This year, Pixar gets back to originals with greater inclusion and diversity and two-time Oscar nominee Tomm Moore (“The Secret of Kells,” “Song of the Sea”) tackles an Irish adventure about the secret of wolves.
In addition, Netflix has several new releases, Warner Bros. reboots Scooby-Doo in CG, while DreamWorks Animation brings the return of the Trolls and the Croods.
Note: All release dates were accurate at this writing, but could change in response to the coronavirus.
Pixar 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” (December 25, Disney+), 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.
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.
Netflix also offers these originals: “The Willoughbys” (April 22), a quirky comedy about unconventional family values with a touch of Roald Dahl absurdity, directed by Kris Pearn (based on the children’s book by Lois Lowry); “Animal Crackers” (July 24), a fantasy about magical cookies that come to the rescue a rundown circus, directed by Tony Bancroft (“Mulan”) and Scott Christian Sava; and “Over the Moon” (October 23), a musical adventure directed by former Disney legend and Oscar winner Glen Keane (“Dear Basketball”) about a young girl who builds a rocket ship to meet the Moon Goddess (inspired by the Chinese fable), co produced by Pearl Studio (“Abominable”) and animated by Sony Pictures Imageworks
With “Trolls World Tour” (April 10) Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake returned as Poppy and Branch in a more expansive and colorful movie about acceptance and musical diversity. 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 “The Croods: A New Age” (November 25), the prehistoric clan of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, and Emma Stone confront the more evolved Bettermans family (Lesley Mann and Peter Dinklage).
With “Scoob!,” (May 15), from director Tony Cervone, Warner Animation offered the first feature-length origin story and the first in a series of films set within a Hanna-Barbera multi-verse. Part origin story, part present day Mystery Inc. supernatural adventure, the lovable Great Dane (Frank Welker) alternates between two timelines, revealing how he met Shaggy (Will Forte) and the rest of his pals. 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.
In terms of international releases, GKids has several anime features: Masaaki Yuasa’s “Ride Your Wave” (February 21), the anime romantic fantasy about the connection between music, the ocean, and immortality; “Lupin III: The First” (October 18), the latest 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”); and “On-Gaku: Our Sound” (December 11), about a trio of high school delinquents that forms a rock band, from director Kenji Iwaisawa and comprised of more than 40,000 hand-drawn frames through rotoscoping.
However, GKids’ most eagerly awaited release is Cartoon Saloon’s “Wolfwalkers” (November 13), an Apple TV+ co-production that’s 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.
In addition, 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.
As far as Oscar handicapping, the early contenders would have to include “Soul,” “Wolfwalkers,” and “Over the Moon.”
Following is the list of animated features set for release in 2020 as of this writing:
“Onward,” directed by Dan Scanlon, released March 6, 2020
“Soul,” directed by Pete Docter, set to be released December 25, 2020 (Disney+)
“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 III: The First,” directed by Takashi Yamazaki, set to be released October 18, 2020
“On-Gaku: Our Sound,” directed by Kenji Iwaisawa, set to be released December 11,2020
“Wolfwalkers,” directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, released November 13, 2020
“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon,” directed by Will Becher and Richard Phelan, released February 14, 2020
“The Willoughbys,” directed by Kris Pearn, released April 22, 2020
“Animal Crackers,” directed by Tony Bancroft (“Mulan”) and Scott Christian Sava, released July 24, 2020
“Over the Moon,” directed by Glen Keane, released October 23, 2020
“Trolls World Tour,” directed by Walt Dohrn, released April 10, 2020
“The Croods: A New Age,” directed by Joel Crawford, set to be released November 25, 2020
“Scoob!,” directed by Tony Cervone, released May 15, 2020