The 5 Best Animation Studios
By Turner Minton
With so many animated stories dominating our televisions and movie theaters, it’s easy to forget just how many people it takes to complete a cartoon.
From the biggest companies with long histories and hundreds of employees to the smaller, more obscure production houses, these are the 5 Best Animation Studios. Based on all their many accomplishments, we think you’ll agree.
5. Nickelodeon Animation Studio
If a pantheon were erected in honor of all the truly great cartoons of our childhood, Nickelodeon would have a spot reserved for it by all the Generation Y adults still coping with their nostalgia. Beginning in 1990 as Games Animation, Nickelodeon hit it big from the get-go with original programs like Doug, Rugrats and The Ren and Stimpy Show. The television network dipped into live-action game shows too with Legends of the Hidden Temple and Figure It Out, but it was the animated series, given the name Nicktoons by the studio, that stood out as a testament to the quality of the channel among both kids and adults.
We’ve already compiled a list of the very best shows in Nickelodeon’s illustrious history, including many of the best animated series the studio has offered. Of those series, a few that have stood out include SpongeBob SquarePants, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Invader Zim and Avatar: The Last Airbender. In 1998, the company would make its first foray into cartoon features, releasing its theatrical film The Rugrats Movie. Since then, other Nicktoon favorites have made their big screen debuts including Hey Arnold!: The Movie and both SpongeBob releases.
4. DreamWorks Animation
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. That’s been DreamWorks Animation’s story since stepping on the scene back in 1994. Don’t get us wrong – they’ve left an indelible mark on the animated film and television world in that short time. By now, we’re all familiar with their logo of a young boy fishing from his seat on a crescent moon. Ever since that logo first appear more than two decades ago, audiences have received that kind of creativity and while it’s never failed to impress, the reactions have always been just slightly short of that which comes from our top three ranked choices on this list.
DreamWorks began as a business venture between Spielberg, former Disney executive Jefferey Katzenberg and music executive David Geffen. After recruiting some heavy-hitting animators to join their squad, the team went to work, releasing their first feature Antz in 1998. Since then, the studio has consistently turned out one of the best track records for cartoon features and television, including films such as the Shrek franchise, the Madagascar franchise, the Kung Fu Panda franchise, both How to Train Your Dragon films and Trolls.
3. Studio Ghibli
Hailing from Koganei, Tokyo in Japan, Studio Ghibli has not only the honor of being one of the most beloved producers of anime in the world, it’s also the company of co-founder and acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki. If every family-friendly anime feature or Pixar movie of the last two decades has won over its audience with its heartfelt tales of virtue, it’s only because their creators have stood on the shoulders of giants like Miyazaki who have continually crafted some of the most imaginative and visually captivating pictures cinema has ever seen. It’s on those shoulders that Studio Ghibli’s reputation has rested and so far its founders haven’t faltered.
After the success of his 1984 film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Miyazaki launched Studio Ghibli on June 15, 1985 with producer Toshio Suzuki and fellow director Isao Takahata, who would later go on to direct Grave of the Fireflies for the company. While many companies were run like businesses with an agenda, Ghibli always felt like a passion project between friends. Miyazaki and his allies would go on to release eight of the fifteen highest grossing anime films in Japanese history with notable movies such as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, The Tale of Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There. Reaching to fans in the United States, Miyazaki has made a name for himself as not only the greatest animated director of his generation, but perhaps of all time.
2. Walt Disney Animation Studios
Disney is a name that has become synonymous with so many words over time that it’s hard to keep count. It’s an umbrella of imagination and adventure that covers every facet of entertainment. It’s through timeless classics that the studio first made its mark and we’re forever indebted to them for giving us so many childhood memories to cherish for a lifetime.
Founded in 1923 by Walt Disney and his older brother Roy, the two siblings began producing silent short cartoons in their small studio in Los Angeles. It was the introduction of none other than Mickey Mouse which kickstarted the company’s career. Mickey would of course go on to become the face of the business, but it was the 1937 feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which brought renowned attention to everyone on board. Since then, the company has released upwards of sixty different full-length features, each one a testament to the remarkable strength in quality Disney holds for itself. With classics like Pinnochio, Bambi, The Lion King, The Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid to name a few, along with more recent examples like Tangled, The Princess and the Frog and Frozen, we’re not in the minority in saying that Walt Disney leads by example.
1. Pixar Animation Studios
For three decades, it’s produced stories which have exceeded the ideas of what a cartoon should be by appealing to children, their parents and pretty much every age group out there. It begins with a thought, the basis for the story. From there, regular meetings are held with trusted members of the company to transform that idea. Criticisms are tossed away for open discussion and everyone is inviting when it comes to restructuring a feature for the betterment of the final product. It’s all about creating an image of acceptance and quality with your audience.
Every Pixar picture to date, as well as the short films that preceded them, have been the result of the writers trying to surprise themselves by being candid about their own story’s flaws. We all know the resulting filmography – the Toy Story franchise, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, WALL-E, Finding Dory – the list goes on and on. Not every moment has always been a success, but the positives have far outweighed the negatives. It all began in 1986 with an investment from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Since then, the desk lamp logo for the company has become one of the most memorable symbols in cinematic history. With releases for Cars 3, Coco, Toy Story 4 and The Incredibles 2, the anticipation only grows for what’s next.