10. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, 2015)
Anomalisa is the most unique animated film of the decade, which shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with Charlie Kaufman. Using stop motion animation with realistic human puppets Kaufman and Johnson create an eerily lifelike atmosphere, close to humanity but detached.
This fittingly matches the mood of the plot. It follows a traveling author who is so separated from the rest of humanity that he sees and hears all others the same way. One exception to this is a young girl who he meets at a convention and starts a relationship. Words can’t describe the effect of this film, at times uncomfortable, surreal and deeply moving. A lonely character story, Anomalisa is certainly not a crowd pleaser but an important landmark of animated film nonetheless.
9. The Lego Movie (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 2014)
Who had high hopes for this movie? Lord and Miller took what in most hands would have been an empty cash grab (see The Emoji Movie or Playmobil) and turned it into a witty and exciting adventure story hiding a more profound message. Chris Pratt voices Emmett, an ordinary lego man living in a cookie-cutter city. He gets swept up into an unbelievable journey into other lego worlds and teams up with unicorns and Batman among others to fight the evil Lord Business.
The story is decent but it’s the funny script combined with perfect voice casting that launches it over the top as an animation classic. The CGI is so great it almost fools you into thinking it could be stop motion, maintaining the limited movement of the lego physics and, if you’re a fan of the toys, utilizing a lot of recognizable sets and parts. Beneath it all, the film is really about the balance of the imagination of childhood and the structure or adulthood.
8. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata, 2013)
Isao Takahata is the lesser known, but still great, director associated with Studio Ghibli, best known for his heart wrenching drama Grave of the Fireflies. The Tale of Princess Kaguya was the last film he made before his death and, although a bit of a stylistic departure, is a worthy swan song. Based on an old Japanese folktale, the film follows a mysterious girl who is discovered as a baby in a bamboo stalk. She has divine powers and divine beauty but still must navigate life and politics in feudal Japan, particularly dealing with her many suitors.
The most notable aspect of the film is its art style, with stroked ink and watercolors, reminiscent of traditional Japanese art. It’s a little long and not always enthralling, but with its beautiful art and story it is an absolute gem of a film.
7. Coco (Lee Unkrich, 2017)
Pixar’s sterling reputation was marred a bit in the 2010s, putting out mostly unnecessary sequels and some lifeless original fare; Coco is the exception to that. This brilliantly realized fable follows a young Mexican boy who loves music, but is forbidden to pursue it by his family. This conflict sends him on a journey, ending up in the Land of the Dead, where he must wrestle with familial conflict and personal growth.
As far as Pixar films go it’s the complete package. There animation, modeled after traditional Day of the Dead art, is bewitching, the plot is meaningful and full of twists and there is even great music. Coco tremendous entertainment for all ages and proves Pixar still has original stories to tell.
6. Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)
After first trying his hand at stop motion with 2009s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson went back to the medium in 2018 with the wild and fun Isle of Dogs. The film is set in an alternate Japan where dogs have been banned from the country due to disease and are sent to a trash island to die. One young boy decides to go to the island himself and try to rescue his old dog. He teams up with a colorful pack of wild dogs who help him maneuver around the island and find his friend.
The film hits on pretty much every note: breathtakingly detailed animation, quirky yet deep script, excellent voice performances and a great score by Alexandre Desplat. Anderson clearly has an affinity for stop motion animation, fully realizes the benefits and capabilities of the medium. While I don’t wish that he abandon making live action films, I certainly hope he returns to animation in the future.
5. Song of the Sea (Tomm Moore, 2014)
Song of the Sea is a magical tale of Irish folklore in an unassuming shell. As a film it impressively rides the line as harmless and deeply moving, making it an animated film of universal appeal. It follows a brother and sister who move in with their grandmother, with their mother gone and father irresponsible. The sister is a selkie, and Irish mythological creature that can transform from seal to human. He powers attract the attention of other magical beasts and set the family on a life altering journey.
The animation style is jarring, sometimes looking the part for such an epic fantasy and sometimes looking like a PBS children’s cartoon. While not a perfect movie, the end result is a beautiful fable with lots of heart and powerful vision.
4. The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki, 2013)
Since the 1980s Hayai Miyazaki built his legacy as one of the greatest animated storytellers with fantastical films packed with magic and anthropomorphized creatures. The Wind Rises is a surprising but welcome departure from this. Supposedly the master’s last project, although he has since come out of retirement, The Wind Rises is a historical film following Jiro Horikoshi, an aeronautical engineer who designed Japan’s famous Mitsubishi fighter planes, in the build up of World War II.
Miyazaki does not use this setting to tell a story of war, instead painting a beautiful testament to the power of love and dreams. With the typically astounding visuals we’ve come to expect from Miyazaki, he makes these real events feel like a fairy tale, and gives us as close to a happy ending as one could get in those dark times. It’s not his most impactful or imaginative film, but it is certainly the director’s most mature.
3. The Red Turtle (Michael Dudok de Wit, 2016)
The adage “less is more” rings true in this meditative tale. There is no dialogue, barely a plot and minimalist visuals, but it is perhaps the most moving animated film of the decade. A man washes up on a deserted island. He tries to build a raft from the bamboo trees on the island but three times it is destroyed by a giant red sea turtle. When the red turtle climbs ashore the man strikes it and flips it on its back, leaving it to die.
Later he finds a woman left in the turtle shell and he spends his life with her on the island, raising a child with her. Is it a fairy tale or delusion? The director does not make the audience choose and it doesn’t matter anyway. But the ploit alone cannot do justice to the artistry of this film. Visually and philosophically, The Red Turtle is one of the most gorgeous experiences in recent memory.
2. Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Bob Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, 2018)
One of the biggest surprise hits of the decade, this animated superhero flick became a sensation rivaling its live action Spiderman counterparts. The film’s most notable aspect is the electric comic book style of the animation, with its sharp lines and dazzling colors. In addition to the art, Spider-Verse does an admirable job of translating the fun, choppy feel of a comic book successfully to the big screen, providing a refreshing change from all the MCU blockbusters.
The movie follows Miles Morales, a teen who gets bit by a spider, who gets tied up in adventure when a rift opens up between alternate universes. He has to team up with Spidermen from other worlds adn grow up in the process. Packed with cool action, a layered story and hypnotizing art, Into the Spider-Verse is not only one of the greatest animated films of the decade, but one of the greatest superhero films as well.
1. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
The first Toy Story is one of the most important animated films of all time and the franchise, now numbering four films, has represented the highest quality of animated film over its 25 year run. The third entry in the series is perhaps the best of them all, with brilliant craftsmanship, clever jokes and powerful character arcs. In this adventure Woody, Buzz and the gang have to cope with Andy growing up and find themselves in a much different environment of a children’s day care. Not only do they have to try and survive the reckless toddlers but also butt heads with the villainous syndicate of toys who run the play area.
What sets it above the rest of the brilliant animated films of the decade is its ability to blend entertaining family fun with real powerful themes, capped with a very emotional climax. While you can argue that other animated films of the era have more original design or more serious tone, as an entire package none match the polished construction and superb storytelling of Toy Story 3.
Author Bio: Matthew Benbenek is a lifelong aficiando of film and music. He is an amateur musician, writer and composer and currently works as an engineer in West Texas. Visit his website Artglut.com.