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 178: The Wonderland 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!)

It is nice that in the Japanese animation scene, more directors and creators are becoming more popular. Japan has some of the most talented individuals working in the animation scene, and it is satisfying that Makoto Shinkai, Masaaki Yuasa, Mari Okada, and Mamoru Hosoda are now world-renowned, but I feel like one director deserves some more recognition than he gets, Keiichi Hara. While starting by working on some iconic shows like Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan, he has also had a small, but fruitful directorial film career working on films from those franchises, and his own films like Summer Days with CooColorful, and one of my faves from 2016, Miss Hokusai. However, we are talking about his newest film that got a small release thanks to Elevenarts, The Wonderland.

Originally titled Birthday Wonderland, and based on the 1988 story Strange Journey from the Basement, Hara’s newest film premiered last year in April, and was able to compete in the 2019 Annecy International Film Festival, but like many of the films there at the festival, lost to the festival smash hit, I Lost My Body. It even missed out on being shown at Animation is Film 2019, and hasn’t had the most fanfare. It doesn’t help either that while it got pretty positive reviews, they still came with hefty criticism. So, what do I think about this adventurous film? Well, you have to read the review.

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The story revolves around a teenage girl named Akane, a pretty average teenage girl with not a whole lot of self-confidence. One day, her mother requests she go visit her aunt named Chi to pick up a special gift. While there, she peruses the items that Chi has acquired. One of the items that stands out is this piece of stone with a handprint in it. Akane then decides to put her hand in the print and it ends up with the hand fitting in the, well, stone. Then, out of the store’s basement, a dapper individual walks out. He turns out to be a famed alchemist known as Hippocrates. He explains that he is from another world, and since Akane’s hand fits the print, she is the Green Goddess, and must come back with Hippocrates and his assistant Pipo back to The Wonderland. Reluctantly, Akane and her aunt go with Hippocrates to save their land and to avoid the evil plans of a masked individual. Can Akane save the day? Can she find the courage to make it through a magical world?

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There is a lot we can start with, but let’s talk about the standout element to the film, the visuals, and animation. This is a very pretty film with lush vibrant colors, beautiful landscapes, and fantastical locations. While there is CGI used in this film, you can tell it’s better integrated into the 2D animation than Ni No Kuni. I was in awe most of the time looking at all of the creative landscapes and designs. It’s hard to be grumpy at a film with large puffball sheep and being able to ride giant koi fish. The designs also stand out from the rest of the pack. Sure, the designs of the humans may not look unique, but it’s the person behind them that makes all of the difference. The designs are by Russian Illustrator Ilya Kushinov. She brings in a very unique look to the film, and it stands out among the different anime films coming out. In terms of themes, the film is another coming-of-age film about dealing with self-doubt and becoming a better person through trust and helping others. Akane starts out as a nervous wreck, who is reluctant to better herself, but throughout the film, she becomes a more self-reliant individual who has faith in herself. Even the villain this time around is more interesting, due to his circumstances brought upon him. The voice work is pretty solid, but I have only seen the subtitle version for right now, but since this is Elevenarts, I’m sure the dub will be good. The music is also stellar, especially with the film’s theme song by Milet, which has been stuck in my head for weeks.

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Now, I do have a few negatives to talk about. While I love the majority of the cast, Akane isn’t the most interesting female lead. She isn’t terrible, but she’s fairly boilerplate. I also wasn’t fully on board with some of the mannerisms of Chi. She’s great, but there are a few moments that made me roll my eyes. I think my favorite characters were Hippocrates and the villain. I also found the pacing to be wonky. A lot of the film has the characters driving around, and I don’t mind that aspect, but once it hits the third act, the pacing becomes very stop-and-go. It’s almost jarring how oddly paced the last third is. I also wish there could have been more time expanding on this world than it being taken up by driving, because I loved the fantasy world.

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While I still prefer Miss Hokusai, I liked Keiichi Hara’s newest film. It has a lot of personality, charm, and fantasy whimsy to recommend to anyone looking for a fun adventure. Sadly, with its limited release, you will have to wait for it to arrive on Blu-ray, but if you don’t mind the wait, then you will probably enjoy this flick! Well, it’s time to move onto our next film, but sadly, we have to wait for it to arrive on Netflix. Next time, we will be talking about one of three animated films based on video games this year. We already talked about Ni No Kuni, so we will be moving down to Dragon Quest: Your Story.

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: Go see it!