Animated movies hold a special place in my heart. At least three relatively modern animated movies are in my top five all-time list. I believe animation is one of the greatest art forms and it's three variations Computer (CG), Traditional or Hand-Drawn, and Stop-Motion each have their own standouts.
Pixar Studios' Wall-E (2008) Directed by Andrew Stanton and Up (2009) Directed by Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson.
Everyone knows the quality of Pixar. It's undeniable, as the studio seems to be a lock for the Oscars' Best Animated Motion Picture category virtually every year. This year's nomination, Inside Out is no different. Pixar excels because they make entertaining films with unique stories, well-developed characters, beautiful music, and humor that's suitable for both adults and children. Cars and its sequel are the only exception. If most Pixar films are already the golden standard, what does that make Wall-E and Up? They are the diamond encrusted platinum pieces. Wall-E and Up share many of the same qualities, firstly, their depth in storytelling. Both have heartbreaking moments that transcend anything I've ever seen from animation. Wall-E's beauty comes from a lonely sentient robot traveling to godly lengths for love, and almost loses his incredible personality, until he is saved by the equivalent of a kiss. Up shows us what true love is from Carl and Ellie, and then rips it away. Only through Russel and Doug does he find inner peace, leaving his cherished house he made with Ellie behind. If the characters and original adventures weren't enough, these films create visually stunning images. Wall-E and Eve's space dance, or even his opening scene in trash world hold such detail and contrast, while Paradise Falls in Up is an imaginary wonder. These films evoke such powerful emotions and deserve every bit of praise they can get.
Traditional/Classical/Hand Drawn Animation
Warner Brother's The Iron Giant (1999) Directed by Brad Bird and Spirited Away (2001) Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
When I first saw The Iron Giant in theaters as an eight-year-old, I loathed it for the sole reason that it made me cry, but now I realize that's the genius of the film. It's also no surprise that the director and writer Brad Bird became a major part of Pixar. He even animated the scene where Hogarth is all hopped up on espresso, which very well may have been the most time-consuming scene to create. Traditional animation is an incredibly impressive art form, so the director taking time to draw thousands of frames himself is incredible. The story is what puts this movie above and beyond. It's so heartfelt with genuine characters. Hogarth's connection with his mom, Dean, and The Iron Giant all have natural quirks and feel so natural. The humor isn't dumb downed either, especially from Shooter McGavin (Kent Mansly), as the obsessed F.B.I. agent who crosses many lines. Spirited Away comes into play purely out of respect for Hayao Miyazaki. I believe I only saw the movie once early on in college, and it did win an Oscar. If you're a fan of animation, then you know Miyazaki is regarded as high as any filmmaker. He creates pure, existential art, worthy of Disney's classics.
Focus Features' ParaNorman (2012) Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell and 20th Century Fox's Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) Directed by Wes Anderson
I have a lot of respect for stop-motion animation. It's quite incredible how all the sets and characters have to be hand-crafted and photographed frame by frame, moving little by little so it doesn't come out wonky. Watching these films I found the humor extraordinary and adult leaning. ParaNorman has frequent sexual jokes that are quite overt and Fantastic Mr. Fox is Wes Anderson being Wes Anderson, so if you like his style you will definitely enjoy this. The visuals aren't lacking either. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas gets a nod here too.
These are movies I believe to be masterpieces of narrative and visual storytelling. All have been nominated for The Academy's category of Best Animated Motion Picture, except The Iron Giant, due to the award being created in 2000 (Shrek won). They are also all on the Top 100, certified fresh, animated films from Rotten Tomatoes. Feel free to disagree!