The year is still fresh and awards season is in full swing, which of course means it’s time for our site’s annual retrospective, with staff picks for the best of what pop culture had to offer us!

In terms of “real life”, it kind of felt like we were sort of, dare we even say it, returning to something resembling “normal” during 2023. Yet in spite of that, the headlines surrounding the box office were anything but typical. “Winnie the Pooh” starred in a violent horror movie, Indiana Jones and Batman made returns to cinemas that many neglected to notice, and The Marvels proved even the all-powerful MCU isn’t always invincible.

We also can’t ignore that there were not one but two (easily avoidable) major Hollywood strikes, sending the industry into chaos and leaving us with a 2024 release calendar which, for the time being, is looking kind of empty (but we’ll save full coverage of that for next year’s recap).

Still, there were some things that made sense. “Branding” was certainly the big-selling point of 2023, with The Super Mario Bros. Movie [above right] and Barbie simply exploding around the world, while Elemental quietly demonstrated that Pixar can still bring audiences to theaters (even in a post-Lightyear world). The Boy And The Heron brought Studio Ghibli back into the spotlight in a big way, and Across The Spider-Verse not only met the high expectations for it, but even shattered them, setting the stage for what is sure to be a thrilling conclusion.

Equally exciting was the rise of independent animation on YouTube, which really hit its stride last year.

The pilot for the surreal The Amazing Digital Circus has surpassed 200 million views (and counting!), though Lackadaisy [right] might be even more impressive for its astonishing level of polish on virtually no budget, giving everyone the noir-inspired escapades of bootlegger cats we never knew we wanted but found we absolutely needed. Fingers crossed that both shows have bright futures going forward.

As for those we lost last year, there were as always too many to properly pay tribute to here, but notable ones included Alan Arkin, Paul Reubens, Matthew Perry, Marty Kroft, prominent animation writer Michael Reaves, Tina Turner, Barry Humphries, Burt Bacharach, Smash Mouth singer Steve Harwell, Lance Reddick, Tony Bennett, Michael “Dumbledore” Gambon, and Jimmy Buffett.

But that’s enough of us being melancholy for now. “Stay Tooned” for our thoughts on the year that was, along with your picks for the best animated movies it gave us, as we present to you…

Ben’s Picks

This year was when things were supposed to get better around the world and back to normal here at Animated Views, where we hit the 20th anniversary marker! Yessir, AV23 was looking pretty good, especially as, not since 35 years before, we had Michael Keaton’s Batman back on screen against Indiana Jones for the first time since 1989! Alas, Keaton in The Flash was more a Flush and Indy’s Pile Of Density were both washouts creatively and commercially, and sadly indicative of a mostly bad year for bad movies (whatever Dacey thinks below, wink!).

On the more prestigious side, Killers Of The Flower Moon never engaged, incredibly given its extraordinary story, which deserved to be told with more emotion, Asteroid City saw Wes Anderson out Wes Anderson himself if that was possible after French Dispatch, Maestro was aimless, Ferrari crashed, and Wonka was wonky (and confusingly wanted to be Chitty Chitty Bang Bang more than anything else).

Other films tipped early were forgotten by awards time or never cut through: The Menu, a totally crazy, Suburbicon-styled black satire, had perfect, if predictable, ingredients that still served up exactly the kind of meal you thought you were going to get and could enjoy fully.

Commercially, even Tom Cruise struggled, somewhat, in his latest Mission [right], although a better-produced amount of sheer movie you will not have seen, and of course the big “event” was Barbenheimer, and if I didn’t really fancy three hours of talk-talk-boom-talk, I did sit with a ridiculous grin on my face throughout the entirety of Barbie, whose naïve gender politics (a view shared with my wife and her daughter) didn’t upset a bonkers and brilliant film, despite what silly scaredy men think.

I very much look forward to Poor Things and speaking about it next year, in the way I caught the previous year’s Fabelmans, which was ultimately not needed (Spielberg had a pretty privileged upbringing: asked for a train and camera, got a train and camera. Wanted a better camera, got given a better camera. So his parents split and he was bullied at school…who in creative worlds hasn’t gone through this kind of thing? I’m not sure we needed two and a half hours on this not-much-happens story).

There were, of course, a couple of other anniversaries in Disney and Warners’ big 100s…and both fumbled.

WB made an effort [right] issuing a few classics on video, but often in fudged editions with multiple problems, without carrying over extras, or both — the Superman movies set was a super-disappointment, as was the much-lambasted Fleischer cartoons disc.

As for Disney [below right], Strange World and, certainly, The Little Mermaid didn’t bring much magic to Disney+ or, coupled with the swift and unexpected removal of content there, Disney- as we may end up naming it.

Elsewhere, home releases were strangely devoid of any huge titles, old or new, where repackages were plenty but other anniversaries oddly missed. Kino continued to reissue older Olive and Twilight Time discs, as well as updates (not always exactly upgrades) to earlier titles, including The Emerald Forest and impressive amounts of 4Ks (The Italian Job), and debuts for The Big Bus, Rin Tin Tin‘s initial adventures, It!, Mr Wong, the French Tintin films, quasi-60s Disney froth The Truth About Spring and Secret Of The Incas, which brings us right back to Indy!

Classic animation actually did fairly well this year: Warner Archive served up a bunch of long-requested titles (Cats Don’t Dance, Gay Purr-ee, It’s Yogi Bear, more Looney Tunes), while Disney surprised with 4Ks for Snow White, Cinderella, Nightmare Before Christmas and a Titanic that recalled the lavish sets of old.

Also along these lines was a deluxe Sound Of Music soundtrack in a multi-disc book affair that I gifted to myself as it’s one of my favorite things!

It’s a crazy time when physical sales are down yet we get a 4K for Dragonslayer and Criterion can issue Freaks!

The end of the year brought a new Chicken Run, which I felt fumbled its title, Dawn Of The Nugget, but proved better than expected and Aardman’s best in a while even if it didn’t have the scope or was as clever and funny as the first.

The multi-layered, multi-versal Across The Spider-Verse will take some beating to that Best Animated Feature Oscar, though that it’s a sequel may curb its chances against Miyazaki’s The Boy And The Heron, the “last” film from the critical champ, while the weird Elemental, pulling a Wes Anderson and going full Pixar, won’t figure highly.

As for the rest of the year ahead, I look forward to more Ghostbusters, Star Wars Holiday Special doc A Disturbance In The Force, and to maybe receiving the rest of my Thunderbean Animation titles from Steve Stanchfield, a wonderful man doing wonderful things, but who has been promising me discs that, some of which, I have been waiting on since April 2016 — and no, that’s not a typo! All the best for ’24!

Dacey’s Picks

Few things are more satisfying as a consumer of cinema than being pleasantly surprised, and for me the biggest shocker of 2023 in that regard was — wait for it — Illumination’s Migration [right]. Seriously. I was honestly amazed by how much I loved this movie, but given that Ernest & Celestine director Benjamin Renner was behind it, perhaps I shouldn’t have assumed otherwise. Migration is downright blissful, with beautiful animation, lovable characters, a euphoric musical score and tight pacing. If you haven’t already, get your ducks in a row and check this one out.

Elsewhere, I must confess I am slightly behind (again!) on my animated movie viewing, but The Super Mario Bros. Movie was a blast, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem took the heroes in a half-shell in a bold yet familiar direction, and Elemental felt like a throwback to classic Pixar. Good stuff!

Also providing plenty of the “good stuff” was Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning. Against all odds, this franchise just consistently knocks it out of the park, and the latest entry is no different, an action movie “for grown-ups” with enough Hitchcockian-level suspense and truly death-defying stunts to keep you clinging to the edge of your seat multiple times before it’s over.

People can say whatever they like about Tom Cruise [right], but there’s no denying he’s practically a human special effect at this point. How he keeps doing this is a marvel in itself! Almost as impressive is how The Flash overcame years of bad press and seemingly endless reshoots and was still able to succeed (albeit not financially). This is a clever, lively, and highly entertaining superhero extravaganza which only further emphasizes how sad it is to see the “Snyder-verse” go (though I will begrudgingly be there opening week for James Gunn’s upcoming Superman relaunch).

Switching gears from a flop to a sleeper hit, we have Godzilla Minus One [below], which seemed to take everyone by surprise with how, well, good it was. In spite or perhaps because of its bleak post-World War II setting, it’s a rousing, inspirational human story (have you ever cried during a Godzilla movie?) which perfectly juxtapositions itself with some of the most terrifying mayhem we’ve seen from the big green guy…ever. You bet I was pumping my fist as the end credits rolled! Godzilla Minus One is awesome!

On the small screen, The Bad Batch appears to have fallen under the radar of many Star Wars fans, but they absolutely should not miss out on it. Intense and occasionally quite devastating, but still a ton of fun, I can’t wait to find out how it ends.

On the subject of endings, it stung to say goodbye to Disney’s The Owl House, but I remain cautiously optimistic for them to find a way to continue it in some form after realizing (arguably a little too late) they had a huge hit in their hands. Lumity forever!

Wrapping this up with the supposed “duds” of 2023, Velma got an overwhelming amount of hatred, and probably deservedly so, yet it’s getting a second season, so someone must have liked it. But I’m going to go with Chip-Chilla as the most loathsome cartoon of the year, simply for committing the crime of being a shameless rip-off of Bluey that has no good reason to exist.

Dan’s Picks

What was expected to have been a once-in-a-lifetime celebration with the combined Disney and Warner Bros. centennial turned into a once-in-a-lifetime sedateness. The combined writers and actors strikes, ongoing outbreaks of wars, and political strife, among others, were completely overwhelming. It didn’t help that I was swamped with work and unexpected health issues befell myself and my family. All putting a huge damper on my interest to check things out. It’s fortunate that a few managed to breakthrough and grabbed my attention.

Perhaps the biggest experience for me in 2023 was being waist-deep in The Owl House [right] fandom.

The series came to an emotional conclusion in the year, maybe one of the better endings I’ve seen for an animated television series to date.

The fandom stayed strong, as exemplified with an astonishing presence online and certainly at San Diego Comic Con, where fans were willing to wait several hours across multiple days to meet some of the cast. The unwavering love and support for the series was quite infectious, making it one of the year’s best.

Speaking of Comic Con, a favorite moment of mine from the event was attending the world premiere event for Sand Land [below right]. The feature length anime adapted from the Akira Toriyama manga was a wonderful watch thanks to its delightful characters, smooth and visually pleasing animation, and very intriguing world-building. Along with a nice press conference and an impromptu post-screening photo op with director Toshihisa Yokoshima and Toriyama’s editor in charge Akio Iyoku, it made for a special movie-going experience rarely had.

Another ending series that had an impactful year was Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury.

The emotional roller-coaster ride that was a franchise hallmark was made all the more exciting with a great cast of characters, one of the most epic music scores ever heard, and top notch animation.

Shortly after the final episode aired, the animation staff released an art book in limited print that fans went to great lengths to get their hands on. The beautiful illustrations collected [below right] made it well worth it for me to spend a lot of money to import.

Of course, any one who knows me by now know that I’ll make mention of Critical Role.

For 2023, the animated series The Legend of Vox Machina released its second season, further exposing audiences to the Matthew Mercer’s incredible world-building and the team’s outstanding storytelling alongside the amazing animation produced by Titmouse.

The announcement that Amazon had ordered at least two more seasons as well as adapt the second campaign made for great excitement for fans as Critical Role continued to grow bigger and bigger.

And last but not least, I thoroughly enjoyed the feature film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. With an emphasis on respectfully utilizing the mechanics of the roleplaying game, solid writing featuring delightful characters, an intriguing narrative and wonderful set pieces, Honor Among Thieves was a grand time to be had. It turned out to be the one major film I went out of my way to see in theaters multiple times and got my hands on some cool goodies that made everything all the more fun.

James’ Picks

2023 was another busy and rough year for me. Last year at this time, my family had just moved several states away from our longtime home to a new one in Orlando. I’d hoped that’d we’d be settling into a new and better normal by now living near Mickey but, while there is magic to be found, that doesn’t mean real life can be ignored! Setting up a house and trying to get used to a new city take time and energy. We’ve had some terrible luck that’s brought on some unexpected expenses and, on top of all that, the biggest change for my wife and I has been officially becoming empty nesters as our youngest child moved back to our old hometown for college. That’s been hard, both emotionally and mentally! Overall, we’re getting by, but I feel like we’ve been completely frazzled the entire year!

That hasn’t left a lot of time to keep up with movies, but I’ve done better than 2022 at least.

Unfortunately, this year’s crop wasn’t anything to lift my spirits!

Some films, like Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse and Elemental frustratingly left a lot on the table that could have made them great.

Other films, like Migration and Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, were better than expected, but “competently made” isn’t necessarily high praise.

Then there was Wish [above right]. Living in Orlando all year and getting to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Disney at the Most Magical Place on Earth has been amazing. And the whole thing was seemingly building up to the release of Wish, reportedly an homage to all that came before. But, wow, what a mess that was! Maybe not the worst film Disney Feature Animation has ever made, but definitely one of the biggest disappointments.

I’m looking forward to our year two here in Florida being better than the first. Hopefully the same can be said of 2024’s animation slate!

Rand’s Picks

For me, the most notable thing about 2023 was the resurgence of animation on home video. This came amidst the ongoing shift in the market towards specialty labels and independent producers, and gave us the best year we cartoon fans have had in maybe a decade, with several notable releases of classic and foreign films.

The best news came from Thunderbean, the little outfit out of Michigan run by Steve Stanchfield. Thunderbean finally finished its largest project to date, the two-disc set Flip The Frog: The Complete Series [above], beautifully restoring the shorts produced by Disney legend Ub Iwerks from when he had his own studio for a few years in the 1930s. I am also grateful for their complete Blu-ray set of cartoons based on Otto Seglow’s The Little King comic strip (including his Betty Boop appearance), originally produced by the long-defunct Van Beuren studio. Meanwhile, the independently-produced compilation The Puppetoon Movie Volume 3, from producer Arnold Leibovit, thrilled fans with more spectacular restorations of over twenty animated films from film legend George Pal.

I also love that newer label Deaf Crocodile is addressing a home video blindspot by licensing a number of eastern European animated films and giving them beautiful Blu-ray editions, including 2023’s releases of The Son Of The Stars, The Pied Piper, Heroic Times, Cat City [below], and they also put out Denmark’s Benny’s Bathtub.

Also consider Warner Archive, the boutique label separate from big brother Warner Home Video that gave us not one but two Blu-ray releases of newly restored vintage Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, with the line labeled Looney Tunes Collectors Choice. Additionally, they put out a lovely Blu-ray of the first Hanna-Barbera feature, Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear (even arranging to restore the Columbia logo at the head of the film), and UPA’s second and last feature, Chuck Jones and Abe Levitow’s Gay Purr-ee. And they made many an animation fan happy by finally putting out the under-appreciated but supremely charming Cats Don’t Dance on Blu-ray.

We can also note that Warner Home Video itself kept churning out DC animated movies, with mixed results, my favorite being the Lovecraftian Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham. WHV also released a few generally well-received animated sequels to fan-favorite shows; the one dearest to my own heart was the series capper The Venture Bros: Radiant Is The Blood Of The Baboon Heart.

Meanwhile, SRS – a label that mostly specializes in releasing low budget schlock films – also quite interestingly brought out the very first Korean animated film, 1967’s The Story Of Hong Gil-Dong [below], a unique work that at times is reminiscent of classic Fleischer cartoons, with a distinctively Asian twist.

On the other side of the world, Australia’s Umbrella label brought out a Collector’s Edition of Rankin-Bass’ Mad Monster Party from 1967, with the best transfer seen yet and a number of wonderful bonus features — look for that Easter Egg! The disc is also region-free, so everyone in the world can watch it. From the same continent, we got a few actual 3D releases from Random Space Media, who licensed titles from Universal (and kept them region-free, too), including The Bad Guys, Minions: The Rise Of Gru, and Sing 2. Sadly, RSM folded this year, but 3D fans at least got something to celebrate before the label from Down Under went under.

In theatres, Pixar found its groove again with Elemental, a film with neat designs, a touching story and amazing worldbuilding. The most thrilling new films, however, were two that fully utilized the medium, giving us spectacular stylized animation that looked like nothing else out there. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem made the Turtles fresh again with its innovative blend of graphics and animation that might be described as digital stop-motion, though that hardly does justice to what a cool look it had. Then there was, undoubtedly, my favorite film of the year, Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse, which swung madly and brilliantly from style to style, utilizing a bold graphic signature that evolved from scene to scene and was never anything less than amazing, spectacular and sensational. Even better, it provided us with an involving story of personal development and high stakes, while also introducing us to another terrific cast of new characters.

Readers’ Choice Results

Now it’s time to see what you said in our Readers’ Choice Poll, and it was a very tight race between your top three!

The winner this year is the third film from Sony to make the list in the little over a decade we’ve been doing this. It’s just the second sequel to take the top spot, and the first sequel to a film you previously voted the best to win!

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse was the winner this year with a score of 37.4 out of a perfect 100. It received 25% of the first place votes and was the only pick to appear on at least half of all ballots at 51%.

The Boy And The Heron was your second choice with a score of 36.7/100, less than one point behind Spidey. It actually received more first place votes with 29% of them, but appeared on fewer ballots at 45%.

Third place went to Elemental with a score of 35/100, right up there with the picks above it. It got only 19% of the first place votes but was on 49% of all ballots. The Super Mario Bros. Movie came in fourth with a score of 16/100. It earned 6% of the first place votes, and appeared on 29% of all ballots. And Wish took the fifth spot with a score of 15/100, getting 8% of the first place votes and appearing on 26% of the ballots.

Well, in the oft-quoted words of a certain cartoon pig (not Spider-Ham!), “That’s all, folks!” — at least for wrapping up 2023! There’s loads more animated news and views to come so, as usual, “stay tooned”, and we wish you all the very best for the rest of 2024!

— Dacey and the entire Animated Views Team!