It was an exciting week in the world of animated films, as Disney held their Disney 23 Expo. With the exposition promising a bevy of animated entertainment in the near future, we here at Goliath decided to take a look at 12 animated classics that are worth your time in the very near future. For the overall health of the list (and to prevent one infamous, mouse-fronted studio from dominating entirely), we’ve decided to disqualify classic Disney animated films such as The Lion King or The Little Mermaid. We just have to assume that everyone has seen those ones before. We have allowed Pixar films, however, to make up for the previously mentioned slight against the classics we all grew up with. So without further ado, here’s 12 classic animated films you can dig into right away!
12. Ratatouille (2007) – Pixar Animation Studios
Considering the myriad of behind the scenes production issues the film faced (the film’s original director, Jan Pinkava, was replaced midway through production by Brad Bird, who finished the film), it’s a wonder Ratatouille is making its way onto any “Best of…” lists, let alone garnering Oscar nominations (it received five nominations, winning Best Animated Picture) and inspiring youths everywhere to take up the apron and pursue a career as a chef. Following the exploits of a young rat named Remy (voiced beautifully by Patton Oswalt) as he attempts to follow his passion for cooking despite his rodent heritage, Ratatouille helps drive home the always important lesson that it’s not where you come from, but what you choose to do with yourself that makes you who you are. It’s a profoundly familiar moral, but a necessary one that can be pleasantly enjoyed when wrapped up in an animated film with this many laughs, heartfelt moments and beautifully rendered CGI.
11. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Touchstone Pictures
Very often do people mistakenly assume that Tim Burton directed this 1993 stop motion animation classic; however, the film was actually directed by Henry Selick and written/produced by Burton, which is why his fingerprints lay so heavily on the finished product despite not having the actual director tag. Following the dastardly plot of Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon) to open a portal between Halloween town and Christmas town so he can take over the latter, The Nightmare Before Christmas was produced by Disney but released by Touchstone Pictures, as the Mouse believed the film would be too scary and unconventional to release under their regular banner. Now regarded as an animated classic that has developed a huge cult following, The Nightmare Before Christmas has even received a 3D overhaul and re-release (circa 2009), making it one of the first Disney films to be given such a treatment. Eerie and iconic, it’s one of the most unique films on this list.
10. Toy Story (1995) – Pixar Animation Studios
The computer animated epicenter that started it all, Toy Story was the first feature length animated venture by the now-famous Pixar Animation Studios, released in 1995. Directed by John Lasseter and featuring the stellar voice cast you no doubt recognize, including Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear and Wallace Shawn as Rex the Tyrannosaurus, Toy Story harkened to a new era of animated films, films defined by digital animation that were smart enough to play for both children and adults. Pixar has done a stellar job of producing these sorts of films (part of the reason why the studio continues to endure great success), but it’s best not to forget that it all started with that tiny cowboy and his space age best friend. The film that gave us the iconic “To infinity… and beyond!,” Toy Story is one of the few truly universally acclaimed films (we’ve never seen a bad review of it, not anywhere) and will surely stand as a must-see for film goers of all ages moving forward.
9. The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – 20th Century Fox
Directed by Wes Anderson and based on the famous Roald Dahl book of the same name, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film that takes all of the stilted, awkward comedy and majestic visual aesthetic of Anderson’s oeuvre and rolls it into stop motion animated form; on the surface, this pairing seems ill-fated, but after watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox one is left to wonder why Anderson doesn’t make more animated films (and then you can watch The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013) to remind yourself why). Funny and strange, heartfelt and inspired, The Fantastic Mr. Fox features a stellar voice cast (George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman star, among others) and a plot that sees some dastardly farmers trying to stop the foxes and other forest animals from plundering the goods of the farm. With a familiar story that plays to children and an intelligent humor that caters to adults, The Fantastic Mr. Fox takes a page from Pixar’s book and crafts a film that appeals to moviegoers everywhere and of all ages.
8. The Iron Giant (1999) – Warner Bros. Feature Animation
Also directed by Brad Bird (spoiler alert, this won’t be the last time you see his name on this list either, the guy really is doing superb work in Hollywood) and released by Warner Bros. Feature Animation, The Iron Giant is the story of young Hogarth Hughes and the giant, mechanical robot he befriends (the aptly named Iron Giant…). Set during the 1950s and heavily characterized by its Cold War setting, The Iron Giant (like many films on this list) is surprisingly mature in its machinations and young in its morals, a winning combination that seems to define many of the best animated films of recent years. With a strong anti-war message and an all-star voice cast featuring Vin Diesel, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston and Eli Marianthal, The Iron Giant was crafted with both traditional and computer generated animation and remains one of the last truly iconic films to feature standard animation.
7. The Incredibles (2004) – Pixar Animation Studios
But wait! We’ve got another one from Brad Bird for you! And of the films mentioned so far, it’s most definitely his strongest. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture (seriously, Brad Bird is going to need a bigger trophy case…), The Incredibles follows a family of superheroes as they try to fit in to everyday life before a global threat forces them into action. It’s a familiar yet heartwarming tale of accepting that it’s alright to be different, especially when you know your family has your back, and it features some of the most beautiful animation you’ll ever see up on the big screen. With action, humor and feelings running strong throughout the film (and also a really great villain voiced by Jason Lee), The Incredibles is a must-watch that we’re going to assume everyone has seen already, and if you haven’t…well, you just might be a supervillain!
6. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) – Studio Ghibli
Released by the renowned and acclaimed Studio Ghibli and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro tells the story of two young girls (originally voiced by Satsuki Kusakabe and Mei Kusakabe in the Japanese released, dubbed by Lisa Michelson and Cheryl Chase in the Streamline release, and Dakota and Elle Fanning in the later Disney re-release) and their adventures with friendly forest spirits in postwar Japan. An incredibly touching and unique film, My Neighbor Totoro may not be as instantly recognizable as some of the Disney and Pixar films released of late, but make no mistake; this is a masterpiece, an instruction manual on how to create an affective, moving piece of work that will unlock the imagination of children and adults alike while inundating you with beautiful animation the likes of which is often copied but rarely matched.
5. Shrek (2001) – Dreamworks Pictures
Another animated film which experienced severe setbacks before its release (comedian Chris Farley famously recorded most of the dialogue for the titular ogre before his untimely death, and was replaced by Mike Myers late in production, who was forced to re-dub all of the lines), Shrek transcended its troubled roots and, much like the princesses of the fairy tales it so actively mocks, turned into a beauty when it counted. Featuring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow, Shrek tells a wonderfully irreverent story that is both an homage and a send up of the fairy tale genre, playing on expectations for both children and adults alike (the film has an astounding amount of adult humor for an animated film) to hilarious effect. We could watch this movie over and over for the interplay between Shrek and Donkey alone (and we’re willing to bet you could, too).
4. Akira (1988) – Streamline Pictures
Considered by many to be a landmark event in both Japanese animation and science fiction storytelling, 1988’s Akira is a different kind of animation, one that is most definitely not meant for children (in stark contrast to most films on this list). A fundamental cyberpunk story which follows the leader of a biker gang, Shotaro Kaneda, as he attempts to stop the psychic rampage of his friend, Tetsuo Shima, who is hell bent on releasing the legendary psychic Akira. Commonly cited as the film that sold Western audiences on Japanese anime (and the manga from which it is commonly drawn), Akira is bloody, violent and disturbing while also being an incredibly beautiful and iconic film to watch. Its influence is vast and cannot be overstated, and its world-building is second to none, as the futuristic society of Neo-Tokyo remains one of the most fully realized and immersive set pieces to ever grace the silver screen.
3. Finding Nemo (2003) – Pixar Animation Studios
Another Pixar film released to almost universal acclaim (and not the last one we will see on this list), 2003’s Finding Nemo is a film that needs little introduction; with almost a billion dollars made at the worldwide box office, we’re assuming everyone who wants to see it has seen it already. In case you’re one of the few who hasn’t, here’s the logline: a curmudgeonly old clown fish (voiced by the always incredible Albert Brooks, one of the most underrated actors in the world at any given moment) must venture into the open ocean with the help of a hilarious yet forgetful regal tang named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres in a career defining role) in order to find his son, Nemo. Along the way, he learns about the importance of taking risks rather than playing it safe, and about how important trust is to a family. It’s a truly inspiring work that transcends genre, age and audience, the kind of film that will be enjoyed be families and filmgoers for decades to come. And if you thought this one was good, well…
2. WALL-E (2008) – Pixar Animation Studios
We feel remiss putting so many Pixar films on this list, and we promised we actively tried to limit their inclusion as best we could, but we can’t help if a studio keeps releasing iconic films that should be watched by all. Of those iconic films, there’s one which stands head and shoulders above the others as a true masterpiece, a film which dazzles in a way few (animation or otherwise) can. That film, of course, is WALL-E, the heartfelt story of the tiny robot who taught us all a little bit more about what it meant to be human. Also directed by Andrew Stanton, WALL-E was ranked by TIME Magazine as the best film of the decade, and deservedly so. While the bumbling yet lovable robot who fronts the film may seem naive, the film’s thinly veiled criticisms of consumer culture and unsustainable human development render it accessible to youth and adults alike, and there’s simply no denying that the film looks, feels and emotes beautifully (the scene where Wall-E and his robot love, Eve, dance among the stars is without a doubt one of the most gorgeous scenes in the history of cinema).
1. Spirited Away (2001) – Studio Ghibli
It takes an incredible film to top WALL-E, but if there’s any film that can it has to be 2001’s Spirited Away. Again directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli, Spirited Away tells the story of young Chihiro Ogino who, after her parents are turned into pigs by the evil witch Yubaba, must work in a ghostly bathhouse while attempting to free them. Beautifully rendered and steeped in ancient Japanese folklore, Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture in 2003 and is often cited as one of the best films of all time, regardless of its animated status. A master class in storytelling, Spirited Away remains one of the truly can’t-miss animated experiences of this or any era.