It's time to make this list. I've done a list of the most underrated animated films of the 90's and 80's, and I've done a list of the underrated live-action Disney films. Now it is time to make a list that is far easier, yet far more difficult to make. Yes, this list is an opinion. All lists are. No, it is not definitive. Most likely, if you read this you will disagree with it. I guarantee you. I absolutely welcome and encourage disagreements.
Animated films are highly personal, because we grew up with them, and saw them as children. They leave huge impacts on our hearts and minds. It's perfectly okay to be impassioned about animated films. I'd be worried if you didn't have at least one animated film you remember from your childhood that gave you the experience of a lifetime. Here are mine. Please keep in mind, that while I have seen MANY movies, there are many I have not seen. And some of those might be on this list had I seen them, but most every critically hailed animated film I've taken a peek at. It just happens that there are one or two I missed. Keep that in mind.
I wish I could do a top 25 greatest animated films of all time list. In fact, I just might. Narrowing it down to 10 really forces me to identify what matters to my heart the most. What really do I care about? Well, I'm about to tell you.
10. 'Chicken Run' (2000)
It came out of left field when it was released. We all knew about it, but we weren't expecting it. It's not a particularly groundbreaking film in terms of story, but it executes that story better than most animated films I've seen. The characters are fleshed out. Not shallow. I've seen a lot of animated films, but I remember this one more than many others. It was an extremely ambitious stop-motion animated film. It was done perfectly. Years in production, and it shows. To top it off, it is HILARIOUS. You will laugh. Even if you are a depressed alcoholic, you will find something in this film that will bring you joy. It also has some of the most well blended comedic elements in a kids movie I've ever seen. Nothing feels forced, or cheap. It makes up one of the most entertaining kids films, and animated films that have ever been made.
9. 'The Land Before Time' (1988)
This was one of the easiest films to put on this list. There is no other film like it. It is an anomaly. It is not a Disney film, but it is undeniably one of the greatest animated films in existence. Almost every aspect of life is touched upon in the movie. Birth, death, survival, friendship, love, tragedy, triumph, and nature. It is all here, and it is told with a child's heart in mind. Watching this film will turn a lost hardened soul into a weeping willow. It will move you. The characters in this film are subjected to the harshest treatment I've seen any animated film characters receive. They visibly suffer a great deal in almost every way. They are put through hell. It isn't a tale that is ripe with a happy ending that comes about without a very large cost. Aside from the story, the world of this film is some of the most imaginative, and fantastical ever drawn. We don't know what the world of the dinosaurs looked like exactly. It's likely it didn't look like this, but we really have no clue. Don Bluth and his team paint a fully realized world for us that is far from bland. It is real.
8. 'Beauty and the Beast' (1991)
This is the crown jewel of Disney. I remember being so incredibly excited to see this movie. I was four years old. I remember it vividly. I felt like I was going to be a part of something big. My Mom took me to see it. I think it was just the two of us. I'm almost positive we dressed up to go see it. It was one of the happiest memories I have with my Mother. Aside from my emotional attachment to the film, it truly is a great picture. Like The Land Before Time, this film is fully realized and then some. It's animated world is wonderous beyond comprehension. The story is pitch perfect. The characters are incredible. You will never forget these characters as long as you live. You will forever remember them. You could not forget them if you tried. The animation is some of the most spectacular I've ever seen. It's scary, it's beautiful, it's light, it's epic. This film hits every note. It is the kind of movie that when you watch it, you forget that it's even a film or an animated one at that. This movie is an experience. It is life. The songs are not even songs, they are part of the story, and you don't notice they are sung because your heart and mind are singing with them.
7. 'Watership Down' (1978)
I didn't want to leave you high and dry. I included this list in my underrated animated films. I believe this is one of the greatest animated films of all time. The semi-realistic animation style, and the lack of a filter on the violence in the film makes this a compelling piece of filmmaking. While the animation itself isn't particularly as impressive as a Disney film of the same era is, it's really the story that wows the most. Honestly, it's animation is its weakest feature, but I'd take the story in this movie over any Disney film (except for a few) any day. Besides, here you have an animated movie where a bird shouts at a rabbit "Piss off!" I mean, that right there, is legendary. John Hurt provides his voice as does Zero Mostel, Richard Bries, Ralph Richardson, Nigel Hawthorne, and Denholm Elliot. Wow.....Wow, I say.
6. 'Pinocchio' (1940)
The fact that this was made in the 30's is astonishing to me. It boggles my mind that animation came so far so very fast. The voice acting is impeccable. Watching this movie 70 years after its release, I am still shocked at the quality. There is something truly magical about this film in a way that other Disney films aren't. The odyssey that Pinnochio goes on and the mistakes and missteps that he makes until the end of the film are an important lesson for us all. I feel this is Disney's darkest film (darker than Black Cauldron), and rightly so. The story resolves itself in one of the most satisfying conclusions after one of the most arduous treks I've seen in a movie. Ever.
5. 'Spirited Away' (2001)
This Hayao Miyazaki picture is a sweeping tale that will leave you breathless and refreshed in many more ways than you would imagine. Why do I love this movie so much and why is it one of the best ever? It's simply that great to watch. No frame of this movie feels out of place. All of it conspires to tell you the tale of lost little girl in a world where she knows nothing and is afraid of everything. It's an inspiring tale. I'd say more, but I don't know how to write good enough to do that. Let me put it this way. This film grossed more world-wide than Titanic. That should tell you something right there.
4. 'Grave of the Fireflies' (1988)
A boy tries to take care of his younger sibling during WWII. This is a hard film to watch. I think I cried multiple times while watching this film. I'm grateful I didn't have to live in this boy's shoes, though in many ways I relate so much so to what he goes through. Even though many of us haven't had to live on our own at such a young age during a massive worldwide conflict, this film touches a nerve that is really hard to ignore. It's up near the top of this list for a good reason.
3. 'Akira' (1988)
It's not really realistic in the first place, but the timeline of the movie as it is doesn't make sense today, and the movie takes place in 2019, and it is already 2015 and none of the advanced technology we see in this movie really exists. So if you can set aside that dated aspect of this very violent, adult movie you will have a good time. Do not expect this movie to be easy to follow, or watch. It's a complicated action sci-fi thriller that makes Blade Runner feel like a simple plot.
2. 'The Secret of NIMH' (1982)
A mother tries to save the life of her young son. That is the story here, and what a magnificent one at that. Don Bluth's best movie is a heartwrenching story that will make you question your own courage and conviction in life. The animation is the best "mice" animation I've seen in a movie. Yes, better than 'The Rescuers Down Under.' This movie should be seen by all. It is not too dark that children can't see it, but it isn't light enough that adults won't take it seriously. This is a fantasically balanced film that still holds up to this day.
1. 'Toy Story' (1995)
You can debate with me all you want about this. There is no right answer when it comes to what is the greatest animated film ever made. Toy Story is one of the greatest, if not, the greatest animated film ever made whether I want it to be or not. I'm sure I'll look back on this and say "what the hell was I thinking putting this at the top"? Not just a great screenplay, but one of the best screenplays in any film. This movie never stops in it's brilliantly built narrative. As the first full-length computer animated feature, this movie blew minds when it hit theatre screens, but it also touched hearts with its characters.
As far as how involved the animation is, and the intensity with which you are captivated by it, very few films come close to Toy Story. While computer animation has advanced exponentially in the 20 years after this film, none quite capture the "realism" of anthropomorphized objects or personified animals quite like Toy Story has. I often feel this film is compared on the same level as Finding Nemo. I don't consider the two films as equal, or striking the ground that Toy Story did. I also still believe the script in Toy Story remains the best Pixar has produced. It is unpretentious, wild, heartfilled, and non-sentimental. As strange as it may sound, Toy Story manages to take the preciousness out of computer animation while being the first computer animated film ever made. Quite an achievement. It is still superior in many ways to all other Pixar films after it.