Successful animation production companies focus on good illustrations, a captivating story, and close attention to detail.
Each day the function of animation expands its territory of influence. Today we use animation in most spheres of the digital presence, such as …
Children (well, their parents) continue to pour money into the thriving world of animation, so studios with a flair for innovation must take constant risks to share the latest animated ideas with a growing audience and stand out from an even quicker growing crowd of competition.
You are likely to know some of these studios by name already, though with many it may be the case that you may just know of their creations. It’s safe to say that there is far more out there than Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks, though, and you may be surprised.
Here, we rank the 10 Best Animation Studios for you, in our humble opinion. From the largest companies with a long history and hundreds of employees to the smallest and most obscure studios with bold and distinctive ideas that have spun them into the limelight.
1. Walt Disney Animation Studios
Close your eyes.
Doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, dooooooooo… The Disney castle appears, fireworks are colouring the sky as Tinkerbell sprinkles pixie-dust across the castle-top in true Tinkerbell-style.
Disney must come first – there is no discussion here. There cannot be a single person in your circle of family and friends who is not familiar with the wonders of Mickey Mouse and friends.
It is a name that has become synonymous with so many aspects of popular culture that it must be brought up in conversation daily – whether you’re five years old and Moana’s biggest fan or in your 70s and appreciative of just how far the company has prospered over the years.
And, after all, the company is renowned for its pioneering experiences in the world of animation, having produced 59 full feature-length films since its production of the world’s first, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, in 1937.
It has evolved into an umbrella of imagination and adventure that covers every element of entertainment, having honed its craft to such a degree that it has become more like a friend to many of us than a multi-billion dollar company.
It’s through timeless classics that the studio first made its mark and still makes its mark to this day. We are forever beholden to them for giving us so many warm and cozy childhood memories. Thank you, Disney. We love you. *subtly wipes tear from eye*.
2. Disney Pixar
Pixar has secured second place because it isn’t just a studio in our eyes and the eyes of the world; it’s simply a benchmark for how all the animation studios should be conducting their business.
For three decades, it’s produced stories that have exceeded the ideas of what a cartoon should be by appealing to kids, their parents, their grandparents – similar to our aforementioned third-place spot, but even better. Sorry, DreamWorks.
Each feature begins with a unique thought, which forms itself as the basis for the story. From there, regular meetings are held with trusted company members to transform that idea. Pixar films are well known for having collaboration as the backbone to each film, with every animator, no matter their station, invited to restructure a feature for the betterment of the final product.
Pixar believes that the perfect animated feature is born from creating an image of acceptance, quality, and overall, emotion with your audience.
We see this captured beautifully in each and every film they make: the Toy Story franchise, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, WALL-E, Finding Dory – the list goes on and on. The beauty of Pixar lies in its consistency – we are almost certain that whenever a new film comes out, it will not be a flop. Pixar simply hasn’t got ‘flopping’ in them.
In fact, most often, when you ask a person what their favorite Disney film is, Pixar features will roll off their tongue.
Whilst we cannot say that every single Pixar moment has been a success, the positives significantly outweighed the negatives. It all began in 1979 with an investment from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and now, the famous bouncing desk lamp remains one of the most iconic symbols in film history.
Most films produce sequels, meaning that the world truly is their oyster when it comes to Pixar. Or, the sky’s the limit, should we say: to infinity and beyond.
Audiences will surely keep buying tickets as Pixar repeatedly proves that they are number one in heartfelt animation. Unlike some of our unfortunate lower-listed mentions, Pixar will never go out of style.
David Geffen, Jefferey Katzenberg, and Steven Spielberg formed DreamWorks as a business partnership.
After recruiting some talented animators to join their squad, the team released its first feature Antz in 1998. Since then, the studio has consistently produced top-quality cartoon features and television programs with an immense track record for impressing audiences, including films such as the famous Shrek franchise, beginning in 2000, that really shifted the tone of animation at the turn of the century in an almost anti-Disney flip towards crude humor and sprinkles of harmless vulgarity. DreamWorks truly nails the skill of appealing to children and adults alike.
Next, we saw the birth of the famous Madagascar films, before the hilarious Kung Fu Panda franchise, before an interesting spin in the How to Train Your Dragon films and their latest feature Trolls which voiced huge actors including Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, and our very own James Corden.
Now, we love DreamWorks at AE HQ, but that old saying comes to mind here: “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.”
We believe that third place suits this animation company most suitably (every time without question), as we all know that no matter how much it tries, it could never quite contend with the two kings of animation that have nabbed first and second place. We know you already know who we’re talking about, so we won’t do DreamWorks any more injustice by mentioning their names in this section.
Don’t get us wrong – they’ve left a truly memorable mark on the animated film and television world in an incredibly short amount of time. We are all fondly familiar with the famous logo of a young boy fishing from his seat on a crescent moon and know that if that image is placed at the beginning of a film, we are in safe hands and in store for a treat.
Since the motif first appeared over 20 years ago, audiences have fallen in love with its subtle nod to the creativity of the mind and magic in the heart when it comes to animation’s ability to inspire.
Generation Z: prepare for some top-notch nostalgia coming your way.
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, which made the channel a hit with children and adults alike..
And who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants is our personal favorite. But of course we can’t forget the likes of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Invader Zim, and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
But it was 1998 that the company would make its first foray into cartoon feature lengths, releasing its theatrical film The Rugrats Movie.
Since then, other Nick hits have made their big-screen debuts, including Hey Arnold!: The Movie and both SpongeBob releases gained vast rounds of applause. It’s been a long journey of one classic cartoon after another, and it seems there is no stopping it – 90s kids and kids of today actually may finally have something in their love for Nickelodeon! Don’t worry, 90s kids, we know it stops there.
With so many stories still left to tell, Nickelodeon remains rightfully listed at the top for best in children’s television, and is even poised for future success on the silver screen. Who knows what’s next for Nick?
5. Aardman Studios
You may be surprised to see this one on here: a British stop-motion production company using claymation to create its stories seems like the odd man out among all of the well-established quality names on this list.
AE just has a soft spot for Aardman. We just think there’s something admirable about crafting a film that feels relatively small in scale compared to the digital techniques so many companies use today but can still make a massive impact.
As we have discussed in other blogs, when compared to other methods, claymation is extremely tiresome and time-consuming, requiring multiple steps each time the figures are changed. Such a lengthy and challenging process requires a very detailed and patient team of individuals: a dedication that stands out and is showcased wonderfully on the screen.
Aardman was founded back in 1972. Making a name for themselves in television and film, Aardman would become known for characters such as Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep.
Along the way, Aardman has remained true to its roots, putting the art of claymation before everything else, making the studio a striking abnormality in the animation world of today. We bow to them: appreciating every second of hard work and dedication into each piece they do.
Aardman is far more integrated into popular culture than you may have first thought, finding themselves involved in producing a variety of television advertisements.
6. Sony Pictures Animation
Another baby of the pack, Sony Pictures Animation, is new on the scene compared to some other studios on our list, having been around only since 2002. Sony Pictures Entertainment’s owner sought to sell its visual effects subsidiary Sony Pictures Imageworks. With an unfortunate turn of events that saw little interest from potential buyers, the company was refocused and prized its eyes on animation.
Open Season, the first theatrical release from Sony Pictures Animation, would gross twice what it cost to produce. Sadly, it failed to meet expectations critically with mixed reviews calling the film more of a flimsy kid’s feature than something parents could enjoy. We all know the best animations are those that have adult humor in them.
And then we were given the wonder that is Happy Feet, with highly hailed actors such as Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman, all wrapped up in 108 minutes of pure joy.
A year later, the movie received critical acclaim and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. In addition to the two Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs films, Arthur Christmas, and Hotel Transylvania, Sony has released more hits. While there’s still room to grow, Sony has proven to be a worthy animated production company and promises to only increase in quality as time goes on.
7. Blue Sky Studios
A branch of Twentieth Century Fox, Blue Sky Studios has released thirteen different feature-length animated movies since 2002 to, put politely, varying levels of success.
The company was founded in Connecticut by six animators who found themselves out of jobs after the CGI effects company MAGI closed down. Between 1987 and 1997, Blue Sky primarily created special effects for television advertising and feature films.
In 2002, debating whether to quit the special effects business, Fox decided to give cartoons a try in the children’s entertainment space. And oh how Ice Age would prove to be a worthy attempt, grossing six times as much as its budget. Not a bad day at the office, right?
With newfound confidence and hope for the future success of the studio, Blue Sky would graft towards new levels of triumph with hits including Robots, Dr. Suess’ Horton Hears a Who, and both Rio films, all of which brought in a considerable amount of cash. It seems that Blue Studios’ shift to the younger demographic paid off massively.
The Ice Age franchise continued to gross the most considerable numbers. Through five movies, the series grossed $3.2 billion at the global box office. Unfortunately, the once-golden formula has since proven to be worn thin. By the final 2016 sequel, Ice Age: Collision Course, it was safe to say that the films had run their course.
And, just like the Ice Age 20,000 years ago, Blue Sky Studios subsequently stopped its creeping advance in April 2021. A studio spokesperson told Deadline in an interview, “Given the current economic realities, after much consideration and evaluation, we have made the difficult decision to close filmmaking operations at Blue Sky Studios.”
8. Illumination Entertainment
Goochy-goochy-goooooo: introducing the baby on our list, and he’s as cute as a baby minion. Despite not being around for all that long, Illumination has produced ten feature films and twenty-seven short films since its launch in 2007.
Chris Meledandri, the former president of 21st Century Fox Animation, started up the company under a new contract deal with NBCUniversal, having pledged to produce at least two family-oriented motion pictures per year.
When he was at Fox, Meledandri oversaw a number of productions including Robots and Alvin and the Chipmunks, proving his experience to produce children’s movies that had the potential to be box-office hits.
And by-gum, was he to knock it out the park with Despicable Me, bringing in nearly eight times its production budget in 2010, introducing Gru and his ‘gorls’ to the world in a most loveable fashion that would warm our hearts for a decade later.
With a whopping success story under their belt, Illumination released the Easter-themed Hop a year later in 2011. Still, unfortunately, this was to a far less spectacular opening than their first film.
Perhaps Hops was too mainstream to make an impact. The beauty of Illumination lies in Meledandri’s tendency to tell stories and create characters that place themselves outside the box a little more creatively than a boring old bunny tale.
With that in mind, a bounce-back would follow, with debuts for Dr Seuss’ The Lorax, a sequel to and further spin-off in Minions, the latter becoming the second highest-grossing cartoon film of all time. The big three of Illumination are all Minion-related: Minions grossed $1.159 billion worldwide, Despicable Me 3 – $1.034 billion, and Despicable Me 2 – $970.8 million. All three films are among the 50 highest-grossing films of all time, and a further six Illumination films are among the 50 highest-grossing animated films. The Minions’ world domination soon gave them pride of places as the studio’s mascots.
In 2016, The Secret Life of Pets proved to be yet another smash with its all-star lineup of voice actors such as Kevin Hart and Ellie Kemper. With such an attractive track-record of filmography in such a short time, AE are fully behind the underdogs Illumination in their rise above to the top. They may not be quite at Pixar’s colossal level yet, but they might just be well on their way.
9. Fuzzy Door Productions
The comedy genius that is Seth McFarlane burst onto the animation scene in 1999 when he launched one of the most iconic animated adult sitcoms on television with the brilliance that was and still is, Family Guy. McFarlane even voices most of the characters, alongside Mila Kunis, Seth Green, and Alex Borstein.
The show has had a unique history on the Adult Swim network in the years since it started, having been canceled in 2003 due to struggling in ratings against its time slot competitions (we’re shocked, too – we love Family Guy!).
How is a cartoon show as outrageously scandalous as Family Guy survived for 21 seasons in the supposed era of enforced political correctness? While it is most definitely the network’s most crassly-toned show, it simultaneously changes our social standards of acceptability. And in defense of any politically incorrect humor, it’s all satirical.
And while it attacks a variety of demographics, there isn’t a stone left unturned. That said, perhaps Family Guy is some sort of reverse-progressive show in its satirical attack on every type of person, dog, horse, on the planet. Hence, getting away with highly offensive jokes and jabs.
With a renewed interest in the series, the endearingly ignorant Peter Griffin and the rest of Quahog returned to the small screen in the mid-noughties for season 4. From then on, McFarlane’s self-founded company has released numerous spinoff shows, including The Cleveland Show and American Dad!, as well as feature films, such as the Ted films, which found huge success, and A Million Ways to Die in the West starring Charlize Theron.
10. South Park Studios
It’s all in the name: can you guess which famous show this studio has created? You got it – the notoriously crude (but hilarious) South Park.
The South Park franchise has been Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s baby since its beginning nearly 25 years ago. In a small Colorado town, the foul-mouthed escapades of four high school boys first premiered on Comedy Central in 1997.
Now approaching the series’ twentieth season on the air, the social satire is as relevant as ever with its newsjacking tendency to jump on current issues of politics and celebrity and weave in their own controversial opinions.
Since Parker and Stone own South Park Studios, each episode of South Park remains uniquely theirs, allowing them to control nearly every aspect of the show’s production. That explains, then, the borderline politically incorrect jabs at society. We love to hate it, though, it must be said.
Over those twenty years, the company’s two founders have dabbled in other forms of entertainment, including a feature-length South Park movie and a handful of video games.
These two are even responsible for the release of Tony-winning Broadway musical The Book of Mormon – how about that for some obscure knowledge you didn’t know? Still, the show has remained their most significant creative outlet for the public, especially those who aren’t scared of a little crude humor. A handful of awards later, South Park Studios looks to be only improving with age – but we shall warn you, it is not for the easily offended.
Well, there you have it. Our top-rated animation companies are rightfully ordered. We must say it was a tough tussle between Disney and Pixar at the top. But let’s be honest: Walt Disney Animation Studios is a well-deserved crown winner.