Mike’s Favorite Animated Films of the Decade (20-11)
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:
20. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
This is a Ghibli adaptation of The Borrowers, which is just perfect for them, subject-wise. Family of four-inch tall people who live secretly inside another family’s house, borrowing various items in order to get by. But then the family’s daughter is discovered by the teenage boy who lives at the house, which threatens their safety.
It’s a beautiful film. Anything Ghibli makes is incredible, but there’s a special joy for me in this one because I’m so familiar with the text it’s based on. Plus, them being able to animate the world of the miniature family versus the regular family allows the film to be both really small in scope (it’s basically just the one house), but feel big because there are two separate worlds we’re going into. It’s a really stunning piece of work.
19. Isle of Dogs (2018)
It almost feels unfair for me to be allowed to put this on the list, but hey, it’s an animated film from this decade, so it counts. But the fact that it’s Wes Anderson really just makes it unfair, because I will take any Wes Anderson film over most other films in any realm most of the time. While I don’t love this as much as I love Fantastic Mr. Fox (which, if I made a list of my favorite animated films from 2000-2009, that would for sure be top three), it’s a terrific film. It’s got all of Anderson’s visual hallmarks and quirks. He’s one of those filmmakers whose style is perfect for animation. And what I love most about this film is the idea that kids will watch it because it’s animated and about dogs, and while they’ll probably enjoy it… it’s not necessarily an easy film for them in some ways. And I like that they’re gonna be exposed to a more auteur type of filmmaking, which is seldom seen in typical American studio animation.
18. The Girl Without Hands (2016)
This is based on a Grimms’ fairy tale and is just stunningly animated. The way they made this is worth the price of admission alone. It just looks incredible and is one of those films that, to me, is more about the style than it is about the plot. I don’t even pay attention to what’s happening when I watch this film. I just want to let the animation wash over me. It’s absolutely gorgeous and is truly one of the best and most underrated animated films to come out this decade.
17. The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (2017)
This movie was a complete surprise to me. You can’t help but be intrigued by that title, and then when you look it up — the film is about a girl on an all night bender. That’s it. That’s the film. She’s going out to different bars and partying over the course of a night. And I was in on that alone.
It’s also more than that — there’s a nice little romance here. There’s a boy who has feelings for her, and he’s running around to try to find her favorite book, and of course complications and wackiness ensue. And she’s just going around, meeting various characters, as you do, and the whole night bends toward the two of them getting together and hanging out. It’s fantastic.
This is probably the highest ranked film on the list with the most limited appeal. This won’t be for everyone, but the people it’ll be for are gonna really love it a lot.
16. From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
Ghibli again. This was directed by Miyazaki’s son Goro, and is one of those Ghibli films that may not get the kind of run that some of the others do but is every bit as good as they are.
It’s about a teen girl living in a boarding house overlooking a port. She meets the boy who publishes the school newspaper, and together they remodel the clubhouse where they publish the paper, while also saving it from demolition before the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. There’s a great subtext about Japanese history and the postwar years here too. It’s a really beautiful film. I love going back to revisit this one.
15. Toy Story 4 (2019)
While almost all the Pixar sequels feel like money grabs rather than actual worthwhile endeavors, the Toy Story franchise has always been one that’s delivered. Every story feels worthy of being told, which culminated with the third one. So then, when they announced the fourth one, after what felt like a completely satisfying conclusion to the story, I (and I imagine most people) got nervous. What story could they possibly tell? And I’m amazed — they found one.
The key is that the third film is the story of the toys’ time with Andy coming to an end. It’s that story. This story is Woody’s story. It’s a finish to Woody’s story specifically. He’s always had the thing with Bo Peep, and now he’s in this new house with a new kid who is a girl and who doesn’t really need the kind of help and effort he’s used to putting in. And it’s this beautiful story about someone figuring out what to do when they realize they’re not needed anymore. What happens to a toy when they’re no longer useful?
It’s really beautifully done in a lot of ways. You can argue about its ranking among the four Toy Story films, but there’s no denying that this does carry that emotional punch that the others carry and is often surprising in the ways that it moves you. I can find reasons to hate on almost all the Pixar sequels, but any time they make one of these, they bring it.
14. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)
This is the final film of the incredible career of Isao Takahata (which includes Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko and My Neighbors the Yamadas), and it’s just a stunning achievement.
It’s based on ‘The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter’ about a old bamboo cutter and his wife who discover a girl growing inside a bamboo shoot and raise her as their own. And the girl begins to grow very quickly and starts to become the fascination of everyone who encounters her. And it becomes this beautiful fairy tale that is just transcendent in its beauty. And the animation style is just so gorgeous. This is a film that I think anyone who cares about animation needs to see at some point. It’s just so, so great.
13. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Having had the time to separate myself from the insane hype for this movie from the public, I’m able to put my feelings for it into a real perspective. And having had the chance to both watch it again and listen to its soundtrack about two dozen times at least, I can honestly say that I fully am a committed fan of this film and what it does.
What really makes this film special, above anything else, is its visual style. It does some incredible things that you just don’t see done in mainstream animation, and it really makes the whole thing so vivid and fun to watch. Plus that soundtrack is just banger after banger. And then you have Lord and Miller taking this interesting idea and really just running with it, with all this fun writing that is hard to dislike.
I’m sure everyone knows the concept of this movie, but, if you don’t — it’s about Miles Morales, one of the many Spider-Man portrayers in the comic books, who gets his powers and also witnesses Peter Parker, the original Spider-Man that everyone knows, die in a fight with Kingpin. Only, because of the power source that Kingpin unleashes, a hole in the universe has opened up and now all the other ‘Spider-Men’ (and women, and… pigs) are coming through. Each exists as the Spider-Man in their own universe, and now they’re here, and need to find a way to get back. And it’s just wonderful, because there’s also the through line of Miles getting his powers and coming into his own and the personal journey to go along with everything else.
This is just a really, really fun movie that came out around the same time as the Spider-Man video game, which to me is one of, if not the single greatest superhero video game ever made. It’s a great time to be a Spider-Man fan.
12. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
This movie was such a delight for me at the time. This was during the Disney resurgence. They bottomed out with Chicken Little in 2005, then ownership changed hands, they dumped out Meet the Robinsons and then started afresh. And then you had Bolt, which was surprisingly good, and then Princess and the Frog, which was solid, and then Tangled, and then Winnie the Pooh. They were on a definite upswing by this point. And this movie… there was no way for me to think it was gonna be as good as it is.
It takes place inside an arcade, and stars the villain of a game, whose sole existence is smashing a building, while the hero goes and saves all the people and fixes everything back up. But the villain… he doesn’t get any adulation. Everyone hates him. And when the arcade is closed and everyone in the games goes back to their regular lives… he’s miserable. And all he wants is to be the hero of his own game. And that leads to him going on an adventure that threatens the entire arcade.
It’s absolutely wonderful, and the film has a huge heart that it wears proudly on its sleeve. To me, the hallmark of a great animated film is one that makes you care so much about its characters that you start to become emotional while watching it. And man, that scene at the end when Ralph is reciting the Bad Guy Affirmation — that gets me every time. It’s beautiful.
11. Tangled (2010)
There’s something about this film that’s led it to being supremely overlooked. Maybe it’s just that it’s CGI and not hand-drawn. But Frozen didn’t have that problem, so I don’t know. But this film is absolutely wonderful. I’m not sure the decision to make it a ‘Disney prince’ film was necessarily the greatest idea, but ultimately Rapunzel is the star of the film, as much as they want to make it about Flynn Rider. So I don’t mind that part so much.
But this film has it all — it’s well-written, it’s fun, it looks great (though again… hand-drawn is always the way to go if you really wanna aim for that all-time Disney status), the songs are good and it just somehow never got the level of attention that it deserves.
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