Some of the greatest films of all time have been those that captured our hearts as children. The old classics are still actively promoted and widely available today, as parents happily join their children in viewing them. The double benefit of these wonderful animated films is that while we’re introducing our children to something that is new and exciting for them, we get to go back to simpler times, if only in memory. Some of the best family movies are animations. There are also a few adult films that artfully use animation either in part or through the entire creation. We’ve watched the evolution of this platform through the decades and cinematography has come a long way. Newer methods of animation make the characters seem lifelike, particularly when presented in HD or Ultra HD. Animated films aren’t just for kids, they’re for the enjoyment of all, and here are the top 20 animated films of all time.
‘Charlotte’s Web’ (1973)
This movie is the adaptation of the E.B. White novel for children. It tells the story of Wilbur the pig, and his beloved friend Charlotte, who happens to be a spider. It’s a musical masterpiece that features a variety of unforgettable songs that children quickly learn. The use of creatures found on the farm gives it a whimsical charm. The characters come to life in a magical way and we embrace them, even Templeton the rat. This film was one of the more popular animations in the early 1970s and it remains a beloved film for people of all ages.
‘The Secret of NIMH’ (1982)
“The Secret of NIMH” became one of the most sensational animations of the early 1980s. The creative genius of Don Bluth turned the story of a widowed mouse, trying to find a new home for her family, into a masterpiece of action and suspense. If an animation could ever be a thriller, this one fit the bill. It’s full of harrowing situations and children are on the border of being frightened. Parents watching it with them had to admit that this film made the theater rock under the thunder of surround sound under some of the more exciting scenes. To adults, the film made allusions to some of the social ills plaguing our land. It hits hard on the struggles of single mothers, and the evil of performing experiments on helpless animals. This film made a definite impact on people of all ages and it still stands as one of the best animations of all time.
“Fantasia” has long been regarded as one of Disney’s greatest animated achievements of all time. Although a lot has changed in the methods for generating animated images, this was one of the first dynamic films to capture our imagination with dazzling effects that boggled the mind and delighted our visual and auditory senses. It set the bar high for others that would follow. The intricacy of the movements along with the vivid colorization were something that thrilled audiences and left them feeling a little bit changed after leaving theaters. For the 1940s, this film was a masterpiece of art and form within the cinematic universe of the day. Disney had accomplished one of the greatest feats in the animated leg of the film industry with “Fantasia” and the name alone can transport viewers back to the first time they ever watched the movie. Older kids were greatly moved by the powerful animation and it proved to be a bit much for many of the younger ones.
“Wall-E” introduced us all to a different perspective on artificial intelligence, commonly referred to simply as AI recently. It was a novel look at the possibility that a robot could become a real hero, and that he could actually have real feelings. Wall-E was a lovable robot that pulled us all in on a deeper level, and his human-like motions helped us to look past his robotic appearance. You can easily see the difference between he and EVE, the robot that doesn’t even closely resemble anything with human-like traits. Wall-E made a statement about consumerism and the environment as well as what can happen when humans become overly dependent on technology. This is a concern that has grown with each passing year as technology is exploding and AI is becoming smarter and more capable of replacing humans in the workplace. But aside from all of that speculation, Wall-E presents us with a beautiful love story about a couple of misfits that brings a tear to the eye.
‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993)
Tim Burton delivered one of the most beloved animations that instantly triggered a cult following. From the early ’90s to present day, you can’t walk into a gift shop without seeing “The Nightmare Before Christmas” licensed merchandise for sale in practically any form imaginable. From salt shakers and bedding to clothing, it’s everywhere and we’re still loving it. Jack Skellington and Sally have a remarkable love story and the pair draw us in with every scene. Is it for Christmas or is it for Halloween? How about both? Jack’s kidnapping of Santa was done for a noble reason in Jack’s mind. He thought he could do the job better. The “Pumpkin King” had gone through a slump and accompanying identity crisis and it wasn’t until his failed attempt to replace Clause, that he realized who he was really intended to be. Still a favorite for any time of year, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is one of the top animations of all-time.
‘The Little Mermaid’ (1989)
Disney couldn’t have done better than to make an animated adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. They set it in a Broadway style and although the tragic ending of the original tale was bypassed for one more palatable for children. The film has become a classic in the Disney line of animations. It tells the story of the youngest of King Tritan’s daughters who longs to know what it is to live on the land and have legs to walk the ground. She is enamored of the prince, whom she sees when he’s at sea. When he becomes lost at sea in a terrible accident, she tows him to shore and saves his life. It is at this time that she falls deeply in love with him, but as a mermaid, she can never have the life with him that she desires. She strikes a deal with the evil Ursula, who grants her wish to assume a human form, but the deal wasn’t so great after all… Ursuala steals her voice and she cannot tell the prince that she is the gil that he is in search of. No worries, it all ends well and we even learn a few new songs from Sebastian, her guardian crab.
Charlie Kaufman is the brilliant mind behind the creation of this stop-motion animation that became a big hit just a few years ago.” Kaufman is known for his ability to create fantastical worlds for his characters to blossom. “Anomalisa” is a dramatic animation that is also filled with romance and comedy. It is the tale of a British man who works as a professional motivational speaker. He falls in love with Lisa, who seems to be a plain girl, when he’s at a stop-o er in Cincinnati. He longs for a real connection, and while this animation is a love story, it is a bittersweet one. It touches a little piece inside of us all and although it’s filled with despair, there are so many humorous parts that it’s hard to truly feel bad… that is, for very long.
“Pinocchio” was made during an era when fantasy was an escape from the harshness that life brought prior to the development of the modern conveniences that we now enjoy. There was no such thing as cable, movie rentals or On Demand services. When the animation came out, it was a novelty that was embraced by young and old. Going to the theater was a real treat. This classic from 1940 was nothing short of a cinematic miracle in its day. It hasn’t failed to remain one of the top animations that has ever been created. The wooden boy teaches us lessons about what happens when we don’t tell the truth and the fear of your nose growing several inches for telling a lie is still used by parents to this day. The animation tells the tale of Gepetto’s little wooden puppet that got his wish to become a real boy.
‘Toy Story’ (1995)
“Toy Story”was the debut animation for the world famous Pixar entertainment. This brillliant animation brought the world a cast of toys that would come to life and started the Buzz Lightyear craze, along with Woody, another favorite of children Tom Hanks and Tim Allen lent their voices to bring the animations to life with endearing personalities. No wonder children love their toys so much. The film bridges the gap between the world of make-believe that exists within the imagination of a child, and the real world. This was just the start of a long line of Pixar films that continues through present day.
“Bambi” followed Pinocchio just two years later and it was a certainty that Disney was on a roll with their creative animations that seemed to flow with effortless realism. The majority of the public were not privy to the labor intensive processes that brought the characters to life in animation on film. “Bambi” is the classic that tells the story of a young fawn whose mother is killed by hunters, leaving him to fend for himself in the woods, in the middle of a cold and snowy winter. There are life lessons heavily ingrained in the film and although the topic of death may seem harsh for a children’s movie, it touches on a fact of life and introduces the topic in a film that is at times, heartbreaking and sad, but we see that life goes on. We deal with hard times, but come to heal from our sorrow, move on with our lives and grow up to have families of our own.
‘South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut’ (1999)
The “South Park” franchise came up with this highly popular animation in 1999. Matt Stone and Trey Parker with their cutout style animation that features a primitive presentation is surprisingly entertaining. This is a part of the character of the core of the film that offers a satirical commentary on almost every topic under the sun. It’s definitely an adult film due to the often crude nature of the content, complemented by the crude style of animation. The irreverent comedy animation has gained a cult following that you probably would not want your younger kids to join just yet.
‘Yellow Submarine’ (1968)
This is the animation from the late 1960s that was intended for adults with a serious need to learn how to turn off their brains and relax into nothingness. The psychedelic animated film from the Beatles era included John, George, Paul and Ringo who were set on a mission to save the underwater utopia from the evil ones known as the Blue Meanies, who were out to kill everyone’s fun. “Yellow Submarine” was like an acid trip of sensory oddities that incorporated the pop icons and accompanying psychedelic music with a bright arrays of colors and a forward moving momentum that really led to nowhere. The Disney film was more of an experience than simply entertainment.
‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937)
The classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was a brilliant accomplishment for 1937 and brought the world some of the most amazing animation for the era. The tale of the singing princess who is beguiled by the evil queen has become a classic that has in some sense, helped to shape the ideology of little girls on love and romance. A handsome prince arrives just in time to save the day. He saves the princess by awakening her from the deep deathlike sleep with just a simple kiss. The spell is broken and he whisks her off to his castle far away where they live happily ever after. Hence, the terms fairy tale wedding, story book romance and so forth. Those who are fortunate in life get a taste of this kind of love, while others realize that fairy tales are not even close to reality for them. It’s an enduring classic that is still loved by all.
‘The Incredibles’ (2004)
“The Incredibles” is an animation that is the Pixar version of caped crusaders. These characters have a certain lightness about them, and they tend to be a lot more comedic in comparison. The Incredibles set the example of how superheroes can actually fit into society just by being themselves, but when it’s time to take action, they’re up for the job of saving the whole world. It gives us the notion that family should stick together to defeat the villains of the world in a metaphorical sense and through their interactions with one another. Perhaps there’s a life lesson or two to be learned here?
Pixar broke through some serious ground with the romantic action-drama animation “Up.” This film is one of the most moving movies that Pixar has offered the world, and not for lack of trying, but how can you possibly top this film for tugging at the hearts strings? It tells the fantastical story of a couple who are young and who marry. They are unable to have children of their own, but their love carries them through. Our hearts break as the couple ages and the wife becomes ill and passes away. The old man seems to give up on life because of his sadness. When the authorities decide that he must be put in a home for the elderly and removed from the place that he had shared with his beloved, it is more than he can take. A little boy finds a way to break through the veil of misery and really get to the old man. The elder gentleman outfits the house with thousands of helium balloons and they carry him away to a land that is filled with adventure, and new friends who are waiting to meet him. Easily one of the biggest tear jerking films ever created, and that goes for animated and non-animated. The film opened the Cannes Film Festival as proof of its merit.
“Coraline” is a disturbing animation that is best watched with an adult if you’re a child, and best watched with an adult if you’re all grown up. It’s an animated take on a horror story about a girl who becomes frustrated with her parents because they don’t show her much attention. They are too busy with their lives to truly pay attention to her or her needs. “Coraline” is magically transported to a new reality in which everyone in her life seems to have a doppelganger of sorts. They are extremely positive and cheerful, but their eyes are creepy and lifeless black buttons. This is as close to animated horror as it gets. The stop motion effect reminds us that it’s an animation and that is the only thing that offers a buffer that makes it somewhat bearable to endure because of the overwhelming sense of dread that it generates. The film is a cool adaptation of the Neil Gaiman book, undertaken by the brilliant Henry Selick.
“Rango” became another animated film that is a classic in the making. It gives us a flashback to the “Man with No Name” character made famous by Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti western series. Gore Verbinski directed the cast of the animation which includes Johnny Depp in the lead role, in the insanely imaginative western that features a pet lizard who gets left in an old western desert town. He soon learns that the good townspeople are in deep trouble and it turns out that they are in sore need of a leader to show them the way out of their dilemma. The visual gags are a bit surreal, but the comedic value is up there with any of the Coen brothers comedies. It’s a must see for adults who should probably share it with the kids. Some of the content may be over their heads, but it’s hilarious entertainment for the entire family.
“Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The classic “Beauty and the Beast” has become a staple for every household with children. It’s the romantic tale of a beast who lives in a castle far away from civilization. A prince with an attitude problem in transformed into a hideous beast for offending a beautiful enchantress posing as an old woman. He has until his 21st birthday to learn the true meaning of love, or he and all inhabitants of the castle will remain in transformed states forever.
“Ratatouille” is another of Pixar’s great successes. It’s the tale of a rat who has a remarkable culinary talent. He’s also an unlikely hero that ends up showing his true mettle when the chips are down. This animation is fast paced with amazing animation and special effects, and highly recommended for people of all ages.
“How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
This animation has been around for nearly a decade and as a testament to its popularity, you have only to look around you. The licensed merchandise is in high demand seven years after the release of the film. The 3D sequences are brilliant entertainment and the animation is dazzling. The script is expertly written to pull viewers of all ages in, making this one of the best animated films of all-time.