Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Ranking the Best Animated Pictures from Worst to Best

There are very few areas of art and entertainment where I genuinely consider myself an "expert." Standing in the way of this is my awareness that I haven't read/watched/listened to ALL THE THINGS!!! I'm well read, but never, it seems, quite well-read enough. Admittedly, no one is. We all have gaps in our knowledge that makes comparing pieces or picking a "best of the best" very difficult.

By way of example, based on MY consumption of animated television, I would contest that the best children's animated TV series of all time is Disney's Recess. But I've never felt like I can put a real flag down on that claim for two simple reasons: Avatar: The Last Airbender and Steven Universe. I keep meaning to watch these, as both are heralded as some of the best animation of all time. (Like, seriously. I can already feel the lectures coming in the comments). But time is short and I really should spend more time reading than catching up on TV and yadda yadda. Either way, until I do, I'm not confident in any grandiose claims I want to make in favor of Recess.

Which means I get excited when I realize that I DO have some area of expertise that I can start shouting my opinions about, and do you know what I realized today??? I have seen EVERY Oscar winning animated movie. Hot Dog!

Whether or not this is something to shout from the rooftops with pride is probably a matter of opinion. For myself, I say it with some satisfaction. I love animation, and I love that I get to use my position as a children's author as an excuse to continue to engage with animated movies as both a high-brow, snooty pants critique, and a rabid, doe-eyed fan.

And for better or worse, there's a huge range in quality between the various films that have won the award. Some of them I don't really even like. Of course, while this list represents just one personal opinion, I've done my best to explain why, from a craft perspective, one movie fell short compared to another. Some of the factors I'll be considering include: Plot and pacing, character, humor, emotional resonance, art direction and rewatchability. That last one mostly came into play when I had two movies neck and neck and struggled to pick which one beat out the other.

Without further ado, here are the Oscar winning animated features! Some of them even deserved it.

#21. HAPPY FEET (2006)

On the surface, Happy Feet is an inoffensive, plucky movie about penguins that sing and dance. Those basic surface details are done well enough. The penguins DO sing, except for Elijah Wood penguin, who dances! And then more penguins dance! If that was all this movie tried to do, I think it would be substantially better. Once you get below the surface, however, it becomes apparent that Happy Feet is an incoherent mess. It starts with one cliche plot - that of the outsider who must win over his town with his quirky skill/personality - only to trade that cliche plot for a different one about... environmentalism? The dangers of putting penguins in zoos? It doesn't really matter though, because neither plot is done well and neither one makes you care particularly about the characters. Once you get past the glitz of the singing/dancing penguins, there isn't much to invest in. To top it off, the animation tends to stray into the "uncanny valley." For those unfamiliar with the term, this refers to when something is made to look life-like, but is missing that "spark", so you're left feeling like you're watching a moving corpse. For evidence, please look at the above image and try to tell me these aren't robot penguins.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: 2006 was a lean year for animation.  There weren't any great contenders, but even so, the award should have gone to Cars. I'm no apologist for the Cars franchise, but its story was okay and it had characters who at least earned the toys that were made of them. More than the gobbledeegook of Happy Feet can claim.


Growing up, I was a HUGE fan of Wallace and Gromit. I had knitted plushies of them and everything, at a time when most kids had never heard of these British claymation shorts. (Yeah, I'm gonna go hipster on Wallace and Gromit. Fight me.) I wanted the full length movie to be good so badly, but when it came, it mostly elicited a "meh..." from me. There's some fantastic animation, but aside from that, I think this movie showed that the pair were better suited to short form. The plot was weird in a way that didn't quite hit the same charming note of the previous outings. Also, there was too much Wallace and not enough Gromit. The shorts rode on the appeal of that unibrow dog.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: While not his best of the best, Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle was gorgeously animated and quite enjoyable. Also, while I haven't seen it, I know there are quite a few fans of Corpse Bride out there, so maybe it belongs in the conversation too.

#19. BRAVE (2012)

The first time Pixar tackled a princess movie, they got less than stellar results. Brave had a lot of potential, with a fabulous setting, gorgeous animation and fun voice cast. But it's weighed down with a not particularly original "arranged marriage" plot line, a mid-section that grows more boring the more bears are added and a heroine who mostly just whines her way through the movie and never is particularly sympathetic.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Making this year especially frustrating, there were several better movies that came out in 2012. ParaNorman isn't perfect, but it's fun, creepy and inventive. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is one of the silliest movies ever made and might just be the single best use of the vocal talents of Hugh Grant. But the award probably should have gone to Wreck-It Ralph, which seemed like a big, dumb, goofy story at the time, but has held up on rewatch surprisingly well. 

#18. UP (2009)

MUAHAHAHAHA!!! I'm guessing this will be my first truly controversial ranking. This movie was so adored in it's day, it's one of a tiny class of animated films that managed to nab a nomination for Best Picture. And if this list was a ranking of the best movie openings of all time, it would be very close to the top, if not number one. I'm with you on that, guys. The beginning sequence with Carl and Ellie is so enchanting. In fact, that sequence alone is why this movie is as high up as it is. When it comes to most of the rest of the movie, very little of it worked for me. The villain plot feels so weird and tacked on, the dogs are annoying and the story of Russel and Carl feels drowned out by these two overblown elements. That being said, this film absolutely did deserve the Oscar it won for best original score. What I'm saying is I understand why people like this film, but I think it's got some pretty glaring weaknesses. That, or you all like talking dogs making unoriginal squirrel jokes 1000% more than I do.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Any of the four other movies nominated this year. The Secret of Kells is one of the most unique and lushly animated movies I've ever seen. Fantastic Mr. Fox is strange and hilarious. Coraline is the most terrifying thing with a label that says "for children" slapped on it, and that's kind of awe-inspiring. And The Princess and the Frog feels like a love letter to earlier Disney movies, told with gorgeous, hand-drawn animation and a fantastic musical score. Honestly, all are brilliant and all have better stories than Up.

#17. TOY STORY 4 (2019)

When this movie was announced, I was among those voicing displeasure at the idea, due to how nicely the third movie wrapped up the franchise. It felt like we had already bid these characters a heartfelt good-bye and there wasn't much more to say on the topic. Upon watching the most recent film, I softened slightly. Most of Disney's attempts at an animated "franchise" haven't yielded great results, but the Toy Story films are the exception to the rule. This movie packs a lot of the same heart and humor of the previous movies and--once again--gives our favorite characters a fitting send-off. But... it is a WORSE send off than the last one and all through the movie, I couldn't escape the feeling that this didn't need to exist. Watching this felt like someone was trying to wring water from a dry towel. 

This one better be the last one though, as the Toy Store formula is already showing it's threadbare overuse in several places. The Key and Peele carnival plushies were obnoxious, plus it felt like we got scenes of them instead of more content with Jessie, Slinky and Rex, who were all sorely missing from this outing. As time has passed since I watched this, it's incredible to me how much of this movie has just vanished from my brain and left me feeling dissatisfied and annoyed with the parts that did stick.

Note from the future: It's not the last one. They've announced another. I am ready to hate it. I am a hater. Also, as the years go by, the more comfortable I am just stating outright that I do not like Toy Story 4. It currently holds the ceiling on the "didn't like it" tier of award winners.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Netflix's Klaus is probably my favourite Christmas movie released since the 1980s and it absolutely deserved the award. The characters are admittedly stronger in Toy Story 4, but that's due to a three movie backstory advantage. Klaus had to win viewer investment on its own merit, not just by our immediate associations from the previous franchise. Add to that, Klaus had an innovative animation style that pushed the art form in ways we haven't seen in years. And while parts of Klaus's story were ridiculous and forced, it managed one thing that Toy Story 4 did not, namely making me cry at the end. Still, Toy Story 4 is gorgeously made and very enjoyable, so it's no surprise Netflix wasn't able to wrestle the top prize from Pixar's grip this year.

#16. BIG HERO 6 (2014)

This movie is where the list starts to flip from "not very good" to "actually pretty good, just not as good as other things that came out the same year." Generally, at this point in the list, I don't yet LOVE the films, but I'm starting to like them. Big Hero 6 is undeniably flawed, but still with good elements that secure it's place ahead of some of the other weaker entries. The visual design is super fun and pretty, but c'mon. We all know what the best part of this movie is, and it's Baymax.

The great success of this movie was Baymax, who is so lovable, he almost drowns out all the things that don't really work about this film. Things that don't work include: a villain plot that makes no sense, technology so powerful it's confusing how it didn't solve the plot in ten minutes, and a supporting cast who feel more like catch phrases than fully fleshed characters. Still, the central relationship, between a boy grieving for his brother and the robot nurse who tries to help him is lovely and deserving of praise. Like a lot of films in this tier, 

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Of the mainstream studios, How to Train Your Dragon 2 was the strongest nominee coming from North America. However, there were some notable snubs this year. The Book of Life is a super fun film, with a unique animation style, that would have been nice to see at least get a nomination. Meanwhile, The Lego Movie is one of the most enjoyable, thoughtful, heartfelt toy commercials ever made. Maybe it was the early February release date, but somehow, come award season, this Master Builder Piece got snubbed outright. It should have fought it out with Princess Kaguya, one of Studio Ghibli's most gorgeous films, which has such a marvelously inventive animation style, I'm inclined to want to see the award go to it, even at the expense of my beloved Lego Movie. All this to say, the field was pretty stacked this year and Big Hero 6, for all it's cuteness, was one of the weaker movies in the pack.

#15. SOUL (2020)

Pixar is one of the most consistently exceptional film studios in Hollywood. While they've made a few duds, a large number of their films are among the best animated movies ever made (check out the end of this list for more examples). So it is with great reverence I say that if someone picked Soul as their favourite Pixar movie, I would understand and not call them crazy. For me, Soul was a little uneven, but the parts I liked, I liked SO MUCH. The design of New York and the characters, the portrayal of jazz music and Joe's relationship with his mother. Plus, the overarching theme of life having meaning simply because it's worth being alive is a refreshing perspective in our productivity obsessed culture. Those aspects pull the movie up to this position, despite a couple of flaws that keep it from being one of my favs. The biggest issue holding it back is that the movie ends up in this awkward position of raising questions about both life and death, while having nothing to say about the latter. And yes, I know this movie really wasn't "supposed" to be about death, but the framing device is still incredibly distracting and murkies the morality of Joe's decision to sacrifice his existence for 22. Also--and possibly just as important, considering how it impacted my enjoyment of the film--while the rest of the movie was gorgeous, the design of the cat was super ugly and I hated it and I never want to see that cat again.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: I haven't seen Wolfwalkers yet, but given how much I loved Secret of Kells by the same studio, I'm guessing I'll like it better. The reviews are stellar and I can't wait to see it.

#14. RANGO (2011)

Rango is one of those movie's that got way better critical reviews than it probably deserved for one simple reason: it's appeal rode on nostalgia for Old Hollywood, something film critics and Academy voters are big-time suckers for. That being said, if you fall in that camp at all, it can be quite enjoyable. Rango is a weird movie that follows a lizard who wants to be just like Clint Eastwood, who gets the chance to when he rolls up in an antiquated, Old West town of suffering animals that exists in our modern world because... why not? The animation is quirky and interesting, at least, and the film kinda works as a goofy experiment. 

I used to have this movie rated several spots lower on the list, but over time, I've realized one thing really separated Rango from some of the so-called "better" films above it. I LIKE Rango. When I think about it, I'm not immediately frustrated with some aspect of what it was "trying" to do, but failed, because all-in-all, it does what it means to. It's not the most moving pieces of art on this list, but it's whole and complete and confident in it's weirdness. So I'm honoring that now. Rango is good, go watch it, since it's probably the movie you're least likely to have seen on this list.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The big player studios--Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks--didn't have great showings this year. Kung Fu Panda 2 was the best of their output, which I can't say is a movie I care very much about. A Cat in Paris has been highly recommended to me, but it's always tough for indie, art-house animation to take home the Oscar. Similarly, it's super hard for Christmas movies to do well. Arthur Christmas got snubbed outright, even though it's gone on to become an absolute classic of a Christmas film. I watch it almost every year and until Klaus came out, I would have said it was the best Christmas film released in decades. In a perfect world, it would have been recognized in it's time and taken home the Oscar.

#13. SHREK (2001)

I'm slightly too old to be nostalgic for Shrek. It's not foundational to my childhood the way Disney Renaissance films are, and I never loved it enough to mistake it as the answer to everything wrong with the Disney brand. And yet, as the movie enters it's twenties, I'm heartened to say that a lot of it has stood the test of time. At times cute and charming, at times extremely mean-spirited in it's mockery of Disney (Dreamworks Animation was founded by an ousted Disney animator/director, and you can bet Jeffery Katzenberg did not go gentle into that good night), Shrek still manages to come together as an enjoyable oddball tale. There are probably too many pop culture references and poop jokes. It set a bad precedent for later Dreamworks films by ending with a dance party. But the characters are memorable and voiced to perfection. Plus, that "do you know the muffin man?" sequence gets me every time.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: Fun though Shrek is, I don't think it has the sweet charm of Monster's Inc. In a perfect world, we would have been less dazzled by the quick satire on display here and gone for a story that's much more inventive and touching. Still, as a tween watching the first animation Oscars in 2002, I was so rooting for Shrek to take the prize home. At least it spoke to it's target audience well.

#12. RATATOUILLE (2007)

Just as Up would rank higher if this list was entirely about openings, this one would place better if we were only considering the movie's end. It's always difficult when a piece tries to represent the aesthetic experience of one of the five sense that is not inherently addressed by the art form currently in use. It's why books have to find very creative ways to truly evoke sound, and why Ratatoille had to work so hard to properly portray the sensation of taste. But in the end, did they ever nail that one, key element! Ratatouille succeeds as a meditation on food, pleasure and pursuing your passions. It's not the most magical of all Pixar's offerings, with characters that are less interesting than many others, but the story builds from something that was decent, if not brilliant in the beginning, to a very satisfying conclusion. The ending helps edge it up to here.

WHAT SHOULD HAVE WON: There wasn't super stiff competition this year, however, one underrated gem could, by some accounts, make for a stronger winner. Surf's Up is roughly a million times better than a movie about surfing penguins has any right to be. I love it, and find it more rewatchable than Ratatouille, but if it had won, I'd probably have it ranked at exactly the same spot and would be arguing that Ratatouille should have beaten it. They're very different films, but surprisingly even matched.

#11. FROZEN (2013)

Right here at the half-way point through the list is when I think the movies go from "good" to "truly great" and deserving of the prestigious Oscar award. Frozen signaled a return to form for Disney Animation, ushering in a time when it's become a toss up whether they or Pixar are going to take the Oscar home each year. This movie is so loved and watched, I hardly need to sing it's praises. The music is fantastic, the central relationship between Anna and Elsa is incredibly moving and Christoff is one of the best love interests Disney has ever created. A few elements are clumsily incorporated - the troll clan, the lack-luster villain, the jarringly odd way Olaf is animated compared to the rest of the movie - but over all, it's a solid film that maybe lost some fans recently due to over exposure. If I could remake the Oscars in any way from that year, all I would do is take the award for Best Original Song away from "Let it Go" and give it to "Do you Want to Build a Snowman?" which is the funniest song that ever made me want to cry.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: None of the other North American releases nominated this year really held a candle to Frozen. Both Despicable Me 2 and The Croods are underwhelming. Even The Wind Also Rises, from Studio Ghibli, is one of the weaker films from that studio. I'm happy with Frozen taking home the title, given the competition.

#10. WALL-E (2008)

Like Up, WALL-E is a movie I tend to rate a little lower than most Pixar fans, and for almost the same reasons. The beginning of WALL-E is much stronger than the second half. However, while Up has twenty amazing minutes, roughly an hour of WALL-E's run time is so exceptional, I really do feel guilty placing it this low. It's more indicative of how fantastic the later entries are.  I don't love the heavy handed story telling aboard the Axiom, but I don't hate it either, so I can focus more of my attention on the good parts of this film. The opening shots of Earth and WALL-E's mundane every day life, intercut with music and footage from Hello, Dolly are so moving. This is a film that also really lets the animation speak for itself, with most of the story told visually or with music. In fact, the film only really begins to flag once the speaking human characters are introduced. Overall, a breathtaking, groundbreaking and deserving winner.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Considering how weak the animation offerings were some years, it's such a shame that Dreamwork's two best movies came out in years that they really didn't have a chance against what Pixar put out. This year's tragic loser was Kung Fu Panda, which has some of the best choreographed combat sequences not just of animation, but any film. A true credit to the Kung Fu movies it is a pastiche of.

#9.  COCO (2017)

Compiling this list, it was right around the point when I had to slot Coco in at this low that I kind of panicked. HOW? How did a film this good fall so low on the list? Again, like the entry before, it's more a testament to what comes later. Coco is a beautiful and worthy entry into the Pixar canon, something we hadn't been treated to for a few years. Pixar has fallen victim to sequelitis, but occasional gems like Coco still slip through. Anyone who saw this movie in theaters can attest to how gorgeous the animation is. It's also a good example of how a cliche plot can be retold in a way that makes it compelling again. Coco and Happy Feet essentially start with the same plot (outsider has a weird hobby) but the end products couldn't be further apart. Thematically, Coco is a brilliant meditation on family, culture, memory and death. And if you say you didn't cry during the end, I denounce thee a liar.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: I have heard amazing things about both The Breadwinner and Loving Vincent, but since neither got wide releases, I haven't had a chance to see them. Opinions forthcoming!

#8. TOY STORY 3 (2010)

Toy Story is that rare series that actually improved over its long run. I love talking about these movies in the context of world building, since its a very good example of using a simple fantasy concept, then plumbing it for all the depth possible. The question of "what if toys were alive" is answered so richly in each installment. And not just the goofy stuff they can get up to (like a Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head getting married), but in terms of the emotional struggles that would naturally grow out of their relationships with children. Each subsequent film pushed a little further, until you get to the third and best entry in the series. The feels are out in full force, with much of it serving as an allegory for death and rebirth. When I saw this in theaters, most of the showing's audience was my age - early twenties, and sobbing along as we watched Andy let go of the toys that had comforted us for so many years. It's a touching, powerful film and a beautiful farewell for the series. Even now, I can't escape the feeling that the fourth one wasn't necessary. The story felt  resolved here. Regardless, I think this film will continue to stand as a landmark example of how strong sequels can actually be.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: It kills me that this was the same year How to Train Your Dragon came out. Both of these movies hit me profoundly. Dragon's achievements include one of the best father/son story lines out there, a dark color palette that was fairly revolutionary when it came out and an aerial flight scene that I think is one of the best uses of 3D in the past decade. Still, Toy Story 3 had the more surprising and ground breaking story. It did things you generally don't see in children's media and for that reason, deserved all the awards it won.

#7. FINDING NEMO (2003)

Another closely ranked entry. I'm not 100% certain which of Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3 is my favorite, or even which is the artistically stronger (jf you can even make such a comparison). But I've gone with Nemo in the lead because it's the one where the details have stuck with me just a little more. It's such a tenderly animated story, with beautiful quiet moments that we don't always get to enjoy in our current blockbuster movie climate. It's also a really well crafted story, perfectly balancing Nemo and Marlin's arcs so that they interlace and inform each other throughout. At the suggestion of one of my professors, I once charted this movie's plot out and yup. The technique in balancing the story is pretty amazing.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: There wasn't much else on offer this year, though the foreign market provided The Triplets of Belleville. It's another one on my to-be-watched list. A list that gets longer and longer as I work on this blog post.

#6. ZOOTOPIA (2016)

She's a bunny who plays by the rules! He's a fox who does what he wants! HOW WILL THEY EVER WORK TOGETHER??? In all honesty, that pitch kinda sucks. This wasn't a movie I felt excited about leading up to its release, since it sounded like a stereotypical buddy cop comedy. Then I went and my jaw about fell off as I found myself watching the best movie about intersectionality and identity politics I'd ever seen. I spent most of the second half muttering, "is this film going to go there? Holy crap. It's going there." It's another one that benefits from rewatches and with jokes as great as jokes can joke, remains enjoyable. This is another example of world building done right. The concept of "animals live in a city together" has been done a thousand times before, but this was the first time that concept was followed all the way to making animals proportional to their real life counterparts. From just that little change, the implications are fascinating and, at times, terrifying. I love this movie so much. It does a brilliant job of working as an allegory for a lot of our own modern problems, without the baggage of being able to map anything directly from it's world onto ours. A tough balancing act, and one that makes this film all the more valuable.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: This is the highest entry on this list where the "also ran" category includes a film I've seen that might honestly be better than the winning film. Because Moana sure is great, isn't it? I love both movies and would probably place them around this exact point on the list. After a long spat of mediocre movies, it was great to see the studio return to form in a big way. 

#5 ENCANTO (2021)

Did you know for a hot second, Disney thought this film was a failure? One of their first movies to debut in post-pandemic theatres, almost no one went to see it. Admit it! You saw this one on Disney+ too! I'm keenly aware of this, because being the absolute fangirl I am, I dragged a couple of friends to this and the theatre was empty. There was this brief, blissful period where no one was talking about this movie and the three of us felt like we had this special secret we shared. We listened to the soundtrack, talked about the themes, and people around us didn't get the big deal. 

Then it came out on Disney+, the world went bananas for Bruno and the rest is history. Encanto, man. I honestly wasn't sure where to rank this one. I left the four ahead of it as is, since I think they're more important films artistically for one reason or another, but of every film on the list, this is the one that most makes me cry uncontrollably. It beat out Coco. How did it outcry Coco????

Encanto is a gorgeously animated film about self-love, healing generational trauma, and coming to understand and forgive those who hurt us. It's themes are wonderfully universal, yet it's also rooted in the achingly specific tragedy of violence in Colombia. It's no secret Disney has been in an era where they've tried to make their movies more inclusive and diverse, and within that effort, to my very white eyes, Encanto is the most successful at representing the communities it features and telling a story that feels grounded in their culture. This feels like "baby's first magical realism" which is a literary genre that's strongly associated Colombian authors, which is just super cool. It also succeeds on a storytelling level in some areas other entries on this list have faltered. I'm thinking in particular of it's massive cast of "quirky characters" that often get under-baked in Disney films. Big Hero 6, Toy Story 4, and even Coco all have issues with sprawling casts that don't amount to anything. But in Encanto, there are a dozen different characters to love and sing-along with, and every one of them feels unique and special. Yet the story also stays fundamentally Mirabel's, even as it uses her as a means to explore her super-powered family. I love this movie, and it may just have the biggest heart of any on the list.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: 2021 ended up being a banner year for animation. Luca was delightful, Mitchells Vs the Machines was hysterical, Raya and the Last Dragon was... also there. I know there are people who loved Raya, but that one didn't do it for me, though it was very pretty! The other two, though, were solid entries I would have been happy seeing get the prize some other year. I have no qualms about Encanto winning, but it was a great time to watch animation.

#4. SPIRITED AWAY (2002)

As we get into the upper end of the list, a lot of these choices come down to personal preference. With this film in particular, I can see a strong argument for why it should be considered the best of the bunch. This is Miyazaki's masterpiece. The animation is spectacular, the story somehow both simple and surprising, the characters lovable and iconic. No one does detail and fantasy in animation quite like Studio Ghibli, and I'd easily be persuaded their films are the best animated fantasies ever made. Everything about Spirited Away is incredible, and a perfect use of the medium. If you haven't seen this one yet, get it. Do it now. If you haven't watched much Japanese animation, this is a great place to start, as the English dub is very well done.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: The rest of the field included some fun flicks, though none of them were in the same league as Spirited Away. The best-of-the-rest goes to Lilo and Stitch, which is a charming, though uneven movie.


This is not only one of the best animated movies in years, it's also the best Spider-man movie ever made. Just about everything not only works, but exceeds expectations in this action-packed, emotional journey about what it means to be a hero and take up the mantle of arguably the most popular superhero of our time. By centering the story on Miles Morales, this movie was able to break away from the numerous other Spider-man adaptations, while somehow also both killing Peter Parker AND giving us what might be the most emotionally complex version of Peter ever. I cannot tell you how often the image of Spider-man sobbing in his bathtub--a broken, divorced man in his thirties--has haunted and delighted me. It's simultaneously one of the saddest and funniest things I've ever seen. Meanwhile, Miles interjects some delightful personality as the classic teen-aged Spider-man, wrestling with insecurities and responsibilities that are too much to ask of a kid so young. It goes without saying that the visual style of this movie is also phenomenal. The only thing keeping this from the top of the list are some slight cliches in the villain plot. Kingpin is a better, scarier villain to face off against than most superhero movies provide, but he's still no Joker or even Syndrome. It's a minor quibble in an otherwise phenomenal film.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: I'd like to think this year was a wake-up call to Disney and Pixar, who both turned out rather by-the-book sequels in Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet. It's rare they don't take home the award, but this year was an easy call, given the artistry and storytelling on display in Spider-verse. Also sneaking in was another Wes Anderson animated film, Isle of Dogs, which I still need to see.

#2. INSIDE OUT (2015)

Every so often, animation manages to do something that not only pushes the boundaries of it's own form, but film itself. In the case of Inside Out, this might just be the best representation of mind and emotion on film. And I can say that with authority, guys. My sister is a philosopher who studies mind and emotion and SHE agrees. So there. Inside Out not only gave us a wonderful, fun story to enjoy, it shed light on how people actually experience depression, and how memories and personalities shift over the course of our lives. Conceptually, this film is brilliant. Every time I rewatch it, I find something else to ponder, and that's rare from any movie.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: It was a pretty easy win for Inside Out. I've heard mostly lukewarm reviews of the rest of the field, but if there are any hidden gems in there, do let me know! Always open to more recommendations.


To me, the recent sequel to this film and all the small ways it fell short really highlighted how hard it is to make something this strong twice. It is, in my opinion, as close to perfect as any film will ever get. It succeeds on every level. The score? Instantly recognizable. The action sequences? Tense, exciting and well motivated by the plot. The humor? Relatable and sharp. The characters? Flawed, but with that verve that drives you to root for them. It's a brilliant story about the stresses of ordinary family life, and simultaneously one of the best razzle-dazzle super hero movies ever made. Interspersed with the spectacle is some thoughtful commentary on what it means to be exceptional vs normal, something the sequel is careful to do as well. I have to give a shout-out to director Brad Bird, who really nailed this. To me, his films suggest that he sees the ways our private lives inform the mask we show to the world. It's this awareness that gives the film its depth and continued success. He never loses sight of the Parr family as human, even while exploring what it means to be super human.  The end result is - dare I say it? Incredible.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: The best of the Shrek series, Shrek 2, came out this year. It's major contribution to the world was Antonio Banderas as a swashbuckling cat so... yeah. The Academy chose the right winner.


If there's one thing doing this list has reminded me of, it's the staggering depth and talent on display in animation. So often in North America, we relegate animation to a "lesser" sphere. Because it's drawings. Because it's for kids. But honestly, when I look at this list, I see many films of the same caliber as those that took home the award for Best Picture. Like, dude, you're never going to convince me The Incredibles isn't better than Million Dollar Baby.

More importantly, it reassures me to know that even if animation is still primarily a place for "kids movies" today, at least we're giving our kids something worth seeing.

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