Among so much 2016 coverage, we’re particularly proud of our collective Best Films of 2016 feature, but we do realize its paucity in one area: animation. Only one animated film made it onto the list, and that doesn’t really reflect just what a strong year it was for the form — in fact, it was possible that there were so many outstanding ones over the past 12 months that the votes got split and a couple more potentials narrowly missed the cut as a result. Not only has photo-real CG imagery in “live action” films gone from strength to strength (in movies like “The Jungle Book” and “The BFG,” for example), but the sheer variety of fully animated offerings means that whether you’re an arthouse aficionado, a sci-fi/fantasy junkie or an exhausted parent just looking for something shiny to distract the kids for an hour or two, 2016 has provided a huge number of options that are drawn rather than filmed.

Just one note: We’re working off the 27-title-strong longlist for the Oscars, so while all of these films have had a qualifying 2016 release, in many cases they won’t get their proper wide release until sometime this year, but sure, that gives us all the more to look forward to. Here are our 11 favorite Animated films that we saw at festivals and in multiplexes throughout 2016 — feast your eyes.

Click here for our complete coverage of the Best Of 2016

sing
11. “Sing”
In many ways, Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet’s “Sing,” made by Illumination Entertainment, who also brought us the inferior “The Secret Life of Pets” this year as well as the inexplicably world-conquering “Minions,” probably shouldn’t work. There are at least six interweaving storylines — mostly following the main plucky anthropomorphic animal talent-show contestants in their outside lives, facing personal challenges — and there are enough familiar pop songs in it to potentially distract or irritate. And yet Jennings and his animators are able to make each character refreshingly unique even when you think you know their archetype, which overcomes the worst of the somewhat-ADHD storyline-jumping (which, to be fair, is also probably what helps younger children stay engaged). But really, what makes “Sing” um, sing are the musical contributions from its stars. Some of these performances are to be expected, such as those from part-time chanteuse Scarlett Johansson, but many others come as a pleasant surprise, like ‘Kingsman”s  Taron Egerton or Reese Witherspoon delivering a pretty barnstorming version of  Taylor Swift‘s “Shake it Off.” It’s neither particularly deep nor particularly original, but this candy-colored, eager-to-please movie is an untaxing way to entertain your family — especially if it includes little kids — and succeeds in that aim far more than some of the live-action releases playing right across the hall in your local multiplex.

FINDING DORY
10. “Finding Dory”
It may have felt a little like second-string Pixar, but we could hardly ignore the biggest movie of 2016, now could we? A follow-up to 2003’s “Finding Nemo,” which not only announced the arrival of Andrew Stanton (an original Pixar player) but quickly became one of the most beloved animated features of all time, was always a daunting proposition. But Pixar jumped in anyway and, somewhat unsurprisingly, made a splash. Focusing an entire film on Dory (Ellen DeGeneres again) was a dicey proposition, considering her short-term memory loss would seemingly impede any narrative forward momentum, but the team (led by Stanton and co-director Angus MacLane) found a way around that by surrounding her with a whole host of new, variously afflicted characters. (Seriously, in a year that devoted significant attention to the marginalization of the “other,” “Finding Dory” was full of lovable characters with impediments, disabilities, and shortcomings, yet who were empowered rather than hampered by them. It’s positively super-heroic.) Who’d have thought we’d get a “Wire” reunion (Idris Elba and Dominic West) in the form of a pair of disgruntled sea lions? (Seriously Gerald, get off that fucking rock.) So though it falls short of the transcendence of something like “Toy Story 3” or “Inside Out,” “Finding Dory” proved that Pixar is undaunted by the size, complexity, or expectations of a follow-up like this. Just keep swimming, right?

The Red Turtle
9. “The Red Turtle”
Not everyone here was as beguiled by Dutch director Michael Dudok De Wit‘s largely wordless fable as the enraptured Cannes critics, but even a relative naysayer has to admit that Studio Ghibli‘s first international co-production (this is a French/Belgian/Japanese team-up) is utterly ravishing to look at. The slight story of a young man washed up on a desert island who finds unlikely companionship when the only other inhabitant, the titular reptile, turns into a human woman, it won’t do much to entertain children, and its lack of dialogue occasionally feels strained, but adults seeking a rarefied and extremely calming cinematic experience, in which the immaculate imagery and equally exquisite sound design take precedence over traditional action and character beats, can find a great deal to admire. Which is not to say there is no action — there are scenes in which the ongoing struggle to survive, and the never-ending battle with the elements, are rendered with acute tension and precision. Ultimately, it will come down to how willing you are to invest in its slow rhythms, and how much resonance you can find in its rather opaque allegory, but either way, this is one of the most singular animations of this or any year, and a very promising and artistically uncompromised glimpse at what even a Miyazaki-less Ghibli can achieve.

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8. “Miss Hokusai”
Jackie” wasn’t the year’s only unconventional biopic about a headstrong, determined woman whose persona was marginalized by the history books thanks largely to the man she was most closely associated with. “Miss Hokusai,” a lyrical, painterly new film from Production I.G. (who most Western audiences will know as the company behind the animated sequence in “Kill Bill, Vol. 1“), tells the story of Katsushika Ōi, a young artist who worked for her famous artist father, the celebrated Hokusai (he’s the one responsible for that painting of stylized waves that you’ve probably seen in countless yoga studios and dorm rooms). Instead of a birth-to-death story, filmmaker Keiichi Hara takes a more contemplative approach, with the story unfolding as a series of loosely connected, occasionally surreal vignettes. Instead of diluting its power, this unusual approach magnifies it. Sure, Katsushika was repressed, treated badly, and sidelined almost out of existence, even though it looks, more and more, like she was responsible for the majority of his most famous paintings. But through her quiet strength, her resilience, and her refusal to give up or be pigeonholed, she found her strength. This was a woman who was able to create magnificent works of art and didn’t give a damn whether anyone knew it or not. And maybe that’s what being a true artist is.

april-and-the-extraordinary-world
7. “April And The Extraordinary World”
It might not be as prolific as the U.S. or Japanese industries, but the French animation scene is still one of the world’s strongest, with three movies making our list this year (and joining other modern classics like “The Triplets Of Belleville” and “Persepolis” from the nation). Undoubtedly the most Gallic of the trio is “April And The Extraordinary World,” a film that does more than almost anything ever to capture the tradition of European graphic novels on the big screen. The pleasingly convoluted story is set in a world where Napoleon III was killed in an attempt to create invincible supersoldiers, and scientists have been disappearing for 70 years, creating a very different Europe, heavily polluted and driven by steampunk-like technology. The parents of April (Marion Cotillard) are among the scientists who were taken, but now, in 1941, she seems to have accidentally perfected the supersoldier serum they were working on, bringing her cat Darwin (Philippe Katerine) back from the dead, but putting her in the sights of bumbling policeman Pizoni (Bouli Lanners). Jean Rochefort and Marc-André Grondin are also among an all-star cast (the GKIDS dub is strong, with Tony Hale, Paul Giamatti and Susan Sarandon among those lending their voices, but stick with the subtitled version), but it’s the visuals, which nod to French artist Tardi, that make this worth the watch: a fascinating, beautifully realized world in which to set a rollicking, surprising adventure that comes across as a much more effective version of Brad Bird’s botched “Tomorrowland.”

James-Franco-and-Riley-Osborne-in-The-Little-Prince-(2015)
6. “The Little Prince”
Our third French film (though helmed by an American director, “Kung Fu Panda” helmer Mark Osborne), “The Little Prince” takes on the tough task of adapting Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved 1943 book — a brief, expressionistic work that has defeated plenty of filmmakers, including Stanley Donen, before now. Some purists might have been horrified from a distance, with the film adding a brand new, CGI-animated, present-day story to the stop-motion animation of the original tale, but in practice, it works surprisingly well, the additions proving to be a genuinely moving invention that bring out the themes and emotion of Saint-Exupéry’s work. It focuses on the friendship between a Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy), desperate for a break from her pushy mother (Rachel McAdams), and the elderly Aviator (Jeff Bridges) next door who tells her the story of the Little Prince (Riley Osborne), who he met after crashing in the Sahara. The stop-motion sequences are positively stunning: It’s hard to imagine a better version of the original story, especially with a cast that could look like stunt-casting on paper but works beautifully in practice (Bud Cort, Marion Cotillard, Benicio Del Toro, James Franco, Ricky Gervais, Albert Brooks). But despite the more traditional, Pixar-ish look of the framing sequence, it’s still more European than Hollywood in execution, with a deep melancholy and themes of loss, remembrance, acceptance, and the fleeting nature of childhood that result in a pretty heavy sob by the time the credits roll. Paramount unceremoniously dumped the film, so it went largely unseen, but with Netflix having stepped up, you can watch it from your chair right now, and we highly recommend that you do.

  • Xander Kennedy

    Good list! I especially appreciate that Kubo landed in the top spot. I hope (though doubt) that it will finally earn Laika an Oscar.

    • Givani Gumilang
    • checkyourface33

      Kubo really wasn’t very good to be honest, and I usually love Laika. They seem to be going downhill in my opinion since Coraline and paraNorman.

      • MadMeme

        Kubo was simply brilliant; both artistically and conceptually. Unfortunately, many people missed the larger meaning of the fable: an allegory about losing both parents, symbolically working through the 5 stages of grief, and learning to accept a new life with one’s grandparent (suffering from dementia).

        • checkyourface33

          I didn’t miss anything conceptually about it. Conceptually it has a nice story, but felt like there were too many elements that sort of ruined that for me. Artistically, it has wonderful aspects, but as a whole I think it fell short from being as successful as their earlier films. Just don’t feel like it was their best work on multiple fronts.

          • MadMeme

            Well, then you’re in a minority, since virtually every reviewer of the film (even the one here) appeared to forget that the entire movie is a story told by a little boy about overcoming his grief. In any case, I disagree completely with your ranking – it’s Laika’s crowning masterwork (and possibly their last).

          • checkyourface33

            “crowning masterwork” and “minority”… I work in the industry, and live in Portland.

            Those two statements seal the discussion for me.

          • MadMeme

            You work in the industry? Really? Did you actually go to a film school? Because if you did, you missed the course on critical analysis.

            “I think the script writing for C.Theron’s character/dialogue really really hurt this. It was almost painful to listen to…”

            This is the kind of reductive, subjective opinion that is both irrelevant – and rampant online (where the majority of people don’t know the difference between opinion and critique). Despite your assurances, I’m quite certain you missed quite a lot of it conceptually.

            OTOH, feel free to explain the symbolism of the damaged and missing eyes to prove me wrong.

          • checkyourface33

            yes, I’m a TD in the vfx and animation industry with—yes, a background in Film. You can disagree with me all you want, you are entitled to that.

            Taking shots at me doesn’t make you right. Just because you don’t agree with my opinion, doesn’t make it a non-valid critique. I’ve had 20 years of training in the arts, and feel no need to prove anything to you. Laughing at your certainty. You don’t know anything about me other than what I’ve let you know. If you want to categorize my thoughts on the film as internet banter, so be it. I could just as easily say you have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.

            Look, there was amazing work done as always from the artists at Laika. Stuff like this https://vimeo.com/201802102 takes a tremendous amount of skill and dedication to craft.

            Here, I will make it easy on ya. Kubo was amazing. Fantastic all the way through.

          • MadMeme

            Taking shots at you? That’s simply the type of response you’re likely to elicit when you reply to other people’s comments with an argumentum ad verecundiam; i.e. “I work in the industry…” So what? I started working at an SFX house in Hollywood before I’d even finished my degree at CalArts – and won an Emmy for Special Visual Effects before I was 27 – but it’s not something I bring up in conversation unless I’m specifically discussing those topics.

            And just because I don’t agree with your opinion, doesn’t make it a non-valid opinion to you. It’s meaningless as critique because, again, it’s unsupported by arguments and examples, and disconnected from an analysis of it’s relevance to the broader goals and purposes of the film – so it never rises above the strictly subjective, In other words, you say, “I think the script writing for C.Theron’s character/dialogue really hurt this.” and I say it didn’t.

            Two opposing opinions simply ends up being meaningless.

          • checkyourface33

            so much facepalm

            argumentum ad. hahhahahahahahaha omg. You are so off base.

            Go on living your life thinking this was a wonderful piece of script writing. I really could care less.

          • MadMeme

            Since you don’t seem to understand logical fallacies, I suggest Google.

            Yes, I and the hundreds of people that helped get Kubo it’s 50 nominations and it’s 27 wins (more than Coraline and ParaNorman combined) will continue to think it was a wonderful piece of script-writing, while you can continue thinking it wasn’t.

          • checkyourface33

            lol

          • madwowk

            You come across as a nob, desperate to have the last word and your Trump-esque claim to hold a majority viewpoint on this film really does not help your case.

          • checkyourface33

            if you say so MadMeme second account. Using Trump in your argument… Classy

        • checkyourface33

          to be more specific, I think the script writing for C.Theron’s character/dialogue really really hurt this. It was almost painful to listen to, and redundant to the point of annoyance in her over protective role. Flat out, it was just a poorly written script for large chunks of the film.

          • J_Lind

            I found the annoying aspects of Theron’s over-protective “helicopter mom” character fitting and appropriate. There are times when a characterization *should* be annoying. Not only does the story deal with Kubo’s stages of grief, it’s also a Bildungsroman. Rebelling and breaking out from parental domination and control is an essential part of it. I didn’t find it particularly painful, but certainly annoying, and realized the purpose of it being annoying as it gave Kubo reason to rebel against it, and eventually break free from it.

            John

  • Killa.fish

    Seems like it was a good year for animation.

  • loudrockmusic

    The Killing Joke was just awful. I didn’t even put it in my Letterboxd diary.

  • J_Lind

    I’m pleased to see a list that is overwhelmingly dominated by Disney Animation and Disney’s subsidiary, Pixar. Their movies have become mawkish saccharine formulas. Based on the trailers of the Disney/Pixar listed here, that continues and I’m not going to pay anything to see any of them as my time has value. Very pleased to see Kubo, April and Zucchini in this list. I’ve not seen a few of the others such as Red Turtle, Your Name, Hokusai or Little Prince, but they’re on my “watch list”. Phantom Boy is very good and quite entertaining, but not as strong in the depth of its underlying themes as Kubo, April or Zucchini, and I suspect Little Prince too.

    Sausage Party had possibilities with its concept while it was in development, but Seth Rogen once again leaves the rails and goes utterly over the top. Perhaps it’s better characterized as under the bottom, down somewhere well below the sewers, below even the whale dung that sinks into the Marianas Trench.

    John

  • Jung Wan

    Another great film of 2016 was A Silent Voice.