We’re celebrating 25 years of Rotten Tomatoes with a look back on some of the most celebrated movies of each year, since 1998! Previously we took a look at the horror genre, and now we explore the animation medium, with each title selected using our recommendation formula, a calculation based on the Tomatometer that prioritizes the titles that stood out among critics and fans, combined with a pinch of curatorial love from our editors. Using this formula, we discovered the most recommended animated movie of every year since 1998.
The guide unsurprisingly begins in the late ’90s with Pixar and their follow-up feature to Toy Story, A Bug’s Life. (What is this? A Seven Samurai for ants?) Then came the 1999 mega-sequel Toy Story 2, which cemented the studio as the premier American animation shop for the years ahead. Toy Story 3 (2010) and Toy Story 4 (2019) would also peg Woody and Buzz as stars of the highest-recommended animated film of their respective years.
Pixar would next take the top spot after 1999 with 2004’s The Incredibles. In between, we see a great variety of animation: the stop-motion Chicken Run, Studio Ghibli fantasia Spirited Away, the traditionally drawn Lilo & Stitch (the last hurrah of the Disney Renaissance), and the Jacques Tati-inspired Triplets of Belleville.
After The Incredibles, it’s another string of eclectic top offerings, featuring Wallace & Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit (directed by Chicken Run‘s Nick Park), Satoshi Kon’s final film Paprika, and the urgent, biographical Persepolis.
Starting in 2008, we see a triple-header from Pixar and arguably their golden age: WALL-E, Up, and Inside Out. From there, the animation playing field opened up, including the return of Disney (Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Zootopia), dazzling fan tribute Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers, the animated documentary Flee, WB’s The LEGO Movie, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.
Adjusted Score: 96064%
Critics Consensus: A Bug’s Life is a rousing adventure that blends animated thrills with witty dialogue and memorable characters – and another smashing early success for Pixar.
Adjusted Score: 106988%
Critics Consensus: The rare sequel that arguably improves on its predecessor, Toy Story 2 uses inventive storytelling, gorgeous animation, and a talented cast to deliver another rich moviegoing experience for all ages.
Adjusted Score: 102989%
Critics Consensus: Chicken Run has all the charm of Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit, and something for everybody. The voice acting is fabulous, the slapstick is brilliant, and the action sequences are spectacular.
Adjusted Score: 103112%
Critics Consensus: Spirited Away is a dazzling, enchanting, and gorgeously drawn fairy tale that will leave viewers a little more curious and fascinated by the world around them.
Adjusted Score: 91507%
Critics Consensus: Edgier than traditional Disney fare, Lilo and Stitch explores issues of family while providing a fun and charming story.
Adjusted Score: 98610%
Critics Consensus: Richly detailed and loaded with surreal touches, The Triplets of Belleville is an odd, delightful charmer.
Adjusted Score: 105836%
Critics Consensus: Bringing loads of wit and tons of fun to the animated superhero genre, The Incredibles easily lives up to its name.
Adjusted Score: 87879%
Critics Consensus: Following its own brand of logic, Paprika is an eye-opening mind trip that is difficult to follow but never fails to dazzle.
Adjusted Score: 101873%
Critics Consensus: Persepolis is an emotionally powerful, dramatically enthralling autobiographical gem, and the film’s simple black-and-white images are effective and bold.
Adjusted Score: 104920%
Critics Consensus: Wall-E‘s stellar visuals testify once again to Pixar’s ingenuity, while its charming star will captivate younger viewers — and its timely story offers thought-provoking subtext.
Adjusted Score: 109356%
Critics Consensus: An exciting, funny, and poignant adventure, Up offers an impeccably crafted story told with wit and arranged with depth, as well as yet another visual Pixar treat.
Adjusted Score: 109634%
Critics Consensus: Deftly blending comedy, adventure, and honest emotion, Toy Story 3 is a rare second sequel that really works.
Adjusted Score: 97835%
Critics Consensus: Aardman Animations broadens their humor a bit for Arthur Christmas, a clever and earnest holiday film with surprising emotional strength.
Adjusted Score: 94370%
Critics Consensus: Equally entertaining for both kids and parents old enough to catch the references, Wreck-It Ralph is a clever, colorful adventure built on familiar themes and joyful nostalgia.
Adjusted Score: 99537%
Critics Consensus: Beautifully animated, smartly written, and stocked with singalong songs, Frozen adds another worthy entry to the Disney canon.
Adjusted Score: 106048%
Critics Consensus: Boasting beautiful animation, a charming voice cast, laugh-a-minute gags, and a surprisingly thoughtful story, The Lego Movie is colorful fun for all ages.
Adjusted Score: 112784%
Critics Consensus: Inventive, gorgeously animated, and powerfully moving, Inside Out is another outstanding addition to the Pixar library of modern animated classics.
Adjusted Score: 114840%
Critics Consensus: The brilliantly well-rounded Zootopia offers a thoughtful, inclusive message that’s as rich and timely as its sumptuously state-of-the-art animation — all while remaining fast and funny enough to keep younger viewers entertained.
Adjusted Score: 121852%
Critics Consensus: Coco‘s rich visual pleasures are matched by a thoughtful narrative that takes a family-friendly — and deeply affecting — approach to questions of culture, family, life, and death.
Adjusted Score: 116787%
Critics Consensus: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse matches bold storytelling with striking animation for a purely enjoyable adventure with heart, humor, and plenty of superhero action.
Adjusted Score: 123360%
Critics Consensus: Heartwarming, funny, and beautifully animated, Toy Story 4 manages the unlikely feat of extending — and perhaps concluding — a practically perfect animated saga.
Adjusted Score: 109557%
Critics Consensus: A mesmerizing Celtic-inspired adventure, Wolfwalkers offers an epic ethereal fantasy matched by profound philosophies and stellar voice work.
Adjusted Score: 106886%
Critics Consensus: Depicting the refugee experience through vivid animation, Flee pushes the boundaries of documentary filmmaking to present a moving memoir of self-discovery.
Adjusted Score: 109295%
Critics Consensus: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio delivers fully on its title — which is to say it’s a visually stunning adaptation that embraces its source material’s darkness.