Best Animated Movies to Watch in 3D

Children in 3D glasses watching a movie in a theater

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With so many animated 3D movies being released to theaters every year, it can be hard to determine which films really deserve that surcharge that multiplexes demand for the extra dimension. Especially if you're bringing a carload of kids to the movies, you might wonder if it's worth shelling out an extra few dollars each for the 3D version.

In many cases, it’s worth paying the extra few dollars since the animation genre lends itself naturally to 3D. The following movies are five of the best eye-popping examples of 3D technology used in animation.

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How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

DreamWorks Animation has long been at the forefront of the 3-D revolution, so it’s not surprising that the most impressive use of the technology comes from the and Kung Fu Panda studio. Although they’ve put 3D to impressive use in movies like 2009’s Monsters vs. Aliens and 2010s, DreamWorks’ crowning achievement in 3D animation is undoubtedly 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon. The film’s lush landscape of rolling hills and Viking villages is enhanced by the depth afforded by 3D, yet it’s in its action-oriented moments that truly soars. The breathtaking flying sequences in the film offer an ideal example of what 3D is capable of.

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Beowulf (2007)

You can either thank or blame Robert Zemeckis for Hollywood’s obsession with 3D—depending on your point of view on the gimmick—because the Back to the Future filmmaker effectively kicked off the current 3D renaissance with his 2004 motion-capture extravaganza The Polar Express. Though the technology was used relatively well in that Tom Hanks vehicle, Zemeckis' next film Beowulf took 3D to a level of sheer immersion that had never been even been hinted at within animated film prior to that point. Zemeckis and his team of animators effectively used the extra dimension to place the viewer in the middle of the title hero’s action-packed universe.

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Up (2009)

Though Pixar had added 3D to such existing films as and in re-releases, Up marked the first time that the studio had employed the technology during the production of one of their movies. While the film’s use of 3D isn’t as showy as that of its competitors, Up remains the very best example of how 3D can be used to deepen and enhance an environment. As director Pete Docter says in the movie’s production notes, “[We] took a lot of the same storytelling elements that we were using and tried to use depth as another way of telling that story.”

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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Originally released as a standard 2D film in 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas remains the best example of an animated movie that has been seamlessly converted into 3D in post-production and was first released to theaters in 2006. The eye-popping universe inhabited by Jack Skellington and Sally and the rest of the Halloween Town residents comes to vivid life with the added dimension, as the 3D process, notes Entertainment Weekly critic Scott Brown, “doesn't produce many in-your-face jolts, but [enhances director Henry] Selick's lapidary ghouls quite beautifully.” The stop-motion animation genre seems to work especially well in the context of 3D, with Selick's 2009 animated film also standing as a strong contender for this list.

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Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

The madcap Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs works especially well in 3D, as the movie features a premise that seems to have been tailor-made for the added dimension. Based on the book by Judi and Ron Barrett, the movie follows plucky hero Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) as he attempts to help his sardine-eating town by inventing a device that turns water into food. The spectacularly-conceived 3D effects are especially prominent during sequences in which edible items come flying at the viewer, and there’s just something inherently irresistible about the sight of hamburgers, pancakes, and (of course) meatballs raining down onto the characters (and, by association, us).