Animation can often provide a better, more enjoyable, and more memorable viewing experience than the majority – in fact, the vast majority – of live action movies. You could always count on Disney, and though they went through a creative rough patch during the Seventies and early Eighties, they bounced back and are now as strong a creative force as they’ve ever been (and perhaps more so). But in the last fifteen to twenty years the House of Mouse hasn’t had things all its own way. The arrival of animation studios from the likes of Dreamworks and Sony, as well as the emergence of Pixar, has brought animation into a new Golden Age, and so much so that animated movies are now some of the most consistently high-earning movies released each year. It shouldn’t be a surprise that two of this year’s animated releases have made over $1 billion at the international box office, or that the Top 5 in this list have all crossed that mark. So, here they are: the Top 10 animated movies at the international box office.
10 – Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) – $886,686,817
The third entry in the Ice Age series is also the one where the rot began to set in, but like the previous chapters before it, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs was the animated box office champ for its year, and proof that its creators, Blue Sky Studios, knew they had a franchise that would keep on paying dividends. On its own, the movie is an uneven, less humorous entry than its predecessors, but it does feature a great vocal performance from Simon Pegg, and some suitably over-the-top visuals, making it a treat for younger viewers but not so much for anyone over the age of, say, fifteen.
9 – Shrek 2 (2004) – $919,838,758
It may be hard to believe now but Shrek (2001) wasn’t quite as good as most people’s memories will tell them. It was certainly a novel approach by Dreamworks, but what worked most was the inspired voice casting, and a level of disrespect for fairy tales that raised most of the laughs. But Shrek 2 is the series’ pinnacle, a movie that embraces all those old fairy tale tropes and extracts the humour from them rather than by trampling on them first. It also has a decent story, the welcome addition of Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots, and a sleeker, bolder visual style than its predecessor. Plus it deserves credit for keeping Eddie Murphy in the list of the Top 10 Actors at the Box Office.
8 – Finding Nemo (2003) – $940,335,536
One of Pixar’s most enduring and well-loved movies, Finding Nemo is an almost perfect blend of storytelling, visual design, voice acting, and direction. Only the rhythm and the pace of the movie’s middle section lets it down, but this is still head and shoulders above most of the movies on this list, and is a reminder that when Pixar get it right there’s no touching them. In its day a box office juggernaut, the movie has earned its place in cinema history and continues to delight successive generations of movie goers, a testament to its ingenuity and charm.
7 – The Lion King (1994) – $968,483,777
Although The Little Mermaid (1989) was the movie that showed Disney had turned the corner on the creative funk that had dogged them through the Seventies and early Eighties, it was The Lion King that really showed they were back on track. A perfect blend of traditional hand-drawn 2D animation with fleeting uses of rotoscoping, allied to one of the best musical soundtracks Disney have ever produced, and a story that was by turns, humorous, gripping, tragic, life-affirming, and satisfying, The Lion King is still the animated Disney movie that all the company’s successors have to live up to.
6 – Despicable Me 2 (2013) – $970,761,885
Buoyed by the success of the first Despicable Me (2010), Illumination Entertainment probably knew they had a surefire winner when they began making this sequel, and so it proved. Landing just shy of the $1 billion mark, it’s not the best of sequels – indeed, its storyline is possibly the weakest of all the movies on the list – but it does have those little yellow cash generators, the Minions, and an infectious visual style that you can’t help but smile at, even while you’re groaning at the jokes. With a third movie to come in 2017, the continuing success of the franchise seems assured, which can’t be a bad thing now that Disney has consumed Pixar.
5 – Zootopia (2016) – $1,023,761,003
This year’s surprise hit from Disney is possibly the House of Mouse’s finest hour, a whip-smart anthropomorphic comedy that has a strong storyline, subplots that enhance the main narrative, two wonderful performances from Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, winning characters, and of course, Flash the sloth. A joy from start to finish, we can only hope that Disney doesn’t make any sequels, and that they allow this to stand alone as one of the best animated features of this or any year.
4 – Finding Dory (2016) – $1,027,190,583
Not as good as Finding Nemo, but more successful (go figure), Finding Dory benefitted from a built-in audience who have been waiting for a sequel ever since the first movie was released, and because it didn’t stray too far from the set up of the original. Pixar needed this to be a hit, and they got their wish, but with Cars 3 up next – not the most auspicious of sequels they could have decided to release – it may be a while before the company that revolutionised computer animated movies adds another of its features to the list.
3 – Toy Story 3 (2010) – $1,066,969,703
The ne plus ultra of animated movies – sorry, numbers one and two – Toy Story 3 is quite frankly, the best second sequel ever made. A bold gamble by Pixar to make a movie about the relinquishing of childhood, and to make the ending both sad and life-affirming at the same time, this shows Pixar in complete control of every aspect of the production and seemingly with ease, showing everybody else how it should be done. A perfect way to end a trilogy, and even though Toy Story 4 will be with us in 2019 (and which will answer the question, what happened to Bo Peep?), it’s got a long way to go before it’s as good as this entry in the series.
2 – Minions (2015) – $1,159,398,397
Minions‘ place at the number two spot just goes to show what can happen when a minor character (or in this case, characters) proves more entertaining than the main character. Gru was fun, but the Minions were endlessly funny and endlessly adorable. A spin-off movie of their own was always likely, and Illumination Entertainment came up with a great idea for their solo outing, a kind of potted history of the little yellow devils search for a villainous boss down the ages. It’s still not their best outing – that would be Despicable Me (2010) – but with no immediate plans for a sequel, there’s a good possibility that their position so close to the top won’t remain that way for very long.
1 – Frozen (2013) – $1,276,480,335
These days, Disney can do no wrong. In recent years they’ve released mega-successes at the box office, won Academy Awards, and thanks largely to the stewardship of John Lasseter, made successful animated movie after successful animated movie. Frozen is the studio’s most successful venture, a mighty crowd-pleaser that mixes great songs and inspired comedy, even if Sitron the horse is a dead ringer for Maximus from Tangled (2010). Inevitably, a sequel is in the works, but whether or not it will have the same emotional heft that Frozen has remains to be seen. And whether or not it has the ability to outdo its predecessor, well, only time and a billion pre-teen girls will decide.