Worst to Best Animated Films of 2019 Part 1

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial/list!)

I contemplated on whether to do a Worst to Best list for 2019. A lot of the internet discourse seems to have had it with negativity, or at least the wrong and toxic kind of negativity. Sadly, as much as I love animation, I don’t like saying I’m a part of the animation fandom, because of how toxic and ill-informed it gets. It’s gotten to the point where actual real animators on Twitter disown the community because of how uneducated and terrible the loudest individuals tend to be. It’s why I bite back against common hot takes, like Illumination being the worst thing ever when they are not. I’m happy to let more of the positivity shine through when talking about even the films I consider the weakest of the year.

With all that said, I do think as an animation fan and critic, part of my job is to archive the overall year, and that means we need to talk about the new classics, the good, everything in the middle, and the films considered the weakest of the year. It’s an overall report card at what made that year stand out. I plan on making sure that criticism is handled more nuanced, because I still want to talk about the overall year of 2019 in theatrical animation.

Overall, I found the animation scene in 2019 to be fairly mixed. On one side of the animation spectrum, the big Hollywood animation scene put out some real clunkers that mostly had troubled development, or films that were pretty good, but not the best that the studios themselves could put out. It was a B+ year for the US animation scene. Now, the foreign/indie scene was A+. This is why I love tackling foreign and indie animated films, because they tend to be better than what the US pushes out. After all, they take the medium of animation seriously with how many diverse stories they tell. When you can usually find some years to be weaker than others for the US scene, you can always count on the foreign scene to put out some stellar work. As usual, the rules are that they had to have a US release in 2019, so that means Ride Your Wave and Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon is not going to be on the list, since they never got US releases until this year. This also means that older films that got an official release this year, will be put on the list. They also had to have been submitted to the Oscars, and I saw 29 of the 32 Oscar submitted films, which makes me a better animation voter than most of the Academy. I will also be including the DC animated films and any major direct-to-video that made enough noise. Now then, let’s get started with the obvious clunkers of the year.

49 Arctic Dogs

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I will have no real idea of why obvious direct-to-video animated features get put into theaters, because this one didn’t need to be in theaters. Outside of supposed drama behind the scenes, the story is lackluster, the animation is poorly done, the writing is mediocre, and it felt more like a product than an actual film. I’m aware and feel for teams of people who get put into dud projects that aren’t run well, but I want to know exactly what happened, from the piece of concept art to the final product because something happened, and what we got was one of the biggest financial disasters in animation, and that’s saying something considering the next film on the list.

48 Playmobil: The Movie

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I felt badly for this one, because it seemed like it was put through the wringer. It had probably one of the roughest development histories in animation, and it then was panned on arrival. The talent behind this film is great, but that still doesn’t excuse how lackluster this film is. It’s everything that people were dunking on it for. This ranges from being a poorly-made LEGO Movie rip-off to a film that didn’t know what it wanted to be. It also had some of the notoriously worse marketing out of any film in the animation scene last year. Some minor elements were amusing about the film, but when you can’t get a Blu-ray release, then that’s saying something about the quality of your film.

47 Wonder Park 

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You know, if you wanted to make a child/family-friendly version of A Monster Calls or I Kill Giants, you can just show families these films. Wonder Park may have some creative moments and decent voice acting, but it doesn’t save it from a story that was made to spin off into a TV show no one is going to watch, and it couldn’t commit to the film’s darker tones. But, hey, this is what happens when you don’t hire a new director during productions. What you get is a film with no real direction.

46 UglyDolls

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This is yet another animated film that was rushed out and had a rough development. While the film itself is not that great, with fairly weak songs, a world that doesn’t make a lot of sense, and forgettable characters, it’s overall harmless. I found the previous films to be more obnoxious compared to UglyDolls. It had decent animation, Kelly Clarkson and Blake Shelton were solid with their performances, and sometimes there would be a joke that worked. I don’t know if we will ever see that UglyDolls animated series spin-off, but the film itself is harmless.

45 Stolen Princess

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Out of all of the films I saw last year, this is one that I feel like was supposed to come out years earlier. It’s not the worst film I have seen, but it’s the most forgettable, and it feels so archaic in terms of its execution. Not only is the CGI animation not up to par, but it’s another Shrek/fantasy-parody/comedy film, and it’s not even close to being the worst of that kind of film. It’s competently made, and sometimes you would get a solid sequence. It’s like that film Charmed that we still haven’t seen a US release for. It’s free on Amazon Prime, but you probably won’t remember much after watching it.

44 Captain Morten and the Spider Queen

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Now, this was a film I was bummed that it wasn’t better. The only reason it’s above the rest of the films listed is because of its stop-motion animation. It can be a touch creative, but a lot of it seems derivative to James and the Giant Peach. We rarely see stop-motion films, and to see this one have such a weak story and characters is disappointing. The film meanders around too much, and that’s saying something, considering it’s one of the shorter films on this list. There is a reason you haven’t heard about this film, or why it’s a digital only release.

43 Fantastica: A Boonie Bears Adventure

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It’s probably not shocking that this film is this low on the list. It’s a franchise film where the lead franchise characters play secondary to the film-only characters, the story doesn’t make a lot of sense in some areas, and the dubbing, well, the two English dubs were nothing special. However, sometimes, the film has a decent action sequence, and the fantasy world they arrive in is fairly creative. It’s not made for me, and I don’t think this film’s release will increase the popularity of the franchise, but I can think of much more forgettable films that are way more annoying to have rattling around in your brain.

42 The Secret Life of Pets 2

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Big shock, an Illumination Entertainment film is once again this low on the list. While I think people need to take chill pills towards this studio, I get the frustration. We have yet another Illumination film that has some decent ideas, but lack the drive to follow through with them. Sure, it has some good voice talent, some decent jokes, and great animation, but Illumination needs to start shaking things up a bit. Still, it’s a super harmless film, and if you see anyone acting with toxic vitriol toward it, walk far away from them.

41 Away

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This was an animated film that was made by one person. It won the Contrechamp award at Annecy, and that’s all that anyone is going to know about this film. Sure, a dialogue-less film is fun to see, and it’s ambitious as only one person put this entire film together. However, it does show this was done by one person. It’s not the strongest narrative-wise, the animation looks like something out of an indie game, and it feels like an indie game, but without the gameplay. I won’t take away its fame and awards, but I wish I was seeing what everyone else was at Annecy.

40 Dilili in Paris

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Maybe it’s because I have seen his other work, but maybe this might be the director’s first misfire for me. While I enjoyed films like Azur & AsmarDilili in Paris has a lot of the worst elements in family animation. Its dialogue is heavily exposition-focused, it tells the audience what they are thinking, the third act twist has some weight to it, but it’s way too dark for a film that’s meant to be for younger viewers. I love the visual look of this film, but it had no chance of being in the Oscars.

The Other Side of Animation 170: Arctic Dogs Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Okay, let’s get this out of the way. This review is about Arctic Dogs. Directed by Aaron Woodley, produced by Assemblage Entertainment, AIC Studios, and Ambi Media Group, and distributed by Entertainment Studios, this is yet another film in a long line of films to make ya wonder how on earth this got into theaters. Originally announced back in 2015 as Arctic Justice: Thunder Squad, this CGI animated feature was set to release January 2018. Unfortunately, the first distributors of this venture, Open Road Films, went bankrupt, and then the film was picked up by Entertainment Studios, the same distributor that put out 47 Meters Down, the sequel 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, Chappaquiddick, The Hurricane Heist, Hostiles, and the classic horror film you forgot existed, Friend Request. Word of mouth among the animation community spread as the founder of Entertainment Studios, Byron Allen, took interest in animation, but had no real idea or concern about what went into making profitable animated features.

Even after promising a proper marketing plan for this flick, and being released November 1st when films like The Addam’s Family was starting to lose its legs in theaters, Arctic Dogs bombed at the box office. Reportedly on a budget of $50 mil, Arctic Dogs has, as of writing this article, only brought in $3 million. It is now the spot holder for the biggest failure to open in over 2,000 theaters, or so some comments and articles have made out. So, we have an animated film that took forever to make, being greenlit by people who never worked in animation, being distributed by a guy who has no money left in this film distribution venture, directed by a guy with already one animation bomb in his filmography, having to deal with questionably intelligent people above him, and it bombed hard, opening in 10th place. Yeah, let’s just pick up our plate of vegetables your mom told you to eat, and get this over with.

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Our story revolves around an arctic fox named Swifty, voiced by Jeremy Renner. He dreams of becoming one of the mail delivery dogs that are the talk of the town and the cream of the crop. Unfortunately, due to his size, he is constantly told that he can’t be a delivery dog by his boss, Magda, voiced by Anjelica Huston. He ends up working the assembly line with his pal PB, voiced by Alec Baldwin and Lemmy, voiced by James Franco. One day, he gets tasked with taking a package by his fox friend Jade, voiced by Heidi Klum to a base way out in the tundra. Swifty ends up encountering a walrus scientist named Otto Van Walrus, voiced by John Cleese. Swifty finds out Walrus’ evil plan, and it is up to him and his friends to find a way to prevent Walrus from destroying their home and the world using “BAD Gas.”

The biggest hurdle with dealing with films like Arctic Dogs is that there is not a whole lot to talk about with worthwhile substance to it. There are only so many times you can say, there is nothing to this movie!  Arctic Dogs is an animated film that lacks ambition. Animation-wise, the film looks better than most of the low-grade flicks that somehow end up in theaters, but for a film that supposedly cost $50 mil, I’m finding it hard to believe that it cost that much. Maybe a lot of it went to the cast, which explains why the animation is so lifeless. There are low-grade textures, stiff movements, incorrectly executed physical comedy, and the film lacks the small animation details that would have given it more blood pumping through its veins. It’s one of those animated films that give CGI animation a bad name. It also doesn’t help that the designs are boring as tar. There is no life to them, and they look like stock assets in an animation program. Walrus looks the best, but it’s not enough to save a bland looking film. You can make great looking animation done on a non-Disney/Pixar budget, but it takes really good art direction to pull that off, and that isn’t the case here. It may somehow have cost $50 mil to make, but the film’s visuals tell you otherwise. Even the concept art for this film looked better.

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So, the animation is of poor quality, but what about the characters and the cast? Surely, you can make up for a bad animated feature with good writing and memorable characters? Yeah, no you can’t. Maybe a better writer could have done more with this film’s climate change commentary, but there is no substance to it. The characters are all boring family film archetypes, and no one stands out as memorable. Jeremy Renner is probably the biggest get for this film, but this is not a good performance for him. The way he talks and acts in the film makes me think this was meant for a younger actor like Zac Efron. It also doesn’t help that he has some hefty abuse allegations against him right now, so, yeah. The rest of the cast is also not very compelling. James Franco is sleepwalking through this flick, Heidi Klum’s character could have easily been played by a voice actress with more energy, and I almost like Alec Baldwin’s take on PB, but then I remember how invested he was in films like The Boss Baby and Rise of the Guardians, and realize that he, like Franco, sleepwalks through the film. It’s even funnier seeing Angelica Huston in the cast, as of the reveal of this film’s existence, she was bad-mouthing older actresses for being in stuff like Poms, while she considers herself as an “art-only” actress. Yeah, explain to me how this soulless animated film is art, ya hypocrite. John Cleese is the only one having any fun, but that’s because he’s playing a 1-dimensional villain and is the only one to have fun with his character.

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The writing and pacing of the film are whiplash-inducing. The film has such a stop and start way of going about its scenes, that it felt like the story had to pause for jokes, then story, then clunky bonding dialogue, story, joke, story, the lead character looks like a giant jerk, and so on. It never felt fluid or made me want to invest in what was going on. I would love to know the process of writing this script because it comes off like it was very “this is our first major film script”. Nothing about the dialogue feels like there was an effort to make it witty or clever.

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When I saw Arctic Dogs, I wondered whether it was going to be worse, or on par with Wonder Park, the film that has held my worst animated film of 2019 spot since March. I had to ask myself if being more ambitious, but failing every step of the way was better or worse than setting out what you wanted to do, but being completely bland and forgettable. Well, I have to say, Wonder Park has now been dethroned by Arctic Dogs. I couldn’t stand Arctic Dogs. I feel badly for any trouble the director and animators had to deal with while working on this film, and please do not go after them if you did not like this film. It’s not as bad as other cheap-animated films you see slide into theaters for no reason, but it’s not too far off as being one of the worst examples of such. I would say avoid this movie, but since no one is seeing it, you are already doing so. Save your money and wait for Frozen II and Spies in Disguise. Well then, I need something to liven up the mood a bit. I honestly had a hard time choosing what to review next, but how about we review some Netflix films next? I think that sounds like a good idea! Let’s talk about the new Holiday-favorite film, Klaus.

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist