This year has been rather slim on animated offerings. So slim in fact that I was lucky to be able to have seen ten movies to even make a list about them. But what 2018 did offer turned out to be a really neat and diverse selection of films that allowed both kids and adults to have a little innocent fun at the movies. Well maybe the stories and themes weren’t as diverse but the tones, designs and creativity put into these movies did offer a decent variety of experiences for everyone to enjoy. From stop motion to computer animation and even traditional animation 2018 might have been light on animated flair but what we got was more than worth the time. So let’s take a look at which animated movies stood out above the rest. These are my picks for the Top 10 Animated Films of 2018.
For this list any animated picture that I reviewed in 2018 was considered, and that makes it easy because I only reviewed ten true animated features this year, so they will all be included. It’s pretty much as simple as that. No movie that was mostly live action but still made by an animation studio such as “Peter Rabbit” or that included animation but was mostly live action like “Mary Poppins Returns” will be included here. Only fully animated movies.
This is part of a series of lists that I will be posting over the course of December to chronicle my favorite films of the year in each genre before I introduce my picks for the best movies of 2018 on New Years Day. So, without further ado let’s take a look at the best in animation from the last year. Let me know your favorite animated film from 2018 in the comments below and if you’d like to read my reviews of each of these movies all you need to do is click the name of the film and you can read away.
10. “The Grinch”
Well we really didn’t NEED another movie about the Grinch but, here it is. Illumination brought to life an admittedly toned down take on the popular grump from Dr. Seuss’ works giving us the worst animated movie of the year, but it still earned a middle of the road score from me as the only such movie to receive three stars in Cinema Spotlight in 2018. While it’s by far not my favorite take on the story this updated retelling does add some nice elements to modernize the Grinch’s evolution, making him feel more human while also giving us a nice side story that adds to Cindy Lou Who’s ark as well. It may not be for me and honestly the more I think back to it the less I seem to enjoy it, but there is a certain charm injected into this film that I just can’t deny. Every generation deserves their take on a classic like the Grinch. For the current youth this one definitely could have been worse and gives them some great life lessons to hold on to as well especially around the holidays.
The “Hotel Transylvania” series isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of genre classics. Still the first two films were harmless fun subverting horror character clichés in typical Adam Sandler style, maybe even being some of his best work over the last ten years. That all continued with the third entry in the summer of 2018 as “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” captured the same charm of the previous movies with a more focused and enhanced story, more polished visuals and even a few laughs thrown in for some spice as well as a much more memorable villain and conflict than the first two movies presented. It’s still not the pinnacle of animated perfection, but somehow this series has managed to find its audience and I can appreciate it trying to do something new with its characters and story the third time around. It won’t earn any new fans but having mildly enjoyed the first two I will say ‘Hotel Transylvania 3” is probably the most enjoyable entry to date.
The Warner Animation Group was responsible for this release that subverts the traditional story of Bigfoot and yetis and uses that legend to explore some pretty timely themes in animated form. It does take some time to find its footing, no pun intended, but “Smallfoot” sticks the landing presenting viewers, especially the younger demographic, with some surprisingly thought-provoking themes that challenge whether knowledge is better left hidden or if everyone is better off knowing the truth even if such knowledge offers realities that aren’t exactly pleasant. “Smallfoot” is a fun and harmless adventure that double’s as a slick and inventive examination of trends in today’s society that the new generation will have to wrestle with as they mature. For that it earns my respect. However, “Smallfoot” is also evidence that the studio still has a way to go, but it’s getting there. A little less style and a little more substance might have made this more than simply a good animated picture, but for what it has to offer it does just enough.
7. “Early Man”
One of two stop motion animated films on this list, “Early Man” was one of the year’s most original films in general presenting us with a group of cavemen who take on a Bronze Age kingdom in football (soccer) to earn the right to keep their land. It’s a flawed film, but one filled with so much fun and charm you may overlook its overdependence on clichés in favor of its more positive attributes. The voicework is awesome which shouldn’t be a surprise given the all-star cast, the stop motion effects are neat, and the narrative is unique even if it’s terribly predictable. Sadly, this movie flew under the radar in 2018 despite being of the year’s better non-American productions. If you do get the chance to check out this picture I’d highly recommend it. Stop motion may be a hard sell these days but it’s films like this that prove there is still a place for the art in cinema and it’s also nice to see that Aardman Animations is continuing to churn out quality work.
Another hidden gem few got to see in 2018, “Sgt. Stubby” tells the tale of the titular pooch who became America’s most decorated dog in World War I as well as a symbol of positivity from a war filled with death, depression and destruction. The movie doesn’t stray away from the dangers and tragedies of war, but handles it respectfully and serves as a fine introduction to the war for young viewers. The filmmakers were smart to avoid making Stubby talk and the animation, while not up to par with many of today’s bigger studio pieces, is smooth and visually delightful. In the end “Stg. Stubby” the movie ended up mimicking the story of its inspiration, rising up from irrelevance to show that there’s more than meets the eye if you’re willing to give it a chance. Because of it’s limited release I had to see this on home video and if you have kids and are looking for something great to show them that’s not afraid to touch on real world conflicts with tact then “Sgt. Stubby” is a perfect option I suggest you check out.
Probably among the biggest surprises for me personally of 2018. I HATE the “Teen Titans Go!” television show. Whether it’s for kids or not the show is a stain on the good reputation of a superhero group I grew up enjoying in my teenage years. That said though when I got to see the “Teen Titans Go!” movie I was shocked at how much fun I had. Utilizing traditional animation this Warner Bros. offering shows that Marvel is not the only studio willing and able to embrace self-referential humor as the Titans pay homage to DC’s past, present and future as well as countless superhero tropes in excellent fashion. There’s still plenty that could have been improved on, but for a movie I went in not only expecting but actually WANTING to hate it’s impressive that it left me with a smile and a newfound respect for what the writers were trying to accomplish. This isn’t for everyone, and it won’t in any way diminish any ill feelings toward the show it’s based on, but as a standalone movie “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is better than it ever deserved to be.
4. “Isle of Dogs”
The first of four five-star animated pictures and the second stop motion movie on this list, we’re now getting into the big leagues here. “Isle of Dogs” is by far one of the most original and interesting animated features of the year. It explores a future where Japan has outlawed canines, isolating them to a deserted island due to an outbreak of a species-specific illness. An incredible voice cast and the very capable direction of Wes Anderson make “Isle of Dogs” a deserving award season hopeful with plenty of wit, charm, action, and stunningly detailed stop motion movie making magic worked in to satisfy anyone willing to respect it. The characters are unique, the story is original, the adventure is engaging and griping, and the character designs stand out without feeling unnecessarily quirky. These are all elements that have made Anderson one of the best directors of his time and “Isle of Dogs” further proves that his uncompromising art deserves more respect than it tends to get.
3. “Incredibles 2”
The long-awaited “The Incredibles” sequel was one of 2018’s biggest hits and another home run for Pixar as it brought its titular superhero family back to the big screen after 14 years of waiting. This time the Parr family takes on a new supervillain, the Screen Slaver, who threatens to further damage the already rocky relationship humans have with supers while a billionaire brother and sister duo attempt to use their finances to bring superheroes back into the limelight. While at times it seems like “Incredibles 2” is merely content settling for matching the quality of its predecessor it does provide some great superhero-themed fun with more unique characters added to this world and a story that does justice to the expectations of viewers after such a long hiatus. To put it simply, “Incredibles 2” is a rare movie that proves to be near perfect by being simply what it has to be while the few new elements that are added flawlessly enhance what we already loved about this growing potential franchise in the first place.
The second Disney owned property in a row on this list, “Ralph Breaks the Internet”, the sequel to “Wreck it Ralph”, has dominated the last month at the box office and it’s not hard to see why. I LOVED this movie. I loved EVERYTHING about it from the animation to the familiar but welcome charm carried over from the original, to its depiction of the internet in physical form and especially its lack of a true villain and how that plays into a climax filled with deep and honest lessons that the characters, especially Ralph, have to learn. On the one hand “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is a fine examination of internet culture and the ups and downs of the digital world we’ve all embraced while on the other hand it’s a sincere and sometimes dark look at how the best of intentions can cause things to go completely wrong. This is Disney at its very best and proof that not every great story needs a great villain. Sometimes the hero himself can be his own worst enemy and it’s THAT battle that can make for a great central conflict.
The hype…is…real! It might be fresh in my mind since I just reviewed it over the past weekend, but the world of animation certainly saved the best for last in 2018 with Sony Animations “Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse”. It’s one of the most uniquely animated movies I’ve ever scene with a great cast of characters, including some inventive redesigns, and probably one of the most likable Spider-Man leads to date in Miles Morales. So what if it tells the same old song and dance origin story we’re used to. It works and everything else about this movie just draws you in so perfectly you’re not even going to care. We’ve seen Spider-Man on the big screen so many times in the past but we’ve never seen the webslinger, or any animated picture, quite like this before. In my opinion “Into the SpiderVerse” is not only one of the year’s best animated movies and films overall, but quite possibly the greatest Spider-Man film to date. I loved it and I can’t wait to see it again. Considering the movie’s exploration of different Spider-Man universes I do hope we get to see even more of what Sony Animation has in store for this franchise.