Whether the following animated tales boast hand-drawn sketches or computer-generated images, they all push forward the art of storytelling for viewers young and old.
A Bug's Life
Cast: Voices of Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Denis Leary
Flik is the lone dreamer who sets out to rescue his colony from servitude. He recruits mercenaries for the task of liberation: bold performers from a traveling flea circus. The animation is so minutely miraculous, we could forgive the animators for making villains out of grasshoppers and revealing that the ladybug is, in fact, a man.
What Parents Like: There turns out to be more than a flicker of bravery in Flik, who stands up to his bullies by using his noggin.
What Kids Like: The small details and luminous pastel colors will leave youngsters bug-eyed with joy.
Cast: Voices of Mel Gibson, Julia Sawalha, Miranda Richardson
A chain gang of chickens dreams of flying the coop -- while the farmer's wife hatches an evil plan to turn the egg-layers into chicken pies. Gibson makes a heck of a rooster in the henhouse, but Ginger is the plucky heroine who leads her sisters to freedom.
What Parents Like: Puns galore. In the midst of all the wing-flapping, there's a whole lot of squawking going on. As a field mouse observes of the chickens' numerous attempts to fly off the farm: "It's raining hen."
What Kids Like: As in their Wallace and Gromit movies, directors Nick Park and Peter Lord use latex models instead of sketched characters. That's right, rubber chickens!
Cast: Voices of Albert Brooks, Alexander Gould, Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe
This breathtakingly animated underwater adventure is a swimmingly good yarn that sent many youngsters to the pet store clamoring for clownfish. Nemo swims away from the overprotective fins of his anxious dad, Marlin, and ends up drifting far from home.
What Parents Like: "With fronds like this, who needs anemones?" Marlin makes an unlikely hero, propelled by his love and concern for his son. As he searches for his son, he encounters an extremely forgetful blue tang named Dory, giant sea turtles, pink jellyfish, anglerfish, and recovering sharks in a step program, who repeat the mantra, "Fish are our friends, not food."
What Kids Like: What could be more exciting or terrifying than getting lost in the Great Barrier Reef? For Nemo, it's being caught and displayed in a dentist's office in Sydney, where a grabby girl terrorizes the tank and the denizens talk about getting flushed to freedom.
Kiki's Delivery Service
Year: 1998 (1989 Japanese release)
Cast: Voices of Kirsten Dunst, Debbie Reynolds, Phil Hartman
Kiki is a 13-year-old witch who must go out into the world and live on her own. She travels to a seaside city and lands a job as a delivery girl for a bakery. Making her rounds on a broom, the fledgling witch is befriended by a talking cat, an artist, and a boy inventor who dreams of sailing through the air on his bike. When Kiki becomes exhausted and sick, she finds the magic within herself to take to the skies again.
What Parents Like: If at first you don't succeed, fly, fly again.
What Kids Like: What child hasn't dreamed of flying away? Kiki's independence is thrilling, both on and off the broom.
Cast: Voices of John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs
Who knew that the monsters lurking in the closet are just big, lovable furballs doing their job collecting screams for an energy source? When one of the little screamers ends up in the scream factory, Sulley and Mike do their best to protect their young charge, appropriately nicknamed "Boo," and bring her home.
What Parents Like: There are great scenes of affection and tenderness between the giant but gentle Sulley and the sweetly playful Boo. Parents will chuckle at the line: "There's nothing more toxic or deadly than a human child. Leave a door open and one can walk right into this factory..."
What Kids Like: The havoc that Boo wreaks on Monstropolis is hilarious. Who knew a 2-year-old could be so powerful and popular?
Cast: Voices of Ming-Na Wen, B.D. Wong, Eddie Murphy
When the Huns invade China, Mulan dresses as a male soldier to take her sick father's place in the army. She has an easier time wielding the family sword than pleasing the local matchmaker. Unlike other Disney heroines, Mulan shows more grit than glamour, especially when her true face is revealed.
What Parents Like: Woo hoo! Donnie Osmond is the singing voice of the hunky Captain Shang.
What Kids Like: Mulan is one of the most enduring figures in Chinese lore. Yes, she falls in love, but her transformation from devoted daughter to skilled fighter is much more inspiring. In the end, she is victorious in battle -- and gets the cute guy!
The Secret of NIMH
Cast: Elizabeth Hartman, Dom DeLuise, Peter Strauss, Derek Jacobi
Poor Mrs. Brisby is a mousy widow who must find a way to save her home from the springtime plow. For help, she approaches the mysterious rats of NIMH, super intelligent creatures whose mental prowess are the result of a lab experiment gone awry at the National Institute of Mental Health. Director Don Bluth builds suspense with a sure hand, imbuing the action with Shakespearean drama.
What Parents Like: A new kind of hero: When her home and children are threatened, the gentle and timid Mrs. Brisby proves to be a soft-spoken and courageous lady.
What Kids Like: Kids will laugh at the ways the mouse children fight and get into mischief, especially when they are babysat by a clutzy crow, and admire the ingenious city the rats have constructed, using stolen electricity from the farm.
Shrek I and II
Year: 2001, 2004
Cast: Voices of Cameron Diaz, Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy
That'll do! There's nothing accidental about the way this spunky and modern fairytale turns the notion of fairy-tale princesses and happily ever after on its head. Don't believe in falling in love with an ogre, or that inner beauty can triumph over outer beauty? With love, all things are possible.
What Parents Like: Prince Charming is a vain and foppish bore, and not a very reliable rescuer -- further proof that what's inside your heart matters more than how you look.
What Kids Like: There's a lot of burping, farting humor, the kind that makes kids giggle. Murphy is a gas as the sidekick, Donkey, who bluntly blurts out all his thoughts and feelings.
Year: 2002 (Japanese version 2001)
Cast: Voices of Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette
Painterly and surreal images are rendered masterfully by hand in this animated masterpiece from Hayao Miyazaki (who also directed Kiki's Delivery Service). The exotic landscape that greets the eyes is as vivid as any dream landscape or nightmare. A 10-year-old girl, Chihiro, gets lost and separated from her parents in an abandoned theme park. She becomes a worker in a mysterious bathhouse, full of lost souls and phantasmagorical creatures.
What Parents Like: Who hasn't toiled under a boss like Yubaba, the hard-driving and shrill-voiced owner of the bathhouse?
What Kids Like: The allegory touches upon situations children can understand, such as feeling panicky and lost in a new place or not knowing the rules of a new game. Kids as well as adults will enjoy the visual feast of fantastical beings and transformed spirits that parade across the screen, from the graceful river spirit to the grotesque Stink God.
Toy Story I and II
Year: 1995, 1999
Cast: Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles
Pixar's first computer-generated film finds an Island of Lost Toys in every child's bedroom and animates inanimate playthings with tender, loving care, from Mr. Potato Head to Barbie. Woody, the cowboy, and Buzz Lightyear, the larger-than-life astronaut, make as appealing and comical a duo as Abbott and Costello.
What Parents Like: Themes of friendship and loyalty are taken for a test-drive as Woody and Buzz desperately try to avoid becoming obsolete, or mangled by the mean boy next door.
What Kids Like: Kids will marvel at how the familiar becomes reinvented when seen through the eyes of a toy.