This year, Pixar and Disney get back to originals with greater inclusion and diversity, Sony returns with another stylistic experiment from Oscar-winning producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”), and two-time Oscar nominee Tomm Moore of Cartoon Saloon (“Song of the Sea,” “The Secret of Kells”) tackles an Irish adventure about the secret of wolves.
In addition, Netflix has three new releases, Warner Bros. launches a Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe, SpongeBob, The Trolls, and Gru and the Minions are all back, and “Bob’s Burgers” makes its big-screen debut.
Note: All release dates were accurate at this writing, but could change in response to the coronavirus.
Pixar and Disney started the year with “Onward” (March 6) the studio’s first magical fantasy. Director Dan Scanlon got semi-autobiographical about losing his father when he was a year old and his brother was three, and created a story about two teenage Elf brothers (the MCU’s Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) on a road trip to resurrect their deceased dad using a 24-hour magic spell. Simulated effects aren’t necessarily difficult for Pixar, but there was a whole rule book of magic spells created for “Onward,” and the simulations are varied, colorful, and funny.
Pete Docter, Pixar’s chief creative officer, follows up his Oscar-winning “Inside Out” with “Soul” (June 19), which, according to Docter, asks “the ultimate questions: Why am I here? Metaphysics. Who would do that?” “Soul” journeys from the streets of a retro New York City to the 2D-inspired, cosmic realm of The Great Before, where Pixar’s first black protagonist, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a middle-school band teacher who dreams of playing piano for a jazz band, must mentor the cynical 22 (Tina Fey) before returning to Earth. The predominantly black cast also includes the voice work of Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, Ahmir Questlove Thompson, and Daveed Diggs. Musician Jon Batiste writes the jazz music and the score is from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
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Meanwhile, Disney (led by chief creative officer Jennifer Lee) is experiencing its own inclusion and diversity expansion, with “Raya and the Last Dragon” (November 25) as the latest example of female empowerment. The fantasy adventure, produced by Osnat Shurer (“Moana”), directed by story artists Paul Briggs (“Frozen”) and Dean Wellins (“Zootopia”), and scripted by Adele Lim (“Crazy Rich Asians”), is inspired by Southeast Asian culture and offers a new twist on female empowerment. In the fantastical world of Kumandra, where a sinister force has driven out dragons, young warrior Raya (voiced by Cassie Steele) is determined to find the legendary Sisu (Awkwafina).
Lord and Miller’s “Connected” (September 18) continues their mission to push storytelling and stylistic boundaries. Directed by Mike Rianda (creative director of “Gravity Falls”), it’s a comedy about a family combating a tech uprising of all electronic devices, including a new line of personal robots, and centers on the conflict between a nature-loving dad, Rick (Danny McBride of “The Righteous Gemstones”) and his social media-savvy daughter, Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson). Leveraging the new tools from “Spider-Verse,” the Sony release juxtaposes painterly/watercolor elements in the “human world” with the clean, calculated perfection of the “robot world.” Additionally, it uses 2D pop-up animation for Katie’s POV (internally called “Katie Vision”).
Sony will also release “Wish Dragon” (Date TBD) a genie-in-a-bottle fable set in contemporary China, directed by illustrator and character designer Chris Applehans (“Coraline”), and the first movie from China-based Base Animation (part of BaseFX). It features the voice talent of Jackie Chan and Constance Wu (“Fresh Off the Boat”).
After joining the Oscar race last season with its first two nominees, “Klaus” and “I Lost My Body,” Netflix proved that it’s an animation force to be reckoned with, nurturing pet projects from indie directors throughout the globe. And the streamer kicked off 2020 auspiciously with Aardman’s “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (February 14), the sequel to the Oscar-nominated “Shaun the Sheep Movie.” The stop-motion Aardman explored sci-fi for the first time with Shaun befriending a free-spirited alien child, LU-LA, in this ’80s-inspired, inclusionary adventure.
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Netflix also has two originals: “The Willoughbys” (April 22), a quirky comedy about unconventional family values with a touch of Roald Dahl absurdity (based on the children’s book by Lois Lowry), and “Over the Moon” (Date TBD), an adventure about a young girl who builds a rocket ship to meet the Moon Goddess. “The Willoughbys,” directed by Kris Pearn (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2”) and produced at Bron Animation in Vancouver, boasts a colorful, storybook sensibility and a voice cast that includes Maya Rudolph, Will Forte, and Alessia Cara. “Over the Moon” marks the directorial feature debut of legendary animator Glen Keane (the Oscar-winning Kobe Bryant short, “Dear Basketball”), and is produced by China’s Pearl Studio (“Abominable”) and animated by Sony Pictures Imageworks.
With “Scoob!” (Date TBD), Warner Bros. Animation aims to rebrand its beloved “Scooby-Doo” franchise for Millenials and Gen Z audiences. Helmed by Tony Cervone (“Space Jam” animation director), it’s the first all-CG “Scooby-Doo” feature, in which the lovable Great Dane (Frank Welker) alternates between two timelines, revealing how he met Shaggy (Will Forte) and the rest of his Mystery Inc. pals, while helping solve the case of the mysterious ghost dog Cerberus. Voicing Fred, Daphne, and Velma are Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried, and Gina Rodriguez, with guest appearances by other Hanna-Barbera characters: Mark Wahlberg as Blue Falcon, Ken Jeong as Dynomutt, Dog Wonder, Tracy Morgan as Captain Caveman, Kiersey Clemons as Dee Dee Sykes, and Jason Isaacs as Dick Dastardly.
With Disney’s takeover of Fox, the Mouse House inherited “Bob’s Burgers: The Movie” (July 17), the feature brainchild of series creator Loren Bouchard. It’s a musical comedy with a touch of fantasy involving the Belcher family and their adventures running a seaside hamburger restaurant, with Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), wife Linda (John Roberts), and their three kids: Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal).
DreamWorks (“Trolls: World Tour,” “The Croods 2”) and Paramount (“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run”) tout sequels while Illumination (“Minions: The Rise of Gru”) offers a prequel. With “Trolls World Tour” (April 10) Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake return as Poppy and Branch in a more expansive and colorful movie about acceptance. They battle hard-rock baddie Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom), who threatens to destroy the other five musical Trolls tribes. In the on-again, off-again “Croods” sequel “The Croods 2” (December 23), the prehistoric clan of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, and Emma Stone confront the more evolved Bettermans family (Lesley Mann and Peter Dinklage).
In “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” (July 31), SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) and Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) travel to the Lost City of Atlantic City to rescue Gary the Snail (Kenny). This marks the first CG-animated incarnation (animated by Mikros Image) as well as the first glimpse of how SpongeBob and Gary met as kids.
In terms of international releases, GKids so far has “Ride Your Wave” (February 19), the anime romantic fantasy about the connection between music, the ocean, and immortality from Japanese director Masaaki Yuasa (“The Night is Short,” “Walk on Girl”), and “Lupin the 3rd: The First” (Date TBD), the latest anime feature in the popular “gentleman thief” franchise and the first in CG, written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki (“Stand By Me Doraemon,” “Dragon Quest: Your Story”). Funimation released “My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising” (February 26) from director Kenji Nagasaki, the second in the successful franchise based on the popular manga, continues with the youths aspiring to become superheroes battling Nine, their most powerful foe.
However, the most eagerly awaited international feature of the year is Cartoon Saloon’s “Wolfwalkers,” (Date TBD), directed by Moore and long-time art director Ross Stewart. It’s about an 11-year-old female apprentice hunter forced to re-evaluate her mission to wipe out the last remaining wolf pack in Ireland. The 2D folktale juxtaposes a block-print style for Kilkenny with watercolors and ink splats for the forest and a charcoal look for the wolves. Although Cartoon Saloon partnered with streamer Apple TV+ on “Wolfwalkers,” a theatrical distributor has not been announced (but it’s worth noting that GKids previously released Cartoon Saloon’s “The Breadwinner,” “Song of the Sea,” and “The Secret of Kells”).
As far as Oscar handicapping, the early contenders would have to include “Soul,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Connected,” “Wolfwalkers,” and “Farmageddon.”
Following is the list of animated features set for release in 2020 as of this writing:
“Wolfwalkers,” directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, theatrical distributor and release date TBD 2020
“Onward,” directed by Dan Scanon, released March 6, 2020
“Soul,” directed by Pete Docter, set to be released June 19, 2020
“Bob’s Burgers: The Movie,” directed by Loren Bouchard, set to be released July 17, 2020
“Raya and the Last Dragon,” directed by Paul Briggs and Dean Wellins, set to be released November 25, 2020
“My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising,” directed by Kenji Nagasaki, released February 26, 2020
“Ride Your Wave,” directed by Masaaki Yuasa, released February 19, 2020
“Lupin the 3rd: The First,” directed by Takashi Yamazaki, release date TBD 2020
“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon,” directed by Will Becher and Richard Phelan, released February 14, 2020
“The Willoughbys,” directed by Kris Pearn, set to be released April 22, 2020
“Over the Moon,” directed by Glen Keane, release date TBD 2020
“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run,” directed by Tim Hill, set to be released July 31, 2020
“Connected,” directed by Mike Rianda, set to be released September 18, 2020
“Wish Dragon,” directed by Chris Applehans, release date TBD 2020
“Trolls World Tour,” directed by Walt Dohrn, set to be released April 10, 2020
“The Croods 2,” directed by Joel Crawford, set to be released December 23, 2020
“Scoob!,” directed by Tony Cervone, release date TBD 2020