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5 most expensive animated movies - and why do they cost so much?

Considering how costly animated sequences could get, animated films are unsurprisingly some of the most expensive movies ever in cinema. In this article, we will take a look at the 5 animated movies with the highest budget.

Top 1: Tangled (2010) - $260 million

Tangled’s synopsis (2010)

Tangled (2010) is loosely based on the German fairy tale "Rapunzel" from the Brothers Grimm's collection of folk tales. The animated movie tells the story of the long-lost princess Rapunzel, who has the longest magical blonde hair ever imaginable. She yearns to get out of her solitary tower and go on an adventure.

One day, she accepts the help of a handsome intruder, Flynn Rider, against her foster mother's desires, to take her out into the world she has never seen. As they embark on their unforgettable journey, Rapunzel finds out who she really is.

animation movies - Tangled’s synopsis (2010)

The golden bucks behind the golden locks of Tangled (2010)

Upon its release in 2010, Tangled was record-breaking as it was the most expensive animated movie we have ever seen. Explaining the big figures, the film's development was started and stopped at least twice before the final version was released. Specifically, the movie was pushed back in 2005 for plot revision, followed by a one-week shutdown in 2006 before Catmull and John Lasseter were in charge of the studio. Thus, a great proportion of the movie’s budget goes into the costs of storyboarding, writing, and designing previous versions of Tangled - Rapunzel Unbraided, which dated back to 2001 and were never received a commercial release.

In addition, Tangled was also the first Disney animated film to feature 3D computer-generated animation. More importantly, Glen Keane, the film's initial director, wanted to honor both the old-school 2D Disney aesthetic, which includes a naturalistic animation approach conforming to the 12 principles of animation in ‘The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, and the modern 3D style.

animation movies - The golden bucks behind the golden locks of Tangled (2010)
  • Therefore, Tangled was developed with an entirely new process that would enable the animators to utilize the 3D medium in an unconventional way. Keane, for example, could evaluate the CG animator's work by drawing on top of their animation on the computer using a Wacom Cintiq digital drawing tablet. Then, the character animators were able to perfect their CG animation thanks to Keane's "draw-overs" and animation suggestions, which helped them achieve an organic feel that matched the conventional Disney aesthetic.

Furthermore, the Tangled team dedicated a lot of time, money, and effort to creating Rapunzel's golden locks in the new computer animation medium. The hair had to be meticulously animated to ensure both accuracy and reflecting Rapunzel’s character. Bryon Howard, the co-director of the animated film, even claimed that “[it was] one of the most difficult, most complicated things to do”

animation movies - The golden bucks behind the golden locks of Tangled (2010)

Top 2: The Lion King (2019) - $260 million

The Lion King’s Synopsis (2019)

Released by Walt Disney Pictures in the summer of 2019, The Lion King follows Simba, a young lion who idolizes his father, Mufasa. However, after Scar, Simba’s uncle murdered Mufasa in the pursuit of the throne, Simba was exiled.

animation movies - The Lion King’s Synopsis (2019)

Then, with the help of his newfound friends, Simba must become brave and wise, embracing his role as the rightful king of the African native land.

The million-dollar technology and cast of The Lion King (2019)

The film implements new, state-of-the-art technology that breathes new life into the 1994 classic animated movie while respecting the tone and feel of its source material. Using Unity, a video game engine, the animators have created the animated film's locations as explorable environments in virtual reality. Contributing to the huge budget, this technology also makes Disney a pioneer in integrating VR into animated movies.

animation movies - The million-dollar technology and cast of The Lion King (2019)

Moreover, ‘The Lion King’ featured a high-profile cast and crew. Among the A-listers are Beyonce, who reportedly received $15 million for voicing the lioness, James Earl Jones, Donald Glover, and so forth.

animation movies - The million-dollar technology and cast of The Lion King (2019)

Above all, if Disney offered you limitless resources to make a film, you would do everything you could to make it look, sound, and feel flawless to the audience. And, on occasion, this may entail spending exorbitant sums of money to ensure that everything is done correctly.

Top 3: Toy Story 3 (2010) - $200 million

Toy Story 3’s Synopsis (2010)

The animation film Toy Story 3 (2010) takes place when Andy is 17, preparing for college. Woody, Buzz, and their friends knew this day would eventually come but they all ponder their uncertain future now that Andy is grown up.

While Andy plans to store the toys in the attic, his mother accidentally donates them to Sunnyside Daycare Center. Then, Andy's toys must band together in a thrilling scheme to get home before their owner leaves.

animation movies - Toy Story 3’s Synopsis (2010)

2 factors behind the massive budget of Toy Story 3 (2010)

While there are various assumptions about why the picture received such a large movie budget, part of it was probably because it was the first film to be released in theaters using Dolby's new Surround Sound technology.

Another reason for the million-dollar budget would be the star-studded cast. In Toy Story 3, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen voiced the iconic Woody and Buzz Light-year, with their earnings from the gig being a whopping $15 million and $22 million respectively.

animation movies - 2 factors behind the massive budget of Toy Story 3 (2010)

The big estimated budget of the animated movie proves to be well spent. Toy Story 3 is also the first animated film to gross over $1 billion, making every investment in sound technology as well as the high-profile cast well worth it.

Top 4: Monsters University (2013) - $200 million

Monsters University’s Synopsis (2013)

The animated movie Monsters University (2013) tells the story of James P. Sullivan and Mike Wazowski, the two main characters of Monsters, Inc. This time, the plot traced back to their time at university, where the duo started off as rivals, but gradually became best friends.

animation movies - Monsters University’s Synopsis (2013)

The technological marvel that hiked the budget

A major part of the reason for the estimated budget increase was Pixar's introduction of Global Illumination, a new lighting system that facilitated the rendering progress. Although this system was a controversial overhaul of the existing lighting technique, it had a huge influence on the animation film and the industry overall.

animation movies - The technological marvel that hiked the budget

Apparently, the budget for Monsters University (2013) paid off, as the film became a massive commercial success. The movie grossed $82 million from 4,004 theaters throughout its debut weekend, thus making it the second biggest Pixar debut of all time, just behind Toy Story 3.

Top 5: Cars 2 (2011) - $200 million

Cars 2’s Synopsis (2011)

Racing star Lightning McQueen and his friend Mater go overseas to compete in the World Grand Prix race. However, the road to the championship gets rocky as Mater is mistaken for an American spy. Simultaneously, a duo of bad guys is sabotaging the race. Things then get turned upside down as both cars get caught up in their intriguing adventure.

animation movies - Cars 2’s Synopsis (2011)

Why is Cars 2 (2011) so expensive?

Compared with its predecessor, Cars 2 warranted a much more expensive proposition, as the estimated budget is pegged at $200 million. There may be two reasons behind one of the most expensive animated films:

First, for the first time since the original Cars, Pixar CEO John Lasseter returned to the director's chair to direct Cars 2. This return to the studio after 22 years was regarded by animators as one of the best things to ever happen in the animation field.

animation movies - Why is Cars 2 (2011) so expensive?

Besides, the budget was much-needed for the studio’s animation approach with various new effects for water and reflections. It is not cheap to create these effects. Pixar had to triple the size and scale of its render farm to acquire the computational power its new effects required for the film, according to Apurva Shah, the supervising technical director on Cars 2.

References:, New technology revs up Pixar's 'Cars 2'

Point-Based Global Illumination for Movie Production, How The Technology Used To Make Jon Favreau's 'The Lion King' Could Change Entertainment As We Know It


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