Was 2016 the greatest ever year for animated films?

Mike P Williams
Contributor
Has 2016 been one of the best years for animation in memory? – Credit: Pixar, Disney, CoMix Wave

2016 may be remembered for a lot of things, but even with movie highlights that saw ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ greet the New Year and ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ see it out, there have been plenty of massive titles such as ‘Deadpool’, ‘Captain America: Civil War’, and ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’.

But let’s not forget the amazing features that made up the animation contingent because, in case you’ve overlooked the genre, these types of movies had one hell of a year. In fact, the output from the likes of Disney, Pixar, Studio Ghibli, and beyond has been staggering.

In truth it’s difficult to summarise the amount of varied and high quality releases, but one indication of how positively productive computer animated, stop motion and, in some cases, classically hand drawn efforts have been over the past 12 months is to take a look at the 2017 Oscars long list for Best Animated Feature.

The range, as you can see below, is vast: from family-friendly adventures, to adult-only content, to storytelling that transcends age and simply appeals to anyone and everyone. The selection is eclectic to say the least, so it’s perhaps worthwhile attempting to narrow the list to a possible five that may make up the Academy’s shortlist come February.

 

Upon inspection it’s almost impossible to not just pick my favourites but to get rid of 22 titles for what I think the Academy may chose for a shortlist. At a glance speaking objectively and for variety’s sake, I’d say go with of ‘Zootropolis’, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’, ‘Your Name’, ‘Moana’, and ‘The Red Turtle’ – but when it comes to predicting how the Academy think, I’ve no idea. And that’s omitting efforts like Pixar’s ‘Finding Dory’ amidst other mainstreamers such as the likeable ‘Angry Birds’ and even ‘Trolls’ which they often thrown in for good measure, but it’s vital not to overlook smaller productions such as ‘My Life as a Zucchini’ (or ‘My Life as a Courgette’, as it’s known in the UK) which made an impression at the most recent London Film Festival.

It’s important to take note of some of the standout contributions to cinema over 2016, too, so here are a selection of some the best that’ve hit screens during the year.

Your Name

Credit: CoMix Wave

Arguably the animation event of the year in many people’s eyes, and that’s saying something. Japanese helmer Makoto Skinkai does a blisteringly good job at matching anything anime world leaders Studio Ghibli can do, proving that there is life after Miyazaki in terms of creating hugely engaging, beautifully drawn anime that manages to pack an array of goodness into one film. Best to keep those tissues handy.

Moana

Credit: Disney

Disney’s first Polynesian princess may not seem bold to some, but in actuality it’s a very positive and fairly big step, considering the title character’s only their fifth non-white heroine after Pocahontas, ‘Aladdin’s’ Jasmine, Mulan, and ‘The Princess and the Frog’s’ Tiana in nearly 100 years of animated films. Dwayne Johnson also uses his star power as Maui to bolster what is a charmingly told and songtastic Mouse House musical.

Finding Dory

Credit: Disney/Pixar

The long-awaited sequel may not be top end Pixar, but what ‘Finding Dory’ does is show that animation sequels are a) still viable for the studio, and b) can pull in hefty profits – around $1 billion, actually. Family-friendly stories will always be important in animation as, rightly or wrongly, that’s a trait a lot of people associate with the genre.

The Little Prince

Credit: Onyx Films

This fascinating mixture of hand-drawn, CGI, and stop motion all rolled into one gorgeously conceived feature is something rather splendid. Currently on Netflix, the fantasy tale based on 1943’s novella by  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is a weirdly told yet adorable tale. When the stop motion kicks in – which is around the halfway point at the earliest – it’s eye-wateringly stunning. ‘The Little Prince’ also has a superb voice cast, with Jeff Bridges and Rachel McAdams in key roles.

Zootropolis

Credit: Disney

Disney’s first of many, many films released in 2016 was one of its most powerful in years. If this doesn’t scoop the Oscar then I will be surprised. Besides their frequently ticked checklist of vibrant, eye-popping animation, a solid script, and sharp levels of wit and jokes that slot seamlessly into a narrative, the message is very strong. It seems the brains at the House of Mouse were ahead of the game when they infused issues around sexism, racism, xenophobia, and class subtextually into the screenplay. Essential viewing, if you ask me.

Anomalisa

Credit: Snoot Entertainment

Firstly, this was in contention for Best Animation at the 2016 Oscars, so it’s not even pushing for a place in that above list but hit UK cinemas in March ’16. It’s strictly stop motion for adults, and with Charlie Kauffman in the director’s chair anyone remotely familiar with his work (‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and ‘Being John Malkovich’ spring to mind) will have an idea of this being a very different, unique approach to animation.

When Marnie Was There

Credit: Studio Ghibli

Another entry that got a 2016 UK cinema release and included in last year’s animation Oscars race, Studio Ghibli’s last ever feature – well, it was until the recent revelation they’d secretly been making another – is one of their best. A story of a young, lonely girl battling depression is sent for some r&r in the countryside, which is where she meets another secluded, like-minded girl named Marnie. For anyone even vaguely accustomed to Ghibli’s output, the richness of Japanese culture and heritage mixed with a poignant, sometimes heartbreaking narrative oozes through as one of their most impressive in recent memory.

Personal highlights aside, I’d be here all day going through every single discussion-worthy, interesting, culturally valuable animated film since the start of 2016. In short, and what I’m trying to say, is that the year has provided audiences with a wonderful and eclectic choice of animation, and that’s on the back of strong years from ’15 and the one previous.

Credit: Disney

Taking a keen interest in animated features myself, previous Oscar shortlists have been far easier to call and the winners way more straight forward in selecting: 2014 was clearly ‘Frozen’s’ year; 2015 had ‘Big Hero 6’ written all over it; and ‘Inside Out’ was always the favourite in 2016. And while ‘Zootropolis’ should probably walk away with the honours, the truth is there’s a number of others that could pip Disney to the acclaim. ‘Your Name’, I believe, stands a great chance, having wowed everyone who’s seen it and made some impressive figures at the box office. Profits aren’t to Disney’s level, but that’s certainly no reason to overlook it. Similarly ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ could emerge as victor after widespread critical praise surrounded its relatively low-key release.

Animation fans will know they’ve been spoiled last year, so don’t be too miffed if 2017 isn’t quite as eventful. The next 12 months will however give us ‘The LEGO Batman movie’, ‘Paddington 2’ and ‘Cars 3’ to look forward to… and obviously, ahem, ‘The Emoji Movie’.

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