Written by Karlamon :
In terms of animated movies, 2015 was a relatively quiet year for the major releases since only nine were widely released compared last year’s twelve. Despite that though, there were a variety of big standouts with pop-singing fairies, emotions with emotions, minions, dinosaurs, and much more, with most of the movies being critically and commercially successful.
Oh George Lucas. After giving us Jar Jar Binks, unnecessary “Special Edition” edits, and Indiana Jones with CGI gophers, would we really think this would be your masterful comeback? Said to be Lucas’ “Star Wars for girls” with his favourite pop songs thrown in, Strange Magic was given the beautiful animation treatment from Lucasfilm, director Gary Rydstrom, and the animators of Industrial Light & Magic, and was released under Disney’s Touchstone Pictures banner. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the fantasy musical was widely panned by critics as being an unoriginal and bizarre mess with pretty visuals, and only brought in a pitiful $13.6 million due to lacklustre marketing, making it a sizeable box office bomb. It also holds the dishonour of having the worst opening weekend for an animated feature released in over 3,000 theatres.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
Nickelodeon’s biggest franchise SpongeBob Squarepants has had it’s share of ups and downs since creator Stephen Hillenburg’s departure after the first SpongeBob movie in 2004. But with the new movie Sponge Out of Water along with Hillenburg’s return, it was proven to be more than enough to wash away the bad taste of the past dismal seasons. SpongeBob’s second venture to the big screen was given a creative mix of full 2D animation from director Paul Tibitt and a Smurfs-like live-action/CGI third act from Mike Mitchell (director of Shrek Forever After), and it proved to be a big payoff with critics admiring the movie for it’s wacky story, creativity, and offbeat humour. A worldwide gross of $323.4 million made it an outright success for Paramount Animation’s debut, and a sequel has been green-lit for 2019.
It is unfortunately certain that DreamWorks Animation has entered a dark age with the recent box office disappointments, layoffs, and the closure of the PDI studio. A schedule revision then put their then-upcoming movie B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations back into development stage, leaving Home as their sole output of 2015. Directed by DreamWorks veteran Tim Johnson (his latest movie since 2006’s Over the Hedge) and based on the children's book The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, the sci-fi comedy was met with a very mixed reception with critics saying that Home is a passable, yet colourful kiddie affair that younger audiences are more likely to enjoy. It did however become a modest hit at the box office with $386 million worldwide, which should give a brighter outlook for DreamWorks.
After the major letdown that was Cars 2, Pixar has been having a hard time getting their groove back, with Brave and Monsters University lacking the critical acclaim of their past works. Luckily for this year, Pete Docter’s latest creation of giving emotions to the emotions inside a girl’s mind helped bring Pixar back to the spotlight as among the most-respected animation studios. Inside Out was universally acclaimed as a masterpiece thanks to the film’s well-executed and thought-provoking concept, originality, and strong emotional strength (no pun intended). Financially, Inside Out also became among Pixar’s highest grossing movies with $851.6 million worldwide, and is now guaranteed to gain many accolades.
In a matter of years, the minions of Despicable Me have become a worldwide staple in both animation and pop culture. This was strong enough for Illumination Entertainment to give them their own spinoff film from directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, which also serves as a prequel to the first Despicable Me movie. Upon it’s release, critics and audiences voiced polarising opinions on Minions with some praising the comedic and goofy gags, while others thought the minions were not strong enough as characters to carry their own film. Despite this however, Minions was a monster hit at the box office making a whopping $1.15 billion worldwide, and now stands as the 2nd highest-grossing animated movie of all time behind Disney’s Frozen. The franchise is set to continue with Despicable Me 3 scheduled to be released on June 30, 2017.
Shaun the Sheep Movie
It has been 20 years since Shaun the Sheep made his debut appearance in the Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit short A Close Shave. With a successful Shaun the Sheep TV series also under Aardman’s belt, the UK-based studio and directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak decided to take the big risk of bringing Shaun and his friends to the big screen in a movie with no dialogue, a rarity for modern cinema. While it ended up as Aardman’s lowest-grossing movie with only $83.5 million worldwide, it was still commercially successful, and the zero-dialogue idea turned out to be well worth the risk as Shaun the Sheep Movie received massive acclaim for it’s lighthearted comedy, well-executed stop-motion animation, and simplistic charm.
Hotel Transylvania 2
The first Hotel Transylvania movie was met with mixed reviews, but from a financial standpoint, it was good enough for Sony Pictures Animation to bring back director Genndy Tartakovsky, along with Adam Sandler and his friends to make a sequel. When released, the reception of Hotel Transylvania 2 was said to be more of the same with non-stop cartoony gags that are most likely to appeal to the young audience and the Happy Madison crowd, but it did manage to set itself the biggest opening weekend of September, and made more money than the first movie with nearly $450 million worldwide at the time of writing. The success has led Sony Pictures Animation to green-light a third Hotel Transylvania movie for September 21, 2018, although Genndy will not be returning to direct the film.
The Peanuts Movie
As we all know, Blue Sky has mostly been stuck with making mandatory Ice Age sequels to cater millions of dollars for 20th Century Fox, which is preventing them to shine creatively. But then came The Peanuts Movie which ended up as a big surprise for moviegoers. A loving tribute to the beloved comics and TV specials that was written by the son and grandson of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz with director Steve Martino guiding Blue Sky to create innovative 2D CGI animation that successfully replicates the Shultz design. Released on both the 65th anniversary of the comic strip and the 50th anniversary of the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Peanuts Movie ended up as Blue Sky’s most acclaimed movie to date with critics applauding it for it’s unique animation style, and for being a faithful and nostalgic adaptation that will appeal to families and to those who grew up with Peanuts. As of now, the movie has made $152 million worldwide and is expected to increase throughout the holiday season.
The Good Dinosaur
2015 was the first time that two Pixar movies were released in one year, and releasing a movie set to ride off the success of Inside Out was a tough task. The film was hampered with production problems which led to a year-and-a-half delay, the script and voice cast being altered, and the original director Bob Peterson being replaced with Peter Sohn. After all the troubles, the movie ended up with mostly positive feedback with critics saying that while it isn’t a Pixar masterpiece, The Good Dinosaur is still a visually-stunning and emotional adventure with wide family appeal. Sadly, the film is said to require $500 million from the box office in order to break even. And with a lukewarm $193 million worldwide at the time of writing, it is possible that this could end up as Pixar’s first flop.
So despite limited releases and a few so-so efforts, 2015 has shown to be a pretty good year for mainstream animated features that have mostly been enjoyed by critics and audiences alike. If you thought this year was quiet though, well no need to worry! 2016 will more-than-compensate that with a busy schedule that features a Disney princess of the Pacific, stop-motion Japanese monsters unleashed by Laika, and a lot of cartoon animals.
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