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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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 & Asmar, Dilili 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.