Top 20 Best Animated Movies of the Last Decade

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Top 20 Best Animated Movies of the Last Decade

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
We all have our thoughts on the state of cinema, but everyone can agree that this is a golden age for feature animation. For this list, we'll be looking at animated films released between 2010 and 2019 that made enormous strides for the medium in terms of storytelling and technique. Our countdown includes movies like “Moana” (2016), “Inside Out” (2015), “Coco” (2017) and more!
Transcript
Script written by Nick Spake

Top 20 Best Animated Movies of the Last Decade


We all have our thoughts on the state of cinema, but everyone can agree that this is a golden age for feature animation. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 20 Best Animated Movies of the Last Decade.

For this list, we’ll be looking at animated films released between 2010 and 2019 that made enormous strides for the medium in terms of storytelling and technique.

#20: “Isle of Dogs” (2018)

Almost a decade after “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Wes Anderson returned to stop-motion animation with a wildly imaginative creation. At its heart, “Isle of Dogs” is a classic tale about man’s best friend. The way this story is executed is anything but traditional, though, incorporating a futuristic Japan, a dog flu epidemic, and a whole island comprised of trash. The witty screenplay is complemented by an inventive visual design, transporting the audience to a marvelous world of miniatures. “Isle of Dogs” is like a Rankin/Bass special if it were conceived by Akira Kurosawa, which makes sense since both were reportedly sources of inspiration. At the same time, the film has that signature oddball wit and whimsical visual flair that could only stem from Wes Anderson’s genius.

#19: “Klaus” (2019)

In a year dominated by animated sequels, this Netflix movie not only stood out as an original property, but also a welcome throwback to hand-drawn techniques. “Klaus” provides an origin story for Santa Claus, voiced by J. K. Simmons in a gruff yet tender performance. However, the film is just as much about Jason Schwartzman’s Jesper, a spoiled rich boy forced to deliver mail on an isolated icy island. Together, both men learn the value of friendship and come to see how one act of kindness can snowball into something even greater. The heartfelt story and vibrant traditional animation will fill the audience with warmth, as if they’re sitting in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve. It’s no wonder “Klaus” swept the Annie Awards.

#18: “The Breadwinner” (2017)

This Oscar-nominated animated feature is a bit like “Mulan” crossed with “Persepolis.” Based on Deborah Ellis’s novel, “The Breadwinner” centers on Parvana, an 11-year-old Afghan girl. The Taliban won’t allow girls or women to even step outside without a male escort, which proves increasingly problematic when Parvana’s father is arrested. To provide for her family, Parvana dresses up as a boy, although getting caught would likely mean death. As intense and harrowing as “The Breadwinner” can be, director Nora Twomey has ultimately made a hopeful film about family, friendship, and the compassion that every human being deserves. For those who view animation as “kids stuff,” this is a prime example of how the medium can be used to reflect real-world struggles and adult themes.

#17: “Tangled” (2010)

In an era where mainstream animated films had become more reliant on pop culture references and edgy humor, musical fairy tales were starting to look like a thing of the past. For those who grew up on Disney classics like “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” and “The Little Mermaid,” “Tangled” was the comeback we had all been waiting for. The film returned to many of the tropes that Disney built its feature animation brand upon: a lovable heroine, a sinister villain, catchy music, scene-stealing comedic relief, and a gripping love story. However, this fresh take on the story of Rapunzel also brought several new elements to the table, such as modern sensibilities and dazzling CG animation. Arguably commencing another Disney renaissance, “Tangled” was overflowing with heart and hair.

#16: “Wreck-It Ralph” (2012)

Over the last decade, Disney has been reevaluating what it means to be a villain and “Wreck-It Ralph” is one of the most unique examples. Ralph isn’t a bad guy. Being the antagonist in an arcade game, though, wrecking buildings is part of his job. The film presents an engaging existential crisis while also making way for a lot of laughs, creativity, and video game references. Director Rich Moore rose to prominence working on shows like “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” bringing the same biting satire and wit to his feature debut. Just as many “Simpsons” and “Futurama” episodes were anchored by a strong emotional core, “Wreck-It Ralph” and its 2018 sequel balance out every laugh with a touching moment.

#15: “A Cat in Paris” (2010)

Since it didn’t receive much publicity in the States, this French film took many by surprise when it scored a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination. It was definitely deserved, as “A Cat in Paris” is a cleverly written and slickly drawn hoot. Directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, the story revolves around a feline with a double life, a cat burglar with a heart of gold, a police superintendent with a vendetta, a little girl without a voice, and gangsters without a clue. The film channels various capers, from “North by Northwest” to “Reservoir Dogs.” It also has a wonderful sense of humor, calling “The Pink Panther” and even “Home Alone” to mind. For fans of farcical comedy and animation, it’s a purr-fect combination.

#14: “Your Name” (2016)

Makoto Shinkai has certainly made a name for himself in recent years. With this romantic fantasy, Shinkai wrote and directed the highest-grossing anime feature worldwide. Audiences fell in love with the story of Taki and Mitsuha, two high school students with an unusual connection. Despite never meeting in person, they begin to miraculously switch bodies. Although they’re brought together by fantastical elements, the bond between Taki and Mitshua is beyond genuine. These two are destined for each other, but they’re separated by more than walking distance. In addition to being gorgeously animated, “Your Name” is an exquisitely told story full of mystery and tears. The gripping drama leaves us hooked until the very last revelation, which is as satisfying as endings get.

#13: “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” (2013)

With films like “Grave of the Fireflies,” “Only Yesterday,” and “Pom Poko,” Isao Takahata established himself as one of the greatest anime directors of all time. Following a lengthy hiatus, Takahata returned to direct his final feature for Studio Ghibli, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.” Inspired by Japanese folklore, the film centers on a tiny girl who grows exponentially after being discovered in a bamboo stick. Where everyone else views her as sacred royalty, the girl truly wants nothing more than to be an ordinary human. Much like its sketchy yet stylish animation, the story brings out the beauty in simplicity. Just a few years before Takahata passed away at age 82 in 2018, “Princess Kaguya” earned him his first Oscar nomination ever for Best Animated Feature.

#12: “Moana” (2016)

When it comes to princesses, Disney often looks to classic fairy tales for inspiration. Moana, on the other hand, has the distinction of being a wholly original addition to the Disney Princess lineup. Yet, the filmmakers tell a timeless story that feels like it could’ve existed for centuries. That’s because directors Ron Clements and John Musker did their homework on Polynesian mythology, becoming especially intrigued by the demigod Māui. One of the key themes in “Moana” is looking to the past for guidance and seeing how far that wisdom will take you. The same can be said about the film, which builds upon both Polynesian traditions and Disney traditions to create something shiny and new. We’d say, “thank you,” but Maui is already singing, “You’re Welcome.”

#11: “Song of the Sea” (2014)

Developed by Cartoon Saloon, the same studio behind “The Breadwinner,” “Song of the Sea” is another elegantly crafted Oscar nominee with a strong sense of culture. Described as a “spiritual follow-up” to director Tomm Moore’s previous film, “The Secret of Kells,” the story once again borrows from Celtic folklore. Our heroes are Ben, a young Irish lad, and Saoirse, his silent sister who’s a selkie. Although Ben has resented Saoirse ever since their mother vanished, their broken family is mended through magic, mythology, and music. Speaking of which, “Song of the Sea” is every bit as beautiful to listen to as it is to look at. The soothing score and hand-drawn animation make for an atmospheric voyage beyond the sea and our wildest fantasies.

#10: “The Lego Movie” (2014)

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have taken several projects that seemed DOA and turned in something awesome. With “The Lego Movie,” they proved that even a film based on a toy line has the potential to be hilarious, heartwarming, and game-changing. This movie’s imagination knows no bounds, assembling a collection of established characters like Batman and new animated icons like construction worker Emmet. The story feels like something a child would make up while playing with Legos, which is fitting given a twist in the final act. It’s at this point that “The Lego Movie” evolves from a great film to an instant classic. It might’ve been snubbed of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination, but what Lord and Miller have built will last for eons.

#9: “Inside Out” (2015)

Whenever it looks like Hollywood has officially run out of ideas, Pixar comes along with a new film that stimulates the mind. “Inside Out” isn’t just a beacon of innovation, but a beacon of hope for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider. Eleven-year-old Riley couldn’t feel more isolated when she moves across the country. Her struggles may be common, but that doesn’t make them any less heavy-handed or important to address. Diving into Riley’s head where her emotions operate, we’re taken on a joyous, tear-jerking, and life-affirming journey about growing up. While little kids will appreciate the film for its vibrant colors and playful humor, older children and adults are bound to get an even stronger reaction out of this deeply emotional triumph.

#8: “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” (2012)

You know that scene in “Inside Out” where the characters become abstract? Well, this absurdist art house dramedy comes from a modern master of abstract animation, Don Hertzfeldt. Technically, the film is comprised of three shorts by Hertzfeldt, centering on a man with a memory disorder who’s searching for an identity. From the brief runtime, to its stick-figure characters, to Hertzfeldt’s constant narration, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” is as minimalist as feature animation gets. Although it may look like something you’d doodle in class, this is a surreally funny and surprisingly philosophical indie gem about mental health, family, and the meaning of human existence. Even the animation, while not groundbreaking per se, has a distinctive charm, demonstrating how even the most basic drawing can send a powerful message.

#7: “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016)

The stop-motion geniuses at Laika picked up where Tim Burton left off, but in recent years have branched out with projects outside of the gothic fantasy genre. With the Golden Globe-winning “Missing Link,” they took us on an old-school adventure. In “Kubo and the Two Strings,” director Travis Knight drew heavily from Japanese culture, crafting what’s practically a stop-motion anime. The film also has echoes of “The Legend of Zelda,” following a musically inclined boy on an epic voyage where he comes across an assortment of bizarre creatures. When “Kubo” isn’t sucking the audience in with its rousing story, it’s leaving them awe-struck by the stop-motion wizardry. Scoring two Oscar nominations and winning the BAFTA for Best Animated Film, this might be Laika’s masterpiece.

#6: “Anomalisa” (2015)

On paper, “Anomalisa” probably would’ve worked fine as a live-action film. As a matter of fact, Charlie Kaufman initially wrote it for the stage - under the pen name Francis Fregoli. While Kaufman had his doubts about adapting the play into a stop-motion animated feature, this move added another level of gravitas to the story’s existential themes. Lonely Michael feels like the only person in the world, so much so that almost everyone else is voiced by the same actor. A seemingly ordinary woman named Lisa, however, catches Michael’s eye, as well as his ear. Lisa could be a diamond in the rough, but it’s also possible that Michael is simply desperate for companionship. Either way, Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson have made a profound film about the human condition.

#5: “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (2014)

The first “How to Train Your Dragon” set the bar pretty high, but its follow-up somehow managed to improve upon virtually everything. Like the best sequels, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” delves deeper into its world’s lore and deeper into mature territory. Just as Hiccup is much older than when we last saw him, the animation is more sophisticated, the action is more heart-pounding, and the drama is more gut-wrenching. It’s a film that really treats its viewers like adults, emerging as one of the best modern fantasy epics, live-action or animated. As dark as the film can get, director Dean DeBlois never loses sight of the sincere friendship between a boy and his dragon, which has always been this franchise’s driving force.

#4: “Frozen” (2013)

When “Frozen” hit the scene, many were quick to hail it as the best animated Disney movie since “The Lion King.” Granted, there had certainly been other worthy Disney films released between 1994 and 2013. Nothing had taken the world by storm, however, since Simba took his place in the circle of life. That all changed when Elsa let her ice powers loose, setting a new standard for every Disney film that followed. Like “The Lion King,” “Frozen” broke box office records, won two Academy Awards, and even years later keeps viewers coming back for more. For the latest generation of moviegoers, the film is a childhood staple. For older audiences, it reminded them why they fell in love with Disney animation in the first place.

#3: “Coco” (2017)

Pixar has always been resistant to doing musicals. While the characters don’t spontaneously break out into song in “Coco,” this is arguably the first Pixar film where the music is even more integral than the dialogue. The story is significantly tied to the Oscar-winning tune “Remember Me,” which we first hear as a grand musical number, later as a bittersweet farewell, and again as an eye-opening tear-jerker. There’s more than one way to listen to a song and the same can be said about our characters. Young Miguel is torn between his family’s tradition and his passion for music. While it would’ve been easy for this movie to choose a side, it instead finds a middle ground that sees everybody grow by the final curtain.

#2: “Toy Story 3” (2010)

“Toy Story 3” won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, but perhaps its greatest feat was breaking into the Best Picture race. Although the medium has rarely been embraced in Oscar’s top category, few people could deny that “Toy Story 3” was not only a magnificent piece of animation, but filmmaking at its finest. While it wasn’t the end for Woody, Buzz, and the gang, this third chapter felt like the culmination of everything the franchise had been building towards, delivering on its themes of moving on and accepting change. They may be animated, they may be plastic, but the emotions these characters evoke couldn’t be more real. It’s a film that speaks to your inner child while also leaving you feeling more grown-up.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“ParaNorman” (2012)

“Zootopia” (2016)

“Rango” (2011)

“I Lost My Body” (2019)

“My Life as a Zucchini” (2016)

#1: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018)


We’ll admit that the idea of an animated “Spider-Man” movie from Sony had us skeptical. In addition to being an animation milestone, though, “Into the Spider-Verse” will be remembered as one of the decade’s best superhero movies, as well as an exceptional coming-of-age tale. Peter Parker is only a supporting player with the spotlight going to fan-favorite Miles Morales. The film also makes room for several obscure characters who wouldn’t work nearly as well in live-action. “Into the Spider-Verse” was born for animation and the entire movie is like a 3D comic book brought to life. The style is complemented by involving drama, brilliant comedy, and stellar action. It’s a film that opens Spider-Man - and the animation medium - up to a new universe of possibilities.
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Why isn't The Peanuts Movie in this list!?F**K YOU!
How about toy story 4
As good as How to train your dragon 2 was, I like the first one better. I think the best animated movies of the 2010s came out the same year: How to train your dragon and Toy story 3 (no Tangled; wasn't good enough)