25+ years: 15+ animated movies I recommend

animated movies

I like stories in any form and over the years I’ve watched zillions of animated movies. Here are 15 (plus some sequels) that I enjoyed and recommend. The list is far from exhaustive–Monster’s Inc isn’t here and I loved that. Lion’s King didn’t make it either and its a masterpiece. This is mainly a list of movies that came to mind, things you may have missed because they are either too recent or too distant. In order of release date, not preference, I offer you a list of 15ish movies to watch with your grandkids or your girlfriends, your spouse or your students. Enjoy!

The 90s

Beauty and the Beast 1991. This film’s enchanted castle is fantastic from entryway to attic; but the library. . . swoon. Oh! the library! The heroine loves books and is independent and determined; she’s my favorite Disney princess (with Tiana–below–a close second). But be warned: there’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome here. Okay, a lot. Alright basically it’s a film that endorses Stockholm Syndrome. But if you can get past that, you’ll find Angela Lansbury as a teapot, Belle, a woman who rejects traditional roles, and an amazing, magical library. Recognize the negatives of course, but I’ll still recommend the movie every time.

animated moviesToy Story x 4 (1995, 1999, 2010, 2019). You’ve seen these, of course you have, but give them a rewatch if it’s been awhile. Poignant in ways new viewers might not expect, they illustrate things like cooperation, generosity, growth, letting go, and more. If this is your first time through, you should absolutely watch them in order; the main human character, Andy, ages in real time. He’s in elementary school in the first one and all grown up in the third. In TS3, Andy heads to college and his toys start a new life with a little girl named Bonnie. TS4 is set just a short time after TS3 as Bonnie goes to Kindergarten. Pixar kept raising the bar on this franchise; each TS introduces new characters without sacrificing the familiar favorites. Each film stands alone with new content and plot points, but is cleverly connected to the ones that come before or after it.

The 00’s

Lilo & Stitch 2002. Stitch, formerly known as Experiment 626, is built for chaos; he’s not cut out to be a rescue dog, for goodness sake. But a lonely little Hawaiian girl named Lilo is looking for a pet to love and for her, 626–who she names Stitch–is just perfect. Their relationship is a testimony to found family and the triumph of love over evil. Great soundtrack, bright animation, and a timeless story that will warm the hearts of all ages.

Finding Nemo 2003 My pick for the best animated movie of all time, this film connects two truly opposite characters. If you know my husband and me, you’ll understand why I find this concept compelling. It’s about the power of love, the value of friendships with people who are different from you, and the strength of community. Also watch for how prior learning experiences weave their way into future victories. Plus Dory is the best character ever created, so there’s that.

Shark Tale 2004. I realize that Will Smith has fallen out of favor these days, but I’ve always enjoyed his movies; in this one, he plays Oscar, an employee of Whale Wash, who has money challenges and low self-esteem. It got mixed reviews, but I liked it a lot. Maybe it was the fantastic soundtrack with artists like Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, and Justin Timberlake or perhaps it was a storyline that included a vegetarian shark. In any case, I appreciated this tale of victory over self-created obstacles that resulted in improved self-awareness and stronger community.

Robots 2005. Look, this is not an earth-shaking masterpiece. It is great fun, though, and is sprinkled with humor for both adults and children. You can play a fun game of Guess That Superstar as you watch as there are huge names in this one–including a tiny bit by James Earl Jones. The plot reminds viewers that heroes are humans too and that success requires both initiative and ongoing persistence.

Happy Feet 2006. A delightful tale about fitting in by standing out, Happy Feet won the Oscar for best animated picture in 2006. It highlights the importance of environmental justice, features Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman, and Nicole Kidman (and Elijah Wood in the lead), and suggests (at least to me) that dancing is liberating. Plus, the soundtrack is catchy and fun and by itself is worth the price of the rental. What’s not to love?

Princess and the Frog image source wiki page https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fcommons.wikimedia.org%2Fwiki%2FFile%3AWikinews_B_Princess_and_the_Frog_IMG_1507.jpg&psig=AOvVaw1ieX9jBz7j0g2lwQoQD7c7&ust=1674839170723000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CA8QjRxqFwoTCMjZyaDc5fwCFQAAAAAdAAAAABAGThe Princess and the Frog 2009. Tiana wants more than anything to open her own restaurant in New Orleans. She works nonstop to reach her goal, no time for frivolities. Naveen, a prince who has never had to work for anything, knows nothing but how to have a good time. The two find themselves with shared amphibian troubles and set out to find resolution. A testimony to the value of finding balance, the film features a strong female lead for children to admire. Tiana, unlike many Disney princesses, doesn’t need a prince to save her. In fact, Naveen is saved by Tiana, not the other way around. Fantastic!

The Teens

How to Train your Dragon 2010. A coming-of-age tale set on the island of Berk, a Viking village beset by dragons, HTTYD illustrates the importance of relationships that transcend obvious barriers. It’s sweet and poignant, the connection between young Hiccup, the main character, and Toothless the dragon suggests that maybe real people could also learn to get along. The sequels are good too, HTTYD2 in 2014 and HTTYD3 in 2019, but the first one is my favorite.

Big 6 2014. This beauty slipped under my radar when it came out. Several years later, someone recommended it to me and wow-o-wow! The protagonist is a nerdy kid who has had his share of hard knocks. His sidekick is an overly compassionate, sometimes too helpful, balloon robot. Yes, balloon robot. That animation alone is worth watching. But the way the movie demonstrates connection and persistence is its true treasure.

Inside Out 2015 Oh man! This one is brilliant. The characters are emotions in the mind of 11-year-old Riley: Joy, played by Amy Poehler, Fear (Bill Hader), Lewis Black as Anger, Mindy Kaling as Disgust, and my favorite of all, Sadness played by Phyllis Smith. If you want to increase your emotional intelligence and your understanding of others’ emotions, this one is for you. It is unique and fascinating and beautiful.

Zootopia 2016 I’ve watched this one multiple times and I just love it. Judy Hopps is a bunny with a dream to be a police officer. She faces obstacles from her family, her coworkers, and her culture. Through it all, Judy learns that things are often different than they seem and that support can be found in unexpected places. And also there are sloths.

2020 and later

Soul 2020 Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, and Angela Bassett. Need more reasons to watch this Pixar gem? It’s the story of a musician named Joe who is caught in limbo in the Great Beyond. The story begins with Joe questioning the value of his life’s work. Then a freak accident lands his physical self in a coma while catapulting his inner soul into a state of hyper-awareness. Traveling from The Great Beyond to The Great Before, to Earth and back again, Joe learns lessons that make his life worth living.

Lin-Manuel MirandaEncanto 2021 Lin-Manuel Miranda music set in a magical Latin American (Columbia) home and the hero wears glasses? Oh yes! 100% yes! This animated wonder features bespeckled Mirabel, the only one in her family who apparently will not be granted a magical gift. Intergenerational family dynamics and multi-faceted characters make this a treasure for all ages.

Vivo 2021. I could not have not loved this one because, HELLO! Cuba! Plus Lin-Manuel Miranda. Also a story that features the significance of a pet’s love, the importance of belonging, and the truth that second chances are more readily available than we may realize.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes on 2022. It’s not the most believable premise, I’ll give you that: Marcel who is, ya know, a shell wearing . . . well, shoes, lives with his grandmother, Connie, and their pet lint (stay with me), Alan. They are discovered by a guy named Dean who posts a video online of Marcel in his world. It’s a blend of live-action and stop-motion animation described as a comedic mockumentary. Yeah, I know, but just watch it. You’ll never see anything like it. It’s positively beautiful. And it’s nominated for an Oscar!

Now, your turn! What should I watch next?

By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.