Who Makes the Best Animated Movies?

After enjoying success with Rango, an animated movie about a chameleon, Paramount Pictures has decided to start making more cartoons.  There's big money to be made in animation.  When I heard the news, I started thinking about which company is the best in the field.  Before we jump the gun and prematurely assume that the answer will be Pixar, let's look at the product that each studio has delivered.

It's easy to see why Paramount would suddenly have animation fever -- Rango, directed by Gore Verbinski, was a surprise hit.  Even though it had an all-star voice cast (Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Ned Beatty, and Bill Nighy), its blockbuster success creeped seemingly out of nowhere.  Who would have imagined that a Western-themed computer-generated cartoon about a pet chameleon stranded in the Mohave desert would become such a hit?  Worldwide, Rango has made over $240,000,000 -- a phenomenal number for a movie with little advance buzz, released in the usually slow period of early March. 

Now that Paramount has decided to invest more in animation and start churning out more cartoons, it will hopefully deliver quality stories.  A look at its competition reveals that Pixar is not the only company to challenge it for a piece of the box office pie.

Even though Pixar is without a doubt the golden child of animation companies, with a string of critical and financial champions (Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3, and Cars 2), other studios have shown that they are not ready to give up the fight, producing some excellent feature length cartoons of their own.

DreamWorks has proven to be one of the best, creating some of the finest examples of the genre in recent memory: Antz, The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Chicken Run, Shrek, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, Shrek 2, Shark Tale, Madagascar, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Over the Hedge, Flushed Away, Shrek the Third, Bee Movie, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Monsters vs. Aliens, How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After, Megamind, and Kung Fu Panda 2.  With Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen in charge, DreamWorks will continue to offer topnotch animated entertainment.

Disney, of course, is the other big player in the arena and should never be counted out.  Sure, its glory days seem like ancient history -- can any studio replicate the classics of Walt Disney's peak years -- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, or Peter Pan?  Disney itself came close with its second Golden Era -- The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Even its lesser films are still pretty darn good: Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmations, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The RescuersThe Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver and Company, The Rescuers Down Under, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, and Fantasia 2000.  Impressive!  Disney continues to show that it will not surrender its crown lightly -- its recent animated lineup has included Dinosaur, The Emperor's New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and the new Winnie the Pooh.

Other studios are also in contention.  Fox has given us Anastasia, Titan A.E., The Simpsons Movie, Waking Life, and Fantastic Mr. Fox.  It has also distributed some blockbuster animated films by Blue Sky Studios: Ice Age, Robots, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Horton Hears a Who, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Rio.

In the modern era, Warner Bros. has produced Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Space Jam, Cats Don't Dance, Quest for Camelot, The Iron Giant, Osmosis Jones, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action.  It has also distributed a long line of interesting animation, including Thumbelina, A Troll in Central Park, The King and I, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, Pokemon, The Polar Express, Corpse Bride, The Ant Bully, Happy Feet, TMNT, and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole.

Sony is also a contender, with a cartoon filmography that includes Open Season, Surf's Up, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Smurfs, and the upcoming Arthur Christmas.

So what do you think?  Which is the greatest animation house of all?  Does Paramount have a chance?  It will next release The Adventures of Tintin, but after that it will start developing cartoons of its own, utilizing Viacom's Nickelodeon library of properties, but surely also developing original content as well.  Fans of animation should view this as a good thing indeed.