Worst to Best Animated Films of 2016 Finale

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Welcome back to the final part of the Worst to Best Animated Films of 2016. If you have not seen the previous part of the list, here is a link. These are the final ten films that I love, and would watch many times over. I consider them new classics that everyone should check out and support. Honestly, I would just tell you to buy them all, but that’s just me. Let’s get started

10. April and the Extraordinary World

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I know everyone is in a bit of a bum mood, since the future of Studio Ghibli is up in the air as Hayao Miyazaki works on his supposedly “last” film, so instead, I want to turn your attention to what some have considered a French Ghibli alternative. April and the Extraordinary World is a fun Castle in the Sky-style action adventure film set in a world where science never got past the steam age. It’s filled with high-flying action, sci-fi technology, and it’s just a fun adventure with fun characters. I still think some of the chemistry between characters could have been better, but I really loved watching this film. If you need your Castle in the Sky fix and to see how to do Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow better, then definitely watch this movie.

9. Long Way North

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Let’s call this the polar opposite of a Disney princess film. This French film about a Russian princess wanting to redeem her grandfather’s legacy is simple, yet complex. It’s easy to get into and well executed. The film can be very quiet and atmospheric with a honestly dark edge to the adventure she goes on to find her Grandfather’s ship. Granted, some of the voice work isn’t the best, but the film is gorgeously animated, and it has a great cast of characters with a story that shows the darker side of events like this. I was a tad disappointed that this film wasn’t seen by more people, since I truly think it’s a fantastic film. It’s easily the best film Shout! Factory has distributed, and I highly recommend you support this film by buying a copy.

8. The Boy and the Beast

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Man, I don’t know why people aren’t more willing to say Mamoru Hosoda is the new “Miyazaki”, because films like The Boy and the Beast are why he’s one of my new favorite directors. This tale with themes of father and son relationships, different family situations, and parents being up-front with your children is masterfully fused with the beautiful animation, great action, and likable characters. I think the pacing could have been better in the third act, but that shouldn’t detract from how amazing this movie is. I can’t wait to see what Hosoda does in the future.

7. Only Yesterday

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Yes, it’s technically a 2016 release since we never got it when Disney was bringing over all of the Ghibli films. Luckily, GKids decided to be awesome and help us out with bringing over probably one of my favorite Ghibli films to date. I love the more mature tone, the characters, the setting, and the voice cast. I adored Daisy Ridley as the lead, and I found her character to be rather complex and interesting. I’m sure everyone in their life has wondered if they feel like they got what they wanted out of their life. Sure, it can be a tad slow, and I can totally understand if someone finds this film boring, but I found it unabashedly fascinating. Easily one of my top five favorite films from the studio, and I think Isao Takahata’s best movie from the ones that I have seen from him.

6. The Little Prince

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Talk about a victim of circumstance. This amazing and mature CGI/stop-motion film from France with the director of the original Kung Fu Panda got screwed out of being in theaters, and whether it’s true that Paramount wanted the studio to pony up more cash for distribution and advertising or not, The Little Prince deserves more attention than it got. Yeah I get the complaint about the third act and such, but in the end, I loved my overall journey with this film from beginning to end.

 5. Moana

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In some regards, Moana had a disadvantage coming out right after the huge hit that was Zootopia, and being another Disney princess film right after the monster that was Frozen. Luckily, Moana I think does better in terms of an overall experience, while being progressive for a Disney princess film. Moana is a fantastic lead, Maui is a blast, the villains are hugely memorable, and the overall story is well-told. Sadly, it does take that dip in quality in the third act, and brings up very outdated Disney story elements, but I would call it safe than lazy, like some reviewers would argue. In the end though, Moana is a super fun adventure film, and is easily one of Disney’s best offerings in a year where they were doing pretty well.

4. My Life as a Zucchini

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Probably the most real and “human” animated film from last year. This Golden Globe/Oscar-nominated stop-motion film about a kid living in an orphanage is well animated, emotionally touching, charming, and it does feel human. Even with the English dub, the actors still bring in that calm and quiet spirit. The child actors were, once again, a situation where they would make or break the film, and well, they pulled it off. Granted, I wish the film was longer than 70 minutes, since I really enjoyed being with these characters and I liked the lead’s relationship with the police officer. It’s just an amazing film, and I would highly recommend checking out this award winner.

3. Zootopia

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While Moana is a fantastic film that I could watch over and over, Zootopia is the better movie. While it might not be super subtle with its themes, its clever writing, world building, hugely likable characters, great designs, and a fun sense of humor lifts itself up from such a problem. It was also a bigger risk, since it was Disney’s first animated film in a long time to use bipedal animals. If there was one film to take home the most awards for Best Animated Feature, I’m glad it was Zootopia. Sure, I wish Kubo and the Two Strings took the award, but hey, at the very least, I agree with Disney winning Best Animated Feature this time.

2. Miss Hokusai

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If there was a film that I wish could have gotten more acclaim and nominations, it would be Miss Hokusai. This down-to-earth, character-based film just won me over in an instant. I loved the daughter interacting with everyone and dealing with different situations in life, I loved the different art styles used for different parts of the story, I love the voice cast, I love Richard Epcar as Hokusai, I just loved this movie. Yes, there were some characters who you obviously knew were there for a very specific reason, but I don’t care. I love films like this since it shows animated films can be more than just wacky comedies, and that more adult animated films can be more than stoner comedies. It’s easily one of my top five favorite films GKids brought over, and I would recommend following the director and seeing what he does next.

1. Kubo and the Two Strings

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It should be no surprise that the film that had probably the biggest fighting chance of dethroning Zootopia at the Oscars is my favorite animated film from 2016. Kubo and the Two Strings surprised me in how much I loved it. I was not surprised by Finding Dory being great, I was not surprised by Kung Fu Panda 3 for being great, I was not surprised Moana was great, and you get the idea. I was surprised at how well-animated it was. The voice acting was amazing, the music was fantastic, the visuals were awe-inspiring, and the themes and tone of the film made it a darker family film. I love how it’s about life, and how you can’t live in life without hardships. The action was fantastic and well-choreographed.  I’m so upset this didn’t do better, and even if there is nothing wrong with Zootopia winning the Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, Kubo and the Two Strings deserved it more, and rightfully deserves the spot as my favorite animated film of 2016.

Well, that was 2016, a fantastic year for animation, and I know 2017 hasn’t been that great so far, but keep your hopes up and go see the smaller releases. Thanks for checking out this long list and I’ll make sure to get these out sooner rather than later next time.

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Worst to Best Animated Films of 2013 Part 3 (Finale)

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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!)

Now it’s time to look at the final 11 films from 2013, and be done with this underwhelming year of movies!

11. Colorful

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Before making one of my favorite films of 2016, Miss Hokusai, Keiichi Hara made this animated feature, Colorful. This film is about a soul that gets a second chance at life by being brought back into the body of a young boy who committed suicide. It is up to the soul to find out who he is before six months are up. For the first half of the film, I was not enjoying it. I thought the character designs were ho-hum, the lead character was a giant jerk, it was sort of boring to sit through, and the lead’s voice actor was really annoying. I was sitting there wondering why it was so popular at festivals, and why so many people were gushing over it like it was the most important animated film of all time. When I got to the second half, it finally started to get good, and show why this film was made and its purpose. I loved the scenes between the lead and the father, the lead with the odd friend, and the more atmospheric and quiet moments. When the lead was actually putting his head into the game as to why he was chosen to be brought back, he becomes much more interesting as a character. It has a lot of great moments, but sitting through half a film of mean-spirited characters to get to a really good second half was difficult. I’ll go more into detail at a later date with this film, but I can definitely say that in the end, it was worth checking out.

10. Approved for Adoption

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This is one of the few animated films from 2013 that I would wholly consider unique. Approved for Adoption is an animated/live action documentary about the life of Korean-Belgium comic artist known as Jung. It is about his life when he was adopted by a Belgium family when he was a kid during the Korean War. It’s mixed with beautiful CGI-animated sequences, home-movie footage, and archival footage from that period in time. You can technically call this cheating, since it isn’t purely animated, but in my opinion, it’s animated enough to count. It deserves to exist more so than half the movies on this list. It’s a touching story of Jung’s life as he grows up with his adopted family, and finds his identity in the world. I do have some complaints, like the CGI animation is at times clunky, kid Jung is a punk, and the mother is unlikable as the film goes on. I wasn’t expecting rainbows and lollipops, in fact, it’s probably best that the film doesn’t sugarcoat the actual person’s life, but still. It’s definitely a film that’s not going to appeal to everyone, but it’s a touching story that deserves your attention.

9. Frozen

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I’ll be frank, the reason why this film is in this spot is because Disney milked it to death, and it ruined the charm for me. It’s still a great movie, with likable characters, great dialogue, funny comedy, touching moments, and is overall a fantastic film, but Disney couldn’t let this film be. They squeezed so much cash from this cow that it started to bring out the hipster effect, to where the film got too popular and people started to backlash against it. It does have its faults, like the troll song in the third act, the villain, and the unique fact that this is the first Disney film to be about two sisters and one becomes a queen, but they stay separated for a majority of the film. The ending is also pretty weak, but it’s still great, due to how touching the final moment is and how good the acting was. I still love this movie, but I think a few elements could be better.

8. From Up on Poppy Hill

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I know there is a bit of a split on whether people like this movie or not, but with the exception of the ending, I really enjoyed the story of two kids in a post-World War 2 setting. It really reminds me of the corny, but ultimately charming, Whisper of the Heart. It’s a very laid-back film that has some really great moments between characters, and a rather intriguing mystery on whether the two leads are actually related. Unfortunately, the ending just abruptly happens, and it ends on a whimper. It’s a shame, since the film was directed by Goro Miyazaki and was written by Hayao Miyazaki. It’s still a solid movie, but I wish the ending was better.

7. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

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There is very little surprise as to why this is one of the best reviewed DC-animated films. It’s a well-executed mature film about a “what if” situation focusing on The Flash, and shows the results of one change to the timeline, and how one thing just dominoes into a much different future. The mystery was good, the history changes were intriguing. It was interesting to see some of the dramatic changes, like how Bruce Wayne is killed, and his parents become Batman and The Joker separately, and how essentially, the cataclysmic event of the film was partly started by one of DC’s punching bags, Aquaman. Yeah, I have a few problems that revolve around that, but in the end, that was the one problem I had with this film. It always seems like the writers for the animated stuff had more fun writing for The Flash than any other character. This is one of the few DC animated films that I have seen that I would highly recommend watching on Netflix, or buying a copy if you are curious.

 6. The Painting

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This is essentially Inception with paintings. It is the story of people who live inside paintings that go and search for their creator. This is one of my favorite European-animated films of this decade. I just love the focus, and sincere emotions, and chemistry the characters have for one another. I love the sequences where they jump to and from different paintings that lead them into different worlds and min-sets of said worlds. I adore the great colorful art style that definitely makes this CGI film stand above and beyond a majority of the competition in terms of how good CGi from overseas can look. I do wish there were some sequences explained more, but I can live with that.

5. Wrinkles

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Here is possibly the saddest film on the list. Wrinkles is a film from Spain that follows the life of a retired banker who is slowly going through the states of Alzheimer, voiced by Martin Sheen, as he is moved into a retirement home and becomes roomates/friends with  another old man, voiced by the late George Coe. The story is very mature, and is very much about the relationship between Sheen and Coe’s characters, and how they affect one another. It’s touching, sad, visually fun, humorous, charming, and that last scene. I cried during that last sequence because the words said are so tragic, yet touching. It does have a groaner joke here and there, and I can totally understand if this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I can highly recommend Wrinkles for anyone looking for a mature animated film that isn’t a stoner comedy.

4: A Letter to Momo

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Once you know this was directed by the same guy who did Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, it makes for an interesting contrast between that dark political thriller and this mature, but more light-hearted film. I have reviewed this film as well, as it’s a wonderful slice-of-life drama dealing with the loss of a loved one, and moving on. It has great characters, wonderful comedic animation, and has yet another Ghibli-style mood and atmosphere with how laidback a good chunk of the film is. There are some moments that somewhat annoy me, but they never bothered me enough to ruin the experience. The best characters were very much the three spirits that follow our female lead around. They worked well off each other, were hilarious, and were likable characters by the end of it all. It can be a very odd movie, but I highly recommend checking out A Letter to Momo if you are looking for a good Studio Ghibli-style movie.

3: Ernest & Celestine

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This was the film that got me into loving everything that GKids does, so it should be no surprise that I put it this high on the list. I already did a review of this movie since it was my very first animated film review, but the story of a mouse and bear becoming close friends in a world where that isn’t allowed, won my heart over, and was the film I think should have won Best Animated Feature, but I digress on that. The beautiful watercolor art direction, with some great animation and good timeless physical comedy, combined with some great chemistry among the characters, makes this one of the most appealing animated films to watch and is easily the first one I would recommend watching if you want to get into the GKids library of animated films.

2. The Wind Rises

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This is definitely one of the more controversial animated films of the past few years. The Wind Rises is a romanticized/fictional biographical story of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed the kamikaze fighter jets. I can definitely understand the raised brows and concerns, but since this is Hayao Miyazaki, they don’t approve or praise what Jiro did. More of the focus is Jiro’s passion of making planes. He even regrets and hates that his beautiful planes and designs were used for such a hateful incident. The rest of the movie is about his journey and life as a plane designer. It has everything you love about Ghibli films with its atmosphere, likable characters, quiet moments, and the whimsy. The voice cast is also fantastic, with Joseph Gordon Levitt doing an amazing job as Jiro. Sure, the love interest played by Emily Blunt might not be in the movie a lot, but she and Jiro, while not having too much time on screen, are adorable. I just loved this movie, and if this was actually Miyazaki’s final film, I would have been happy. It might be long, but The Wind Rises is a fantastic movie.

1. Wolf Children

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Surprise of the century that a Japanese animated film could do a better job at a Pixar/Disney film than Disney and Pixar in 2013! Seriously though, Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children is my favorite movie from this year. The story of a widow taking care of her half-human half-wolf kids is right up there with Spirited Away in terms of the best Japanese animated films of all time. It does everything right, in terms of an animated movie. It has likable/endearing characters, a well-paced story, subtle mystical elements that never feel distracting, complex themes of how kids can grow up differently, kid characters who are actually good, top-notch animation, and a fantastic musical score. It’s what you look for in a movie and it’s just a perfect animated film. If you felt like 2013 was bad in terms of animation, I dare you to say that after watching Wolf Children.

The Other Side of Animation 65: Miss Hokusai 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. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

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As many other animation critics have pointed out, this year produced a huge abundance of films, a majority of them pretty much in the same ballpark. Variety is the spice of life, and yet even seeing how financially successful animated films have been this year, they tend to stay in the realm of brightly colored, celebrity-riddled, and fast-paced comedies. Not that this can’t be a good thing since a lot of great animated films use all three elements, like 2014’s best animated film, The LEGO Movie, but it would be nice for animation studios to take different steps and diversify themselves. So many studios follow what’s successful, and while that isn’t a bad idea at all, I mean, this is an industry wanting to make money, but they should also work on making their own identities. With situations like DreamWorks, they can definitely do comedies, but it seems like they are better at story and character-focused films, like Kung Fu Panda 3 and How to Train your Dragon 2. Illumination is good at Looney Toons-style comedies, but their stories lack depth. I don’t think I want there to be a ban on fast-paced comedies, but it would be nice to have diversity. That’s why I was super-excited for this film, Miss Hokusai. This Japanese animated film was directed by Keiichi Hara, who was the director of the well-received film, Colorful. When this film came out, it made waves, and was a popular film among film festivals. It even won multiple awards, including the Jury Prize at the Annecy Film Festival, the Gold Audience Award for best animated feature from the Fantasia International Film Festival, and the Satoshi Kon Award for best animated feature film. When I saw that GKids was going to bring this over, I got excited. So, how does it all turn out?

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Miss Hokusai revolves around the daughter of Hokusai, Katsushika Oi, voiced by Erica Lindbeck. She lives with her father, the famous painter known as Hokusai, voiced by one of the best anime voice actors around, Richard Epcar. The movie mostly follows her interaction with her family and different people, ranging from Hokusai’s apprentices to random customers who hire them for art commissions.

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The interesting thing about this film’s plot is that it doesn’t really have a major plot going on. It forgoes the three-act structure, and the film really isn’t building up to something big. Instead, the film is more down to earth, slice of life, and real. It definitely reminds me of films like The Rabbi’s Cat, where most of the film is the characters interacting with each other about life and art. Some could see this as a downside, since there is no major story to connect to, or it feels unfocused. I can definitely understand that statement, but I disagree. The big risk about doing these types of films is making sure you keep the characters interesting, since if you can’t invest or be interested in the characters, then no one wants to watch your “plotless” film. What works about the “plot” is while it isn’t traditionally set up, there is actual character development developing. You see little stories unfold about the individual characters, like Katsushika Oi’s relationship with her mother, father, her younger blind sister, her artistic talent compared to her father and other artists, and life. Hokusai also has an interesting sub-story about his thoughts on life and his relationship with the blind daughter, and why he doesn’t visit her. You even get these Birdman-style fantasy elements that are woven in, but don’t distract from the more grounded story. It’s a film that is the purest definition of being “real”. The interactions, how they talk, and their moods really does show what Japanese animated films can be like. Anime is unfortunately stuck in this deep ditch of preconceptions and tropes that stew, and give it an unlikely image, since most will just see it as all the same schlock. While most anime can and will be terrible due to the industry only producing certain types of anime, every once in a while you get something like a Ghibli film, a Makoto Shinkai film, something from Mamoru Hosoda, or a film like Memories that goes against the common opinion about this genre of animation. Miss Hokusai is the most recent example of this, where the film might be dripping with Japanese culture, but the characters are interesting and relatable enough to be worth investing in, with the dialogue sounding more fluid and natural than what you find in something like Ghost in the Shell. You feel for the characters, and while some moments can be a bit sappy, everything else is just so good that you don’t mind it.

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The animation is great. While it might not be the super-hyper style of animation so many American audiences are used to, that’s because the characters needed more fluid and non-exaggerated ways of moving. It would be distracting if this film had something like, Hotel Transylvania or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs-style animation. I also like how the designs aren’t traditional anime. The characters have more realistic proportions. Miss Hokusai also has a lot of quiet and tender moments that let the audience breath, and let them into their world. It’s very reminiscent of something from Hayao Miyazaki. The voice cast also does a great job at personifying the characters from the old sort of pessimistic, but caring Hokusai, to the silent, but stubborn Oi. While I definitely feel like Richard Epcar was perfect casting in how he doesn’t use his Jigen Daisuke or Batou voice, the rest of the cast, including long-time veteran Erza Weisz, Courtney Chu, Marc Diraison, Cindy Robinson, Mike Pollock, Kevin T. Collins, and Robbie Daymond pull off strong performances. The music by Harumi Fuki is also very elegant and inspiring, and fits the mood in each scene.

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Now, with all that said, and I really do love this movie, I have a few minor gripes. Sometimes the scenes with the younger sister are a bit sappy. You can kind of tell what’s going to happen, but they are done well enough that you care about what happens with her, and when she is with her older sister and father. I also found the ending to be yet again abrupt. It’s all done with Oi on the busy bridge that you see at the beginning of the film talking about what happened to everyone. I wish I could have seen that instead of been told that movie. I know this film wasn’t all about having a three-act structure and a big pay-off, but I hate it when Japanese animated films are like this. It happens way too often, and it comes off like they have no idea how to end their story properly. It doesn’t ruin the movie at all, but it’s noticeable. There is also one scene where Oi goes to a brothel with male prostitutes, and the scene itself is done well enough and does have context for the character, but it almost could have been something unsavory. It never came close to the whole Wings of Honneamise scene that taints the film, but they were lucky in Miss Hokusai that it was executed as such, or else people would probably have a field day about it. As a final personal nitpick and personal taste sort of  comment, I do wish there were more romantic moments with Oi and the man she is crushing on, but it was probably done lightly to reinforce her strong character traits and not having to rely on falling in love with a guy, like so many movies are going to do.

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I think anyone into art should definitely see Miss Hokusai. It’s a complex movie, and is easily one of my top five favorite movies of the year, and that’s saying something, with a year that has Kubo and the Two Strings, Zootopia, The Little Prince, and Only Yesterday. If you are in a city with the film playing nearby, definitely go see it, and definitely buy it. It’s one of the best animated films of the year, and shows that Keiichi Hara has a great future ahead for himself, and could easily be up there with Mamoru Hosoda as being some of the best anime directors to a new generation of film makers. I want to keep going with this stream of positivity and talk finally talk about Wes Anderson as we take a look at Fantastic Mr. Fox. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials