The Best Animated Films of 2018
2018 was a banner year for feature animation. It says something to the breadth and creativity of animated features that we have two Japanese animated films, a 2D animated movie made using computers, computer-animated features, and a movie that seems to combine all of these disciplines into one infectious soufflé. Here are the year's best.
Sold as a kind of spiritual successor to the Japanese animated smash “Your Name,” “Fireworks” has a similarly small-scale sci-fi vibe but little of the characterization and heart of that film (it also loses points for its casual misogyny). “Fireworks” has a nifty time travel dynamic, centered around the meet-cute of two Japanese teens from a small seaside town. It’s like “Edge of Tomorrow” but instead of the fate of the universe, it’s just young love that hangs in the balance. Despite all of its tediousness, “Fireworks” is visually ravishing film and magnificently scored … it’s just not a masterpiece.
8. 'Hotel Transylvania 3'
“Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” is an improbable sequel, and not just because so many of the main characters are vampires (and allergic to sunlight). When the sequel opened, its mastermind, writer/director Genndy Tartakovsky said that he wouldn’t be back for another monster mash. Thankfully, he changed his mind. And while “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” is far from essential, it is the most expressive, outlandish entry, mostly because Tartakovsky got to do what he wanted. (Fans of the legendary animation director will be particularly please with the movie’s out-there third act.) It’s almost enough to make you root for a fourth movie.
7. 'Early Man'
Years ago, when British stop-motion animation studio Aardman was working with DreamWorks Animation, they had developed a story about cavemen. When Aardman left the DreamWorks arrangement in 2007, the concept stayed behind and became “The Croods.” But clearly Aardman still loved the idea because, more than a decade later, “Early Man” arrived, from “Wallace & Gromit” mastermind Nick Park. It’s full of clever wordplay and puns (so many puns), centering on the first caveman soccer players (led by Eddie Redmayne) as they battle Bronze Age brutes (Tom Hiddleston with a terrible French accent). “Early Man” doesn’t totally land, thanks largely to the specificity of its British references, but it’s still an undeniable, stop-motion joy.
6. 'Teen Titans Go to the Movies'
“Teen Titans Go to the Movies” is the little movie that could. Rendered in computer-assisted 2D by some of the folks responsible for the brilliant new “Duck Tales,” it keeps the stylings and comedic lunacy of its television processor, only bumping out the margins ever-so-slightly for some big-name cameos and a somewhat larger scope. In truth, this was one of the funniest and most meta movies of the year, imagining a world where every superhero (and their car) get a big screen adaptation but poor Robin and the rest of the Titans are relegated to obscurity. Thus begins a gonzo, pop culture-drenched trip through the DC universe, with nods to just about every facet of the world. Or, as Robin would say, Crack an egg on it.
5. 'Mary and the Witch's Flower'
Studio Ponoc was established in the waning days of Studio Ghibli and features many of that legendary studio’s creative principals, and “Mary and the Witch’s Flower,” Ponoc’s first feature, feels like Ghibli’s very best. The tale of Mary, who discovers a flower that can turn her into a witch, is based on a British children’s book and has absolute charm to spare. It also has some of the most jaw-dropping animation you’ll see all year. But beyond the look of the film, it’s the movie’s abundance of heart that will keep you watching. Mary’s journey feels both otherworldly and strangely personal. Haven’t we all needed a witch’s flower at one point or another?
4. 'Ralph Breaks the Internet'
The first “Wreck-It Ralph” was as much a movie about nostalgia as it was about moving on from the preconceived notions of what you should or shouldn’t do. Another movie in that world, leaning on those same references, would have probably felt tired and predictable, which is what makes “Ralph Breaks the Internet” so much fun – it is unabashedly a completely different movie, taking Ralph out of the arcade and onto the world wide web. And honestly, the movie feels like you have a hundred tabs open on your browser at once, as it flits between an auction scene at eBay to one in which Vanellope encounters her fellow Disney Princesses. (At times it feels more like one of Walt’s World War II-era “package films” than anything else.) The Internet, as imagined by Disney artists, is a stunning, futuristic utopia. It is one of the most fertile settings for an animated movie, well, ever.
3. 'Isle of Dogs'
Wes Anderson’s second fully stop-motion animated film came under fire for its depiction of Japanese culture, but on repeated viewings comes across more as a celebration than anything else. “Isle of Dogs” is a vaguely futuristic tale of a young boy who travels to a trash-filled island to look for his beloved pet (after an outbreak, all dogs have been quarantined to the island). A band of scrappy dogs takes pity on the boy and helps him find his good boy. Since this is a Wes Anderson movie, it’s full of all of his stylistic tics, with the diorama feeling taken to the logical extreme. (True to form, he also has folks like Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum voicing the characters.) This is one of Anderson’s most enjoyable, earnest works to date. Hopefully he’ll return to animation sooner rather than later.
2. 'Incredibles 2'
It has been 14 years since the original “The Incredibles,” so the fact that we got a sequel at all seems sort of miraculous. But the fact that writer/director Brad Bird’s follow-up was such an accomplishment, making you remember what you loved about the original while venturing into new and unexplored territory is a testament to just how terrific “Incredibles 2” really is. It was the rare billion-dollar blockbuster that deserved every penny.
1. 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse'
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the year’s biggest (and best) surprise. Ostensibly, it’s the introduction of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), the half-black/half-Latino “Ultimate” version of the character from the comics. But it’s also so much more than that. Weaving in at least a half-dozen Spider-characters from every corner of the Marvel comics continuum, it is, instead, a grand kind of Spider-story, one that you feel could only be told in animation. Quick-witted and extremely self-aware, it’s also one of the most beautiful-looking movies of the year, using brand new technologies and processes to make it feel like a living comic book. But that makes it seem like it exists purely as a technical accomplishment and really, that’s not the case. The action sequences are dynamic and alive, the vocal performances pitch-perfect, and the core emotionality of the story, about an awkward kid trying to find his place in a world far crazier than he ever imagined, is resonant and profound.