In terms of mainstream animated movies, the final year of the 2010s decade turned out to be a very mixed bag. The sixteen major releases of 2019 had reactions all over the place ranging from outstanding treasures to downright embarrassments. With new and familiar animated stars ranging from living toys and talking animals, it’s time we look back on the good, the bad, and the in-betweens of the animated features in 2019!
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
- Director(s): Mike Mitchell
- Writer(s): Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
- Studio(s): Warner Animation Group, The Lego Group, Animal Logic
- Distributor(s): Warner Bros.
- US release: February 8, 2019
Five years after the surprise hit of the first film, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part was assembled and all ready to showcase another hilarious plastic adventure with Emmet, Wildstyle, and their allies. It had all the makings for a surefire hit, especially with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller returning as writers, but what happened was the opposite where the Lego Movie Universe came crumbling down.
This is not to say The Lego Movie 2 was bad. Sure, the reviews weren’t as strong as the first film but were still largely favourable towards its signature comedy, animation style, and heart. The problem was that the box office proved to be a total letdown for Warner Bros. as it only made $191 million against an inflated $99 million budget. The sequel’s numbers were nowhere near what the first movie or The Lego Batman Movie had. And as a result, Warner Bros. has sadly put the franchise to rest while passing the Lego film rights onto Universal Pictures.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
- Director(s): Dean DeBlois
- Writer(s): Dean DeBlois
- Studio(s): DreamWorks Animation
- Distributor(s): Universal Pictures
- US release: February 22, 2019
It had been nine years since Hiccup and his pet Night Fury Toothless bonded a friendship. Now their journey came to a close in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third and final instalment in DreamWorks’ most-acclaimed franchise. Along with the numerous delays The Hidden World suffered, this was indeed one hotly-anticipated release.
As the first DreamWorks Animation movie released by their new owner Universal Pictures, it did impressive numbers for a February release by making $521 million worldwide, making this Universal’s highest-grossing non-Illumination animated movie. But what was more important than the box office was living up to finale expectations, and fortunately, Dean DeBlois and his team succeeded gracefully. The final entry was praised as a powerful tearjerking conclusion to the trilogy that soars high with dazzling visuals and strong emotional impact delivered by Hiccup and Toothless.
Their adventures may be over, but we’ll all be fondly look back at How to Train Your Dragon as one of the perfect animation trilogies.
- Director(s): No credited director
- Writer(s): Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec
- Studio(s): Paramount Animation, Nickelodeon Movies, Ilion Animation Studios
- Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures
- US release: March 15, 2019
With an original concept of a magical amusement part brought to life, Nickelodeon’s Wonder Park seemed like a promising hit for Paramount’s struggling animation division. Unfortunately, the park quickly fell apart during production as the original director was fired for sexual harassment. When released, Wonder Park became a rare instance of a movie with no credited directors.
Speaking of which, this directionless situation is what reflected the finished product according to critics. Underneath its beautifully animated exterior provided by Spain’s Ilion Animation, the film was criticized for its lacklustre story, jarring tonal shifts, and mean-spirited handling of the characters. It also ended up another miss for Paramount Animation with just $119 million worldwide. Nickelodeon has planned a TV series follow-up titled Adventures in Wonder Park but remains to be seen if that will see the light of day.
- Director(s): Chris Butler
- Writer(s): Chris Butler
- Studio(s): Laika
- Distributor(s): Annapurna Pictures (via United Artists), Lionsgate (UK), Roadshow Entertainment (AUS/NZ)
- US release: April 12, 2019
A unique specimen of animation was spotted on the filmgoer’s radar, one that came in the form of Laika’s newest stop-motion flick Missing Link. The new hand-crafted adventure from ParaNorman director Chris Butler brought together an all-star cast for this intelligently-written period piece, along with the team at Laika pushing the medium of stop-motion to astounding levels.
Tragically, Missing Link became a box office disaster when released, only scraping in a measly $26 million against a massive $100 million budget. But even if it failed financially the critical reception was the polar opposite, with Rotten Tomatoes summed up the largely positive reviews as “another triumph” for Laika with a “pleasant, easygoing vibe”. Here’s hoping that is overlooked gem find better appreciation on home media.
- Director(s): Kelly Asbury
- Writer(s): Alison Peck
- Studio(s): Reel FX Animation Studios
- Distributor(s): STX Entertainment, Roadshow Entertainment (AUS/NZ)
- US release: May 3, 2019
Toy-based movies appear to be the hot ticket for a successful animated feature, so it made perfect sense for STX Entertainment to dive into this trend with UglyDolls. With a story from the mind of Robert Rodriguez, STX and the animation team at Reel FX turned the popular plush toy into a full-fledged musical featuring popular singers like Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Pitbull (as a pitbull of course), and more.
Unfortunately, the release of UglyDolls turned out to be…. rather ugly. Not necessarily the visuals (which were warmly received), but critics found the movie to be too derivative from other successful animated kids movies. The box office also ended up as an ugly sight, flopping with only $32 million against a $45-53 million budget.
The Secret Life of Pets 2
- Director(s): Chris Renaud
- Writer(s): Brian Lynch
- Studio(s): Illumination, Illumination Mac Guff
- Distributor(s): Universal Pictures
- US release: June 7, 2019
Illumination struck gold once again in 2016 with The Secret Life of Pets, an animal comedy that brought in a whopping $875 million in grosses. And thus, their second franchise was born, When we were reintroduced to Max and his friends, however, The Secret Life of Pets 2 proved that Illumination isn’t always the invincible cash cow juggernaut we associate them as.
Critics voiced mixed opinions of Pets 2. Although they praised the animation and cast, especially Patton Oswalt as Max’s new voice, they still deemed the sequel as standard Illumination family fare with a disjointed narrative of three subplots. Financially, it only made half the worldwide grosses of the first movie with only $433 million. For a mainstream animated feature, this was a financial success, but a far cry from the large numbers expected from an Illumination release.
Toy Story 4
- Director(s): Josh Cooley
- Writer(s): Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom
- Studio(s): Pixar Animation Studios
- Distributor(s): Walt Disney Pictures
- US release: June 21, 2019
When we heard Woody utter “So long, partner”, we all thought it was the end of Pixar’s legendary series. That is until the studio reopened the toy box for a fourth entry which caused many fans to turn their heads. Many questioned how on earth they could continue from what was regarded as the perfect ending to a beloved trilogy. The answer to that was that Pixar did continue beyond the perfect ending, amazingly so.
After being faced with much scepticism, Toy Story 4 proved everyone that story was well-worth continuing. Critics hailed the fourth entry as a superb achievement that continues the top-notch storytelling, compelling themes, complex characters, and emotion resonance expected from the franchise. Much like the previous movies, it was also a box office smash by gaining $1.07 billion worldwide, a perfect number to cap off the legendary film series.
The Lion King (2019)
- Director(s): Jon Favreau
- Writer(s): Jeff Nathanson
- Studio(s): Disney Live Action, Moving Picture Company
- Distributor(s): Walt Disney Pictures
- US release: July 19, 2019
Let’s be real here. As much as Disney touts this as a “live-action” production, the 2019 remake of The Lion King is technically a fully computer-animated feature, so we’re including it on this recap. Released twenty-five years after the original 1994 masterpiece, Disney brought back director Jon Favreau to improve on the technology used in his Jungle Book remake, as well as continue their stupidly profitable trend of live-action remakes.
Most critics generally had the same viewpoint on the 2019 Lion King. They praised the groundbreaking photorealistic technology but commented that it was wasted on a soulless shot-for-shot cash grab that fails to reach the high standards, charm, emotion set by the 2D animated classic. Negative reviews, however, didn’t stop the remake from predictably making tons of money. It was able to pull in a massive $1.65 billion globally at the box office, so technically, this remake is now the highest-grossing animated movie of all time. This will be a tough record to break, with Frozen II probably being our only hope for this.
The Angry Birds Movie 2
- Director(s): Thurop Van Orman
- Writer(s): Peter Ackerman, Eyal Podell, Jonathon E. Stewart
- Studio(s): Sony Pictures Animation, Rovio Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks
- Distributor(s): Columbia Pictures (via Sony)
- US release: August 14, 2019
Just in time for the franchises’ tenth anniversary, Rovio’s flagship game franchise made its big-screen comeback with The Angry Birds Movie 2. In the director’s chair, this time was The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack creator Thurop Van Orman, who brought his oddball vision to the battle of flightless birds and green pigs that become “frenemies” to protect their homes.
The release of Angry Birds 2 came with good news and bad news. The bad news was that it never got airborne at the box office, making only half the first film with $150 million worldwide. The good news, however, was that critics considered the sequel to be better than the first movie, thanks to its top-notch cartoony animation and laugh-a-minute gags, As a result, it gained a historical achievement by becoming the highest-rated video game-based film on Rotten Tomatoes, scoring a 73% “Fresh” rating.
- Director(s): Jill Culton
- Writer(s): Jill Culton
- Studio(s): DreamWorks Animation, Pearl Studio
- Distributor(s): Universal Pictures, Pearl Studio (China)
- US release: September 27, 2019
It seems like we have come full circle with the “Animated Yeti Trilogy”. If Warner Animation Group’s Smallfoot and Laika’s Missing Link weren’t enough, even DreamWorks put their own spin on this mythical fad with Abominable. A co-production between DreamWorks and China’s Pearl Studio (the two previously worked together on Kung Fu Panda 3). Abominable gave audiences a magical grand tour of the mainland as three teenagers journey to return young yeti named Everest to the mountain of his namesake.
Abominable wasn’t exactly the lucrative Chinese box office hit that Hollywood drools over where it only made ¥104 million ($15 million USD) but did okay overall with $181 million worldwide. Additionally, the movie earned good reviews from critics who said it’s formulaic story is compensated by an engaging and heartfelt adventure through gorgeous Chinese scenery.
The Addams Family
- Director(s): Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon
- Writer(s): Matt Lieberman, Pamela Pettler
- Studio(s): Cinesite Vancouver
- Distributor(s): Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (via United Artists), Universal Pictures (international)
- US release: October 11, 2019
Having been dormant for two decades, The Addams Family was brought back to animated life by MGM and the directing duo of Sausage Party. This reboot modernizes Charles Addams’ iconic macabre creation to a contemporary setting where the Addams’ move in and must adapt to “normal” society. Although this reboot had plenty of promise, not everyone ended up satisfied with this family reunion.
The Addams Family earned rather mediocre reviews on release, which state that the reboot’s generic story and very safe approach to the source material fails to do the iconic family justice. Despite that, it was a surprise hit at the box office by grossing $197 million worldwide at the time of writing. Its success has encouraged MGM to greenlight a sequel, now scheduled for October 22, 2021.
- Director(s): Aaron Woodley
- Writer(s): Bob Barlen, Cal Brunker, Aaron Woodley
- Studio(s): AIC Studios, Assemblage Entertainment
- Distributor(s): Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
- US release: November 1, 2019
A few weeks before Elsa stormed into the winter, the Arctic Blast Delivery Service was prepping their own cold brew with Arctic Dogs. The this came packaged with an all-start cast of anthropomorphic animals on a mission to save the arctic from an evil walrus scheming to melt all the ice. Unfortunately, it became yet another textbook example where celebrity power is not enough to sell a moive.
When Arctic Dogs was delivered to theatres, barely anybody took notice as it only made a pitiful $8.6 million at the box office. The few who did see it however were rather appalled by this delivery, as they cited the film’s dysfunctional story, low-quality visuals, and unappealing characters as among it’s many shortcomings. Many have since placed Arctic Dogs alongside Norm of the North (ironically animated by the same studio) as among the worst animated features of the decade.
- Director(s): Sergio Pablos
- Writer(s): Sergio Pablos, Jim Mahoney, Zach Lewis
- Studio(s): The SPA Studios
- Distributor(s): Netflix
- US release: November 8, 2019
Technically this is a stream-exclusive movie that only got a limited theatrical release. But considering it’s hand-drawn significace and mainstream label, it’s perfect for a recap like this. From Despicable Me creator Sergio Pablos and his Spanish animation studio, Klaus put a new spin on the Saint Nicholas myth story, along with bringing much-needed life back to classic 2D animation.
As Netflix’s first original animated feature, Klaus was an instant success by achieving 30 million views within the first month of release. It also gained a highly positive reception, with critics calling it an instant Christmas classic with gorgious hand-drawn animation and uniqualy heartwarming holiday story.
- Director(s): Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
- Writer(s): Jennifer Lee
- Studio(s): Walt Disney Animation Studios
- Distributor(s): Walt Disney Pictures
- US release: November 22, 2019
With how much of a phenominal impact Elsa made to the world in 2013, it was obviously a no-brainer for Disney to make Frozen a major franchise. Six years later, the long-awaited sequel, Frozen II had officially arrived, all ready to hype fans up for Anna, Elsa, Olaf, and Kristoff’s grand adventure into the unknown. When audiences and critics made their return to Arendelle and beyond, reactions to the sequel have been all over the place.
The animation and musical numbers were unanimously praised, but the narrative and character choices were met with divisive responses. But regardless of what people thought of Frozen II, it was another animated home run for Disney at the box office where it has currently made $1.26 billion worldwide. It’s safe to say it will eventually surpass the first movie, but can Elsa be strong enough to dethrone photoreal Simba? We hope so!
Playmobil: The Movie
- Director(s): Lino DiSalvo
- Writer(s): Greg Erb, Blaise Hemingway, Jason Oremland
- Studio(s): ON Animation Studios
- Distributor(s): Pathé (France), StudioCanal (EU/AUS/NZ), STX Entertainment (US/CAN)
- US release: December 6, 2019
The Lego Movie was such an impactful movie where a vague concept was turned into an innovative and cleaverly-written animated goldmine. But with every animated hit, you’re always bound to get copycats trying to replecate that successs. The most notorious of these came from Lego’s German wannabe in the form of Playmobil: The Movie, where, despite boasting talented animators, was an utterly failed attempt to be like The Lego Movie.
Upon release, Playmobil: The Movie was scolded critics as a shameless Lego Movie ripoff, alluding to it’s lacklustre storytelling, poor comedy, problematic worldbuilding, and complete lack of originality. Audiences also didn’t buy into the movie, where it’s ended up as a box office bomb, only making $13.8 million on an estimated $40-75 million budget, and scoring one of the worst wide opening weekends in North America. Much like the toyline, Playmobil became a lesser alternative destined for the bargain bin.
Spies in Disguise
- Director(s): Nick Bruno, Troy Quane
- Writer(s): Brad Copeland, Lloyd Taylor
- Studio(s): 20th Century Fox Animation, Blue Sky Studios
- Distributor(s): 20th Century Fox (via Disney)
- US release: December 25, 2019
With their first movie under Disney’s eye, Blue Sky ended the decade with action-pack bang with Spies in Disguise. Expanding on Lucas Martells animated short Pigeon Impossible, Spies pits Will Smith and Tom Holland together as complete opposites who must co-operate together when Smith’s spy character Agent Sterning is turned into… a pigeon.
After being delayed multiple times throughout the year, the reception for Spies in Disguise was fairly decent. Critics commended it’s energetic action scenes, slick music, and the strong chemistry shared between Smith and Holland. As the film has just been released, it’s yet to see how well it’ll peform the competitive holiday period, but a current $50 million worldwide gross sounds like a decent start to it’s run.
And that’s a wrap for not only 2019, but also the whole decade. While we did go through a very divisive list of major releases, the start of the 2020s decade looks to be very promising with a healthy mix of new original concepts and iconic animation franchises revived. We’ll be visiting a suburban fantasy, the cosmic realm, Bikini Bottom as never seen before, and an entire Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe, so get hyped!