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2021 in animation is definitely a step up from 2020. Not only did we have more to discuss, but films actually got released. I mean, granted, whether we should have been doing so during the pandemic is up to you, but it was nice to have a staggering number of animated films last year. It also helped that there was more competition among the different distributors, and while the best films of the year were the obvious entries, the fact that even the smaller films attempted to and won over some of the major releases is truly impressive. Sadly, we are not here to talk about the best films, we are here to talk about the ones I liked the least. The ones that infuriated me while watching and found to be lacking the heart and soul the medium of storytelling has given multiple stories life.
If there was truly a film that made me more upset than any other film released in 2021, a film that made me feel like I wasted my time watching it more than any other film, then it would be Lava. While it was fully watchable during Annecy 2020, it got a small on-demand release in 2021. It fails on every level, from the story, writing, characters, themes, acting, and the dub might be one of the worst dubs I have ever seen in a time period where people are able to record from home. This is a film that would have only survived in the festival circuit scene and even then, there is a reason why no one knows about this film or cares about it, and the few that did give this a review, were not favorable. I never want to see a film be this big of a waste of time again.
2. Xico’s Journey
While its experience as a feature film was not as insulting, with a few decent designs and one sequence that was very well animated, there isn’t much else that you can find here that hasn’t been made by better studios or teams that are in Mexico. There are some truly talented people in Mexico and South America, but this kind of film will not convince you otherwise. It’s harmless, but most viewers will be left bored and unimpressed with the lackluster animation that is more akin to Dora the Explorer in quality than have any real visual flair that will wow viewers looking for animated films from around the world. You can do so much better than Xico’s Journey.
3. Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild
This was probably made to capitalize on the success of Monster Hunter World and its expansion, but that doesn’t excuse it from being a boilerplate story with nothing to really add to the mythos. It focuses on a character no one cares about, the rest of the cast is forgettable, and the action and animation are not up to snuff with CGI that has been used for TV films. Only die-hard Monster Hunter fans will ever want to watch this, but you might as well just play the video game or watch a playthrough of it online than give this special any time of the day.
4. Night of the Animated Dead
This honestly might be the most pointless remake of any movie of all time. While you could maybe see the inspirations of trying to look like cartoons from the 60s and 70s, and it has a decent cast, this remake ruins every aspect of its groundbreaking horror, and doesn’t do or offer anything different from the original or the 90s remake. It’s absolutely pointless. It might have a few performances that are fine, but you won’t find any meat on this remake’s bones.
5. Dog Gone Trouble
I feel badly for not really liking any of the films by Vanguard Animation. Who knows exactly what kind of production pipelines they have, but the fact is that they make boilerplate films with middling plots. The bummer part about this one is that it has a decent set-up, but then falls apart. It doesn’t do anything super offensive, but the fact I’m sitting here struggling to remember the multiple plot threads or the cast of forgettable characters is saying something. At least it’s animated decently.
6. Firedrake: The Silver Dragon
Once again, while not every film needs to try and look or structure their stories like the bigger studios out there, it doesn’t hurt to have a compelling narrative in a world mixed with fantasy and modern-day elements. This German animated film based on the Dragon Rider book falls flat with some truly uninteresting characters, a been-there-done-that style plot, and lacks any flare or surprise for audiences checking this film out. It has a few decent lines and Patrick Stewart as the villain will always be a high point in any film, but you will be much better off watching a film like How to Train Your Dragon than checking out lackluster and mediocre-looking films like Firedrake: The Silver Dragon.
7. Spirit Untamed
DreamWorks didn’t have a great 2021, and leading the year with one of their lowest-grossing and poorly received animated features didn’t help things. While there was definitely more critical whippings against this film due to its target demographic of young girls that definitely made this film sound worse than it was, it still falls flat compared to the studio’s other offerings. Some nice morals and a solid dream sequence don’t cover up a miscast list of big names, and a too straightforward plot that doesn’t offer much for the fans of the original film. It’s fine. It doesn’t look as good as other films due to its animation being outsourced to another studio, but it didn’t feel as insulting as others made it out to be. The only question is who was this made for, since it doesn’t really cater to fans of the original or the Netflix series? So, yeah, I wasn’t a fan of this one.
8. Space Jam: A New Legacy
I hate to sound like a snob, but the fact people were looking forward to this one is a sign of how profitable and predatory nostalgia has become. Instead of rolling their eyes at yet another nostalgia-riddled cash grab that tries to be meta about its entire existence but fails, people were excited about it. Like, it’s neat to see some lovely 2D animation and a lot of the cast be played by actual voice actors instead of it all being 100% celebrities, but the story is poorly written, it feels self-congratulatory about its own IP library, the mix of CGI, live-action, and CGI animated characters are not well executed. The ending loses any emotional weight it could have had, because of one terrible story decision after another.
9. Bigfoot Family
It’s impressive to note that Son of Bigfoot was a huge success. While I personally didn’t like the film, I get why people found it appealing, even if there are so many other animated films to give more love and support to than this one. I was surprised to see the sequel hit Netflix with such little fanfare, and well, no one talks about it now. Just a really dull and slog-worthy flick that is just a boring ‘save the environment’ plot, and about half of the cast and forgettable villains have some plot points that don’t quite hold up. The animation is nothing special, and overall, it’s just not all that noteworthy.
The problem when making a film that is based solely around the appeal and pull of a real-life celebrity couple voicing the leads is releasing it years after the fact. That’s not a good sign of why it took forever for this film to come out when everyone else got it years before. It’s a shame because it seems like this was Vanguard’s major attempt to try and get with the mainstream crowd, but then real life comes into play and changes everything. It doesn’t help either when the rest of the film is a very middling take on the fantasy parody genre Shrek made popular 21 years ago. It has some decent moments, but its inclusion of some problematic celebrities in its voice cast, a formulaic plot, and flat animation that didn’t quite push the visuals it needed to, results in the most harmless mediocre film I have seen this year, but definitely, one that’s more interesting to discuss the production and release history of over something like Lava.