As I’ve previously mentioned, 2013 was a diresome year for fans of animation. Ideas were low, talent was apparently lower. Stinkers abounded and even the more dependable studios like Dreamworks and Pixar made either dreadful (in the case of Turbo) or underwhelming films (The Croods, Monsters University). The less said about Planes, the better. Thankfully, however, 2014 looks set to remedy the creative malaise experienced in the year we shall no longer talk about, so here are six animated films you should be getting excited about in the next twelve months.
The Wind Rises
Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film should be the main draw of the year based on the ‘directed by’ credit alone, but the fact that this has already been a huge (but controversial) hit in Japan should whet your appetite further. It’s attracted criticism from Japan’s political right wing for being too critical of war and from Japan’s political left wing for lionising the man who made planes that killed lots of people. Miyazaki has claimed he just wanted to tell a good story about a great engineer, so I think I’ll stick with his version of events. The trailer promises beautiful animation – as ever – and a chance for the legendary director to indulge in his love of flight. Expect one of his least fantastical films yet, but still filled with the sense of wonder that characterises all of his stories.
The Tale Of Princess Kaguya
Isao Takahata could be seen as the Ghibli outsider, despite being a collaborative partner with Miyazaki since the beginning of the studio. Although he has made some unforgettable films with the studio, he isn’t a well known name like Miyazaki and few people have seen Only Yesterday. His films tend to be far more low-key and reality based (apart from the bizarre Pom Poko), but that dynamic has shifted as this film – based on an ancient Japanese legend – is about a tiny girl who is discovered inside a bamboo shoot. Promising to be moving and enchanting, it’s Takahata’s first film in fourteen years. Welcome back.
How To Train Your Dragon 2
Almost any film this year could disappoint me and I wouldn’t mind, but my one hope for the year is that this doesn’t suck. I love the first one so much: the score; the animation; the ‘test drive’ scene. The early trailers for this suggest that it will be more of the same, so I’m cautiously excited. Let’s just hope it’s more Toy Story 2 than The Lion King 2 (which is actually ok, as Disney sequels go, but still: whyyyyyy).
Laika’s previous films Paranorman and Coraline were both visual marvels, stop-motion animations that defy the jerkiness often associated with the medium. The team have mastered the art of taking thousands of photos of tiny figurines and turning them into compelling, moving stories. The Boxtrolls is about a boy who has been raised by the titular monsters and has to save them when an exterminator threatens to wipe them out. Expect it to be a little bit macabre, beautifully animated and pushing the envelope for children’s entertainment.
Big Hero 6
Disney are on something of a roll at the moment so my apprehensions about this feature – sounds like the tone will be similar to The Incredibles, and it always irks me when Disney try to be Pixar; not sure I always like concept over character when done by Disney – are outweighed by general positive feelings towards the studio and curiosity as to what the apparently photo-real animation will end up looking like on the big screen. There hasn’t been much information released about this film yet, but I remember being worried that Frozen was going to suck and so I’ve decided to just wait and see with the House of Mouse. They’ve surprised me several times before, so I’m willing for that to happen again.
The Lego Movie
Phil Lord and Chris Miller made the magnificent Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs and the hilarious yet deceptively astute comedy 21 Jump Street, so with a 100% record so far I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one, which could be dismissed cynically as a marketing ploy for the toymaking giants. The trailer already makes me laugh a lot, plus the song ‘Everything Is Awesome’ is, well, awesome. If anything, by casting Will Arnett as the caped crusader, The Lego Movie looks set to have the best onscreen Batman since Adam West.
2014 will also have a sequel to Planes, named Planes: Fire and Rescue. I shall endeavour to remain open minded…
If you go through to Bleeding Cool you’ll find a trailer for How To Train Your Dragon 2 and it. is. beautiful. I’d go so far as to say that it’s better than most animated films out so far this year.
I love the first film, it’s easily Dreamworks’ best and is better than most Pixar films, too. So I was a bit worried when they announced a sequel but this trailer…
The thing is, all the video shows is Toothless and Hiccup flying. But with John Powell giving it his best in the background and with animation that makes me pee myself a little with excitement, that’s all I needed to see.
Whilst they may have stopped releasing confusingly similar films, the spirit of competition is very much alive and well between animation giants Disney and Dreamworks. As such, both have released posters and trailers for upcoming films within days of each other. Thankfully, though, the two films being plugged by the studios couldn’t be more different, one set in the world of video games, the other about a family of cavemen. The other bit of good news is that, on the strength of the trailers here, both Wreck-It Ralph and The Croods look set to be hugely enjoyable.
First up in cinemas is Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, about a video game villain who has an identity crisis and decides that he doesn’t want to be a bad guy any more. It’s a fun idea, and will be an absolute delight for keen gamers, who can spot references to all the different video game characters that are dotted throughout. This writer is a keen Mario Kart fan, but can’t spot more than Bowser and Clyde, the bad guy from Pacman, in the trailer. Aside from gaming, this looks set to be a good laugh and will probably be pretty heart warming, too. This is the latest of several trailers, and gives us the most insight yet into the world of being a video game character, but is largely a lot of old footage we’ve seen before. There’s also a clutch of new posters, each with a variety of different characters for your enjoyment. Starring John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch, UK audiences can catch Wreck-It Ralph in cinemas in February.
Up next on the Dreamworks slate (although not until we see Madagascar 3 and Legend of the Guardians) is The Croods, which, judging by the trailer, has hints of Brave, How to Train Your Dragon and Ice Age, but will hopefully carve out its own identity. There’s a rebellious, springy haired daughter who wants to see the outside world, even though her family of cavemen have never left their home cave. One day, however, they are all forced to leave, and to explore the outside world which is full of dangerous animals, stunning landscapes and odd looking fruit. This is clearly not going to be especially pre-historically accurate, but the signs are good; the lack of pop culture gags and the visual flair on display here promise great things, whilst having Dragons’ director Chris Sanders on board is very exciting indeed. There’s a poster that goes along with the trailer, and the music at the beginning is called Gathering Stories, from Jonsi’s soundtrack to We Bought A Zoo. This Nicholas Cage and Emma Stone starring animation will be on UK shores in March next year.
Press screenings for London Film Festival are underway, and as Animation Confabulation is sadly confined to Scotland for now, all we can do at the moment is get excited about the animations that are getting released there. The good news is that early word on French animation Ernest and Celestine is very strong, so we can get very excited indeed. It’s a story about a bear and a mouse who become friends, and is animated in what looks to be a gorgeous, hand drawn storybook style. I’ve collated some of the critical responses from twitter, and I’ve included a clip from the film below them. This has shot up straight to the top of my most anticipated list.
“Imaginative and often very funny family entertainment. Gorgeous animation, charming characters. A delightful film.”@Phil_On_Film
“Ernest & Celestine was every bit as charming and delightful as you would expect from an animated French film about a bear and a mouse” @FilmFan1971
“Sumptuous picture book visuals and a good message, well articulated makes this a perfect kids movie. Wonderful.” @PaulMartinovic
“Children’s tale about tolerance told with visual inventiveness and Pennac’s humourous style. A joy to watch.” @sav_
Autumn 2012 in cinema is notable for an apparent effort in the big animated releases to scare kids senseless. Some of the biggest upcoming animated films look to set to give children across the nation nightmares, with plots rooted in horror, and styles clearly influenced by the genre greats. This isn’t especially new for animation – think back to the deeply unnerving sight of Coraline’s Other Mother going full-on evil, or the inventive scares of Monster House, and you can see that the medium is well suited to terror. Disney have long been in on this, too, with many a childhood scarred by Sleeping Beauty’s unforgettable villain Maleficent, or the truly haunting scene of Snow White running away to the woods.
So horror in animation is almost as old as animation itself. What is new with this current clutch is that they are all arriving at once. In the space of the next few months, Paranorman, about a zombie invasion, Frankenweenie, the story of a boy and his reanimated dog, and Hotel Transylvania, in which Dracula runs a retreat for classic horror figures, will all hit cinema screens round the country, and all of which feature the undead in some way. The only other big name animation coming out during this time is Madagascar 3, which is, hopefully, vampire and zombie free. So why the current move towards a genre that, more often than not, is not targeted at children? And will any of them be any good?
The answer to the second question is, of course, impossible to say until we’ve seen them, but the signs are good. Laika, the studio behind Paranorman, have excellent form in stop-motion terror, as their last film, Coraline, proved to be both beautifully animated and wonderfully imaginative. It was also a creepy, sometimes downright terrifying work of cinema, and if they can maintain all these elements for Paranorman, then we should have a treat on our hands. The one worry is that Henry Selick, the director of Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas, is not involved with this one, but the signs are still good and you can scare yourself silly when it comes out on September 14th.
Frankenweenie also looks like it could be worth our time, as this is going for a resolutely old school approach. Homaging the classic James Whale Frankenstein films of the 30s, the black and white, bolts-in-the-neck aesthetic display director Tim Burton‘s love of classic horror. I’ve sadly not seen the original short that Burton did before his career in feature films, but anything that sees him going back to his roots as a director, before he became an indulgent self-parody, can only be a good thing. At his best, Burton is a visually impressive, constantly imaginative director. At his worst he makes messy, plotless rambles with cliché ridden visuals and phoned in Johnny Depp performances. Let’s hope that the former turned up to direct Frankenweenie.
The other film in the trio of terror, Hotel Transylvania, is a far more straightforward, studio comedy that will probably have very little horror but lots of pop culture references. Sony, the studio behind Rio, have assembled a cast that would be terrible in a live action comedy – Adam Sandler, Kevin James and David Spade don’t exactly inspire confidence – but may do well as a voice cast with a good script. Some of the gags in the trailer are pretty sharp, and director Genndy Tartakovsky has done some impressive work with the Star Wars TV series, but it remains to be seen if this will be more than a run of the mill comedy.
As to that first question – why all the animated horror? – there are a couple of possibilities. Studios often mimic each other, Pixar and Dreamworks in particular have a history of it (Antz vs. A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo vs. Shark’s Tale and so on), so perhaps there is some of that here. If something proves to be successful, then others will want to get a piece of the action. It could just be that Hallowe’en is coming up and studios LOVE to tie releases in with holidays (Legend of the Guardians, for instance, looks set for a nice wintry, Christmassy release). Yet maybe, just maybe, there is a desire to instil a bit of fear and backbone into a generation of kids softened by bland, threatless films and television. Whatever it is, it’s a curious trend that may just prove to be a bit too much for the younger demographic: parents may end up being very grateful for the primary colours and circus afros of Madagascar 3.