Wednesday 30 November 2011

2011 So Far

With the end of the year just over a month away, and Christmas approaching even faster, now seemed as good a time as any to take a retrospective look back at 2011 in animated films.

Now, first of all, a few have pointed out that my reviews are mostly positive, don't get me a wrong, I can be a particularly nasty blighter some times, particularly when I strongly dislike a film, however, I, obviously, am very passionate about animation, Disney and Pixar in general, and hate to fault it, furthermore, I purposefully avoid films that I know will be bad or that I have no interest in seeing, so I'm generally complementary in my reviews, yet, even by my standards, 2011 has been a brilliant year for animation thus far.

Animation, as an industry, has grown, year on year, as such, the number of animated films has swelled, so, to survive in the ever competitive field, quality has had to be top notch, so, from a time when Pixar was pretty much the only company outputting consistently amazing animated films, to 2011, where we have so many that Pixar's latest offering is getting lost in the shuffle. Cars 2 was a great film, but 2011 has been a fantastic year!

If we run through the films in order of their profile, Pixar is sure to be at the forefront of our minds - as the finest animation studio on the planet - and their latest offering Cars 2 received very luke-warm (or indeed negative) reviews, simply because many believed it didn't have that Pixar magic. Personally, I loved the film, it was warm, fun and hilarious, but the argument is definitely there that the film doesn't stand as high as other Pixar offerings.

In terms of arguably the second best animation studio out there, DreamWorks, they have been steadily becoming more and more consistent. Once upon a time not so long ago, DreamWorks rolled out, maybe, one great film amidst a sea of mediocrity, but in the past few years, they have sharpened their skills and focused far less on pop gags and far more on story and character development. Last year, How to Train Your Dragon was utterly sublime, one of the greatest films, animated or otherwise, of all time; Megamind was also very good and funny. This year, Kung Fu Panda 2 continued that streak, being absolutely fantastic. Hilarious, touching and exciting, Kung Fu Panda 2 topped the first entry, which was already a great film. Puss in Boots is yet to debut here, and while I don't have sky high hopes, I am hearing good things about it; nonetheless, 2011 is the first time I can remember being able to say that DreamWorks have bested Pixar.

In terms of other films, Blue Sky Studios (who have been firmly in third position in the animation game for many years) rolled out Rio. Rio was a gorgeous and toe-tapping musical-comedy adventure that was a whole heap of fun, whilst maybe not the most original film in the world, it definitely shone as one of the best of the year. Also, Rango, from Nickelodeon Movies, was a smart, witty, satirical - if, also, unspectacular - film that featured the best animation of the year and is sure to be, because of its more adult pleasing script, a strong contender for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars this year. Also, Aardman, the British giants behind Wallace and Gromit brought us a more festive offering this year, breaking from their trademark stop-motion style to bring us the CGI film, Arthur Christmas. Arthur Christmas was, as is to be expected from Aardman, funny, witty and charming, all in one, whilst it lacks the polish of their finest work, it's a particular treat this holiday season and the Academy has always been favourable to the Bristol studio in the past.

2011 will also be notable as the return to provenance for Disney. Walt Disney Animation Studios had been stagnant for several years, rolling out some lackluster and unmemorable films. But the 2006 merger with Pixar, and the bringing on of head honcho John Lasseter as the Disney Animation CCO revitalised the division, Bolt and The Princess and the Frog were solid movies, but it was this year that they really showed how magical Disney can still be. Firstly, Tangled (yes, that did come out in 2011 over here in the UK, whereas it landed around this time last year in America), Disney's first CGI princess movie, was utterly enchanting. A brilliant story, charming characters, strong music that overall added to a film that could have been plucked out of the Renaissance, and made Tangled one of my favourite films of the year. Secondly, Winnie the Pooh, the company's latest, and one of their finest, adaptations of the works of A.A. Milne, was brilliant: magical, warm, nostalgiac and, well, brilliant. It may not be the finest film ever written, but I'd still prefer it to so many other films, it takes you back to a time in your life when things were so much simpler, and so much more magical. Disney, after a strong 2011, may well be in a new golden age.

Finally, saving the best until last, we have Steven Spielberg's animated adventure epic, The Adventures of Tintin. There's nothing to say here that I haven't said already, it was fantastic. The story, the script, the characters, the animation, the comedy, the voice talent, everything was near perfect. If this is to be the start of a film franchise, I'm more than pleased, Tintin and his adventures utterly enchanted me and captured my imagination, the film isn't out yet in America, so, if you're reading this from over there: please go and see it, you won't regret it. If you're reading this from here in Europe: why not go see it again? I'm sure you'd agree it was brilliant. The true embodiment of a young Indiana Jones film, it was amazing.

Obviously, all of this may change in a month, so don't go thinking that's the A113Animation Awards decided right now; I could be blown away by Puss in Boots, that could top my list; I could rewatch one of these films and look on it in a whole new light, it may then go up or down in my estimations. But, overall, no one loses, animation wins.

You can read my reviews of all the films mentioned above here.

Keep an eye out for the reveal of the nominations for the updated A113Animation Awards.

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