I’ve always had an affinity for animation. There was, and always will be, a certain magic behind the craft of it. I think back and I don’t remember many things before the age of 6. Of the moments I do remember, wearing out a VHS copy of The Lion King sticks out. Maybe because the infamous stampede scene still haunts my dreams, or perhaps it was because it laid the foundation for my lifelong love of the art. Probably a little of both.

Now, there is a lot of animation out there these days. So I’ve taken it upon myself to compile this short list of animated films that I firmly believe reside in the uppermost tier of the medium. Maybe some of your favorites made the cut, or maybe you’ll want to seek out some of these gems. Either way, it’s a win.

…and one last note before we dive in: I know plenty of Disney/Pixar movies could exist on this list, however, there are so many they could easily make their own list. Herein you will find films mostly outside those studios.

So, without further ado, let’s begin:

Your Name (2016)

Your Name is a story about a city boy named Taki and a small town girl, Mitsuha. One day, to each of their surprise, they wake up to find that they have switched bodies. Body swapping is not exactly an original idea, as we have seen that done many times over. The thing that really sets Your Name apart is that this is a romance. In any other movie, it would be played for straight comedy. It’s a combination of genres that sound a bit odd on paper but is executed masterfully. On top of a heartfelt story, the visuals on display here are hands down the best I have seen as far as 2D animation goes. Even quick inserts are mind-bogglingly detailed. With these aspects firing on all cylinders, It is no wonder that Your Name was the 4th highest grossing film of all time in Japan.

P.S – I have watched both the sub and the dubbed version and can confirm that even the dub is quite good!

The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

If you’re a film nerd like me or just a big fan of quirky comedies and aesthetics, you are probably no stranger to the films of Wes Anderson. While most of Anderson’s filmography is neatly done in live-action, he did surprise a few when he released Fantastic Mr. Fox (based on the book by Ronald Dahl.) Stop-Motion features always have this great tangibility to them because they were physically crafted by hand and this feels especially true in this case. This is because Fantastic Mr. Fox still utilizes Anderson’s love of meticulous color palettes when creating its world. A star-studded cast is only icing on the cake.

Seeing this film again only has me anticipating Isle of Dogs that much more.

World of Tomorrow (2015)

World of Tomorrow is sort of a strange short film. I mean that in the best way possible. Mainly because it’s like no other animation I know, outside of the creator, Don Hertzfeldt’s, other films. The film revolves around a little girl who meets a clone of her adult self, who takes her on a journey to the future. It uses abstract backgrounds and almost childlike character models to tell a funny yet thought-provoking story– all within 16 minutes. Rarely does a short film engage you with so many ideas and manages to be even half as impactful. Fortunately, the award-winning World of Tomorrow is available to check out on Netflix.

Akira (1988)

What is an article about animation without mentioning Akira? The highly influential film has been credited with being one of the movies that really introduced Anime to a lot of people over here in the west, as well as help shape the cyber-punk sub-genre landscape. If you’ve never heard of Akira, it’s a film that may take a couple viewings to fully appreciate it as a whole. I’ll admit, on the first watch I didn’t fully comprehend what I just watched. However, upon multiple viewings, it has become one of my favorites. Each frame in the film is packed with such detail and smooth animation, that the film still holds up very well today. That fact is only solidified by the cleaned up Blu-ray release by Funimation. Neo-Tokyo never looked so good.

Coco (2017)

I have to be honest. I am not a fan of a lot of Pixar’s sequels. The last movie I really loved from the studio was Inside Out. Personally, Pixar is at their best when they are focused on the storytelling rather than trying to pump out a continuation of one of their previous home-runs. So I am happy to report that Coco is up there with the best from the studio. At its core, Coco is about family and trying to follow one’s own dreams, but Coco also functions as a vibrant celebration of Mexican culture. A special greeting by some leads at Pixar before the movie even starts (after the slog that is a Frozen short starring Olaf) really puts some of the films technical aspects in perspective. Do not skip this one this holiday season.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Yes, another Anime film. Sue me. Princess Mononoke made the list rather than Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro because this is Miyazaki’s fantasy epic. It really showcases his skills even when he is out of his normal comfort zone doing more quieter family films. For me, Mononoke is his most riveting, with a wonderful pace that eases you into the world and its characters. Many of Miyazaki’s films have themes about nature and this is no different. It does not try and be subtle with that fact. The sheer scope of the film coupled with environments that could be considered characters in their own right, make this a must-see film for fans of the medium.

Song of the Sea

Are you interested in Irish Folklore? Do you like your characters cute and your art like a storybook come to life? Well if so, I think I have found your movie. The movie revolves around a boy named Ben, his sister Saoirse, and their family. I won’t say much more than that because I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say this though: Song of the Sea takes material that may not be very familiar to mainstream audiences but imbues it with enough charm and emotion that anyone with a heart can get invested in it.

Honorable Mentions

What did you think of the list? Are their any films you think are worthy of being recognized?

Let me know below– I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Evan Maroun
A writer, photographer, and part-time crime fighter currently based in Upstate, NY. You can usually find him watching the latest indie flick, planning an adventure, or geeking out on Twitter about the latest in pop culture.

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