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Tom Mason

Professional Children's Books Expert

Animated Movies

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Can’t figure out what animated movies to show your kids? We’ll make it easier for you with ten cartoon gems!

The best animated films are as good as any live-action film and many of them are better. There are action, adventure, comedy, drama, and magic, fantasy worlds and strange creatures. The only difference is that talented artists use ink, computers and even hand-carved figures do the acting. If you’re lucky, your kids will let you watch them, too.

Best Animated Movies For Kids by Tom Mason

The Best You Can Get

  • Toy Story

    Tom says: The granddaddy of all CGI animated movies. As with the best of Disney’s cartoons, this one focuses on a secret world that exists parallel to our own: the world of toys that come to life when their owner isn’t around. Woody, a cowboy doll, is Andy’s favorite toy but he has anxiety about the family’s impending move. It’s also Andy’s birthday and he’s gotten a Buzz Lightyear doll that Woody fears will replace him as Andy’s favorite. Unfortunately for everyone except the audience, Buzz is a loony - he thinks he’s a real Space Ranger and doesn’t realize he’s a toy. Their personalities clash and Woody’s jealousy nearly costs him everything – he gets left behind on moving day – which leads to a climax as wild and thrilling as any live-action movie. Beautifully rendered in CGI, “Toy Story” is packed with imaginative detail with a toy’s eye view of the world. The proverbial “kids of all ages” (and you know who you are) will love these toys as much as their own.

    • Pixar!
    • Toys!
    • Tom Hanks
    • National Film Registry
    • Released in 1995
  • Finding Nemo

    Tom says: Poor Marlin is the unhappiest clownfish in the sea! When a nasty barracuda kills his wife and eats his children, he raises the only surviving – and slightly handicapped – son, Nemo, on his own. Naturally, he’s an overprotective worrier, well-voiced by Albert Brooks. When Nemo is scooped out of the sea by an Australian scuba diver, Marlin must overcome his own fears, and risk everything by swimming to Sydney and…finding Nemo. A richly-textured story, wonderfully told and animated, makes this one of the crown jewels of Pixar’s movies. The opening sequence of barracuda v. fish action might be too intense for younger viewers but the rest of the movie is a wild, fun ride.

    • Pixar
    • Fish!
    • Academy Award winner
    • Saturn Award winner
    • Released in 2003
  • The Iron Giant

    Tom says: Before he made “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” writer/director Brad Bird made a terrific film that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. “The Iron Giant” is based on a children’s book by Ted Hughes (also known as Mr. Sylvia Plath), and it’s one of the best animated films few people have ever seen. When a robot from outer space crash-lands near the home of Hogarth Hughes in Maine in 1957, it triggers Cold War paranoia, a potential nuclear assault, romance, action, fantastic robot weapons, and an overzealous military. At its heart, as with the best of Bird’s films, it’s a story of the friendship between a boy and a robot. Find it, watch it, and be surprised.

    • Directed by Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”)
    • Vin Diesel!
    • Annie Award winner
    • Hugo and Nebula Award nominee
    • Released in 1999
  • Shrek

    Tom says: Shrek’s a grouchy ogre and when his swamp fills up with displaced storybook characters (Pinocchio! Three Blind Mice! Gingerbread Man!), he makes a deal with the obnoxious Lord Farquaad, the cause of all his problems. If Shrek can rescue Farquaad’s fiancée, a beautiful princess of course, from the claws of a dragon, the ogre can have his swamp back. Naturally, the princess is not who she appears to be. Very loosely based on a children’s book by “The New Yorker” artist William Steig, “Shrek” is a madcap adventure for both kids and adults. The jokes, both visual and verbal fly by fast, funny characters from fairy tales, storybooks (and Disney cartoons) pop in and out, and Eddie Murphy takes up residence as the voice of Shrek’s enthusiastic sidekick, Donkey. “Shrek” has spawned two sequels with more on the way, but the original is still the best!

    • Mike Myers!
    • Academy Award winner
    • Released in 2001
  • Curious George The Movie

    Tom says: Created by H.A. Rey and his wife Margret in 1941, Curious George is a monkey who acts like a busy 4-year-old boy. He lives in a city not unlike Manhattan with his owner, known as The Man In The Yellow Hat. Now, the curious little monkey makes the leap from his seven classic books to one contemporary movie. To save the museum where he works from being turned into a parking lot, The Man In The Yellow Hat journeys to Africa in search of a rare statue to exhibit. However, his map has been sabotaged and he returns with the wrong, and very tiny, idol… and a very curious little monkey. Faster than you can say “banana peel,” the monkey has thrown a wrench into The Man’s life, work and potential romantic entanglement. Featuring the voice of Will Ferrell as The Man, the movie also answers questions left unanswered by the books (like why The Man In The Yellow Hat always wears yellow clothes and what’s his real name. Psst: it’s Ted). It even boasts a fun soundtrack from Mr. Hipness himself, Jack Johnson. Smoothly animated in a traditional 2-D style, the brightly-colored film is as fun as a barrel of its star.

    • Monkeys!
    • Will Ferrell
    • Released in 2006

You will be happy with any of these

  • The Brave Little Toaster

    Tom says: Think of it as “The Incredible Journey” with old-school low-tech kitchen appliances. Based on a book by Thomas Disch, who wrote the screenplay, “The Brave Little Toaster” is essentially a road movie. When a toaster and four other appliances (a lamp, an electric blanket, a vacuum cleaner, and a radio) realize that they’ve been abandoned by their owner and their cabin home is up for sale, they embark on a journey to the big city to find their old “Master,” a young boy named Rob. There are a couple of scary sequences that might frighten younger viewers, but this is a fun romp with an eclectic bunch of electric plug-in heroes. As the appliances learn to work together and address their fears, they manage to overcome the obstacles in their way to achieve their goal. There are two sequels, but the original is the one with all the heart and warmth a toaster-based movie can generate.

    • Toaster!
    • Phil Hartman!
    • Emmy nominated
    • Released in 1987
  • My Neighbor Totoro

    Tom says: While their mother is in the hospital for an extended period of time, two young girls, Satsuki and Mei, and their father move into a house close by. The girls soon discover they have a friend and helper in the forest, a big creature called Totoro, who watches over them in unexpected ways. Created by the master of Japanese animation, Hayao Miyazaki, “My Neighbor Totoro” has been adored by audiences for twenty years. It’s a gentle film filled with peaceful details, comfortable silences, and friendships that reinforce family life. This is a sweet, loveable movie that you’ll want to watch repeatedly.

    • Miyazaki!
    • Animage Anime Grand Prix winner
    • Released in 1988
  • Spirited Away

    Tom says: The great thing about anime is that the movies don’t follow the traditional fairy tale story arc that many Disney/DreamWorks features adhere to. The stories are, well, just different and go off in wildly unexpected directions. You can watch one of the big corporate-made American animated features and figure out where it’s going pretty quickly. You can’t do that with most anime, and certainly not with the work of Hayao Miyazaki. In “Spirited Away,” Chihiro is a ten-year-old girl whose family is moving to a new town. On the way, they find an abandoned theme park that still somehow serves food. Without realizing it, the family has entered a “Twilight Zone”-ish spirit world. Quickly, the parents scarf down as much food as they can eat and are turned into pigs. Chihiro learns the only way she can remain in the spirit world and rescue her parents is to get a job. And that’s just the beginning. It gets weirder and wilder, scarier and sillier as it goes along. This is a magical fantasy adventure that may not be for everyone, but that everyone should still experience.

    • Miyazaki!
    • Academy Award winner
    • Golden Bear Award winner
    • Released in 2001
  • The Secret Of NIMH

    Tom says: In the late 1970s, a group of gifted and disgruntled animation artists left Walt Disney Studios and started their own company. Led by Don Bluth, they created “The Secret of NIMH,” their first animated feature film, based on a book by Robert O’Brien. A group of rats have escaped from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) and created a home for themselves on a human’s farm. Because of the experiments they were subjected to, the rats have enhanced intelligence and siphon power from the farm to live better. Now they’re ready to move and live on their own, right after they help Mrs. Brisby move her house and children before plowing season starts. But there are rats that don’t want to move and plot to ruin everything. “The Secret of NIMH” has the look and feel of a classic Disney animated film but it’s a little bit darker in content. In many ways, it’s a lot more satisfying because of it.

    • Rats!
    • Derek Jacobi!
    • Saturn Award winner
    • Released in 1982
  • The Wrong Trousers

    Tom says: In merry old England, Wallace is an inventor who worships cheese. Gromit is his faithful dog that’s more human than any best friend could ever be. They are the oddest of odd couples and the funniest. To make some extra cash, Wallace takes in a penguin as a boarder. The animal’s strange comings and goings raise Gromit’s suspicions and with good reason. The penguin is up to no good and it involves a pair of Wallace’s motorized pants called Techno Trousers! A rip-roaring, hysterically funny film full of quirky bits and great character moments. The film clocks in at just around 30 minutes but it achieves everything it needs to in crisp, efficient, British style. A lot of overlong, bloated movies could learn a lot from “The Wrong Trousers.”

    The animation, by the way, is not done on computers nor is it drawn by hand. This is old-fashioned stop-motion animation done with flexible, hand-crafted models. Animators move the characters very slightly for the camera and can only achieve a few seconds of footage for each day of shooting. It’s a pain-staking and time-consuming process that makes you appreciate the final chase sequence even more.

    • Wallace and Gromit!
    • Cheese!
    • Academy Award winner!
    • BAFTA Award winner!
    • Released in 1993

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