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40 Greatest Animated Movies Ever

From Pixar landmarks to cyberpunk anime and stop-motion indies — our top non-live-action films and toons of all time

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It's crazy to think that, in the century-plus since Winsor McCay and the French Fantasmagorie first made moving drawings on a screen a form of popular entertainment, animation has given us everything from steamboat-steering mice and sly stop-motion foxes to, well, you name it: a septet of singing dwarves, psychic Japanese teens, counterculturally hip cats, crooning French triplets, classical-gassed satyrs and demons, humanity-saving robots, superhero families, the young-female brain's emotional terrain and a lovable, unclassifiable creature known as a Totoro. What was once considered a cinematic distraction for children has blossomed into a medium that's as creatively fertile and emotionally resonant as any live-action films aimed at the 18-and-over crowd (or, in the case of a stunner like Anomalisa, an incredible substitute for "adult" movies featuring actual adults).

So we're counting down our picks for the 40 greatest animated movies of all time — the features (and a handful of key shorts too good not to include) that have pushed the boundaries of what drawn lines, computerized pixels or manipulated puppets could accomplish for filmgoers. These are the ones that scare us, move us, crack us up and remind us of how fun and moving it is to watch cartoons, etc. with a crowd. 

Greatest Animated Movies Wallace gromit Nightmare Christmas Fantasia

23. ‘Yellow Submarine’ (1968)

Few animated movies are more synonymous with "turn off your mind, relax and float downstream" vibe than this psychedelic late-Sixties Beatles odyssey, in which John, Paul, Ringo and George must rescue an underwater utopia from the fun-killing Blue Meanies. Sure, the Fab Four might not have actually provided their own speaking voices, but George Dunning's hallucinatory animation paired with some of their trippiest music makes for a memorable Pop-Art ride all the same. Yellow Submarine's popular success demonstrated to the mainstream that there were more ways than the Disney mode to pull off feature-length cartoons. JS

Greatest Animated Movies Wallace gromit Nightmare Christmas Fantasia

22. ‘Toy Story’ (1995)

Pixar entered the world fully-formed with its miraculously assured debut film, already possessing a strong handle on the themes, sense of humor, and house style that would make them the standard bearer for modern animated features done right. Fluent in the poignant, primal language of childhood, the company's then-revolutionary team created a cast of lovable toys that feel more like old friends with every additional re-watch. Woody and Buzz Lightyear (Tom Hanks and Tim Allen) make for a stellar comedic odd couple, and Randy Newman's "You Got a Friend in Me" still gets us every time. CB

Greatest Animated Movies Wallace gromit Nightmare Christmas Fantasia

21. ‘The Lego Movie’ (2014)

Proving that the Toy Story franchise isn't the last word on the secret life of children's playthings, director Chris Miller and Phil Lord's gloriously goofy take on those little building blocks made Chris Pratt a star, harnessing both his preternatural sweetness and his mastery of dumb-guy humor. The Parks and Recreation star voices Emmet, an everyLego who learns he's the chosen one who must save the universe from the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Sure, hero's-journey narratives are a total cliché — and it's but one of several action-movies tropes that this hilariously self-aware hoot spoofs. Making a movie that's a feature-length advertisement for the titular product is easy; making one this zippy, charming and as endlessly inventive as the titular product is damn hard. TG