Top 21 Best Animated Movies of Each Year (2000 - 2020)

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Top 21 Best Animated Movies of Each Year (2000 - 2020)

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
It's been a great century for animation so far! For this list, we're singling out the best animated feature of every year from 2000 to 2020. Our countdown includes "The Incredibles", “Persepolis”, “Toy Story 3”, "Frozen", "Soul", and more!
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Top 21 Best Animated Movies of Each Year



Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 21 best animated movies of each year.

For this list, we’re singling out the best animated feature of every year from 2000 to 2020.

What’s your animated favorite movie of the past 21 years? Let us know in the comments.

2000: “Chicken Run”


At the dawn of the 21st century, the Mouse House produced a couple of cult hits like “The Emperor’s New Groove.” However, movies like “Chicken Run” proved that feature animation wasn’t just Disney’s racket anymore. Distributed internationally by DreamWorks, this eggcellent comedy served as a showcase for the stop-motion masters at Aardman Animations. With their first feature, directors Nick Park and Peter Lord produced a film that was as witty as the “Wallace & Gromit” shorts and as thrilling as “The Great Escape.” From a technical standpoint, the film took stop-motion animation to new heights, going above and beyond what many thought possible. The chickens themselves are extremely empathetic heroes. So, you might reconsider picking up a pot pie for dinner.


2001: “Spirited Away”


The introduction of the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2001 made it a landmark year for animation. “Shrek” triumphed over “Monsters, Inc.” to win the first award. The next recipient was “Spirited Away,” which released a year earlier in Japan before reaching the States. Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece became the first Japanese animated film to take home an Academy Award for good reason. “Spirited Away” overflows with distinctive characters, breathtaking backgrounds, and rich artistry. It’s hard to believe one film could encompass so much magic. For many westerners, “Spirited Away” was their gateway into the endlessly creative world of Studio Ghibli. It’s not only considered Miyazaki’s best film and one of the best animated features ever, but it’s been ranked among the century’s best movies overall.


2002: “Lilo & Stitch”


2002 saw the release of two notable Disney animated films. Although it took a while for “Treasure Planet” to accumulate the following it deserved, “Lilo & Stitch” was an immediate hit with critics and audiences. Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois took a risk by putting the film in a modern Hawaiian setting. Luckily, the story still had the timeless appeal that the company is known for. “Lilo and Stitch” told a touching story about a girl, her “pet” alien, and the bonds of family. The sisterly relationship between Lilo and Nani is a surprisingly authentic one. Meanwhile, Stitch would go on to become one of the decade’s most recognizable animated characters. He easily stands alongside popular creatures like Scrat the saber-toothed squirrel from “Ice Age.”


2003: “Finding Nemo”


“Finding Nemo” earned Pixar their first Best Animated Feature Academy Award by beating out “Brother Bear” and “The Triplets of Belleville”. Andrew Stanton’s film was also a winner at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing animated film at the time. In a year that brought us a tidal wave of sequels, “Nemo” stood out as a brilliantly told original story about a clownfish’s seemingly futile mission to rescue his lost son. Water is one of the hardest things to get right in computer animation. You can feel every ounce of sweat Pixar put into generating each wave, bubble, and infinitesimal speck. While the underwater backgrounds and effects are still beyond impressive, it was the film’s comedy, wonder, and heart that made it an instant classic.


2004: “The Incredibles”


“Shrek 2” may have topped “Finding Nemo’s” box office record, but Pixar won another Oscar with “The Incredibles.” Although we had seen superhero satires and families before, few were on par with the Parrs. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that writer/director Brad Bird was a creative consultant for “The Simpsons.” This film possesses a similar fast-paced wit and a strong understanding of family dynamics. Like Bird’s debut feature, “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles” is a splendid blend of humor, action, and emotion. It was another example of how sophisticated feature animation had become. While the “Incredibles” shone with dialogue tailored towards adults,“The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” also reminded Goofy Goobers everywhere that there was nothing wrong with being a kid that year.


2005: “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”


Although Wallace and Gromit had already starred in three beloved shorts, could the duo carry a full-length production? The universal acclaim “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” attracted should answer your question. While the film possessed the clever visual gags and dialogue we had come to expect from Aardman, directors Nick Park and Steve Box stepped up their game to make this world feel more cinematic than ever before. They weren’t afraid to experiment with different tones either, drawing inspiration from Hammer Horror films and other classics of the monster genre. Naturally, the movie has more in common with “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” This mix of sharp comedy and as the filmmakers described it, “vegetarian horror,” scored Park his fourth Academy Award.


2006: “Paprika”


While the Oscar-winning “Happy Feet” delighted audiences of all ages, 2006 was an especially strong year for animation exclusively aimed at adults. The rotoscoped adaptation of “A Scanner Darkly” was great, but “Paprika” was easily the most mind-blowing film. This Japanese psychological thriller marked the fourth and sadly final feature from director Satoshi Kon, who passed away four years later. Like Kon’s “Perfect Blue” and “Millennium Actress,” “Paprika” plays with reality in thought-provoking ways. With a plot involving a machine that can take people inside dreams, “Paprika” showcases some of the most awe-inspired imagery ever put on screen. Just as anything is possible in dreams, the same can be said about animation, making this the ideal medium to tell this surreal story.


2007: “Persepolis”


“Persepolis” could also be described as an example of adult animation, but it’s a coming of age story above all else. Based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir, “Persepolis” is a universal tale. Even so, the film will especially resonate with those who grew up during the Iranian revolution. The narrative follows Marjane, or Marji, from her early days in Tehran to her adulthood in Europe. The film remains mostly faithful to the aesthetic of its source material with Marji’s upbringing being draped in black-and-white. By taking this simplistic yet stylish approach, the animators are able to emphasize every emotion our protagonist experiences. Aside from capturing its source material’s look, the themes of identity and feminism that made Satrapi’s story so special are perfectly portrayed on screen.


2008: “WALL-E”


In 2008, “Kung Fu Panda” won the most Annie Awards and “Waltz with Bashir” became the first animated film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film. But when it came to pushing the boundaries of animation, “WALL-E” went to infinity and beyond. We know, different Pixar movie. Nevertheless, there’s a reason why film critic A. O. Scott declared “WALL-E” “breaks new ground.” “WALL-E” took full advantage of the medium with a practically dialogue-free beginning that relied on sound design, music, and emotive characters to tell the story. While the second half is more exposition-heavy, characters still speak in a timeless manner while touching upon timely themes. The film’s portrayal of the future is eerily more relevant today than it was in 2008.


2009: “Up”


Even in a year that gave us the creepy “Coraline” and the energetic “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” there’s no denying that “Up” was 2009’s greatest animated achievement. Not only did it win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but “Up” became the first animated film since “Beauty and the Beast” to be nominated for Best Picture. The opening sequence alone is a tour de force of animation and music, which helped secure Michael Giacchino’s score an Oscar. From there, “Up” juggles many elements you wouldn’t expect to compliment each other: a giant bird, talking dogs flying planes, and a house carried by balloons, for instance. Against all the odds, Pixar ties all of these fantastical elements together in hilarious, meaningful, and tear-jerking ways.


2010: “Toy Story 3”


As well as giving us the slick animation of “A Cat in Paris,” 2010 was a launching point for several prominent animated franchises, such as “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Despicable Me.” But few franchises have the staying power of “Toy Story.” Coming out eleven years after the second film, “Toy Story 3” appropriately grew up with its audience as our plastic protagonists and Andy find themselves at a major turning point. With college on the horizon, will Andy hold onto his old playthings or will they all start a new chapter? Our journey to the film’s heartfelt resolution hits all the right notes. It’s hilarious, thrilling, and, in one particular scene, downright unsettling. While more “Toy Story” projects would follow, this Best Picture winner was the perfect way to cap off the end of an era.


2011: “Rango”


In a year heavy on franchise entries like “Cars 2” and “Puss in Boots,” the Nickelodeon Movies production, “Rango” was a creative breath of fresh air. The film follows a pet chameleon stranded in the Mojave desert. When he finds himself named the new Sheriff of the local town, both Rango and the audience are swept along on a ride straight out of a classic Hollywood western complete with bank robbers, posse gangs, and a dramatic face off at high noon. With its distinctive animation style and stacked vocal cast, “Rango” charmed audiences and critics alike. It would go on to become the first non-Disney, non-Pixar property to win an Academy Award since 2006, and the last to hold that distinction until 2018.


2012: “Wreck-It Ralph”


Speaking of indie treasures, Don Hertzfeldt’s “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” is as simple as it is profound. It’s one of several contenders that would’ve been worthy of this spot, but “Wreck-It Ralph” was 2012’s most rewatchable animated feature. The film’s various easter eggs and cameos are sure to inspire multiple viewings for video game lovers. How often do you see Bowser, Eggman, and M. Bison in the same room? What really keeps us coming back is the strength of the film’s characters and worldbuilding. Gamers will appreciate the parallels between Ralph and Donkey Kong, who also turned out to be a not-so-bad bad guy. Even if you’ve never picked up a controller, you’ll still be enchanted by the film’s visuals, humor, and depth.


2013: “Frozen”

Between “The Princess and the Frog” and “Tangled,” Disney fairytales were making a comeback by adding contemporary twists. Nothing could’ve prepared Disney, however, for the avalanche of acclaim that was “Frozen.” Watching this lovingly crafted feat of music and storytelling made us feel like Disney had officially recaptured the magic of their 90s Renaissance. At the same time, “Frozen” brought Disney Animation into the 21st century in ways that felt natural. With an emphasis on sisterly love, a self-aware sense of humor, and a princess who actually becomes a queen, the film marked a watershed moment for the Mouse House. It did all of this while still delivering the lovable characters and enchanting songs that made the Disney brand perennial in the first place.


2014: “The Lego Movie” (2014)


After seeing “Big Hero 6,” we all wanted to cuddle up with a Baymax doll. Based on an iconic toy line, “The Lego Movie” also inspired plenty of merchandise. Those who were expecting a feature-length commercial were amazed to find just how funny, touching, and wise the film was. Like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “The Lego Movie” works on two levels. Seeing familiar faces like Batman, Han Solo, and Gandalf together is sure to bring out one’s inner child. Meanwhile, original characters like Emmet and Wyldstyle have become new staples of childhood. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller pack in all the silliness one would anticipate while also weaving in poignant messages about creativity, challenging conformity, and communication between parents and children.


2015: “Inside Out”


While “Anomalisa” got inside our heads with its psychological themes, “Inside Out” literally took us inside a young person’s mind. Pixar might not have been the first studio to play with the idea of personified emotions, but this premise had never before been executed with such vivid colors, inventive ideas, and identifiable characters. The story of an eleven-year-old moving from Minnesota to San Francisco might not sound like anything special at first. But as is often the case with people going through a transitional period, there’s a whirlwind of complex feelings to explore under the surface. As such, “Inside Out” is not only essential viewing for animation fans, but for anybody on the verge of growing up.


2016: “Your Name”


Disney released a slew of instant classics in 2016 like “Zootopia.” Studio Laika also outdid themselves with “Kubo and the Two Strings,” which drew heavily from Japanese culture. Speaking of Japan, Makoto Shinkai is a name well worthy of comparison to Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon. Shinkai has solidified his status as a modern master of animation and “Your Name” is his finest film to date. Audiences fell in love with this innovative romance about two teenagers separated by distance, time, and logic. Will their connection triumph over these astronomical barriers? We won’t dare give the answer away, but the journey and final destination couldn’t be more gratifying. If you haven’t seen it yet, definitely remember this movie’s name.


2017: “Coco”


On that note, “Coco” is a name that’ll be remembered for some time—and not just because of that Oscar-winning song. This Pixar film is a love letter to Day of the Dead and the beautiful country of Mexico. It’s also about the universal language of music and how it connects us in both life and death. The film’s toe-tapping soundtrack is matched by its visual splendor, painting a dazzling portrait of the afterlife that strangely feels livelier than real life. The film’s themes of redemption, forgiveness, and the power of listening are sure to resonate with multiple generations. With “Coco” and “The Breadwinner,” 2017 was a truly great year for animated movies about the importance of family and culture.


2018: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”


In an era full of superhero origin stories, team-ups, and heroes in general, you wouldn’t think an animated “Spider-Man” movie would stick out. However, this masterstroke lives up to its tagline: “What makes you different is what makes you Spider-Man.” “Into the Spider-Verse” manages to differ from all other incarnations of Spider-Man while also being a celebration of everything Spidey. While we all know the name Peter Parker, this film helped turn Miles Morales and several other lesser-known characters into pop culture icons. It did so with a strong emotional core, mind-blowing action, and a distinctive style that brings the comics to life in unprecedented ways. Along with Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs,” “Into the Spider-Verse” is a revelation of imagination and originality.


2019: “Klaus”


Although CG may rule the market nowadays, animation offers a wide palette of different techniques. Laika continues to evolve stop-motion animation with films like “Missing Link.” Meanwhile, Netflix has shined a spotlight on 2D methods with Xilam Animation’s “I Lost My Body” and Sergio Pablos’ “Klaus.” Pablos worked on several traditionally animated Disney classics back in the 90s and early 2000s. The warmth of those films is present throughout “Klaus,” a movie that also brings out the warmth of the holidays. Providing a unique backstory for Santa, this is a film that we can see many audiences revisiting every Christmas. Whether you watch it during the winter or the summer, you can appreciate “Klaus” year-round for its storybook aesthetic and message of goodwill.


2020: “Soul”


“Over the Moon” was another winner for Netflix, but Pixar managed to touch our souls once again. On the animation front, Pixar is frequently regarded as the best of the best. While it may’ve been tempting to award our top spot to another studio, co-directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers truly outdid themselves with “Soul.” Following its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, the film was met with perfect scores from The Hollywood Reporter, The Guardian, and The Playlist. Much like “Coco,” the film provides a vivid portrayal of the afterlife with music adding an essential component. But “Soul” is just as much about the impact we leave on Earth and why life is worth living. With its soulful sound, diverse cast, and meaningful story, the film not only has the potential to change your perception of animation, but your entire worldview.
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I agreed with some of the movies on this list.