Every year the same titans rule the animation industry. You expect films from Disney/Pixar to be the pinnacle of animation. Not only do they have the pedigree, but they have the name and money to support some of the most amazing animated films ever. This year is different though. Instead of creating something new and original, Disney/Pixar released sequels to some of their previous box office champions. It wasn’t a big risk, and they made fans happy. That just wasn’t enough though to compete with the animated offerings of other studios and auteurs from around the world. The list below is some of the finest animated films of 2018. Hopefully, you’ll find an animated film that sparks your interest below.
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Disney never makes theatrical sequels for animated movies (Pixar doesn’t count), so when they do it must be because they have a good reason. Ralph Breaks the Internet brings back the characters of Wreck-It Ralph, focusing on Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) as they make a trip into the exciting world of the Internet. Their adventure begins when a crucial part of the Sugar Rush arcade machine has been broken, and Ralph and Vanellope have to go to the internet to get a part from eBay. Other internet staples like Amazon, Twitter, and more are turned into funny cartoons for the whole family.
Now you may wonder why this is so far down on the list. That is mostly because Ralph Breaks the Internet plays exactly like those direct-to-video sequels Disney pushed out in the 90s. There is no villain in Ralph Breaks the Internet, making much of the movie conflict-free. Additionally, when using the Internet as such a heavy story element, product placement is a nightmare. It is hard to watch the movie without thinking of it as a giant advertisement. Even the best sequence in the movie which has Vanellope interacting with numerous Disney Princesses feels like a way to promote edgy character t-shirts. Ralph Breaks the Internet is charming and cute, as well as, a wholly unnecessary sequel to the adventures of Ralph and Vanellope.
Liz and the Blue Bird
Kyoto Animation is responsible for some of the best looking and beloved anime of the last decade. Some of their most popular titles include The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kanon, Clannad, and K-On! Another one of those popular titles is Sound! Euphonium. That show was based on a series of Japanese novels about a High School Music Club that is improving rapidly because of a new adviser. Liz and the Blue Bird is a spin-off that focuses on two students in that band as they face graduation and increasingly difficult responsibilities in the band.
Similar to the Kyoto Animation film, A Silent Voice, Liz and the Blue Bird is a gorgeous animated feature. This is a massive step above what was accomplished in the Sound! Euphonium anime and that makes sense given the assuredly bigger budget. The two protagonists, Mizore Yoroizuka and Nozomi Kasaki, are in an unrequited love situation. While they are trying to work through their feelings for one another, the musical piece they are working on tells a similar story to their own. The song is based on a fairy tale known as “Liz and the Blue Bird.” Even for those unfamiliar with the source anime, Liz and the Blue Bird works on its own merits and is a delightful slice-of-life tale of two young women becoming adults.
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of his very best films. That is important to note because expectations were high for his next stop-motion film, Isle of Dogs. Isle of Dogs is an original story developed by Anderson about future dystopian Japan. There is an ancient family that has always championed the cat as the animal of the people and they have devised a plan to get rid of all the dogs. They have released a toxin that has made all the dogs sick and the dogs are banished to an island to live out the rest of their days. Everything is going to plan until one boy made it his mission to retrieve his dog from the island.
Like most recent Wes Anderson films, Isle of Dogs features a voice cast that reads like an assortment of the very best talent available. Actors such as Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Greta Gerwig, and Tilda Swinton all provide their voices to the good dogs seen throughout the picture. Isle of Dogs isn’t without controversy though. Critics have challenged many of the choices Anderson made throughout the film, especially when depicting the Japanese people. On the plus side, the experimental soundtrack from Alexandre Desplat is one highlight from the film and it helps Isle of Dogs is very much a Wes Anderson film. If you are familiar with the rhythms and humor that have defined his films for the last decade, then you’ll find something to enjoy about Isle of Dogs.
Mirai is from one of the new wave of Japanese Animation icons. If the old wave comprised Satoshi Kon, Isao Takahata, and Hayao Miyazaki, the new wave includes Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Makoto Shinkai, and Mirai director Mamoru Hosoda. Hosoda spent the early 00s directing Digimon movies and the iconic anime Samurai Champloo. It was in 2006 that he made The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and really launched onto the feature film Anime scene.
Mirai continues Hosoda’s theme of the lives of families. Similar to live-action director Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hosoda’s films have explored how different families come together and interact with one another. Mirai follows a boy named Kun, who enjoys being an only child. He gets all of his parents’ attention, gets all the best toys, and never feels jealous of anything. That all changes when his sister Mirai is born. He quickly becomes jealous of her and seriously hates having a little sister. The story takes a turn when Kun is taken on magical adventures that will help him grow and appreciate his sister. It is another beautiful film from Hosoda that looks at family life from a perspective he hasn’t tried before. The only issue is that when you have adventures that feel like vignettes, some stories are more interesting than others. Despite being a lesser work from Hosoda, this is still a great director creating an enjoyable story at the peak of his career.
It took 14 years to get a sequel to The Incredibles, but since Tomorrowland crashed, Brad Bird had to retreat to animation. Unfortunately for Incredibles 2, superhero movies are a dime a dozen now, so something had to change to justify going back. Similar to how director Andrew Stanton returned to the Finding Nemo universe, Brad Bird finds redemption in Incredibles 2 as it gives us more of the superhero family that we love.
Superheroes have been banned for the most part due to the damage they do while saving lives. Someone has to pay for those destroyed buildings. In order to clean up their image, Elastigirl is given a job with a company called DevTech. The hope is that everyone will gain trust back in superheroes and the entire Incredibles family can get back to work. With Elastigirl working, Incredibles 2 explores the life of a stay-at-home dad with Mr. Incredible having to take care of his three kids. It is fun seeing the difficulty he has with the kids, including the super-powerful baby Jack-Jack. It is a sequel that delights without feeling like a retread. Bird did have another story to tell with these superheroes, one that was more interested in relationships and parenting than incredible feats of strength.
Tito and the Birds
I first saw Tito and the Birds as part of the Animation is Film festival. The gorgeously animated film by Brazilian filmmakers Gabriel Bitar, Andre Catoto, and Gustavo Steinberg has a theme that rings loudly. The story is about a society so entrapped by fear it cannot function. The only hope is a brave boy, who seeks to harness the power of pigeon song, can free his family and friends from oppression. Fear plays a large part in the way people interact with each other, what they accomplish in life, and how they react to other cultures. Fear has also played a major part in political campaigns, using words and hypothetical situations to scare people into making decisions. As the world of Tito and the Birds gets more poisoned by fear, the animation changes to reflect that reality.
Animation Magazine spoke to Bitar, and he said they wanted to replicate the look and feel of oil paintings on glass. It is a lovely animation style for sure. Although the movie can show how fear can control us, it never becomes oppressive. Tito and the Birds is a family movie and we can all benefit to see a story that shows the power in overcoming crippling fear.
Night is Short, Walk On Girl
Earlier this year, I wrote about how 2018 was going to be a big year for Masaaki Yuasa. The director had a new anime series, Devilman Crybaby, released to Netflix to high acclaim and praise. 2018 also saw the release of three Yuasa films to the US; Mind Game, Lu over the Wall, and Night is Short, Walk On Girl. Night is Short, Walk On Girl shows why Yuasa is such a respected talent and is one of the best entries to his wacky creations.
A spiritual sequel to his anime series The Tatami Galaxy, Night is Short, Walk On Girl follows the exploits of two university students. One is a young woman who wants to experience everything she can in one evening, while the other is the young man smitten with her trying to keep up. The young woman is the man’s kouhai, a word meaning junior in Japanese. He wants to express his feelings to his kouhai, but wild situations keep them apart. Similar to Mirai, Night is Short, Walk On Girl is essentially a series of vignettes. The boy and his kouhai go on a drinking adventure, try to find a lost book, perform in a play, and eventually both get a cold. It’s a funny and interesting animated feature that will leave you utterly confused about what is happening on screen. Those moments exemplify Yuasa’s work and the power that goes through his images.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
If there is one thing the world didn’t need, it was another animated superhero movie. After Incredibles 2 and Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was the third animated superhero movie of this year alone. Thankfully, they saved the best for last. Spider-Verse focuses on Miles Morales, a teenager adjusting to a new private school. His father is a police officer and his mother is a nurse, so there are high expectations for Miles. The only escape for Miles from some of those pressures is the presence of his uncle. While spending time with his uncle, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly gains the abilities of Spider-Man.
The story of Miles Morales ties Spider-Verse together, but there are other characters that bring another notch of excitement to the proceedings. Characters such as Old Peter Parker Spider-Man, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man Noir, SP//dr, and Spider-Ham add plenty of humor and guidance for Miles. Spider-Verse is animated like the pages of a comic book and when elements like character thoughts or Spider-Man powers like Spider-Sense enter the picture, they help add to the comic book illusion. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse shouts loudly into the stratosphere that anyone can be Spider-Man. It is such a joy and one of the best Spider-Man movies ever made.