Of course with the year ending comes the slew of top-ten and year-end blog posts. It was certainly an impressive year for animation in terms of the sheer number of releases, and is only going to continue to increase as it becomes more and more accessible to people and companies globally. Though there are still issues and improvements needed in terms of representation on and off camera, treatment of works, and diversity of content and what stories get told, there are always things to celebrate and appreciate. I’m not going to go into large blurbs about these, as those longer posts/podcasts will slowly roll out in 2017. Here are my top 5 animated feature films of 2016:
Top 5 Animated Feature Films
My Life as a Zucchini: How I’d love to see this film win an Oscar! This film, which is a French-language stop-motion film co-produced by studios in France and Switzerland did really well at the Annecy International Film Festival, which definitely caught my attention. I was lucky enough to see a screening of the subtitled version of the film, but it won’t be released officially in the US and with a dub until 2017. Animation distribution company GKids will be handling it, so I won’t go into the plot other than it focuses on a group of children navigating their lives together in a foster home. The current English cast, however, seems chalked full of adults rather than young kids voicing the children, which is a little disappointing–stick to the subbed version if you can–the French kids are absolutely adorable! This film is really a good example of a film that probably would have been easier to shoot as a live-action film, but opted to tackle via animation. It’s also a great example of an animated film that’s got slightly more grown-up and nuanced subject matter, that is both accessible and non-patronizing to kids and absolutely enjoyable for adults. As I said, it’s not available yet, but keep an eye on the film’s English website and GKids.
Zootopia: It was so refreshing to see a company as big and eager to please everyone as Disney really take a chance on this film. The subject matter was decidedly grown up for their usual fare, and also unnervingly relevant for 2016. Of course, the production value of this entire film was off the chart, but I wanted to specifically shout out the fur team, as well as the production designers for their world-building. Zootopia is available for streaming on Netflix, or you can buy the Blu-ray here.*
The Little Prince: The victim of Hollywood bureaucracy that caused it to be pulled from theaters a week before its intended release date, The Little Prince thankfully found a home on Netflix, where it has hopefully found success. This film is just gorgeous. Stemming from the much loved children’s book, this story takes some liberties in how it’s introduced, creating a new story on top of the old for us to love. Combining CG as well as beautiful, delicate paper stop motion, this film gives us a playful maturity that few Western animated films can achieve. You can stream this film on Netflix. I’m personally having trouble finding the Blu-ray for myself, so I linked the DVD below. But there is a Blu-ray floating around!
Kubo and the Two String: This was one of those films that I wanted to love as much as Coraline and my personal Laika favorite, ParaNorman. This film had an amazing first half, but then it tapered off a bit. Though I can and will (in a future post) get into more detail about where the story fell short for me, that didn’t change how much I enjoyed watching it, and of course, how much I appreciate the artistry that went into it. You can get Kubo on Blu-ray here.*
Moana: Enjoyable through and through, but very safe, banking on tried and true Disney tropes while playfully shrugging off others (such as the Disney Princess label, which is directly addressed by the characters in the film). The songs weren’t as memorable for me the first time around, but upon a second viewing and frankly just listening to them on Spotify and YouTube, I can appreciate them more. Initially only two of the songs really stood out to me, and two of the other more popular songs fell a little flat in terms of serving its purpose and pushing the story along. They were more like pauses to the actual progress. And of course, this film was gorgeous, with a definite chunk of R&D budget going to that gorgeous and playful ocean. Moana is still in theaters now!
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Yes, yes, I know, this film was released in the 1980’s! I just really wanted to highlight this film because it was the first time I was seeing such a classic animation staple. It was previously released in the US under the poorly re-edited/re-structured version Warriors of the Wind, which was how I first encountered it (unfortunately). Animation distribution company GKids, and previously The Walt Disney Company, have been doing an amazing job of releasing/re-releasing Studio Ghibli films in cinemas across the country over the years, introducing new people to these works. This year, Nausaicaa happened to be a part of a Ghibli retrospective the independent theater chain Alamo Drafthouse held in April, but this year GKids also released an older Ghibli film, Only Yesterday, that I’d never seen, nor had had the same fanfare that others like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo did. GKids is continuing this trend and are currently releasing (again, for the first time in the US) another older Ghibli film, Ocean Waves, in theaters, and are planning on re-releasing Princess Mononoke in theaters next month in honor of the film’s 20th anniversary. You can purchase the Blu-ray for only $14 here!*
Some of the other 2016 animated films I saw this year include The Red Turtle, Sing, Trolls, Finding Dory, Ice Age: Collision Course, Storks, Phantom Boy, April and the Extraordinary World, Miss Hokusai, The Secret Life of Pets, Kung Fu Panda 3, and Sausage Party. Another newly released but older Studio Ghibli film I saw this year and did absolutely adored was Only Yesterday.*
I was also fortunate enough to see a few newly released animation-related documentaries:
Tyrus Wong: Brushstrokes in Hollywood: I backed this film on Kickstarter YEARS ago and because it started getting picked up at festivals, the physical copies of the film were held onto (which I totally get). Because of that (and lack of screenings in my area) I hadn’t been able to see this film for years until the director brought it to my place of work. It was such a treat to see it with my guy, who, like Tyrus, also immigrated from China to America at a young age. Despite the difference in time from when they came here, I got a sense that they experienced many similar things. One thing I really appreciated about this film was, frankly, how little time was given to Disney, because frankly, they seemed to have treated him like shit. That, and he just didn’t work there very long. It was great for people to learn about his amazing and enormous artistic talent and endeavors outside of Bambi, both in the fine art world, and in unexpected places like live-action film, greeting cards, and kites. He’s a true master, plain and simple. You can follow the documentary’s info and see if there’s a screening near you on their Facebook page, and check out the doc’s trailer here. Sadly, Tyrus passed away yesterday, at the ripe age of 106. Please read this lovely NY Times article about him.
Life, Animated: This documentary follows charismatic Owen, an autistic boy who was only able to convey his thoughts and feelings through Disney animated films. This film follows his unique but oh-so relatable journey from childhood through early adulthood. On top of his empathetic view of Disney characters, there is also gorgeous animated sequences throughout it based off of Owen’s own stories and moments from his life. Owen’s journalist father initially told this story through a book,* and you can get the DVD here.* Watch the trailer here!
Floyd Norman: An Animated Life: Was lucky to have seen this WITH FLOYD NORMAN IN THE AUDIENCE! He did a short Q&A after the film, but even better than that was that when he was touring our studio, he pit-stopped in my area and I was able to actually talk to him. Whew. Anyway, this film was really enjoyable, and, like Tyrus’s doc I loved that it didn’t focus too too much on Disney, because he did so much more beyond that. You can watch the trailer and purchase the Blu-ray from the documentary’s website. Floyd, though technically retired, is still very active, and runs a blog you can check out here!
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