Animated movies may be “made for kids,” but let’s be honest: Disney renaissance movies are masterpieces; you’re never too old to cry your eyes out watching a Pixar film; and escaping into a world of catchy songs, talking animals, and unrealistically happy endings for 90 minutes is always a good idea.
We all have an animated movie — or a dozen — with a special place in our hearts, and here are some of the Pop Insider staff’s favorites. (I promise they aren’t all Disney.)
James Zahn: Cars (2006)
Disney•Pixar’s Cars hit theaters three years before my wife and I became parents for the first time. Despite my love for racing and all things automotive, we missed it in theaters, but purchased the Blu-ray upon release. Little did we know, a few years later, Cars would become the catalyst for our daughters’ love of, well, cars. All of them: toy cars, real cars, and even the fabled Route 66.
The original film was not only a great story told through groundbreaking animation, but also an open door to automotive history and America’s fascination with the open road. The Cars franchise is more than just the story of Lightning McQueen and friends — it’s the cinematic celebration of a lifestyle.
Maddie Michalik: Toy Story (1995)
Not only is Toy Story one of Disney’s best films of all time, but it’s also one of the best animated movies ever. I have so many fond memories of watching this movie with my sister over and over again — and we never got tired of it. The premise of Toy Story is perfect, and something we’ve all thought about at one point when we were kids: What do your toys do when you’re not around? Do you really remember leaving your favorite toy riiiight there? It also gave personalities to toys that we all know and love, including army men and Mr. Potato Head, and new toys, such as a shiny, new space ranger named Buzz Lightyear. Between the innocent storyline of the dynamic of a kid’s toy box to the touching music (“You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” are you kidding me?), Toy Story is a win in every way. Let’s also give credit where credit is due: Pizza Planet is the best restaurant chain of all time.
Jackie Cucco: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Finally, a Disney movie for the kids who begged their parents to brave the Haunted Mansion’s hour wait in the muggy Florida sun instead of breezing through It’s a Small World in the cool air conditioning. Sure, Pride Rock and the enchanted forest are cool and all, but I’d choose Tim Burton’s ghouls and goblins of Halloween Town over the seven dwarves any day. Nightmare doubles as both a Halloween and Christmas movie and has one of the best villains of all time: Oogie Boogie, the gambling-addicted bogeyman. Jack Skellington is an icon and Sally still makes the best Halloween costume 26 years later.
Joe Ibraham: Big Hero 6 (2014)
I first saw Big Hero 6 in 2017, nearly three years after it was first released. I remember sitting on my living room couch, browsing through the channel lineup. I stumbled upon BH6 about five minutes in and figured I’d give it a 10-minute chance. More than an hour later, I was disappointed to see it end. I was 23 years old at the time, but I felt like a kid who didn’t want it to end. Between the cleverly named city of San Fransokyo and the bumbling, inflatable Baymax robot, BH6 is a fun ride and an even better story.
Madeleine Buckley (that’s me!): The Prince of Egypt (1998)
The Prince of Egypt is, hands down, one of the most underrated animated movies of all time. It has also been my favorite movie for as long as I can remember. It brings to life the epic story of the Exodus, but even if Moses leading the slaves out of Egypt isn’t a story from your religious tradition, the movie still has so much to offer. With phenomenal music, visual effects that are pretty impressive considering its late-’90s release, and some fantastic one-liners, the movie is simply entertaining on every level. Plus, it’s got a freaking all-star cast of voice actors: Val Kilmer, Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helen Mirren, Patrick Stewart, Danny Glover, and Martin Short. (That’s three Oscar nominees and three winners, if you were wondering.) Ultimately it’s an uplifting story, but it also poses important ethical questions and takes a look at the complicated bonds of familial love. If you haven’t watched it since you were a kid in Sunday school or if your never have, I highly suggest that you take the time.
Miranda Siwak: Brave (2012)
While I love so many animated movies, I keep circling back to Disney•Pixar’s Brave. It features a strong, fierce lass (still a princess, as in all the best Disney films!) but Merida is more concerned with standing up for her own future and fate than settling down, which has such an empowering message for girls everywhere. She’s also quite handy with a bow and arrow, so bonus. The film features an impactful storyline about a girl coming of age as well as a beautiful mother-daughter storyline that gets me a tad misty-eyed (OK, fine, SOBBING) when I watch it. Plus, the film’s breakthrough song “Touch the Sky” is up there with the best of Disney’s iconic soundtrack moments.
Victoria Rosenthal: Coraline (2009)
Coraline by Neil Gaiman was my favorite book as a kid, so naturally it’s my favorite animated film. Tons of film adaptations miss the mark, but Coraline is spot on. Every detail is exactly in line with the book’s creepy plot, and I always get excited to watch it play out on screen. The amazing stop motion animation helped boost the creepiness. The Other Mother — voiced by Terry Hatcher — still gives me nightmares when she morphs into a spider, but the movie wouldn’t be as perfect as it is without her. I just hide under my blanket until that part ends, and I’m fine — as I cry inside.
Sierra McCleary-Harris: The Little Mermaid (1989)
I’ve loved The Little Mermaid for as long as I can remember. When I was a toddler, I was mildly (read: VERY) obsessed with a small, stuffed Flounder that I carried everywhere because of course. From the mischievous, rebellious teenage daughter and the loving yet slightly overbearing father to the songs — look at this stuff, isn’t it neat, wouldn’t you agree the film’s tunes can’t be beat — there was nothing I didn’t love about this movie. Today, even suspicious of its questionable geography (really, Disney, pick a locale for goodness sake) and problematic, sexist overtones, The Little Mermaid still occupies a special place in my heart. Sorry not sorry.