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.