Just over half the way into 2013, it may seem a little premature to start looking forward to next year. And that would be true, if next year weren't looking so damn appetising. Sequels, adaptations and original concepts populate an increasingly more exciting 2014, and here are A113Animation's top 5 animated films to keep your eyes on.
5. The Lego Movie [Warner Bros. Animation, dir.: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller]
The first animated film of 2014, and the first indication of just how well Warner Bros.'s rejuvenated interest in in-house feature animation is going to pay off, The Lego Movie has an all-star cast and some pretty crack directors. Helmed by the frenetic, quirky directorial duo behind Sony Pictures Animation's hit Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and live-action comedy 21 Jump Street, we can certainly assume The Lego Movie is going to be a lot of fun. Co-directing is Chris McKay, most famous as a director of several Robot Chicken episodes (which doesn't help the CG vs. stop-mo question; the film is ostensibly computer animated, but looks and feels too much like a stop-motion film for that to be true).
Regardless of the film's actual medium of animation, we can be assured that it looks different to mainstream animation, and that in itself is something we should celebrate. The assembling of a wide pantheon of Legos - including Gandalf, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NBA All-Stars, Batman and Superman - suggests the childlike glee of playing with Lego has been aptly translated to the big screen. An A-list cast, including Park and Rec's Chris Pratt, Arrested Development's Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson and Elizabeth Banks, round off a very exciting project and make The Lego Movie something of particular interest to curious animation fans.
Released 7th February, 2014 (US)/14th February, 2014 (UK).
4. How to Train Your Dragon 2 [DreamWorks Animation, dir.: Dean DeBlois]
Originally, I had The Lego Movie at number 4, and another DreamWorks film, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, at number 5. But then DreamWorks blew their own film out of the water and just pipped Warners', by releasing the jaw-dropping teaser trailer for How to Train Your Dragon 2. The first film took everyone off guard by just how completely, unquestionably brilliant it was. It feels slightly reductive to DreamWorks' other solid work to brand the film as "Pixar quality", but, heck, it does stand up against films like WALL-E and Toy Story 3. Well, almost. That said, I wasn't sold on the sequel. Shrek was ruined for me by endless sequels - reaching a nadir with Shrek the Third - and I really didn't think there were loose ends to be continued at the end of Dragon. But now you can colour me intrigued.
The teaser promises excitement, twists and splendour aplenty, and I have no reason to doubt it will deliver. Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois are the visionary team behind the first film, and Disney's Lilo & Stitch, yet it seems Sanders often gets the lion's share of the credit. Not to slate Chris Sanders, he's a magnificent director and is responsible for some truly great works of animation. But so is DeBlois. Dragon 2 affords him the opportunity to amass some solo credit. Factor into that strong animation and another seemingly epic score by John Powell, and this looks like a winner.
While Mr. Peabody & Sherman, with its quirky sensibilities, fun concept, Lion King-y director (and a Gary Trousdale-directed Rocky and Bullwinkle short preceding it), sounds exciting too, I'm afraid it's just been blasted out of the sky by the studio's own Night Fury.
Released 20th June, 2014 (US)/4th July, 2014 (UK)
3. The BoxTrolls [Laika, dir.: Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi]
Laika have earned themselves quite a bit of goodwill with their first two feature films, Coraline and ParaNorman (both Oscar-nominated). They've got a lot of respect from fans and industry professionals alike; but they may have won the most love and affection for themselves with just the teaser for their third feature film. When it debuted a couple of weeks ago, the teaser trailer for The BoxTrolls (based on the novel Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow) eschewed the traditional Hollywood archetypes, in favour of omni-acceptant morals.
But the film isn't designed to be preachy. In fact, The BoxTrolls, with its quirky, Aardman-esque synopsis as being about a cheese-loving Victorian society who fear supposed monsters - the titular BoxTrolls, who are actually benevolently raising an orphan human - sounds more fun and light-hearted than their previous two superstitious, spooky flicks. It's nice to see the studio not pigeon-holing itself as a creepy, Burtonish studio only, while also sticking to its bread and butter in the form of the beautiful stop-motion animation. Great, boundary-pushing, imagination-inflaming animation is sure to be a given, add in a fantastic voice cast which includes Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade, and Laika may have the ability to best the high bar set with their previous films.
Released 26th September, 2014 (US)/12th September, 2014 (UK).
2. The Good Dinosaur [Pixar, dir.: Bob Peterson]
It's Pixar. Not sold already? It's Pixar doing a dinosaur movie. You need more? Okay, it's Pixar doing a dinosaur movie with a reverse-How to Train Your Dragon premise, where a good-natured dinosaur by the name of Jacob takes on a pet human child in a world where the two species coexist. It's being directed by Pixar veteran Bob Peterson, perhaps best known as the voice of Roz, Mr. Ray, Dug and more great Pixar characters, he also co-directed Up, the best animated film in the last twenty years that didn't have Toy Story in the title. Co-directing this film is Pete Sohn, who most recently voiced Squishy in Monsters University, but had previously directed the Up-attached short film Partly Cloudy. It's produced by Incredibles producer John Walker. La Luna director Enrico Casarosa is head of story, Finding Nemo composer Thomas Newman is scoring and, really, have I not said enough already?
Pixar, at least in this blogger's opinion, have not lost a step in recent years, and while Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University maybe can't compete with the one-two-three smash hit success of WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3, that's hardly saying much, given that those three films are arguably amongst the top ten animated films ever made. As Munir recently pointed out, that's like Disney trying to top The Lion King. But time was that a Pixar film would be the most anticipated animated film released each year by virtue of just being a Pixar film, and that very nearly was true here, but - despite the aforementioned still very good films - they've been bested the past couple of years. And next year, I'm slightly more eager to see...
Released 30th May, 2014 (US)/18th July, 2014 (UK).
1. Big Hero 6 [Walt Disney Animation Studios, dir.: Don Hall]
The only thing we can say with certainty is that 2014 has one of the most exciting line-ups of animated motion pictures in recent memory. As for which will be the best, it's a major toss up; it's far too early to sufficiently judge what the quality of any of these films will be. But, for my money, the most exciting project, the most interesting, daring and, yes, risky one, is the one coming from the Mouse House.
A Disney-animated adaptation of an obscure Marvel property, set on non-American shores, based on characters heavily inspired by anime and manga... it certainly doesn't sound like the sort of risky concept Walt Disney Animation Studios would have attempted ten years ago. But coming off Wreck-It Ralph and their recent white-hot hot streak, Disney are perfectly poised to smash this one out of the park. It's a real shame the animation won't be hand drawn, but the test footage we've seen so far of the CG is stunning, and I can't believe they'd purposefully avoid hand-drawn animation just for the sake of it, so if they've chose computer animation, it has to be that that's the best medium for it.
This project's a big risk, it's less of a sure thing than The Good Dinosaur, but it's exactly that risk and exactly that potential that makes Big Hero 6 the most exciting animated film of 2014.
Released 7th November, 2014 (US)/13th February, 2015 (UK)... Wait, what? 2015?! Damn you to hell, Disney! Oh well, I'm still counting it.
Let's look at some honourable mentions:
- Minions [Illumination Entertainment, dir.: Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin]: Despicable Me 2 was an unexpected delight, thanks largely to the hilarity and inherent likeability of the little yellow minions. Add to that impressive names like Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm as the main two human characters, one of the directors of the Despicable Me films, and a lot of miniony fun, and Minions could be extremely enjoyable. Released 19th December, 2014.
- Mr. Peabody & Sherman [DreamWorks Animation, dir.: Rob Minkoff]: As aforementioned, this is another DreamWorks project I'm very hyped for. The quirky time-travelling concept sounds like it will lead to some really fun and exciting visuals and story beats; Rob Minkoff is a capable director; and Modern Family's Ty Burrell should make for a hilarious lead. Released 7th March, 2014.
- Home [DreamWorks Animation, dir.: Tim Johnson]: The third exciting DreamWorks feature of 2014 - formerly titled Happy Smekday! - is a pseudo-alien invasion story, of an "annoyingly optimistic alien" on the run from his own race, with the help of a young girl. It's directed by Antz co-helmer Tim Johnson and stars the voices of The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons (yay!) and Rihanna (ugh.). Terrible title though. Released 26th November, 2014 (US)/13th February, 2015 (UK).
Other animated films out in 2014 include several sequels, such as DisneyToon's Planes sequel, Planes: Fire and Rescue, Blue Sky Studios' Rio 2 and Paramount's The Spongebob Squarepants Movie 2. There's also Book of Life, - a Day of the Dead film by Reel FX, who will release their first film, Free Birds, this year - Disney's Phineas and Ferb hybrid movie and a few lower profile films. All in all, 2014's going to be a belter.