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.

Animation Tidbits: Annecy Part 2

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(Originally written: May 29th: 2019. Sorry for posting this late!)

(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. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

Alrighty, for the final part of this look at Annecy 2019, I decided to combine a bunch of films from different categories. This is because the various categories don’t have enough to warrant talking about in individual articles. At least, that is my opinion on the other categories. The one major change they made was a new category called Contrechamp, a category with animated features that are in competition, but have visuals that challenge the medium of animation. Otherwise, the films on the list will be from the screening events and In Production section of the festival. Let’s get started!

Children of the Sea (Contrechamp)

Directed by Ayumu Watanabe, the story focuses on a girl named Ruka, who saw a ghost in her dad’s aquarium when she was little. She becomes attracted to the aquarium and the appearance of two mysterious boys named Umi and Sora, all the while the adults who work there figure out the mass disappearance of the earth’s fish. In a lot of ways, it’s almost unfair that this film is the perfect representation for the Contrechamp section of the festival. It’s almost unfair how downright jaw-dropping-off-your-face beautiful the film is. Studio 4C has done a lot of great work, but this easily looks like it will be their best. Plus, with GKids now attached to bringing it over to the states this year, I have major hopes it’s going to be at Animation is Film 2019! If that wasn’t enough to get you hyped, Joe Hisaishi, the composer behind many of the Studio Ghibli classics, is composing the music for this film.

Away (Contrechamp)

Directed by Gints Zilbalodis, Away is about a young man who’s riding a motorcycle, trapped on a mystical island while trying to avoid a shadowy monster chasing him. This is also a film that looks like it will be taking advantage of the Contrechamp title. Sure, it kind of looks like an indie game that’s trying to be the next artistic achievement in gaming, but that’s sort of the fun of it. Plus, this was directed and animated by someone who is 25 years old. That is wildly ambitious and I give him kudos for that. It looks like a visually creative film that I hope does well.

Underdog (Contrechamp)

Directed by Sung-Yoon Oh and Chun Baek Lee, the story revolves around a blue dog that was once a house pet, but ends up back in the wild. He encounters wild dogs, and tries to help them survive and live freely. Generic title aside, I really like the visual look of this film. It reminds me of the work arounds French animation uses in projects like The Painting. It has a super vibrant color palette, and while the CGI may not be Pixar or Disney level at all, it has its own identity and personality to it. I’m happy to see South Korean animation finally making some break-out titles to show that they can make animated features that aren’t tied down to propaganda, and can be watchable by all. Though seeing some of the marketing blurbs say it was more emotionally gripping than Zootopia? Yeah, we will have to see about that.

Ville Neuve (Contrechamp)

Directed by Felix Dufour Laperriere, Ville Neuve focuses on a man named Joseph, who moves into a house with his friend, and tries to get back with his ex-wife, and this is happening with the 1995 Quebec Referendum happening in the background. I like the minimalist approach with its focus on whites, blacks, and grays. It comes off like a more personal and intimate film, and I can’t wait to see what the reviews say about this one.

Playmobil (Screening)

Now then, let’s jump in with the first film in the “Screening” category. Directed by Lino DiSalvo, the story focuses on a young woman named Marla, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who gets pulled into this Playmobil world with her brother Carlie, played by Gabriel Bateman. They get separated, and it’s up to Marla to team up with Rex Dasher, a secret agent voiced by Daniel Radcliffe and Del, a food truck driver voiced by Jim Gaffigan, to get her brother back and avoid the evil clutches of Emperor Maximus, played by Adam Lambert. Yeah, this film did not get the warmest impression, being negatively compared to the 2014 The LEGO Movie. I can understand why. It comes off as a bit outdated that there needs to be a reason for the Playmobil world to exist, when people would rather just enjoy the world that they make. Still, the film looks silly and aware about itself, and some of the jokes I saw got a chuckle out of me. Hopefully it can be an entertaining flick once it releases later this year.

The Prince’s Voyage (Screening)

Directed by Jean-Francois Languionie and Xavier Pircard, this is a follow-up to a film Jean Francois did a while back called A Monkey’s Tale, which follows the prince from that film, as he washes up on the shore of an island, and encounters an individual named Young Tom and his two parents, who were exiled scientists. The film itself looks great, but that should be no surprise, because it’s the same guy behind The Painting, but I am curious to see how they make this film work, because who remembers A Monkey’s Tale? It has only gotten an English UK release, and no one in America has probably heard of this guy or his films. Still, the CGI looks stylized, and I’m curious to see how this film does in continuing the story with these characters in a travel diary-style form.

Abominable (Screening)

Finally, we are seeing actual trailers and footage for this film. Directed by Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman, we follow the exploits of a young Chinese woman named Yi, voiced by Chloe Bennet, as she encounters an actual Yeti on the rooftop of her apartment building. It was previously caught by a scientist named Dr. Zara, voiced by Sarah Paulson, and an evil rich man named Burnish, voiced by Eddie Izzard. It is up to Yi, her friends Peng, voiced by Albert Tsai, and Jin, voiced by Tenzing Norgay Trainor, to get the Yeti back to his home in the mountains. This is an important film, due to this being DreamWorks first Chinese collaboration with Pearl Studio. As per usual with their non-comedy stuff, Abominable looks visually great, and has some endearing moments, but the jokes and references made in the first trailer and in the recent trailer are iffy. Hopefully, this is more of DreamWorks working at a How to Train your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda level, and not Shrek the Third level. Also, what is up with their marketing for this film? Everyone has already seen a trailer for the film for two or so months before the “official” trailer was released last week. What was the point of having two trailers and one of them was already viewable in theaters? Oh well, I hope this is a good movie.

Toy Story 4 (Screening)

Directed by Josh Cooley, we follow our heroes dealing with their new lives and a new encounter with a self-made toy named Forky, voiced by Tony Hale. One day, Forky gets out, and Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, sets out to bring Forky back, but also runs into Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts. Shenanigans then ensue as Woody and the gang try to get Forky back to their new owner Bonnie, and Woody starts to have a crisis of what it means to be a toy. It’s too easy and frankly lazy, to say how this is a “cash grab”, when all films are cash grabs. We didn’t need a 4th one, but if we needed this one to get back on the train of original films starting with next year’s Onward, then so be it. Plus, I have been hearing good early word of mouth, and plus, who doesn’t want to see Keanu Reeves in his first ever voice role? Even if we might “not need it”, I’m glad to go back if the story is good.

Frozen 2 (Screening)

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, our heroes from the first film, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Olaf are off on another adventure to go beyond the kingdom of Arendelle. Yeah, there isn’t much known about the film right now, so let’s talk about how incredible the teaser trailer was. This film looks jaw-dropping-off-your-face-and-exploding gorgeous. I’m sure a lot of this is just teaser editing, and the film may not be this serious in tone, but wouldn’t that be awesome if it was? I know there is a bit of Frozen burnout, but I liked the first movie, and I’m excited to see how this new one unfolds.

Weathering With You (WIP)

In the Work in Progress section, we have the newest film from Makoto Shinkai. The story revolves around a young boy who moves to Tokyo alone, and almost becomes broke, until he gets a writing job for an odd occult magazine. His life feels like it’s constant misery, as rain and dark clouds follow him everywhere. One day, he encounters a young girl who has a mysterious power to clear the sky of the clouds and rain. While I have been critical of some of Shinkai’s efforts and directorial touches in the past, this one has me very excited. To no surprise that Shinkai has more drop-dead eye-popping visuals, something about the story feels instantly likable, and GKids recently announced that they will be bringing it over! I can’t wait to see this film, and I hope to see it sometime soon.

Promare (Midnight Special)

Finally, for the Midnight Special, we have Promare. Directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and animated by Studio Trigger, we follow Galo Thymos and his team, the Burning Rescue Fire Department. Their main goal is to take down a group of evil mutants called BURNISH that emits and can control a special fire that is engulfing the planet. This movie looks so over-the-top, silly, nonsensical, it’s super drenched in its anime identity, and this is why I follow foreign/indie animation. This movie looks crazy in the most positive way possible. Sure, if you know anything about Studio Trigger’s previous work like Kill la Kill, Space Patrol Luluco, Little Witch Academia, and SSSS Gridman, then you know you are going to get some of the most vibrant Japanese animation around. It looks like a lot of fun, and I hope to also see it soon.

And that wraps up what I think looks to be the most promising at the Annecy International Film Festival. Even with these listed, there are truly more interesting features being shown in their completed form or work-in-progress form. Just go check out the site, and see the multitude of animated projects being shown, and find your favorites.