Ranking The Top Ten Oscar Winners For Best Animated Feature

The award for Best Animated Feature has been part of the Oscars since the 74th Academy Awards back in 2002.  Since then, we have seen 13 winners of this award, with a 14th coming up this Sunday at the 87th Academy Awards.  As I enjoy putting together some kind of look back at the Oscars every year, I decided to rank my top ten favorites among the winners for Best Animated feature.  It is a pretty straightforward list, though I’m sure the ranking will throw off some, but it was fun to do.  Additionally, I have also listed out what I wish could have won in their respective years, which are actually often the same.  Enjoy!

The Outliers:

Frozen (2013), Happy Feet (2006), Brave (2012)

While I don’t think I am hurting anyone’s feelings by placing Happy Feet and Brave at the bottom here, Frozen may seem a bit odd for some.  Honestly, I am a big fan of Frozen for a number of reasons and it was not easy, but really, the others I find to be just a bit more fun and a bit more re-watchable, even if they don’t have a song like “Let It Go”, which no one has ever gotten sick of ever...

And Now The Top Ten:

10. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

Burrowing bounders! They must be breeding like… well, rabbits.

From a short film series to the big leagues, Nick Park took his wonderful creations and made a full feature film that is plenty charming, humorous, and a wonderful example of how great stop-animation can be.  I remember chuckling a lot during my first viewing of this film and I continue to think back fondly to this story of Wallace and Gromit dealing with both a Were-Rabbit and a nefarious hunter voiced by Ralph Fiennes.  Yes, it has some silly ideas, but the sense of humor that Park and co. have developed with these Wallace & Gromit stories has always been very worthwhile for me.

9. Shrek (2001)

We can stay up late, swapping manly stories, and in the morning, I’m making waffles!

I am not one to think previous films are ruined by subpar sequels, but I can admit that I was honestly quite exhausted by Shrek by the time the fourth entry, Shrek Forever After, happened.  That said, I am a big fan of the original (as well as Shrek 2 to a lesser extent).  Shrek has a solid script that stands as a smartass, animated follow-up to The Princess Bride.  It features the perfect teaming of Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy, who apparently never worked in the same voice recording booth for this film, as well as fun vocal work from Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow.  Really though, I was such a fan of the way it twisted all the fairy tale characters into modernized caricatures, with plenty of energy to sustain funny sequences in this film.  Even with the pop culture jokes, the original Shrek still stands up quite well, as the film (and this admittedly applies to each entry) has a level of heart to make it quite likable.

8. Up (2009)

I was hiding under your porch because I love you.

I imagine many would have place Up much higher.  This is a film that I certainly like a lot and recognize for the strength of its emotionality in the opening minutes, but the film, as a whole, only does so much for me.  Something about going from a fantastic montage that ultimately ends in tragedy to a finale that features talking dogs in little airplanes shooting at a floating house has always held Up back for me in regards to the Pixar pantheon, despite its Best Picture nomination.  Maybe that is just me, but regardless, I love how original this film is, the fact that the lead characters are made up of Ed Asner and Jordan Nagai, the use of an exotic location as an interesting and lovingly animated setting, and a very creative script, when it comes to landing the sentimental beats.

7. Ratatouille (2007)

I hate to be rude, but we’re French.

I have remained curious about what this film would have been if Brad Bird did not come in as a replacement writer/director, but as it stands, Pixar somehow made a film about a rat in a kitchen into one of their most adult stories.  I love a lot of the thematic work in this film, which mixes well with the physical comedy and vocal talents on display.  There is also so much I took away from the film in terms of the concept of everyone being capable of something versus what it means to be a critic.  Couple all of this with terrific animation, a wonderful score by Michael Giacchino, and a warm sense of humor, and you have the makings of a truly great film, animated or otherwise.  Plus, everyone seemingly now knows how to say and spell ratatouille!

6. Toy Story 3 (2010)

You’ve got a playdate with destiny!

Toy Story 3 was a seemingly wonderful send off for the characters of this franchise, even if I get a level of joy out of each new short film that hits ABC.  The film is a lot of fun, featuring some great and very creative ideas, while also finding ways to make everyone weep horribly.  I still remember the high level of tension I faced, upon realizing how much I cared about whether or not Rex and Mr. Potato Head would ‘die’ in a fire.  While I still debate in my mind whether or not this is better than Toy Story 2 (the first film is great too, but I place it third), the fact is this third entry was a true delight, coming at no real surprise, given my affinity for these characters.  The idea of a fourth Toy Story movie seems totally unnecessary to me, but if the pattern continues, Toy Story 4 has the potential to be both hilarious and devastating in ways that match up to or even outdo their predecessor. 

5. Rango (2011)

No man can walk out of his own story.

Rango is a blast.  Currently the last great film that Johnny Depp has been a part of, this reteaming between him and director Gore Verbinski proved to be my favorite collaboration between them (and I’m the crazy person who loved the second Pirates movie the most).  What we have is a film about a chameleon facing an existential crisis, while trapped in a plotline that combines High Noon and Chinatown.  It is insane that this was not only a major studio release, but a blockbuster hit.  A huge kudos goes to Nickelodeon movies for allowing this to happen and what a joy it was to be able to get something so wildly different.  The cast is terrific, the animation is fantastic, Hans Zimmer’s score is totally appropriate, and I love how much this film left me both smiling and thinking, in regards to the complexity of Rango’s character and the ideas presented in this story.

4. Spirited Away (2002)

Once you do something, you never forget. Even if you can’t remember.

It continues to humor me that I love Spirited Away so much, given how I am quite picky with anime, especially when it comes to stories that go into a more fantastical route.  Maybe it is because Hayao Miyazaki is a fantastic filmmaker, but whatever the case, Spirited Away continues to be my favorite feature from him (though there are still a few early ones I have not seen).  This is a hand-drawn animated feature that is the only traditionally animated film that has won this award, as well as the only foreign language film to win.  It tells a wonderful story about a dour little girl who has just moved to a new neighborhood and finds herself inside a spirit world, where her own spirit eventually brightens.  Things may get weird, but it is always a delight to watch.

3. Wall-E (2008)

Computer, define ‘dancing.’

These top three films are not that hard for me, as they are my favorite Pixar films, as well as some of my favorite recent films.  Starting with WALL-E, this is a film I love for the way it takes a robot character and turns him into inspiration for others.  Yes, I love the opening third of this film, which functions as a stylish dystopian look at the future, matched with the nature of a silent film, but I love the rest of the film as well for the way it uses WALL-E.  Everything WALL-E encounters is bettered in some way, as his curiosity and genial nature makes for new interests and ideas being taken.  I find that to be so clever and worthwhile.  The sci-fi nature of the film is also wonderfully creative (and a bit depressing as far as humans go), but the eventual message, while perhaps a bit easy, is earned based on the strength of everything this film builds up to, which includes its ultimately happy ending.

2. Finding Nemo (2003)

‘Cause we were like, “woaaaah.”, and I was like, “woaaaah.” And you were like, “woaaaaahh…”

Finding Nemo is a film I can say function as the sort of ‘perfect’ Pixar movie.  In terms of what Pixar is capable of and what they had been doing, this film takes everything in the way of their storytelling, casting choices, sense of humor, themes, messages, and more, and places it into one fantastic blockbuster film.  It only helps that I love everything about this movie.  As both a great comedy and a solid dramatic tale, Finding Nemo sits close in line with what the Toy Story films manage to do, but the aquatic setting, sharper sense of humor and dialogue play, and general nature of the adventure we see put it over the top for me.  I was incredibly impressed by this film the first time I saw it and continue to be all these years later.  I can only hope the upcoming sequel is just as worthwhile.

1. The Incredibles (2004)

No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved! You know, for a little bit? I feel like the maid; I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for… for ten minutes!

There was little doubt in my mind that The Incredibles would not be the film I placed in the top spot, when I first thought of putting this list together.  As a comic book fan, a superhero fan, a Brad Bird fan, a James Bond fan, and a huge film lover, The Incredibles really is incredible.  Combining the nature of a big budget superhero adventure with themes centering on family, what it means to be a hero, what it means to be ‘super’, and many other brilliantly fleshed out concepts, Brad Bird delivered a marvelous film.  The script is great, the casting choices are genius, the animation is superb, and we have another dynamite score by Michael Giacchino.  Not to mention how funny and exciting this film is, given the humor and action that frequently takes center stage, without betraying the great character work going on.  There is so much to enjoy about The Incredibles and it is always so exciting to revisit.

If I picked the Winners:

2001Shrek, the first winner and well deserved

2002Spirited Away, the clear winner, a true treasure from Hayao Miyazaki

2003Finding Nemo, one of my favorite Pixar films, but The Triplets of Belleville is fantastic and I wish it would have won Best Original Song

2004The Incredibles, another easy pick, but just remember that Shark Tale was nominated this year…yes, really

2005Wallace & Gromit: The Cure of the Were-Rabbit, another easy choice I agreed with

2006 – Monster House, sorely underseen and deserving of much more love

2007Ratatouille, a perfectly classy choice

2008WALL-E, Kung Fu Panda is very good, but I love WALL-E

2009Fantastic Mr. Fox, endlessly watchable for me, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (not nominated) was close behind

2010The Illusionist, it is hard to argue against Toy Story 3, but I love what Chomet does in the animation world

2011Rango, I was all in for Rango since its first trailer and that film delivered in spades

2012ParaNorman, easily my favorite animated film of that year, let alone one of my favorites of the year as a whole, and I could only hope it gets more recognition down the road

2013The Wind Rises, one of my favorite efforts from Hayao Miyazaki and a great final feature, if that is indeed the case

2014 – We’ll see, but The LEGO Movie not being here is still a shame.  That in mind, as much as I would like to see Laika win an Oscar finally, The Boxtrolls is not the film that should necessarily do it.  Instead, I will be happy to see How to Train Your Dragon 2 pick up the award, as it was in my Top 15 of the year.



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