The 15 Best Animated Movies Of The Decade

(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)

Animation is a thriving and endlessly creative industry that, more often gets dismissed as being CG-animated cash grabs catered only for children. But as the past decade has shown, animation is more than your talking angry bird or your sentient emojis. Animated films from the past 10 years have pushed the limits of the medium, delivering unto us some of the most visually dazzling, groundbreaking, emotionally stirring films in any form. From well-known studios like Disney and Pixar, to international companies like Studio Ghibli, and plenty of independent productions across the globe, animation proves time and time again that it is a wonderful art form. So let's count down the best animated movies of the decade.

Before we get to that list, here are the honorable mentions: Toy Story 3, Song of the Sea, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, A Silent Voice, Rise of the Guardians, In This Corner of the World, Anomalisa, Moana, The Breadwinner, and Wreck-It Ralph.

Now, without further ado, here are the best animated movies of the decade.

15. My Life as a Zucchini

A little slice of humanity offered up in a slice-of-life stop-motion animated, My Life as a Courgette is a 2016 French film that finds the light glimmering within the darkest of places. Set in a hostile foster home where a troubled orphan tries to settle in, My Life as a Courgette's animation style looks at first to be as ugly and coarse as its premise. But slowly the warmth comes through as the titular Courgette (Zucchini in the English dub) finds kindred spirits at the home full of troubled misfits and abandoned children, and experiences the pangs of first love, as well as the sorrow of grief. Director Claude Barras delivers a deeply human film that speaks to the joys of found family.

14. The LEGO Movie

Phil Lord and Chris Miller turned what could have been a soulless corporate cash grab into a hysterical, ecstatic ode to creativity. The LEGO Movie shouldn't be as good as it is, and yet Lord and Miller's irreverent and savvy humor, the film's subversive takedown of the hero's journey, and an indisputably catchy theme song make for an unforgettable experience. The film follows Emmet (Chris Pratt), an ordinary LEGO figurine who loves to follow the rules, who is mistakenly identified as the Special — the chosen one who has been prophesied to save the world. A bold and visually inventive rejection of conformity, The LEGO Movie shows that it is possible to make something original out of toys.

13. The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle was Studio Ghibli's first and last collaboration with a foreign studio, and it's a shame that they never did more. Co-written and directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit and produced by Ghibli's Toshio Suzuki, The Red Turtle is a delicate little fable about a man who becomes shipwrecked on a desert island and, after saving a giant red turtle that he finds there, falls in love with the woman who crawls out of its shell. With its minimalist animation and its minimal dialogue, The Red Turtle is a beautifully understated dream of a movie that feels like it came from another time and place.

12. Tangled

Audiences weren't ready for Tangled when it hit theaters in 2010. Disney was coming off a string of snarky CG-animated movies, and its experimental return to the hand-drawn film with The Princess and the Frog was a box office failure. So Byron Howard and Nathan Greno's Tangled, with its extravagant musical sequences and its sincere, sentimental story, was too much of a throwback for audiences who had become accustomed to films with their tongues firmly in their cheeks. (It's funny because Disney would later make a triumphant comeback to exactly this kind of film with Frozen and Moana.) A revisionist telling of Rapunzel that turns the title character (Mandy Moore) into a kidnapped princess with magic hair who enlists a charming thief (Zachary Levi) to take her out of her tower, Tangled captures that old, joyful Disney spirit imparted in classic animated films and tells a moving story of abusive parents in the form of the manipulative Mother Gothel (a deliciously flamboyant Donna Murphy), one of the best Disney villains to date.

11. Kubo and the Two Strings

One of the most beautiful stop-motion animated films in recent memory, Kubo and the Two Strings is Laika's major achievement of the decade: a film that turns the Japanese arts of origami and ink wash painting into a unique blend of clay models, 3D printing, and paper. Director Travis Knight tells the epic fable of a young one-eyed storyteller who wields a magical shamisen (a traditional Japanese string instrument) to bring origami figures to life. But when he is discovered by his witchy aunts, who attack him and kill his mother, Kubo is forced to go on the run and embark on a mission to defeat the Moon King. A refreshingly original narrative that pays homage to the Japanese culture that inspired it, Kubo is an awe-inspiring test of the limits of stop-motion animation.

10. The Wind Rises

Hayao Miyazaki's most controversial movie and his most personal, The Wind Rises stands out among the master anime filmmaker's oeuvre. It's a biopic for one, telling the story of engineer Jiro Horikoshi, the man responsible for the Mitsubishi A6M Zero plane, which was used by Japanese suicide bombers during World War II. This legacy of death permeates the entire film, whose sweeping romantic approach at first seems at odds with the controversial figure at the center. But the dichotomy at the core of The Wind Rises is an extension of Miyazaki, a man of contradictions who saw himself in Horikoshi — he was inspired to make the film after reading the engineer's quote: "All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful." There's a tragic beauty to The Wind Rises, which is devoid of the whimsy typical of a Miyazaki film, but full of that intense passion for life.

9. Coco

Pixar can't resist a high concept or a heartstring tug, and Coco is the perfect synthesis of that, wrapped up in a visually dazzling, culturally sensitive story. One of Pixar's most beautiful films ever, Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina's sumptuous coming-of-age film tackles the concepts of death and the after-life. Coco follows the story of aspiring musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who steals his idol Ernesto de la Cruz's guitar on the Day of the Dead, and finds himself trapped in the vibrant and colorful Land of the Dead. After meeting a bumbling outcast named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), Miguel embarks on a quest to find his idol and return to the land of the living. Beautiful, affecting, and filled with eye-popping images, Coco struck a chord in 2017 with its message of diversity and its ode to family.

8. Wolf Children

There's something about Mamoru Hosoda's characters: they're soft, vaguely drawn, almost shapeless, standing in stark contrast to the sharply detailed backgrounds — as if they're half-remembered memories of people from long ago. But in contrast to his style, Hosoda's films feel urgently alive. Hosoda's gentle 2012 film Wolf Children is the purest example of that. Wolf Children follows Hana, a university student who falls in love with a man who transforms into a wolf. They have two children together before the wolf man is tragically killed, and soon the pressures of single motherhood and prying eyes force Hana to move to the countryside to protect her wolf children. A heartbreaking romance, and coming-of-age movie, and a bittersweet treatise to parenthood, Wolf Children is a lovely fairy tale that feels like several lifetimes lived.

7. Inside Out

Pixar's most emotionally mature film to date, Inside Out asks, "What if our feelings had feelings?" Director Pete Docter's answer is a little more complicated and a little more melancholic than you might expect, taking us on a cerebral adventure through a happy-go-lucky little girl's mind as she deals with a life-changing move to San Francisco. After a scuffle between Riley's emotions Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), the two emotions are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of her mind, and the two must journey back to headquarters before Riley's emotions shut off completely. A surreal, visually inventive exploration of emotions and how they clash and interact, Inside Out invites — and allows — its audience to feel.

6. The Illusionist

Sylvain Chomet's 2010 film The Illusionist is a melancholic homage to French mime, director and actor Jacques Tati in 1956, based on an unproduced script by the deceased filmmaker. As tender as Chomet's past films were bizarre and farcical, The Illusionist imagines a world where reality and poetry intertwine. Set in a warm, sepia-toned vision of 1950s France, The Illusionist follows a French illusionist (Jean-Claude Donda) who tours Scotlands shabby pubs and run-down restaurants, when he meets Alice (Eilidh Rankin), a girl who believes his powers are real. Whimsical, weird, and thoroughly captivating, The Illusionist is a prime example of Chomet's singular animation style.

5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a a testament to the limitless potential of animation — bringing the pages of the comic book to stunning, kaleidoscopic life — and an homage to the heart of what makes a great superhero movie. Anyone can wear the mask, but not everyone could make this wild, innovative, dazzling animated film as well as directors Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr., and Rodney Rothman. Following the story of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), an artist who's bitten by a radioactive spider shortly before he sees Spider-Man die, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a vibrant, heartwarming story that manages to juggle a crowded, colorful ensemble and an ambitious storyline of parallel dimensions and superhero origins.

4. World of Tomorrow

Emotionally devastating and devastatingly simple, Don Hertzfeldt's Oscar-nominated short World of Tomorrow explores heady concepts like immortality, memory, grief, and human consciousness through a series of juvenile scribbles. Stick figures gain sentience and are thrust into an abstract space of bright colors and cosmic images, focusing on a young, bubbly girl named Emily who meets her clone from the future. Filled with memories of all her past lives but stripped of her humanity, the Emily clone is but a pale shadow of the bright, babbling toddler in front of her, causing her to wonder about the nature of emotion. "I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive," the clone realizes, bringing the 16-minute short to a profound conclusion.

3. Your Name

Makoto Shinkai and Mamoru Hosoda have both been dubbed the next Hayao Miyazaki, though their styles are both wildly different from the anime legend — and from each other. While Hosoda's heart is in the earth, Shinkai's is in the stars. The filmmaker has always explored the cosmic side of romantic love, but his most successful exploration is the 2016 mega-hit Your Name. Shinkai's most accessible film and his most impressive, Your Name might as well be called "Yearning: The Movie." Following two Japanese high schoolers who find their bodies to be inexplicably switched, Your Name tackles the universal pangs of first love and missed connections with an irreverent and wacky comedic style. But in its stunning third act, it transcends its body-swap comedy to become a cosmic love story that bends perceptions of time and reality.

2. How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon was a turning point for DreamWorks and for CG animation. Dean DeBlois' film hired Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins to consult, and the result is a visually stunning animated film with a tactile sense of space, and one of the most breathtaking flying scenes in movie history. Soaring, funny, sweet, and sentimental, How to Train Your Dragon tells the familiar "boy and his beast" story, this time with a timid Viking and a disabled dragon. The animation for the dragon Toothless — inspired by the behavior of real-life cats — is devastatingly adorable, and the connection between Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon is undeniable. It's a spectacular feat of animation that spawned a beloved trilogy, and a film that would inspire CG-animated movies to be better, for years to come.

1.The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Isao Takahata's crowning glory, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a painfully perfect feat of animation. The Grave of the Fireflies director had been experimenting with his own unique visual style for a while, setting himself apart from his fellow Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki's family-friendly style with experimental techniques and wackier comedic stories like in films Pom Poko and My Neighbors the Yamadas. It all built up to his final masterpiece The Tale of Princess Kaguya. The film follows a poor bamboo cutter and his wife who discover a tiny girl within a stalk of bamboo. After her appearance is followed by untold riches that flow out of the bamboo, the cutter and his wife deicde to raise the young girl as a princess — ripping her away from the cozy, rural life she had come to know. A ravishing work of art, no animated movie looks or plays like Princess Kaguya, which takes its visual inspiration from Japanese woodblock prints and tells a tale of heartbreak and loss as classically tragic as the folk tale upon which it's based.