By Gavin Arucan | Staff Writer
There has undoubtedly been a drastic boom in the quality and quantity of animated films since the beginning of the 21st century. Over the last sixteen years, movie audiences have witnessed the rise of computer animation with the popularization of Pixar as well as the introduction of Japanese animation to America by the prestigious Studio Ghibli. In fact, with such creative, mature, and experimental ideas, most animated films have lost the previously held stigma that they were only for kids and are now beloved by people of all ages.
The following list features the best of the best, twenty animated films since the year 2000 that everyone should watch. These imaginative, clever, and beautiful films shaped many of us as children, inspired us as adults, and will most likely be remembered for decades to come. Here are the twenty most inspiring, intelligent, delightful, and all around best animated films of the 21st century.
20. “Winnie the Pooh” (2011)
Kicking off the list is Disney’s last traditionally animated film as well as the only musical on this list. While it doesn’t have as much to say as many of the following films do, “Winnie the Pooh” contains clever comedic writing and toe-tapping musical numbers that make it enjoyable for the entire family. In a time when every movie feels the need to have a deep meaning with complex characters, “Winnie the Pooh” dares to celebrate the loony humor and innocence of simpler times.
19. “The Illusionist” (2010)
This hand drawn French film depicting a near obsolete stage magician trying desperately to stay relevant and earn money for his admirer is a heartbreaking story that can only be told in its specific medium. The illusionist’s losing battle against the much more popular rock and roll bands reflects the dying nature of traditional animation against CG animation. “The Illusionist” manages to portray emotion through nothing but character movement, expressions, and music due to the lack of actual dialogue. This is a relaxing yet emotional watch about the tragic life of a failing artist.
18. “Lilo and Stitch” (2002)
“Lilo and Stitch” achieves one of the most well written child characters in the little Hawaiian girl, Lilo. The movie celebrates the creativity, weirdness, and hardships that come with childhood. By not writing in a real villain, the screenwriters understand that sometimes life is tough enough without a bad guy.
17. “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016)
Stop motion animation is a dying art form in the realm of animated movies, however one studio has kept the technique alive throughout the 21st century. This determined studio is known as Laika Entertainment. For their fourth and latest feature film, Laika used new technology such as 3D printing to create what may be the most beautifully animated film on this list. The only reason Kubo and the Two Strings is ranked so low on the list is because of its admittedly average story and voice acting.
16. “The Boy and the Beast” (2015)
Japan’s Mamoru Hosoda’s most recent work features many themes of overcoming darkness, the relationship between apprentices and their masters, fatherhood, and growing up. The biggest problem with the movie, however, is that it falls into the anime trope of having to explain things with dialogue or animation. In a visual medium such as animation, it’s better to show, not tell.
15. “Arthur Christmas” (2011)
With such a lame title and goofy looking poster, the fact that “Arthur Christmas” actually has sidesplitting British humor, a complex and intelligent lesson, and a heart-warming story came to the surprise of many. The film is a modern holiday classic that deserves to be remembered and watched every Christmas for years to come.
14. “The Simpsons Movie” (2007)
“The Simpsons” has been praised for its gut-busting social satire and iconic comedic characters over its extensive television run. “The Simpsons Movie” takes that same clever writing and well-known cartoon family and thrusts them into bigger comedic and dramatic situations that couldn’t be done on a television budget.
13. “Finding Nemo” (2003)
One of Pixar’s most famous films, “Finding Nemo,” has a touching story about the strength of a father’s love. The beautiful ocean scenery and cast of colorful characters have allowed this movie to become a household name through the years.
12. “Zootopia” (2016)
Disney’s bright and colorful film about a city full of anthropomorphic animals is actually a lot darker than it appears to be. “Zootopia” actually teaches kids about the problems of racism, drug abuse, sexism, and other real world problems that needed to be addressed.
11. “Coraline” (2009)
“Coraline” is the first film released by Laika and has some of the creepiest stop motion animation in any movie. The disturbing visuals are eerily hypnotic and are perfectly complimented by such an imaginative story. This, along with another Laika film listed below is a great movie to watch around Halloween.
10. “Song of the Sea” (2014)
Irish director, Tomm Moore, brings us a delightful adventure paired with breathtaking stylized animation. “Song of the Sea’s” adorable characters and innocent nature will make you feel like a child again.
9. “ParaNorman” (2012)
Released in 2012, Laika’s second stop motion feature film draws many similarities to a classic 80s kids’ monster movie. Much like “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” features a dark and creepy atmosphere, however it also explores themes of prejudice, persecution, regret, and revenge, giving it a bit more of an edge.
8. “Up” (2009)
Based on the first ten minutes alone, “Up” deserves to be listed as one of the greatest movies of all time. The emotional first scene followed by a fantastic adventure story makes for another phenomenal film by Pixar.
7. “Kung Fu Panda 2” (2011)
The sequel to “Kung Fu Panda” improves upon the original by upping the comedy, stakes and drama to new heights. Any movie that can make you cry at a panda’s tragic childhood and fear a peacock while providing nonstop laughs deserves to be ranked among the animation greats.
6. “The Wind Rises” (2013)
Acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki’s final film tells a tragic tale inspired by a true story that may be seen as controversial due to its link to World War II. The imagination and ambition of the main character despite consequences of his actions are downright inspiring.
5. “Ratatouille” (2007)
Pixar’s film about a cooking rat evokes a strong and inspiring message to aspiring artists with its slogan, “Anyone can cook.” Along with gorgeous shots of France and a seriously underappreciated score, “Ratatouille’s” energy makes it an entertaining watch.
4. “Kung Fu Panda 3” (2016)
With every new installment, the “Kung Fu Panda” series keeps getting better and better. The dazzling animation, a phenomenal score by Hans Zimmer, and quick comedic and dramatic writing, Dreamwork’s third “Kung Fu Panda” movie takes a step beyond even some of Pixar’s best films.
3. “The Lego Movie” (2014)
With what could have easily been a quick cash grab for Lego, “The Lego Movie” actually tells a hilarious, creative, and moving story about a bunch of building blocks. The jokes fly by so quickly that you need to watch the movie two or three times to catch them all, and the twist near the end fixes many of the narrative clichés the movie has.
2. “Inside Out” (2015)
“Inside Out” brings audiences on an emotional rollercoaster that at times could make a grown man cry. The ups and downs of growing up are portrayed beautifully here, making this Pixar’s best movie.
1. “Spirited Away” (2001)
“Spirited Away,” directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is nothing less of an achievement in storytelling, artistry, and voice performances. Every character in the movie is intriguing and the world it creates is fascinating yet mysterious. This enchanting tale of spirits, monsters, and witches deserves its spot as the best animated film since 2000.