in the end.
It’s a movie that probably shouldn’t work at all, given all the excess plot lines to it, but it does.
42. Frozen II (2019)
I’ve said it since the movie came out — in terms of how much effort they put into this and how much of a step down this is from the first film, it’s almost like one of those straight to video sequels I grew up with: Simba’s Pride and Return of Jafar and all that stuff. Stuff that allowed them to make more content but not tarnish their ‘canon’, which for a while was pretty sacred and had very few legitimate misses on it. But somewhere over the past decade, the DVD market crashed and nostalgia and comfort became marketable more than ever. So Disney was able to put this out and make a shit ton of money off of it despite not really having much of a story here. It’s a B plot at best that they turned into a feature.
That said, I love the world and I like the characters enough that I was willing to go along with this for what it was. In the end, it doesn’t really matter to me how much worse this is than the first one or how much it’s tarnishing the Disney legacy or any of that — it’s just a world I enjoy and characters I like. And that makes it something I’ll always be at least kind of okay with. It’s also the kind of movie that, in six or seven years, were they to actually have a satisfactory story to tell to finish off a trilogy with these people, this would be looked as an acceptable bridge. Kind of like how Toy Story 2 is between the first one and the third one.
41. Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018)
There seems to be a recurring theme of European animation that gravitates toward crime thrillers. No idea why, but they definitely find a way to make them look great. This is one of those movies where the plot is one you have to go with, but the ride is well worth it. It’s about a psychotherapist who keeps having these crazy nightmares about famous paintings. And his patients, thieves, agree to steal the artworks for him, figuring that once he has them, the nightmares will go away.
The animation style is absolutely stunning, and the film plays by its own rules, which leads to some amazing sequences and visuals along the way. It’s a movie that will not appeal to everyone, but on a pure visual and animation level, it’s one of the best you’ll see from this decade.
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