by Ben | March 2, 2018
2017 kicked off with the reverberations of the hard-felt double-whammy passing of mother and daughter actresses Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher – huge names to those of us steeped both in Hollywood’s Golden Age and the modern blockbuster era – and never really ironed out from there, taking us on a tumultuous and bumpy rollercoaster ride that, to lean on the more obvious points, saw America divided (Trump), the international community divided (Brexit), and growing unrest and eventual expansion of the beginnings of big, substantial change in sexual relations and what constitutes decent conduct in our lives in this day and age.
All of which made the world of film look rather drab and colorless, not helped by a general lack of noteworthy hits or creative accomplishments, especially in animated film, where Disney-Pixar’s Coco hoovered up awards season prizes as much for its depiction of “diversity” as it was simply because it’s about the only animated feature this year that was, one: fairly original, and two: made any kind of real commercial and cultural impact. So what else was out there? As the various guilds and academies awarded their honorees, we asked our own merry band of intrepid writers and reviewers to look back for…
Thankfully it seemed that 2017 wasn’t going to reflect the year that came before in terms of celebrity and filmmaker deaths, of which the number felt way too high in 2016. The casualties this year were much more of the career variety, of course, with the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and – yikes! – Pixar’s own John Lasseter becoming the faces named and shamed as the entire Hollywood establishment was called out for decades of the “casting couch” culture that was well-known about even outside of the business, let alone within it. Falls from graces toward the end of the year became an almost weekly occurrence, a sport that had some insiders placing theoretical bets on who might be exposed – if that’s the appropriate word – next. All of which led to revelations in other industries and workplaces, expanding to gender equality pay questions and topics that stretch far and beyond the issues of movie men being caught with their pants down. Change was and is afoot, with the ramifications to be felt in the entertainment landscape for years to come.
For many, Wonder Woman led the charge, even though the film had been shot and pretty much released long before the various current movements got underway, though that it was also directed by a woman makes for a tidy convenience that escapes the fact that Diana herself still adhered to the supposed male fantasy stereotype by having to have her boobs pushed up. Even Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a real love it or hate it affair, pushed its heroine to the fore at the expense of her two male costars – and any element from The Force Awakens that director Riann Johnson didn’t particularly care for! Structurally the film was a mess, and more and more poorly conceived the more I ponder over it. I still “enjoyed” it, for what it was, but nothing more.
As for the past several years, superheroes ruled the box-office, with a mix of films that ranged from the perfectly fine (the otherwise heralded Spider-Man: Homecomimg, which didn’t ultimately make the best use of its basic concept and boringly resorted to a usual smash-em-up climax) to the superlative Logan, a true anti-(super)hero movie that really delivered one of the best such experiences of recent times. And the much troubled Justice League finally hobbled into cinemas, up against another Marvel juggernaut, Thor: Ragnarok, which looked great from its previews.
What a surprise, then, to find Thor to be overlong, boring with its never-ending stretches of random comedy-filled dialog, and again ending with yet another pointless climax where everyone tried to smash up everyone else. Um, you’re Gods, guys, and therefore indestructible, unlike the audience who at least could nod off here and there while they continued to bicker redundantly. In comparison, the admittedly Frankenstein’s Monster of Justice League was a breath of albeit disjointed fresh air, especially the return of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme and his use of John Williams’ Superman – only the none too epic use of a narrower than expected 1.85 frame prevented the film from feeling as epic as it could and should have done. Showing again how effortlessly it can be done right was Marvel’s other big hit, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2, which stuck just as big grin on my face for its entire duration as the downright awful Beauty And The Beast had me grimacing throughout, in a film so directionless and misguided that I am perplexed by its huge box-office haul.
Film, generally, was a hit and miss affair across the board for me in 2017, and even some of the heavyweight dramas failed to spark much interest other than being stories that may well have deserved being brought to the screen but failed to become true film classics as a result, something that also ran true for me in animated fare.
Indeed, I honestly believe that if Coco takes the Academy Award for Best Picture at the Oscars this weekend – and it’s about as dead a cert as they come – then the “Pixar effect” that suggests voters who don’t see all the nominated films automatically pick the Lamp’s entry is a real thing. This isn’t because Coco isn’t a good film, or even the best of this year’s nominees, but because it’s the obvious quality effort that doesn’t require sitting through the other, supposedly lesser entries.
The accomplishment of creating any animated film can neve be denied but, for me, I’d have like to have seen the likes of Loving Vincent gain a little more traction, being a project that may not have fully successfully handled all of its story aspects, but brought back real technique to the medium. Again, I guess that commercial entertainment is more “fun” to watch (and vote for) against an independent work of art that no doubt found a tougher path to (limited) movie screens, but that Coco also shared undeniable similarities with the earlier Book Of Life also had me feeling that the slightly less original but bigger film had an easier ride. Not that Coco doesn’t deserve its gathered collection of awards kudos – as an example of studio animated fare it stands head and shoulders above the rest of 2017’s offerings…though that’s not necessarily a hard thing to do given the huge amount of non-classics in the making released in the last twelve months. Sure, there were some fun diversions, but nothing of the caliber and longevity of an Up or Inside Out. If the rumors of Pete Docter taking on Lasseter’s duties are true, it’ll be a shame to see his voice muted somewhat by his needing to spread himself thinner, even if I do believe he’s the only choice to ultimately fill those boots.
On home video, offerings weren’t much better, with the major distributors all but giving up on serving up classic fare. Warners brought limited joy with a set of Porky Pig cartoons, even if it was far from perfect, but it was again the independent likes of Thunderbean Animation that promised to provide true and rare golden age goodness (I say “promised” because despite all good intentions, I’m still actually waiting two years on for most of my orders to be fulfilled!).
The lack of truly great movies, both old and new, being made available on disc had me catching up with some older catalog titles, filling out gaps in my Criterion Collection wants and wish lists from several independent companies, as well as stocking up on some bookcase purchases including a number of consistently excellent Disney Editions tomes.
The greatest achievement – by far – for me in 2017, however, was the eventual completion of our self-built home and its state-of-the-art, 21-seat screening room, complete with true 4K projection, Dolby Atmos sound and genuine restored theater seating. Yes, I’m boasting, but it’s been a project so long in the making that I’m just pleased it’s finally done, let alone as simply awesome as it is. Movie nights have taken a big step up, with regular showings for family, friends and neighbors almost every week, and I’ve personally been enjoying catching up on several animated and big visual effects films that I had been saving from the past few years. Indeed, watching the recent Planet Of The Apes prequels back to back has been a noteworthy experience to really see how CGI has come on over the course of those three films, with this year’s War For The Planet Of The Apes not only absolutely flooring me with its visuals but in its whole philosophy and approach, too, making it possibly my favourite film of 2017 and, hopefully, the rightful winner of this year’s visual effects Oscar. Which is just about where I came in…!
2017 may have seen its fair share of animated hits, but what proved to be the genre which absolutely dominated the year was the superhero film. The standout may have been Wonder Woman, which wowed virtually everyone with its terrific action sequences and great storytelling. The very R-rated Logan, meanwhile, proved to be one of the most powerful films of its kind to date, with an Oscar-worthy performance from Sir Patrick Stewart as an aging Professor X.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 provided the charm and excitement that fans have come to expect from Marvel, while Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok were even better. And heck, even though Rotten Tomatoes scores might’ve said otherwise, Justice League ended up becoming one of my favorite movies of the year, with swift pacing, a ton of humor, and plenty of massive fight scenes. In an era filled with comic book films, Justice League was refreshing in that it was one of the few that actually felt like one.
This is an animation website, of course, so we’ll talk about those films next. Coco was hauntingly beautiful, as one would expect from Pixar, while Cars 3 was somehow both better and worse than Cars 2, certainly working better as a “sequel” to Cars while not quite being as crazy and light on its feet (wheels?) as the Mater-centric installment. As a longtime “Brony,” I was happy to report that My Little Pony: The Movie delivered the magic of the TV series for both fans and newcomers on an epic scale, even though it’s hard not to be disappointed with how Lionsgate handled the marketing of the film. Finally, The Boss Baby was hilarious largely thanks to Alec Baldwin being in top comedic form as the titular character, while the uneven Despicable Me 3 was easily a low for the franchise despite still providing plenty of laughs (those darn Minions are always good for a chuckle even in a mediocre film).
Once again, Disney had a strong year. The latest Pirates of the Caribbean was a return to fun and adventure for the franchise after its rather underwhelming 2011 offering, but it was Beauty and the Beast that truly delivered one of the most magical moviegoing experiences of the year for me, not playing as a “remake” of the original so much as a reflection of it. As for The Last Jedi, it was certainly a lot more divisive among audiences than the much more “traditional” The Force Awakens, though it still managed to deliver plenty of cool moments, even if it didn’t “feel” quite enough like a Star Wars movie to me. Lastly, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was a suitably warm and fuzzy Christmas special that should give fans of Elsa and Anna plenty of delight for years to come.
On the non-Mouse House side of things, John Wick: Chapter 2 was a fittingly satisfying dose of adrenaline, Wonder was a wonderful film which served as a plea for kindness (at a time when we might need it more than ever), the Jumanji sequel/reboot was about as crowd-pleasing and fun as anyone could possibly hope it would be, and The Greatest Showman – which has thankfully turned into a leggy box office hit – gave us the sort of old school musical that Hollywood never seems to make anymore, full of grand spectacle and toe-tapping songs.
On the smaller screen, Rick and Morty made a triumphant return to television, delivering the usual twisted sense of humor and a surprisingly poignant season arc which served as a parable against nihilism rather than an argument for it. For a more family-friendly audience, the DuckTales relaunch ended up pleasing almost everyone, fueled by nostalgia while still willing to embrace the new. Lastly, Nick’s outstanding Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot sadly came to a close, but it went down as one of the best animated series of recent memory. The upcoming Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will certainly have big shoes (or shells) to fill.
I found 2017 to be an interesting year for animation. With animation features, it was about as relatively quiet as 2015 and, like two years ago, a Pixar film pretty much had the spotlight. While there were notable stand-outs like The Breadwinner, The Lego Batman Movie, and the box-office run of Despicable Me 3, it looked to me like it was all about Coco as the lone animated feature in a sea of Disney live-action powerhouses. So I veered left and took a look at other animation-related material outside of features for 2017 with some fascinating results.
A pleasant surprise in 2017 was Legend Quest. Known as Las Leyendas in native Mexico, the Netflix series featured nice animation and great storytelling that didn’t compromise simply because it was a children’s show. Scary monsters, a pair of unique heroines complimenting the male lead, and a fascinating respect for folklore and mythology to the point of being subtly educational, it stood out very well within a crowded lineup of strong Disney and DreamWorks shows. I’m looking forward to seeing what Ánima Estudios come up with for the announced second season.
This year saw online animated shorts rise in interest and popularity. Seemingly leading the charge had been Blizzard Entertainment, using them to explore the backstories of the colorful characters to their megahit video game Overwatch, continuing this year with some fine shorts. Disney and LucasFilm jumped in, spotlighting the heroines of Star Wars with the well developed Forces of Destiny series. And finally there was Mexico, launching the hilarious Villainous in the hopes of getting a full series through Cartoon Network and garnering a huge cult following.
Taking a page from Ben, I’d like to note some off-screen material I picked up in 2017. One I liked was Oswald The Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons by David Bossert. Released in time for the character’s 90th anniversary, it’s a great read about the Disney cartoons and their rediscoveries. Another favorite was the awesome Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Collector’s Ultra Edition Blu-ray set. This release of one of my favorite animes featured the set exclusive picture drama of the Frozen Teardrop novels, a beautiful artbook, and more goodies.
The convention scene got very interesting in 2017 with Disney moving their D23 Expo to the weekend before San Diego Comic Con. Both had fantastic moments, but I think D23 slightly edges out by having the cooler surprises, like the Disney Princesses reveal for Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2, and more fascinating panels, in particular the Hercules 20th anniversary retrospective. But I also attended two real neat art exhibition and panel events at Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, CA, one for Beauty and the Beast and the other for Star vs. The Forces of Evil.
But at the very top of my list was the discovery of Critical Role. A web series from Geek and Sundry broadcasting the live weekly Dungeons and Dragons gaming sessions of voice actors such as Matthew Mercer, Ashley Johnson, Laura Bailey, and Travis Willingham, 2017 saw the show becoming a pop culture phenomenon. Bolstered by fantastic storytelling and excellent improvisational acting, the show had been a blast to watch. They just wrapped an incredible five-year campaign in epic, dramatic fashion as 2017 closed and are kick starting a new adventure to open 2018.
Is it just me or have the animated slate of films the last three years been mostly lackluster? Of the 29 released in 2017, I saw almost half – all 14 wide releases. And while there was some fun to be had, there wasn’t much we’ll look back on in later years as memorable.
Coco gets the top spot this year. Like Inside Out two years ago, I wasn’t as impressed as most other reviewers with it, but it does so many things right that you can’t help but to appreciate it on those merits. The animation is wonderful. The living side of the divide is warm and appealing and contrasts nicely with the land of the dead which is bold and exciting. Music permeates the film – from Michael Giacchino’s great score to the fun and nicely performed songs. Pixar’s portrayal of Mexican heritage is respectful without being stuffy. And the voice cast is good all-around. Unfortunately, the story is a bit of a disappointment. The plot is just a little too facile and the emotional edge a little too forced. Coco‘s worth seeing for all the things it does right, but narratively it’s just a ghost of the type of story we’re used to from Pixar.
My second spot goes to my favorite of the 14 animated films I saw this year, The Lego Batman Movie. I was a huge fan of The Lego Movie and was thrilled when they announced this follow-up. The original was a fast-paced, hilarious, emotional surprise of a film, and The Lego Batman Movie attempts to be the same. They get a lot right. The humor, while not hitting the target quite as much as The Lego Movie, is still absolutely fantastic. The plot is a bit thin but stands up pretty well since its real purpose is to set up the characters, the action, and the jokes. The animation is wonderful and just fun to watch even without paying attention to the plot. The score is at times original and at times a tribute to the past, but comes together is a very enjoyable way; while the songs – both original and classic – are a big part of the film’s success. And Will Arnett is a worthy member of the pantheon of Batman greats. With the DC Extended Universe plodding along with the most dreary versions of the comic books ever seen on screen, a more lighthearted Lego Batman is the hero audiences need and deserve right now.
I considered giving Cars 3 the “official” number three spot. The writing is well done, the animation is top of the line, and they thankfully didn’t follow the fork in the road that gave us the intolerable Cars 2. But even though the story was fairly solid, in the end Cars 3 was a little too similar to the original model for me to reward with a spot on the list.
As long time readers may know, in years where I have trouble coming up with more than two films I feel are good enough to list as my top three, I usually give an “honorary” number three to a film that, while not a movie that would normally make this kind of list, was worthy of some attention for coming out of nowhere to impress, surpass low expectations, or surprise us with a unexpectedly good time at the theatre. And there are two candidates I had to choose from this year. I could have went with The Star, which was a simple, sweet, sincere, and entertaining movie – not too preachy, not too hip, and not trying to be anything other than what it was.
But in the end I decided to go with the film I went in expecting to have to power through, but came out of surprisingly entertained, and that was – believe it or not! – My Little Pony The Movie. I know, I know, you think I should have to turn in my film reviewer credentials! And no, I’m no brony! But let’s be honest. I went in to see this film with barely any knowledge of the franchise, expecting what any normal middle-aged adult male would be expecting from such a film. And I was as shocked as anyone when I realized 30 minutes in I was actually interested in the plot and not just counting the minutes until it was over! That alone would probably make it worthy of this honorary spot on the list. But it also had some nice performances, great songs, and a lot of humor and heart as well. Will I be getting a huge Twilight Sparkle tattoo across my chest? No. Will I be watching the movie again anytime soon? Probably not. Will I admit that I was wrong with my preconceptions about this film? Absolutely. Such a wonderful surprise…
That’s my top three wide release animated movies for 2017. Here’s hoping that 2018 brings us a better slate of films with great stories, memorable music, and yes, big adventure and tons of fun.
2017 will not be fondly remembered by a lot of people on the planet. There was political wackiness, horrible natural disasters, and the passings of far too many famous people whose work we enjoyed. And on the animation scene…there was a lot of mediocrity. Sure, we got two Pixar films, with Coco being the hand’s-down favorite to take home the Best Animated Feature Oscar. But even Coco, as wonderful as it was, still told a story that appeared original but really had a few plot twists that even my kids saw coming right from the start. For me, though I too found the story a little predictable in how it tried to surprise the audience, it was a total pleasure to simply bask in the beautiful animation and exquisite storytelling. Oftentimes, even when you know where you are headed, the journey is still a blast, and such was the case with this wonderfully crafted film. Shall it win the Oscar, you will hear few arguments. Still, it cannot be viewed as Pixar’s very best, given the high bar they set for themselves years ago. Meanwhile, Pixar also gave us the sequel that few were asking for, Cars 3, an okay film that nevertheless served mainly as an apology for Cars 2, bringing little new to the table.
And once you get past Pixar, the mainstream offerings were pretty slim. There was no Disney Studios animated film this year, and DreamWorks only released the unappealing Boss Baby and the kiddie-aimed Captain Underpants. Sony brought forth three of the least-liked films of the year, The Emoji Movie, Smurfs: The Lost Village, and The Star. Illumination had only a so-so sequel, Despicable Me 3, and Blue Sky had trouble getting any buzz behind Ferdinand. Even if these films are decent (I haven’t been too bothered to see them, to be honest), they will be little remembered in coming years.
Warner brought out two Lego films, the best received being the odd but kind of sublime Lego Batman Movie. That left us with independent and foreign films to pin our hopes on, and I have not yet been able to see any of them, though The Breadwinner and In This Corner Of The World both look particularly promising, and I expect that some of the others will prove stimulating.
In terms of live action films, you had to love sci-fi or superheroes if you were going mainstream. Star Wars: The Last Jedi won the box office, but divided fans. I am still sorting through my own feelings for the film. I enjoyed it while I watched it, but it left me troubled afterwards. There were a number of absolutely great comic book films, with Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Logan, and of course the well-received Wonder Woman all earning praise as well as dollars. Justice League disappointed, finishing tenth at the box office this year, though I’m more eager to watch it again than Blade Runner 2049, a film that I thought was a masterpiece, yet did not really warm towards. The film I disliked the most in 2017, especially considering the anticipation for it, was Disney’s live-action/CGI mix Beauty And The Beast. While many were thrilled to see the beloved classic “come to life”, my wife and I were both left appalled at the casting choices (including, of all things, a lead who cannot sing) and the overly fussy and dreary design.
I didn’t watch too much animation on TV this year, but enjoyed reviewing Star Wars Rebels and Justice League Action, two shows that can entertain the whole family. My TV viewing goes mainly towards the remarkable crop of DC live action shows, which I mostly enjoy. I have also loved seeing so many catalog films coming out on home video from Warner Archive and many independents (Twilight Time, Kino Lorber, Shout Factory, Arrow, Powerhouse, Eureka…) who do fine work while licensing classic (and not-so-classic) films from studios that can no longer be bothered with putting out Blu-rays themselves.
Outside of film, I continued to thrill to the exciting comic strip reprints that brought forth such Disney newspaper comic strip classics as Silly Symphonies, Treasury Of Classic Tales, and Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. The coolest of these books may actually be the one that reprinted all of the Disney Christmas stories from the newspapers, featuring tales that combined a number of Disney characters (and usually Santa) in unique and fun ways. Seeing the Star Wars strip get collected was also a treat. IDW and Fantagraphics also brought out lots of great Disney comic books and collections.
Meanwhile, DC Comics enchanted me with stories of not only Superman and Batman, but also their amusingly mismatched sons; and numerous publishers teamed up to give us gonzo but enjoyable match-ups like The Green Hornet ’66 Meets The Spirit, Star Trek/Green Lantern, Tarzan On The Planet Of The Apes, and Wonder Woman ’77 Meets The Bionic Woman.
I have also been amused by the growth of Funko, who have been putting out a huge assortment of collectible figures that are reasonably priced and apparently selling like gangbusters. I did pick up a few Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics Pop! Vinyl figures myself this year. They are just so darned cute!
And now it’s your turn! For just the second time in the six years we’ve been asking Animated Views readers to rank the best animated movies of the year you’ve chosen a Pixar film.
Coco earned the top spot on your list with a score of 62 out of a perfect 100. It received 51% of the first place votes and appeared on an impressive 69% of all ballots.
The Lego Batman Movie was the second choice with a score of 26/100. It got 9% of the first place votes and appeared on 40% of all ballots.
There was a tie for third place. The Breadwinner and Cars 3 both received a score of 11/100. They both took 5% of the first place votes. But The Breadwinner picked up slightly more second and third place votes, earning a spot on 19% of all ballots to 18% for Cars 3.
My Little Pony: The Movie took the fifth spot, just behind the previously mentioned films with 10/100, taking 3% of the first place votes and appearing on 18% of the ballots.
And that wraps up another year, folks! Did your own choices of 2017 make our lists, or did we overlook any films or other items that should have perhaps made our selections? Come join us in the Animated Views Forum to discuss your views and start the discussion rolling on what could feature in next year’s best ofs and hit big during awards season – not least because we’re in March already (!) it’ll come along sooner than you think!
Until then, enjoy the upcoming summer movie season and the many old and new delights it promises to serve up, and don’t forget to check in with Animated Views for the latest news and reviews – stay tooned!
— Ben and the entire AV team!
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