This year was an exciting year for cinematic animated features, with releases such as Big Hero 6, Shaun the Sheep and Inside Out. 2016 has no plan on slowing down, only failing to deliver on one part: a nice British feauture film (Aardman, we are craving more!) However LAIKA does come to the rescue with Kubo and the Two Strings in terms of stop-motion and originality, so not all hope is lost!
The films listed below are definitely not the only features to be released in 2016, but they are some of the most notable. And because this a UK animation website, all release dates are of course for the UK.
Kung Fu Panda 3
UK release: 11 March 2016
Directors: Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Alessandro Carloni
Production Company: DreamWorks Animation, Oriental DreamWorks
“When Po’s long-lost panda father suddenly reappears, the reunited duo travels to a secret panda paradise to meet scores of new panda characters.”
In 2010 Mr. Katzenberg announced that the Kung Fu Panda franchise has 6 chapters in it. At the time this sounded probably like the height of milking a franchise until Disney got the rights to Star Wars. And let’s be honest, DreamWorks totally is milking its most successful franchise, but somehow I don’t mind it so much. So far Kung Fu Panda seem to be on a good roll with a nice mix of both action and comedy, based on its great characters and impeccable design aesthetics.
Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson returns to direct the third instalment and is joined by co-director Allessandro Carloni, who was animation supervisor on the first film and story artist on the second.
For the production of this film DreamWorks opened a Shanghai-based studio, making this feature the first time any major American animated film has been co-produced with a Chinese firm. DreamWorks seems keen on cracking the Chinese market, and is having both an English and Chinese lip-synced version, whereas other languages will have to do with a standard dub.
We have already been spoiled with 3 trailers for the 3rd feature, and I have to say, if anything, it definitely looks like another fun ride.
UK release: 25 March 2016
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush (co-director)
Production Company: Walt Disney Studios
“In the animal city of Zootropolis, a fast-talking fox who’s trying to make it big goes on the run when he’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Zootropolis’ top cop, a self-righteous rabbit, is hot on his tail, but when both become targets of a conspiracy, they’re forced to team up and discover even natural enemies can become best friends.”
I have made no secret how much I look forward to this film. Practically every person who went to either one of the conventions/festivals where Disney previewed some clips of the film last year has been swayed, and those who haven’t, have been treated by some lovely trailers and images of the film in the press. I am excited to finally have an original story again and Directors Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-it Ralph) seem like the perfect duo to handle a visually and conceptually complex film like Zootropolis (or in the US Zootopia).
The idea for Zootropolis originated with Howard wanting to do a film similar to Disney’s 1970’s Robin Hood which featured Anthropomorphic animals living in a human-like world. Rolling on from there he ended with a modern metropolis build by and for animals of all shapes and sizes. Characters have been designed by the amazing talented Cory Loftis and all have a lovely charm and quirk to them.
Other than that, all I can say is, if you want to know more, head to my previous article!
UK release: 13 May, 2016
Directors: Fergal Reilly, Clay Kaytis
Production Company: Rovio Entertainment, Sony Pictures Imageworks
“Seven Angry Birds (Red, Chuck, Bomb, Matilda, Stella, Hal and Bubbles) are living in a small paradise of birds. But when they learn of the impending arrival of the Pigs, lead by Leonard, the Angry Birds must team up to investigate the Pigs in order to find out their evil plans.”
Since it was released in 2009, the Angry Birds game has been downloaded more than a billion times across all versions and platforms of mobile devices. The announcement of the inevitable animated feature was met with weariness and in my case quite a big groan. I would have avoided even watching the trailer of it, in truly biased style, if it wasn’t for this article. But – damnit – the trailer actually looks quite promising. I guess the game already provided the right basis to a plot with pigs versus birds, but how exactly they are going to flesh the characters to carry a whole story will remain to be seen. However the trailer seems to preview a bunch of funny characters that could work, and overall the quality of the design and animation is high.
Interestingly this is the only feature film on this list where the release date actually moved forward instead of back (from July to May 2016). And also interestingly, to help promote the film Rovio has made a deal with Lego to make a series of Lego sets or Lego Dimension pack, set to be released in spring 2016. So even if the film doesn’t turn out to be as good as the trailer promises, you’ll get some new lego out of it all.
The Secret Life of Pets
UK release: 24 June 2016
Directors: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney
Production Company: Illumination Entertainment, Universal Pictures
“Taking place in a Manhattan apartment building, Max’s life as a favourite pet is turned upside down, when his owner brings home a sloppy mongrel named Duke. They have to put their quarrels behind when they find out that an adorable white bunny named Snowball is building an army of abandoned pets determined to take revenge on all happy-owned pets and their owners.”
The studio behind the annoyingly popular Minions and the films that birthed them (Despicable Me 1 + 2) has turned its radar to people’s obsession with pets. I can’t believe it took this many years for a studio to notice the billions of funny pet videos and think there was a potential goldmine to be had here. And I know I will be going to see it, like a true consumer. Sigh.
The trailer (and one Happy Holidays teaser) seems to revel in referencing many of the home videos found online, including a cat slapping his food bowl away and a dog dragging his pooey bum over the carpet. Though it had me at ‘headbanging to System of a Down’ right near the end.
Illumination puts its trust back into director Chris Renaud (Despicable Me 1 + 2), this time with help of co-director Yarrow Cheney who was previously character animator on Iron Giant and production designer on the Despicable Me franchise. The film marks the fifth fully-animated feature-film collaboration between Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures.
UK release: 29 July 2016
Director: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane (co-director)
Production Company: Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
“Taking place six months after Finding Nemo, Dory suddenly recalls her childhood memories. Remembering something about “the jewel of Monterey, California”, accompanied by Nemo and Marlin, she sets out to find her family.”
The sole Pixar feature for 2016 is the long-expected sequel to Finding Nemo. Personally, I like the character of Dory. And I quite liked Finding Nemo. Did it need a sequel? I guess I’m hopeful to be proven that it definitely did..
Director Andrew Stanton returns to take the helm of the movie, and most of its original voice cast will be returning, except of course for Alexander Gould (Nemo) whose voice has deepened since adulthood. Gould is instead replaced by Hayden Rolence. In june 2014 Stanton announced that Pixar regular Angus MacLane would co-direct the film. Angus joined Pixar in 1997 as an animator on the famous short Geri’s Game and has worked on every Pixar film with the exception of Toy Story, slowly working his way up from a solid animator to writing and directing several shorts.
Finding Dory has had a chance to develop over a long period of time and I’m hopeful it will be as heart-warming and beautiful as the original.
Ice Age: Collision Course
UK realease: 29 July 2016
Directors: Mike Thurmeier, Galen T. Chu
Production Company: Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox Animation
“Scrat’s epic pursuit of his elusive acorn catapults him outside of Earth, where he accidentally sets off a series of cosmic events that transform and threaten the planet.”
When Blue Sky Studios added the character of Scrat in the original Ice Age, I can’t imagine they knew it would be as popular as it eventually became. Scrat is the embodiment of slapstick comedy in animation, and the perfect catalyst of any Ice Age story.
Ice Age Collision Course is the 5th instalment in the Ice Age franchise, which I’m personally am quite surprised is still going. This time Blue Sky Studios decided to take it a notch up, and as revealed in the trailer, Scrat manages to get himself into space and set the planetary alignment into motion. This also unfortunately causes a meteorite storms which hits planet earth and thus causes trouble for the familiar companions from the previous films.
The film was originally scheduled for release on July 15th in America, but bumped back to July 22 to avoid collision (see what I did there?) with the releases of Ghostbusters, La la Land and The Lake. Unfortunately for Blue Sky this means it will now have to compete with the release of Finding Dory in the UK.
Kubo And The Two Strings
UK release: 9 September 2016
Director: Travis Knight
Production Company: LAIKA, Focus Features
“On the run from gods and monsters, Kubo must find a magical suit of armour once worn by his father, the greatest samurai the world has ever known.”
Let’s stop for a moment and pay our thanks to LAIKA – for still infusing the world with original, quirky, visually stunning and best of all stop-motion animated feature films. If I was my young emo outsider kid all-over again LAIKA would be my spirit animal. It refuses to pin itself down to a any genre or style, and doesn’t seem fussed about making huge returns. Instead what it’s doing is leaving a definite mark in the animation world.
The teaser trailer for Kubo and the Two Strings doesn’t really show that much of the story yet. Just 66 seconds of stunning animation, that seems to be impossible to be done in stop-motion. Where Kung Fu Panda takes Asian culture and Americanises it quite a bit, LAIKA seems to stay more true to the story’s cultural roots. (Having said that, with the collaboration of DreamWorks with Oriental DreamWorks we can expect more authentic Asian influences in Kung Fu Panda.)
For the first time LAIKA is relying on more well-known voice actors, including George Takei, Charlize Theron, Rooney Mara and Ralph Fiennes. And also for the first time LAIKA’s CEO Travis Knight is taking the director helm himself, with Marc Haimes and Chris Butler writing.
UK release: 14 October 2016
Directors: Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland
Production Company: Warner Animation Group
“Storks deliver babies…or at least they used to. Now they deliver packages for global internet giant Cornerstore.com. Junior, the company’s top delivery stork, is about to be promoted when he accidentally activates the Baby Making Machine, producing an adorable and wholly unauthorized baby girl.”
Storks was developed in Warner Bros’ own think tank of directors and writers. Director Nicholas Stoller thought up the idea and was hired to write, direct and produce the film. Doug Sweetland was then also attached to direct the film, no doubt to relief Stoller of some of the pressures of his 3 roles.
The announcement trailer doesn’t reveal much yet, deciding instead to focus on humour and explaining the general concept of a baby-factory. I wouldn’t have taken much notice of it, if it wasn’t for the posters and trailers heavily relying on “the studio that delivered The Lego Movie”, which admittedly was one of my recent favourite films.
UK release: 2 December 2016
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Production Company: Walt Disney Studios
“A young woman uses her navigational talents to set sail for a fabled island. Joining her on the adventure is her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui.”
Ending this list and probably 2016 in terms of notable animated features, is Disney’s Moana. Disney hasn’t released a trailer of their upcoming original animation yet, only a video with an emotional mother talking about how her daughter was cast to voice Moana. I do actually like that Disney at least tried to cast an actual Hawaiian girl, and Auli’i Cravalho seems great for the job as far as the video promises.
The film will be directed by golden duo Ron Clements and John Musker. Who after directing The Princess and the Frog were initially developing an adaption of Terry Pratchett’s Mort, but ran into rights issues. And so instead they turned to pitch new ideas to Disney, of which Moana sprouted.
Not much artwork has been released so far, though what is out there does look very good. The character of Moana looks like she will be fun and doesn’t have your standard model-proportions (yay). The Lava Witch which was revealed in one of the concepts looks absolutely stunning, making me want to know more about her already. Oh and demi-god – ‘The Rock’ – Maui seems fun too. He has animated tattoos apparently… because demi-god…
Either way Moana seems like a perfect film to end 2016 with – a year filled with many exciting animated features!