Disney is a company famous for creating captivating animated stories and their output from the 2010s featured a large range of tales from a detective story set in a thriving metropolitan city inhabited by anthropomorphic animals to an adventure starring video game characters inside the world of the internet itself.
Updated on September 6th, 2021 by Mark Birrell: The 2010s also saw some of the biggest box office hits to date from Disney’s equally-revered partner in animated entertainment, Pixar, who ramped up their output of sequels as well as delivering a few new iconic original stories as well.
This isn’t to mention the number of hits that Disney’s predominantly direct-to-video studio, Disneytoons, enjoyed before their final bow with Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast in 2014, which ranks amongst the best Disney movies ever on IMDb, though with only a relative fraction of the votes seen on Disney’s bigger theatrical releases.
15 Brave (2012) – 7.1
Pixar released 11 movies with Disney during the 2010s and, of these, 7 were sequels to other successful Pixar movies from the previous decade (including a prequel), and 4 were original stories. The first original film released was a change of pace for the studio, focussing on human characters in medieval Scotland.
Though a much more grounded drama for Pixar, Brave is not without its magical elements, and the trademark level of heart from the studio was certainly seen by fans in the movie’s central relationship dynamic between a mother and her spirited daughter who’s looking for more than tradition offers her.
14 Winnie The Pooh (2011) – 7.2
Winnie the Pooh received a new musical comedy in 2011, making it the first theatrically released Pooh movie to be released since 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Thankfully, the characters hadn’t lost their appeal.
The film featured a series of intertwining tales. One story had the animals attempting to create a new tail for Eeyore who has lost his own while another has Owl wrongly believing that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped. The cuteness is too much to handle and fans have ranked it higher than a number of much more modern animated titles from the decade, both from Disney Animation and Pixar.
13 Monster University (2013) – 7.2
A prequel to Pixar’s 2001 hit Monsters Inc., Monsters University follows the original movie’s two main characters during their college days as they get up to the usual hijinks of rebellion, self-discovery, pranks, and partying. Disney/Pixar fans had a great time too, though they have yet to rank it as highly as the first film.
While it hardly even alludes to the real raunchiness that college movies are known for, the movie was one of the most mature releases from Pixar in that decade, proving to be a big hit with a fanbase now made up of both young kids and adults as well as young adults who had grown up with the original.
12 Finding Dory (2016) – 7.3
A followup to Pixar’s aquatic favorite, Finding Nemo, this movie was the second in Pixar’s run of billion-dollar hit sequels released in the 2010s, the first being Toy Story 3 and the last being Toy Story 4.
Like with the other Pixar sequels of the decade, the vast majority of the original voice cast returned, as did the original movie’s director, whilst changing up the setting up to an aquarium for a prison break adventure in the same vein as Toy Story 3. As the film’s impressive box office haul demonstrated, it found similar success with audiences too.
11 Frozen (2013) – 7.4
A breakout billion-dollar success for Disney Animation, Frozen became world-famous for its songs, spawning a relatively rare theatrically-released sequel to the Princess movie that was released in 2019 to similar financial success.
The story, of two once-close siblings who grew apart in the wake of their parents’ deaths, reimagined Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairytale The Snow Queen and garnered huge praise for its themes of sisterhood and classically light-hearted humor, not least from the lovable snowman, Olaf.
10 Incredibles 2 (2018) – 7.6
Pixar’s superhero hit, The Incredibles, received its long-awaited sequel in 2018. This time around, Mrs. Incredible is requested to resume hero work while Mr. Incredible has to take care of the kids at home. As it turns out, tracking down the villainous Screenslaver proves to be a challenge for Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible finds that dealing with a love-struck teenage girl, a homework-loaded middle schooler, and an uncontrollable baby is a heroic task of its own.
The gap between the Incredibles films was even longer than the wait between Pixar’s Monsters movies, but fans similarly found that time hadn’t dulled the power of the superfamily and that writer and director Brad Bird still had plenty to say in the now gargantuan superhero genre.
9 Moana (2016) – 7.6
Another addition to Disney Animation’s long-running tradition of Princess movies, Moana follows the titular future chief of the island of Motunui as she travels across the ocean to find a legendary demigod trickster and right an ancient wrong to save her home.
Full of catchy songs, with some music and lyrics written by Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda, the movie balances action and adventure setpieces with comedy and cultural folklore expertly, whilst eschewing the standard romance plotting to refreshing effect.
8 Tangled (2010) – 7.7
Disney reimagined the classic story of Rapunzel as a musical adventure film that tells of a girl who dreams of seeing the floating lanterns that are let off in the distance on her birthday every year. She hopes to see them on her eighteenth birthday, and so after a handsome thief stumbles into her tower, she enlists him to take her to see them. This leads the pair on a wild journey full of danger and romance in the style that Disney fans know and love so well.
Though not as big a box office hit, Tangled has shone as an even bigger success with animated movie fans than the next big Disney fairytale reimagining, Frozen, thanks to its wackier humor and its underrated villain.
7 Wreck-It Ralph (2012) – 7.7
Disney Animation took a few pages out of Pixar’s book with this animated comedy about characters who live inside the video games located at the Liwak’s Family Fun Center & Arcade.
When Wreck-It-Ralph, the antagonist of the “Fix-It-Felix Jr.” game, grows tired of being villanized and decides to set out on a journey to find his own medal. As it turns out, hopping through other games is not so simple and has Ralph ending up in a racing game called Sugar Rush. Here, he agrees to help a young girl named Vanellope win her game if, in exchange, she gives him her medal. The bond between the two stole many fans’ hearts and created a solid foundation for a well-received sequel in 2019, Ralph Breaks the Internet.
6 Toy Story 4 (2019) – 7.7
The latest installment in the Toy Story series debuted in summer 2019 and sees the franchise’s new Andy, Bonnie, making a new toy named Forky. The problem? While Bonnie treasures him than all of her other playthings, Forky believes he is destined for the trash.
While trying to help Forky realize his new place in the world, Woody stumbles into his old friend, Bo Peep. It’s not long before everybody’s favorite cowboy also starts to question where he belongs and the emotional ending delivered quite a few surprises for longtime fans of the series that had perhaps presumed that it had no more left to give.
5 Big Hero 6 (2014) – 7.8
This 2014 superhero film, loosely based on the Marvel superhero team of the same name, tells of a 14-year-old technology genius named Hiro who lives in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo. While it seems that he will get into the university of his dreams for creating intuitive microbots, his world comes crashing down after his brother, Tadashi, dies in a fire. The future may seem bleak, but there’s one thing that’s going to help Hiro through it: Baymax, the healthcare robot that Tadashi created.
After Hiro realizes the fire Tadashi died in might not have been an accident, he and his new friend set out to uncover the truth and take down the villain. So the movie may play out a little conventionally for some, but many fans just can’t resist the cuteness of Baymax and the more heartrending turns in the story.
4 Zootopia (2016) – 8.0
Judy Hopps becomes the first rabbit to become an officer in the bustling animal city of Zootopia, and it’s not long before she embarks on an intense case. While her unlikely partner creates his fair share of issues, he also might be the very thing she needs to uncover a few secrets.
The endless pop culture references, social themes, and hilarious gags had this movie making a big impact on release, with a Disney+ show being greenlit to expand the rich world that Zootopia introduces.
3 Inside Out (2015) – 8.1
This 2015 comedy told the story of a young girl named Riley who moves from a small town in Minnesota to the bustling city of San Francisco. Rather than focusing on the external happenings of this, however, Pixar decided to center in on the five representations of the emotions that run Riley’s mind: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger.
These emotions, more specifically Sadness and Joy, end up embarking on Pixar’s trademark odd-couple adventure to help Riley cope with her new life after things get a little mixed up inside. The very literal focus on emotionality helped Inside Out to become one of Pixar’s all-time tearjerkers, the most bittersweet moments hitting adults perhaps even harder than they did kids.
2 Toy Story 3 (2010) – 8.2
Before the toys embarked on their adventure in 2019, they were busy collecting dust in Andy’s room until they’re donated to the colorful world of Sunnyside daycare. However, as it turns out, the daycare has a dark side, and it’s not long before any happy future begins to look unlikely.
Toy Story 3 got the decade off to a stellar start for Disney and Pixar, earning over a billion dollars at the box office thanks to not only its nostalgic appeal but for its emotional impact. The franchise was 15 years old when it was first released, meaning fans who had grown up with the iconic characters were fully invested in their uncertain fate – and few felt let down by the experience.
1 Coco (2017) – 8.4
Pixar’s Coco is a fantasy based on the Mexican traditions surrounding The Day of the Dead. The story follows Miguel, a young boy who is obsessed with music and hopes to make a career out of it like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. Although his music-forbidding family hopes to put an end to this dream, Miguel ends up stumbling into the Land of the Dead where he hopes to track down his favorite musician.
Coco‘s mixture of music and cultural folklore continued the winning formula of Moana, playing the plot beat hits that fans had come to expect from Disney and Pixar while expanding the storytelling to new places and peoples.