Best of the Decade: Animation

This is a series called “Best of the Decade.” It’s a list including 10 movies that I found to be the best in a specific genre from 2010-2019.

A Disney resurgence and solid work from other studios meant that the past 10 years had a lot to offer when it came to animated features. Here are my favorites. Also I’m doing 11 for this because this is my list and I’ll do what I want with it.

Toy Story 3 (2010)

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While “Toy Story 4” added on to the adventure this year, “Toy Story 3” still feels like the end of a major chapter, and it does so very well. The movie takes a few new angles to keep things fresh, but the characters all feel the same and their arcs in this film are well developed.

There are some heavy, intense and emotional moments here that can really move an audience. The movie marked an end to an era in “Toy Story” and the beginning of a great decade for animation.

Tangled (2010)

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“The Princess and the Frog” in 2009 was a return to form for Walt Disney Animation and built the foundation for a new era. It was “Tangled” in 2010, though, that showed just how good Disney’s animated resurgence was going to be.

With fun songs, beautiful animation, a new take on an old story, and most of all, phenomenal characters, “Tangled” earned a spot as one of the best in the 2010s. Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) and Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) are such great protagonists and their relationship is wonderful.

Monsters University (2013)

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I think “Monsters U” went unfairly overlooked. There’s a lot to like here. Made by Pixar, the film of course has great visuals and the approach with a prequel allows an audience to spend more time with these characters in a different way.

Of course, there’s more going on than just that, though. First of all, the college atmosphere was so well captured here. Whether it was cramming for finals or campus tours, everything about “Monsters University,” aside from the monsters, is accurate.

Mike and Sully developing a friendship after starting as rivals and meeting new friends along the way was really fun to watch. What brings it together in a big way, though, is seeing Mike’s skill set when it comes to making scares.

In “Monsters Inc.,” it almost seems like Mike is riding Sully’s coattails. However, it’s shown here how Mike is the X’s and O’s guy who develops the strategy for Sully.

What’s best of all, though, is the message about finding a way to navigate the early years of adulthood, whether it means going to college or not.

Megamind (2010)

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This is another film that has gone largely overlooked since its release nearly 10 years ago. Unfortunately, the movie was over shadowed by the first “Despicable Me,” which also came out that year.

It’s a picture absolutely worth checking out, though. “Megamind” is a fantastic satire of the big brain villain, such as Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom or Brainiac, and their constant struggles against classic heroes, like Superman.

The movie includes some great action, features an actually menacing villain and most importantly, has sharp and witty humor. Megamind (Will Ferrell) is also a surprisingly endearing character and his banter with his henchman, Minion (David Cross) is brilliant.

Moana (2016)

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Disney continued its amazing win streak with the magnificent “Moana,” mixing elements of a musical and a buddy film as two fun characters go on an adventure across the ocean. While it’s a fun adventure with moments of excitement, though, the film is also very much about personal growth.

Moana is preparing to become a new leader while Maui is recovering from an exile. Each of them have their insecurities and doubts because of recent events, but they push each other forward, creating some great character development.

The film also features some wonderful music and amazing animation. The songs are inspired, empowering, and downright fun. “You’re Welcome” by Dwayne Johnson is highly just a joy. The visuals, meanwhile, are incredible, with the water looking so realistic.

Coco (2017)

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Pixar has had its ups and downs over the past decade, with misses like “Brave” and another “Cars” sequel. However, they certainly had a hit on their hands with “Coco.” The picture is so dearly heartfelt and emotional, with wonderful characters and a passionate story about family and music.

Miguel is a fantastic protagonist and watching his journey is a great experience. The film also includes a good story twist. The music is also tremendous, the last song of the feature will definitely put a smile on your face. The animation is also gorgeous, with vibrant colors.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

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While Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks and even Sony have mostly dominated the theaters with animated productions, the stop motion animation studio Laika has been a player too. While its movies have, unfortunately, not been major box office successes, the quality has never been in question.

Personally, a favorite of mine from the studio is “Kubo and the Two Strings.” While the story is fairly pedestrian, with the characters adventuring on a sort of fetch quest of items, it seems to work here.

This is largely thanks to the outstanding characters featured and fantastic world building with wonderful, mystical elements. The setting is so rich with life and magic, it’s a beautiful experience with very interesting characters. It helps that the visuals are so well done here, with amazing stop motion animation, especially during the battles.

Zootopia (2016)

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“Zootopia” is a buddy cop movie that just so happens to be set in a world full of animals. On top of including a good, clever mystery for the whole family, it also features some great humor. The comedy ranges from self-referential jokes about Disney to banter between characters, and it works very well.

The lead characters, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, make a perfect buddy cop duo, with Judy going more by the books and Nick using his street smarts, being a scam artist. The two are exception.

Most importantly, “Zootopia” offers a strong subtext regarding divisions of class and race

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

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Sequels don’t get much better. Seriously, when someone says sequels are often disappointments, I bring up the fantastic follow-up to the first “Kung Fu Panda.”

This part two offers a much larger scale, taking place in a major city, rather than a village. Additionally, “Kung Fu Panda 2” includes one of the best animated villains in Shen, voiced fantastically by Gary Oldman. He’s cunning, swift, and arrogant, making for the total opposite the protagonist’s more energetic personality.

Most importantly, the film gets the characters right. Po, the Dragon Warrior panda, doesn’t regress and go backwards. There’s no retreading ground here, instead, the character moves forward, learning more about kung fu and his heritage.

The Furious Five are also wonderful as supporting characters. Instead of Po taking the spotlight, the six now act like a complete fighting team, and it’s awesome.

On top of this, the movie looks amazing. In addition to the wonderful computer generated animation, “Kung Fu Panda 2” offers beautiful sequences of 2D, hand drawn moments.

Big Hero 6 (2014)

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Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Comics didn’t just bring the “Avengers” series, it also resulted in one of the best animated pictures from the past 10 years. “Big Hero 6” is a super hero team origin story, and it gets the genre so right.

What’s really clever about this origin story is how much it’s related to STEM studies. All of the heroes create their armor to become the Big Hero 6 team using their respective fields of expertise at college. Having the characters rely on their intelligence and inspirations to succeed in the end makes for a richer super hero experience.

The characters are so compelling here, with the relationship between the robot Baymax and the protagonist Hiro providing the film’s emotional core.

Frozen (2013)

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In the years since the release of “Frozen” back in 2013, the movie has received a lot of analysis and even some backlash. With anything that becomes such a big blockbuster phenomenon, it’s bound to get some criticism.

However, it remains one of the best animated movies of this decade and deserved the two Academy Awards it won. The music is legendary and caught on like wildfire for a reason. It’s not just catchy, it’s also moving, especially the now well known “Let it Go.”

The animation is also tremendously beautiful, from when the light hits Anna’s face as she looks out upon the ships to when Elsa is creating her magnificent ice palace. It’s a visually stunning experience.

Best of all are the two main characters, voiced fantastically by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. The drama from the strained sibling relationship is wonderfully portrayed and Elsa’s struggle in controlling her powers makes for a compelling piece of cinema.

Author: Matthew Liedke

I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, and I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2009 graduate of Rainy River College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University in Moorhead. At MSU, I studied journalism and film. Outside of movies, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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