A tour of the plentiful offerings in the medium of animation.
2016 seemingly had more animated features than ever before. That certainly led to glut of quantity vs quality, but there is no question of the amount of choice in the medium right now. The biggest trend of 2016 is the continued use of talking animals. There’s just something about animals singing and dancing that brings families to the theater. Studios like Disney/Pixar, Sony, and Universal all had their movies that prominently featured animals.
As animation continues to flourish there are a lot more players in the game. No longer is Disney/Pixar alone to take up the majority of market share. It certainly makes sense as the demand is there for family animated features. Five of the top twenty grossing films of 2016 were animated films; Finding Dory, Zootopia, Trolls, Moana, and Kung Fu Panda 3. Good thing Trolls was a hit for 20th Century Fox as it seems their Ice Age brand seems unsteady.
Studios like Sony Pictures and GKids have brought international animated films to these shores. While there might not have the been the box office dollars that lined the pockets of their competition, these films show that there is more to animation than simply appealing to families. Especially with the crass food of Sausage Party or the French adventure of April and the Extraordinary World. Even Netflix had an animated feature of their own as they saved The Little Prince from cinema purgatory earlier this year. Thankfully there’s plenty of experimentation in the field as well. The documentary, Tower, uses animation to recreate a tragic event where there wasn’t enough archival footage.
While there will always be studios that release fodder, certainly the hope is that more quality animated features will entertain children and adults alike.
Sony and their various subsidiary studios released what is the most varied slate of animated films in 2016. They began the year with an adaptation of the hit mobile game, Angry Birds. The CG animated film comes years after Angry Birds became a worldwide sensation and features a story of three intrepid birds who are, well, angry. Sony went from Angry Birds to raunchy sausage with their next animated film.
If there was ever an animated film that children should not see, just look at Sausage Party. On Fourth of July weekend, a group of food items see that the dream of being bought is finally happening. It is up to one sausage to find out the truth; perhaps going home with humans isn’t in their best interest. The feature has many of the trademarks of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s other comedies like This is the End, but in animated form.
The Red Turtle shows the emotional power of silence. From director Michael Dudok de Wit, the Studio Ghibli animated feature demands attention for its story of isolation, survival, and love. When stranded on a deserted island, a man is continuously foiled in his escape by a giant red turtle.
While GKids doesn’t produce their own animated features, they do distribute many foreign features for Western audiences. As per their specialty, they released films from France, Japan, and Switzerland this year. Among those films is Switzerland’s entry for Best Foreign Feature, My Life as a Zucchini. The story follows the experiences of kids living in a foster home.
One of their other big releases this year was April and the Extraordinary World. Based on the work by French cartoonist Jacques Tardi, France has never advanced scientifically beyond the steam power era. When young April’s parents disappear, she must find her scientist parents and the many others who have vanished through the years.
Disney / Pixar
Certainly the biggest studio in town in regards to animation, Disney/Pixar never fail to impact the medium in a big way. They started off the year full steam ahead with Zootopia. Judy the rabbit will never be accepted as a police officer in the world of animals. She is just too small and frail to ever do the job. When she partners with the most likely animal, a fox, she soon discovers the problems effecting the entire world of animals. The movie is a delight with bringing in the bigger issues of acceptance into a children’s movie.
Finding Dory was always going to be successful. The sequel to one of the most beloved Pixar films of all-time, audiences showed up in droves for the adventure. This time it was Dory who was lost while searching for her parents and a new group of seafaring creatures must assist Merlin and Nemo find her. While the film fails to live up to the lofty expectations of its predecessor, it brings these characters back for an encore that is worthwhile.
If expectations were high for Finding Dory, they were certainly high for Moana as well. The first “Disney Princess” movie since Frozen needed to have the boxes checked; memorable songs, strong female led, worthwhile sidekick. Moana sets out to remove the label of a Disney Princess and it mostly succeeds, but it just isn’t as memorable as some of Disney’s other recent fare. There’s plenty to love, but those expecting the next Frozen were left disappointed.
Universal / Illumination
In 2016, NBCUniversal announced its intentions to buy Illumination Entertainment and bring the Minions to their family. They not only got the minions, but they got Illumination’s new hit film, The Secret Life of Pets. Essentially Toy Story, but with animals, the family dog’s life is disturbed when its owner takes in a new dog.
Everybody loves talking animals and Universal Pictures doubled up on that premise this year. The upcoming film, Sing, has a singing competition a la The Voice, where animals compete for their dream of being a successful entertainer. Universal might not have had a new film from their new favorite mascots, but both films should find success.
Other than the continued usage of talking animals, animated films were very much about finding oneself in 2016. Whether it was finding home, family, or heritage many of the films followed this path toward individual growth. Perhaps none of them did it with as much grace and beauty as Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings. Kubo must go on a journey to find his late father’s armor in order to defeat an evil spirit. There’s little secret to the intense work that goes into making each of Laika’s features as they frequently showcase their work. The beauty of Kubo goes even further than its exterior; it fully commits to the narrative, taking no shortcuts to have a happy ending. It bridges the gap for entertainment for children and adults perhaps better than any other animation in 2016.
2016 was a banner year for the field of Animation. More studios than ever are creating features using CG to tell their story. Here is to hoping next year manages to showcase the same bountiful selections as we’ve seen this year.