Animal movies are many and very different. Sometimes the animals act normally with the humans, and sometimes animals that speak are the main actors. Sometimes it’s anthropomorphic animals who act almost like people. The word “almost” is crucial to our ranking because animals must know they are animals to be eligible for the list. This is why Planet of the Apes or Disney’s Robin Hood don’t make the cut.
These movies with anthropomorphic animals are usually cartoons. Talking animals and “naturally” depicted animals can be seen in animated cartoons, CGI, or with real, trained animals in films. Some animal movies are for kids, and others so not at all. Our list of the best animal films should also cover just this diversity.
25. The Aristocats
Like many of the films that follow, the first animal film in our ranking comes from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Aristocats is about four cats, Mother Duchess and her three children Marie, Toulouse, and Berlioz, who are set up as heirs by their wealthy owner, prompting the greedy butler Edgar, who, in order to get his own hands on the inheritance, unceremoniously gets rid of the cats by abandoning them.
The four noble cats end up with street cat Abraham de Lacey Giuseppe Casey Thomas O’Malley, with whom they begin their adventurous journey home.
Like most Disney animated films, Aristocats features cute characters, lots of wits, and the special charm that only hand-drawn animated films have.
24. A Bug’s Life
We were just talking about the charm of hand-drawn animated films when a computer-animated animated movie from Pixar came along: The Big Crawl. Although the animation may not reach the level of later Pixar productions, The Big Crawl has a lot to offer. The film’s profound message about the power of the many oppressed against the small number of their oppressors holds a special place in the hearts of most cineastes.
The film is about a race of ants oppressed by a swarm of locusts led by the sinister Hopper until Ant Flik plots to revolt.
23. Charlotte’s Web
The animated film, originally released under the more accurate title Charlotte’s Web, tells the story of an unusual animal friendship. The film’s protagonist is Wilbur the piglet, who, when he is about to be slaughtered, gets help from Charlotte the spider, which can weave words into her web and thus tries to convince Farmer Zuckermann not to slaughter Wilbur.
The author of the novel, E. B. White, was probably the only one who didn’t fall in love with the movie, saying, “The story is interrupted every few minutes for someone to sing a happy song. I don’t think much of happy songs.”
22. Free Willy
A very special animal-human friendship is the focus of the animal film Free Willy – Call of Freedom. The boy Jesse has to remove scribbles made by him in an amusement park and makes friends with the orca Willy and his keepers in the process. The film culminates in a spectacular rescue operation that ends with one of the most memorable movie scenes in history: Willy’s leap to freedom. Free Willy – Call of Freedom is a lavishly staged emotional cinema with animal training worth seeing.
21. Old Yeller
His Friend Jello (in the original: Old Yeller) is a true animal film classic and tells the story of the aged stray Jello, who finds a new home on a farm with a woman and her two sons. The dog saves more than once the children, Travis and Arliss. This animal film stands out for its melancholic and unforgettable ending.
20. Animal Farm
George Orwell’s Animal Farm is one of the great classics of world literature and tells of farm animals that rebel against their owners and henceforth manage the farm themselves. Despite all the parallels to the inspiring historical background, the parable of the transformation of the Soviet Union can be applied to all revolutions that ended in dictatorships.
In 1999, TNT’s U.S. television network produced a lavish live-action adaptation of the material. Both real and animatronic animals were used here. Even though the film may not come close to the original’s genius, it is worth seeing because of its message.
An enchanted board game is at the center of this 1995 adventure comedy. Alan Parrish finds a drumming game called Jumanji at a construction site and takes it home with him. When he begins to play it with his girlfriend Sarah Whittle, the two unleash the powers of the jungle, and Alan is sucked into the game, from which he is only freed 26 years later by two other players, the siblings Judy and Peter Shepherd.
Together they try to stop the game that unleashes lions, crocodiles, rhinos, monkeys, and other jungle animals on them to reverse the effects of Jumanji.
Jumanji is a captivating and imaginative adventure fun with Robin Williams in the leading role.
A truly touching animal film is the true story of the dog Hachiko. Every day, Hachiko, a dog that has become the pet of university professor Parker Wilson, waits at the train station for his master to return from university. Then Wilson dies of heart failure during a lecture, and Hachiko waits in vain for his master.
When Wilson’s wife, who leaves the dog with her daughter, returns after ten years, Hachiko, who regularly runs away from his new mistress, still waits at the train station for Wilson to come home. And it stays that way until Hachiko himself dies.
Gritty and cute at the same time is the story of baby elephant Dumbo, who is born with oversized ears – so big that Dumbo can use his ears as wings and fly. At first, however, poor Dumbo is excluded and shunned because of his supposed deformity.
It is only with the help of Timothy, the mouse, that Dumbo becomes more confident and then discovers, rather accidentally, his hidden talent. Incidentally, a live-action remake of the classic will be released in 2019. The film was directed by none other than Tim Burton.
16. Disney’s Bambi
The story of the growing white-tailed deer Bambi and his friends Thumper (a wild rabbit) and Flower (a skunk) from Disney Animation Studios has been delighting young and old since 1942. The film is most notable for its cute characters and its tragic and infamous ending. The 1923 novel was ironically penned by a hunter, the Austrian Felix Salten.
15. Disney’s Lady and the Tramp
The film about the female cocker spaniel Susi (in the original: Lady) and the stray Tramp is one of cinema’s most famous love stories. Most memorable and often quoted is the scene where the two dogs share a portion of spaghetti and kiss when they reach the last noodle.
Like most of Disney’s earlier works, Lady and the Tramp captivates with a humorous and cute charm coupled with somber and tragic elements embodied here, especially by the dog catcher.
14. Disney’s Cap and Capper
And another animated film from Disney: Cap and Capper, tells of the unusual friendship between the fox cub Cap, who the widow Tweed raises, and the hunting dog Capper, who lives with the hunter Amos Slade. When Capper realizes that Cap is one of his prey, the friendship threatens to break up.
Cap and Capper stand out from other Disney films because of their more serious, at times tragic mood.
13. Ice Age
The Ice Age films tell of the adventures of an unlikely trio, consisting of mammoth Manni, saber-toothed tiger Diego and giant sloth Sid, in the Ice Age. In the first film, the three have to bring back a human baby to its parents.
The films captivate with loving computer animation and a lot of humor. In addition to the three protagonists, especially the rat squirrel (fictional species), Scrat achieved great fame. The little rodent also had some solo appearances in short films.
Animals can be dangerous, too, as our number 12 spot proves. When a great white shark terrorizes a coastal town in the U.S., police chief Brody, marine biologist Hooper, and shark catcher Quint set out to put a stop to the beast.
This horror film, brilliant in terms of both trick technology and dramaturgy, comes from none other than cult director Steven Spielberg and, even after almost half a century, has lost none of its gruesome intensity.
A film with true cuteness overkill is undoubtedly A Little Pig Named Babe. The title character, Babe, was supposed to be a Christmas roast but won the heart of his farmer. Soon, however, Babe realizes his true calling: he would like to be a herding dog.
The film captivates its making with a clever combination of trained film animals and animatronic animals.
10. Disney’s 101 Dalmatians
And another cult film from Disney. The adventure of the Dalmatian couple Pongo and Perdita, who save their 15 children and 84 Dalmatian puppies from the cruel Cruella De Vil, who wants to make a fur coat out of the dogs, was first shown in 1961 as an animated film and then again in 1996 as a live-action film. The 1996 remake, however, doesn’t match the cute charm of the original.
A rat that can cook is something you can only find in a Pixar movie. The protagonist of Ratatouille is Rémy – a Norway rat with a keen sense of smell and taste which helps Linguini, a kitchen boy, become a respected chef.
As with most Pixar films, Ratatouille combines charm and humor with depth and drama. In addition, the film is one of the animation studio’s most exciting and twisty films.
8. King Kong (2005)
There are many film adaptations of the story of the giant gorilla Kong and his love for the actress Ann Darrow, but none was as visually powerful and profound as the remake by Peter Jackson in 2005. The role of Kong is played by none other than performance-capturing legend Andy Serkis, who had already worked with Jackson on The Lord of the Rings, where he played Smeagol/Gollum.
The film is not just another effect firework from Hollywood’s dream factory but a moving and exciting drama with detailed characters.
7. Disney’s The Jungle Book
Numerous film adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book are worth seeing. But none enjoy the same cult status as the 1967 Disney animated film, of which there was a live-action remake in 2016.
The film tells the story of the boy Mowgli (in the original: Mowgli), raised by wolves, who must flee with the help of his friends, the black panther Baghira (Bagheera) and the bear Baloo (Baloo), before the man-hating lord of the jungle, the tiger Shir Khan (Shere Khan), in a human settlement.
Lovely animation and songs that are known far beyond the film round out this Disney Animation Studios masterpiece.
6. Watership Down
Watership Down is a cartoon and animal film that is not at all for children because the story of a group of wild rabbits around the brave Hazel in search of a new home, based on a novel by Richard Adams, is quite cruel. This is mainly due to the main antagonist of the film: the brutal General Woundwort.
The story is peppered with metaphors and subtexts and, therefore, is more accessible to an older audience.
5. Jurassic Park
We like Steven Spielberg’s film about Dr. John Hammond, a scientist who cloned dinosaurs to create a theme park. But if it were only about the film’s quality and not about the role the animals play in it, it would be our number one spot. But are the animals in this animal film, as main character Alan Grant so beautifully titled it in the third part of the Jurassic Park series “theme park monsters”?
The sci-fi adventure mix is so exciting, however, and has aged well despite early CGI technology, that a ranking lower than the top 5 would have been sheer mockery.
4. Finding Nemo
The story of the clownfish Marlin, who sets out with the female surgeonfish Dory (in the original: Dory), who suffers from amnesia, on a long, arduous search for his son Nemo, who has been taken all the way to Sydney by a diver, has thrilled millions since its release in 2003.
The film captivates with its all-too-typical Pixar mix of smart humor peppered with whimsical ideas and tragic drama. In the German dubbing, Christian Tramitz and Anke Engelke lend their voices to the unequal team of Marlin and Dorie.
3. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
Back Home – The Incredible Journey tells the story of Chance, a young American bulldog, Shadow, a golden retriever, and Sassy, a ragdoll, who believe they have been left behind by their owners when they temporarily move to San Francisco.
The three animals set off on an adventurous journey after their masters and mistresses. Here, the disparate characters of the impetuous Chance, the sedate Shadow, and the diva-like Sassy create the film’s wonderful humor.
2. The Lion King
When William Shakespeare’s Hamlet meets the wildlife of Africa, the result is one of Disney’s most acclaimed animated films ever: The Lion King. The animation studio went to unprecedented lengths to make the animal heroes (and villains) as believable as possible on screen.
The story of Lion Prince Simba, who flees his homeland after the murder of his father, King Mufasa, by his brother Scar in order to return home as an adult and reclaim the throne, has been thrilling for young and old for a quarter of a century.
With Zoomania, or in the original Zootopia, Disney Animation Studios has succeeded in creating a masterpiece that is without equal. The mixture of buddy cop movies and social drama brilliantly manages to deal with such a heavy topic as everyday racism in a way that is understandable for children and entertaining for adults as well.
About the plot: In the town of Zootopia, civilized, intelligent mammals live in peaceful harmony until policewoman and rabbit Judy Hopps unravel a case involving missing predators with fox Nick Wilde.
So there you have it, our top 25 best animal movies of all time. Of course, many more films with mute and talking animals are absolutely worth watching, but we’ve narrowed it down to these 25 for now.