Top 10 Animated Films of the 21st Century

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

Gone are the days where Disney had a strangehold on the animated film market. Since the rise of Pixar, rivals at Dreamworks Animation, Blue Sky Studios, and elsewhere have made hundreds of animated movies. Looking just at the last fourteen years, we have seen animated films, CGI and hand-drawn, that have been some of the best of all time. But, which of those movies are the best of their era? Here are my picks for the best animated films since 2000. If your pick didn’t make the cut, feel free to add yours in the talk backs below.

#1 – RANGO

RANGO earns the top spot because of the sheer originality on display. Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski teamed up for an animated Western featuring Hunter S. Thompson references and nods to the works of Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. Stunningly designed and hilariously unique, RANGO is a movie that even those who dislike Westerns will fall in love with. An absolute joy to watch, this is the best animated film of the last two decades.


Most of Pixar’s films have been released in the 21st century and it was hard to choose just one. But, if you want to select the absolute best Pixar has given to the world, look no further than these films. Brad Bird’s THE INCREDIBLES is one of the best and Andrew Stanton’s FINDING NEMO is a classic, but both of them made magic happen with RATATOUILLE and WALL-E. Only Pixar could have made French cuisine and a virtually dialogue free robot movie work so perfectly. UP was possibly Pixar’s most recent masterwork that wasn’t a sequel while TOY STORY 3 was a nearly perfect movie. They have hit some bumps in recent outings, but I have no doubt there is more greatness to come from this studio


There is a very good reason why the sequel to this movie is hitting theaters today: the first movie is absolutely phenomenal. In the course of the less than two hour film, a fully realized world is created in which dragons exist and you could almost believe it was real. The aerial scenes are stunning (even in 3D) and rival those in James Cameron’s AVATAR. Jay Baruchel is solid as Hiccup, but it is the design of the various dragons that makes this movie so great. I could watch this franchise grow for decades and never get bored.


It is a damn shame how many people have not checked out PARANORMAN yet. With Laika Animation already proving their worth with CORALINE and aiming for the trifecta with the upcoming THE BOXTROLLS, PARANORMAN stands as their best film to date. Another horror movie that is not scary, the film has a unique visual style that sets it apart from anything else out there while also driving home an important anti-bullying message that is vital in this day and age. Great voice work on this one.


This year’s breakout hit from Phil Lord and Chris Miller was just as wholesome and fun as playing with actual LEGOs. Great voice work from Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, and Will Ferrell combined with a CGI animation that looks like real LEGO bricks makes for a movie that cannot be missed. Great STAR WARS and BATMAN references abound, but it is the touching live action sequence that really makes THE LEGO MOVIE stand above most other cartoon movies.


Nick Park’s claymation shorts are amongst the best and most original cartoons ever made. Wallace and Gromit made their feature debut with THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT, a movie that feels like what an Edgar Wright animated movie would be. Funny, dark, and very British, THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT is the funniest horror movie you will ever see. I defy you to not crack a smile during this movie.


The best INDIANA JONES movie without Indiana Jones and it was still directed by Steven Spielberg. Peter Jackson and Spielberg combined their talents to make a motion capture animated film, something that had been done to varying effect in movies like MONSTER HOUSE, BEOWULF, and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. While those movies were all good, TINTIN is great. It brings to life an iconic character in a larger than life adventure with all the elements that make Jackson and Spielberg’s prior movies so much fun. I cannot wait for the sequel.


I will be the first to admit that when I saw the trailer for KUNG FU PANDA, I was convinced it was going to suck. But, when you actually watch the film you find that you are seeing a truly excellent martial arts movie aimed at all audiences. Using the traditional animals from Chinese culture, KUNG FU PANDA manages to combine some epic fight sequences with a moral story along with some truly hilarious one-liners from Jack Black. KUNG FU PANDA angered the Chinese government when they realized a Western movie studio produced a movie that faithfully and honorably related their cultural mores and history.


THE SIMPSONS will remain a historic achievement in television for as long as TV exists. It is brilliant, subversive, and yet still full of love and family. Unlike Seth MacFarlane’s self-referential FAMILY GUY and AMERICAN DAD, THE SIMPSONS always has been in the moment of both pop culture and our current world climate. When they finally made the jump to the big screen, all of the mediocre episodes that had been airing leading to that point were justified by the brilliant movie. Taking everything about the show that was great and blowing it up for the big screen made for an epic standalone feature.

#10 – FROZEN

Yeah, this movie had to make this list. Whether you are a Disney fan or not, you recognize that for an incredible period of time their formula worked. Disney made a slew of classic animated films that live today as masterpieces. Then, for about 20 years, they shit the bed with garbage cartoons. Once John Lasseter took over as the head of all Disney and Pixar animation, things turned around. FROZEN is the perfect example of Disney’s wholesomeness mixed with the ingenuity of what makes Pixar so great. It may not be the most original movie ever animated, but it is an excellent movie nonetheless.


Richard Linklater’s pair of animated films are rotoscoped masterworks. The films are musical and lyrical experiments with the medium and unlike anything you have ever seen. While WAKING LIFE is more of a meditation, A SCANNER DARKLY is a fully realized adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel. The animated world brings a surreal nature to Dick’s novel that just wouldn’t be captured the same way in a live action film. Not for everybody, but both of these films are must see.


About the Author

5913 Articles Published

Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.