2016 has been a poster year for animation cinema. In Hollywood, studio offerings made the top-grossing titles of the year chart, from Finding Dory to Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Moana, Trolls and Sausage Party, while less successful films like Kubo and the Two Strings still amazed with their artful animation and storytelling techniques.
To top that, spectacular offerings from overseas also popped up – France, Belgium, Japan, Switzerland and Canada all figured into our list of top 10 animations of the year, and have real shots at Oscar gold come February.
Check these films out:
10. Phantom Boy
From the guys that made the Oscar-nominated stunner A Cat in Paris, Phantom Boy once again delves into crime and fantasy to come out with a brilliant film. It has vibrant colors that are purposefully muted for a gritty New-York feel, and it still manages to feel original and engaging in the way it surprises the spectator and plays with genre tropes to create a thrilling story like no other on this or any animated movies list.
As the mystery at the center of the plot unravels, it becomes clear that Phantom Boy has very interesting questions to ask and some surprising answers to give. A noir movie in its heart, a period drama in its look and a supernatural adventure in its concoction, Phantom Boys works because of the way it ties together all those moving pieces in a little over 80 minutes. Quite a feat, if you think about it.
9. Miss Hokusai
Compared to other entries on our list, Miss Hokusai is somewhat tame. It’s an intimate story that doesn’t look for transcendent meaning and used the medium of animation to elaborate an earnest and balanced portrayal of Katrushika Hokusai, one of the most celebrated artists of 19th Century Japan, through the eyes of his daughter, the devoted O-Ei. With gorgeous animation that doesn’t flaunt how gorgeous it is and a beautiful story to tell, Miss Hokusai doesn’t have to do much to be an engaging film.
It’s also probably the less kid-friendly of the list, delving lightly into the more erotic nature of Hokusai’s famous work, dealing delicately with his somewhat demanding personality and his complicated relationship with his daughter. It works precisely because the director, Keiichi Hara, lets the film be what it was meant to be, intervening here and there with welcome artistic touches and flourishes. Just like a Hokusai painting, it stuns.
8. Finding Dory
Finding Dory is not a perfect movie, and it’s definitely not the best Pixar can do – especially after a year when we had the masterfully created Inside Out, this feels like a step back. Even with that in mind, however, their material is still worth a place in this list, especially because of the way it portrays mental health issues and the difficulties of life carrying this burden. If Dory was already special to viewers back in 2003, why not explore the character’s popularity to service an important story like this one?
Ellen DeGeneres does an impressive job on the lead, revealing profundities in her portrayal of Dory that were already there in the first movie, but were left unexplored. There’s melancholy and the feeling of always being lost in their own home, and while Finding Dory’s climax might be a little “jumping the shark”-absurd, it’s still worth a watch for the powerful punch that it packs emotionally.
7. April and the Extraordinary World
The so-called Extraordinary World everyone lives in on this delightful French export is a strange one: Napoleon V rules France and scientists and scholars have been mysteriously disappearing, depriving the world of important inventions such as electricity, aviation and the combustion engine. In this technologically challenged world, April sets out with her talking cat, her grandfather and a police informer to find her parents.
From first time directors Christian Desmares and Frank Ekinci, this grand adventure is filled with passion for its story, world-building and characters, and that seeps into the lovingly created details that make for one of the most exciting young-adult-oriented films in recent memory. Plus, Marion Cotillard and Jean Rochefort pop up in the voice cast, much to our ears’ delight.
Disney’s latest princess tale is different than any other. A Polynesian girl with a curvier body than the usual for the franchise, Moana is neither love-struck nor socially challenged – she’s smart as a fox and powerful, yet markedly human and filled with the insecurities that come with her young age and her station in the world presented to us in the film.
Throughout the film, she’s working to save her village and prove herself as a leader, not unlike the journey of another recent (male) animated lead, Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon.
With a terrific voice cast, vibrant animation from the legendary directors who made The Little Mermaid, tons of Disney references and unforgettable music from Lin-Manuel Miranda, Moana is a seafaring adventure unlike anything we’ve seen on theaters lately, especially in animation.