Every winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar, ranked
Though it’s the baby of Oscar categories, the Best Animated Feature Academy Award will turn 21 this Sunday, meaning it would be old enough to drink alcohol in America, if it could actually do that. Encanto, Flee, Luca, The Mitchells vs. the Machines and Raya and the Last Dragon will compete to become the next recipient of the award.
First introduced in 2001, Best Animated Feature is the only “new” category to be introduced this century so far. Like many new categories, a few animated features had earned "Special Achievement" Oscars, starting with the original American made animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with another going to 1997’s Toy Story, as well as one to the live action/animated hybrid Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Other movie awards followed the Oscars, adding their own animated categories, though the Annies, which are for animation, had obviously been awarding Best Feature for a few years.
Since 2001, 20 movies have won the award, which is a nice round number for doing a countdown, worst to best. The following ranking is based on my opinions, and my opinions only. But, even if you think my rankings are horrible, no good, absolutely wrong, well, I’ve also included a lot of factoids and trivia, so that might be worth reading. Also, not all of the winners have been particularly furry, but most have something of interest to furries going on in them.
Update: The original list was through 2021 only, but has been updated to include the 94th Academy Awards' winner on March 12, 2023, the day of the 95th Academy Awards. The plan is to make this traditional.
21. Brave (2012, 85th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Also Nominated: Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Wreck-It Ralph
Won the 2012 Ursa Major
Brave holds the distinction of being the only movie on this list I’d consider actually bad. Even setting aside the disgraceful treatment of original director Brenda Chapman, the movie is just tonally all over the place. The Academy usually isn’t very, well, brave when it comes to who they give this award to. Pixar has won over half the time, but Pixar does make popular, well made movies. Except this time.
Should Have Won: Wreck-It Ralph
20. Big Hero 6 (2014, 87th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Don Hall, Chris Williams, Roy Conli
Also Nominated: The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Big Hero 6 is not a bad movie. It’s just okay. It has a problem a lot of animated team movies have in that four members of the team might as well not even be there. It’s the Hiro and Baymax show. However, this also faults movies I really liked, such as the Kung Fu Panda trilogy, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Raya and the Last Dragon. But how did this beat How to To Train Your Dragon 2? And how was The Lego Movie not nominated?
Should Have Won: How to Train Your Dragon 2
19. Ratatouille (2007, 80th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Brad Bird
Further Nominations: Music (Original Score), Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Writing (Original Screenplay)
Also Nominated: Persepolis, Surf’s Up
Won the 2007 Ursa Major
I hate this movie, and mostly for its most famous scene. I’m talking, of course, of the food critic’s speech that is somehow the climax of this movie. It’s mostly on point, until it gets to the bit about criticism being less valuable than the work being written about, which seems to me to imply that a good review is not a piece of art in its own right. Which kind of rubs me the wrong way. Other than that, it’s fine, I guess.
Should Have Won: Surf’s Up
18. Happy Feet (2006, 79th Academy Awards)
Nominees: George Miller
Also Nominated: Cars, Monster House
Nominated for the 2006 Ursa Major
Coming in the middle of an inexplicable craze during the first decade of this century for CGI animated penguin movies, this movie at least makes sure that George Miller has his own personal Oscar. Despite his Mad Max: Fury Road racking up six wins, none of them actually went to Miller himself. Happy Feet’s message about global warming is still timely, but it’s also still preachy.
Should Have Won: Monster House
17. Encanto (2021, 94th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Yvette Merano, Clark Spencer
Further Nominations: Music (Original Score), Music (Original Song)
Also Nominated: Flee, Luca, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Raya and the Last Dragon
Before we even begin talking about the movie, let's talk about Disney hilariously misjudging it's submission for the Best Original Song category. They submitted the admittedly very Oscar-baity, but also very forgettable "Dos Oruguitas", then "We Don't Talk About Bruno" became a the biggest break away hit in Disney's history, charting a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 list. Other than that, it's a fine 21st century Disney musical, which is not the peak Disney musical time period. I don't care about Bruno.
Should Have Won: Raya and the Last Dragon
16. Finding Nemo (2003, 76th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Andrew Stanton
Futher Nominations: Music (Original Score), Sound Editing, Writing (Original Screenplay)
Also Nominated: Brother Bear, The Triplets of Belleville
Won the 2003 Ursa Major
This movie was seemingly played on repeat during my high school days. To be clear, not by me, but by any teacher who was absent and didn’t want to give the substitute a hard time, needed to grade some tests, or maybe it was just Friday and they were ready for the weekend, too. Safe enough no parents were going to complain, but complex enough maybe a high school student wouldn’t get too bored.
Should Have Won: The Triplets of Belleville
15. Frozen (2013, 86th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho
Further Wins: Music (Original Song)
Also Nominated: The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, The Wind Rises
Won the 2013 Ursa Major
Basically, "Let It Go" is hands down the only really good song to come out of Disney this century, and, yes, I’m including Encanto’s "We Don’t Talk About Bruno". I don’t get it, guys. 2013 was a weak year, so one good song was enough to win the category. It’s basically yet another “postmodern” Disney princess movie where Disney realizes feminism is a thing, but also that brand makes a lot of money, so they get awkwardly meta about it.
Should Have Won: Ernest & Celestine
14. Toy Story 4 (2019, 92nd Academy Awards)
Nominees: Josh Cooley, Mark Nielsen, Jonas Riviera
Further Nominations: Music (Original Song)
Also Nominated: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, I Lost My Body, Klaus, Missing Link
Nominated for the 2019 Ursa Major
Pixar went back to the good old Toy Story well one more time, and you could it tell it had started to dry up in the near decade since the last one. It’s always nice to see these characters, but at a certain point, in the words of the last movie ranked, you’ve just got to let it go. Thankfully, the creatives behind this movie seemed to realize that, and put a pretty definitive end to Woody’s story. We won’t have to worry about any possible terrible sequels anymore. Terrible spinoffs? That’s still on the table.
Should Have Won: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
13. Up (2009, 82nd Academy Awards)
Nominees: Pete Docter
Further Nominations: Picture, Sound Editing, Writing (Original Screenplay)
Further Wins: Music (Original Score)
Also Nominated: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells
Nominated for the 2009 Ursa Major
Arguably the single greatest line-up of nominees in the history of the category, and the stupid Academy had to go and spoil everything by expanding the Best Picture nominee list to include ten movies. So, Up got nominated there, and this category got a bit anti-climactic. If Frozen was about one good song, Up is about one great scene, right at the beginning. Which also makes everything after that a bit anti-climactic.
Should Have Won: Fantastic Mr. Fox
12. Shrek (2001, 74th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Aron Warner
Further Nominations: Writing (Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published)
Also Nominated: Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Monsters, Inc.
Won the 2001 Ursa Major
Okay, first of all, Smash Mouth’s "All Star" becoming the "Shrek song" is one of those things that just irritates me. It was a two year old song well past its prime that got put in the movie because animation takes a while and it was dated and a bit cringey when the actual movie came out. But, anyway, despite being basically Jeffrey Katzenberg’s revenge fantasy against Disney, it actually is the post-modern Disney princess movie Disney can’t seem to figure out.
Should Have Won: Monsters, Inc.
11. The Incredibles (2004, 77th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Brad Bird
Further Nominations: Sound Mixing, Writing (Original Screenplay)
Further Wins: Sound Editing
Also Nominated: Shark Tale, Shrek 2
One of the few animated team movies that actually seems to give each of its characters something to do, though the titular superhero team only has four members, so that helps. Well, five if you give half points to Frozone and the baby. The movie is a good illustration of a knowing parody ("You sly dog, you got me monologuing!”) as compared to a full on deconstruction ("I did it 35 minutes ago.")
Should Have Won: Shrek 2
10. WALL-E (2008, 81st Academy Awards)
Nominees: Andrew Stanton
Further Nominations: Music (Original Score), Music (Original Song), Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Writing (Original Screenplay)
Also Nominated: Bolt, Kung Fu Panda
Nominated for the 2008 Ursa Major
The Annies were right. Sure, WALL-E features a timely message, some very pretty visuals, and, yes, the titular robot is cute, but it’s also a really good movie to put in if you just want me to shut up because I’ve fallen asleep. And please don’t tell me in the comments that this not getting a Best Picture nomination was why the category expanded in 2009. It’s The Dark Knight’s snub what did that, and only The Dark Knight.
Should Have Won: Kung Fu Panda
9. Inside Out (2015, 88th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Pete Docter, Jonas Riviera
Further Nominations: Writing (Original Screenplay)
Also Nominated: Anomalisa, Boy and the World, Shaun the Sheep Movie, When Marnie Was There
Won the 2015 Ursa Major
Are you a little tired by Pixar movies at this point? Well, you know who isn’t? The Academy. We’ve got three more. Another team movie that focuses most of its time on one or two characters while the actually interesting characters exist in the background. I would really have liked to get know Disgust a little more, personally. Oh, well, it’s another perfectly fine Pixar movie in a string of Pixar movies. They do their job well.
Should Have Won: Shaun the Sheep Movie
8. Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005, 78th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Steve Box, Nick Park
Also Nominated: Corpse Bride, Howl’s Moving Castle
Nominated for the 2005 Ursa Major
Does this movie count as a DreamWorks animation movie? If it does, then DreamWorks is the only studio to have nominees stop motion animated (this movie), traditionally animated (Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron) and CGI (everything else). They’d also be the only studio besides Disney and Pixar to have multiple wins. But if you want to count this as Aardman, and DreamWorks as a glorified distributor only, that’s fair too, as the movie combines superb stop motion animation with perfect slapstick comic timing, which are Aardman’s strengths.
Should Have Won: OK
7. Coco (2017, 90th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
Further Wins: Music (Original Song)
Also Nominated: The Boss Baby, The Breadwinner, Ferdinand, Loving Vincent
During the 2010s, both Disney and Pixar, being almost, but not quite, synonymous decided that they were going to go all multi-cultural, having finally tapped out the last of American white culture and/or European fairy tales, apparently. The right, of course, instantly decried their “wokeness”, while the left called them out for being a bunch of white guys appropriating foreign culture. This is a phase we’re still in, (see both of Disney’s 2021 movies) but as an early example, Coco is a good movie, at least.
Should Have Won: OK
6. Soul (2020, 93rd Academy Awards)
Nominees: Pete Docter, Dana Murray
Further Nominations: Sound
Further Wins: Music (Original Score)
Also Nominated: Onward, Over the Moon, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, Wolfwalkers
Nominated for the 2020 Ursa Major
The first win for Pixar in the post John Lasseter era of that studio (though it was still originally conceived and greenlit while he was in charge), I personally think it’s a marked departure from some of the earlier stuff. While the thematic elements are still very Pixar, the animation style is much more stylized in the afterlife sections of the movie. While we’re here, who in the 90s saw the guy from Nine Inch Nails winning an Oscar for his work on a cartoon from Disney?
Should Have Won: Wolfwalkers
5. Spirited Away (2002, 75th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Hayao Miyazaki
Also Nominated: Ice Age, Lilo & Stitch, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Treasure Planet
Nominated for the 2002 Ursa Major
This movie’s win in the second year of the category basically cemented its status as legit. This is The Godfather of this category. If this ranking had been based on any sort of consensus, rather than just my opinions, it would easily be number one. But, also like The Godfather, while it’s a respectable pick for number one, it’s so respectable that picking it number one hardly tells you how the ranker really feels. Still better darn well be near the top, though. Also, this is still the only hand drawn winner of the category.
Should Have Won: Lilo & Stitch
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, 91st Academy Awards)
Nominees: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, Rodney Rothman, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Also Nominated: Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, Ralph Breaks the Internet
Nominated for the 2018 Ursa Major
While it also suffers from the team dynamic problem I’ve been complaining about all list, it’s still one of the most interesting things to take the trophy in terms of pure visuals. And when you’re a medium where all the visuals are created, the fact that a lot of the winners, when put together like this, come off as kind of same-y looking (even factoring in the Pixar domination) is a bit of a disappointment. So, the comic book movie that makes an effort to look like a stylized comic book is a breath of fresh air.
Should Have Won: Isle of Dogs
3. Toy Story 3 (2010, 83rd Academy Awards)
Nominees: Lee Unkrich
Further Nominations: Picture, Sound Editing, Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Further Wins: Music (Original Song)
Also Nominated: How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist
Nominated for the 2010 Ursa Major
We’ve already covered the sequel to this sequel, but unlike Toy Story 4, Toy Story 3 actually uses the over a decade long gap between it and the last Toy Story movie. It’s definitely a movie that gets a boost from nostalgia, if you’re the right age, but it’s ultimately about how you have to let go of the past and move on some times. Too bad the franchise itself didn’t take this lesson to heart. Oh, and we’re finally done with Pixar!
Should Have Won: How to Train Your Dragon
2. Rango (2011, 84th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Gore Verbinski
Also Nominated: A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots
Nominated for the 2011 Ursa Major
Another movie that definitely features one of the more visually stunning aesthetics, with its combination of hyper-realistic yet ridiculously exaggerated characters and settings. The movie also features one of the best narratives to win the award, with a story that delves into the question of why we tell stories and the purpose they serve, beyond just entertainment. Though that can be enough. It’s also pretty entertaining.
Should Have Won: OK
1. Zootopia (2016, 89th Academy Awards)
Nominees: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Clark Spencer
Also Nominated: Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle
Won the 2016 Ursa Major
So after that palaver about Spirited Away being The Godfather of the Animated Feature winners and why that means it shouldn’t be number one, I go and pick the consensus furry equivalent of The Godfather (complete with an extended Godfather parody!) as my number one pick. Bet you saw that coming! Still, timely message plus entertaining story plus near perfect animation is hard to argue with. And, also, cartoon animals. Lots of cartoon animals!
Should Have Won: OK
Correction (3/29): The original version of this story listed Inside Out as only an Ursa Major nominee.
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a red fox
New teeth. That's weird.
Ooh, we get to compare tastes! I have a very strong anti-Disney streak, but not exclusively so. I have no idea how I'd rank these, so I'll stick to responding to the individual years as you've arranged them. I think a lot of the films are artistically strong, but frequently I don't feel some have award "oomph".
20. (2012) Agree, Wreck-It Ralph should have won.
19. (2014) Kind of a flat year in my opinion. I prefer How to Train Your Dragon 2 over Big Hero 6, but I dislike it when an award nomineee is a sequel and super-popular. While the animation in The Boxtrolls and in Song of the Sea were both way more artistically interesting than HTTYD2, their storytelling was not going to appeal to wider audiences.
18. (2007) I like Ratatouille, but to each their own!
17. (2006) No opinion, I didn't see any of the films. Although the trailer for Monster House looked more interesting than Happy Feet to me.
16. (2003) I think Finding Nemo is the more entertaining film, so I'm ok with it winning. The Triplets of Belleville was much stronger artistically but ouch, the pacing.
15. (2013) Didn't see most of them this year, but I do know I am not a fan of Frozen. Ernest & Celestine was quite good - if only they could have gotten stronger voice acting for the English dub!
14. (2019) I wouldn't have gone for How to Train Your Dragon 3 nor Toy Story 4, due to being sequels. Missing Link, definitely not. And I haven't watched the other two, but I heard very positive things about Klaus! I've had a copy on my hard drive for years but haven't gotten around to watching it.
13. (2009) Up and Fantastic Mr. Fox, both very good, no problems with either of those winning. Furry bias wishes that Fantastic Mr. Fox had won though.
12. (2001) Agree, Monsters, Inc. should have won. Both good contenders, a close race. For me it juuuust edges past Shrek because the former has less toilet humor.
11. (2004) The Incredibles, I'm good with that winning. On top of everything else, very Bond-esque villain's headquarters.
10. (2008) Agree, Kung Fu Panda should have won. Very close race in my mind! It's been a long time since I've watched Wall-E though, so I don't think I could engage in a meaningful argument here.
9. (2015) Weird situation here... When Inside Out was released, I had no idea it had been in development. I had somehow missed every trailer, every news announcement, all online hype, everything. And I still haven't watched it. I have, however, since watched all the other nominees for this year. I wouldn't have nominated any of them. Not that they're bad, I just don't think they're super-strong awards material.
8. (2005) Another flat year for me, not big on any of the nominees.
7. (2017) Can't say here, the only two I watched were The Breadwinner and Loving Vincent, wouldn't have chosen either. Not a fan of what I saw of The Boss Baby.
6. (2020) Agree, Wolfwalkers should have won!
5. (2002) I'm good with Spirited Away winning. Didn't find Lilo & Stitch or the other titles especially remarkable.
4. (2018) I'm good with either Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse or Isle of Dogs. Very disappointed in The Incredibles 2, don't think it had any business being nominated.
3. (2010) The Illusionist should have won. Incredibly depressing though.
2. (2011) I'm good with Rango winning. (I'm very surprised that it did!!)
1. (2016) My anti-Disney bias was rooting for Kubo and the Two Strings!
So the 21st winner is Encanto. Probably bottom quarter, honestly.
Luca has the ignominious distinction of being the first original Pixar movie since 2006's Cars to not win this award (excepting The Good Dinosaur and Onward, which came out in years with two original Pixar movies).
Encanto's win brings Disney Animation Studio's win total up to 4, with Pixar's 11 wins giving Disney the corporation 15 wins in total, or over 2/3rds of awards given. Which, I mean, the fact that the company that has dominated American feature animation since it's inception has dominated the award for American feature animation isn't that surprising (it's more surprising it took over a decade for DAS to actually win).
Raya and the Last Dragon's nomination making it a double for Disney also meant that DAS has either moved ahead of DreamWorks in the all time nomination ranking (if you don't count The Curse of the Were-Rabbit as DW) or tied them (if you do) with 13. Pixar also leads that, with 16; though they've only had one double nomination year, they've been more steadily nominated.
Inside Out won the Ursa Major Award.
How the heck did this win the Ursa Major for best animated feature? IIRC, other than a gag at the end with canine versions of the emotions, there wasn't a single animal of any sort in the movie; were the films it was up against even less furry?
They just weren't as good. The results are roughly in order of IMDB ratings. It wasn't very close, probably because way more people had seen Inside Out. And who knows, maybe they were voting based using anthropomorphism to express themselves, just anthropomorphising emotions rather than animals?
Bing Bong the imaginary friend was a combination of a few animals, most noticeably an elephant.
#5 As good as Lilo and Stitch was, Spirited Away totally deserved the award. It's arguably Studio Ghibli's best film and easily one of the most incredible animated features ever made. The only film animated in the US I'd even consider close would be the original Fantasia.
The Oscar was the American animation community's salute to Hayao Miyazaki, and not just to "Spirited Away," more of a lifetime achievement award. (The film totally deserved it of course, and now that he's essentially retired it'll be the only Oscar on his mantle.)
He did also receive an Honorary Oscar in 2015, so he does have two, though this is his only competitive Oscar. He has come out of retirement, though, and should have a new movie out next year. He doesn't actually seem to care about Oscars that much, though; he's been invited to join the Academy multiple times and always declined.
Thanx for bringing me up to date on the guy...it was an incredible thrill meeting him when Howl's Moving Castle premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC (just wish I'd asked him about animal transformation in his movies!)
Anyway, here's a photo of Shrek winning the first Best Animated Feature Oscar.
So, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio is the most recent winner (see how I feel about in approximately a year!), but I finally actually root for the fucking Pixar movie and it loses to the "animation is a medium, not a genre, we need to take it in new places, anyway, I just remade Pinocchio" guy's movie. So don't expect it to rank high.
So here's my shared opinion!
(21) Yeah, Wreck-It Ralph should've won. I was considering The Pirates In An Adventure With Scientists.
(20) I agree with your opinion on Big Hero 6, and I like How To Train Your Dragon 2, but I really like The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.
(19) It's my favorite Pixar movie, period. Therefore, Ratatouille deserves to win.
(18) I'm good with Happy Feet winning. I wasn't the biggest Monster House or Cars fan.
(17) I like Encanto and Raya and the Last Dragon, but I was rooting for The Mitchells vs The Machines.
(16) I'm good with Finding Nemo winning, even though I wasn't big on Triplets of Belleville, and I hated Brother Bear.
(15) Ernest and Celestine AND Frozen are pretty good, but I really, really enjoyed either Despicable Me 2 or The Wind Rises.
(14) Toy Story 4 was a very mediocre film for me indeed. I really do like How To Train Your Dragon 3 though.
(13) Up was a great film, but Fantastic Mr. Fox was better. I agree.
(12) I love both Monsters Inc. and Shrek but I think Monsters Inc. was slightly better.
(11) Yep, I really liked The Incredibles, and I think it deserved to win.
(10) I like both movies WALL-E and Kung Fu Panda, but WALL-E is slightly better in my opinion.
(9) Yep, Inside Out pretty much deserved the Oscar. I do like Shaun the Sheep Movie though.
(8) Were-Rabbit deserved the Oscar for me, period. I was a big fan of Corpse Bride.
(7) I like the Breadwinner, but Coco was the most acceptable for me.
(6) Wolfwalkers should've won!
(5) Spirited Away should've won. I really, really like the other nominees, especially Spirit, but this one really stood out to me.
(4) I'm good with Spider-Verse winning, actually more than that.
(3) I really do think How To Train Your Dragon should've won too!
(2) I honestly prefer Kung Fu Panda 2. But still, not a bad choice here at all.
(1) I was actually rooting for Moana!
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