Rapid advancements in technology and the increasing acceptance of animation as a genre not limited to being solely for children has led to this being an interesting, and excellent, decade for animated films.
While there have been a lot of terrible cartoons churned out in the last ten years, there have also been some amazing additions to the genre.
Picking the top ten animated films for this first decade of a new millennium proved to be a harder task then first imagined.
With a plethora of memorable cartoons released in theaters over the last decade, it was next to impossible to whittle the list down to just ten choices — let alone put them in any kind of order.
What follows, though, is my humble attempt to pick what I felt were my favorite animated movies of the last ten years.
I don’t presume to think that this list will be the same for everybody or that I will even feel the same way in another ten years, but, in the meantime, consider this a list of ten animated movies from the last ten years worth checking out.
10. Waking Life
Richard Linklater helped resurrect the dying art of rotoscope with his 2001 filmWaking Life, an introspective look at dreams, death and the in-between.
An ensemble film in the vein of Linklater’s breakthrough hit Slackers, Waking Life hopped from subject matter to subject matter providing slice of life vignettes and interviews that explored a variety of off-kilter subjects.
Proof of Waking Life‘s impact on the genre can be seen in the increased use of rotoscoping in everything from television commercials to movies — including Linklater’s later stab at the technique with A Scanner Darkly.
Henry Selick’s 3D stop-motion film is a smorgasbord of outlandish concepts and creepy images. Based on the young adult novel by Neil Gaiman, Coraline features the voices of Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher in the story about a young girl who discovers a hole in her wall that leads to a magical land where nothing is what it seems and a witch wants to catch her and replace her eyes with buttons.
A mostly faithful adaptation of Gaiman’s book, the movie does an admirable job of capturing the prose’s off-kilter tone and sense of wonder.
Selick has proven he does not need the support of Tim Burton when making a movie and I, for one, can’t wait to see what he does next.
This decade has unquestionably been the era of Pixar when it comes to animated movies. With hits — both commercially and critically — released seven out of the last ten years, Pixar dominates this list and Ratatouille is only the first of the studio’s films to find its way onto my list.
Brad Bird’s culinary cinematic gem, the film is proof that, with a good script, an animated movie can be first and foremost a good movie. Patton Oswalt provides the voice of Remy, a rat who fancies himself a chef.
No bigger evidence of the film’s success can be found then in the fact that the film actually paved the way to increased popularity of rats as pets.
7. Les Triplettes de Belleville
Svlvain Chomet’s beautiful film is a masterpiece of sights and music. A co-production between companies in France, the UK, Belgium and Canada, the film is a mostly dialogue-free story about a grandmother’s attempts to rescue her Tour de France cyclist son who has been kidnapped by the French mafia. Along for the ride is a trio of washed up singers and a morbidly obese hound dog named Bruno.
The film’s music is amazing — especially the Oscar nomated song Belleville Rendes-vous.
This is not a film for children — some might be entertained by the sight gags but most wouldn’t know what to make of it but it is an amazing achievement in animation —at once both innovative and a classic throwback.
6. The Incredibles
Another Brad Bird film, The Incredibles is a wonderful homage to the Silver Age of comics — with a great post-modern Watchmen-esque twist.
After all the act of being a superhero is outlawed, the former crimefighters settle down for a suburban existence. The movie focuses on a dysfunctional, but loving, family with extraordinary abilities as they come together to save the world from a former sidekick gone insane.
The first Pixar movie to feature an entirely human cast, the movie showed audiences that you could have a family-friendly superhero movie without being overly cheesy or talking down to children.
The family dynamic on display in The Incredibles is pitch-perfect — a great tribute to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four.
Now, all we need is this movie to finally make its way onto Blu-ray.
5. Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away is the story of a young girl who encounters a hidden world of ghosts and monsters when her family stops at an abandoned theme park.
Smashing records in Japan, the film would receive international acclaim upon its’ release — for good reason: It’s bloody great!
As somebody who normally can’t stand Japanese animation (it all looks the same to me), I fell in love with Spirited Away. Miyazaki is a true visionary — able to create images that will stick in your head and perfectly weave social commentary into a story that any child (and adult) would enjoy.
The third Pixar movie to find its way onto this list, Up is one of the only 3D animated films released in the last ten years to not suffer when watched in 2D.
While most 3D-enhanced cartoons rely on gimmicks to sell the experience, Up has the benefit of a top-notch story to carry it past any cool extra dimensions.
And what a story! Anybody who isn’t teary-eyed by the first ten minutes has no soul.
Carl, a widower looking to retain his hold on the past, decides to recapture his childhood fantasy of flying his house to South America. Along for the ride are Russell, a Wilderness Explorer, Kevin, a large bird with a taste for chocolate, and Dug, the coolest animated dog ever.
It’s sad, funny and a whole lot of fun — in short, a great animated movie.
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Oh, sweet Jesus do I love Roald Dahl. I love the books form the famed children’s book author almost as much as I love the films of Wes Anderson. It’s no surprise, then, that I loved the everloving hell out of Fantastic Mr. Fox — a film that combined the whimsy of Dahl and the visual (and emotional) sensibilities of Anderson.
With a voice cast including George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, the film takes the best aspects of the two creators’ styles and molds a smart, witty romp that will make even the hardest of hardmen crack a smile.
Using a retro approach to stop-motion, the film retains a timeless quality — something most animated films seem to ignore as they stuff their pallets with pop-culture references and pop songs by Smash Mouth.
2. Team America: World Police
While it may not be timeless as Fantastic Mr. Fox, Team America is unquestionably one of the films (animated or otherwise) most representative of the last decade.
Made by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the duo responsible for South Park, Team America features a cast of marionettes as they drink, fight, have sex in a variety of styles and smash in the heads of the world’s most popular celebrities.
When Kim Jong-il plots the destruction of the world, it’s up to a paramilitary squad of ass-kickers to save the day — whether the world wants them to or not.
While not the runaway hit that South Park was, Team America has its share of supporters and I am most assuredly one of them.
The fourth, and final, Pixar movie on my list had to be WALL-E. WALL-E is flat-out one of the best films of the last ten years — let alone animated films.
The story of a robot left to clean the dying planet Earth, WALL-E had more heart and soul then any cartoon ought to have — but what would you expect from Pixar, the studio that has caused me to cry at more movies then any other.
Director Andrew Stanton is able to graft real human emotion onto a character that never really speaks and has limited facial expressions — a stunning feat. This was accomplished, in large part, by the enormous talent of Ben Burtt, the sound design mastermind.
The movie has everything I’m looking for in a animated film — amazing visuals, interesting characters and a powerful theme running as an undercurrent to an engaging story. That’s why WALL-E is number one in my book.
Tags: Andrew Stanton, Bill Murray, Brad Bird, Coraline, Dakota Fanning, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Henry Selick, Jack Kirby, Jason Schwartzman, Matt Stone, Meryl Streep, Neil Gaiman, Patton Oswalt, Pixar, Richard Linklater, Roald Dahl, south park, Stan Lee, The Incredibles, tim burton, trey parker, Up, Watchmen, Wes Anderson