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A Recap on 2018’s Mainstream Animated Features

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2018's animated features

As 2018 comes to a close, it’s time we look back at the mainstream animated features of that year! With eleven theatrical animated movies, this amount was less compared to last year’s fifteen, but the lineup was indeed more consistent with quality releases. Let’s now examine this year’s hits with superheroes, heroic canines, and Disney cameos galore, and more.

This recap of 2018’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.

Early Man

Early Man
  • Director(s): Nick Park
  • Writer(s): Mark Burton, James Higginson
  • Studio(s): Aardman Animations
  • Distributor(s): StudioCanal (UK), Summit Entertainment (US)
  • US release: February 16, 2018

Early Man saw the directorial comeback of Aardman’s creative genius Nick Park to create a prehistoric comedy, featured a lead duo believed to be the ancient ancestors of Wallace & Gromit! Funny enough, Aardman attempted something like this a decade ago while with DreamWorks Animation. But after they split-up in 2006, DreamWorks eventually turned that idea into The Croods.

Now that Early Man finally released in 2018 A.D., critics responded warmly towards it, who said it isn’t among Aardman’s best due to a week story, but it’s still highly enjoyable for with fun comedy accompanied with Aardman’s signature stop-motion animation. Sadly, it didn’t do well at the box office with only $54.6 million worldwide, mainly due to it opening on the same day as Pixar’s Coco in the UK, and Marvel’s Black Panther in the US. Here’s hoping it has a better life on home video.

Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs
  • Director(s): Wes Anderson
  • Writer(s): Wes Anderson
  • Studio(s): Indian Paintbrush
  • Distributor(s): Fox Searchlight Pictures
  • US release: March 23, 2018 (limited), April 13, 2018 (wide)

Nine years after delighting moviegoers with Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson returned to the world of stop-motion with Isle of Dogs (Japanese: 犬ヶ島). This dystopian comedy combined his distinctive directing with Japanese filmmaking, along with an all-star cast of both Hollywood and Japanese actors to create his most unique project yet, with an original story about a boy in search of his quarantined pet dog.

Although it wasn’t big at the box office with only $64.2 million worldwide, Isle of Dogs was a major hit with critics, who stated that Anderson has perfected craft in both filmmaking and stop-motion. The result ended up as a mature and immersive experience filled with his signature filming style, deadpan wit, quirky characters, and thought-provoking commentary. Expect this one to be popular with the award ceremonies.

Sherlock Gnomes

Sherlock Gnomes
  • Director(s): John Stevenson
  • Writer(s): Ben Zazove
  • Studio(s): Paramount Animation, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Mikros Image
  • Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures
  • US release: March 23, 2018

Sherlock and Watson got assigned a new case, one which apparently came in the form of a sequel to 2011’s Gnomeo & Juliet. Why? Because I guess the makers needed another gnome pun for a sequel? Released seven years after the first movie, this time by Paramount instead of Disney’s Touchstone label for some reason, could Sherlock Gnomes stand out as a worthy successor?

Unfortunately, our findings indicate that the answer was indeed no. Despite commending Mikros Image’s solid animation, critics were largely unamused with this follow-up. Not necessarily due to the crass jokes and the predictable mystery, but more because they questioned why a Gnomeo & Juliet sequel was even conceived. Add in the fact Sherlock Gnomes only achieved about half of the first film’s box office run with $90.3 million, and it seems conclusive that this sequel wasn’t really a good choice for Paramount’s animation division. Case closed.

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero

Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero
  • Director(s): Richard Lanni
  • Writer(s): Richard Lanni, Mike Stokey
  • Studio(s): Fun Academy Motion Pictures, Mikros Image
  • Distributor(s): Fun Academy Motion Pictures
  • US release: March 27, 2018

Isle of Dogs wasn’t the only animated feature this year depicting heroic canines. One week following that movie came Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero. Independently produced and released by Fun Academy Motion Pictures, and aimed for a family audience, this movie told the true story of the titular Boston Terrier who became a war hero for saving fellow soldiers in World War I.

Despite a wide release, Sgt. Stubby struggled to gain momentum at the box office by only grossing $3.8 million in North America. However, those who did watch the movie were quite pleased with what they witnessed, admiring the film for its ability to educate children about a hero in the bleak war, and its strong emotional punch that comes with its sincere storytelling and the well-crafted friendship between Stubby and his owner Robert Conroy. Paramount has recently released the movie on home media, which makes this a great opportunity to support this commendable indie effort.

Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2
  • Director(s): Brad Bird
  • Writer(s): Brad Bird
  • Studio(s): Pixar Animation Studios
  • Distributor(s): Walt Disney Pictures
  • US release: June 15, 2018

As one of the most-demanded sequels ever, Incredibles 2 had a lot to live up to its legendary predecessor. Supported with nostalgic fan demand, and the now-lucrative superhero releases, this was the perfect time for Brad Bird to reintroduce his iconic superhero family. The Parrs then jumped onto the big screen once again to incredible success!

Despite some story recycling and a villain downgrade with the Screenslaver, critics and audiences deemed Incredibles 2 to be well worth the 13.5-year wait, applauding the sequel for the exciting action, witty writing, and solid family dynamics that only Bird can pull off exceptionally. As expected, the much-wanted follow-up broke numerous box office records, including the highest-grossing animated movie domestically at $608.6 million. It’s $1.243 billion worldwide intake cemented it as Pixar’s highest grossing movie, and the second highest grossing animated movie of all time (just a bit shy from Frozen’s $1.276 billion).

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
  • Director(s): Genndy Tartakovsky
  • Writer(s): Michael McCullers, Genndy Tartakovsky
  • Studio(s): Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks
  • Distributor(s): Columbia Pictures
  • US release: July 13, 2018

This year gave audiences another opportunity to spend a 90-minute holiday with the Drac Pack in Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (internationally titled Hotel Transylvania 3: A Monster Vacation). In the third entry of Genndy Tartakovsky’s successful monster franchise, it was Dracula’s turn to take a vacation from giving others vacations in what is essentially “a hotel on the water”, along with a too-good-to-be-true love interest for him on board.

Compared with the first two movies, Hotel Transylvania 3 turned out to be the best reviewed of the franchise, although it still got mixed critic opinions which state that the movie delivers exactly what fans expect with lots of zany cartoony fun. With a worldwide gross of $527.2 million, this officially makes it not only the most successful Hotel Transylvania movie but also Sony Pictures Animation’s highest grossing animated feature to date.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
  • Director(s): Aaron Horvath, Peter Rida Michail
  • Writer(s): Michael Jelenic, Aaron Horvath
  • Studio(s): Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment
  • Distributor(s): Warner Bros. Pictures
  • US release: July 27, 2018

Although being a massive hit on Cartoon Network, Teen Titans Go! has been a much-hated reboot amongst the cartoon community due to its juveniel apporach, schedule hogging, and disrespect towards the 2003 series. It was no surprise that the announcement of a theatrical movie got haters even more enraged and prepared to call it the next Emoji Movie. But the big surprise was that Teen Titans Go! To the Movies turned out to be far better than anybody could ever expect.

The Titan’s quest for their own movie proved the haters wrong, with critics and audiences alike praising the film as a gleefully hilarious and intelligently written mockery on the entire superhero movie genre and the film industry that got infected by it. While only grossing $51.9 million worldwide, it’s small $10 million budget helped it become a financial success for both Warner Bros. and DC.


  • Director(s): Karey Kirkpatrick
  • Writer(s): Karey Kirkpatrick, Clare Sera
  • Studio(s): Warner Animation Group, Sony Pictures Imageworks
  • Distributor(s): Warner Bros. Pictures
  • US release: September 28, 2018

Just like what they did with 2016’s Storks, Warner Animation Group took another classic folktale and flipped it on its head with Smallfoot. Convinced by Despicable Me creator Sergio Pablos, this movie deconstructed the myth of yetis where they fear the dangerous creatures known as “smallfeet” (which are basically humans).

The clever idea of reversing the myth ended up pleasing plenty of critics, who called it an enjoyable family flick with the signature cartoony animation from Sony Pictures Imageworks, and a story with a powerful message that adults could find relatable. Smallfoot has also been a modest financial success, bringing in $213.5 million in the worldwide box office.

The Grinch

The Grinch
  • Director(s): Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier
  • Writer(s): Michael LeSieur, Tommy Swerdlow
  • Studio(s): Illumination Entertainment, Illumination Mac Guff
  • Distributor(s): Universal Pictures
  • US release: November 9, 2018

The Grinch is back to steal Christmas… yet again. It’s enough that we already have Chuck Jones’ classic cartoon and Ron Howard’s live-action movie, yet Illumination felt the need to give the iconic Dr. Seuss story a fresh coat of paint in computer animation. Like most feature-length Seuss adaptations, Illumination’s take on the green grump turned out to be a mixed bag, though at least it was an improvement over their polarising Lorax movie.

Critics gave praise to the colourful animation and for sticking true to the story’s heart but were critical for it adding little to the source material aside from pointless filler. Regardless, The Grinch did become the most-successful Seuss movie with $425.2 million worldwide at the time of writing. With this also said to be Illumination’s final Dr. Seuss adaptation, all future ones are to be handled by Warner Animation Group, who are currently developing one based on The Cat in the Hat.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Ralph Breaks the Internet
  • Director(s): Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
  • Writer(s): Phil Johnston, Pamela Ribon
  • Studio(s): Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • Distributor(s): Walt Disney Pictures
  • US release: November 21, 2018

2012’s Wreck-It Ralph was the movie that levelled Walt Disney Animation Studios up to once again being critically loved storytellers. Its success then inspired the studio to create a sequel, something that is very rare for the animated canon outside of The Rescuers Down Under and Fantasia 2000 (the Disneytoon cheapquels don’t count). Ralph Breaks the Internet expanded it’s predecessor’s worldbuilding beyond the arcade and into the World Wide Web where Ralph and Vanellope have to buy a replacement part for Sugar Rush.

As it turns out, Disney’s experiment with a sequel proved that they are perfectly capable of creating follow-ups as critics generally considered Ralph Breaks the Internet to be on par with the first movie. They responded positively towards the creative anthropomorphised internet world, and it’s love letter towards the communication medium. They were especially emotionally invested with Ralph and Vanellope’ complex relationship which forms the film’s heartwarming message. The movie has so far grossed $308.7 million worldwide, which will increase throughout the holiday season.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  • Director(s): Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
  • Writer(s): Phil Lord, Rodney Rothman
  • Studio(s): Sony Pictures Animation, Marvel Entertainment, Sony Pictures Imageworks
  • Distributor(s): Columbia Pictures
  • US release: December 14, 2018

With Spider-Man being a big headliner of 2018 with Avengers: Infinity War and the highly-successful PlayStation 4 game, Marvel’s mighty webslinger ended the year with a bang in what was Sony Pictures Animation’s biggest risk to date: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. A highly ambitious animated feature that aimed to push the medium to astonishing new heights by fusing computer animation with hand-crafted comic book techniques. Another stand-out of this movie was the fact of it being an origin story of Peter Parker’s successor Miles Morales, along with expanding the “Spider-Verse” where more than one wears the mask.

After years of the immensely hard work, it turned out that the huge gamble with Spider-Verse ended up being a great payoff. Critics and audiences everywhere were awestruck with what they had witnessed, amazed with the groundbreaking innovative animation and storytelling which they had never seen before, along with the strong story and characters that pack a lot of hilarious comedy and emotional depth. It is now widely regarded as not only one of the finest animation achievements in recent years but also the best Spider-Man movie to be ever created.

What Sony Pictures Animation and Imageworks proved to the public was astonishing on every level, showing that animation is not a kids genre, but instead an artistic storytelling medium that is capable of presenting amazing filmmaking that live-action could never achieve. With a $129.5 million gross so far in a very competitive Christmas season, let’s hope this increases substantially through positive word-of-mouth, and would help encourage other animation studios to be inspired and step up their craft.

To wrap things up, 2018 ended up as a great year for animated features, with each release giving its unique voice and vision to help expand the possibilities of the medium. Let’s hope 2019 will continue this solid streak, where we will be exploring new and familiar worlds featuring toys, dragons, spies, lots of snow, and more!

Which of 2018’s animated features were your favourites? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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