Movies & TV / Columns

Stew’s Top Ten Non-Disney Animated Movies

November 7, 2022 | Posted by Rob Stewart
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Image Credit: Sony Pictures

I’ve been sitting on this idea for SO LONG!

You see, SEVERAL YEARS AGO, when I was doing my previous podcast, my then-cohost and I were asked to guest star on another podcast for their Pod V Pod challenge. Those challenges had two quiz rounds, followed up by a draft challenge. The draft for that episode was Best Non-Disney/Pixar Animated Movies. I had a blast with it, and we actually went 50/50 on the draft, so the challenge ended in a 1-1-1 tie!

Fast forward a few years, and The Countdown podcast invited me on and asked what I thought we should, you know, COUNT DOWN. Inspired by what came before, I suggested the same topic–the one for this very article! After some back and forth, they determined they had just done an animation-based list and didn’t want to double down on that, so we went in another direction (Best Remakes, which I then translated to another article here months ago).

But still… I had the idea of revisiting this animation topic in my head, and it wouldn’t go away.

And that leads us to now! When I’m finally getting around to sharing my Top Ten Non-Disney (and Pixar) Animated Flicks Of All Time! Let’s get into it!

10. Akira

This was one of the very first pulls for my podcast (Stew World Order) ever, so I’ve already covered it more in-depth there, but I’ll say this: I’m very impressed with the animation and the tone of this story. And it does the very best thing a science fiction movie can do: it sets up a universe and reveals just enough so that I know what’s going on, but it leaves enough on the table that I absolutely want more. I think the world built here is engrossing!

9. Return Of The Joker

Was this ever released theatrically? Like, at ALL? I can’t find any proof that it was. As a matter of fact, it had all kinds of production issues and delays due to the Columbine Massacre in 1999.

But still… I guess I can forgive the lack of a cinematic release for Return Of The Joker, because I remember it being a big deal when it came out. It was advertised all over the place, and it was really just the second major Batman animated movie (I think? But anyway, more on that later…)

Batman Beyond was a terrific show that managed to carry the spectre of The Joker’s presence over Gotham even well into the future after he was long dead. With Return Of The Joker, they finally found a way to bring him back, and that way is chilling and really sticks with you. It really gives The Joker one last big assault on the Bat family that is both physical AND emotional.

8. Shrek

“Diminishing Returns” is the problem with a few movies that I considered for this list. Take Despicable Me! The first entry in that franchise is truly heartfelt, creative, and funny. But since then, we’ve come to live in a world inundated with mediocre Minions movies, your aunt’s Minions memes on Facebook, and two actual Despicable Me sequels that were just… all right. So I really like the originator of the series, but I can’t really say I think of the franchise with much positivity.

Shrek is, if not right there with Despicable Me, it’s at least pretty close. Puss N Boots spin-offs, a bunch of uninspired sequels of its own… it’s doing a fine job of wiping the swamp with its legacy. But still… nothing as awful as those tedious and omnipresent minions! So I gave Shrek enough credit to get it on the list ahead of Steve Carrell’s effort.

Even when Shrek debuted, subverting fairy tale tropes was not a brand new idea. Properties like Into The Woods had existed for years. But Mike Myers’ green ogre really perfected the idea of it. Myers at the height of his power, Cameron Diaz when she was an A-lister, and Eddie Murphy breathing new life into his career. All wrapped around a story that respected the source material, but also wanted to have fun with it.

And then, you know, they spammed it into the ground.

But without Minion memes!

7. Mask Of The Phantasm

The original big deal Batman animated movie, and this one definitely DID have a theatrical release.

All these years later, you have to consider Mask of the Phantasm as one of the five best Batman movies ever made. An original story, introducing new characters, and starring Kevin Conroy, who is THE Batman for so many fans. It would have been easy for DC to just throw out a flick influenced by a classic Bat-tale, but instead, Timm and Dini and their crew set out to create their own entry into Bat-history… and succeeded!

6. Grave Of The Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies’ opening scene is of a child starving to death in a subway station, and then the movie just gets HARSHER from there.

Studio Ghibli had depended on beautiful mysticism and fantastical world-building for so long that it’s hard to believe they also gave us this soul-crushing tale of two orphans trying to survive World War II era Japan. If you don’t know better, you will keep waiting for some fun character to save the day… but it never comes.

This is HARD and UNPLEASANT to watch, but it’s just so powerfully well-done that you can’t help but appreciate it.

5. Spirited Away


It’s a mental toss-up for me as to whether I think Spirited Away or Grave of the Fireflies is the superior movie. Spirited is gorgeous and one of the most creative concepts ever created, even if the story is slightly weaker in comparison. Grave has a strong story, but it’s grounded in a realistic world so there is less to marvel at. I’ll give the edge to the one that doesn’t make me want to hide under my bed and despise humanity.

Labyrinth. The Never-Ending Story. The Last Unicorn. Spirited Away makes them all look humdrum. This world of Miyazaki’s is beautiful, and just when you think it has used all the ideas it could have, it comes up with something even wilder to give you.

Remarkable movie.

4. The Iron Giant

“Superman.” Oh my gosh, how this movie wrecked me with that line.

The Iron Giant is one of the greatest “Fate Vs Choice” tales told in any medium. The story of the titular giant befriending a boy, overcoming his own amnesia, and choosing who he WANTS to be is epic in its telling.

The characters are realistic, too. I just… this is so well done. I owned this movie on DVD for, like, ten years before I got around to watching it. What a schmuck I was!

3. Weathering With You

The animation in this flick is out of this world. It’s just shocking that an animated movie can look so good. Studio Ghibli gets a lot of the press (deservedly so), but for me, Makoto Shinkai is at least as good. Weathering With You is his SECOND best movie, and it’s still #3 on my list (spoiler alert for one of the next two entries!).

I just… man, ignoring the heartfelt story. Disregarding the world of wonder it creates. Not even talking about the deep characters. Seriously, man. THE ANIMATION HERE. I can’t stress it enough. I think I’m going to rewatch this one tomorrow…

2. Your Name.

I watched Your Name in 2021 for the very first time. I immediately went on Letterboxd and updated my ten favorite movies ever. After just one watch, I was that sure that what I had just watched was magic.

Just like with Weathering With You, the animation is unbelievable. But that is secondary to a story that is unpredictable and stunning. When this movie reveals what is going on between Taki and Mitsuha, I was FLOORED. And then it starts filling in all of the details? HOLY CRAP. I was in love. IN LOVE. With this movie.

This was one of those movies that ascended beyond being a film. This was an EXPERIENCE for me.

1. Into The Spider-Verse

So after everything I just said about Your Name, what’s left? Arguably just my favorite movie of all time. I will always, always remember how I did not want to see this movie, haha. I only even saw it in theater because I had to for my podcast. I was entirely uninterested in Sony trying YET AGAIN with Spidey.

It only took me until about 15 minutes in to realize I was watching something special. Spider-Verse is arguably a perfect movie. The amazing, diverse artistic stylings across the flick just give the whole project a feeling of dedication. They paid attention to every detail here. And it shows from the start until the very end.

I’m just hoping Across The Spider-Verse maintains the love and effort of the original and doesn’t Shrek up the franchise.

Well that’s MY Top Ten. WHAT ARE YOURS?! As always, I want to know what you would put on your own list. Get the discussion going! What movies are out there that I might have missed? Tell me; tell the world!

Until next time… take care!