We saw plenty of animated offerings in 2017 with every major animation studio rolling out different features for the young and young at heart to appreciate in full. From animated takes on classic children’s books to franchise builders, sequels and original stories it was a good year for the genre. Not a great year, but a good one. Continuing my series of best films of 2017 I took a look at ten of the best animated features of the year. These are my picks for the “Top 10 Animated Films of 2017”.
For this list I looked at any animated film released to theaters in 2017 in the United States and graded my top ten favorites of the year. The qualifications are simple. The movie had to be an animated theatrical release and had to have its major theatrical run in the U.S. in 2017. Unfortunately despite a lot of internal debate I decided not to include “The Red Turtle” on this list, which was released for short time in the United States, due to much of its run being featured outside of the U.S. and its theatrical release being made only to stir Oscar buzz for a few short weeks. As with every “best of” list for the end of 2017 no Netflix films or movies featured on other lists in the series will show up here. Also remember the top three films on this list will qualify for my overall “Best of 2017” list on New Years Day.
These are the best movies that made us laugh, cry, and feel like children all over again this year. What was you’re favorite animated film of 2017? Let me know in the comments below!
10. “The Star”
In 2017 we actually had a pretty decent selection of Christmas features to enjoy on the big screen. This animated offering from Sony was a kid friendly religious film that explored the Nativity Story from a new angle, using the animals as the central characters who play a role in Mary and Joseph’s journey to becoming the parents of Jesus Christ. I chose this movie for the tenth spot on this list for one specific reason, it’s neither great nor terrible. It’s just kind of there. A star studded cast and a familiar story made fresh again weren’t enough to make this film much more than a generic holiday Christian cash grab for a younger generation, but you know what it had its charm. In my review I said “it’s a pretty generic animated film by all accounts that does just enough to be interesting but not enough to truly be original”. It did provide that spark of holiday spirit viewers might have been looking for and I can’t credit the filmmakers enough for taking the tired story of Jesus’ birth and making it feel new and fresh with a tasteful new presentation. With that “The Star” is a good place to start on this list of the year’s animated best.
With the sale of Fox properties to Disney in 2017 Blue Sky Studios’ fate is up in the air. So when “Ferdinand” hit the big screen this December the studio was probably hoping for a proven offering that would justify their stay in the Disney lineup. Sadly “Ferdinand” has not been quite what they needed. Based on a children’s book, “Ferdinand” followed the titular bull who tries to teach his pacifist ways to his fellow bulls as he faces the likelihood of battling the world’s best bullfighter in the ring. Beautifully animated, the film stars John Cena in an impressive voiceover role and contains a pretty worthy story with a moral center. Sadly, like “The Star”, “Ferdinand” proved to be a movie that was neither great nor horrible. For every good thing about the film there was a negative that kept it from being as good as it probably hoped to be. In my review I called the film “simply passable at best” and “either a charming children’s tale with a good moral center or a train wreck that missed the mark in all the worst ways”. Still I enjoyed the story and its main character’s portrayal which alone was enough to put it here at number nine.
8. “Smurfs: The Lost Village”
Honestly this film surprised me. Sony’s third take on “The Smurfs” this new fully animated movie rebooted the franchise for the big screen and focused on the origin of Smurfette as the male Smurfs learn of a village of all-female Smurfs called The Lost Village. This movie had a surprising bit of charm despite its clichés leading me to declare in my review “while not a work of art and guilty of a bit of pandering with its dependence on familiar themes as well as leaning on a few surprise voice cameos – ‘The Lost Village’ is a surprisingly fun and heartwarming animated adventure”. If nothing else this film proved to be far superior than the two previous movies combined doing justice to the legacy of these timeless characters. The third time was a charm for Sony and I’m happy to include this colorful movie on this list.
7. “The Lego Ninjago Movie”
Warner Bros. actually released two films in their expanded LEGO-themed movie series with the second one being a bit more obscure. Based on one of the toy brand’s newest properties, “The Lego Ninjago Movie” focused on a group of young ninja’s with the Green Ninja Lloyd faced with coming to terms with the strained relationship he has with his father and main villain Lord Garmadon. Inferior in every way to the first LEGO-based movie of the year, which we will get to later, “The Lego Ninjago Movie” was a bit of a step back for the series, but still had its charm. In my review I said “it’s watchable, it’s fun, and it’s endearing in its own way, but it could have certainly been executed more gracefully”. The movie had its touching moments and some pretty neat action set pieces as it mixed kid-friendly storytelling with some relatively deep themes. It’s not as funny or entertaining as its predecessors, but for an average animated film it offered just enough to earn it’s place on this list.
6. “The Boss Baby”
Dreamworks’ major offering for 2017, “The Boss Baby” was a major hit at the box office, but as a whole it was a pretty mixed experience. Based on a children’s book the film followed a young boy who contends with a new baby brother that turns out to be a undercover businessman trying to help take back love from dogs to return it to babies. The premise was odd, the animation was a little strange, but honestly “The Boss Baby” grew on me as time went by and despite being a middle of the road flick it had some great humor and a pretty memorable voiceover by Alec Baldwin to give it some credibility. In my review I called the movie “surprisingly adorable” although I admitted “the film unfortunately embraces an identity that detracts from its social significance”. There have been similar films in the past that tackled themes of growing up and facing life-changing moments in one’s life at any age, and honestly they all did it better than “The Boss Baby”. On it’s own though, this offering is just unique enough and charming enough to land just outside the top five here.
5. “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie”
Dreamworks’ second film of 2017 proved to be superior to its first, even if it was overlooked by comparison. Again based on a book, a children’s novel series in fact, “Captain Underpants” stayed pretty true to its source material and contained some beautiful animation, fairly effective humor, and well developed characters that made it an odd, but very memorable film to enjoy. When reviewing the movie I called it “Stylish, smooth, and, at times, amusing and action-packed” even if it’s not the most groundbreaking movie of 2017. This was a solid movie and a very good start for a potential franchise that I personally hope takes off. While I wasn’t much of a fan of the books in my younger years, this movie helped me as a grown man understand the charm children saw, and continue to see, in those books and now we have a decent cinematic adventure to compliment those novels perfectly.
4. “Cars 3”
Lets face it, the “Cars” series is noones favorite Pixar property, but it’s a moneymaker so naturally a third movie was made and in 2017 that movie actually proved to be quite good. Following Lightning McQueen as he reaches the backend of his racing career with new cars taking over the speedways the story revolved around a very powerful theme, deciding for one’s self when you are done and ready to walk away. It was an interesting and timely film due specifically to the fact that coincidentally many NASCAR drivers, the sport that inspired the movie, faced the same conflict in their own careers during the 2017 season. Interestingly enough this movie serves as a fitting true sequel to the first “Cars” making the horrible second entry thankfully irrelevant. In my review I concluded “‘Cars 3’ is a step back in the right direction for a studio desperately in need of a true quality project”. It looked beautiful, it contained great voiceover work, and it had a relevant social message. This was classic Pixar awesomeness and it wouldn’t be the last time the studio struck gold in 2017.
3. “Despicable Me 3”
Illumination has milked its flagship “Despicable Me” franchise for everything its worth, but if they keep churning out projects like this then I’d say that’s not such a bad thing. Picking up after the second film, this beautifully animated and fully realized movie wasn’t everything it needed to be, but it was more than enough to keep this franchise fully afloat. Gru returned to take on a new foe, Balthazar Bratt, while reconnecting with his brother Dru who tries to get Gru back into the family business of villainy. Despite several intertwining stories the movie never felt overstuffed or bogged down and even spent less time on the annoying Minions while giving them their required opportunity to shine. In my review I said the movie was “Balanced, focused, fun, and beautifully animated and manages to build on the characters we already know properly”. It wasn’t perfect, but it even made a cynic like me who kind of dislikes the “Despicable Me” movies in general as a casual fan feel like I got my money’s worth and if for no other reason than that I had to put it here at number three.
2. “The Lego Batman Movie”
A I said earlier, Warner Bros. had two LEGO movies in 2017 and it was the first one that proved to not only be superior to “Ninjago”, but also to all but one other animated feature this calendar year. Focusing on the famed Dark Knight in LEGO form this movie pokes fun at all the tropes within Batman’s legacy and super hero movies and properties in general for a hilarious, memorable, and downright epic film that is self-aware while also focusing on a great message of self worth and the risks of an ego. In my review I lauded the film and said “if you are a fan of superhero films or Batman specifically there is plenty for you to enjoy, maybe even a few things your kids won’t understand” and credited the movie as “a surprisingly deep film with some of the most amazing meta jokes and self referential humor – that makes for a surprisingly complete and enjoyable adventure.” The “LEGO” movies might not work in every situation, but here the setup and theme fits like a glove giving us a very different look at the caped crusader and what a parody film can be. The irony is the movie lost out to a much more serious film that lands at my number one spot for animated films of 2017.
All year I waited to see if the glorious and colorful trailer for “Coco” would pay off and man did it ever. One of Pixar’s best in years, “Coco” captured all the magic, wonder, and emotional weight that Pixar had previously been known for in their animated offerings. Telling the story of a young man whose actions send him on an adventure into the world of his dead ancestors “Coco” was a story about family, the changing power of music, and how important it is to leave a mark on the ones you love. In my review one of the many compliments I gave to the film was “it’s a story that will make you cry, laugh, smile, and gasp all in the span of two hours. It’s every bit as mesmerizing, culturally relevant and memorable as it promised to be”. “Coco” was stylish and well crafted in pretty much every way while avoiding being too high on its own beauty and significance giving us a soon-to-be Pixar classic fitting for the young and young at heart. It was mesmerizing, powerful, and a heck of a lot of fun which makes it, in my opinion, the best animated movie of 2017 and one of the best of the year in general.