As 2021 is about to roll into 2022 and studios continue to give us the best-animated movies of the 2020s, now is the perfect time to look back at the previous decade and rewatch all our favorites. Of course, there will be some amazing animations that are left off this list due to the fact that there are just so many of them and only so few spots, but rest assured that if you don’t see your favorite, you can always check out these films as well!
From the mega superpower of Disney to the Irish animation studio that is Cartoon Saloon, here are the 10 best-animated films of the 2010s.
Because this film is the overlooked gem of 2011, it is only fitting that it is discussed first on this list. As a children’s animated film, a comedy, and a western all rolled into one, Nickelodeon Movies’ Rango is something truly special and not an experience to be missed. A nameless chameleon (Johnny Depp) with a love for theater and character acting has no identity or life purpose. So when he falls out of his owners’ car and into the desert, he takes the name Rango and makes up a backstory for himself to tell to the starved and thirsty townspeople (or, towns-animals) of Dirt. Caught in his own lies, Rango is thrown into the western adventure of a lifetime, complete with daring stunts, thrilling chases, double-crosses, and a stand-off for the ages.
Rango’s strongest quality is its humor, and the voice acting, situational comedy, and dialogue are all spot-on for this purpose. Rango’s uncertainty in his own identity not only provides ample comedy but also a strong emotional core to the story. The surrounding characters are quirky but lovable, the most prominent being the love interest and headstrong iguana, Beans (Isla Fisher). In terms of animation, Rango also stands out among the crowd. Especially compared to many of the other entries on this list, the movie’s animation is not as bright or colorful, but rather it matches the grey-brown-dusty-green color palette of the desert. Nonetheless, the movie is never visually boring, as each animal character has a unique appearance that never fails to engage the eye. Add in exciting and memorable music, spot-on pacing, and a laugh every few minutes, and Rango is definitely one of the best-animated movies of the 2010s.
Although Disney is widely known for taking the evergreen, and sometimes extremely dark fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, or Hans Christian Anderson, and using them as a framework for singsong adaptations, Tangled is one of the best said adaptations. In this version of Rapunzel, the kidnapped princess (Mandy Moore) sneaks out of her tower to go see the floating lanterns during the kingdom’s annual festival, with the help of roguish but charming outlaw, Flynn Rider (Zackary Levi). The two come across many outlandish obstacles, including criminal twin brothers, the ancient and manipulative Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), and the most ambitious and terrifying horse either of them has ever seen.
Though Disney has been making princess movies for years, Tangled is not a film that gets old with many viewings. The golden and bubbly personality of Rapunzel is a delight to watch, as is her interactions with the cynical but falsely self-confident Flynn Rider. Mother Gothel is a smart villain that employs the mentally intimidating tactic of gaslighting in order to keep Rapunzel’s magic hair all to herself. The tertiary characters, such as the ruffians from the Snuggly Duckling tavern, are kind and helpful, each with their own dreams to accomplish.
One of the most prominent aspects of the Disney princess movie is its music, and Tangled does not disappoint. The all-important I-Want song, “When Will My Life Begin?” sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the film, and it even leads into a We-Want song that includes Rapunzel, Flynn, and the customers of the Snuggly Duckling in the toe-tapping bop, “I Have a Dream.” And though the romantic duet, “I See the Light,” is a gorgeous song accompanied by even more beautiful animated visuals of the floating lanterns, the true hidden gem is the instrumental song, “Kingdom Dance,” which plays during the wordless scene during which Rapunzel reconnects with her kingdom’s people at the festival.
The animation is also on point, energetic, and expressive as always. Even if you prefer the older 2D animation that Disney built its brand upon, Tangled is visually beautiful, fun to sing along with, and an all-around modern classic.
With the continuing popularity of superhero films thanks to the MCU (beginning with Iron Man in 2008 and continuing, seemingly, into infinity), they remain, for the most part, a delight to watch. And in 2010, DreamWorks’ Megamind flipped the script on the genre as a whole. When two different planets are destroyed, both send one baby into escape pods to eventually crash down on Earth. One grows up to be the unbeatable superhero protector of Metro City, Metro Man (Brad Pitt). And the other? Megamind (Will Ferrell): the smart but continually defeated supervillain with a giant blue head. When Megamind finally finds victory for once in his life, he loses interest and his life’s purpose as a supervillain, so he takes it upon himself to make a new hero.
Though Illumination released a movie with a similar concept earlier in the year (Despicable Me), Megamind remains a cult classic due to its witty and quick humor, quirky and lovable protagonist (villain?), and a whole host of subverted superhero tropes that bring plot twist after plot twist to the forefront, all in an enjoyable visual presentation that Megamind himself would be proud of. Megamind’s relationships with other characters are all important to the plot, and the portrayals of spunky news reporter Roxanne (Tina Fey) and loyal henchman Minion (David Cross) are especially notable, alongside the spot-on casting of Hal (Jonah Hill). As the protagonist, Megamind successfully steals the show with his heart of gold that contradicts his desire to be “evil” and his charming habit of mispronouncing words. Viewers love an underdog, and Megamind is one villain that an audience can root for.
Complete with rock song accompaniment featuring talented artists like Ozzy Osbourne, Guns N’ Roses, and Music Man, Megamind is a spectacle unlike any other; in the ten years since its release, there has yet to be an animated feature film that compares to Megamind’s supervillain story.
Song of the Sea
In 2014, the nations of Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, France, and Luxembourg co-produced the international animated feature, Song of the Sea, which is the second film from Irish animation studio, Cartoon Saloon. Based on Irish folklore creatures known as selkies, the story follows a young boy, Ben (David Rawle), who, years after the disappearance of his mother into the sea, discovers that his mute sister, Saoirse, is a human on land but a seal in the sea—she is a selkie. This discovery launches the two siblings on an adventure to regain Saoirse’s voice and set the other faerie creatures free from a Celtic goddess. In the process, Ben must come to terms with his mother’s disappearance, the blame for which he places squarely on Saoirse’s shoulders.
This charming fairy tale-esque story is the second of three Irish folktales adapted by director Tomm Moore and uses hand-drawn animation that looks less like the glossy early Disney animations and more like storybook illustrations, which fits the theme well. The whimsical air of the movie creates a dream-like feeling for the viewer, as Ben and Saoirse continue their journey, finding magical creatures and a renewed brother-sister relationship along the way.
As a foreign film, Your Name isn’t as popular as movies released by Disney or Pixar, but the 2016 visual spectacle and tear-jerking story released by CoMix Wave Films should not be ignored by anyone who is a fan of 2D animation. Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi in the original Japanese, and Stephanie Sheh in the English dub) and Taki (Ryȗnosuke Kamiki in the original Japanese, and Michael Sinterniklass in the English dub), two teenagers from completely different areas (one in a small town and one in the big city), realize that when they go to sleep, they switch bodies. Hijinks ensue, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear that the romance between Mitsuha and Taki has obstacles beyond their difference in geographical location. Centering around the beautiful but once-in-a-lifetime sighting of a comet, Your Name calls into question the truths of destiny and connection across space and time.
This romantic story boasts the smooth and beautiful directorial style of Makoto Shinkai and a highly emotional music score, as well as visuals that prove that the film was animated with loving care. For any fan of the introspective and slightly supernatural feeling of Studio Ghibli, Your Name is a wonderfully modern take on the spiritual and the romantic.
In 2016, Disney once again released a critically-acclaimed modern classic. Diving for the first time into Polynesian culture, the story follows Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) of Motunui, the chief’s daughter, as she is chosen by the sea to team up with the demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and return the heart of Te Fiti to save the islands and her home. Moana’s story is one of reconnection with ancient ancestral ties in order to determine her own identity, an important journey for Moana and for Maui as well.
As Disney continues into the modern-day, the formulas for their movies have also begun to change with the times: Moana is self-reliant but still struggles to understand herself more. The relationship between her and Maui is an extremely strong point of the story; what’s more, Moana and Maui are not depicted as love interests, making Moana the first Disney princess movie to focus solely on the protagonists as individuals and friends rather than as a couple. For a company with a long legacy of featuring romance as one of its main draws, Moana comes as a refreshing change. The film also features impressive and beautiful visuals, both of the sea and of the various magical places the main pair visit, from their encounter with the Kakamora to their venture into the Realm of Monsters, which happens to be Moana’s most vibrant and interesting setting, visually.
The music also does not disappoint, with songs that will stay in your head, some of which are paired with inspiring and thematically satisfying reprises. With the wonderful range of stunning musical pieces, it’s no surprise that Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) helped work on some of the songs, and he even co-performed “We Know the Way,” the self-assured song of Moana’s ancestors that is sung in both English and the Tokelauan language. Other earworm songs perfectly encapsulate Moana’s journey, from the I-Want song, “How Far I’ll Go,” to Maui’s more modern bop, “You’re Welcome.” All in all, Moana is one of Disney’s greatest modern game-changers, with a well-told story and catchy songs to boot.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
In 2018, Sony made its best contribution to the 2010s animation scene with the superhero movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes the hero Spider-Man—but he isn’t alone. When the supervillain Kingpin opens a portal that has the potential to flood the city with ultimate chaos, Miles meets multiple versions of himself across the multiverse, one alternate Spider-Man being the washed-up Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), who reluctantly agrees to teach Miles all he knows about being a hero. As Miles and the various other Spider-people, including the confident Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) and the overly dramatic Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage), work together to save the city and themselves, Miles learns how to make the Spider-Man mask his own.
Into the Spider-Verse made a huge splash upon its release, as the first feature Spider-Man film to focus on Miles Morales instead of the largely-used Peter Parker. With this change in main character comes a wide variety of opportunities to grow the lore of Spider-Man, all of which the film makes good use of. Miles is a determined and funny character, making him a delight to watch and to cheer for as he grows into the hero that he wants to be. Though the story is certainly different from what most movie-goers are used to seeing from Spider-Man, the main theme remains intact: responsibility and the truth that anyone could wear the mask and be a hero.
Visually, Into the Spider-Verse is a real treat to watch. Not made with traditional CGI like most modern western animated movies, the film uses a combination of hand-drawn elements to create a comic book-like look and an animation technique called “half-toning.” The result is an interesting collection of movements and smart use of bold colors, making Miles’ world stand out among not just other animated features but among other live-action superhero movies as well. Watching Into the Spider-Verse feels like watching a moving comic book, an experience that most are not likely to forget. Miles’ story is a gem to return to, again and again.
Toy Story 3
No best-animated films list would be complete without Pixar! The saga that began in 1995 finally reached its end in 2010 (or so we all thought; at the time, there were no murmurings of a possible fourth installment) with Toy Story 3. This was the third part of the then-trilogy involving Andy’s toys, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and a large cast of colorful and crazy characters. When Andy goes to college, his toys panic over the idea that their owner might be done with them. They mistakenly end up in a preschool playroom, where they quickly discover that the playful utopia is not all it’s cracked up to be. Now, they need to escape the watch of huggable but malevolent Lotso (Ned Beatty), the stuffed bear and make it back to Andy before he leaves for college.
The overarching narrative of Toy Story movies follows Woody and Buzz as Andy grows older, and this installment is one of the most heart-wrenching yet. It’s strange for viewers who have been watching since the first movie came out to see Andy all grown up and our characters’ stories on the verge of ending. However, the film doesn’t rely only on nostalgia to make it great; it has a strong plot (prison breaks are always fun), character arcs, and a killer climax that gives Mr. Potato Head’s pun from the first movie (“Do we have to hold hands?”) a new, more emotional meaning. Besides the emotional beats, Toy Story 3 also uses plenty of the strong humor that it has maintained over the years. Buzz’s Spanish mode is a testament to that.
Even though it ended up not being the final movie, Toy Story 3 is nonetheless a satisfying watch by its own merit.
2010 wasn’t the only stellar year for Pixar in 2017, Coco was released into the world and was met with resounding praise. Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is an aspiring musician with a strong passion for singing and the guitar, despite coming from a long line of shoemakers who hate music. Many years ago, his great-grandmother, Coco’s, father left to pursue a music career, leaving the rest of the family to fend for themselves, and even decades later he isn’t forgiven. Desperate to follow his dreams, Miguel ventures into the Land of the Dead on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in search of a way to become a musician.
Though Miguel’s desire is a simple one, Coco is nonetheless a story filled with danger, action, music, mystery, and vibrant colors, making it a stand-out hit. Though it’s often compared to The Book of Life because both films are set in Mexico and follow very musical characters, Coco tells an undoubtedly different story, one that highlights the importance of family, forgiveness, and correcting past mistakes. Miguel’s reluctant guide through the Land of the Dead, Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), adds a layer of humor and heart to the story, as does the famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).
If you end up watching Coco for the first time, however, be prepared to get emotional. Behind the enchanting and vibrant colors of the Land of the Dead, the fun songs, and funny skeleton characters, the film has a strong emotional core that centers on remembrance.
A Silent Voice
Upon its release in the US in 2017, A Silent Voice, created by Kyoto Animation, captured the hearts of anime fans and firmly solidified it as one of the best-animated films of the 2010s. As a young boy, Shoya (Miyu Irino in the original Japanese, Robby Daymond in the English dub) bullies the new transfer student in school, Shoko (Saori Hayami in the original Japanese, Lexi Cowden in the English dub), who happens to be deaf. Later in high school, Shoya is haunted by his actions as a bully and refuses to forgive himself for making Shoko’s life miserable back then. Nonetheless, he makes an effort to befriend her, and through their second try at becoming friends, Shoya reconnects with his childhood friends and even meets new ones. But as Shoya struggles with his social anxiety and shameful past, Shoko goes through struggles of her own as she faces depression and self-loathing.
While the themes of this film are extremely heavy, as it deals with bullying, suicide, and depression, the final message is one of inspiration. As Shoya begins to open himself up to Shoko, the cast begins to grow as each friend, new and old, is added to the group. Tomohiro (Kensho Ono in the original Japanese, Graham Halstead in the English dub) is an especially enjoyable and funny character. The visuals are also beautiful and creative; as one example, Shoya sees the faces of the people around him covered with an X, symbolizing his inability to look them in the eye.
Paired with Kyoto Animation’s stunning visuals, the voice cast’s heartfelt performances, and quiet, steady pacing, A Silent Voice is the perfect movie to watch if you need a good cry.
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