Slogging out to the multiplexes to see 2006's overstuffed lineup of CGI-animated kids' films was a truly soul-deadening experience. These polished widgets -- Over the Hedge, The Ant Bully, Cars, Barnyard, Flushed Away -- dropped off the conveyor belt like so many shining pennies, exactly the same and worth about as much. Most of these films used the exact same template: An outsider hero with some kind of "loner" issues was accidentally thrust into a world peopled with colorful characters. After facing some kind of larger challenge, the hero learned how to be part of a family. These films didn't even bother to disguise their boredom; they could have been generated from the same computer program.
For the record (and to register a differing opinion from that of our own Kim Voynar) George Miller's Happy Feet is the year's only example of animated excellence; it's the only entry that demonstrates even the tiniest form of imagination, and it has practically become a phenomenon among audiences starved for such things.