To honor the rich history of animated feature film making over the years, Joey Armstrong has chosen 50 animated films that have had some of the greatest cultural impact on adults and children alike.
Previous entries: 50 – 41 here.
40. Song of the Sea (2014)
Tomm Moore’s second animated feature tells the story of Conor (voiced by Brendan Gleeson), a hard-drinking and depressed big Irish da’ of two little children who is doing his best to raise them in the wake of his beloved wife Bronach’s (musician Lisa Hannigan) death at sea. The children, Ben (David Rawle) and his younger sister Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell), are very curious and do a lot of exploring. While Ben is playing at the shores of their lighthouse, Saoirse wanders down to the shoreline at night where she communes with the seals. Saoirse is a selkie, an Irish faerie of the sea who can transform into a seal. Ben follows her one night and discovers that, in order to restore hope to their broken home and to their sad da’, they will need to free the faeries and save the spirit world from the oppressive force of darkness that is moving in.
The Irish Moore’s animation style is some of the most beautiful ever to grace the screen. He is the co-founder of Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon and frequently contributes to GKids, a global animation studio. If you don’t watch Song of the Sea for its wonderfully told story, engaging characters, or haunting Celtic folk music, then please watch it just for its visual appeal. Moore’s great passion is storytelling about the “thin places” that exist in our lives where faeries, selkies, and spirits cross over and enrich that which is mundane and common place.
39. The Secret of Kells (2009)
It is difficult to pick which of Tomm Moore’s films is better, The Secret of Kellsor Song of the Sea, so I put them both on the list right next to each other. While Song of the Sea takes the “thin places” of the Celtic spiritual life and places them in contemporary Ireland, The Secret of Kells, Moore’s first feature film, places the “thin places” in their original Celtic setting — The mystical Isle of Iona, where the sacred Book of Kells is kept. This film features ancient Celtic monks as they pursue the goofy, fearful wild goose as she charges across the abbey grounds. The wild goose is the sacred embodiment of the Holy Spirit in the ancient Celtic Christianity which blends Christian theology and Scripture, and the faerie life of Celtic lore. Once the monks catch the goose, they pluck a feather and with its quill they write newly inspired writings in the pages of the Book of Kells, a mystical supplement to the Christian Bible.
Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire) is a young novice monk at the abbey who is being looked after by his stern and grouchy uncle, the Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson, again), who is pushing his monks to help him build their walls higher as the dark, boxy, and monstrous caricatures of Vikings attempt to raid their lands. It is only when the mysterious and jovial Brother Aidan arrives at their gates and his strange cat leads Brendan into the deep woods beyond the gates of the abbey to meet Aisling the whimsical forest faerie that the real threat is soon revealed.
It is simply a joy to watch the wise, witty, and deeply revelatory films of Tomm Moore. I have nothing negative to say about them. If this were a list of my all time favorites, they would be in the top 10. See The Secret of Kell sand then see Song of the Sea with or without your kids. You will love them.
38. Coraline (2009)
Henry Selick’s Coraline is just as good or better than his Tim Burton-written and produced classic The Nightmare Before Christmas but alas, because it isn’t a TV holiday special it gets a lower ranking on the list. We all know that Henry Selick is basically the great god of contemporary stop-motion animation. But with Coraline, Selick also captures Neil Gaiman’s creepy story of a young, blue-haired girl (Dakota Fanning) who discovers that there are oddball magical folks living all around her. They all have some strange connection to an alternate world that exists on the other side of a hole in the wall in Coraline’s new house. Coraline’s parents appear as new versions of themselves and in this alternate world, all of the familiar people in Coraline’s life have black buttons for eyes. It sounds cute, but trust me, it’s not. It’s creepy as fuck.
What unfolds is a truly original telling of an Alice in Wonderland type of adventure. The twisted, whimsically nightmarish vision of Coraline clearly reveals Burton’s influence on Selick’s visual style, but this ain’t no Tim Burton piece. Coraline is deeply reflective and concerned with the stuff of ethics in a way that Tim Burton’s latest work could only dream of doing. It may have scared the pants off of me when I was kid, but as an adult, I am thrilled with Coraline.
37. Toy Story 2 (1999)
John Lasseter and Ash Brannon’s Toy Story 2 might very well be one of the most appreciated movie sequels since The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather, Part II. If you are looking for something as moving, thrilling, and touching as any live-action film, look no further than Andy’s bedroom.
This is my least favorite of the Toy Story trilogy, but it introduces a passageway to the powerful presence of Toy Story 3 that is much needed. It introduces the lovely cowgirl Jessie, and Stinky Pete the Prospector along with themes of growth, change, and potential isolation from that which is comfortable and familiar.
It’s not important for me to particularly like or dislike this film. Toy Story 2 stands as part of one of the greatest motion picture trilogies in the history of film, even if it isn’t spectacular on its own.
36. Shaun the Sheep Movie (2016)
I love Shaun the Sheep Movie and I believe it is the perfect salute to the BBC TV series it is based on. When Nick Park and Peter Lord created the comedic stop-motion characters of Wallace and Gromit, they featured an adorable little sheep with a crooked smile named Shaun in the short film A Close Shave. Britain’s Aardman Studios, founded by Park and Lord, brought on the creative Mark Burton and Richard Starzak to capitalize on the appearance of Shaun. What resulted was not so much a Wallace and Gromit spin-off, but rather a hilarious, whimsical, delightful, and entirely pastoral comedy of errors featuring stop-motion sheep, pigs, a dog, and their Farmer who do not speak but rather make a series of awkward and hilarious noises.
Shaun the Sheep Movie takes all that is great about the series and stretches it out over 85 minutes. The film is not meant to stand on its own, per se. It is not better, somehow, than its predecessor. It is, however, a fantastic addition to the Shaun the Sheep series itself. Taking Shaun and his motley gang of idiot sheep away from their rural pasture and across town to fetch their amnesiac farmer from the clutches of a barber shoppe may just be the best 85 minutes of no spoken dialogue you ever experience.
35. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Lee Unkrich’s Toy Story 3 would have been the perfect way to end a fantastic trilogy of films, but alas, Pixar is making a number 4. This film gave me all the feels the first time I saw it in theaters. John Lasseter and crew had successfully captured the wisdom, innocence, joy, and sorrow of childhood in three movies which framed the three phases of youth in America. With Toy Story 3, Andy (voiced by John Morris, who played Andy in all three films) is getting ready for college and Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) must figure out a way to go with him.
With Pixar’s classic attention to good humor, witty dialogue, and deeply felt emotion, our plastic and plush heroes are taken on their greatest adventure yet and we are overjoyed to take the ride with them. Try not to cry in the last five minutes of the film, I dare you.
I had just finished my college career when this film was released in theaters and I felt as if the crowning animated movie trilogy of my generation had come to a successful close. It’s quite fitting the way films can mirror our lives. Toy Story 3 ends the perfect movie trilogy in such a way that we will always want to revisit it and share it with our own children.
34. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Pete Docter, David Silverman, and Lee Unkrich’s Monsters, Inc. may very well be my favorite Pixar film. Pixar had been crawling along with glorious films about talking toys and insects but with this film, Pete Docter helped usher in a 15 year wave of Pixar films that is still rolling along happily and mightily. Docter not only directed the film, but wrote it, too, revealing that he is one of the most creative and engaging storyteller in the Pixar universe. After all, this film paved the way for Docter’s UP and Inside Out. Need I say more?
The little green cyclops, Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal), and his best pal James P. “Sulley” Sullivan, the big, blue, fluffy sasquatch (John Goodman) are our heroes and they taught me how to laugh from my gut. Along with the brilliant casting of Steve Buscemi as Randall Boggs, James Coburn as Henry J. Waternoose, and Jennifer Tilly as Celia, we have one of Pixar’s greatest achievements. It pays homage to the things that scare us and reminds us that maybe there is some wisdom in the Buddhists asking us to “lean in to our fear” and get to know our monsters.
33. UP (2009)
Pete Docter’s second time out of the gate with Pixar was with UP in 2009. This was the first time since the original Toy Story film that Pixar proved it was more than a typical Disney-owned animation studio doing fun things with computer animation. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was the very first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1991 and UP was the second.
This beautiful, tender and funny film about an elderly gentleman named Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) and his relationship with the memory of his deceased spouse, Ellie (Elie Docter), an exuberant Boy Scout, Russell, an ADD dog named Dug and an awkward exotic female bird named Kevin, takes us on a journey that is rooted in building a community in the midst of loss and the ensuing grief. Russell, Dug, and Kevin refuse to allow Mr. Fredricksen to stay sad, alone, and cranky. The scene in which the little house takes off into the sky, raised by the power of hundreds of colorful balloons, will surely go down in film history as one of the most classically joy-filled scenes we have.
32. Robin Hood (1973)
Wolfgang Reitherman’s Robin Hood is my favorite of the Disney animated films. It is far from historically and literally accurate, but, like Reitherman’s The Sword in the Stone and The Jungle Book, it captures the joyous, playful spirit at the heart of the legend. Robin Hood, the sly and handsome fox (voiced by Brian Bedford) is a kind and silly folk hero and his adventures with the roly poly bear (Baloo the Bear in medieval drag) are captured with damn near perfection by the strumming guitar and down-homey singing narration of Roger Miller as Allan-a-Dale the Rooster. Who can forget “Oo-de-Lally,” “Not in Nottingham (covered recently by Mumford and Sons),” and, of course, the introductory song, “Whistle-Stop?”
The Sheriff of Nottingham, a wolf, heavily taxes the poor rural bunnies of Sherwood Forest, but, as in many classic Disney films, the chief villain is the most entertaining. Sir Peter Ustinov lends his deliciously droll voice to the evil usurper Prince John the lion and Terry-Thomas to his Hand, Sir Hiss the snake. Prince John was one of the first effeminate and crafty male villains to grace the Disney-scape. We would not have our Jafar, Captain Hook, Governor Ratcliffe, Hades, Kaa, Professor Ratigan, or Scar without him!
31. Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers (1993)
Nick Park’s vision of a claymation no-nonsense dog and his absent-minded, goofy-as-hell inventor living in London in a little warm house complete with tea, toast and jam, tweed cardigans, lots of cheese and crackers, and wacky household inventions is better known as Wallace & Gromit and it was another staple of my childhood. Their adventures were always close to home, which made them feel safe, but, the experiences they faced were far from normal. Each time Wallace (voiced by Peter Sallis) got an idea for an invention there was great cause for wonder, awe, and a good cringe or two. Gromit the voiceless but intellectual dog was always the one to get them out of the scrape Wallace had somehow managed to get them in to.
In this film, a demonic beady-eyed penguin shows up at Wallace and Gromit’s door with a need for room and board. The silent and creepy Penguin ends up taking the place of Gromit in Wallace’s life, but only temporarily. Alongside the arrival of the Penguin is Wallace’s newest invention, the Techno-Trousers. Gromit discovers that the evil Penguin really is evil and that he is stealing the Trousers to aid him in robbing the local museum. Dressed as a “chicken” with a rubber glove on his head, the Penguin gets very close to winning the day. But a high-speed toy train chase orchestrated by Gromit puts the Penguin to a stop.
Held up against Park’s others Wallace and Gromit short films, The Wrong Trousers just feels like the best one. It certainly won the most awards.
Joey Armstrong is a hospital chaplain from Western New York. He is also a playwright and amateur cartoonist. Follow him on Twitter @chaplainmystic and Medium, where he writes more reviews for film and television.