ByChristina St-Jean, writer at
Mom to 2 awesome girls. Love teaching, love writing. Black belt recipient and always into Star Trek, Star Wars and Harry Potter!
Christina St-Jean

Regardless of how old you get, there's always one (or several) animated films that you keep going back to or want to share with the children in your life. It may be the story, or the beauty of the animation itself, but the one truth of is that it is timeless. Each of us has animated pictures that we hold near and dear to our hearts; these could be films that you remember from your childhood, or films that you just loved from the moment you saw the first scene. There are some animated flicks, though, that really changed things as far as the genre is concerned:

1. 'Steamboat Willie'

1928's Steamboat Willie is actually the third Disney cartoon to feature Mickey Mouse, and it was so groundbreaking at the time that a clip from it is used to introduce Disney features today. Steamboat Willie is significant because it is the first animated film to use synchronized sound. No other film to that point had used it before, and it was revolutionary.

Other facts about Steamboat Willie:

  • Directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, it's probably best known for the clip in which Mickey cheerfully whistles while steering the boat.
  • Walt Disney also starred in the animated classic — he provided all the voices.
  • While it is the third cartoon from Disney to feature Mickey Mouse, it's the first to have garnered widespread popular appeal, thereby launching Mickey Mouse's career.

2. 'Snow White'

Snow White bowed December 21, 1937, putting an end to the naysayers that said could not pull off an animated feature-length movie and have it make money. It makes the list simply because it was the first film of its kind — no other studio in the world had put out a feature-length animated movie at that point. The animators were on Walt Disney's side, though, and the gamble paid off.

  • Disney had even gone so far as putting his own house up to secure funding for Snow White.
  • Adjusted for inflation, the $1.7 billion that Snow White made puts it far ahead of 2013's Frozen as far as box office take goes.
  • Adriana Caselotti provided the voice for the young princess.
  • David Hand was the supervising director, while individual sequences were directed by William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce and Ben Sharpsteen.

3. 'Momotarō: Umi No Shinpei' ('Momotarou: God Warriors Of The Sea' Or 'Momotaro: Sacred Sailors')

Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei is significant in the history of animation because it is basically the first anime film ever produced. The film is actually designed as a propaganda film from the Japanese Naval Ministry, and with its depiction of World War II Japan as Asia's liberators, the film succeeds in its mission.

  • The film bowed in March 1945, six months before the end of World War II.
  • Mitsuyo Seo wrote and directed the film.
  • The film was initially considered confiscated and burned by American troops. However, it was discovered in Shochiku's Ofuna warehouse in 1983 and re-released in 1994.

4. 'Fritz The Cat'

'Fritz the Cat' [Credit: Cinemation Industries]
'Fritz the Cat' [Credit: Cinemation Industries]

While 1972's Fritz The Cat may not be particularly noteworthy or groundbreaking — at least as far as animation techniques themselves go — the notable part of this animated feature is that it introduced the concept of animation being strictly for adults. Prior to Fritz The Cat, animated movies were known for ideal shows to bring your kids to. You definitely didn't want to take your kids to this one; Fritz The Cat was the first animated feature to get an X rating.

  • Ralph Bakshi both wrote and directed Fritz The Cat.
  • Rolling Stone and The New York Times lauded the film, and it managed to secure an entry into the Cannes Film Festival.
  • Probably one of the few animated films, even today, to feature such large amounts of sex and violence.

5. 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?'

While technically not a full-blown animated feature, 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit? topped every prior attempt to mix live action with animation, and was an Academy Award winner to boot for its visual effects. Walt Disney had previously attempted to mix human characters with animated ones in animated shorts inspired by Alice In Wonderland, long before Steamboat Willie pulled into shore.

  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was directed by Robert Zemeckis, who would go on to direct Oscar-worthy films such as Forrest Gump.
  • The film picked up Oscars for Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Editing. It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Sound and received a Special Achievement Academy Award for “animation direction and creation of the cartoon characters.”
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is also well-known for the piano duel between our two favorite ducks, Daffy Duck and Donald Duck, which is a match up for the books.
  • The film is also widely considered to be the one that kicked off Disney's modern animation renaissance.

6. 'Akira'

Up until Akira came out, anime had somewhat been living under a bit of a shadow as far as modern animation went. It had its fans, but anime seemed mostly relegated to being enjoyed by a smaller group than the more mainstream animation that Disney employed. Akira's debut in 1988 changed the face of animation and brought the genre of anime back into popular consciousness.

  • Directed and written by Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira is based on Otomo's own manga series of the same name.
  • Akira cleared the path for films like Ghost in the Shell and the works of Miyazaki in mainstream culture.
  • It is considered as one of the best anime and sci-fi films of all time by many critics.

7. 'Beauty And The Beast'

No list of game-changing animated movies would be complete without at least a mention of 1991's Beauty And The Beast. Known as the first animated film to be nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Beauty And The Beast was definitely a historically important film. Riding high on the success of The Little Mermaid, a decision was made to scrap plans for the adaptation of the film to be non-musical; the film would go on to win Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.

In addition, the film marked the first time that CGI was used on such a large scale to garner an emotional response from viewers. Remember the ballroom where Beast and Belle have that incredibly important dance? It's hard to think of Beauty And The Beast without your mind skipping to how incredible that ballroom looked.

  • Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise directed the film, with Roger Allers working as Head of Story and Linda Woolverton ultimately providing the script.
  • In 2002, Beauty And The Beast was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
  • Howard Ashman and Alan Menken worked on the music together, as they did for many Disney films. However, eight months before the film's released, Ashman died of AIDS-related complications and the film is dedicated to his memory.

Check out how the live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast stacks up to the original animation:

Click over to Movie Pilot video for more original content.

8. 'Toy Story'

Toy Story marks the first time blasted onto the scene with an animated feature, and it still remains one seared into many hearts today. With an incredible voice cast (no one can forget Tom Hanks as Woody or Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear), a strong story, and amazing CGI work, Toy Story became a gold standard by which other movies of its type are measured.

  • Toy Story marked the directorial debut of John Lasseter, who went on to direct A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Cars, and Cars 2. He is currently directing Toy Story 4, and chief creative officer of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, in addition to serving as principal creative advisor with Walt Disney Imagineering.
  • Toy Story was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry into the Library of Congress in its first year of eligibility, 2005.
  • Released November 22, 1995, Toy Story earned $373 million worldwide and was the highest grossing film in its opening weekend.

9. 'Inside Out'

When it first bowed in 2015, Inside Out was hailed as one of the most emotionally sensitive films to hit screens in a good long while. Featuring Amy Poehler as Joy, Lewis Black as Anger, Mindy Kaling as Disgust, and Bill Hader as Fear, the characters are the physical embodiment of emotions inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl who turns 12 at the end of the movie. While it seemed as though the movie might have been a whimsical look inside the mind of a child, it was, in reality, an exploration of the value of sadness. Few audience members exited the theater after watching Inside Out without a tear in their eye.

  • When Pete Docter, the director, pitched the film to Mindy Kaling, she was in tears and told him, according to IMDb, "I think it's great that you guys are making a film that shows it's difficult to grow up and that it's OK to be sad about it." According to Pete Docter, he and Jonas Rivera, who produced Inside Out, exclaimed, "Quick! Write that down!"
  • Some of the memory balls used in the film contain scenes from other Pixar movies, such as Carl and Ellie's wedding in Up.
  • Inside Out received an eight-minute ovation at its world premiere at Cannes.
  • Inside Out also went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2016 Academy Awards, in addition to a host of other awards.

10. 'Spirited Away'

2001's Spirited Away from Hayao Miyazaki follows the growing trend towards having animated movies with poignant storylines. Featuring a young girl who must work in an extra-dimensional bathhouse for ghosts and demons after a spell turns her parents to pigs, Spirited Away is lush with incredible animation that boasts some dark imagery and a strong story about trying to grow up in a world that is forever changing.

  • Spirited Away won an incredible 27 awards across the globe, including the 2003 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
  • Spirited Away is the most successful film in Japanese history.
  • It is the only hand-drawn animated film and the only Japanese animated film to snag Best Animated Feature honors.

What's Not To Love About Animated Pictures?

Animated films have dominated our imaginations and our hearts for decades, almost since they first bowed in the early part of the 20th century. From Spirited Away to classics like Snow White, animated films have become a vibrant part of our global culture, and enjoy a universality in ways that live action films don't. As there continues to be stories to tell, there will be an eager artist ready to put it to film, either through breathtaking CGI or while putting pen to paper.

What's your favorite animated film?


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