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Animation Source newsDecember 28, 2016
2016 - A Year in Review

Written by Karlamon :


2016 - A Year in Review

As we approach the closing of 2016, lets reflect on the theatrical animated features of that year, or as I’d like to call it, “The Year of Talking Animals”!

2016 proved to be among the biggest years for animation with 15 major releases. Sure a few duds slipped into the cracks, but a majority of them ended up as critical successes, and some even broke lots of box office records.

This recap of 2016’s animated movies will be based on box office results gathered by Box Office Mojo, as well as critical reception recorded on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. Lets begin!

Norm of the North

Norm of the North

  • Director: Trevor Wall
  • Writers: Daniel R. Altiere, Steven M. Altiere, Malcolm T. Goldman
  • Studios: Splash Entertainment, Assemblage Entertainment
  • Distributor: Lionsgate
  • US release: January 15

Someone at Lionsgate looked at this movie and said “This is good enough for theatres! Kids will love it!”. Plus they hired Rob Schneider to voice Norm. That recipe for disaster became a reality, and now Norm of the North is widely regarded as one of the worst animated films of all time.

Critics panned virtually every aspect of the film, citing the grottiest visuals, idiotic characters, abysmal writing and humour, and an environmental message thats both preachy and nonsensical. Despite grossing a low $27.4 million worldwide, two direct-to-DVD sequels are already on the way. Everybody panic!

Kung Fu Panda 3

Kung Fu Panda 3

  • Directors: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh Nelson
  • Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
  • Studios: DreamWorks Animation, Oriental DreamWorks
  • Distributor: 20th Century Fox
  • US release: January 29

Lets move on from the most-hated twerking polar bear to the most-loved fighting panda bear. DreamWorks Animation continued their streak of strong sequels with the third entry in their martial arts comedy series, Kung Fu Panda 3. One third of the film was co-produced in China by their Chinese subsidiary Oriental DreamWorks, a first for an American animated feature.

While it ended up as the lowest-grossing of the franchise with $519.9 million worldwide, it was still considered a box office hit, especially in China. Critics were also pleased with the third film, calling it another solid entry to Po’s adventures with spectacular visuals, action-packed set pieces, and witty writing.



  • Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
  • Writers: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
  • Studio: Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
  • US release: March 4

Walt Disney Animation Studios brought back their theme of anthropomorphic animals with Zootopia (Zootropolis in the UK). On paper, it seemed like a cute story about a bunny and a fox who solve a mystery. But in execution, nobody expected it to end up this groundbreaking.

On release, Zootopia drastically exceeded everyone’s expectations, up to the point where it’s considered among Disney’s greatest works ever. Not only were critics and audiences amazed with the incredibly-smart writing, inspirational characters, and creative world-building, but it was also praised for going into deep social issues like racism, bigotry, and discrimination. At the box office, it earned an incredible $1.024 billion, and is now the second highest grossing original film in history (being James Cameron’s Avatar).

We highly applaud Disney for their great achievements with this film. So much so, that we’ve created Zootopia Source to honour it’s impact.

Ratchet & Clank

Ratchet & Clank

  • Director: Kevin Munroe
  • Writers: T.J. Fixman, Kevin Munroe, Gerry Swallow
  • Studios: Rainmaker Entertainment, PlayStation Originals
  • Distributor: Gramercy Pictures
  • US release: April 29

Based on the successful PlayStation franchise by Insomniac Games, a Ratchet & Clank movie did show a bit of promise. The same voice actors from the games, series writer T.J. Fixman, and the talents at Rainmaker Entertainment. That should make something great, right? Boy was I wrong with my prediction!

Ratchet & Clank ended up as a critical and commercial failure. Invisible marketing caused it to bomb at the box office with a pitiful $13 million, and critics slammed the film for it’s sloppy storytelling and generic characters, despite the faithful animation and voice acting. As for the fans and gamers, they say it’s best to stick with the far-superior PlayStation 4 re-imagining that was released alongside the movie.

The Angry Birds Movie

The Angry Birds Movie

  • Directors: Clay Kaytis, Fergal Reilly
  • Writer: Jon Vitti
  • Studios: Rovio Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks
  • Distributor: Columbia Pictures
  • US release: May 20

In an last resort to save the company, Finnish game developer Rovio commissioned Sony Pictures Imageworks to make an animated feature based on their highly-successful mobile game. What happened was that The Angry Birds Movie succeeded when Ratchet & Clank failed. …kinda.

Reviewers generally described the big-screen version of Angry Birds as a mixed bag. While the visuals were praised, the writing was deemed questionable, and the jokes as hit-and-miss. But considering it’s source material, it was concluded that the movie turned out better than it has any right to be, and is now considered one of the better video game adaptations. With a successful $349.8 million worldwide gross, Rovio are considering on making a sequel.

Finding Dory

Finding Dory

  • Director: Andrew Stanton
  • Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse
  • Studio: Pixar Animation Studios
  • Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
  • US release: June 17

Outside of the Toy Story sequels, Pixar hasn’t had a stellar reputation when it comes to their followups. But then Andrew Stanton and the team decided to continue the story of Finding Nemo, and this time make Dory the star. Nobody knew they wanted a Nemo sequel, but Finding Dory actually turned out as the most-surprising animated movie of the year.

Finding Dory became another huge hit for Pixar, being applauded for it’s visual beauty, humour, emotional aspects, and how successfully Dory was turned from a comic relief to a flawed, but very strong protagonist. On top of that, it broke box office records left and right, and hauled in $1.028 billion worldwide. With such an amazing and successful sequel, this is one journey audiences will not forget.

The Secret Life of Pets

The Secret Life of Pets

  • Directors: Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud
  • Writers: Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch, Cinco Paul
  • Studio: Illumination Entertainment
  • Distributor: Universal Pictures
  • US release: July 8

2016 was the year that Illumination Entertainment proved that they can do more than just Despicable Me with two original movies. The first one being The Secret Life of Pets, an animal comedy that looks into what pets do when they’re owners are not around.

The result was an outright success. Critics generally liked the movie by saying that while it borrows too heavily from Toy Story, Pets makes up for that with splendid animation, great humour, and a large cast of charming characters. Bringing in a massive $875.3 million worldwide, the movie has started the second big franchise for Illumination, with a sequel green-lit for July 13, 2018.

Ice Age: Collision Course

Ice Age: Collision Course

  • Directors: Galen T. Chu, Mike Thurmeier
  • Writers: Michael Berg, Yoni Brenner, Michael Wilson
  • Studio: Blue Sky Studios
  • Distributor: 20th Century Fox
  • US release: July 22

Well this is embarrassing. How did Ice Age, one of the biggest animated franchises, stoop to the lowest of the low? Well, we can blame Fox for ordering Blue Sky to make yet another sequel to the ageing franchise. When Ice Age: Collision Course was released, it was nothing but a disaster, just like the meteor in the film.

Not only did it make just $407.7 million worldwide (less than half of what Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Continental Drift made), but reviewers reacted ferociously by calling it the worst of the series. Collision Course was trashed for the terrible recycled writing, painfully unfunny humour, excessive amount of irritating characters, and complete waste of amazing animation. It’s going to be tough for Blue Sky to redeem themselves after such an abysmal cash-grab. So for Ice Age in the words of Filthy Frank, “It’s time to stop!”

Sausage Party

Sausage Party

  • Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon
  • Writers: Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Seth Rogen, Ariel Shaffir
  • Studio: Nitrogen Studios
  • Distributor: Columbia Pictures
  • US release: August 12

An R-rated animated comedy made by Seth Rogen and his friends? And animated by a studio only known for Thomas the Tank Engine projects? What kind of madness is this? Sausage Party stood out in the crowd as a rare widely-released adult animated film. And despite trying to be as crazy and offensive as possible, the critics were surprisingly open to it.

Critics admired Sausage Party for the over-the-top adult antics, and smart writing with thought-provoking themes. Plus a $140.5 million gross now makes it the highest-grossing R-rated animated film of all time. Because to the adult content, children and the easily-offended should stay away from this, and don’t expect Sausage Party Source to become a thing anytime soon.

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings

  • Director: Travis Knight
  • Writers: Chris Butler, Marc Haimes
  • Studio: Laika
  • Distributor: Focus Features
  • US release: August 19

From failed rapper to big-name animator, it was time for Laika’s CEO Travis Knight to take helm of his magnum opus, Kubo and the Two Strings. An ambitious stop-motion epic set in ancient Japan, about a boy on a quest to defeat vengeful spirit of the past.

Underperforming at $69.9 million, this ended up being Laika’s least-successful film financially, but it was polar-opposite for the reception. Kubo and the Two Stings was hailed as Laika’s best work, and one of the best animated movies of the year, delivering an original and powerful story, engaging characters, and phenomenal stop-motion craftsmanship. Along with Zootopia, Kubo has been another favourite for many award ceremonies, and is bound to gain a cult following.

Robinson Crusoe / The Wild Life

Robinson Crusoe / The Wild Life

  • Directors: Vincent Kesteloot, Ben Stassen
  • Writers: Lee Christopher, Domonic Paris, Graham Weldon
  • Studio: nWave Pictures
  • Distributors: StudioCanal, Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment
  • US release: September 9

With Robinson Crusoe, Belgium-based nWave Pictures decided to make an animated retelling of the classic story, but this time from the perspective of the animals. It was first theatrically released in Europe by StudioCanal, followed by Lionsgate subsidiary Summit Entertainment releasing it in North America under the name The Wild Life.

While low-budgeted and modestly successful with $39.5 million worldwide, critics were largely unimpressed. The film’s consensus was that it plays so safe for children, that it completely fails at being engaging, complete with generic animation and a boring narrative. Animation historian Charles Solomon said it best that “the most damning thing about Wild Life is that’s so feeble, it can’t even annoy the hapless viewer. It just feels unnecessary.”



  • Directors: Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland
  • Writer: Nicholas Stoller
  • Studios: Warner Animation Group, Sony Pictures Imageworks
  • Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
  • US release: September 23

As the second animated feature under the Warner Animation Group banner, Storks gave audiences a modern twist to European folklore of baby-delivering birds, with cartoony Looney Tunes-like animation provided by Sony Pictures Imageworks. When released however, it kinda fell short of WAG’s first release, The Lego Movie.

Critics were rather split about Storks. While some expressed problems with the pacing and storytelling, others enjoyed it for the great slapstick comedy and fun characters. Unfortunately, it didn’t perform too well financially with only $179.8 million worldwide, but here’s hoping it’ll find a bigger audience sometime in the future.



  • Directors: Walt Dohrn, Mike Mitchell
  • Writers: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
  • Studio: DreamWorks Animation
  • Distributor: 20th Century Fox
  • US release: November 4

Trolls was one of the strangest ideas that DreamWorks Animation green-lit. A jukebox musical staring on those Danish Troll dolls did sound stupid on paper, but in the end, it turned out as a pleasant surprise for many.

This colourful adventure was decently-received by critics. While they said the story is formulaic, the trippy visuals, catchy songs, and ultra-happy tone make it a fun family experience. As of now, Trolls has grossed a modest $324.4 million at the box office, which should make it a success for DreamWorks.



  • Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
  • Writer: Jared Bush
  • Studio: Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
  • US release: November 23

Moana served as the big comeback for Disney legends Ron Clements and John Musker, bringing the typical Disney formula to the ancient South Pacific. Despite Zootopia turning out as a surprise masterpiece, Moana still proved that it could stand on it’s own as an amazing addition to the Walt Disney Animation Studios library.

Featuring the three-dimensional characters, memorable songs, and lush animation expected from a Disney flick, Moana was an outright crowdpleaser for both critics and moviegoers. The film has so far grossed $338 million worldwide at time of writing, and is expected to increase throughout the holiday season.



  • Director: Garth Jennings
  • Writer: Garth Jennings
  • Studio: Illumination Entertainment
  • Distributor: Universal Pictures
  • US release: December 21

Illumination Entertainment wrapped up 2016 with their second output of that year, Sing. A jukebox musical filled with an all-star cast of animals, over 85 pop songs, and Garth Jennings’ music video-making talent nicely translated to animation.

Reactions to Sing have been quiet positive since it’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, with critics saying the great execution in the animation, voice acting, characters, and songs outshines the by-the-numbers set-up. As of now, Sing has earned $129.9 million at the box office, which will increase during it’s theatrical run.

Finishing off, we sure had a terrific year of animated features. The success of some of these show how animation can be universally appreciated as a great storytelling medium. Feel free to tell me in the comments what you thought were the best and worst of this year.

We have a lot more coming up in 2017, with Lego figures, Smurfs, emojis, more talking animals, and a superhero who wears nothing but a red cape and white underwear. See you next time!


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December 29, 2016
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It was really a great year for animated movies. :icon60:

December 28, 2016
Germany Is not currently on the site
This year was great for animation. I hope 2017 will be just as goo...oh wait yeah the emoji movie crap I forgot

December 28, 2016
Uk Female Is not currently on the site
it's over, isn't it?
"Critics admired Sausage Party for the over-the-top adult antics, and smart writing with thought-provoking themes."

i wouldn't call it "thought-provoking" - their themes are so surface level, cynical and copy/paste that it, personally, doesn't make up for the immaturity of the film... but hey, that's just me lol

in all honestly i haven't seen many of these films - zootopia, finding dory, slop, and sausage party are the only ones i've seen (though i do plan to see moana in the new year, since it hasn't been out long here in the UK) - but from those, have to say the only one i really despised was sausage party. slop was a bit lack luster, but i can appreciate it for what it is- plus, i love cute, jealous, jack russells

good news as always, and i look forward to 2017!

December 28, 2016
usa Female Is not currently on the site

December 28, 2016
Usa Male Is not currently on the site
Dang it, I thought Sausage Party Source would be a sure thing. XD Great review Karla!

December 28, 2016
Mexico Male Is not currently on the site
My two favorite movies this year were Zootopia And Ice Age: Collision Course, it is unfortunate that it has gone down to the lowest, but I saw it only because Shira is my favorite since Continental Drift. And well I think that was a blow to this franchise which in his time was a success, this shows that his time of glory is over, Zootopia was the best movie I've ever seen, So I wish good luck to this rising franchise to win the Oscar and Disney make its sequel.

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