Disney and Pixar are THE leading names in animation. That is unquestionable. For decades Disney Animation Studios has churned out classic after classic setting the standard for the art and helping grow Disney into an empire while Pixar has established itself as possibly an even more impressive force in only three decades. As such the two studios are practically interchangeable as the leading source for Disney’s animated features. In the last ten years these animation giants have not slowed down churning out a combined 20 movies from 2010 through 2019 that have won seven Best Animated Feature Oscars and six Golden Globes for Best Animated Feature Film. Many of the films in this impressive library have played a huge role in defining the past decade as well as the childhoods of the newest generation. As the decade comes to a close it’s time to start looking back at the best films that made the past ten years such a special time for the industry over the last ten years, so today I’m kicking off this new series with a look at the ten best and most memorable animated films from these two illustrious animation juggernauts. These are my picks for the Top 10 Disney & Pixar Films the 2010s.
Because Disney Animation Studios and Pixar are virtually inseparable as Disney’s flagship animation studios, I decided to focus on both together as I explore the best animated Disney films of the 2010s. Movies from other Disney subsidiaries like Studio Ghibli and the recently acquired Blue Sky Studios were not included on this list as they either act more as an independent entity separate from Disney’s main line of animated features or have too short a history with the company to be worthy of inclusion on this list. Basically, staying with just Disney and Pixar keeps things simple.
As for how I ranked these movies, this could have easily just been my top ten personal favorites from the decade, but I felt that didn’t do full justice to the idea of chronicling the best of the decade. So, I also took into consideration the lasting impact and popularity these films have experienced since their release in addition to aspects like critical acclaim, box office success and other factors to level the playing field. Unlike many lists of the past these decade countdowns will not go by the rule of one movie per franchise as the point here is to judge the merits of these movies as standalone features.
With so many great Disney movies from the past decade it’s inevitable some of your favorites won’t make this list so please let me know what your favorite Disney and Pixar movie of the decade was in the comments below. Let’s get started!
10. “Big Hero 6”
Often overlooked in favor of other movies on this list, “Big Hero 6” is sort of the modern version of a Disney cult classic. Inspired by the Marvel superhero team of the same name, “Big Hero 6” focuses on a boy named Hiro and his robot sidekick Baymax as they work together with a team of young geniuses to put an end to a mysterious evil villain’s plans. Combining both Japanese and American elements into both its story and design, “Big Hero 6” presents a spectacular world with memorable characters and colorful atmosphere that has made it a fan favorite. While it didn’t earn as much as many others on this list at the box office “Big Hero 6” still earned respect by capturing the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Proof of its lasting impact and popularity can be found in the television series that has continued the movie’s story since 2017 and the fact that Baymax alone has become a standout meet and greet character at the Disney theme parks.
9. “Incredibles 2”
Arriving fourteen years after the first film but picking up mere minutes after the end of the previous installment “Incredibles 2” took the world by storm in 2018 earning a massive $1.243 billion to become the third highest grossing animated movie ever. That alone would earn it consideration for this list but what really puts “Incredibles 2” here is just how well it delivered after such a long wait. While there was, and still is, some debate about whether it is superior to the original movie it at least lived up to expectations and expanded the world of the Incredibles to include new heroes, new villains, new gadgets and new ideas. The Incredibles themselves are fun, memorable and relatable as people while their superhero antics add some great action and suspense to the mix offering up a little something for everyone and justifying it as one of Pixar’s best sequels. While it didn’t repeat its predecessors success at award season “Incredibles 2” is well on its way to be a certified Disney classic only a year after its release.
8. “Wreck-It Ralph
We actually got two “Wreck-It Ralph” movies this decade and while the sequel expands things onto a bigger scale using the endless void of the internet, the original feels much more contained, focused and works harder to be memorable. While the second movie was one of my personal favorites from 2018, the original “Wreck-It Ralph” was a lot more fun and built a solid foundation through fun world building. “Wreck-It Ralph” utilizes viewers’ joy for video games and nostalgia to show us a world within these games where the characters interact and their positions in their individual stories are more like programmed jobs. As such we see Ralph try to escape his mundane existence to find new purpose, a theme that is relatable to both adults and kids alike. With fun style and visuals and a whole lot of heart “Wreck-It Ralph” makes good on its gimmick while avoiding depending too heavily on the familiar characters it chose to include for cameos. It swept the Globes and Oscars for Best Animated Feature and, despite being the lowest grossing movie on this list, has earned its place as a fan favorite over the years.
If there is any Disney movie in the 2010s that could challenge “Frozen” for most infectious soundtrack its “Moana”. While it was a bit overshadowed in 2016 by another Disney feature that I’ll get to later, “Moana” was a instant classic introducing the world to the first Polynesia Disney Princess who teams with a demigod named Maui to save the oceans and her people from a malevolent being. Its animation and visuals are stunning, especially the realism of the water, and the characters have quickly become Disney standouts. Most of all though, this was the movie where Disney truly felt like they were turning away from the traditional princess formula giving us a leading lady with no love interest and who served as the main heroine with the male character being more of a sidekick. As such Moana herself has become a standard bearer for the future of Disney’s productions and thankfully we got a great feature that capitalized in all the best ways on her developed and fun personality and character.
The first film from Disney Animation Studios to be released in the 2010s, “Tangled” was the studio’s return and CGI after “The Princess and the Frog” served as a brief return to traditional animations. It marked the studio’s 50th non-Pixar animated feature and its estimated $260 million budget still makes it the most expensive animated movie of all time. Although it failed to crack $600 million it was still a massive success for Disney that sparked a near flawless track record of hits over the last ten years. A memorable soundtrack, fun characters, a great villain and a concise but engaging plot has helped “Tangled” continue to be one of Disney’s standout films of the decade even almost ten years after its release. It was overshadowed at award season by a certain Pixar film I’ll talk about later, but over the years many have pegged “Tangled” as one of their all-time favorite Disney movies further establishing it as a Disney staple.
Disney has seldom been shy to touch on significant themes where appropriate but no film in the Disney Animation Studios catalog has been as up front with its message as “Zootopia”. Released in 2016, where it overshadowed fellow Disney hit “Moana” by earning over a billion dollars and receiving numerous Best Animated Feature honors including an Oscar and Globe, “Zootopia” combined Disney’s trademark imaginative world and character building elements with the modern theme of racism and prejudice in a world occupied by animals. Using the idea of predators and pray as the springboard the movie doesn’t shy away from expressing the importance of being open minded and thoughtful in how we treat each other using a great buddy-cop story as the overarching premise that helps prevents it from feeling preaching or pretentious. These thematic elements along with beautiful character designs and animation helped make “Zootopia” one of the best movies of 2016 and possibly one of the most thought provoking and important animated movies Disney has produced in the last ten years.
One of the most visually stunning movies on this list is “Coco”, Pixar’s 2017 massive hit that swept the Golden Globes and Oscars for Best Animated Feature and earned a additional Oscar for its song “Remember Me”. “Coco’s” title actually comes from the great-grandmother of the main character in the movie, Miguel, whose family has outlawed music after Coco’s father allegedly turned away from the family for fame. Miguel finds his way into the land of the dead with hopes of connecting with his long-lost musician relative and along the way explores a colorful and spectacularly rendered world themed around Mexican culture and the Day of the Dead. Heavily focused on the themes of family and following one’s passion despite the roadblocks “Coco” was a return to form for Pixar Animation Studios after the subpar success of “The Good Dinosaur” and two sequels in “Finding Dory” and “Cars 3”. It proved that Pixar still had a great knack for imaginative, original stories and has since been considered one of the studio’s best.
3. “Inside Out”
Pixar one-upped itself in the 2010s with a few inventive films worth noting, but its most memorable original product came in the form of 2015’s “Inside Out” which dominated the box office and swept the Animated Feature awards at the Globes and Oscars. Focusing on a young girl and her anthropomorphized emotions “Inside Out” explores numerous powerful themes the best of which being the important of sadness and a healthy balance of emotions in our everyday lives. The imaginative adventure through the mind of a struggling young girl is both visually stunning and emotionally poignant being unafraid to go to some dark and depressing places before it switches gears to inspire optimism and send an important message that asking for help and expressing sadness is not a sign of weakness. All five of the emotions have become popular characters in their own right and the movie itself has been widely hailed as one of the greatest animated films ever as well as one of the greatest films of any genre in the 21st Century.
While I personally felt that the sequel released in November of 2019 was a superior film to the original “Frozen” the first movies has had more time to build a legacy and it’s hard to ignore it’s massive cultural impact. Just as “The Lion King” defined children of the 90s “Frozen” has become the definitive Disney Animation Studios productions of the 2010s amassing over $1.27 billion during its run making it the highest grossing animated movie of all time outside of the “live-action” “Lion King” remake. Some have even dubbed it the greatest Disney movie since the studio’s renaissance in the 90s. The characters of the film have become iconic and the series has gone on to expand to toys, a theme park ride, television shorts and countless others forms of merchandise and franchising. To put it plainly, “Frozen” is the definitive original film of Disney’s incredible decade and the one movie everyone, including myself, thinks of first when they picture Disney in the 2010s.
1. “Toy Story 3”
By the time the 2010s came around Pixar had only done one sequel, “Toy Story 2”. In 2010 they starting off the decade with their first ever third film in a franchise, “Toy Story 3”, arguably the best movie of not only the franchise but Pixar’s entire library. We actually got two “Toy Story” films in the 2010s with this year’s “Toy Story 4” being a contender for this list, but it’s the third film that truly captured the hearts of fans worldwide to the tune of over a billion dollars at the box office and earned numerous Best Animated Feature awards. It’s also the only movie represented here with a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards. “Toy Story 3” explores the concept of growing up and bidding farewell to those beloved playthings that got us through our younger years. The final scene where Andy plays with the toys one final time is among the most memorable in Disney and Pixar’s history and caps off a fun, well animated, and nearly perfect penultimate adventure for our favorite toys. Disney and Pixar started the decade off with a home run with this film and, frankly, they haven’t been able to top it since.