Mike’s Favorite Animated Films of the Decade (10-1)

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:

10. The Red Turtle (2016)

This is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. It’s a co-production between France and Studio Ghibli, directed by Michael Dudok de Wit, who made the short Father and Daughter, which won the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2000. Apparently Miyazaki met with the head of the company who released Ghibli’s films internationally, showed him the short and said he wanted to make a film with the director. So they got him, wrote this story, and this became the film they made together.

It’s a story told with no words. A man washes ashore on a deserted island. And eventually he encounters a red turtle. And really, that’s all you need to know. Because it’s a film that’s more of a parable than a straight narrative. It’s about life, and about man’s relationship to nature, it’s about really whatever you want it to be about. That’s the beauty of the film. You’re given this story with no explanation and are left to feel about it however you want. This, to me, is the absolute pinnacle of what animation can achieve. I would show this film to anyone, as a teacher, as someone who wants people to get into film, or just as a human showing something to another person. I think there’s so much that can be gotten out of this film that it truly stands as one of the greatest achievements, film or otherwise, of this entire decade.

9. The Wind Rises (2013)

Miyazaki has never made anything less than a masterpiece. His films are truly the best animation can offer, and for a time, this was going to be his final film. Fortunately for us all, that ended up not being the case.

The film is a fictionalized biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, who developed the Japanese fighter planes of World War II. It’s a love letter to aviation, and a nice allegory for dreams versus reality. Here’s a man who dedicated his life to creating the perfect flying machine, which in the end was used for war and destruction. There are stunning sequences in it, and it’s a much more mature film than we typically see out of Miyazaki. Not that his films aren’t all mature, but there’s definitely a seriousness here that makes you think that this film was much more personal to him than the others, as if it’s almost a story about himself as well as about Horikoshi.

I say this all the time — you can never go wrong with a Ghibli film, especially when it’s Miyazaki. Anything the man makes is guaranteed to be one of the best animated films of its year and its decade.

8. Anomalisa (2015)

Charlie Kaufman. Within five years, he had written the scripts for three of the greatest movies to have been made during that time period: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. After that, he directed his first film, Synecdoche New York, which I loved but I’m not sure it did too well and I’m not sure people particularly understood it or what it was trying to achieve. But since then, there wasn’t a whole lot of updates of what he was doing or making. There were always whispers of something materializing, but nothing… until this film. And when I heard it was gonna be animated, I thought, “Oh, well that’s really interesting.”

I don’t know how to sell this movie to anyone except to say, “It’s Charlie Kaufman, and you need to trust me on this.” The man makes movies about the human condition, and each one is profound in usually the most simple ways. I love how he analyzes the world.

This is the story about a businessman who feels detached from his life. He’s about to go on a boring business trip in a boring city to go to a boring convention. This is all highlighted by the fact that everyone else in the movie is voiced by the same person (Tom Noonan). Though, during his trip, he hears another voice. That of a woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh). And the film becomes about their connection and the fact that maybe, just maybe, he’s found someone who gets through all the noise and haze of regular life. It’s a film about the struggle between dealing with other people and intense loneliness.

The film is told stop-motion style and with puppets, and with intense verisimilitude, which might be a bit scary for some people, since it really does capture the minutiae of life. Plus there’s the fact that every character in it is a literal puppet, which just adds another layer to everything going on and what the film’s trying to say.

It’s an absolutely stunning piece of work. Kaufman just exists on a different level from everyone else, and everything the man makes is worth seeing because it really gets into a certain section of the psyche that almost no one else is willing to delve into.

7. Loving Vincent (2017)

This film was destined to make the top ten for how they made it alone. This is a film about the life of Vincent Van Gogh as told through a man who goes to deliver the last letter Van Gogh ever wrote to his brother and begins looking into just exactly what happened during Van Gogh’s final days.

The reason the film is so incredible is because, to animated it, the filmmakers hired 125 classically trained painters, who hand-painted 65,000 individual paintings that became the film. So quite literally, every frame of this movie is a painting. They used Van Gogh’s actual paintings as storyboards, and a lot of his work became the basis for particular scenes and moments (which they show you at the end in the film’s credits). What they did was put actors in front of a green screen, put Van Gogh paintings into the background, put each frame onto a canvas and then had the artists paint over that.

It is an absolutely stunning visual achievement that towers over everything else on this entire list. The one drawback to the film is that the narrative isn’t quite as strong as the actual visuals themselves. But, it’s never dull to the point where the film ever loses its interest. If every you don’t find yourself 100% invested in a scene, you can just sort of let your eyes wander and let the beauty of the image wash over you. And that, to me, makes this one of the most effective films of the decade and one I love dearly.

6. Coco (2017)

Pixar does it again. You’ll notice a trend from here on out that basically everything is made by either Disney or Pixar. And that’s not an accident. They are, next to Miyazaki/Ghibli, the most reliable creators of animated content that we have. Unless you’re gonna get a pure artistic achievement like Loving Vincent or an auteur doing something animated like Anomalisa, chances are the best stuff out there is gonna be from one of those other three places.

This film is absolutely beautiful. The thing about Pixar is, by now they’ve perfected this formula of telling films that get you so wrapped up in the story and the characters that you’re basically just on the verge of crying for the entire film. I don’t know how they do it, but there’s a real art to it.

This is a film set in Mexico, about a boy who just wants to play music. Though his family, who have long been in the shoe business and have forbidden music in the house, won’t allow him. This all takes place during the Day of the Dead, as families are putting out memorials for their deceased ancestors. The boy, through various ways and means, ends up transported into the world of the dead, encounters his dead family members and now must find a way to get back before sunrise or else be trapped there forever. Oh, and along the way he travels to see his musical idol, who he thinks might be his grandfather.

It’s a really beautiful film that has a lot of fantastic moments in it. The scene at the end, with him and his grandmother, is just so moving. That’s the heart of the film, and that shows you the power of Pixar storytelling as a whole.

5. Frozen (2013)

I remember the first time I watched this film. I got as far as “Let It Go” before I truly realized how special what it was I was watching. Because it’s Disney. You expect good. You expect very good a lot of the time. And even at the first section of this, I found myself really enjoying parts of it. But once you get to “Let It Go,” you see the full scope of what they achieved with this film.

And yes, I know the impact of the film has been a bit diminished by the hype and the success and the overplaying of the songs and the not-so-great sequel and all of that. But this film is gonna go down as one of the best they’ve made. And I don’t even need time to tell me that. Because you can see it when you watch it. Certain films are just so good that you know they’re going to appeal to everyone. And this is a film that, no matter what child you show it to today, in five years, in twenty years, in sixty years… they’re going to enjoy it and it’s gonna be a movie they want to watch a lot. It’s just that kind of movie.

And it helps that every song in this movie is just tremendous. Every one, even the song by the trolls, which I didn’t necessarily love when the movie came out but warmed to over the past handful of years. It’s just a near-perfect film on every level, and the only thing I can say about it that I wished it had was hand-drawn animation, which is my quibble with just about every Disney movie that comes out. But that’s a personal thing. If you’re okay with it being CG animation, then this is the total package. It’s hard not to consider this top five or top ten for the decade in terms of animation.

4. Toy Story 3 (2010)

Part of me can’t believe this is only #4, but I also know what three are still to come, so I’m fine with it. This movie, and this entire franchise, to an extent, has been a part of my entire life. The first one came out when I was 7, and it was just a staple of my life. I saw the second one a bunch, but it wasn’t with me the way that first one was. And the characters were just always there. You just knew them, you loved them, they were a part of your life. So then, 15 years later, when I heard they were doing this, I didn’t quite know what it was gonna be. But then I saw the trailer. This trailer:

I saw this trailer and I almost wept. That song… Randy Newman is the voice of this franchise, and the melancholy of the trailer (and the fact that I was still in college at the time this trailer was released)… it felt like a part of my life was coming to an end, and the film just instantly tapped into the very fiber of my being.

And I remember when I went to see this in theaters. It was a month after I graduated college. I’m back home, in the movie theater where I saw countless films in the dozen years prior, among nothing but parents and children. And I’m in the second row just weeping during this movie. Just full on crying. And I know Pixar tends to have that effect on people with their films, but this one in particular… this is 15 years of my life that are culminating here.

The first ending is enough, where the toys are accepting their own death. Which is just the kind of moment you don’t get in cinema, let alone in animation. And then there’s the ending ending of the film, where the toys (specifically Woody) say goodbye to Andy for the final time. And it’s one of those moments that’s going to stay with me forever. It’s a beautiful film and a crowning achievement for Pixar as a studio (that I was worried would be something they’d never be able to achieve again, especially considering how the first portion of this decade began for them). But fortunately, they turned out okay.

3. Moana (2016)

I got so mad when this came out. Because all anyone wanted to talk about was Zootopia that year, and Zootopia wasn’t even the best Disney movie that came out in 2016. It’s not even the third best animated film that came out in 2016 (which, you’ll notice, 2016 has three films in this top ten. That’s how strong a year it was for animation). And I just knew from the moment this came out that it was never gonna get the audience or the acclaim that it deserved.

This, to me, is truly one of the best films Disney’s ever made. Frozen fits the canon a little better. But to me, this is right up there. The older stuff like Bambi and Pinocchio are always gonna hold a lot of sway just because they’ve been around the longest. But if you really asked me what my all-time favorite Disney movies were… I’d tell you the obvious Renaissance films (Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas), I’d tell you Fantasia, I’d tell you Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and Lady and the Tramp. I might say Snow White just because of how important it is. But, truly, after that, this might be the next film I said. That’s how much I love it.

I love everything about this movie, from its story to its message to its songs. It’s the story of a girl who lives on an island with her people who dreams of going out on the ocean and becoming an adventurer. But of course she isn’t allowed, and she’s gotta learn to be a leader for her people. But then the island is threatened, so she ends up going out for an adventure that involves the god Maui… it’s just wonderful on every level.

“How Far I’ll Go” is one of the best Disney songs I’ve ever heard, and all the other songs (“You’re Welcome,” “Shiny,” “We Know the Way,” “Where You Are”) are just terrific as well. I can’t say enough amazing things about this movie. I mean, in a year with some really great stuff, it was my #3 overall movie of the year. And remains one of my absolute favorite films of the decade, animation or otherwise.

2. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Sure, Moana was my #3 film that year. This was my #2. Which, I don’t know if that’s ever happened, me having two animated films in my top ten, let alone both in the top five. But that’s how amazing both of them are. This film is the greatest thing Laika’s ever made. I said earlier that typically the best of animation at any given time comes from Disney, Pixar or Ghibli. Laika’s the other studio that consistently creates quality material. I’d never been overly in love with their films (I like Coraline, I like ParaNorman and I like Boxtrolls, and Missing Link’s already made an appearance on this list), until this one.

There’s something about this film — I knew from the trailer they released that this was gonna be something special. I went out the minute I could and went to see this in a theater because I felt it was gonna be something special. And boy, was I surprised. There’s something beautiful and timeless about this movie, and this feels like the kind of movie that even Disney people are gonna say, “I wish I had made that one.”

It’s the story of a one-eyed Japanese boy who lives with his ailing mother in a cave near a village. He provides for them by going into the village each day and using his shamisen to magically turn origami into these wonderfully animated battle scenes about his father (a great samurai warrior who has gone missing), delighting the villagers. His mother tells him he can’t stay out after dark, because her grandfather, the Moon King, will find him and take his other eye. And of course, one day, he does, and this thrusts him on an adventure with a monkey and a beetle as his companions to get three items that will help him defeat the Moon King.

It is a beautiful story about memory and loss and grief and is really something I can’t recommend highly enough. The film is a wonderful adventure in and of itself, but when you boil it down to real human emotion and strip away all of that, it’s a really powerful story. Think about how this movie would be if it were an independent feature about a single mother, a young boy and his grandfather. It’s really something else.

This is, hands down, one of the single best films of this decade and one of the greatest animated films ever made. I love animated films that can be viewed by both children and adults and films that have more going on in them that allow people to see them as children and again as they’re older and see something different in the story that they weren’t able to see because they hadn’t grown enough to fully understand them. And this film has that in spades. This is going to be a movie I rewatch at least once a year, just because of how powerful it is and how important it’s become to me.

1. Inside Out (2015)

I knew within a minute that this film was special. The premise immediately was something that spoke to me — each of the main characters are the different emotions going on inside a child’s head — and it truly only took about 45 seconds for me to realize just how incredible this movie was going to be.

What’s special about the film isn’t just that it’s about these different emotions, but it’s also about this girl who has to go through her family moving and going to a new city, and a new school, and meeting new people and all of the internal emotional conflict that happens during that time. That’s the beauty of Pixar — they can take a movie like this and give you a fun story, but also make it be about something that everyone goes through, and the story becomes wholly universal in such a way that it transcends language and location and all of that.

Plus… and this cannot be understated… the ability of Pixar to make you care so deeply about characters and get so invested in what happens to them over the course of the movie. I only have to say two words and you’ll all know what I mean: Bing Bong. The way they introduce that character and do what they do with him over the course of the film is just something to behold.

But truly, on top of all that, it’s just a movie about growing up, and the difficulties that brings, and ultimately is there to tell people that their emotions, whatever they are, are valid. That it’s okay to feel sad sometimes, and that you can get angry. That, to me, is what makes this film so special. You’re entertained, and you care about the characters, and you cry at the right moments, but ultimately this is a film that has something to say that’s important for children (and all people, really) to learn. This might be the greatest achievement the studio has ever had.

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2 responses

  1. Great list! I agree on Inside Out, Coco, The Red Turtle and Toy Story 3! I never really got into The Wind Rises no matter how many times I tried. The story was too expansive. And, Frozen – just the opposite in my case. There wasn’t really a story to speak of :)

    March 1, 2020 at 3:00 pm

  2. Great list! Wish The Adventures of Tintin was on it though!

    March 14, 2020 at 9:58 am

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