Best and worst animated films of 2021

Back when I was young, I was happy to see even one new animated film a year. Now there’s practically one a week.

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In the 80s, I started a magazine called “Animato!” that later grew quite large and popular. I got to meet and interview great animators like Chuck Jones and Ralph Bakshi but later sold the magazine, and it went on to even bigger successes until the internet killed all magazines.

So I’m still an animation fan, but it’s basically impossible to see all the films and all the animated TV shows these days unless you’re a full-time animator or animation historian, I guess.

And this is especially true during the pandemic. Studios realized that while they couldn’t make as many live action films, animators can work from their home … so we got a lot more animated films than we would normally get.

There were some really great films this year I did get to catch, though. My favorite was Mitchells vs. The Machines, but I also very much enjoyed Encanto, Vivo, and Ron’s Gone Wrong.

These days, with so much CGI, we can debate what an “animated film” even is, but generally the accepted definition is that the main characters must be animated — not just the monsters or effects. (And “motion capture” doesn’t count.)

So here’s my annual end-of-the-year list of best and worst animated films (based on their Rotten Tomatoes score).  I used to only include films that were released to theaters, but thanks to the pandemic, that should no longer apply. This means there are more films on this list than in previous years. Ties are broken by number of reviews, and you have to have at least 10 reviews to make my list.

The best reviewed animated film of 2021 was a Denmark documentary about emigration that was animated so, yeah, technically, it belongs on this list! It was followed closely by a Japanese anime that got very little distribution. The rest of the list includes two good films with music by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Encanto and Vivo — he was busy last year) and a bunch of straight-to-streaming ones.

  1. Flee (98%)
  2. Demon Slayer: Mugen Train (98%)
  3. The Mitchells vs. The Machines (97%)
  4. Raya and the Last Dragon (94%)
  5. Luca (91%)
  6. Encanto (91%)
  7. My Little Pony: A New Generation (90%)
  8. Back to the Outback (88%)
  9. Vivo (86%)
  10. Arlo the Alligator Boy (82%)
  11. Ron’s Gone Wrong (80%)
  12. Paw Patrol: The Movie (79%)
  13. The Spine of Night (76%)
  14. Sing 2 (70%)
  15. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (69%)
  16. Wish Dragon (65%)
  17. Spirit Utamed (50%)
  18. The Boss Baby: Family Business (46%)
  19. Tom and Jerry (31%)
  20. The Addams Family 2 (29%)
  21. Space Jam: A New Legacy (25%)

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