Forget Pixar and Disney for a minute (as brilliant as they are). Nick Parkhouse has pulled together a list of the best lesser-known animated movies from the last decade. Some absolute gems here.
We’re living in a golden age of animation. While the multiplexes might be dominated by Disney, Pixar and the mighty franchises, the last decade has seen some incredible animated stories from all four corners of the world.
Rather than focus on the genius of Inside Out, Big Hero 6 or Wreck-It Ralph, there are countless brilliant movies that have flown under the radar. Here’s our pick of the 10 best animated films of the 2010s that you might have missed.
10. My Life As A Zucchini (Ma vie de Courgette)
This Oscar-nominated French stop-motion animation follows the fortunes of nine-year old Icare – nicknamed ‘Courgette’ – who is relocated to a countryside children’s home after losing his mother. Here, he meets a range of similarly aged kids, each of whom has a tragic tale of their own to tell. It may sound like dark subject matter for an animation, but My Life As A Zucchini is an uplifting, funny and tender film that’s not afraid to confront stereotypes and tackle serious issues head-on.
Despite its PG rating, it’s better suited to older children, and even though it’s only 66 minutes long it covers more ground than many movies twice its length.
9. The Red Turtle
A co-production between beloved Japanese animation giants Studio Ghibli and European studio Wild Bunch, this entirely wordless story follows a man trying to escape from a desert island after a shipwreck. As the castaway’s escape is constantly thwarted by the titular beast, a moment of anger transforms his life in magical ways – and any further explanation would dull the impact of this beautiful piece of work.
A meditation on everything from companionship to family, The Red Turtle balances moving and tender moments with scenes of extreme drama – all with no words. It’s a remarkable piece of work from Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit.
8. Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika are one of the most inventive animation studios around, making their name with the excellent Coraline, The Boxtrolls and Paranorman.
This 2016 film follows the fortunes of Kubo, a child with the power to tell stories by making beautiful origami shapes come to life. After a pair of spirits seek him out, he embarks on a quest to find a magical suit of armour and, more importantly, to discover what happened to his parents.
Another stunning stop-motion animation, Kubo and the Two Strings also features a terrific voice cast including Charlize Theron and Matthew McConnaughey. It’s so beautifully realised that it’s easy to forget you’re watching stop-motion, and it features delightful characters and an engrossing and original story.
7. Song of the Sea
The glaring omission in the Best Animated Feature category at the 2015 Academy Awards was the Phil Lord and Christopher Miller modern classic The Lego Movie. However, in its place landed a much overlooked little Irish co-production that richly deserved its place at the Oscar table that year. Song of the Sea centres on young Irish boy Ben who discovers that his mute sister Saoirse is the last of the selkies; women from Irish and Scottish fiction who transform from seals into people. The siblings are forced to leave their grief-stricken father to return to the sea in order that Saiorse can free fairy creatures trapped in the modern world.
Entirely hand-drawn, this is an enchanting and old-fashioned fantasy tale which features some of the most stunning animation you’ll ever see.
6. A Cat In Paris (Une vie de chat)
Another little-known Oscar contender, A Cat In Paris is a 2010 animation from the French studio Folimage. Directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol, this adventure mystery unfolds over one night and follows a cat living a double life as the pet of young girl Zoe and the companion of a burglar named Nico.
While A Cat In Paris is unflashy and understated, it’s a thrilling story that will keep younger viewers on the edge of their seats. Beautifully drawn and engaging, there’s even an English language version for the subtitle-averse.
Picking your favourite Studio Ghibli film is always a tough challenge, and with the prolific Japanese studio releasing five films in the last decade (in addition to the co-production The Red Turtle above), it’s even hard to pick the best of the last ten years. While The Wind Rises, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There are all superb in their own right, it’s 2010’s Arrietty that narrowly wins the day. Relocating Mary Norton’s Borrowers story to Japan, Arrietty tells the tale of the eponymous tiny girl who befriends a young boy while trying to avoid detection by other humans.
It’s a charming story, wonderfully told, and the English language version features a terrific cast including Saiorse Ronan, Mark Strong and Olivia Colman.
4. Your Name
Animated films don’t just have to be for little children. This powerful and gripping 2016 fantasy romance is squarely aimed at a teenage and adult audience and, for a spell, was the highest grossing anime film (and Japanese film) of all time. Essentially a body swap story featuring bored country girl Mitsuha and city boy Taki, the two begin to form a connection which may or may not be linked to a strange comet expected to pass by the Earth on the day of the country town’s festival.
Blending the awkward comedy of a teenage body-swap movie with some of the most gut-punching emotion you’ll find in an animated film, this is a fantastical but emotionally resonant tale, beautifully written and animated.
3. A Monster In Paris (Une monstre a Paris)
A film about a giant opera-singing flea based in 1910 Paris might not sound like the most appealing way to spend 90 minutes, but this quirky French animation was one of 2011’s most unexpected successes. After a chemical explosion at the Botanical Gardens an investigation is launched into the appearance of a ‘monster’. This beast turns out to be a loveable giant flea named Francoeur who befriends local cabaret singer Lucille (played in both French and English versions by Vanessa Paradis) who believes she’s finally found the musical act she’s been looking for.
A Monster In Paris is a strange little story, but its eccentricity is a huge part of its charm.
2. The Book of Life
While Pixar’s Coco brought a moving story of the Day of the Dead to a worldwide audience, it trod much of the same ground as this 2014 film, produced by Guillermo del Toro. The Book of Life is a film which features childhood friends, a bet concerning the object of the boys’ affections, and travels through various fantasy worlds featuring mariachi versions of famous pop hits.
Funny, colourful and featuring some spectacular animation, The Book of Life perhaps doesn’t have the emotional kick of Coco, but in its own way its easily an equal to the Disney film. A hugely likeable watch with some interesting characters and a mariachi rendition of Radiohead’s Creep. What’s not to love?
1. Penguins of Madagascar
Almost a decade ago, DreamWorks Madagascar franchise managed to take almost $2 billion at the global box office without actually being all that good. So, when the studio announced that they were planning to release a stand-alone spin-off featuring the penguins from the trilogy, it was hard to muster up any excitement. How wrong we were. Minute for minute, Penguins of Madagascar is one of the funniest films you’ll ever see, with the gags coming at a rate that the Lego film franchise would simply have to stand back and admire.
Combining a weapons-grade running gag, slapstick and a dizzying amount of visual humour, this is a spectacularly entertaining film that just wants you to sit back and enjoy it. For sheer joy, there’s very little to match it.
What do you think? Anything not made our list that you think should have? Let us know in the comments below…