1. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
Hayao Miyazaki has long been considered Japan’s leading animator, but it was his 2001 fairy tale about a young girl forced to work in a bath-house for Japanese spirits that really put him on the map for Western audiences. Beautiful designs, a gentle, humane story and a genuine sense of mystical whimsy characterise this masterful film.
2. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, 2003)Only the first of several Pixar films to make the list, Finding Nemo melds a touching, instantly identifiable story about love, loyalty, friendship and independence with truly groundbreaking animation effects that still manage to awe us today. Any single shot of Nemo is jaw-dropping in its complexity and attention to detail.
3. Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)If you want to feel old, remember that this movie came out 21 years ago. That’s when CGI animation went from experimental oddity to potent technological force, thanks to Tom Hanks’ good guy cowpoke, Tim Allen’s bombastic spaceman, and a top-notch, Oscar-winning script by Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen and Alex Sokolow.
4. Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 2013)Our first bonafide Disney entry, and of course it’s this one. Reconfiguring Hans ChristianAndersen’s The Snow Queen for a modern audience, Frozen is a genuine phenomenon, the biggest smash hit Disney animation has had in years, and the bane of parents everywhere, who are a bit tired of that damn song. It is, mind you, a wonderful film, and one of the true immortal children’s classics of the last decade or so.
5. The Iron Giant (Brad Bird, 1999)The reason why so many of us nodded sagely when Vin Diesel was cast as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, The Iron Giant was a bomb on release, but the years have seen this tale of an alien robot whose friendship with a young boy makes him capable of choosing to be more than just a weapon. “Soo-per-man…”
6. Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)Adapting the book by English novelist Diana Wynne Jones, Miyazaki combines a steampunk aesthetic with traditional Japanese animation style to tell this story of a young girl, transformed into an old woman by a curse, and her adventures with the titular wizard during a time of war.
7. My Neighbour Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)If you’re of a certain age, there’s a good chance this was your first Miyazaki, although it took him a while longer to really make his mark in the West (see Spirited Away, above). A leading contender for the title Most Charming Film of All Time, Totoro sees two young sisters getting up to hijinks in a woods populated by friendly nature spirits in mid-20th century Japan.
8. The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994)A key part of Disney animation’s early ’90s renaissance, The Lion King draws on a number of sources, (Hamlet, Kimba the White Lion) to present a simply gorgeous take of inter-generational intrigue, wars of succession, and catchy Elton John songs on the African savanna.
9. Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993) The best Tim Burton film not directed by Tim Burton (and frankly, it’s better than a lot of the stuff he did direct), this stop-motion phantasmagoria sees the lonely king of Halloweentown trying for a sideways promotion to run Christmas, with spooky, funny, catchy results. A big-hearted celebration of the creepy and the soppy, a never-ending supply of freshly-adolescent alienated kids ensures its immortality.
10. Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015)“What if feelings had feelings?” Taking the Pixar narrative model to its farthest possible conclusion, Inside Out lets us look inside the head of depressed little girl, anthropomorphising her core emotions and watching them bounce of each other in fascinating ways. Inside Out‘s basic metaphor is ratchet-tight and informs all the action and set-dressing within, and the fact that it does all that while still telling a fun, fast and heartwarming story is just remarkable.
11. Wreck It Ralph (Rich Moore, 2012)Casting a video game villain as your hero is an interesting twist, and cameos from a bunch of video game icons will lock in the nostalgia market, but Wreck-It Ralph‘s key success is the way it explores coming to terms with your place in the world and not letting your limitations define you. Also: Sarah Silverman.
12. Zootopia (Byron Howard and Rich Moore, 2016)The most child-friendly race-relations parable of all time, Zootopia uses a buddy cop movie story model to take us into a city populated entirely by anthropomorphic animals, and then puts some thought into how that might actually work.
13. Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988)Billed as “a towering neon nightmare to rival Blade Runner“, Katsuhiro Otomo’s adaptation of his own massive graphic novel series sees warring street gangs in near-future Tokyo caught up in a massive goverment conspiracy involving weaponised psychics. A key cyberpunk film, while more technically proficient films have merged (Ghost in the Shell) Akira‘s mood and tone have never been bested.
14. Beauty and the Beast )Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, 1992) Following the success of The Little Mermaid, this is the film that really put Disney back on top in the early ’90s – a gorgeous, unabashedly sentimental, rousing romantic take on the old French fairy tale. It was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and even today stands as arguably the best of the Disney Princess films.
15. Big Hero 6 (Don Hall and Chris Williams, 2014)The first and – to date – only collaboration between Disney Animation and Marvel, this sees the Marvel Universe’s Japanese super-team re-imagined as a squad of tech-smart STEM students in a weird hybrid of San Francisco and Tokyo, doing battle with an evil robotics genius. Extra points for having a hero, the hulking but huggable robot, Beymax, explicitly designed to heal, not harm.
16. Brave (Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, 2012)Pixar’s first princess is a far feistier specimen than her Disney cousins. Roaming medieval Scotland with her bow and arrows, she’d much rather be having adventures than being married off to seal a political alliance. Brave under-performed at the box office but has certainly struck a chord with young girls who would rather be scraping knees than sewing doilies (not that anyone does that any more).
17. Snow White (Walt Disney, 1937)The biggest surprise here is how far down the list it got. Walt Disney’s first animated feature was a creative and financial gamble that paid off in spades and is still eminently enjoyable today. No Snow White = no Disney = no recognisable animation landscape. It is utterly seminal.
18. Up (Pete Docter, 2009) AKA The Heartwrencher. Up is basically a Voight KAmpff test – if someone doesn’t cry in the first ten minutes, you’re legally empowered to shoot them. After that, the film settles into being an utterly charming jungle adventure shared by a crabby old widower and a portly cub scout as they find themselves up against a maddened explorer and his army of intelligent dogs in the depths of primordial South America.
19. Pinocchio (Ben Sharpstein and Hamilton Luske, 1940) People forget how downright weird this one is. Adapted from Carlo Collodi’s 19th century children’s book, it’s a much darker and more surreal affair than you might remember: evil puppeteers, monstrous whales, conniving cats and foxes, errants boys being transformed into donkeys – once you get past kindly Geppetto and the Blue Fairy, everything else is nightmare fuel.
20. Fantasia (Walt Disney (prod) 1940)Disney’s third feature is an anthology film, showcasing eight different experimental animations against a sumtuous classical soundtrack. Night on Bald Mountain and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice remain the best known, but we’ll retain a fondness for the dancing hippos and the little mushroom people
21. Fritz the Cat (Ralph Bakshi, 1972)
22. Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995)
23. Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988)
24. Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, 2007)
25. The BoxTrolls (Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, 2014)
26. How to Train Your Dragon (Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, 2010)
27. Kung Fu Panda (John Stevenson and Mark Osborne, 2008)
28. Monsters Inc (Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich and David Silverman, 2001)
29. Wallace and Grommit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Nick Park and Steve Box, 2005)
30. Waking Life (Richard Linklater, 2001)
31. The Fantastic Mr Fox (Wes Anderson, 2009)
32. Rango (Gore Verbinsky, 2011)
33. Sausage Party (Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, 2016)
34. Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman. 2008)
35. Sleeping Beauty (Clyde Geronimi, 1959)
36. Song of the Sea (Tomm Moore, 2014)
37. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, 2014)
38. South Park: Bigger. Lonher and Uncut( Trey Parker, 1999)
39. Fire and Ice (Ralph Bakshi, 1983)
40. Tarzan (Chris Buck and Kevin Lima, 1999)
41. Watership Down (Angela Morley and Malcolm Williamson, 1978)
42. The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)
43. World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt, 2015)
45. The Jungle Book (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1967)
46. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
47. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
48. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, 1993)
49. The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet, 2004)
50. Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, Al Brodax)