2022 has been a great year for film, cinema’s have boomed thanks to the huge release of Top Gun: Maverick, Jurassic World: Dominion and closing the year with Avatar: The Way of Water. But, despite the exciting live action films that have graced the silver screen, I think it’s time we celebrated the explosion of animated films we have been gifted this year. From the return to the Toy Story universe in Disney/Pixar’s Lightyear to the gruesome battle between teddy bears and unicorns in Unicorn Wars, I’m going to delve into some of the animated highlights of the year.
If you can, I ask you to cast your minds back to the start of the year. We’d just seen Disney’s Encanto take home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, which came as no surprise to anyone. In an Oscar’s first, Danish animated documentary Flee was awarded Best Feature Length Documentary at the Academy Awards and The Windshield Wiper from Spanish filmmaker Alberto Mieglo wins best animated short. After the celebrations of the 94th Academy Awards we waved goodbye to the animated films of the last 12 months and looked forward to 2022 and what it had in store.
Disney/Pixar were straight off the mark with the release of their highly anticipated coming of age animation about a young teenage girl Meilin who reaches a stage in her adolescence and finds herself turning…ahem…red. Turning Red is up there with my favourite animated films of the year and celebrates everything great, and at times not so great, about being a teenage girl. With the addition of boy band 4-Town and her awkward best friends, it resonated with audiences of all ages and thanks to its stunning CG animation (what else would we expect from Pixar?) Turning Red should be celebrated.
Turning Red was Pixar’s first outing of 2022, followed just a few months later with Lightyear which was Pixar’s first cinema release since before the COVID pandemic. Lightyear tells the origin story of the beloved Toy Story hero Buzz Lightyear, this time round voiced by the perfectly cast Chris Evans and supported by a gabble of other well known voices. From the likes of Taika Waititi, Kiki Palmer and James Brolin as fan favourite Zurg. Lightyear is great fun, and with the addition of the fun robot cat sidekick SOX, despite slightly lacking the whimsy and nostalgia of the Toy Story series, still managed to capture our hearts.
The end of 2022 has seen the release of Disney’s Strange World, which despite its weak marketing, is absolutely stunning. The adventurous tale of Searcher (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal) who goes on a rescue mission to save their home with the companionship of his son, wife and three legged dog. Meeting bonkers creatures and fantastical surroundings along the way, Strange World is bright, colourful and vastly enjoyable to watch. Quirky in all the right places with a wonderfully original story that pulls it all together, Strange World is making its way to Disney+ by the end of the year and I highly recommend giving it a watch.
From one major streaming platform to another, Netflix have also had their share of animation releases this year. Apollo 10 ½ : A Space Age Childhood was released in April this year and tells the coming of age story loosely based on the childhood experience of writer/director Richard Linklater. Supported by its stunning visuals and ambitious animation style, Apollo 10 ½ is favourite for an Oscar nomination at this year’s Academy Awards.
The Sea Beast was also released on Netflix this year and sits as the third biggest Netflix film of the year. The stunning tale of an outcast sea creature who is victim to hunting, only until a bond is formed between it and a young stowaway. The animation is bold and beautiful and, quite frankly, deserved a cinema release. Hopefully in the future, Netflix decides to get their original animations on the big screen.
With the Christmas season upon us, Netflix have jumped on the bandwagon of retelling the classic Charles Dickens novel, A Christmas Carol in the new animated musical Scrooge: A Christmas Carol. The animation technique of sharp angles and block colours could be considered intelligently creative, however, at times it comes across as lazy and over-stimulated. However, thanks to the musical soundtrack, the voice acting is fantastic. Luke Evans as Scrooge, with his bellowing tones, was a brilliant choice and brings a depth to the ever familiar role.
2022 was a treat for stop motion animation fans, Henry Selick (director of the stop motion giants The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline) made his long awaited return to the medium in the shape of Wendell & Wild, a stop motion animation horror adventure from writers Keegan Micheal Key and Jordan Peele. Released in time for Halloween, Wendell & Wild bares the same spooky, gothic fantasy style as Selicks previous works whilst incorporating a modern twist with relevant music styles, fashion and character design.
Jumping back to Disney+, the summer of 2022 was jam packed with fun family friendly films, and Disney+ was the place to be for some of the best of them. May 20th saw the release of Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, a rollocking comedy following the parallel lives of the now retired Chip and Dale after their successful career on TV’s favourite show, The Rescue Rangers. From comic con appearances to reality TV gigs, this part animation/part live action comedy is an absolute blast for all ages.
For the slightly more mature audiences (in age, not sense of humour!), Disney+ released The Bob’s Burgers Movie. A musical animation spin-off of the hugely popular adult animation series, The Bob’s Burgers Movie was loved by critics and fans alike and is looking likely to pick up some nominations in this year’s awards season.
Although Disney and Netflix dominate the animation circuit year after year, that’s not to say there isn’t room for independent animation studios to make their mark. Irish animation company Cartoon Saloon, who have previously graced audiences with the likes of Wolf Walkers, Songs of the Sea and The Breadwinner, returned this year with their family fantasy My Fathers Dragon. After receiving positive reviews from the London Film Festival, My Fathers Dragon made its way to Netflix in November and is a hidden gem. Beautiful animation, teamed with a stellar voice cast and the whimsy that Cartoon Saloon always brings to their projects makes this fantasy adventure film one to watch.
Spanish animation studio Abano Productions also brought their most recent project to the London Film Festival. Much less a family favourite, and more a dark adult comedy, Unicorn Wars is a brutal interpretation of the misfortune of war and the battle between…ahem…teddy bears and unicorns. Full of crass humour and gory visuals, Unicorn Wars definitely won’t be for everyone, but is ambitious and should be celebrated for that alone.
Also released on Netflix this year was Studio Colorido’s Drifting Home from Japanese filmmaker Hiroyasu Ishida. Drifting Home follows a group of school children who find themselves floating in the middle of the ocean on top of a block of flats, between friendship dynamics and coming of age dilemmas, the group must navigate themselves back to land whilst working together as a team to find food and supplies. Powerful, emotional and visually stunning Drifting Home should not be overlooked.
Saving the best for last, I am finishing my Animation roundup with the hugely anticipated and thus critically acclaimed stop motion animation from Guillermo Del Toro. Pinocchio had its world premiere at the London Film Festival in October and has gone on to receive rave reviews and Oscar predictions since its global Netflix release in December. Del Toro has teased about bringing the story of Pinocchio to life in his own dark fantasy style for some years now and the end result didn’t disappoint. The animation is intricate and beautiful, the changes to the original fairytale are dark and powerful and the voice cast is flawless. Bursting with passion and style, GDT’s Pinocchio is favourite to wipe the board on animation awards this season and rightly so. A huge achievement from everyone involved, and as always with Del Toro’s work, I can’t wait to see what he does next.
And there we have it, 17 films, multiple animation styles and a shed load of voice acting talent, we have the 2022 round up of animated feature lengths. Bring on 2023.
(Special shout out to A24’s Marcel The Shell With Shoes On which I have already seen but is scheduled for major release in February so will undoubtedly make the list next year!).
Happy New Year everyone.