2019 in Animation
First things first: Animation is not a genre, but a medium — one that’s constantly asked to prove itself despite having created some of the most moving, lucrative, and long-lasting stories in Hollywood for decades. With technology and artistry only fusing even closer together, animation’s opportunity to present eye-opening and emotional stories has exploded, and some of those prime possibilities are on display in the films of 2019. It’s a year full of crime capers and globe-hopping adventures and family feuds and ensemble musicals, with maybe even a stop-motion drama or two about the entire evolution of humanity. These films don’t share a genre; they share an art form. EW’s highlighted a few animated features worth geeking out about this year.
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
Release Date: Feb. 8
One of the more disruptive animated successes of the past decade has already birthed its healthy share of spin-offs, but it’s taken five years (and rightfully so) for a direct sequel to 2014’s The LEGO Movie to arrive. Even with promising new voices (like Tiffany Haddish as the film’s most prominent newcomer, a shapeshifting alien queen), expectations are understandably high for The Second Part. Then again, LEGO’s budding movie-universe brain trust has certainly proven itself more than masterful at finding surprising ways to upend expectations.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Release Date: Feb. 22
Director Dean DeBlois’ adaptation-and-then-some of Cressida Cowell’s book series has resulted in the most underrated animated film trilogy of the decade. The saga of Hiccup and his dragon Toothless comes to a close with an ultra-emotional (even by HTTYD standards) finale that will put the pair’s story to bed for good. DeBlois has hatched a conclusion as epic in scope as his whole decades-spanning Viking bildungsroman, and early critical reviews are already catching on, hailing the film as a top tearjerking contender. After flying under the radar for almost 10 years, proper praise for DreamWorks’ flagship fantasy trilogy is long overdue, lest fans unleash their (night)fury.
Release Date: Apr. 12
In any year, an offering from the stop-motion artisans at Laika should demand attention, but there’s a special electricity in the air about the studio following its achievement with 2016’s incredible Kubo and the Two Strings. That film’s writer, Chris Butler, is a rising name worth getting to know, especially as he now takes on sole directing duties (he co-directed ParaNorman) for Laika’s fifth feature film: a curious myth-busting take on the entirety of human evolution, which fittingly culminates in a voice cast led by modern specimens Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, and Zach Galifianakis.
Release Date: May 3
Here’s an ugly new franchise that’s bound to be ubiquitous. The body-positive doll line that’s long been a staple with the Hot Topic crowd is, ironically, getting a Hollywood makeover for the kid demo from STX, Original Force, Robert Rodriguez’s Troublemaker shingle, and director Kelly Asbury (a longtime animation vet with roots as far back as The Black Cauldron). The project has been floating around for some time, but it’s finally shaped up nicely into a promising little bauble, with a thematic timeliness and musical A-list cast (including Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monae, and Blake Shelton) primed to give this story and its soundtrack a helpful zeitgeist lift.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Release Date: May 10
Somehow, Detective Pikachu is not 2019’s only video-game-inspired live-action/animation hybrid tentpole starring a talking rodent-based creature. (Sonic the Hedgehog hits theaters in November.) But unlike Sonic, Pikachu has curried the favor of the internet thanks to an extremely memeable trailer that ratcheted up the excitement for this unexpected and peculiar expansion of the 20-year-strong Pokémon world. That world, by the way, has never been bigger thanks to social media, so massive returns (if not a dozen more memes) should be caught by this brilliantly-devised Warner Bros. and Legendary joint, wisely arriving a few weeks removed from Avengers madness.
The Secret Life of Pets 2
Release Date: June 7
Han didn’t have to shoot at all! Harrison Ford’s first-ever animated feature voice role arrives in this big-ticket sequel (which, like LEGO‘s sequel, also adds a major character addition in Tiffany Haddish, this time as a Shih Tzu named Daisy). Illumination’s fast-tracked follow-up to its formidable 2016 box-office-buster may chart a familiar narrative path with its circus-animal rescue mission, but the sequel will hopefully buck the clichés of the first movie’s lost-in-New-York adventure and, if nothing else, earn at least one treat for swapping out Louis C.K. with Patton Oswalt (as the film’s Terrier protagonist, Max).
Toy Story 4
Release Date: June 21
The cowboy, the space ranger, and all the other occupational playthings (plus Rex) saddle back up in the beloved Toy Story ensemble for a franchise restart after the conclusion of Andy’s Trilogy in 2010. Now happily at the service of adorable toddler Bonnie, Woody and friends will take their longest journey yet (a road trip!) in TS4, which should intrigue fans who are eager to see where first-time feature director Josh Cooley takes the beloved cast. Production delays have shrouded the project in a modicum of mystery, but what we do know so far — a kick-ass Bo Peep revise, a promising carnival pitstop, and actors like Tony Hale, Jordan Peele, and Keegan-Michael Key among the even crazier voice reveals still to come — has our pullstrings at the ready.
Weathering With You
Release: July 19 (Japan)
Writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s most recent feature, the 2016 romantic fantasy Your Name, went on to become only Japan’s fourth-highest-grossing film of all time (with a live-action remake from J.J. Abrams nigh in the U.S.). So don’t be surprised if CoMix Wave’s Weathering With You, which follows a student who gets mixed up with a city girl who has the power to control the weather, forges another ferocious path in pop culture with its similarly supernatural romance vibes.
The Angry Birds Movie 2
Release Date: Aug. 16
Neither Angry Birds fans nor detractors have likely shifted much on their opinion of the app-turned-everything behemoth since 2016, when the franchise went Big Hollywood with an expansion to film that was, like most of its many offshoots, fairly successful. The sequel ought to do roughly the same this crowded summer — with the same leads (Josh Gad, Jason Sudeikis) and a handful of compelling new voice additions (Nicki Minaj, Rachel Bloom, Leslie Jones, Sterling K. Brown) wobbling the box office if not quite knocking it down entirely.
Playmobil: The Movie
Release Date: Aug. 16
Daniel Radcliffe plays a secret agent and Meghan Trainor an enchanted godmother in this French-made adventure about that other beloved plastic toy. Comparisons to The LEGO Movie will be plentiful, but the film’s first-time feature director Lino DiSalvo comes armed with a durable Disney pedigree (most recently as head of animation on Frozen). More excitingly, the movie’s intriguing first trailer already shows the signs of a quirky wit and comic physicality looking to serve as key ingredients (or building blocks, whatever) to its potential success.
Spies in Disguise
Release Date: Sept. 13
Secret. Agent. Turns. Into. A. Pigeon. If the logline itself doesn’t immediately trigger you as a compelling filmgoing experience, perhaps Blue Sky’s latest may win you over with its other assets: a new character from the endless well that is Will Smith (as the aforementioned spy-squab), a curious little bit of corporate partnership with Audi (whose first digital concept car, the RSQ E-Tron, will help the aforementioned pigeon-man travel around in style), or the happy return of Tom Holland’s ever-delightful American accent. If you decide to see any other film this September, be sure to ask yourself: does anyone turn into a pigeon in this one? And if not, why?
The Addams Family
Release Date: Oct. 18
Big snaps for this one. The directors of the R-rated Sausage Party have already shown off their dark edge, which is exactly what you’d hope from any filmmakers taking a stab at Charles Addams’ iconic comic creation. Sending the creepy, kooky Addams clan back to their animated roots should be cause enough for anticipation, but a juicy premise (the family squares off against a reality host played by Allison Janney) and an impeccable voice cast (Oscar Isaac as Gomez and Charlize Theron as Morticia!) make MGM’s family reunion one worth attending, possibly two or three times.
Farmageddon: A Shaun the Sheep Movie
Release Date: Oct. 18 (U.K.)
Nick Park’s character Shaun the Sheep never quite reached the same levels of adoration in the United States as his Aardman Animation cohorts Wallace and Gromit (and Early Man deserved better, too), but the livestock is still quite alive in the U.K., where his second stop-motion feature film will land this fall with a rascally alien-cum-apocalypse twist. Beam the U.S. up too, please, when you get a chance.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Release Date: Nov. 8
The internet may not have loved the film’s first look at a long-limbed live-action Sonic, but the real promise of Sega and Paramount’s animated hybrid lies in the thrilling voice cast anyway. The effortlessly energetic Ben Schwartz is the perfectly personality to give new life to the speedy video-game hero, and the comedy is compounded by Schwartz’s adroit scene partner, Jim Carrey as Sonic’s archrival, Dr. Robotnik. Throw in a gloriously live-action James Marsden (whose humor in Enchanted more than sets the scene for him here) and suddenly Sonic’s bone structure is far from the most compelling reason to hit this wild road.
Release Date: Nov. 22
Call it the Disney Reclamation — a decade of evolution marking a new era for the animation studio, one of more mature emotional journeys for its heroes, profound expansions of the studio’s own themes and tropes, and a lucrative return to glory at the box office. You can point to Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, or Moana as flagships for the Disney Animation of the 2010s — or you can acquiesce to the power that is Frozen, which all but changed the game in 2013 (and became the highest-grossing animated movie ever released). Round two of the arctic adventure faces an up-mountain journey to regain the fans that time, exposure, and so, so many performances of “Let It Go” have claimed — but a six-year development suggests a story worthy of a wait, and the return of an all-star cast and creative team should confirm that hell will indeed freeze over before Frozen 2 delivers anything less than red-hot.
Yuri!!! on Ice the Movie: Ice Adolescence
Release Date: 2019 TBD
You’ll hear Yuri’s name — and its many succeeding exclamation marks — when the inevitable major social momentum sparks around this intriguing gem based on a critically-acclaimed Japanese TV anime about figure skating. The series itself has already stirred up plenty of controversy for its depiction of same-sex relationships in the sports industry, and so its highly-anticipated first feature adaptation ought to do the same — albeit gracefully, poised, and with high marks from the judges.
2020 and beyond
Animation has always been a medium of long development, so it’s never too early to keep an eye on what’s ahead even after 2019. Before you know it, you’ll be salivating over exciting originals like Sony’s Wish Dragon (in which John Cho, Constance Wu, and Jackie Chan refresh the Aladdin fable in modern China), Pixar’s Onward (starring Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in an emotional suburban fantasy), the Australian thinker Arkie, the conclusion of the Evangelion tetralogy, follow-ups to The Croods, Minions, and Trolls, Warner’s reboot of Scooby-Doo, and so, so many more promising productions from Hollywood’s most underrated art form. Onward, indeed.