ByTom Chapman, writer at
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Tom Chapman

While your parents may have told you to stop watching cartoons, for some of us, the child inside never dies. Nothing beats a hungover Netflix binge of animated films to remind you that there is good in the world. From undersea adventures, to outer space battles and floating houses, there are some truly great animated movies out there which easily eclipse a lot of live action films.

There is a clear formula to good animated movies though: a lovable hero, a dastardly villain, and usually just a smattering of death. It may be morbid, but that's life. Arguably it is castle-building powerhouse Disney who has the most eclectic selection of astounding animated movies, but that isn't to say there aren't better offerings out there. It isn't all genies and sewing mice you know. So, if you are ready, let's run down 20 of the best animated films of all time. Before you get your ball gown in a twist, the following are in no particular order.

'The Lion King' [Credit: Buena Vista Pictures]
'The Lion King' [Credit: Buena Vista Pictures]

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20. 'Toy Story 2' (1999)

While most sequels struggle to keep up with their originals, even fewer manage to surpass it. There is something you can never quite put your finger on, but taking the toys of Toy Story out of Andy's bedroom just manages to top the original adventure as a heart-warming animated movie. It makes the list purely for borrowing the whole Buzz/Zurg relationship from The Empire Strikes Back on its own.

Scenes like Al's Toy Barn and the Barbie tour, coupled with new cast additions Kelsey Grammer and Joan Cusack, make for a much broader affair. Then there was the upped emotional factor and the tragedy of a toy left behind. Jessie's tissue-grabbing tale being abandoned roadside and Woody finding a new family gave the film an adult element. Admittedly, there isn't a duff Toy Story in the pack, but No. 2 shines as favorite plaything in the toybox.

19. 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' (1988)

'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' [Credit: Buena Vista Pictures]
'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' [Credit: Buena Vista Pictures]

It's the strange hybrid of live-action and animation that made it OK to find cartoons sexy — weird eh?!? Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a wholly unique premise that took a stellar cast and mixed them with some of cartoon's most famous faces. Couple that with Christopher Lloyd's terrifying Judge Doom and we have one of the '80s's top animated movies that is almost impossible to replicate.

Kathleen Turner's voice unknowingly went on to become a sex symbol thanks to her portrayal as Jessica Rabbit, and fans demanded more. A sequel has been mooted pretty much since the original, but especially with the passing of Bob Hoskins, it looks like Roger might be a standalone.

18. 'Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm' (1993)

There have been some truly great animated Batman films (which can't always be said for the live-action versions), and Mask of the Phantasm is right up there. Coming off the success of Batman: The Animated Series, Phantasm was Warner Bros.'s feature-length adaptation of Bats. Pitting Bruce against a mysterious new foe, known only as Phantasm who threatens to topple Batman's vigilante status, it melds old and new.

That would be story enough on its own, but Phantasm also serves as a Joker origin story through flashback, while we find an aged Joker hauled up in a dystopian theme park for the fitting climax. The superb duo of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are at their best as Batman and The Joker, while some of DC's greatest writers like Paul Dini have an original story that is a compelling and memorable animated movie that still stands as one of Batman's best.

17. 'Spirited Away' (2001)

'Spirited Away' [Credit: Studio Ghibli]
'Spirited Away' [Credit: Studio Ghibli]

From giant babies to warty witches and sludge monsters, Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away is a charming tale that is as colorful as it is dark. Following the story of 10-year-old Chihiro as she becomes trapped in an abandoned theme park that holds other-worldly beings, Sophie must work to free herself and her parents from the many strange forces that keep the characters there.

Beautifully drawn in the typical Studio Ghibli style, Spirited Away is exceedingly original. But let's be honest, everyone has been a little spooked by No-Face at some point. It is no surprise that Spirited Away swept the awards board from 2001–2003, is frequently heralded one of the greatest films of the 21st Century, and is the highest grossing film ever in Japan.

16. 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (1993)

'The Nightmare Before Christmas' [Credit: Walt Disney Studios]
'The Nightmare Before Christmas' [Credit: Walt Disney Studios]

If you don't know when to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas, you aren't alone. Part Halloween horror, part festive frolic, TNBC can be watched any time between October and December, so get going. Henry Selick's stop-motion masterpiece takes us on a trip into Halloween Town where heralded Pumpkin King Jack Skellington tries to introduce the idea of Christmas to the terrifying townspeople.

Based off a short story devised by gothic aficionado Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas maintains its Burton-esque feel, and is propped up by Danny Elfman's haunting soundtrack. The film was a huge financial and critical success, and has since been re-released entirely in 3D. While whether or not it will get a sequel is one of cinema's most frequently asked questions, it looks like TNBC will remain a standalone, much to the delight of avid fans.

15. 'The LEGO Movie' (2014)

Everything was certainly awesome with 2014's plastic-fantastic adventure. Starring the who's who of voice casts, The LEGO Movie took us into the toybox of Bricksburg as everyday builder Emmet attempts to save the world from evil Lord Business and his mysterious new weapon. it wasn't just a good animated movie, it was one of the best animated movies we had seen in a while, managing to shrug off its kiddish image.

With an annoyingly catchy song and reinvention of our childhood nostalgia for LEGO, something "clicked" with The Lego Movie. The story is far from over, we now have the upcoming The LEGO Batman Movie, a The LEGO Movie sequel, plus The LEGO Ninjago Movie spin-off and a fourth titled The Billion Brick Race. Despite its childish premise and gooey moral core, The LEGO Movie is not just one for kids. Adults have been singing its song on the way to work since 2014.

14. 'The Lion King' (1994)

'The Lion King' [Credit: Walt Disney Studio Pictures]
'The Lion King' [Credit: Walt Disney Studio Pictures]

Probably Disney's most ambitious tale, taking the studio's usual formula out onto the scorching plains of Africa with an entirely animal cast, The Lion King was a bold move for animation. We meet young lion cub Simba, exiled following the death of his father, then returning to reclaim his rightful place as the king of Pride Rock. A jolly tale of miss-matched animal characters with influences from Hamlet, The Lion King taught you Shakespeare without you even knowing.

The vibrant reds and yellows brought to life Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff's film at the peak of the Disney renaissance. While it was aimed at kids, the storyline was genuinely harrowing in parts — if you don't shed a tear when Mufasa dies, you aren't human. It also had a Virgin Interactive game, Elton John on the soundtrack, and a ream of substandard sequels and spin-offs, meaning that The Lion King will always have its own legacy.

13. 'Shrek' (2001)

'Shrek' [Credit: Dreamworks]
'Shrek' [Credit: Dreamworks]

Before Mike Myers became a shadow of his comedy self, there was Shrek. A reverse tale of the beautiful princess locked in the tower, Shrek is the titular ogre who is driven on an unwilling quest by the possibility of eviction from his home.

A modern twist on just about every fairytale there is, Shrek was cool before we were overtaken by live-action fantasy like Grimm and Once Upon a Time, and is still a pretty good parody. It reminded us that Smash Mouth's "All Star" existed and was widely popular. So far there have been four official Shrek films (of varying quality), three spin-offs, and a fifth main film scheduled in 2019. Who said it wasn't easy being green?

12. 'The Incredibles' (2004)

Screw the X-Men and forget The Justice League, everyone knows who has the best superhero team: Pixar's The Incredibles. A super-powered couple settle into suburban life, not knowing that they and their equally gifted children are about to be dragged back into a diabolical scheme. Poking fun at the entire superhero/comic book genre, The Incredibles was almost too good and left us begging for more!

As the studio churns out more (and more) Cars films, we are still waiting for the hotly-anticipated second Incredibles installment — don't worry though, it is coming. Away from Pixar's usual brand of animals and objects, the team had the tough task of an entirely human cast, but it worked. Brad Bird effectively wrote the film from his love of '60s spy novels, and the James Bond/Superman-esque feel of Mr. Incredible carries the film well. Roll on The Incredibles 2 in 2018.

11. 'Howl's Moving Castle' (2004)

'Howl's Moving Castle' [Credit: Studio Ghibli]
'Howl's Moving Castle' [Credit: Studio Ghibli]

If you thought Spirited Away was dark, Howl's Moving Castle went and buried all notions of a fun-filled film. Hayao Miyazaki was back, this time it was spooky scarecrows, war-torn cities, and evil spirits that all filled the two-hour runtime. It is no wonder then that the film was a metaphor for his opposing stance on the Iraq War.

A young hatter named Sophie encounters a mysterious wizard named Howl before she is cursed to appear as an old woman. With the help of Howl (and his moving castle), Sophie attempts to get her life back on track and defeat the wicked Witch of the Waste. Another huge success for Studio Ghibli, the dubbed English version had an all-star cast of Emily Mortimer, Lauren Bacall, and Christian Bale. However, it is Billy Crystal's fire spirit Calcifer that steals the show.

10. 'Wall-E' (2008)

Oh great, a message of "save the planet" shoehorned into a Pixar film. Where Wall-E could have been an eco drive on mother nature, what you actually get is a dystopian sci-fi epic disguised as a kids' film. As usual, Pixar was on point with its lead character, a recycling robot named Wall-E, who is abandoned on a desolate Earth. While the first half of the story is confined to a dusty wasteland, the second half kicks the film into Ridley Scott territory and takes us soaring into space.

Picking up on well-known space tropes like 2001: A Space Odyssey and including sci-fi legend Sigourney Weaver were just some of the subtleties that made Wall-E fun for the whole family. It was almost Orwellian in the way it predicted the future of the human race, but hopefully Pixar has gotten it wrong with this grim social commentary.

9. 'The Wrong Trousers' (1993)

'The Wrong Trousers' [Credit: BBC]
'The Wrong Trousers' [Credit: BBC]

Watching the Wallace and Gromit adventures around Christmas has become a bit of a British tradition, but for the franchise's greatest entry, head to their second outing, The Wrong Trousers. If you think of great animated shorts, Wallace and Gromit's adventures come out head and shoulders above the rest. The kooky inventor and his intelligent pooch find themselves at the mercy of a stoic penguin disguised as a rooster. The fact that Feathers McGraw remains silent through the short is all the more unnerving.

What makes The Wrong Trousers more amazing is that Peter Sellers is actually the only person to speak. It may only be a half-hour outing, but you forget that it's largely a dialogue-free film. The Wrong Trousers won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, which is probably to do with the charming roughness around the film. It was a time before stop-motion became polished or Wallace and Gromit trotted off into Hollywood — quintessential British humor.

8. 'Batman: Assault On Arkham' (2014)

'Batman: Assault on Arkham' [Credit: Warner Bros. Animation]
'Batman: Assault on Arkham' [Credit: Warner Bros. Animation]

If David Ayer wants to see how to do the Suicide Squad right, head on over to the DCAU. 2014's Assault on Arkham may have preceded Warner Bros.' big budget live-action, but it arguably did a much better job. The disposable team of rogues find themselves thrust into Arkham Asylum to do the dirty work of Amanda Waller. There are romances, showdowns, and more than a few exploding heads, it is pure violent filth from the heart of Gotham City.

There is so much to love about this film. From the ensemble cast, to the hoards of Easter Eggs, Heath Corson's script takes the story in a very clear direction. Although it lacks Mark Hamill's voice as Joker, it does at least have Kevin Conroy as the ultimate animated Batman. We can only hope that any further versions of Harley and co. at least use Assault as a jumping off point.

7. 'Fantasia' (1940)

Long before Disney was off to Africa or building giant ice palaces, things were a little simpler. However, simple doesn't always mean dull. 1940's Fantasia was a musical melody that enchanted us all and is an all-time classic animated movie. Featuring eight animated sections, conducted by Leopold Stokowski, and part-performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, it was a touch of sophistication.

Fantasia has been digitally remastered, had an official sequel in 2000, and gave that iconic Mickey the wizard image which became synonymous with Disney videos. Walt Disney himself once called the film "timeless," and 77 years later it still stands to that claim.

6. 'Wreck-It Ralph' (2012)

'Wreck-It Ralph' [Credit: Walt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures]
'Wreck-It Ralph' [Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures]

Speaking from the perspective of someone who's a bit of video game nerd, Wreck-It Ralph is a pixel fiend's wet dream. John C. Reilly's grouchy dump-dweller is fed up with his life as a bad guy and sets out on a story of redemption. Jane Lynch is superb as the uber-macho Sergeant Calhoun, while Jack McBrayer is the annoyingly charming Fix-It Felix, and Sarah Silverman excels as pipsqueak Vanellope von Schweetz.

A weird hybrid of several genres, Wreck-It Ralph perfectly melds into a film that is probably more for Generation X. Equally colorful and dark, there are genuine laughs and so many reasons to rewatch. With Easter Eggs from the likes of Sonic, Pacman, and Call of Duty featuring, we can't wait to see what comes in the expansion pack, Wreck-It Ralph 2 is scheduled for 2018.

5. 'Pokémon: The First Movie' (2000)

'Pokémon: The First Movie' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'Pokémon: The First Movie' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

Released at the height of the Pokemon craze, these little pocket monsters took playgrounds, televisions, and cinemas by storm. Alongside the death of Mufasa in The Lion King, Pokémon: The First Movie had one of the saddest animated movie scenes out there. If you didn't know that Pokemon could cry, you do now!

Taking Ash, Misty, and Brock on a dangerous new adventure, The First Movie pitted our heroes against the evil Mewtwo, a sentient Pokemon with an axe to grind. Seeing the Pokemon face-off against their own doppelgängers and play off the classic idea of a martial arts film meant that it was a must-see for fans of the series. A techno-electro soundtrack that wouldn't look out of place on a '90s dancefloor was the Poké Ball on top of the cake for one of those strange turn of the century films.

4. 'Hercules' (1997)

The classic Greek tale is given a glossy coat of Disney magic, casting James Woods, Danny DeVito, and even Rip Torn in the main roles. Woods's Hades is one of the best Disney villains out there, apparently improvising a lot of his lines. The road from zero to hero is superbly signposted with toe-tapping songs from the Muses.

Although it might not be as well-received as Aladdin, there is something about Hercules's sprawling scale that makes it more of an adventure. The Hydra scene, Phil's training montage, and Herc's trip to the Underworld all make this one of Disney's greatest.

3. 'Finding Nemo' (2003)

'Finding Nemo' [Credit: 	Buena Vista Pictures]
'Finding Nemo' [Credit: Buena Vista Pictures]

Pixar is known for taking us to strange new worlds, but Finding Nemo set the bar for the studio's more adventurous films. Given the vast emptiness of the deep blue sea, Andrew Stanton managed to fill Finding Nemo with an aquarium of memorable characters. None more so than Ellen DeGeneres's Dory, who even warranted her own sequel. Pixar always does it well, but Finding Nemo is one of the studio's great animated movies with its deep sea danger and comic timing.

In the fast-flowing currents of Australia, Finding Nemo was a father/son adventure as wimpy clownfish Marlin attempts to find his mischievous son, captured by a man and imprisoned in a dentist's office. It is no surprise that Finding Nemo won an Academy Award and was (briefly) the highest-grossing film of its time. We may have had to wait 13 years for the sequel, but Finding Dory was met with similar praise.

2. 'Ghost In The Shell' (1995)

'Ghost in the Shell' [Credit: Shochiku]
'Ghost in the Shell' [Credit: Shochiku]

Often when comics are taken from page to screen it can be a disaster, thankfully that wasn't the case for manga series Ghost in the Shell. The wildly successful animated film of the same name spawned sequels galore and the upcoming live-action outing. it may be a particularly dark animated movie, but as a visual feast, Ghost in the Shell was a grim look at what the future could hold. It had all the imagination of Blade Runner and the techo-scares of a dystopian horror.

Fans of the comics weren't cheated, while newcomers to the series weren't left feeling out of their depth. Following Section 9, a group of cyborg police officers, they must take down a powerful Hacker known as the Puppet Master. Heralded one of the greatest anime films of all time, the sci-fi elements of Ghost in the Shell are also said to have influenced the likes of the Wachowskis and The Matrix.

1. 'Up' (2009)

Nothing quite pulls at the heartstrings more than 2009's Up. A widowed pensioner flying his house on one final adventure is a desperate reminder of the loneliness that the elderly face. Thankfully, it isn't all doom and gloom, along for the ride are a chubby boy scout, a giant bird, and a talking dog. Pure Pixar wonder, elevated by a floating house and thousands of balloons to remind you of the studio's colorful streak.

Beautifully accompanied by Michael Giacchino's melodic score, Up balanced its happy highs and depressing lows with ease. Edward Asner's cantankerous Carl Fredricksen is both Scroogey and grandfatherly at the same time, beautifully playing off Jordan Nagai's cheeky Russell. Only the second animated film in history to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, Up rightly deserves all the praise it gets, and is one of Pixar's most charming entries.

'The Lego Movie' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'The Lego Movie' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

A big, warm, animated hug. Animated movies are always there as a bit of much needed escapism from the ravages of 21st century grey life. Animation means big business, so let out that whimsical child within. More often than not, animated movies usually teach us some important life lesson about good vs. evil, or how to forgive, if not, they're still a darn good laugh. Everyone has their favorites, from The Iron Giant to Inside Out, so which do you think is the ultimate animated movie to steal the colorful cartoon crown. Don't forget to sound off in the poll below.


Which is your favorite animated movie of all time?


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