No name is as closely tied to the animation industry than Disney. The first company to pioneer feature-length animated films starting with 1937’s Snow and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney Studios has given the world some of the most famous and very best family movies over the years. Nearly a century later, they remain at the forefront of the industry, overseeing critically-acclaimed films on an almost yearly basis.
As incredible as Disney movies themselves are, it’s also important to highlight how many other wondrous animated movies there are in the world, catering to viewers across varying age groups.
From renowned movies from Studio Ghibli to satirical fairy tale movies from DreamWorks, here are some of the greatest animated movies of all time that weren’t made by Disney.
Hayao Miyazaki has crafted nothing but great films over the years, but his masterpiece is without a doubt Spirited Away. Gorgeous to look at and easy to connect to, it evokes the classical fairy tale presentation of a vintage Disney movie, and is just as marvelous, charming, and inventive as Snow White or Fantasia.
The Iron Giant
A fan-favorite film for millennials and Gen Z audience members across the globe, The Iron Giant is the ‘90s equivalent to E.T., matching both the superior quality and popularity of Steven Spielberg’s influential sci-fi film. Humorous, light-hearted, and incredibly emotional, it may be Brad Bird’s best film as a director (even taking into account his later work on The Incredibles or Ratatouille).
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Since his career began in the mid ‘80s, Guillermo del Toro has relied on a steadfast supply of fairy tale conventions for his movies, as seen in some of his most notable pictures (Pan’s Labyrinth, for example). With Pinocchio, del Toro returns to the true nature of the original Pinocchio fable, using it to emphasize how grand and meaningful life is – an existential message every viewer can stand to learn a lot from.
Aside from Spirited Away, no other Studio Ghibli movie comes close to matching the esteem of Princess Mononoke. Utilizing many of Hayao Miyazaki’s recurring themes and interests (environmentalism, spiritualism, anti-war advocacy, and the dangers of corporate greed and capitalism), Princess Mononoke is a fantasy epic that reads like a junior version of The Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call DreamWorks the house that Shrek built. After several decent but largely middleweight films, Shrek propelled the name DreamWorks into the public mindset, establishing it as the first major rival to Disney and Pixar since the glory days of Don Bluth Studios in the ‘80s (more about that below).
My Neighbor Totoro
Like Shrek’s influence on DreamWorks, it’s impossible to bring up Studio Ghibli without mentioning My Neighbor Totoro (the character is literally the company’s mascot, after all). The first major breakthrough film for Hayao Miyazaki, it introduced an entire generation of Western audiences to Studio Ghibli, sparking a worldwide interest in anime for the next 40 years.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Most superhero movies are capable of holding the attention of the entire family. Even when held up to the numerous films of the MCU, though, there aren’t many movies as fun and downright hilarious as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Ridiculously detailed in its animation, it paints a vivid portrait of the titular Spider-Man (or Spider-people) and his rogues gallery of villains as you’ve never seen them before.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson has always been a director of startling originality, and in Fantastic Mr. Fox, he’s given the chance to flex his full creative powers. Adapting Roald Dahl’s celebrated children’s novel, Anderson combines Dahl’s signature humor with his own technical filmmaking skills, laying the groundwork for a movie as unforgettably brilliant as Anderson or Dahl’s previous works.
The LEGO Movie
Even when compared to the two dozen other movies on this list, no movie comes close to superseding the utter originality of The LEGO Movie. Making clever use of its endless intellectual properties, it’s the only movie you’ll find anywhere that features Batman, Superman, Han Solo, Dumbledore, Shaquille O'Neal, and Abraham Lincoln in one single cohesive plot line.
With its long-awaited sequel, Dawn of the Nugget, on the horizon, it’s never a bad idea to rewatch Aardman Animations’s certifiably best movie, Chicken Run. Distinctly British in its humor, setting, and tone, it goes dark in all the right places, yet still manages to retain a remarkably funny array of jokes and colorful characters (from the the dedicated escape artist Ginger to the American daredevil rooster Rocky Rhodes).
They may not be the most well-known animation company in the world, but Cartoon Saloon has released several amazing films in recent years that may challenge DreamWorks and Disney’s secure place in pop culture in the years to come. Using Irish folklore as the primary basis for their films, Tomm Moore and his team have created a loosely-connected trilogy of films that demand to be seen by a wider audience. (They’re simply that good.)
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
While the first Puss in Boots carried on the tradition of presenting age-old fairy tale characters in a comedic new light, The Last Wish went one step further. Retaining the laughs of its predecessor but introducing a more high-stakes story, it helped the Puss in Boots name go from a fun spin-off of Shrek into something much more astounding.
The Secret of NIMH
After Walt Disney’s death in 1966, Disney’s tight hold over the animation industry began to loosen, allowing new companies like Don Bluth Studios to slip and challenge the animation giant’s long reign. Beginning with 1982’s The Secret of NIMH, Bluth’s films became the main competitor to Disney, ushering in a wave of inventive, intelligent, meticulously well-crafted movies suitable for younger and older audience members alike.
Song of the Sea
Song of the Sea is that rare sequel that actually surpasses the quality of its predecessor. Following up on the spiritually-connected The Secret of Kells, Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea once again makes buoyant use of its basis in Gaelic legends and folklore, creating a fascinating and enjoyable narrative in the process.
Kung Fu Panda
What Shrek did for fairy tales, Kung Fu Panda did for martial arts, satirizing numerous elements of the martial arts genre for the sake of laughs. Disarming with its abundant comedic moments and outlandish characters, the Kung Fu Panda series nevertheless is able to snap into seriousness at times, providing plenty of in-depth examinations of Jack Black’s Po, including his complicated past and estranged familial relationships.
A film every bit as immaculate as its source material, Henry Selick’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s young adult novel, Coraline, is a work of pure genius. Staying true to the tone of its source material, Selick builds an ominous sense of unease that only grows as the film unfolds, presenting a world that’s not nearly as idyllic or picturesque as it seems.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Before they were known for Chicken Run or Shaun the Sheep, Aardman Animations was synonymous with their lovable pairing of Wallace and Gromit. Making a name for themselves off several award-winning shorts, the cheese-obsessed duo made the jump to film in 2005 with The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, dazzling audiences for a full hour and a half and igniting interest in Aardman on an international level.
April and the Extraordinary World
A wholly overlooked film among international audiences, April and the Extraordinary World offers perhaps the best representation of the steampunk genre ever put to animated film. In a city constantly bellowing gray smoke into the air, the eponymous April embarks on an epic journey to find her family in a story and setting that’s equal parts Hugo as it is His Dark Materials.
The Secret of Kells
The initial entry in Tomm Moore’s “Irish Folklore Trilogy,” The Secret of Kells may not be as singularly outstanding as its two sequels, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a marvelous movie in its own right. Favorably compared to the works of Hayao Miyazaki, it helped introduce the world to Cartoon Saloon and their talented team of animators – a studio we only hope to see continue to grow in the future.
How to Train Your Dragon
Possibly the most heartwarming of DreamWorks’ many franchises, each installment of the How to Train Your Dragon series is a remarkable fantasy adventure film capable of being judged on its own merits. Hammering home the age-old idea of never judging a book by its cover and the importance of respecting nature, it packs a ton of poignant subliminal messages in its plot, boasting some similarly dramatic themes like family and friendship.
Reuniting after their blockbuster work on the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski traded tricorne hats and cutlasses for Stetsons and six-shooters. Lampooning numerous clichés and stereotypes associated with the Western genre, Rango is a beautifully-animated family Western that doesn’t disappoint.
Kubo and the Two Strings
Partially inspired by the films of Studio Ghibli, Kubo and the Two Strings ushers in a look, tone, and storyline emblematic of a lost Japanese fable. Luminously designed and incorporating some first-rate stop-motion animation, it’s one of Laika’s strongest efforts to date.
The Triplets Of Belleville
An animated film akin to the farcical works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, The Triplets of Belleville is a comedy film in the grand tradition of Jacques Tati or Charlie Chaplin. Having gained a significant cult following for its distinct, retro artwork and animation style, and use of physical slapstick comedy over verbal dialogue, it’s without a doubt one of the greatest animated films to come out of France.
In the late 1980s, Disney successfully bested their decade-long rival Don Bluth Studios with their critically acclaimed films of their Renaissance period. Wheezing out one last gasp of breath and artistic originality, Bluth oversaw his 1997 fantasy musical, Anastasia. Sadly, despite its imaginative animation and beautiful soundtrack, it wasn’t enough to save Bluth Studios – even though it remains an incredible movie that tends to get overshadowed by Disney and Pixar’s movies from the same era.
As with most Tim Burton movies, Corpse Bride might not be the ideal film for extremely young viewers. However, if they’re able to handle The Nightmare Before Christmas, they’re certainly ready for the brilliance of Corpse Bride. Possessing the look and tone of a Victorian era penny dreadful, it’s a Gothic love story that imparts some meaningful messages about romance and living for your own happiness.