The 15 Most Beautiful Animated Movies Ever

most beautiful animated movies

(Welcome to Let’s Get Animated!, a column that spotlights the best of film animation. In this edition: the most beautiful animated movies.)

Over the weekend, one of the most imaginative and visually striking animated movies ever made hit theaters. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is being hailed as a groundbreaking achievement, and a testament to the creative heights that animation can reach. But it’s not the first animated movie to push the boundaries of the medium.

Animation so often gets dismissed a “children’s genre” that it’s often overlooked how damn beautiful these movies can get. Cinema is first and foremost a visual medium, and no other medium can test the limits of the imagination and realize the potential of filmmaking like animation. So in honor of the release of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, here are the 15 most beautiful animated films ever.

15. The Prince of Egypt

Up until 2001, The Prince of Egypt was the most expensive animated film ever made, only to be eclipsed by Disney and Pixar’s CG-animated features. And the results show: This Biblical epic marries traditional animation with computer generated imagery in a dazzling and ambitious film. Over 350 animators from 34 different countries worked on the Biblical tale of Moses and the Israeli peoples’ exodus out of Egypt. But it isn’t just the scale of The Prince of Egypt that is impressive, it’s the sheer artistry: The angular character designs recalling Ancient Egyptian art, the breathtaking action sequences, and the haunting visions of the plagues that descend upon Egypt, all make The Prince of Egypt a stunning feat of animation.

14. Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings is a unique blend of clay models, 3D printing, and paper in an ambitious stop-motion animated movie that looks like Japanese origami and ink wash painting comes to life. The 2016 film is not the only visually stunning film to come from the innovative animation studio Laika, which has (almost) singlehandledly kept the stop-motion genre alive while the rest of the industry shifts over to CG animation. But the epic fable of a young one-eyed storyteller named Kubo who embarks on a mission to defeat the Moon King is perhaps the most captivating.

13. Sleeping Beauty

Just look at the backdrops! Those striking backgrounds are painted by artist Eyvind Earle, who designed them to look like medieval unicorn tapestries on display in museums. These works of art, he said, “would fit perfectly with the cartoon medium. They have crisp edges, [and] the planes are not defined very well except by a kind of superimposition for distance rather than the linear perspective.” His designs ended up informing the entirety of Sleeping Beauty, with slim silhouettes and bold lines becoming the order of the day. While the characters and action in the foreground of the 1959 film could never match the heights of Earle’s intricate backdrops, it resulted in one of the most unique Disney animated movies ever.

12. Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea is a gorgeous Gaelic fairy tale with animation that looks like it came out of an impressionist painting — or a children’s storybook. Whatever the case, the picturesque animation style of this 2014 Irish animated fantasy has a timeless feel that carries you gently through the lovely story of a young boy who discovers that his mute little sister is a prophesied selkie who must free supernatural creatures from the curse of a Celtic goddess.

11. Spirited Away

I grappled with which Hayao Miyazaki film to include on this list, as all of them could apply — be it the steampunk splendor of Howl’s Moving Castle, the rich landscapes of Princess Mononoke, or even the adorable spherical designs of Ponyo. But none of them can outdo the ecstatic beauty of Spirited Away. The story of a young girl who gets trapped in the spirit world is utterly transporting, chock full of rich imagery and dazzling sequences. But Miyazaki’s masterpiece is never afraid to sit back and let the visuals speak for themselves in tender, contemplative scenes that immerse the viewer in the enchanting world that the legendary filmmaker has created.

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