I feel like this year has a little bit of an odd one when it comes to animated films. For me personally there hasn’t really been a stand out entry, and the ones that are populating the larger conversation are a pair of less traditional choices (the stop motion Marcel the Shell With Shoes On and Del Toro’s Pinocchio).
However, I also don’t see this as a bad thing. Typically the stand outs overshadow the small joys of smaller, imperfect fare that deserve attention in their own right, and this is a great space and opportunity to do this. Here are my top 5 animated films of 2022 ranked in decending order with two honorable mentions:
Honorable Mention: Puss in Boots The Last Wish (Directed by Joel Crawford), Strange World (Directed by Don Hall)
I’m fairly fresh off a viewing, but as a considerate fan of this character and the original film this film deserves mention for its attention to the craft. I have some quibbles with the story, especially where it depicts the subject of death, but the characters themselves are well fleshed out, the journey they go on invested and entertaining, and the way it uses different aspects of the animation style is creatively utilized. It’s a reminder of why this character is beloved.
On the flip side is a welcome Disney original that went largely unseen, which us unfortunate because it is a fresh tale with a fun, adventurous vibe and a nice peal to honestly drawn characters and a natural appeal to diversity and ethical concern,
Del Toro’s Pinocchio (Directed by Guillermo Del Toro)
I like to think of myself as the biggest Del Toro fan out there. Doesn’t matter what he puts out there, for me it always has something worthwhile to offer and something important to say, and it always reflects the voice of someone who treats filmmaking with the imagination and delight of a child. In truth, it doesn’t take long for him to make a strong case for why Pinocchio is an adaptation he needed to make, and with its shortcomings it nevertheless remains a true expression of his voice and style. I do think the film feels scattered, as though he had too many great ideas and nobody to help whittle them down. And thematically the film ends up feeling a bit uncertain and less than fleshed out. I even feel like the animation style struggles under the weight of its scope, feeling clunky when it comes to the more intimate details. But within the different sequences and working parts of the story there are real stand out moments that speak to the films potential towards capturing the darker edges of the classic tale and bridging the humanist portraits with an appeal to the transcendent.
INU-OH (Directed by Masaaki Yuasa)
One of the more unique animated films to release this year. Unlike anything else I’ve seen actually with its fusion of myth, folktale, history, music and rock musical set in an older period context. It’s a barrage of sensibilities that plays on the senses using elongated musical performances and a defintie shift in the second half into something tonally different from the first. It’s very visual, the first half relying on symbolism and the abstract and the second half playing things in a more literal and concrete fashion. Whether audiences find this to reflect a disconnect or whether it plays as complimentary could have varying degrees of response. I found it mostly fascinating as it weaves this all into a message about the nature of conflict and survival, the masks we wear to guard ourselves from the implications of this nature, and the reality of isolation, fear and struggle that binds ourselves to this nature both past and present.
One of the great surprises of 2022. Ridiculously entertaining and quite meaningful in terms of theme and message. Quite clever as well.
Lightyear (Angus MacLane)
Lightyear is, at its most basic, simple fun touched with some nice emotional notes. It reminded me of watching Saturday morning cartoons, only with its obvious cinematic presence. Perhaps reminiscent of something like the Iron Giant (although not quite as good). The story is a play on the subtext of the popular Toy Story figure, presenting Buzz not as the familiar character but the scripted character the toy is based on. It’s not so much that we get his backstory, although this film can certainly accent some of the story beats from the Toy Story franchise. What we get is something entirely its own thing. And that gives this film a lot of freedom to carve its own path. I never felt like I was watching something necessarily tied or bound to its previously marketable material. Will that hurt or help this film? Time will tell. I suspect it could lead to some confusion over what this is, so getting viewers out to see it could be a challenge. For those who do see it i think it has the chance to surprise.
Mad God (Directed by Phil Tippett)
This is madness on a whole other level. The metaphors are rich, and it’s hard not to see our present reality in the chaos. The animation, done using intricate and detailed stop motion, is simply otherworldly, which helps to transport us into its depraved world. Cycles loom large here, leaving one wondering whether there is any way to escape, any promise of liberation. Maps, bombs, surgeons and drones, they all intersect in the decent into the shadow world underneath.
A film that will merit multiple watches to scratch the surface of its ideas, to be sure.
Turning Red (Directed by Domee Shi)
I love how thus film anchors the developmental stage of its young woman coming of age in the larger world of family and friendship and a gradual process of becoming in the face of two worlds and cultures colliding. As it says, “We’ve all got a messy, loud, weird part of oursleves hidden away. And a lot of us never let it out.”
If there is a pure animated feature that deserves to be considered fas a standout pick for 2022 it would be this undersold and quietly persistent animated gem. It’s a but unconventional when it comes to the kind of films we have become used to from Pixar, but that’s what makes it so special and unique.
Marcel The Shell With Shoes On (Directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp)
I’ve written elsewhere about my love for this film and it’s themes, but the films use of space and size to create these contrasts of perspective and to bring out the full emotion of Marcels pursuit and struggle is profound and revealing. One of its most spectacular accomplishments is using this to make full use of the big screen experience while making the simplicity of its story profoundly fitted for a more intimate viewing at home. This is a character that imprints a very real heart and soul into one’s imagination, and does so in a completely disarming and unassuming fashion,
It’s a talking shell of course. With shoes and other human qualities that help us feel what it’s like to feel alone this world and what it’s like to find community and belonging. Perhaps the most notable part of his story is a point where he is sitting there watching himself on YouTube and wondering whether all these people online might be a community. He quickly discovers it’s not real. A shell with shoes on gets this more then most real life people.