Worst to Best Animated Films of 2020 Finale

(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!)

Good gravy, let’s finally get this one out of the way! Here were my top 10 favorite animated films from 2020! If you haven’t seen part 1, part 2, or part 3, I will make sure to hyperlink them. I apologize that life got in the way of making this one happen so late. 



10. The Wonderland 

While Keiichi Hara’s follow-up to one of my favorite films of 2016 Miss Hokusai doesn’t quite reach that level of quality, his new film, The Wonderland is still a whimsical adventure via a coming-of-age tale. It has some truly beautiful landscapes and a creative fantastical world that may be Hara’s own take on Alice in Wonderland. The villain isn’t the most interesting, and there are some jokes and moments that irked me, but I was so happy to catch this film before everything came crashing down with the pandemic. 

9. The Willoughbys 

This dark family comedy may suffer from a majority of the children in this family being underdeveloped in favor of the oldest son getting the majority of the development, but considering how little came out during the pandemic, I’ll take an overall vibrant and funny experience. What it may lack in some story strength makes up for some of 2020’s most vibrant CGI stop-motion-style animation, some very clever jokes, a fantastic cast, and it was just another step in showing what kind of experiences Netflix, flaws and all, are going to be offering in the feature animation scene. 

8. The Croods: A New Age

While I wouldn’t call 2020 or 2021’s DreamWorks’ best year for animation, out of their four recent films that they have released, The Croods: A New Age is their best one since 2019’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. Who would have thought that a sequel that was in start/stop production hell would actually result in one of the better DreamWorks sequels? They expand on the world, the new characters are likable and bring in some substance to the overall story, the jokes are more creative, and the sequel leaning into the more absurd world that the story takes place in leads to a better overall product. I don’t know what they could do with a follow-up film, but if it’s as much fun to watch as this one, I wouldn’t mind seeing a third film. 

7. On Gaku: Our Sound 

While Lupin III: The First and Wolfwalkers were going to always be the more approachable GKIDS-distributed films of 2020, I still wish On Gaku: Our Sound had received more love. It’s a truly, by the definition, indie animated feature among the bountiful animation scene in Japan. Its offbeat atmosphere, quirky humor, and laid-back approachable story stick out from the flashier big-budget fare. That many of the people working on this were first-time animators is an impressive feat and while the use of rotoscope is obvious, the fact there is no other film quite like it out in 2020 is impressive and rather fun. It’s a film that introduces a real deal shot in the arm that the animation scene always needs. 

6. Lupin III: The First 

I remember how worried I was to see the franchise’s first step into CGI, and boy howdy, they didn’t miss a beat. Not only is it a fantastic foray into CGI animation, but it’s also a Lupin story that’s actually compelling and entertaining! For those that are fans of the franchise, getting both good animation and a good story isn’t always a given or is balanced with each film and special. With the return of the iconic dub cast, thrilling action, stellar writing, and some of the best CGI from Japan, Lupin III: The First shows a promising future for the franchise and the future of theatrical CGI animation from Japan. 

5. Onward

Remember when everyone was dunking on this film, and then everyone ended up liking it? I sure do. While it might not be one of the higher-end Pixar films, this touching story about two brothers and their journey to strengthen their bond and to try to get some closure with their dead father does elevate it as one of the more intimate and personal Pixar stories. The fantasy element even has a fun way of approaching the metaphorical and literal theme of losing and finding magic in life. It’s a film that has gotten better on rewatch, and I feel badly that it became one of the first victims of the pandemic. 

4. Over the Moon 

Netflix had a tough challenge of following up their acclaimed year of animation from 2019 where they had both I Lost My Body and Klaus, so Over the Moon was such a surprise with how much I fell in love with it. It is a touching story about grief, personal change, and dealing with loss, with some fantastic music, vibrant animation, and a fantastic lead. It was directed by Glen Keane, and this was his first time directing a feature film! Over the Moon also has a very witty script from Keane and the late great Audrey Wells. It also gets bonus points for having moments of gorgeous 2D animation. With Pearl Studios now on their own, making films with a promising lineup of future projects in the works, Over the Moon was an out-of-this-world first impression of what they could do after their relationship with DreamWorks ended. 

3. Ride Your Wave 

Masaaki Yuasa is a master director. I mean, I could leave it at that, but that wouldn’t be super satisfying as this is, until we finally see Inu-Oh this year, his best and most approachable movie. It’s a romance that of course has its own Yuasa twist that makes it his take on the “Shape of Water” romance perspective about a college girl finding her way in life. It even has the tamest visuals of Yuasa and Science Saru’s work. You can tell they toned it down from the immense visual overload that was 2004’s Mindgame and his more recent work with Lu Over the Wall and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. Whether you like his more out-there premises or his more grounded ones, Ride Your Wave should be in your animation collection. 

2. Soul 

Even with a year like 2020, having a Cartoon Saloon, a Peter Doctor/Kemp Powers Pixar film, and a Yuasa film in the top three spots should be a sign of how good the good stuff was. There are definitely some understandable arguments about some of this film’s execution of plot points, and I understand where they are coming from with some of them, and maybe it’s because 2020 was just an entire mood year, Soul hit many people in a way that most animated films, Pixar or otherwise, do. Until Disney and Pixar can break the chains and do more adult-tinted animated features, this is the most adult film Pixar has ever put out, with an extremely philosophical story about life and what drives a person. With earworm tunes, an incredible performance from Jamie Foxx, and a rather ethereal tone, Soul ranks up as one of Pixar’s best. 

1. Wolfwalkers 

I mean, was there any shock here that it would be number 1? While it is technically tied with Soul, there is just something extremely special anytime we get a Cartoon Saloon film. It has some of the studio’s best animation yet, with its mix of gorgeous 2D visuals and rough pencil style reminiscent of the 70s and 80s Disney/Don Bluth that looks like it was filmed on wood grain. It is a touching story about two young girls, the themes of discrimination, anti-colonialism, sexism, freedom, family, and environmentalism, Wolfwalkers stands out from the pack in a year that had very little competition for the major titles everyone was looking forward to. Now, I do wish they would simply sell Wolfwalkers as an individual release instead of holding it hostage with Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells, though seriously, pay for an AppleTV+ subscription and watch this incredible flick.

The Other Side of Animation 201: Lupin III: The First 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!)

With the state of animation where CGI is becoming more common to the medium, animated properties are slowly and surely starting to slip into the transition that, let’s be real here, the same transition that video games ran into going from 2D to 3D graphics. Remember how long it took for so many game companies to finally crack the code? Not all of them were Nintendo, and so many franchises and companies paid for their failed attempts with games that weren’t great. So, what does this have to do with animation? Well, animation has and is going through those transitional phases. If you pinpoint certain parts of animation history, you can see where certain transitions to higher-end technology led to some clunky moments. I still remember when anime went from hand-painted to digital painted animation, and how they had to work with lighting and how not to make everything look so garish. Luckily, one franchise has been able to make that leap, and I can now talk about it! Today’s review will be of Lupin III: The First

Directed by Takashi Yamazaki, produced by TMS Entertainment and Marza Animation Planet, and brought over to the states by GKIDS, this is a monumental film for the franchise, as it’s the first film in the historic manga/anime franchise to be in full CGI. While CGI animation made in Japan is nothing new, it has taken a while for some franchises to take that first step. It was shown off at Annecy 2020 Online and got relatively positive reviews. GKIDS then gave it a limited theatrical release back in October, and now, well, here we are. Does Lupin make the jump to CGI? Or should this thief have stayed in the realm of 2D?

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So, this time, our story with the lovable thief has Lupin, dubbed by Tony Oliver, wanting to steal a special diary called the Bresson Diary, something that the Nazis were looking for back in World War II. As he tries to steal it the first time around, he is thwarted by the combined forces of a young woman named Laetitia, dubbed by Joy Scattorin, and the ever committed Inspector Zenigata, dubbed by Doug Erholtz. After escaping the grasp of the police with the help of his buddies Jigen, dubbed by Richard Epcar, and Goemon, dubbed by Lex Lang, Lupin finds Laetitia’s home and makes a deal with her. The diary is important to him due to it being one of the few items his grandfather couldn’t steal, and Laetitia is the granddaughter of the original author of the diary. Can they make a deal and unlock this diary’s secrets while avoiding the grasp of an evil organization that wants to use the diary’s secrets and treasures to bring back the Nazi party? Well then, you can easily assume what happens, but you will have to see for yourself. 

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How about we talk about the CGI animation for this film? How does it compare to the director’s other film from this year, Dragon Quest: Your Story? Personally, while I think some of the same issues can be seen in terms of animation with both films, I think it looks better than Dragon Quest: Your Story. On one hand, the previous film failed because it tried to be a CGI version of the game, and used a lesser version of the game’s iconic art style. At least with this film, everyone looks like they do from the manga and anime. While it may have been more bouncy and cartoony in its movements, the characters are still way more expressive and have their little quirky movements and traits that make them stand out from one another. They honestly do look like they were translated right from the anime and into 3D models. It’s quite impressive. There was an effort to take advantage of the animation being in CGI. While it’s not Hotel Transylvania in terms of cartoony animation, it still has some pretty good comedic animation. The action is also stylish and fun, due to how it plays like a mixture of a heist and an Indiana Jones-style adventure film. It might go into the area of sci-fi in the third act, but it at least feels more cohesive than other films in the franchise that try to mix it up, and it doesn’t work 100%. Sure, I wish Jigen and Goemon got to do a little more, like maybe they have their exclusive bad guys to fight, but this film is mostly about Lupin and the film-exclusive character Laetitia. 

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So, as we talked about the animation, how is the story? Well, while simple, and the film is more or less the same kind of Lupin III plots we usually get, I rather enjoyed my time with the plot. If I had to pick a theme that this film focuses on, it’s another feature film about family, the legacy they leave behind, and how you honor said legacy. Lupin and Laetitia both want to fulfill the legacy left behind by their families, and while it’s not going to be an incredibly deep film, it’s more focused than most Lupin plots that devolve into pure shenanigans. I found that Lupin and the gang worked off the villains and Laetitia pretty well, and that’s not always a certainty with films from this franchise. The director has said that he was inspired by what is probably the best film in the franchise, Castle of Cagliostro. Once learning about that, it is easy to see the connections there, and while that can be considered a pro and a con, it’s better than a lot of the specials and films that have come out in the past. Plus, with something like this new CGI film, you want to see a lot of the traditional Lupin elements. You want to see Zenigata get excited about capturing Lupin, you want to see Goemon be the stoic samurai, you want to see the love/hate relationship between Lupin and Fujiko, and you get the idea. It might be familiar, but it’s a good kind of familiar. This also means rehiring the iconic voice cast of the original red jacket series with Tony Oliver, Lex Lang, Michelle Ruff, and Richard Epcar as the iconic characters.

So, what do I not like about this? Well, as much fun as the overall experience is, I think the villains are the weakest part of the film. They are just typical modern-day (well, modern-day for the time in which the film takes place) Nazis that want to revive the plans and ways of Hitler. Now, it is nice the film is very anti-Nazi, and I am by no means looking for a sympathetic portrayal of one, but the villains don’t leave that much of an impression. The only kind of amusing thing about one of them is that the main bad guy looks like an anime-version of David Lynch.

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Outside of that minor issue, Lupin III: The First is a great action-adventure film that easily rises to the best that the franchise can offer. It’s digitally available right now, but you can get it on Blu-ray and DVD in January. I hope this film was successful enough to bring back Lupin to the theatrical side of things and we can see more of his shenanigans in the future! For now, we will have to travel back to the stone age as we look at The Croods: A New Age next time!

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: Criterion/Essentials