It wouldn’t be hard to surpass the year that gave us The Emoji Movie, but 2018’s many offerings look genuinely promising.

Of all 2017’s animated wares, only a few were of real quality. Kids and adults alike have been treated to gems like Coco, The Breadwinner, The Red Turtle, and Loving Vincent this year, but aside from Coco, these have been quieter successes. Making a decent amount of noise were Captain Underpants, Ferdinand, and The Lego Batman Movie, but on the whole, 2017’s loudest notes have been bum ones. What started as a bad summer extended into a terrible year for animation, from the critical nosedives of The Emoji Movie and Boss Baby to lacklustre sequels like Cars 3, The Nut Job 2, and Despicable Me 3, and forgettable reboots like The Smurfs: The Lost Village to non-starters like Leap! and The Star.

Looking ahead to 2018’s animated release schedule, though, things are considerably brighter. There are at least three features that could conquer any year on their own – Early Man, Isle of Dogs and The Incredibles 2 – but grouped together into a single schedule, their might more than towers over 2017’s meagre offerings.

February and March releases kick off the year in bold style, as auteur Wes Anderson and Nick Park, a key figure in animation powerhouse Aardman Studios, end their years-long animation dry runs with big, unique films. Both Anderson’s Isle of Dogs and Nick Park’s Early Man (not to be confused with Damian Chazelle’s 2018 feature First Man) are both stop-motion movies, giving 2018 a remarkable edge from the get-go; as our own Natalie Mokry points out, getting more than one stop-motion feature in a year is a rare gift.

Made in the same goofy claymation mold as the well-loved Wallace & Gromit movies and Chicken Run, Early Man comes with a stellar cast that includes Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall, Tom Hiddleston and Maisie Williams. This prehistoric comedy follows Dug (Redmayne) and his Stone Age tribe as they fight to reclaim their peaceful, if primitive, valley from Lord Nooth (Hiddleston), a sinister harbinger of advanced civilization. From the looks of Early Man’s trailers, comedy writers and Aardman collaborators John O’Farrell (Chicken Run) and Mark Burton (Madagascar, Shaun the Sheep Movie) are on top form with a screenplay that lovingly pokes fun at our early ancestors with slapstick and tongue-in-cheek humor in a way that ought to play well across generations (a key strength of Aardman Studios’ best work).

Isle Of Dogs Wes Anderson

Isle of Dogs, too, looks to be in keeping with its director’s trademark appeal. With a story by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Kunichi Nomura, this marks Anderson’s original animated debut (his first contribution to the genre being the Roald Dahl adaptation Fantastic Mr. Fox). One glimpse at the movie’s synopsis confirms just how imaginative Isle of Dogs will be: set in a dystopian vision of Japan, the film will follow 12-year-old Atari Kobayashi (newbie Koyu Rankin) as he searches for his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), a canine exile living somewhere on a floating pile of garbage/quarantine zone called Trash Island. All dogs have been banished to the Island on account of an outbreak of “dog flu”, so Spots isn’t alone on the colony, with the rest of the furry pack being voiced by such Anderson favorites as Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, and F. Murray Abraham. The Isle of Dogs cast also features Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton, who round things out and match the challenge set by Fantastic Mr Fox’s stellar cast.

Isle of Dogs shouldn’t disappoint since it looks to be a similar pairing of Anderson’s signature flourishes and the stripped-down, un-self-consciously animated style of the much-adored Fantastic Mr. Fox. Add the frisson of excitement entailed by Anderson’s dicey history with canine characters to all its other charms, and this anthropomorphic animation looks to be one that could blow 2017’s best contributions out of the water all by itself.

Stop-motions aside, 2018 brings the much-awaited second installment of one very well-loved Pixar movie. Next summer will treat us to an appetite-satisfying sequel to The Incredibles, the Oscar-winning animated superhero film so dear to our hearts that it earned a top spot on our list of the best superhero movies ever. The June release of The Incredibles 2 will make it nearly a full fourteen years since the first film hit our screens, and instantly endeared us to the titular dysfunctional family of superheroes.

Brad Bird writes and directs the sequel again, with much of the original’s crew – such as composer Michael Giacchino, editor Stephen Schaffer – also returning. This time around, Elastigirl will soak up the spotlight, although she’ll have to share it with some new characters (who will be voiced by Catherine Keener and Bob Odenkirk). Other than these additions, most of The Incredibles’ cast will be back, and fans should also be heartened to hear that Edna Mode, by far the first movie’s standout character, will make another inspired appearance in the sequel. All of which is to say: this sequel wisely retains the key winning ingredients of the first film while keeping things fresh, and should thus satisfy a craving that has been intensifying for over a decade.

This one has clear appeal for audiences of all ages: its Pixar credentials will entice younger viewers, while the promise of nostalgic pull will reel in fans of the first film (who, after fourteen years of waiting, are now firmly in the ‘adult’ bracket). For an indicator of how much anticipation this one is garnering, just take a look at the record-breaking reaction to its 52-second-long teaser trailer, which became the most viewed animated trailer of all time and the seventh of all film trailers, both animated and otherwise.

Wreck It Ralph

The above three films are 2018’s strongest contenders, but the year still has more to offer, too. 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph was a hit with audiences and critics alike, and next year is also set to deliver on this front: the follow-up, Ralph Breaks the Internet, will hit screens around Thanksgiving. This sequel will see John C. Reilly’s brawny character journey into the World Wide Web with glitch Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) to find a replacement part for Vanellope’s game Sugar Rush, and will also feature familiar Star Wars faces, all of the Disney Princesses, and a new algorithm character voiced by Taraji P. Henson. Where the first movie capitalized on arcade nostalgia to adults’ delight – finding a fan in hard-to-impress Kanye West, no less – this one is evidently loading up its comic engines to satirize the Net, as the above image indicates. Switching up the focus is a shrewd move, as is keeping intact what isn’t broken: along with the core of the first movie’s cast, Phil Johnston, one of the original screenwriters, returns to co-write and direct along with Wreck-It Ralph’s helmer, Rich Moore.

Aside from the above, 2018’s offerings include a crop of original films, superhero animations, remakes and more sequels; a slew of movies which may hide a sleeper hit or two. Take Mary and the Witch’s Flower, for instance, which was released this summer in Japan but will hit US theatres early next year. From existing reviews, its January release date should be one for the diary: this is the debut feature from Studio Ponoc, a company set up by Ghibli alumni, and it’s already being billed as Ghibli-esque in the best way possible, so it could even end up besting 2017’s arty animated favorite The Red Turtle.

Spider Man Into The Spiderverse

Early 2018 will also gift superhero fans with a late Christmas present in the R-rated, Victorian era-set Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, which is being released for Digital Download in January (with hard-copy releases to follow in February). In time for next Christmas is Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Sony’s animated take on the Marvel superhero from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. This film is set to run alongside, but separate from, the live-action Spider-Man franchise, and will focus on Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as one Spider-Man of many. Unlike Gotham by Gaslight and many other animated movies, Into the Spiderverse will be playing in theatres when it’s released in mid-December, which could be read as an indicator of potential here. Its teaser trailer is certainly promising: there’s a dark, Blade Runner quality about its metropolis, and the complication of multiple Spider-Mans gives this animated take a distinct edge over the live-action renditions.

There’s also a Grinch remake due in November, which could bulk 2018 up with its presence, but without more detail, it’s hard to be sure. Benedict Cumberbatch is attached to play the eponymous character, at least, and Danny Elfman is set to score the film, which one of The Secret Life of Pets’ co-directors is helming, so there is that.

Some of 2018’s slated animated features are even more uncertain: there’s Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero (out in April) which tells the true story of America’s most decorated dog; Duck Duck Goose, an inexplicably migratory bird-themed comedy due a week after Sgt. Stubby; and September release Smallfoot (a Channing Tatum-starrer that turns the tables on yeti conspiracy theories). Also risky are next year’s Gnomeo and Juliet sequel and Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Hotel Transylvania 2 did well enough at the box office, but patience for the franchise may be wearing a little thin for some audiences by now. As for the former film, viewers might be put off of Sherlock Gnomes given its casting of Johnny Depp, whose appearance in the next Fantastic Beasts movie is generating considerable backlash.

Despite some possible duds – what year doesn’t have them? – 2018 looks set to be a banner year for animation; surpassing this one by far. By summer, we will have had three films that would each rank high in the most anticipated animations of the entire decade (Early Man, Isle of Dogs, and The Incredibles 2), and one that comes with a tried-and-tested guarantee of quality (Mary and the Witch’s Flower). The rest of its offerings round out the year with the excitement of a Wreck-It Ralph sequel and the claiming back of cinematic ground by superhero animations. With all this potential on offer, we might be able to forget 2017’s unholy sins against animation by the end of 2018.

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