Most of us relate the word ‘animation’ to colorful, digital imagery of ‘Disney/Pixar’ movies. We can, of course, understand the appeal of these glitzy movies. The American studios’ talent in building rich, immaculate visuals is unquestionable. However, animation movies are not just visual entertainment targeted at children. They are not just made to give us didactic, happily-ever-after messages. Animation movies are a distinct art form too. They have the power to deal with adult, serious themes in an easy, naturalistic manner. The aesthetic senses of animation movies aren’t only used for overtly humorous antics. They can equally address morally complex feelings.
2016 has bestowed us with cracking, kid-friendly animation flicks, as well as astoundingly hand-drawn, oft-kilter movies. I have tried my best, in the below list, to name the animation movies, which has alternately made me jump in joy and wallow in deep contemplation.
10. Finding Dory
The vulnerable, wide-eyed kid is the recurrent character in Pixar movies. In the sequel to the glorious Finding Nemo, Dory dons that role. The short-term memory loss of Dory, the blue tang fish, bestows her with adorable, child-like Pixar quirks. The movie starts with Dory’s childhood. The sweet-natured fish, due to her malady, wanders away from adoring parents. As a grown-up, Dory begins to recall those old memories in flashes. And begins the noble quest to search for the parents. Since Dory’s surrogate family members — Marlin and Nemo — initially disagree to help, she embarks on a journey of her own. Co-director/writer couldn’t shake off the echoes and parallels of the first film. The detailing, as usual, is perfect. But most of the scenarios look like clones of Finding Nemo. All in all, it’s moderately entertaining.
9. Sausage Party
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s pet project is a gleefully obscene version of cutesy Pixar movies. The characters are edible foods (sausage, hot-dog bun, etc). They dwell inside a supermarket and come to life in the after hours (just like ‘Toy Story’). I didn’t have much interest in watching it. It seemed like yet another foul-mouthed work from Rogen & co. But the film, kind of, surprised me. Of course, there’s sex, curse words and detailed crude remarks on food names and shapes. The debauchery does evoke some laughs. Nevertheless, the real surprise is the oddly touching look at the life of these bizarre sentient beings. The existential crisis of Frank, the sausage (Seth Rogen) leads to some interesting mis-adventures. It is definitely offensive, but a lot smarter than I anticipated.
8. Phantom Boy
Jean-Loup Felicoli and Alain Gagnol’s French animated tale Phantom Boy is a ghost story of sorts with a film-noir vision of New York. Leo is a preteen New York boy who is hospitalized for an illness, closely resembling cancer. The boy has the ability to leave his physical body and float around the city, invisible to everyone’s eyes. A criminal mastermind nicknamed, ‘The Man with the Broken Face’ threatens the city’s harmony. Alex, a courageous cop and a hero figure for Leo, gets injured during his pursuit of the master criminal. Soon, these two team up to stop the crime wave. Felicoli and Gagnol’s utopian-like, outsider vision of New York works well for the narrative tone. The movie gets too light-hearted at times, making the events less gripping. Nonetheless, it isn’t overly formulaic as many American animated tales.
7. April and the Extraordinary World
Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci’s astoundingly imaginative animated tale is based on Jacques Tardi’s graphic novel. It’s set in the alternative historical version of 19th century Paris. In this version, the eminent European scientists have mysterious disappeared. The result is a very gray and polluted Paris. A teenager named April is searching for her vanished, scientist parents. Her partner/friend is a talking cat named Darwin. The best thing about such European animation movies is there isn’t a rigid, controlled environment, like in Hollywood films. ‘April…’ flows smoothly like a breeze blending in the best bits of pulpy adventures and a young girl’s coming of age. Even the lack of technical precision in the hand-drawn animation is a joy to experience. Of course, the scope for such pulp fictions is limited. The directors have, nevertheless, cultivated wonderful imagery within the limitations.
Ron Clements & John Musker’s Moana is awash with familiar Disney themes of the past. The protagonist is a spirited young woman on a dangerous trip to fulfill her destiny. Nevertheless, the subtle updates to the time-worn formula plus the storming musical numbers make it a delightful Disney entertainment. Playwright and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda has created catchy soundtracks. It’s also fascinating to see a Disney film pay fitting tribute to Polynesian culture and their ancestors’ seafaring abilities. Apart from the charming positive messages, the script joyfully satirizes the old studio’s fixation on princess & schmaltzy love interest. Hawaiian actress Auli’I Carvalho has brilliantly voiced and sung for Moana.