I've been thinking this for a while. The more we find out about the animated films being released next year, the more excitement... 2014 is loaded. Literally. 2014 is packed with so much promise. If you ask me, this could be another fine year for animation and perhaps its biggest.
When I think of great years in animation, I think of years like 2010. That particular year had several very impressive animated films, and many of them were big hits. Toy Story 3, Tangled, How To Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me all satisfied and impressed audiences, animation fans and critics. Even an arguably lesser effort like Shrek Forever After got some form of positive reception. I mean, being "better than Shrek the Third" probably doesn't say much for the series' finale, but it didn't get all around negative reception. Megamind, though I saw it as a somewhat failed experiment, got good marks from critics and was a sizable success. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole may not have been good, but give the studio props for aiming for a story that was darker in tone, not to mention the great visuals.
Then I look at 2011, and we have impressive entries like Rango, Winnie the Pooh, Arthur Christmas and The Adventures of Tintin mixed with low quality efforts like Mars Needs Moms, The Smurfs and Happy Feet Two. 2012 was a step up, though we still had some merely passable films here and there. This year looks like it'll be the same, some critical and commercial hits mixed with some duds. I mean after all, this year does contain the likes of The Smurfs 2 and Escape from Planet Earth. We also have no idea how films like Despicable Me 2 and Turbo will turn out. It's an "it can go either way" deal with those kinds of films.
Though this may sound biased, I personally think 2014 is animation's next big year. A year where most of the work will impress in some way, and also dominate at the box office for the most part. 2010 did just that, and maybe 2014 can do it to. The domestic box office performances of all of 2010's animated batch put together is $1.5 billion, making it, money-wise, animation's biggest year at the North American box office to date. The previous record was held by 2006, a year that was packed with animated features.
From the looks of it, I think that 2014's line-up suggests so much potential. So what are the films? Well if you don't follow animation news, here's the rundown of what's coming next year:
LEGO: The Motion Picture
Animal Logic / LEGO
February 7, 2014
Initially, I had mixed feelings towards this film. A LEGO film could either be plain fun or a film that's only good for children and no one else. Also, what person doesn't want to see a LEGO film? What person did not enjoy LEGO sets when they were young? I think if the studio does this right, it'll be perfect for kids and it'll be perfect for everyone else. It's also a film that doesn't need to be more than what it is, so I'm not expecting too much out of it.
The premise? An average joe LEGO figure apparently might be the one who will save the universe from a massive evil force. Sounds generic, but the announcements said that the character will team up with some colorful allies and Batman... Yes, Batman. It's clear that this film is going to take full advantage of its setting and tone, and if you ask me, that'll make for a fun ride. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are directing it. Enough said. If it doesn't necessarily succeed in the story department, it's sure to be a riot from start to finish. This has a lot going for it.
Mr. Peabody and Sherman
March 14, 2014
One of the reasons I may have seemed a bit harsh on this film is because it seems a lot lighter than some of the studio's recent attempts at big, heartfelt films. Films that could arguably rival Pixar, such as How To Train Your Dragon and Rise of the Guardians. Well I don't expect Peabody to reach such heights, and as such, it should be a solid good film when taken on its own terms. The only other thing that turned me off was the fact that it's a re-imagining of something people knew many decades ago.
This was done once in a blue moon before the success of Alvin of the Chipmunks in 2007, but nowadays this trend is everywhere. It's to the point where it's gotten annoying, but I trust DreamWorks. I doubt that the studio and director Rob "Lion King" Minkoff will deliver a cynical, crass and shallow piece of trash where the titular characters talk in hip slang, rap and crack lame kiddie fare jokes every five seconds. The cast is impressive too, boasting talent such as Mel Brooks himself! With its new release date, the team will have more than enough time to iron out any possible setbacks.
Blue Sky Studios
April 11, 2014
Rio seems to have split animation fans from what I've gathered. Some found it to be an enjoyable, cute flick while others thought it was just plain mediocre. Either that, or people were simply angry because Pixar's Newt got cancelled for possibly being too similar to this. Me? I personally enjoyed Rio, and while it had its cringeworthy moments, I found it to be a treat. I liked the animation for the most part. The designs of the different birds were great, not so much the humans. I liked the story, a few of the songs were catchy and most of the comedy worked. The audience I saw it with on opening weekend had a fun time and applauded twice during the film. Again, I wasn't expecting it to be an emotional powerhouse that would rival something like Toy Story 3. I was expecting fun, and that's what I got.
Rio 2, I'm a bit skeptical of. Yes the first was fun and that's all I expect from the sequel, but I just hope the team at Blue Sky don't go the route of the Ice Age sequels. Nothing is more frustrating than animated comedy that has a lot of funny moments, but also a boatload of gags that don't work. This is one I'm not terribly excited about it, but I think it could make for good fun. A nice little matinee before the heavy-hitters kick in.
The Good Dinosaur
Pixar Animation Studios
May 30, 2014
How many more times can I rave about this film? I fell in love with the concept when it was unveiled back in the summer of 2011. I was beyond excited when I heard that it would be directed by Bob Peterson, instead of someone who already directed a Pixar film. The concept art that was unveiled was gorgeous. Also, it's Pixar. That's pretty much it. You might argue, "But Pixar has been slipping lately! Didn't you see Cars 2 and Brave?" I did, and I don't believe the studio is slipping. I've made it clear many times before that I don't see a "Pixar rut" coming any time soon. Cars 2 was what it was, it obviously wasn't going to be great. Brave had its faults, but can you blame it? It was a problematic production. You'd be surprised how many animated films were troubled productions.
I'm confident that this film will be like their other films. Sure Brave ran into difficulties and it may not have been the film it could've been, but that doesn't mean this film will automatically be plagued by production problems. It could turn out to be another excellent endeavor from the studio. Why should two films, one of which that was most likely not going to be anything Pixar-like, influence how we anticipate Pixar's upcoming work? I say don't worry and hope for the best.
Nickelodeon Movies / Platinum Dunes
June 6, 2014
In all honesty, can I just skip this one? IMDb lists it as an animated film, but I've been hearing that it will be live action. Will it be a hybrid like The Smurfs? Or not? Please oh pretty please can I skip this? I mean, every announcement has just upset many. Look whose working on it... Jonathan Liebesman, who directed such great classics like Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans, will be at the helm. Michael Bay is producing. Grrrreat. Megan Fox was cast as April O'Neil. Wonderful... If you can't tell I'm being sarcastic, then I'll break it to you this way: It's going to be a disaster. It's been obvious since day one. I have no desire to see it, and I'm not even a fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to begin with!
I will say one thing though, the title is actually fitting. This is not "Teenage Mutant" Ninja Turtles. Peter Laird, the franchise's co-creator, is apparently against the film. Very telling if you ask me. What are you left with? A movie that'll anger the fans that probably won't appeal to non-fans. Maybe kids will go see it, since the new series is a hit, but... Yeah...
How To Train Your Dragon 2
DreamWorks Animation SKG
June 20, 2014
Yes, we all know How To Train Your Dragon was DreamWorks' most critically successful film to date. It was beloved by many, and it won skeptics over. DreamWorks had made a film that was more than impressive. A film that didn't have hit music, potty humor or pop culture references. Despite its many setbacks, How To Train Your Dragon has a sincerity and golden heart to it that helps you overlook its problems. I bet that's because Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois directed it. One thing I loved about Dragon was the setting; the whole idea of a world where dragons exist opens up the doors to many new possibilities. I wanted to know more about the setting, and hopefully the sequel delivers in that department.
But I also want a good story, and one that's stronger than the one in the first film. I also want a better screenplay. No pointless exposition or modern slang dialogue. The film will take place five years after the first one, so maybe Hiccup and the other kids won't talk like your typical high schoolers. Maybe. Will we see all different kinds dragons? Will we see other settings beyond Berk? Since DreamWorks went big for Kung Fu Panda 2, I suspect that How To Train Your Dragon 2 will be a bigger and much more epic film than its predecessor. So much to look forward to!
Sony Pictures Animation
September 26, 2014
Why in the world would I anticipate a computer animated re-imagining of Elzie Crisler Segar's legendary sailor man? One from Sony Pictures Animation no less? Well, for starters you have Genndy Tartakovsky directing it. Tartakovsky did a fine job with making computer animation "cartoony" in Hotel Transylvania, an extension of what we saw in films like Madagascar. Despite what some may think, computer animation can do what the funniest Golden Age cartoons did. The medium is not limited by the naturalism or realism, and Tartakovsky proved that. I personally think that computer animation has a little ways to go in order to capture zaniness and slapstick seen in hand-drawn cartoons, but it'll get there. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted and Hotel Transylvania were an indication that it can.
That all being said, Popeye also worries me. While I have no doubt that Tartakovsky will make it a lively, energetic film; I also fear that it may lack what made the short subjects so great. With films like Alvin and the Chipmunks, there wasn't much to live up to. With something like Popeye, there is a lot to live up to. Also remember that during the Golden Age, nobody copied one another. The Fleischer shorts have a distinct look to them that wasn't anything like Disney or Warner Bros. cartoons. They were grounded in a modern day setting with no old timey look nor a lavish one. Since Tartakovsky respects classic animation, he may make his Popeye film resemble those brilliant shorts. But something tells me that he'll be getting lots and lots of notes from the higher ups to make it a safe, audience-friendly picture. You never know, he may not listen.
Book of Life
Reel FX Creative Studios / Fox Animation Studios
October 10, 2014
After Reel FX enters the competitive world of animated films with their debut feature Turkeys this November, they'll serve up this spooky-themed computer animated film. Guillermo del Toro is producing it, and it'll be directed by Jorge R. Gutierezz (the creator of the short-lived Nickelodeon series El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera). Reports say it'll be a Romeo and Juliet-esque love story that's in a Day of the Dead setting. The working title was actually Day of the Dead, but it was probably changed to avoid confusion with Pixar's upcoming "Day of the Dead" project. With a smart choice of release date, this film could actually be a hit in Mexico if it doesn't do well here. Given its subject matter, it probably won't. Animated films with a creepy flare don't translate to box office gold here, unless it's The Nightmare Before Christmas.
I'm already interested in it, and it seems like a risky turn for an up-and-coming studio (well granted, Reel FX was doing VFX, short films and direct-to-video titles before this). It already sounds good and it's got some good talent behind it. Keep an eye out for it in the coming months.
October 17, 2014
LAIKA's two films, Coraline and ParaNorman, were animation game-changers. The Boxtrolls will be no different. The revealed synopsis and cast already excite me, in fact this could be my most anticipated animated film for the year. It'll combine stop motion richness and computer animation, so it'll make for a cool hybrid. If anything, I'm excited for the trailer alone. I just want to see what this thing will look like. I expect the writing to be whip-smart, after all, Coraline and ParaNorman had great writing.
Big Hero 6
Walt Disney Animation Studios / Marvel Studios
November 7, 2014
I've been anticipating this one since it was announced. Again, Walt Disney Animation Studios branching out and doing a superhero film. A Marvel Comics adaptation no less. Disney Animation's President talked about how Disney will be trying new things with their output, and Wreck-It Ralph was proof. Big Hero 6 reminds me of something like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, but unlike that 2001 film, the creative team won't have narrow-minded executives ruining their work. The studio's output nowadays is very good because of this. Executives ruined films like Dinosaur, Atlantis and Treasure Planet. This is not the case anymore. I also hope it will be a hand-drawn film. Please Disney, make it hand-drawn.
DreamWorks Animation SKG
November 26, 2014
I'll admit, I'm not too excited about this. I never read the book it's based on (Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday), but the plot to that juvenile novel sounds interesting: An alien race called the Boov take over the world and change Christmas to "Smekday", meanwhile a human girl and one of the Boov become friends and go on adventures together; they ultimately end up having to save the world. The cast currently consists of Jim Parsons and Rihanna, the latter can't act and shouldn't be providing voice overs in animated films in my opinion. Again, it feels like DreamWorks is going back to their old roots by casting big names, but... The idea and setting could make for a very good-looking film. I'd like to see DreamWorks take a good stab at sci-fi, a genre often avoided by the animation industry due to many misguided films.
December 19, 2014
Allow me to get one thing out of the way. I am not a fan of Illumination or their apparent business model, despite the fact that I really enjoyed Despicable Me. In fact I enjoyed it enough that I got the Blu-ray of it, and I don't regret that purchase. It's a very cute and appealing movie, and it's the rare exception where an animated family film takes so many things that are typically seen in these kinds of films and makes them work without ever feeling tired. Others may feel differently about it, but in my eyes, Despicable Me was pure fun and entertainment done right. Dr. Seuss' The Lorax on the other hand, well... Let's just say the Despicable Me formula did not work and only undermined Seuss' book and its message.
This is why I'm not worried at all about Despicable Me 2. In fact, I enjoyed the trailer for the film, so it could be alright. Then again, will the schtick that worked the first time around work in the second one? Maybe. Maybe not. However, I worry a bit about this one. How much Minion silliness can we handle? 90 minutes? It's clear that Illumination is only after the money with this one, and it's sure to be a huge hit with kids. The fan in me wants to see the studio ditch all conventions and try something different, but we all know they won't. So Minions... It could be fun, but it just feels so crass. Who knows, they may prove me wrong come December 2014.
Which of these films are looking forward to? Which ones are you not looking forward to?
Do you 2014 will be a great year for animation? Or a simply good one? Or do you think it'll be a disappointing year?
Sound off below!