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A Recap on 2017’s Mainstream Animated Features

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2017 animated features

As we close off another wild year of animation, it’s time to reflect back at the mainstream animated features of 2017. With a total of 15 wide releases, this year’s batch proved to be mostly unremarkable with a few notable standouts. We played with two new Lego sets, visited Equestria and the Land of the Dead, and witnessed the outrage against sentient emojis, so let’s look back at 2017’s animated hits and duds!

This recap of 2017’s animated features is based on box office results gathered by Box Office Mojo, as well as critical receptions recorded on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.


The Lego Batman Movie

The Lego Batman Movie

  • Director(s): Chris McKay
  • Writers(s): Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, John Whittington
  • Studio(s): Warner Animation Group, DC Entertainment, Lego A/S, Animal Logic
  • Distributor(s): Warner Bros. Pictures
  • US release: February 10, 2017

With DC’s ever-failing attempt with Batman in the DC Extended Universe, how ironic is it that a Lego version of the caped crusader ended up way better? That’s exactly what The Lego Batman Movie achieved, not just as a quality standalone spin-off of The Lego Movie but also a loving parody and tribute to one of the most iconic superheroes in pop culture.

Critics were very pleased with The Lego Batman Movie, praising it for its self-referential humour, the stylish Lego animation, and it’s humorous and thought-provoking depiction of the Dark Knight. A $312 million gross may not make the most financially-successful, but it sure is regarded as the best Batman movie in years.


Rock Dog / 摇滚藏獒

Rock Dog

  • Director(s): Ash Brannon
  • Writers(s): Ash Brannon, Kurt Voelker
  • Studio(s): Reel FX Animation Studios
  • Distributor(s): Huayi Brothers (China), Summit Entertainment (US)
  • US release: February 24, 2017

Adapted from Zheng Jun’s graphic novel, Rock Dog (Chinese: 摇滚藏獒) follows a Tibetan Mastiff named Bodi, who travels to the big city to become a musician. Interestingly enough, it was produced in an unusual way where it was Chinese-financed while being animated in America by Reel FX, with Surf’s Up co-director Ash Brannon helming the project.

After a disastrous Chinese release in July 2016, the film reached American cinemas eight months later where it sadly became a box office bomb, only making back a third of its budget with $20.8 million worldwide. Additionally, critics gave the movie lukewarm reviews, where despite being admirable enough, it’s formulaic story and sub-par animation makes it pale in comparison to other recent talking animal movies like Zootopia and Sing.


The Boss Baby

The Boss Baby

  • Director(s): Tom McGrath
  • Writers(s): Michael McCullers
  • Studio(s): DreamWorks Animation
  • Distributor(s): 20th Century Fox
  • US release: March 31, 2017

Alec Baldwin is a talking business baby! That concept alone made DreamWorks Animation believe that this would be a great idea for an animated movie. Adapting the short picture book of the same name by Marla Frazee was probably too limited for a feature-length cartoon, but DreamWorks succeeded at doing that with mixed results.

On one hand, critics voiced polarizing opinions on The Boss Baby, who praised it’s animation and voice cast (particularly Baldwin) but were dissatisfied with it’s overstretched thin plot and overabundance of potty humour. On the other hand, the film ended up as a surprise hit with a worldwide gross of $498.9 million, which has led DreamWorks to greenlight a Netflix series for 2018 and a sequel for March 2021.


Smurfs: The Lost Village

Smurfs: The Lost Village

  • Director(s): Kelly Asbury
  • Writers(s): Stacey Harman, Pamela Ribon
  • Studio(s): Sony Pictures Animation
  • Distributor(s): Columbia Pictures
  • US release: April 7, 2017

After Sony Pictures Animation’s two embarrassing live-action Smurfs movies, the studio attempted to redeem the franchise with Smurfs: The Lost Village. This was a fully-animated reboot that aimed to be more faithful to Peyo’s comics. Despite initial promise, Sony still managed to smurf up this movie in some ways.

The reboot was met with largely mediocre reviews, which criticized it as a generic kids’ movie with pretty visuals and little else of substance. Competition with The Boss Baby and audience skepticism after Sony’s past Smurfs treatment caused the film to under perform with $197.2 million at the box office. But regardless of that, we can at least agree that The Lost Village is better than the past live-action duds, right?


Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

  • Director(s): David Soren
  • Writers(s): Nicholas Stoller
  • Studio(s): DreamWorks Animation, Mikros Image
  • Distributor(s): 20th Century Fox
  • US release: June 2, 2017

With their final Fox-distributed film, DreamWorks Animation brought Dav Pilkey’s popular (and controversial) book series to the silver screen in Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. This was one big love letter to fans of the books, with its faithfully-adapted writing and stylish animation that perfectly resembles Pilkey’s illustrations. It is also worth noting that this was the first DreamWorks movie to have its animation outsourced externally, which in this case was done by Mikros Image Canada.

As immature as it was, critics were pleasantly surprised by how delightful the movie was by citing its clever gags, unique animation style, and utmost respect towards the source material. Despite being overshadowed by DC’s Wonder Woman, Captain Underpants still stood well on its own at the box office thanks to its low $38 million budget, making a total of $125.3 million worldwide. George and Harold’s adventures with the waistband warrior will continue in 2018 when DreamWorks unleashes its Netflix series The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants.


Cars 3

Cars 3

  • Director(s): Brian Fee
  • Writers(s): Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich
  • Studio(s): Pixar Animation Studios
  • Distributor(s): Walt Disney Pictures
  • US release: June 16, 2017

Cars has never been among Pixar’s most-loved creations, especially after the 2011 sequel that put a huge dent in the studio’s reputation. In an attempt to win back the crowd, Pixar decided to give the series another shot by bringing the series back to it’s racing roots in Cars 3. And when released, it worked! …well, kinda.

Reviewers mostly thought the third Cars installment was okay with the exciting racing, rich visuals, and a poignant story that’s miles better than Cars 2. Despite those improvements, however, the film unfortunately under performed at the box office, ending up as the lowest-grossing in the main series with only $383.8 million worldwide. Things aren’t over for the franchise just yet though, as Disneytoon is currently working on another Cars spinoff (following Planes), set for release in April 2019.


Despicable Me 3

Despicable Me 3

  • Director(s): Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin
  • Writers(s): Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul
  • Studio(s): Illumination Entertainment
  • Distributor(s): Universal Pictures
  • US release: June 30, 2017

Continuing the hijinks of Gru, his family, and the minions, Despicable Me 3 is the third entry of Illumination’s highly successful flagship franchise. For this installment, the reviews this time were mixed by saying that while it has all the fun expected for a Despicable Me movie, it’s retreads to familiar territory which shows diminishing returns of quality in the series.

Despite the mixed reception, it didn’t stop the movie from being a monster hit. Bringing in a whopping $1.033 billion worldwide, Despicable Me 3 set the franchise at the top, dethroning Shrek as the highest-grossing animated franchise of all time. The series is set to continue with Minions 2 scheduled for July 2020, and a fourth Despicable Me movie currently being planned.


The Emoji Movie

💩

  • Director(s): Tony Leondis
  • Writers(s): Tony Leondis, Eric Siegel, Mike White
  • Studio(s): Sony Pictures Animation
  • Distributor(s): Columbia Pictures
  • US release: July 28, 2017

The Emoji Movie (💩) is the prime example of why not everything in popular culture needs its own film. A movie so infamously terrible, that not even Sir Patrick Stewart’s charming portrayal as a turd emoji could save this mess from holding the distinction as among the most universally despised animated features in history.

A derivative trope-infested story, one-dimensional stereotypes, broken world building, groan-inducing humour, and blatant app advertising were just some of the many problems that plagued Sony Animation’s failed attempt at capitalizing a popular trend. And even if ironic viewing made it earn $217 million at the box office, The Emoji Movie was still widely regarded as a complete waste of SPA’s talent and resources and the perfect embodiment of all things wrong with modern mainstream animation.


The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

  • Director(s): Cal Brunker
  • Writers(s): Bob Barlen, Scott Bindley, Cal Brunker
  • Studio(s): ToonBox Entertainment
  • Distributor(s): Open Road Films, The Weinstein Company (INT)
  • US release: August 11, 2017

While being a box office success, the first Nut Job movie was widely disliked by critics for its mean tone and unlikable protagonist. It was even more surprising that ToonBox decided to quickly greenlight a sequel, which was to be helmed by the duo behind Escape from Planet Earth. When released, however, The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature didn’t do the franchise much favours.

It was said by critics that the sequel was barely an improvement over its poorly-received predecessor. Sure, the mean-spirited tone and Surly’s unlikability were fixed, but those were not enough to make the film better than a generic animals-against-humans story with juvenile humour. Audiences also weren’t sold on the idea of a sequel, as it only grossed $65.2 million, about half of what the first film made.


Ballerina / Leap!

Ballerina / Leap!

  • Director(s): Éric Summer, Éric Warin
  • Writers(s): Carol Noble, Éric Summer, Laurent Zeitoun
  • Studio(s): L’Atelier Animation
  • Distributor(s): Gaumont (FRA), Entertainment One (CAN), StudioCanal (AUS/NZ), The Weinstein Company (US)
  • US release: August 25, 2017

Ballerina is a French-Canadian animated feature about a girl named Félicie who travels to Paris to become a dancer. Animated by Montreal’s L’Atelier, and released around the world starting from December 2016, it wasn’t until nine months later when The Weinstein Company disposed it into American cinemas under the title Leap!.

Regardless of which version it is, the overall response of the movie was very mixed. Some were impressed with its choreography and Félicie’s engaging journey, while others were put off by the formulaic premise and poor English voice acting. The film, however, did manage to earn $106 million worldwide, making it a financial success in the end.


The Lego Ninjago Movie

The Lego Ninjago Movie

  • Director(s): Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
  • Writers(s): Paul Fisher, Bob Logan, Jared Stern, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, John Whittington
  • Studio(s): Warner Animation Group, Lego A/S, Animal Logic
  • Distributor(s): Warner Bros. Pictures
  • US release: September 22, 2017

As the second of two Lego Movie spinoffs released this year, The Lego Ninjago Movie brought audiences to a world of Ninjago, with ninjas, giant monsters, and daddy issues. While all this seemed conceptually great, this spinoff didn’t quite meet the stellar quality expected of the franchise.

Both critically and financially, the film was considered a disappointment, especially when compared to the other Lego movies. It under performed at the box office with only $123 million worldwide, and critics voiced mixed opinions by stating that, while fun, it shows that the franchise’s formula is getting stale. Luckily, there is still hope in clicking the pieces back in, with The Lego Movie Sequel scheduled for February 2019.


My Little Pony: The Movie

My Little Pony: The Movie

  • Director(s): Jayson Thiessen
  • Writers(s): Meghan McCarthy, Rita Hsiao, Michael Vogel
  • Studio(s): Allspark Pictures, DHX Media
  • Distributor(s): Lionsgate, Madman Entertainment (AUS/NZ)
  • US release: October 6, 2017

Capitalizing on the Friendship is Magic phenomena, My Little Pony: The Movie brought the Mane 6 to the big screen on one big musical adventure. It was especially refreshing in this era of animation to see a hand-drawn feature widely-released in cinemas. The resulting film ended up as great fan service to devoted watchers of the show but not much else outside of that.

Reviews of the My Little Pony movie ended up being mixed, largely due to the film’s catering to the fans. While they said non-fans won’t feel as welcomed, bronies and pegasisters alike should have a great time experiencing this cinematic adventure with Twilight Sparkle and her friends. The film ended up making $52.3 million at the box office which, depending on its undisclosed budget, should make it a modest success.


The Star

The Star

  • Director(s): Timothy Reckart
  • Writers(s): Carlos Kotkin
  • Studio(s): Sony Pictures Animation, The Jim Henson Company, Cinesite Studios
  • Distributor(s): Columbia Pictures
  • US release: November 17, 2017

After embarrassing everyone with The Emoji Movie, things could only go uphill for Sony Pictures Animation. Their recovery started with The Star, a Christian animated movie that retells the nativity story from the perspective of the animals. Helping out in collaborating were The Jim Henson Company and Montreal’s Cinesite Studios, the latter of which provided animation service.

Sony’s biblical comedy ended up being better received than its emoji sellout, but it wasn’t a giant leap forward. Reviewers were very lukewarm towards The Star who said, despite the goofy yet inconsistent approach, it’s overall a fine holiday treat that perfectly caters to its young target Christian audience. At the time of writing, the film has earned $53 million against a small $20 million budget, which should earn Sony small profits.


Coco

Coco

  • Director(s): Lee Unkrich
  • Writers(s): Matthew Aldrich, Adrian Molina
  • Studio(s): Pixar Animation Studios
  • Distributor(s): Walt Disney Pictures
  • US release: November 22, 2017

If Cars 3 didn’t satisfy all the Pixar crowd, then it was up to Coco to set itself as the studio’s crowd pleaser. Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich and his crew gave their spin on the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos as a grand musical journey that takes audiences to the Land of the Dead. And in a year of mostly unremarkable animated output, this one stood out as the grand champion and (no surprise since it’s Pixar) regarded by many as the best animated movie of 2017.

Aside from the overlong Frozen holiday special that preceded it, Coco was hailed as another crowning achievement from the kings of animation. Critics hailed it as a visually-stunning adventure and a respectable tribute to Mexican culture while also delivering an emotional story that explores deep into the themes of family and death. The movie is also doing very good at the box office with $505.1 million at the time of writing, which should increase throughout the holiday season. Expect this one to earn many accolades in the near-future.


Ferdinand

Ferdinand

  • Director(s): Carlos Saldanha
  • Writers(s): Robert L. Baird, Brad Copeland, Tim Federle
  • Studio(s): 20th Century Fox Animation, Blue Sky Studios
  • Distributor(s): 20th Century Fox
  • US release: December 15, 2017

Following their abysmally-received franchise killer Ice Age: Collision Course, Blue Sky’s road to recovery has gotten off to a good start thanks to Ferdinand. The animated film adapts the Munro Leaf story to a modern audience, complete with a surprisingly charming performance by John Cena as the titular bull.

Reactions to Ferdinand were okay-to-decent for being a fun family film with good heart. Sadly though, the movie had the misfortune of opening on the same day as Star Wars: The Last Jedi and has so far only earned $72.8 million against a $111 million budget. With this film potentially ending up as a box office flop, and Disney’s acquisition of Fox, we can only hope that these circumstances won’t affect Blue Sky too much.


And that brings us to the end of 2017. While this year didn’t give us the best animation output, 2018 looks to be much more promising in that regard. Among those, we have two highly-anticipated stop-motion flicks, several anticipated animated sequels, and three animated superhero movies (two highly-anticipated ones, and the other one not so much). It’s time to get hyped!

Which 2017 animated features did you think were the best and worst? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Edited by: Kelly Conley

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  • Oscar

    I predict the future of Disney buying Fox using a prank on a Facebook post

    Also, What’s your thoughts on Winx Club?

  • Renard N. Bansale

    Ranking the Mainstream Animated Films of 2017:
    (13 out of the listed 15 seen as of this comment, with rankings out of 230 new releases seen as of this comment in parentheses)
    …..
    1.) Coco (#14)
    2.) Cars 3 (#56)
    3.) My Little Pony: The Movie (#165)
    4.) Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (#166)
    5.) Rock Dog (#167)
    6.) The Lego Ninjago Movie (#171)
    7.) The Boss Baby (#172)
    8.) Leap! (#174)
    9.) The Lego Batman Movie (#176)
    10.) The Star (#184)
    11.) Despicable Me 3 (#185)
    12.) Smurfs: The Lost Village (#199)
    13.) The Emoji Movie (#224)

    • Walshy

      Oh hey Renard

  • Manuel Orozco

    The best animated films in my opinion are Smurfs Lost Village and Cars 3. All I have left to watch now is Leap and Ferdinand!

    • Have you seen Coco yet, Manuel? I was pretty indifferent about it (but it’s still a good movie).

      • Manuel Orozco

        Yes just three weeks ago. I thought it was good too. To be fair, as much as I love Pixar I felt skeptical of seeing Coco because my dad’s side doesn’t have a Day of the Dead tradition despite having Mexican ancestry

        • I can understand that. For me, my family comes from a background of Christianity. So all the Day of the Dead stuff felt pagan to me.

          • Manuel Orozco

            I’m Catholic actually. Nonetheless Pixar never ceases to amaze me. My dad got teary eyed when Miguel sings Remember Me because the story reminded him of his grandparents. I just would have enjoyed the movie even more if Mama Coco was a female lead along with Miguel and we spent equal time in the Lands of Living and the Dead.

          • I think the living family should have been more involved, since you only get to see them in the beginning and ending of the movie.

          • Manuel Orozco

            That too that way we could have gotten a bigger picture of how Miguel needs his family whether he wanted them or not

    • Jacob Nacilla

      Protip: In case you hate the English voice acting in Leap!, watch the original French version with English subtitles.

      I really loved that movie, even with the English dubbed versions (there are two English dubs).
      In fact, I personally prefer the English dubbed versions over the French version but that’s just me.

      • Manuel Orozco

        No thanks. I’ll just watch in English

  • Sebastian

    2017 has been a mixed year for me with animation. after re-watching some of the ones I first liked that has changed very drastic. Only Coco & Ferdinand has left a good impression on me this year as movies that I want to return to and re-watch. I haven’t seen Breadwinner yet but I’m waiting for it to come out over here. I want to re-watch Coco again soon and Ferdinand I found very sweet and entertaining. Ferdinand is also a holiday tradition over here so that’s why the film was so special. 2018 seems like it’s going to be well something.

  • Yellow

    Wow, I wound up not seeing a single animated movie this year.

    • Manuel Orozco

      Say what? Besides Smurfs Lost Village and Cars 3, I saw Lego Batman, Despicable Me 3, Lego Ninjango, Captain Underpants and Coco.

      • Yellow

        Not many got my attention, though I am curious about Coco and hope to see it sometime soon.

        • Manuel Orozco

          I did like Coco. It’s poignant and colorfully beautiful. A rare package for an animated feature

  • Harith Sami

    Lego movies were good this year, planning to see COCO 🙂
    Everything else varied from mediocre to traaaaash.
    For me, I hated *Smurfs: the lost village* was the most insulting animated feature this year, I didn’t hate the Emoji Movie, I just felt pity for it and for the adults who worked on it, they were so disconnected from the material, a prime example for that is the Trojan virus joke. Man they are old and don’t know their material. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b0fdaff6fbf9de4eb8211cd52f77da7b86ca028987da547f4b545c91c8af59ce.jpg

  • Captain Underpants was my favorite movie this year. The animation, story, and humor in it were all superb! Hopefully 2018 will have more films like it.

  • I honestly thought this was going to be a mostly underwhelming year for Animation, but luckily Lego Batman, Coco, and even the ridiculous popcorn quality of Boss Baby made it just a little bit less forgettable and generic which is great, hopefully next year step up their game 🙂

  • Walshy

    Definitely looking forward to next years films

    Also, what happened to Animal Crackers and Blazing Samurai? Did they get delayed or just fade into obscurity?

    • Manuel Orozco

      For sure I will see Incredibles 2, Wreck It Ralph 2, Spider Man, The Grinch and Hotel Transylvania 3.

  • Fadi Antwan

    I watched 40 films this year and 3 of the worst 5 are animated. 2017 has been a horrible year for American animation that I hope will be forgotten in time…

  • 2017 especially compared to last year was poor
    on the animation front. The only good movie we
    got this year was Coco. In 2016, there was films
    like King Fu Panda 3, Zootopia, Dory, Kubo and
    the Two Strings, perhaps Moana, and so on.

  • I’ve only watched 5 animated movies this year.
    Here are my ratings of them in order by date.

    Lego Batman- 5/10
    Smurfs: The Lost Village- 4/10
    Cars 3- 7/10
    My Little Pony: The Movie- 6/10
    Coco- 9/10

  • Amber Dvorak

    Thank you for this comprehensive review on feature animation in 2017, Karl! Unfortunately, I was not impressed with most of the animated films released this year. Only The LEGO Batman Movie and Coco seemed worth my checking out, but thankfully both of those were highly entertaining. I’m hoping that 2018 will be a better year for animation, and by the list of what’s coming out, that seems highly likely. 🙂

  • Katie Lewis

    Coco and the My Little Pony movie is my favorite films of 2017!

  • Chelsea Warner

    This year wasn’t that great. Out of the movies I saw, Coco was the only movie I thought was great. Cars 3, DM 3, and Lego Batman were good, but not great to me. Boss Baby was pretty bad. I still want to see Ferdinand and I want to see Emoji just to see how bad it is.

    • Manuel Orozco

      Let me know how you like Ferdinand please