As I sit here stewing over Spies in Disguise, I can't help but think back to all of the other animated movies that came out this year. And as an animation buff, I figured I'd sum up the general state of animated movies after this year.
This year had some fantastic animated movies. And it also saw some I wish had never been made. But that's every year, right? There's good and bad. What makes a good year for animation is simply the number of good films outnumbering the bad, and I feel that was certainly the case this year.
I think 2019 saw a number of great animated movies, but because I'm a bad news first kind of gal, I'll start off with the ones that hurt the brand.
Animated films seem to be unable to shake this stigma that "cartoons are for kids," and yeah, some of them are, but that's no reason to dismiss them outright from awards and your ticket purchase. Some of the best films I've seen in my life have been animated, and if more viewers lumped animation in with the "normal movies" instead of putting them in a separate category for children, they'd realize the potential.
The good news is with each passing year I feel as if the stigma fades a little more. The bad news is animated movies are not immune from the reboot/remake plague that festers in the live action movie world.
Perhaps one of my biggest animated grievances this year comes from The Lion King. Disney can bill it as a live-action remake all it wants because the CGI animals look photorealistic (the only impressive thing about the movie). But it's still animated because these aren't real animals.
The Lion King was the first movie I was taken to see in theaters as a child. Of course, I only made it a little ways into the movie because I threw a tantrum and couldn't stop crying when Mufasa died. Mom had to take me out of the theater (cut me some slack; I was 4), and I got to watch it later on VHS when we could control the environment a little more.
For many Disney fans, The Lion King is considered the greatest movie in the company's history (Kimba the White Lion controversy aside). So it did not need an animated reboot with photorealistic animals. The 2019 version was a soulless monster, and you know why? Because realistic animals can't express a wide array of emotions like animated ones can.
When Simba watched Mufasa die in this version, I shrugged. Where was the emotion in finding Mufasa's dead body? Nowhere. And yet, this went on to be the highest grossing animated movie of 2019, which will only encourage Disney to proceed further into this wretched "live action" reboot territory.
I'm hoping Frozen 2 can topple The Lion King in terms of money. Come on, parents. Take your children to see it. I promise the music won't stick in your head like the first one.
But The Lion King is definitely a negative mark for animation in 2019. I hope 2021 doesn't bring us a "live action" reboot of The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride.
I wanted to say something terrible about Angry Birds 2 because I hate the franchise and lumped the original in with The Emoji Movie as a lazy cash grab. But ... it actually got decent reviews. Go figure.
Every year is bound to bring out a few animated stinkers, further reinforcing the stigma that these movies are just for distracting kids when you toss them an iPad. Sadly, 2019 gave us movies like Arctic Dogs, Playmobil: The Movie, Wonder Park and The Queen's Corgi. Some executives must look at cartoons and think, "I can do that! I'll scrape together a minimal budget, find some no-name studio to do the animation, hire lackluster vocal talent, and it'll be instant return on investment!"
But enough about the bad. This past year also gave us some fantastic conclusions to epic stories in How to Train Your Dragon 3 and Toy Story 4, both of which made it onto my best movies of 2019 list.
DreamWorks and Pixar are not immune to making bad movies (Cars 2 and The Boss Baby prove that). But when these studios get it right, they knock it out of the park. The endings to both of these movies had me sobbing because they were that touching. And I love the competition between these studios. These days, DreamWorks seems to be one of the only big budget animation powerhouses that can compete with Disney (which owns Pixar). And when they compete, we, the consumers, win because we get more amazing movies.
Each of these movies pushed the technical features of animation further. In Toy Story 4, every detail was so lifelike, from the toys themselves to little things like rain on concrete. And oh! The stories they were able to tell, like an aging Woody having to figure out how to deal with not being the favorite toy of his new kid. Hiccup finally growing up to be the leader of his Viking tribe and realizing maybe Toothless isn't always going to be by his side because the dragon has its own tribe to take care of.
When it comes to animation, I think DreamWorks outperformed Disney this year. I'd consider How to Train Your Dragon 3 to be on equal footing with Toy Story 4. But DreamWorks also had Abominable (which I also put on my best movies of 2019 list), and I think it was a better movie than Frozen 2.
Don't misunderstand me. Frozen 2 was a good movie, and I want to see more films like it from Walt Disney Animation Studios. But Abominable just had so much heart in its story and characters. And the story wasn't ripped from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Top it off with that violin cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way," and I simply have to name it the superior film.
Unfortunately for DreamWorks, its 2020 slate is all sequels to movies I don't care for, Trolls 2, The Croods 2, The Boss Baby 2, yuck. No thanks. Disney will probably win this next year.
When it comes to Japanese animated films, 2019 was a solid year. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Resurrection and Promare were top notch, and I'm glad I caught Code Geass in theaters (a rarity in Arkansas). I still have others in my queue as well from Weathering With You to Detective Conan: The Fist of Blue Sapphire. I'd even like to see Ne Zha (which I know is a Chinese film) if I can track down a copy.
It was also a good year for some of the smaller guys in terms of animation. I put Missing Link on my top movies of the year list because I love stop motion animation, and I hope it never dies. The Portland-based Studio Laika will always have my heart. I wish for those guys to thrive in an era that's racing further into 3-D animation. Stay strong.
As for Spies in Disguise, it's already getting good reviews, and it's made by Blue Sky Studios (sigh -- also owned by Disney now). I hope the studio makes enough money from what will probably be Will Smith's only good movie this year and can continue making movies in the future.
I'd say the state of animated films in 2019 was solid. There are dark spots like The Lion King, but it's outshined by other fantastic properties like Toy Story 4 and How to Train Your Dragon 3. I want the little guys to continue pouring their hearts into movies, and I will happily go see them. I'm also looking forward to some excellent movies in 2020. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go watch Klaus.
MovieStyle on 01/03/2020
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