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Charles Solomon’s Animation Year End Review 2014

Charles Solomon's Animation Year End Review 2014

Although he wrote
them in 1859, Charles Dickens might have been thinking of animation in 2014
when he penned the celebrated lines, “It
was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it
was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of
incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was
the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us,
we had nothing before us…”

There was no Frozen dominating
the box office this year, but The Lego
Movie, Big Hero 6
, and How to Train
Your Dragon 2
all soared past the $150 million mark domestically and racked
up big numbers internationally. By late December, Rio 2 and Peabody and Sherman
also remained in the top 25. More importantly, this year’s releases emphasized
the diversity of animation in the era of the big CG feature. In addition to the
top three studio releases, audiences could enjoy two gorgeous hand-drawn films,
Song of the Sea and The Tale of Princess Kaguya—and two
interesting personal features, Cheatin’
and Rocks in My Pockets.

 

Looking over a year that see-sawed between Light and Darkness, I’m once
again presenting awards for the best and worst of 2014, named for the ultimate
animation APM, Mikiko
“Kuromi” Oguro.

 

AGE OF WISDOM DEPARTMENT

 

Stunning:

In Hideaki Anno’s third installment in his four-feature
remake of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the
narrative was fragmented and hard to follow, even for fans of the original
series. But the visuals were amazing. Everyone’s waiting for Part 4…

 

legoIt Didn’t Come in a Kit:

The Lego Movie
proved smarter, funnier and wildly more successful than anyone anticipated.
Toy-based animation has come a long way since Strawberry Shortcake and He-Man
and the Masters of the Universe
.

 

At Long Last:

Frozen won the
Academy Award, bringing Disney its first Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

 

We’re in the Money:

Frozen became the
highest-grossing animated feature of all time, breaking the record set by Toy Story 3.

 

dragon2Flying High:

Dean DeBlois and his crew knocked it out of the park: How To Train Your Dragon 2 replaces the
first Dragon as the best movie
DreamWorks has made.

 

Two Down, How Many to Go?

Jeffrey Katzenberg became the second animation figure to
receive the Presidential Medal for the Arts. Mr. President, I’ve got a little
list…

 

The Farce Is Strong with This One

Phineas and Ferb’s Star
Wars
spoof gleefully poked fun at the Lucas films, while remaining true to
the show’s characters: A neat balancing act.

 

On the Road

The nineth theatrical installment in the popular franchise, Naruto the Movie: Road to Ninja, which
received a limited theaterical release, was the most visually spectacular and
emotionally resonant.

 

Scraping the Top of the Barrel

The Motion Picture Academy presented a Governor’s Award to
Hayao Miyazaki.

 

Lovely

Isao Takahata’s exquisite The Tale of Priness Kaguya proved that less really can be more; a
watercolor sketch with areas of white paper can be more evocative than an elaborately
detailed painting.

 

Worth Singing About

Like Princess Kaguya,
Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea reminded
audiences of the beautiful personal statement a drawn film can make.

 

hero6Heroic           

Disney’s Big Hero Six scored
a major hit. No small part of the excitment was due to the amazing designs for
San Fransokyo by talented production designer Paul Felix and his redoubtable
crew.

 

Just For Fun

Two Japanese series, The
Devil Is a Part-Timer
and the popular Fairy
Tail
offered a kind of no-holds-barred character comedy American animation
doesn’t seem able to do.

 

Super Saiyans

The first new Dragon
Ball
animation in 17 years, Dragon
Ball Z: The Battle of the Gods
proved just how durable the franchise is,
selling over one million tickets in just six days in Japan. In this country,
the film delighted guys in their 20’s who grew up watching the series.

 

Starting Right

The Dam Keeper was
an impressive debut for Pixar art directors turned directors Dice Tsutsumi and
Robert Kondo. Anyone who’d seen their previous work knew whatever they did
would be beautiful, but the film had a well-told story and real heart.

 

In the Beginning

The android technology that made it possible for Glen Keane,
Jan Pinkova, Doug Sweetland and Mark Oftedahl to do the interactive “Spotlight”
shorts is intriguing and the results were often charming. Duet, Windy Day and Buggy Night raise a lot of questions:
what’s the next step for this technology? Will it give animators a new platform
for their work? Is it practical if it’s not subsidized? Are the films more
enjoyable on the phone or on a bigger screen?

 

Century Mark:

John Canemaker re-created Winsor McCay’s 1914 Gertie the Dinosaur vaudeville routine
with charm and elan for the Academy at LACMA, then followed it with an enlightening
discussion of technical achievements at the Disney Studio, linked to his book
on the Schultheis Manuscript.

 

 

WINTER OF DESPAIR DEPARTMENT

 

The French Lieutenant’s What?

In an innaccurate and inappropriate rant, Meryl Streep
accused Walt Disney of being a “gender bigot.” In a  speech he gave to the studio in
1941, Walt talked about training women to do inbetweening and assistant
animation, saying “if a woman can do the work as well, she is worth as much as
a man” and “the girl artists have the right to expect the same
chances for advancement as men.”

This is why actresses become famous speaking words other
people have written. 

(But Streep wasn’t too offended to take a check from Disney
to appear in Into the Woods—in a part
she really couldn’t sing.)

 

Starting off on the Wrong Frame.

 The first animated
feature of the year was the excruciating Nut
Job
. Adding insult to injury, a sequel was announced a week later.

 

What Were They Thinking?

How could the Academy voters pick Mr Hublot over Get A Horse
and Possessions for Best Animated
Short?

 

ozBut Who’s Counting?

Legends of Oz:
Dorothy’s Return
set a record for the worst opening for a “saturated
release” of an animated feature: $3.7 million in 2,575 theaters, beating Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil, which
took in $4.1 million in 2,505 theaters. Oz’s
worldwide total: $11.4 million, against a budget rumored to be $100 million.

 

That Explains It!

In an interview with Animated Views, Legends of Oz producer Greg Centineo explained why the film bombed:
“We’re nobodies in this industry. And we stepped into a
deep, deep ocean, with some very, very big sharks. Some of those mainstream
critics have not just trashed the movie, but literally tried to crush it. When
you read how belligerent they are against the project–against the film–compared
to the audience reviews, it speaks for itself. You don’t have to be a rocket
scientist to figure out something is wrong there.”

 

Going to the Dog.

DreamWorks took a reported $57 million write-down on Mr. Peabody.

 

Crepe Hanging

Despite self-styled pundits describing it as everything from
a disappointment to a failure, Dragon 2
topped $600 million worldwide to become the top-grossing animated film of 2014
in September. So much for punditry.

 

Going Down in Flames:

The sequel Planes:
Fire & Rescue
was as dreary as the first Planes. Although Planes
isn’t a Pixar film, it was supposed to look like one. Does the money from the
related toy sales make up for the damage to Pixar’s reputation? Especially when
the film took in less than $60 million.

 

Déjà Vu All Over Again

In Thunder and the
House of Magic
the design for the Doberman came from “Up;” one potential
buyer imitated Edna Mode from “The Incredibles;” a tracking shot through the engine
of a wrecking crane recalled the clockwork sequence in “The Great Mouse
Detective” and so on…again.

 

Mixed Messages

Both Jack and the
Cuckoo Clock Heart
and The Book of
Life
tried to give CG the feel of stop-motion. Both films might have
worked  better in stop-motion, although
their weak stories would still have been problematic.

 

And Finally, an award to this
writer – for being curmudgeonly above and beyond the call of duty at times.

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