Mike’s Favorite Animated Films of the Decade (30-21)
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:
30. Mirai (2018)
As someone who’s not wholly into anime as a genre, the films I really respond to are the ones that closely resemble the Miyazaki/Ghibli films. There’s something about their tone and the way they make their movies that really appeals to me more so than most other animes. So to have something that’s anime and not Ghibli be something I really like is usually surprising to me when it happens and also really exciting.
This is a movie that, you’d swear it was Ghibli, based on the story (and there’s gonna be at least one other one on this list that I’ll say the same thing about). It’s about a young boy struggling with the birth of his younger sister. He’s used to being the focus of attention in the household, and now that his parents have this new baby, he’s starting to act out and is angry that this baby is now a part of his life. And he ends up discovering the magic in the family’s garden, which allows him to meet the spirits of different people. First, his dog, second, his sister as a teenager and finally his mother as a young girl. And through these different encounters, he learns how to empathize with others and accept his sister in his life.
I can’t say enough about how well this story is told. I really love this movie. I think it comes down to humanity. Other animes have stories happening to people, but these movies that feel like Ghibli feel like they find a way to tell these universal stories in such fantastic ways that uncover these deep truths about the human condition in profound ways. That’s always been the thing for me, and this movie just does a tremendous job at that.
29. Okko’s Inn (2018)
This movie blew me away. Everyone was talking about Weathering with You as the anime of the year that was gonna be the biggest hit and cross over and make a lot of money. But honestly, this is the one that struck the emotional chord with me much more so than that movie. And I suspect that people who don’t really love anime as a genre but do gravitate toward the Ghibli stuff would really like this movie. Because it kinda feels like one of those in a lot of ways.
It’s about a girl whose parents die in a car accident (which she survives), so she’s sent to live with her grandmother, who runs an inn. And the grandmother trains her to eventually take over the inn one day. Meanwhile, the girl starts seeing these ghosts about the place, particularly that of a young boy. And she interacts with the ghosts and they help her get through the struggle of learning how to do this exhausting job and also deal with the fact that her parents are gone. And ultimately the film becomes about catharsis and coming to terms with tragedy.
There really aren’t that many non-Ghibli anime films on this list, but the ones that are here are ones that I have really strong emotional connections with because they really are quite beautifully done.
28. Winnie the Pooh (2011)
It’s not a straight sequel to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, because that movie’s barely even a movie. They had three little Pooh and Tigger shorts that they strung together to make a feature and released it during that 70s era when they were scrambling to figure out what their identity was after Walt died and kept recycling old material. Plus, Pooh is kind of its own serialized thing, where each thing isn’t related to the other in anything other than characters and spirit. I just kind of look at it as another Pooh movie more than anything else.
This is also kind of the Rescuers Down Under to the rest of the Disney Renaissance. Rescuers Down Under got released after Little Mermaid and between that and Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Lion King. And this got released after Princess and the Frog and Tangled and right before Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen. And people just sort of forget this exists, if they’re even aware of it.
It’s basically an extended TV episode. It’s only 70 minutes long, and it’s just a really simple, but fun story. It’s what Disney films were in the early days, almost. It centers around Christopher Robin having to go away for a bit and leaving a note saying he’ll be back soon. But because he’s a child and can’t write properly, he writes ‘back son’. So the group doesn’t know what that means and work themselves into a frenzy (mostly through Owl), thinking Christopher Robin was kidnapped by this evil creature called the ‘Backson’. It’s funny, and features a lot of hijinks and visual gags involving the storybook itself and a nice fantasy sequence with Pooh and honey. It’s really sweet.
I know it’ll be considered ‘slight’ by people looking for more adventure and excitement, but it’s just a lovely movie that’s designed for the 5 and under crowd. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Give me that over something like Big Hero 6 every day of the week.
27. Sausage Party (2016)
I like that we live in a world where the right people could make a joke (probably while high, at that) and somehow get it made and get it through all the different censors and people who might stop it because it’s in poor taste.
It’s a movie called Sausage Party about sentient food in a supermarket that doesn’t know what happens to it when it leaves and then becomes a movie about existential crisis when they realize they’re all gonna get horribly ripped apart and eaten when they get to people’s homes. And it ends with a giant food orgy! And half the movie is based around puns — Sammy Bagel Jr., Kareem Abdul Lavash, a box of grits who hates crackers, the villain being actual douche. It’s amazing that this even exists. And that Alan Menken, who wrote some of the single greatest Disney songs of all time, did the music for it.
I love everything about this movie. It’s in extremely poor taste, and that’s what’s so wonderful about it. You only get one of these every handful of years, so it’s great to see something like this actually make it through to existence rather than just some thing that gets talked about at parties or becomes a ten minute skit on Adult Swim at 3am.
26. Boy and the World (2014)
This is another film that’s more about how it’s presented rather than what it’s about. The story itself is pretty simple — it’s about a boy who gets sad when his father goes off to work, so he ventures into the city to go find him. And it’s told almost like a Tati film; there’s no dialogue, and whatever dialogue it does have is unintelligible, because it’s Portuguese spoken backwards. The entire film is conveyed through the visuals. Which, you can see from the images above, are very abstract and very colorful. And it’s just a beautiful film to let wash over you. This is one of those films I’d recommend for everyone because there’s no effort required to see it. It’s just a visual and auditory feast that doesn’t require language. And it’s rare to have one of those movies, that exists purely on a visual level without explosions and things.
25. Song of the Sea (2014)
This is from Tomm Moore, who did The Secret of Kells. He made this as his follow up, while Nora Twomey went and made The Breadwinner. Hell of a pair of artists, those two. The film is the story between a brother and sister, who are the children of a lighthouse keeper. The sister is mute and their mother has been long gone. And the brother discovers that his sister is part seal, and the two end up going on an adventure to save the world of the fairies from impending danger.
It sounds crazy, but trust me, it works. The film is just stunning to watch. The story is easy enough to follow as you watch it and the visuals more than make up for anything that might seem displeasurable to viewers who prefer more straightforward and less fantastic plots. In terms of pure animation, they don’t get much more beautiful than this film.
24. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
This is Steven Spielberg’s first foray into animation, and the result is pretty stunning. A lot of people grew up with the Tintin books and have a real connection to those characters and those stories, and I’ll confess that I am not one of those people. I could have recognized him and the dog from books, but I probably couldn’t tell you the name. Though if it was said to me, I’d have gone, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of that.” I really didn’t know what I was getting with this. And Spielberg turned it into a Spielberg movie. It’s just this wonderful adventure that goes different places and has a lot of excitement.
It’s computer animation, but it’s good computer animation. Spielberg shot it like it was a live-action film and then Peter Jackson’s company filled in the digital effects afterward. And it shows. Because you watch that final sequence — and it’s pure Spielberg. The way the camera just weaves in and out without cutting, and how brilliantly he stages the action… no one stages an action sequence better than Spielberg. And it’s great to see him take his skills seamlessly into animation without really losing anything. I suspect that if he ever decided to go back, the result would be even more spectacular than this.
But on a pure entertainment level, this is a wonderful film, and begs the question… how come they haven’t made that second one yet?
23. Finding Dory (2016)
I’m always critical when Pixar makes sequels to their films. Toy Story is the one exception, because they made a sequel before they established themselves as the creators of great, original animated material. And for a long time, they avoided that temptation. It was only in this decade that they went all in on sequels. Apart from Toy Story 3 and 4, there’s Cars 2 (and 3), Monsters University (technically a prequel, but you get the idea), Incredibles 2 and this. And almost all of them feel unnecessary and even motivated by greed in a lot of ways. Though I will say that this, outside of Toy Story, is the best sequel they’ve made to this point.
The extension of having the second film be about them looking for Dory was a natural extension, and they allowed it to extend into where she came from, since there really was no backstory for her in the first movie, with her being the more comedic sidekick. And unlike the tow truck in Cars, actually did feel like a character that warranted being the subject of a sequel.
And the film is fun. Most of it takes place in a giant aquarium, and generally it works and is charming. My litmus test for Pixar films is how well you’re willing to go along with their third acts. Because if you put most of their third acts on paper, you’d realize — they’re insane. The third act of Up involves an aged explorer using his highly-trained pack of dogs with speaking voiceboxes to try to murder an old man, a boy scout and a giant bird on a giant airship. That’s the third act. And most people don’t really consider that when they watch it, because it’s fun and you’ve bought in and there’s the emotional core of the story that keeps you grounded. The third act of this movie is an octopus driving a truck full of fish down the highway and off a bridge. And you know what? Cool. Worked for me. So to me, that makes it a worthwhile film.
22. The Illusionist (2010)
This feels like the most likely film on this list to have been forgotten, just because it came out at the very beginning of the decade. And while it was one of the three films of its year to be nominated, but it’s the only foreign one and probably just is something most people tend to forget about. But it’s wonderful.
It’s from Sylvain Chomet, director of The Triplets of Belleville, and is based on an unproduced script written by Jacques Tati, whose style was just perfect for animation. The main character is essentially Tati, that same silent character he played in all his films, and is a magician during the waning days of the theater era, right as people like him were finding themselves out of work. And eventually he meets a young girl and the film is about their relationship and how it changes both of their lives. It’s… it’s not really a comedy. It’s more like Limelight, with Chaplin and Claire Bloom. It’s that kinda tone. Where it’s more of a father-daughter film than a straight Play Time or Mon Oncle.
It’s a really beautiful film and really gets into the melancholy hidden beneath the exterior of all performers, and just gives this final act to Tati’s career in a way no one would have expected.
21. When Marnie Was There (2014)
This is one of Ghibli’s most beautiful films. There’s always a difference between the Miyazaki films and non-Miyazaki films, but if we’re talking about which ones that weren’t made by Miyazaki are the best, this, for me, is gotta be top five for sure. I love this movie.
It’s about a lonely young girl who lives with foster parents and just isn’t happy. So they send her to a seaside town for the summer, thinking it might cheer her up. And while there, she meets a mysterious young girl. The two begin to meet in secret and through their encounters, the girl ends up coming out of her shell. Like most Ghibli films, there’s a bit of a fantasy element to it that you find out much later on in the film, but still, the relationship between the two girls is beautiful and really can stand for a lot of situations in real life, even if they’re not necessarily ones the film is intending to be about.
Mostly I like that it’s a simple movie about real people that deals with emotional stakes rather than having crazy action sequences or trying to move a plot along. It’s about people, and situations we all go through. And that’s always better to me than most other stuff.
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