Mike’s Favorite Animated Films of the Decade (40-31)
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:
40. Rango (2011)
Gore Verbinski is one of those filmmakers who’s always doing interesting things, no matter what genre or budget level he’s working in. Most people know the Pirates movies, but if you watch the first three as compared to the later ones, the visuals really stand out, because Gore Verbinski is always trying new things. Or even something like A Cure for Wellness, a movie that should not look as good as it does, given the B-movie nature of its plot. And this is another one of those kinds of movies.
First off, it’s a western about a chameleon (who, for the first portion of the movie is dressed like Hunter S. Thompson) who starts out as a pet, then ends up in a small western town that needs a new sheriff to save it from a gunslinging rattlesnake. It’s a crazy premise that you can just imagine being so stupid if done in the traditional animated sense. But what does Gore Verbinski do? He builds little portions of sets to make the voice actors feel like they’re actually performing the scenes for real. So they’re actually filming scenes as visual references for the animators, which gives the film a real life to it that it may have otherwise lacked if they just animated it naturally.
The film is very fun. It’s an offbeat little oddity that doesn’t fit in the mold of any other animated film out there, and it’s really not something we’ve seen since, either. At least tonally or genre-wise. And I like that about it.
39. The Little Prince (2015)
I didn’t know what I was in for with this movie. I mean, I know The Little Prince (anyone who’s ever been in school has read “The Little Prince,” and anyone has ever taken French has read it multiple times), so in a sense I knew what I was getting. But I didn’t really know what kind of tone or feeling I was getting past that initial story. And did this really surprise me in a wonderful way.
They tell the story in flashback, and the film is largely about a little girl whose mother has big plans for her — schedules her days down to the second and makes her study, study, study, so she’ll get good grades, go to a good school and make a nice living for herself. And of course the girl just wants to be a regular kid. So one day, she sneaks next door, where this kooky old neighbor is always making a racket with his tinkering. And we find out that he’s the aviator from the book, and he recounts this story. And eventually, after he is hospitalized, the girl becomes the author of the story, which starts to manifest her own fears into the narrative. It’s beautifully done.
I’m a sucker for stories that involve the reclaiming or prevention of ones loss of childhood and maintaining that creativity that was boundless when you were young. So this really stuck with me and found a way to take what is otherwise a very limited story and expand on it in such a way that didn’t feel extraneous or unnecessary but actually served to make both stories stronger.
38. Zootopia (2016)
One of two official Disney Animation films that came out in 2016. It’s the one more people seemed to see and like, even if it’s not the one that feels like it’s gonna last the test of time. But we’ll see, I guess.
The conceit of this film is a society in which animals all became ‘civilized’ and operate just like a normal society the way humans do. Kind of like Cars, only less creepy, since it’s not like the animals keep other animals as pets or anything. And it’s about an ambitious rabbit detective and a con artist fox who team up to stop a citywide conspiracy that’s turning some of the animals back into… well, animals.
It’s got some fun to it and has some fantastic scenes (like the one pictured above, at the DMV, with the sloths). People really overrated it once it came out, but it holds its own as a fun, solid Disney movie that, if made by any other studio, would have been utterly forgettable and probably not very good. Which shows the amount of quality that tends to come out of that studio whenever they make an animated film.
37. Ernest & Celestine (2012)
Gorgeous French animated film about the friendship between a bear and a mouse. Based on a series of children’s books, it’s ultimately a film about outcasts coming together to make life a little bit easier for one another. It’s really great.
36. My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea (2017)
This is a film that I didn’t necessarily care about on a pure narrative level, but it’s the visual style with which they told the story that really appealed to me. The story itself is pretty simple — it’s in the title. And most of the film is a group of people trying to survive the event. Of course there’s all sorts of commentary about school social structure and power dynamics and all of that, but mostly I just love that you have this Poseidon Adventure type story in a high school and they visualized it this way. Because you tell this almost any other way and I probably don’t care. But the visuals are just so gorgeous and so evocative in the right way that this movie was irresistible to me.
35. Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017)
This is another non-Ghibli animated film, though it’s from a new studio that was started from previous Ghibli animators, so it’s clearly reminiscent of their films.
I always sell people on Kiki’s Delivery Service by saying that it’s basically Sabrina the Teenage Witch. But this is actually Sabrina the Teenage Witch. But if they made it today and it wasn’t deliberately horror-influenced. This is a straight up adventure story. It’s about a girl with no friends who finds a flower that gives her magic powers. So she goes off to learn how to use them, and runs afoul of an evil witch…. you know the deal. It’s wonderful. It’s so much fun and it has all the hallmarks of Ghibli movies without actually being Ghibli. And what’s better is that she’s not a full-time witch, so it’s really one of those stories about learning to come into your own. Which is the hallmark of almost all those movies I grew up watching — Pagemaster, Never-Ending Story… that’s what the fantasy realms in those movies were really about… helping the main character get through whatever tough time they were having in their lives. So it’s nice to see that as part of the film’s narrative as well.
34. Chico and Rita (2010)
The other film, along with A Cat in Paris, that got nominated in that 2011 year that shook up the Animated Feature category (for the better) for the majority of the decade. It’s a romance between a piano player and a singer, set in Havana (amongst other cities) in the 1940s and 1950s. It’s gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. There’s nothing better than a romance film that really manages to make those moments of reunion between two people torn apart by circumstance truly land. And this movie does that beautifully. I can’t recommend this movie enough for people looking for beautiful, adult animated fare.
33. Ethel & Ernest (2016)
I love everything about this film, from the concept on down. This is the story of the author’s parents. He wrote a graphic novel that tells the story of his parents; their lives and their courtship. It’s his ode to them. And ultimately it’s the story of two average people going through life during some of the most memorable events in human history. And it’s absolutely stunning to watch. This is everything I want out of a movie, and it is just stunningly animated to boot.
32. The Breadwinner (2017)
This film is directed by Nora Twomey, who co-directed The Secret of Kells, one of the great animated films of the previous decade. The film is about an 11-year-old girl in Afghanistan whose father gets taken by the Taliban. And since the family has no elder male (women are not allowed to earn a living), they soon find themselves in dire straits. So the girl ends up cutting her hair and going into the marketplace as a boy so she can provide for her family.
It’s a breathtaking film that really hits all the right levels while also keeping the ‘heavy’ stuff realistic but not too scary for children. It’s the kind of film that really does the soul good and is the kind of movie that is more than just standard-fare entertainment. I’ve always loved these kinds of movies, because for every Lion King and Brave Little Toaster I watched growing up, there was this random movie like this that was way more adult and had these more complex themes going on that really just helped me interact with film and life in a different way. And I think these movies are good for children (or anyone, really) in their lives.
31. The Painting (2011)
French animated film that almost nobody knows about that’s absolutely wonderful. It takes place entirely inside a painting. The characters are separated between three classes: those who are ‘alldun’, who have finished being painted and are the upper class who believe they deserve the right to rule over everyone else, the ‘halfies’ who are not fully done and shunned, and the ‘sketchies’ who are simply just sketches that were never finished, who are openly hunted down for sport. And the film is about three people, one of each class, who go out in search of the painter (who has disappeared without finishing the painting) to try to get him to finish his work. And they end up painting-hopping throughout the artist’s workshop. It’s stunning and is unlike anything I’ve seen before. The ending of this movie is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
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