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 #7: Annecy 2018 Edition Part 2

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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. 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!)

Last time, we looked at the Annecy’s In Competition line-up of films. Now, we are going to look at the Out of Competition films. These are the films that are showing, but not competing for the awards. It doesn’t make them any less interesting or important, because some of the films in this section are important. Let’s not waste anymore time, and let’s dive into the films that look the most promising to me. If you want to see part 1, you can go to this link right here! Let’s get started!

Out of Competition

Captain Morten and the Spider Queen: While its use of stop-motion might be more similar to something like My Life as a Zucchini, and less of the Aardman and Laika-style, this film does look creative. The story is about a boy who is shrunk down to a small size, and must sail his toy boat across a flooded café, avoiding the Spider Queen and Scorpion Pirate. Hopefully, they take advantage and have some fun with the “I shrunk down to the size of an action figure” setting, and it also seems like it’s going to be more than just a “shrinking movie” with everything probably having some kind of symbolic meaning to it.

Chris the Swiss: Here is one of the few partly animated, part-documentary films from this event. Chris the Swiss tells the story of, well, a Swiss man named Chris, who decades ago joined an army, and died. His cousin, an animation film director, decides to investigate what exactly happened with Chris, from what was going on at the time, and from the journals and war reports going on. I’m definitely curious to see where this takes us, in terms of the story, and how much animation will be in the film. It definitely will give us some unique visuals and a dark and interesting tone you don’t see in a lot of animated features.

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires: There is a surprising amount of stop-motion at this year’s festival. Chuck Steel is essentially an 80s action cop film about Chuck Steel, who must save the day from an outbreak of Trampires, a horrific mixture of vampires and homeless people. It’s definitely aiming for that dumb schlock fun, and the stop-motion reminds me of the work by Will Vinton. It has a lot of detail and personality, and while it definitely shows the budget at times, Chuck Steel will hopefully be a fun time.

Hoffmaniada: Man, we are just getting so many of stop-motion projects this year. This is the story of a writer who gets sucked into his own book, and must escape the world in which the book takes place. It seems like it would lead to many creative and surreal visuals. I have seen about 30 minutes of the film, and it looks great. Sure, it looks like if the Rankin & Bass team had more budget in their specials, but the designs look great, and it reminds me of a lot of period dramas, due to the designs. Hopefully we can get a distributor like Good Deed Entertainment to bring it over.

Liz and the Blue Bird: From director Naoko Yamada, the individual behind the critically acclaimed A Silent Voice, is back with a new film called Liz and the Blue Bird. It follows the story of two female high school students, as they bond and get over challenges that life brings them while they are in band class. I think everyone can relate to when reality strikes you down, and starts to cause fissures around your life that will inevitably cause change.  It definitely looks interesting, and since it’s the same studio that did A Silent Voice, the animation is gorgeous. Sure, it has a bit of that “anime-style” that will probably turn non-Japanese animation watchers off, but the story sounds promising, and from what reviews I have read, it sounds like it’s going to be a good movie.

Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Blooms: What’s fairly cool about this year’s selection is that there are two female-directed Japanese-animated films. Liz and the Blue Bird, and this film, Maquia, by director Mari Okada. This one tells the story about a young woman named Maquia, who lives with a bunch of magical beings that weave the threads of human fate. One day, an invasion happens. She survives, but also finds a young boy to take care of, who was a survivor of the attack. Like our previous film on this list, it has some anime design choices I don’t personally care for, like the human designs, but I can overlook that, due to the goal and themes of the film. Okada is implementing themes of motherhood and adolescence into a touching tale. I trust she’s going to do a good job, and on top of Mari Okada, who was the screenwriter for The Anthem of the Heart, you also have character designer Akihiko Yoshia (Final Fantasy Tactics), and the music will be composed by Kenji Kawai, who did the music for Ghost in the Shell. I just love that more female directors are getting to work in animation, and are bringing in new perspectives, something that is sorely needed in animation.

North of Blue: This film by famed indie animation director Joanna Priestley is a visual wonder. It’s a film that’s more of an emotional and visual experience about our history and connectedness. It’s definitely a film that you are either going to love, due to all the emotion that the downright amazing visuals bring, or think it’s all style and no substance. I didn’t know what to expect when I watched the trailer for this film, but I can’t wait to see it!

On Happiness Road: So, I have been on the record of loving Only Yesterday, because it brings up adult topics of being adults, and looking back at our past to see if we are fine or happy with where we are now. This animated feature from Taiwan, On Happiness Road, directed by Hsin-Yin Sung, looks to capture that aspect that I loved about Only Yesterday. Yes, the animation looks more like a really good indie animated short from YouTube, but I think what’s going to help this film is the lovely visuals, writing, and the characters. I think everyone has had a moment to look back at where they are now, and wonder if they are accepting of what has happened since being a child. Plus, how many animated features from Taiwan do you see that look super promising? I can’t wait to see how this one turns out.

The Last Fiction: This action fantasy flick, based on the Iranian tale, The Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), is coming to us from Iran by director Ashkan Rahgozar. While there are definitely bits and pieces that you can point at to show off the budget, when are you ever going to get an action animated feature? So many US-made animated features don’t have variety, and while some have action sequences, a lot of them are played up more for laughs, than to watch something thrilling. It looks like a grand epic, and while it can definitely be compared visually to something like Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’m happy to see something coming from Iran. The more countries that invest into high quality animation, the better.

The Tower: I swear this is the last stop-motion film on the list. There are simply too many to count this year! This multi-country collaboration is a mix of 2D flash animation and stop-motion about a young girl living in a refugee camp. While its stop-motion looks like the style used in shows like The Amanda Show or the Oscar-nominated Negative Space, and the flash animation might not look impressive to many, it’s going to have to come down to the story and the characters to push us through the experience. I definitely think this has potential to be well-received, but we will have to see.

The Angel in the Clock: While I can definitely criticize some aspects, like the art style and the animation looking a bit too child-friendly, I have to give respects to Mexico for their entry in feature animation. It’s also a story that would get no traction from the big animation studios here in the states. It’s about a young girl who has leukemia, who wants to stop time. She then meets an angel named Malachi that lives inside her cuckoo clock. I love the idea that this film is going to be tackling such a dark and uncomfortable topic, and talking about how more people need to learn to enjoy what’s happening here and now, and worry less about the future. Like I said, the animation and designs are not my favorite, but the visuals look great, and I’m always down for more films aimed at children to tackle different topics.

A Man is Dead: And finally, we have this hour-long French animated feature called A Man is Dead. It’s based on the comics that are set during the strikes in Brest back in April of 1950 that caused the death of a union worker. While again, definitely showing its budget, it also does a good job to bring us into this rather tough and violent time period. Yes, the characters look like French comic characters with the small dot eyes, but we will have to see how the story and pacing carries over the span of the film. It doesn’t have a lot of time to get an entire story told, because it’s an hour long, but as usual, any film that talks about certain periods of time that are unique and original through the power of animation, gets my thumbs up and approval.

Thanks for reading! Next time, we will be looking at the films in the “Work in Progress/Others” section!