The 10 best animated movies of the 21st century (according to us)
From talking toys to singing frogs, these animated films are already considered bonafide classics.
Interested in a purely subjective list of the best animated films of the 21st century? We've got you covered. Below you'll find 10 contenders that deserve a rotation in your streaming queue. From princesses who fight to fish with bite, these films stand out against the dozens of others released over the last 17 years.
Written and directed by American filmmaker Brad Bird, "The Incredibles" centers on a normal suburban family who secretly also happen to be superheroes. When an evil super villain threatens the world, the family is forced to come out of retirement and work together to save the world.
"The movie is really a blend of a lot of kinds of movies and TV shows and comic books I liked [when I was] growing up," Bird told Film4. "Spy movies, action movies and superhero things all combined with my own feelings about the family I grew up in, and the family I have now with my wife and kids."
With a heartwarming, action-packed story, engaging characters and beautiful animation from artists like Israeli Alex Orrelle, "The Incredibles" was a massive critical and box office hit. In addition to winning two Academy Awards, the film was also the first animated feature to win the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
'The Princess and the Frog'
Despite declaring in 2004 that "Home on the Range" would be its last traditionally animated film, Disney shocked everyone five years later by reversing course with the phenomenal "The Princess and the Frog." Directed by American animation legends Ron Clements and John Musker, the same duo responsible for such classics as "Aladdin" and "The Little Mermaid," the film charmed audiences with its music, characters and gorgeous setting of 1912 New Orleans.
"What was great on this movie was that we kind of had an all-star team of animators," Musker said in 2010. "Even the animators who had moved to computer animation and were doing very, very well with CG, when they found out hand-drawn was coming back, they wanted to be a part of it again. For people who have done it, there is something much more expressive about it – from your brain, to your hand, to the pencil, to the paper."
"The Princess and the Frog" went on to become a critical and box office success, earning three Oscar nominations at the 82nd Academy Awards. Gushed film critic Roger Ebert: "No 3-D! No glasses! No extra ticket charge! No frantic frenzies of meaningless action! And...good gravy! A story! Characters! A plot! This is what classic animation once was like!"
Perhaps the only animated film in cinematic history to reduce audiences to tears in the first five minutes, "Up!" is a heartwarming tale about an old man, a flying house and the supporting characters that change his life along the way. The film, released by Pixar in 2009, was the brainchild of American filmmaker Pete Docter.
"The idea came from the idea of escaping the world, actually," Docter told the AV Club. "For me, there’s definitely days where I feel like I’ve been overwhelmed by people, and I need to get away. So Bob Peterson, who is the lead writer and co-director, he and I were just sitting in a room thinking of ideas. And we were experimenting with this visual idea of a guy in floating house, and it just seemed really intriguing."
In addition to floating away with the box office, "Up!" also received wide critical acclaim. At the Academy Awards, the film received five nominations, including "Best Picture," making it only the third animated film in history (along with "Beauty and the Beast" and "Toy Story 3") to earn such an honor.
One of the most beautiful films ever created by Walt Disney Animation Studios, "Moana" tells the story of a young Polynesian chief who must seek out a grandiose demigod named Maui to help restore the heart of the ocean. According to producer Osnat Shurer, a rising Israeli filmmaker and former Pixar exec, the film's powerful female lead made the project instantly attractive.
"Moana is a hero, and [the film is] an adventure story in which she goes out to save her world and with her, there is a really special combination of compassion and emotional intelligence and empathy, with courage and strength and bad-assery," she said. "And that’s very unique. It’s a very unique thing to pull together and to protect throughout the process of the making of the film. So that drew me."
In addition to its groundbreaking computer animation, a first for long-time Disney directors Ron Clements and John Musker, the film also featured a bestselling soundtrack co-written by "Hamilton" scribe Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The best-selling DVD title ever, with over 40 million copies sold, "Finding Nemo" is one of the most beloved animated films ever created. Directed by American filmmaker Andrew Stanton, the movie focuses on a clown fish named Marlin searching the ocean for his abducted son Nemo. As the audience discovers, Nemo is eventually discovered to be living out his life in the fish tank of a dentist's office.
"I kept thinking about what story I'd want to tell in an underwater setting, and I remembered this dentist's office that I went to as a kid," Stanton recalled in 2003. "It had a tank in the lobby, and I used to think about whether those fish wanted to go home, and what it must be like to be in this tacky little tank with a treasure chest, and a scuba diver. All those kind of things."
As far as critical response, "Finding Nemo's" 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes speak for itself. In addition to winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Film, comedian Ellen DeGeneres also earned a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress.
The highest grossing animated film of all time, "Frozen" justified its rise to the top in 2013 with an original story, gorgeous animation and earworm-inducing songs that nearly every kid worldwide managed to know by heart. Inspired by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," the movie tells the story of two sisters, forced apart by icy sorcery, and the epic adventure that leads them back to each other.
"The theme that I loved in the original story was more love versus negativity and love versus fear, and that was a theme we hadn't done…[it] seemed to resonate; I felt like it kind of gave us a way in," American writer Jennifer Lee said. "And then, when we made the girls sisters, that was the biggest breakthrough of all; it really gave stakes, it gave emotion, it gave us a new lens and I think that that's when we knew that we were gonna be able to make this one."
Critical response was widely enthusiastic, with many crediting the film with kicking off a second "Disney Renaissance." Culturally, "Frozen" continues to be something of a international phenomenon, with related merchandise flying off shelves, millions of costumes sold, and a high-anticipated Broadway version in development.
'Toy Story 3'
In 2010, Pixar did what many considered a near-impossible mission: it made a "Toy Story" film equal to or better than the previous two chapters in the franchise.
Directed by American filmmaker Lee Unkrich, "Toy Story 3" is set several years after the events of the previous film, with Andy off to college and Woody and the rest of the gang accidentally donated to a local daycare.
“Frankly, we wanted to see how Woody and the others would deal with that inevitable day of Andy outgrowing them," Unkrich told the Telegraph. "That’s what started the journey that we went on in telling this story.”
The film was so beloved by audiences it went on to gross more than the previous two combined. In addition to winning dozens of accolades, it was also nominated for five Oscars at the 83rd Academy Awards, including a rare Best Picture nod.
In 2001, Dreamworks released "Shrek," a hilarious computer animated fantasy that featured numerous parodies of children's fairy tales. Directed by New Zealand filmmaker Andrew Adamson and American Victoria Jenson, the film tells the tale of an ogre named Shrek who inadvertently becomes wrapped up in a quest to find a princess and save a kingdom.
"Pretty much nothing was sacred – anything that was funny we would play with," Adamson said in a 2002 interview. "There were definitely a lot of things that didn't make it into the film, a lot of parody. There are a lot of fairy tale creatures to play with and we ended up picking the funniest."
"Shrek" surprised everyone, scoring huge numbers at the box office and going on to win the Academy Award's first-ever Oscar for Best Animated Feature. In addition to spawning three sequels (with a fifth film planned for 2020), the film was also adapted as a successful Broadway musical.
Perhaps the most critically acclaimed animated feature of the 21st century so far, "Spirited Away" is a 2001 fantasy adventure written and directed by the legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. The film tells the story of a young girl who, along with her parents, discovers a portal to the spirit world. While exploring this strange dimension, her parents are transformed into pigs and she must embark on a great adventure to save them.
Yes, it's not your average plot line. Miyazaki's clever writing and imaginative, original characters, however, draw you in, transporting you to another world you can't help but be fascinated by.
"What made me decide to make this film was the realization that there are no films made for that age group of 10-year old girls," Miyazaki told Midnight Eye. "It was through observing the daughter of a friend that I realized there were no films out there for her, no films that directly spoke to her. Certainly, girls like her see films that contain characters their age, but they can't identify with them, because they are imaginary characters that don't resemble them at all."
In addition to becoming Japan's highest grossing film ever, "Spirited Away" also walked away with the "Best Animated Feature" Oscar in 2002. In 2016, it was voted the fourth best film of the 21st century by an international panel of 177 critics.
Despite taking more than six years to develop, at a record-breaking cost of more than $260 million, "Tangled" ended up being a huge box office hit for Disney when it was finally released in 2010. The film, directed by American filmmakers Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, is based off the classic fairy tale "Rapunzel," featuring a girl with magic hair and a thief who falls in love with her.
Rapunzel is a princess that doesn't know she's a princess," Greno told MovieWeb. "That makes her different. She's not a girl who sits around waiting to be rescued. She's a tough, smart person – we wanted this film to be full of girl power. Even though this film takes place in the past, we wanted the characters to feel modern and relatable. We wanted Rapunzel to be a role model for people of our generation."
In addition to strong characters, "Tangled" also featured plenty of groundbreaking computer animation. According to senior software engineer Kelly Ward, it took six years to develop the technology capable of animating Rapunzel's flowing golden locks.
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