There’s no doubt that the 1990s were a special time for animated films. The Disney Renaissance era was in full swing, Pixar was setting a new standard for visual effects and emotional storytelling in the genre, and Studio Ghibli was still releasing its classics. This makes it all the more difficult to find the best of the bunch.
Looking at each year of the decade user reviews on Letterboxd can help someone find the best one. Some years can be tough as they feature several classics and this creates fierce competition to see which anime movies have the highest rating in their given year.
1990 – The Magician’s Hat (3.76)
Not available to stream
For the most part, the first year of the decade didn’t feature any iconic animated films that fans still talk about today. The most notable are probably The Rescuers Below, Duck Tales the Movieand some entries in the Dragon Ball Z franchise.
So the one that ranks highest is the little known The magician’s hatknown as Čarobnjakov šešir in his native country, Yugoslavia. A sequel to The forest sung by the elmthis film sees a magician team up with his animal friends to take on witches and an evil emperor.
1991 – Beauty And The Beast (3.89)
Stream on Disney+
One thing that Disney has had great success with is telling legendary fairy tales and arguably their best attempt is The beauty and the Beast. The plot follows a sweet girl who becomes the prisoner of a cursed prince to look like a beast, only for them to fall in love.
Not only is The beauty and the Beast one of the best Disney animated films of all time, but it also made history. The film became the first animated release to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It’s got great music, gorgeous visuals, and it’s still holding up decades later.
1992 – Porco Rosso (3.90)
Stream on HBO Max
This might surprise many Aladdin isn’t the highest-rated animated film of 1992. The iconic film is a staple of Disney’s Renaissance era and is still beloved to this day. There’s just something special about the upcoming Studio Ghibli movies.
Written and directed by legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso tells the story of a fighter pilot who is cursed to look like a pig and his adventures as a bounty hunter in pursuit of hijackers. The weird premise is a specialty of Miyazaki, so he made it work spectacularly.
1993 – Patlabor 2: The Movie (4.05)
Stream on HIDIVE
One of the best most shocking movies is Patlabor 2: The Movie. It has nothing to do with how awesome this movie is, but 1993 is also home to animated movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Batman: Mask of Phantasmboth held in high esteem.
The lesser known Patlabor 2: The Movie is a continuation of a popular franchise and is an action movie unlike other animated feature films for being the best of their year. Combining political themes, massive robot fights, and more, reviews for this release were stellar.
1994 – The Lion King (4.20)
Stream on Disney+
While Walt Disney Animation Studios has certainly released some blockbuster hits, one could argue that The Lion King is their greatest success. Not only did it gross over $1 billion at the box office, it spawned a massive franchise that included sequels, TV shows, a Broadway adaptation, and a live-action remake.
The original film centers on a lion cub that runs away from home after being blamed by its uncle for the death of its father, only to eventually return to save its people and homeland. The Lion King is endlessly re-watchable, won two Oscars, numerous other awards, and is often mentioned among the greatest films in history.
1995 – Toy Story (4.16)
Stream on Disney+
For a long time, Pixar mainly focused on short films, but when they entered the feature film realm, they dominated. Pixar has produced some amazing films in its history and it all started with toy storywhich sparked a franchise that includes four films to date.
toy story centers on the relationship between a cowboy toy and a space ranger toy as they compete for the position of favorite over their owner, Andy. He takes them on an adventure that turns them from rivals to best friends. The film was groundbreaking for its visuals, but the heartwarming story is where Pixar shined and continues to do so to this day.
1996 – The Hunchback of Notre Dame (3.58)
Stream on Disney+
Without any major Pixar or Studio Ghibli releases, 1996 belonged to Disney with The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It has the lowest average rating of all the annual winners, but still performed better than other releases like James and the giant peach and space jam.
Another adaptation of a memorable tale, this film centers on a deformed outcast who struggles to gain acceptance in society and works with a kind-hearted gypsy to overthrow a tyrannical leader. Praise went to the visuals, dark themes, and music, including the villain’s iconic “Hellfire” theme.
1997 – Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (4.41)
Stream on Netflix
Neon Genesis Evangelion is usually mentioned among the best anime series of all time. The franchise is filled with high-quality stuff in most categories and the same could be said for the movies based on it, including Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion.
The End of Evangelion works as a parallel ending to the iconic animated series following the controversy surrounding the original ending. It was considered a huge improvement that became one of the highest rated anime movies on Letterboxd.
1998 – Mulan (4.03)
Stream on Disney+
Most of Disney’s early animated films followed the trope of a princess falling in love almost effortlessly and often having to be saved by the man in the story. One film that totally bucked this trend was Mulanewho saw a woman rise up to fight in a war so her aged father wouldn’t have to.
The film features a strong female character who is still loved today, great action sequences, and one of the best Disney soundtracks ever put together. Mulane was nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes, while it won an Annie Award and got a live-action remake in 2020.
1999 – The Iron Giant (4.17)
Stream on HBO Max and Hoopla
It takes something really impressive to beat a toy story movie but that’s just it The iron giant retired in 1999, leading toy story 2. The animated feature from Warner Bros. is the directorial debut of Brad Bird, who would go on to direct The Incredibles years later.
The iron giant is set in 1957 and follows a young boy who befriends a giant alien robot. The bond they form together is incredibly endearing, and there are moments in this movie that will bring nearly anyone to tears. It struggled at the box office, but is a cult classic and considered an all-time great animated film.
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