While opinions on 2018 as a film year are varied, the consensus around the animated feature field has been far more negative. Our five options for Best Animated Feature are the right movies to represent the medium. However, there’s a feeling that most underperformed. In the past twenty-four months, it feels like animated film after animated film stumbled across the finish line. Both “Coco” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” are so good, we’ll likely look back with fondness. Yet the rest of the films feel flat months after their release. Considering that 2016 gave us arguably the best lineup the medium’s ever seen, this has been really depressing. Yet 2019 looks extremely bright, especially with “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” hitting the ground running.
This weekend, “The LEGO Movie 2” releases with all eyes on it. The first film became a surprise sensation and might have the worst snub in the Animated Feature’s history. Two LEGO movies later, and the main characters of the franchise will return. With added star power from Tiffany Haddish and Stephanie Beatriz, the new one looks to be a critical hit. With an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie may not live up to the first film, but it stakes its claim as one of the animated features to watch out for. What might stand in its way is the rest of 2019. Looking at the field now, the 2019 Animated Feature film stands to be one of the best in years.
Looking ahead, a lot of sequels hit the medium with extremely high hopes. Little has to be said about Disney/Pixar, who return to 2019 with two different billion-dollar franchises. Both “Toy Story 4” and “Frozen 2” look to take home the Oscar after each of their predecessors won the award. “Toy Story” helped create this award, so the legacy award might be on its side. Yet “Frozen” was a smash hit and nearly made the Best Picture lineup.
A big question mark seems to be on the table with “The Lion King” from Jon Favreau. On one hand, it has been dubbed a “live-action” remake. That logic is absurd, especially when the production design and characters are entirely CG. With no humans in the film, you have to question whether Disney will look to push the film into Animated Feature as well. One thing to keep in mind is that only one performance capture film has ever broken through (“Monster House” in 2006). However, with the animated feature branch open to more members now, “Lion King” could join the club. With the knowledge of this film coming down the pipeline, it might be interesting to see if the animation branch tries to make moves to prevent its eligibility.
With Disney putting it’s best foot forward, other studios will need to campaign hard. Yet the usual suspects are rolling out movies with a chance to join the conversation. LAIKA looks to have an extremely upbeat film on its hands with “Missing Link“ releasing in April. The studio has not done particularly well at the box office with its movies, but “Missing Link” could be the exception. The duo of Zach Galifianakis and Hugh Jackman on a road trip around the world should gain some extra eyeballs. Also, Susan (Galifianakis) feels like a far more marketable character than previous LAIKA characters.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” also looks to capture an Oscar after the first two films each missed out on the prize. The animation looks as gorgeous as ever, and Dreamworks has positive word of mouth building for this iteration. This has clearly been the best franchise in the Dreamworks stable, and with an early release date, it could potentially own the box office for weeks.
Aardman will also find its way into the conversation. “Farmageddon” featuring the iconic Shaun the Sheep will hit theaters in 2019. While Aardman missed out “Early Man” this year, “Shaun the Sheep” remains an established brand worthy of consideration. The last “Shaun the Sheep” feature film found its way into the Oscar five, so write this one off at your own peril. After all, the animation of slapstick comedy and silent comedy has never been done better than in this franchise.
GKIDS has loaded up for 2019, and their slate could be one of the strongest groups of animated films this year. “Okko’s Inn” headlines the GKIDS slate, and the distributor released an English-language trailer yesterday. They’re releasing it in April, and that should give the film a chance to disseminate to branch in the coming months. The director, Kitarō Kōsaka, has worked on some of the best animated films in the history of Japanese films. Among his credits are “The Wind Rises,” “Akira,” “Spirited Away,” and “Grave of the Fireflies.” He remains an unsung veteran of the industry, and “Okko’s” looks like a blend between “Phantom Boy” and “My Neighbor Totoro.”
Yet that is not all GKIDS has to offer. They should also push “Funan,” a story about a woman trying to find her son in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Director Denis Do based the story on his own mother, and his mixed heritage. The original version of the film features Bérénice Bejo and Louis Garrel as key vocal performers. Imagine who they’ll get if they choose to make an English dub. With months to go until Cannes, look for GKIDS to potentially poach another big player or two.
There are a couple of other films to keep an eye on. “Wish Dragon” may become a huge hit if the release strategy goes well. Sony Pictures Entertainment will release the film that follows a young boy and his dragon. The voice cast should draw some eyes, including Constance Wu, Jackie Chan, John Cho, Bobby Lee, Jimmy O. Yang, Ian Chen , and Will Yun Lee. The early images of the movie look promising.
Finally, “The Addams Family” represents a potential pop hit for audiences. The animated film looks to reboot the popular brand and the cast features some big names. Charlize Theron, Oscar Isaac, Bette Midler, Finn Wolfhard, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Nick Kroll makes for a very strong base. That said, will this movie be more of a popcorn flick or will it find its way into the Oscar hunt? If the movie chooses to get dark, that actually could appeal to the animators. Historically, more depressing and macabre films like “Anomalisa,” “The Boxtrolls,” “ParaNorman,” and “Frankenweenie” all scored nominations in the past seven years. If the quality is here and the movie doesn’t go “The Grinch” route, it will be in the conversation.
For fans of animation, 2019 looks to be one of the most promising years in recent memory. With a mixture of excellent animated films coming from overseas, the year could become a landmark year for the medium. Animated film continues to push towards a Best Picture nomination in the sliding scale. With this particular group of films, the strength of the genre may actually help a film rise enough to find its way into the conversation.