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Best Animated Movies for Kids
Our favorite award-winning animated flicks of all time, including Pixar, Disney movies and a few surprises
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The Little Mermaid
Who can resist singing along whenever “Part of Your World” starts playing? While Disney films have always featured music, it’s “The Little Mermaid” that’s credited with bringing Broadway into cartoons—a move that was honored by Academy and Golden Globes awards for best original score and song, respectively. What’s more, this film about a fish out of water revived the Disney Animation Studios and spurred on the Disney Renaissance, which led to a period in which some of the most successful and beloved animated films were made. Ariel herself was revolutionary as the first princess to be characterized as spunky and rebellious.
- Tokuma Japan Communications Co. Ltd.
My Neighbor Totoro
Hayao Miyazaki is often referred to as the “Walt Disney of Japan” and Studio Ghibli—the film and animation studio he co-founded—is known for turning out hits as reliably as Pixar. One of Ghibli's earliest works is not to be missed by parents or children. “My Neighbor Totoro” follows the story of two sisters who move to an old house to be closer to their hospital-ridden mother. The creatures that fill the house and the surrounding woods were seemingly drawn with the explicit purpose of melting your heart. We dare you to watch the movie and not wish for a totoro—a cross between a Russian nesting doll and a rotund rabbit that likes to wear leaves for hats—of your very own.
Beauty and the Beast
As the crown jewel of the Disney Renaissance, “Beauty and the Beast” has been at the top of best-of lists since it was released to universal critical acclaim in 1991. It was the first animated movie to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, along with five other categories. The fact that it won Best Original Score and Best Song is a testament to the musical genius of the soundtrack. But it is Belle, whose bravery and independence helped redefine the meaning of a Disney princess, that truly makes the movie. Bookish and fairly odd (as we are told by an entire singing village), Belle continues to serve as an inspiration to girls who feel most at home in the library.
The Lion King
When we asked our Twitter followers to name their favorite animated movie, the overwhelming answer was “The Lion King.” This animal tale was the first Disney animated feature to be made from an original story rather than an existing fairy tale. And despite featuring the most tear-jerking death scene since “Bambi,” “The Lion King” has won over audiences and critics alike. It is the 18th highest-grossing movie of all time and snagged two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Song and a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture in the musical or comedy category. It’s good to be the king!
- Warner Brothers Pictures
The Iron Giant
Before joining with Pixar to make family faves like “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” Brad Bird worked on a little gem called “The Iron Giant.” This retro-cool picture has the heart of "E.T." and the sensibility of a ‘50s sci-fi flick. The story follows a lonely boy who discovers a giant robot. Although it is set during the Cold War, the family portrayed here is thoroughly modern with both single parents and blended families represented. While “The Iron Giant” did not get any Golden Globes or Oscar love—the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature was only established in 2001—it did go on to win a slew of science fiction awards, including a Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and several Annie Awards, which are given for accomplishments in animation.
- Dreamworks LTD
You may not be aware of just how much this subversive little fairytale changed the landscape of animated movies. “Shrek” set the trend for a script embedded with adult-oriented jokes and obvious pop culture references—a formula that practically every CGI film has followed since. “Shrek” won the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and all three sequels in the franchise populate the list of the highest-grossing films of all time.
- Studio Ghibli
This is yet another brilliant offering from Miyazaki. Like everything from Studio Ghibli, “Spirited Away” is a sumptuous visual feast. The film follows ten-year-old Chihiro who, after witnessing her parents transformed into pigs, must navigate a spirit world; think “Alice in Wonderland” set in a Japanese bathhouse. Along with critical accolades, “Spirited Away” took home the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, making it the only international movie to do so, to date.
If you have young children, you probably own “Nemo.” That’s because after only a decade after its release, this touching film has already established itself as a timeless classic. But the lasting appeal isn’t all that surprising, given that “Finding Nemo” is the 23rd highest grossing movie of all time. We love the portrayal of neurotic single-dad Marlin who, like any parent, would go to the ends of the earth—or ocean—to find his son. “Finding Nemo” earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture and the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Who would have thought that one of the most touching love stories of all time could be told in five minutes? Right from the get-go, “Up” tugged at our heartstrings with a montage that takes us through Ellie and Carl’s life together, from their marriage to Ellie’s death. After the emotional whallop of the beginning, “Up” pairs up two of the most unlikely protagonists on a humorous and healing adventure. “Up” became the second animated film to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Though it lost in the category, the film took home Oscars in two out of its five nominations, as well as two Golden Globe Awards.
Toy Story (1, 2, 3)
We may be cheating by lumping all three installments of this franchise together, but we just can’t choose! After all, as the first computer-animated film, “Toy Story” launched the Pixar we all know and love and paved the path for all future CGI films. “Toy Story 2” proved that a sequel could really be just as good as, if not better than, the original. And “Toy Story 3”was a poignant and honest reflection on the bittersweet experience of growing up that was a worthy wrap-up of the trilogy. Collectively, the series was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and earned four Golden Globes. “Toy Story 3” took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but it was also nominated for Best Picture, making it the third animated film to ever be recognized in the category.
Not only is “Brave” Pixar’s first fairy tale, it is also the studio’s first movie to feature a female protagonist and the first to include a female director. Though Mark Andrews ultimately replaced Brenda Chapman as director, her mark on the movie is easily discernable and her vision gives the tale heart. “Brave” was originally inspired by Chapman’s relationship with her daughter, and as a result, the way the spirited Merida continually butts heads with her more traditional mother rings especially true. The film won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film and a Golden Globe in the same category.
“Wreck-It Ralph” is a love letter to gamers of every age, whether their console of choice is an old-school Atari or an X-Box. The film follows the titular character, a villain in a vintage arcade game along the lines of “Donkey Kong,” who aspires to be the hero. In his quest, he travels through various games, new and old. While parents who grew up on Pac Man and Super Mario Brothers will definitely be hit with a wave of nostalgia, the film also stands on its own with a clever script, empathetic characters and an ending full of emotional pay-off. “Wreck-It-Ralph” lost out to “Brave” at the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, but it did snag Best Animated Feature at the Annie Awards.