Tim here. It’s the last edition of my weekly animation essay for 2013, which would ordinarily be the best time for a year-in-review piece. However, the year has been so rough for animation (remember Escape from Planet Earth? Are you happy about that fact?) that it seemed better just to quickly move beyond it and pretend it didn’t happen. Let us instead look with clear eyes and hopeful hearts to the future, and take a quick preview of the animated features that will be scattered throughout 2014. This isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but if I missed anything big, feel free to point it out in comments.
Films to maybe hold out hope for:
-The Lego Movie (February 7). The concept, and the cameos by DC superheroes, scream “branding exercise”, but with Phil Lord and Chris Miller on-hand as writers and directors, there’s reason to be hopeful. The duo has gone 2-for-2 so far with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, and that’s not a track record to idly dismiss. Besides, the trailer reveals that its laziest sins (a “Chosen One” narrative, celebrity voice cast) looks to be applied with a more playfully ironic touch than usual. And the random sense of humor looks different from the usual family fare, at any rate: the bit with Wonder Woman’s invisible jet gets me every time.
Dragons, Boxtrolls and more after the jump
-How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June 13). Sequels are always a dicey proposition, and the trailer suggests a degree of self-serious epic fantasy adventure that isn’t necessarily what made the first movie so great and beloved. Still, sequels to great movies are in a better position to do well than sequels to crap, and DreamWorks Animation already dodged a bullet with the underrated Kung Fu Panda 2. Worth cautious optimism, if nothing else.
-The Boxtrolls (September 26). The third stop-motion feature from Laika, the studio behind Coraline and ParaNorman. That alone is enough to win a free pass from me – as a one-two punch, it’s almost as good as Pixar’s first two features, and look where that went – but the latest trailer just seals the deal.
Any piece of advertising so proud to foreground the craft and artistry of animation as being worthy of discussion in and of itself wins all of the points from me.
-Big Hero 6 (November 7). Walt Disney Animation and Marvel collide, and that kind of corporate synergy is no good for anybody. Still, the studio has been on a pretty great roll since 2009, and the early preview footage is gorgeous. The biggest red flag on my “hopefuls” list, but it’s too early to start dreading it already.
Films to probably just avoid:
-The Nut Job (January 17). If the January release date isn’t enough to scare, maybe the grossly anonymous character design and plasticky quality of the animation will be. Or maybe the fact that the two trailers use the same shot as the punchline for two different fart jokes.
-Mr. Peabody & Sherman (March 7). A conundrum: dredging up a brand name that’s not all that famous except among an admiring cult (of which I am an enthusiastic member), and then do things that absolutely none of the property’s fans are going to be okay with. And to take things out of the realm of “you broke my favorite ‘60s TV cartoon, screw you!”, the fur animation on the titular dog Mr. Peabody looks like a major step back in technology for DreamWorks.
-Rio 2 (April 11). The most generic kids’ movie of 2011 apparently made enough money to do this. Mark it down on your Best Song Oscar predictions right now, and beat the rush!
-Planes: Fire and Rescue (July 18). Dear God, please don’t.
Expanding from 2012:
-The Wind Rises (February 21). Just in time for its duel to the death with fellow Best Animated Feature Oscar frontrunner Frozen, everybody will have a chance to see Miyazaki’s swan song in a newly-minted English dub anchored by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt. Finally, people who didn’t live in Los Angeles for its one-week qualifying run can see what all the critics have been going on about. (We reviewed it here).
-Ernest & Celestine (March 14). Ditto, except for the bit where Ernest & Celestine will have to count an Oscar nomination, should it materialize, as a victory in and of itself. It’s a brilliant release date, actually: everybody will watch the Oscars, hear it’s name, and wonder what the hell it is, just in time for it to come out on what I assume will not be nearly as many screens as The Wind Rises, though to my mind, it’s the better film. (Reviewed here).
No U.S. release plan yet, but let’s wish upon a star:
-Song of the Sea. The follow-up by Tomm Moore, the director of the 2009 surprise Oscar nominee The Secret of Kells. That’s got me in the room already: Kells is still one of the most vivid and unique-looking animated features of the century, and even if the new film isn’t up to the same level, it still promises to be a welcome change from all the samey U.S. CGI films.
-Tante Hilda! Talk about a change: the vaguely grotesque, hand-drawn adventure of bizarrely-distended figures apparently caught in a thriller about giant mutant asparagus looks so warped from the trailer that I can’t even tell what audience it’s looking for. The phrase “ecological fable” isn’t promising, but aggressively strange animation is something we need a lot more of in this world, and the French have been good about providing that.
I’ll now turn it over to all of you.
What are you interested in seeing from the 2014 animation crop?