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Top 10 Animated Films of the 1990s

Looking Back at a Decent Decade in Animated Movies

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When the decade started, traditionally animated movies ruled multiplexes and computers were used only sparingly to beef up certain shots. But by the time the new century emerged, computers had become a force to be reckoned with and had all but put hand-drawn animators out of work. With few exceptions, “Best of” lists from the past few years have been subsequently dominated by CGI-enhanced animated films – which is why the following list marks the last time that traditionally-animated releases will outrank computer-generated fare for the foreseeable future.

1. 'The Lion King' (1994)

Simba and the gang in 'The Lion King'
© Disney

It’s not difficult to see why The Lion King has endured in the years since its 1994 release, as the film features a relatable story that’s been designed to appeal to viewers of all ages – with the captivating atmosphere perpetuated by the exciting action sequences, irresistibly catchy songs, and iconic roster of characters. More than that, though, it’s the touching father/son stuff that lies at the heart of the movie that cements The Lion King’s place as an utterly timeless piece of work, with the film’s level of quality largely unmatched by the majority of traditionally-animated offerings.

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2. 'Hercules' (1997)

Hercules in 'Hercules'
© Disney

So zany it almost makes Aladdin look like a subdued drama, Hercules remains a seriously off-the-wall comedy for the duration of its fast-paced running time and ultimately stands as one of the most gleefully silly entries within Disney’s overall filmography. The movie’s exceedingly broad sensibilities are reflected in virtually all of its attributes, with the emphasis on over-the-top sight gags and larger-than-life voice performances certainly ranking high on the film’s list of madcap elements. (Special mention must be made of Danny DeVito’s consistently hilarious turn as Hercules’ half-man/half-goat sidekick, Phil.)

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3. 'Toy Story 2' (1999)

Woody and Stinky Pete in 'Toy Story 2'
© Disney Pixar

Toy Story 2 basically takes everything that was great about the first film and amplifies it by about 100%, which has effectively cemented its place as one of the most accomplished and flat-out entertaining sequels of all time. Though only Pixar’s third movie, Toy Story 2 features breathtaking visuals that still hold up today and a storyline that contains a perfect mixture of comedy, action, and drama. The end result is a near-perfect moviegoing experiences that effortlessly holds viewers of all ages transfixed from start to finish, with Pixar setting the bar almost impossibly high remarkably early in their run.

4. 'Beauty and the Beast' (1991)

Belle and The Beast in 'Beauty and the Beast'
© Disney

Based on the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast tells the unabashedly old-fashioned story of the unlikely romance that forms between a fetching young girl and a monstrous creature. In addition to its Oscar-winning soundtrack and gloriously lush visuals, the movie features a selection of vivid, incredibly well-defined supporting characters that have justifiably entered the pop-culture landscape. But that’s all window dressing for a love story that’s nothing short of breathtaking in its execution, with the palpable chemistry between Belle and The Beast ensuring that Beauty and the Beast lives up to its reputation as one of the most memorable romances of all time.

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5. 'Toy Story' (1995)

Buzz Lightyear and Woody in 'Toy Story'
© Disney Pixar

The first full-length computer-animated feature, Toy Story immediately established Pixar as a major player within the animation world. The rather simple story, which follows toys Woody and Buzz as they’re forced to work together after they unwittingly leave the safety of Andy’s room, essentially acts as a springboard for a series of nail-biting and downright hilarious action sequences, with the pervasively affable atmosphere perpetuated by the off-the-wall supporting characters and vibrant computer-generated animation. John Lasseter’s landmark work here justifiably earned him a Special Achievement Award from the Oscars, and there’s little doubt that the movie’s continued success on home video stands as a testament to its timelessness.

6. 'Aladdin' (1992)

Aladdin and Abu in 'Aladdin'
© Disney

Arriving at the height of Disney’s animation renaissance (after Beauty and the Beast and before The Lion King), Aladdin brought a consistently irreverent sensibility to a genre that was, at the time, primarily known for old-fashioned love stories and adaptations of fairy tales. Robin Williams’ antic voice-over work as the lovable Genie remains one of the most memorable vocal performances in an animated film, while the romance between heroes Aladdin and Princess Jasmine is just as endearing and compelling as anything within the Mouse House’s body of work.

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7. 'The Iron Giant' (1999)

The Iron Giant and Hogarth in 'The Iron Giant'
© Warner Bros. Pictures

Though not exactly a huge box-office success, The Iron Giant, which details the unlikely friendship between a young boy and a gentle alien, instantly established Brad Bird as a major player within the animation world and proved that Vin Diesel could play more than just tough guys. (The actor’s heartbreaking work as the title character remains one of the film’s most palpable treasures.) Bird’s eye for detail is reflected in everything from the movie’s impressively-conceived ‘50s atmosphere to the computer-generated nature of the Giant’s appearance, with the end result an engaging, unusually mature effort that’s just as relevant now as it was the day it was released.

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8. 'Tarzan' (1999)

Tarzan and Jane in 'Tarzan'
© Disney

Disney closed out the decade with a stirring adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs story Tarzan of the Apes, with the film following the title character as he’s eventually forced to choose between his animal pals in the jungle and the humans who want him to rejoin society. Even among Disney’s previous efforts, Tarzan stands out thanks mostly to its incredibly lush visuals – as the film’s behind-the-scenes team have seamlessly blended computer-generated imagery with traditional, hand-drawn animation in a manner that’s nothing short of breathtaking in its execution (especially during the movie’s propulsive swinging-through-the-jungle sequences).

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9. 'Princess Mononoke' (1997)

Ashitaka and San in 'Princess Mononoke'
© Miramax Films

One of only two efforts from animation master Hayao Miyazaki during the 1990s, Princess Mononoke follows a warrior as he’s unwittingly caught in an ages-old battle between two warring cultures while attempting to track down a cure for the deadly curse that ails him. As is often true of Miyazaki’s work, Princess Mononoke features a complicated yet rewarding storyline that’s augmented by seriously impressive visuals and characters that are as rich and vivid as those in the live-action realm. The degree to which Miyazaki creates (and sustains) this incredibly lush and flat-out immersive alien world is nothing short of astounding, and it’s not surprising to note that the film has remained a staple within the IMDB's top 250 since its release.

10. 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (1993)

Jack Skellington in 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'
© Touchstone Pictures

Infused with producer Tim Burton’s gothic sensibilities, The Nightmare Before Christmas essentially introduced a whole new generation to the world of stop-motion animation. The movie, which follows Jack Skellington as he attempts to introduce the concept of Christmas to the residents of Halloweentown, features several incredibly catchy songs and a roster of distinctive supporting characters, with the eye-popping nature of the film’s visuals cementing its place as a holiday-themed classic in its own right.

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