Charles Solomon’s Animation Year End Review 2017 – Animation Scoop

Charles Solomon’s Animation Year End Review 2017

Although he wrote them in 1859, Charles Dickens might have been thinking of animation in 2017 when he penned the celebrated lines, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

Once again, animated films accounted for a disproportionate share of the domestic box office. Once again, animated films failed to get the respect they deserve from the greater film community–although more and more studios seem eager to cash in on their popularity.

At a time when filmgoers and filmmakers have called for the greater inclusion of female and minority voices, The Breadwinner and Coco offered models to the rest of the industry. Written and directed by female artists, Breadwinner depicted the oppression of women under the Taliban. After decades of Speedy Gonzalez and Baba Looey, Coco treated Mexican folk culture with care and respect. Viewers who had never seen an ofrenda learned about Day of the Dead traditions.

Of the many other American studio features, a list that included My Little Pony, Nut Job 2, The Emoji Movie, Boss Baby, Ferdinand, Despicable Me 3 and The Star, some did well at the box office; others flopped. But in terms of imagination and innovation, they were eclipsed by foreign films: In This Corner of the World, Napping Princess, The Breadwinner, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. The foreign films also reminded audiences of the charm and power of drawn animation,

Looking over a year that see-sawed between Light and Darkness, I’m once again presenting awards for the best and worst of 2017, named for the ultimate animation APM, Mikiko “Kuromi” Oguro.


Wabbit season! /Duck season! /Awards season!
The Motion Picture Academy nominated Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, My Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle and Zootopia for Best Animated Feature. An impressive roster, although Your Name. belonged on the list. Zootopia won the Oscar (and the Golden Globe).

Kubo received an Oscar nomination for visual effects—only the second animated film to get one (The first was Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas). Deborah Cook received a nomination for Kubo in the category of Excellence in Fantasy Film by the Costume Designers Guild–the first nomination for an animated film in the 19-year history of the award.

The Art Directors Guild honored Brad Bird with its Cinematic Imagery Award. The Guild also announced it will add a category for Excellence in Production Design for an Animated Feature Film to its annual awards. Four Pixar films– Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and WALL-E—have been nominated in the Fantasy Feature category.

Sunao Katabuchi won best animated feature at the Japanese Academy Prize Awards for In This Corner of the World, beating Makoto Shinkai’s smash hit Your Name., which won for music and screenplay. Best picture of the year was Shin Godzilla; Shinji Higuchi and Hideaki Anno shared best director for it. In This Corner also won the Jury Award for feature films at the 2017 Annecy International Animation Festival.

DreamWorks’ Trollhunters was the most honored series at the Emmys—animation or live action—winning six awards out of the seven categories in which it was nominated, plus two juried awards. DreamWorks won three additional Emmys for other series.

The Tokyo International Film Festival honored the work of Keiichi Hara, the director of Colorful and Miss Hokusai.

Co-hosts Jonas Rivera and Pete Docter made the Academy’s Animated Features program a delightful and insightful evening.

All the Way to the Bank
Disney scored a huge hit with the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast: In April, the film crossed the $1 billion mark, making it the highest grossing musical of all time.

Beneath its very silly slapstick action, One Piece Movie: Gold criticized the contemporary culture of greed in ways no American animated film has.

In January, Nickelodeon opened a 200,000-square foot expansion of its Burbank studio.

In December, Disney announced plans for a multi-billion dollar deal to buy a substantial portion of Fox.

Welcome Back

Genndy Tartakovksy’s Samurai Jack made its eagerly-awaited return to the airwaves after a 13-year hiatus. The tone was darker, but the graphics were as original and the direction as assured as ever. Samurai Jack won four juried award for individual achievement in animation for the 69th Emmy Awards.

At Annecy, Toei screened the theatrical feature of the iconic Mazinger Z. Go Nagai, the creator of the super robot, said, “My beloved Mazinger Z is making a comeback. 45 years after its birth and 50 years since I started my career as a manga artist, this is truly a year to commemorate.”

One of the highlights of the year was the screening of the restored pencil test of Thumper and Bambi on the ice, shown at the Academy’s 75th anniversary celebration of Bambi. A glorious piece of work from Disney’s Animation Research Library.

Book tickets NOW!
Aichi Prefecture governor Hideaki Omura announced that “Ghibli Park,” a theme park built around Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved My Neighbor Totoro is set to open in 2020. The park will center on a replica of the film’s old farm house built for the 2005 World Expo in Aichi Commemorative Park.

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image celebrated the 40th anniversary of Aardman Animations with a cracking exhibit, Wallace & Gromit and Friends: The Magic of Aardman, featuring more than 350 objects.

Back in LA…
The Animation Celebration returned to Los Angeles after a hiatus of 30 years. It focused on short films. Dear Basketball was the big winner.

GKIDS, the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and Variety launched Animation Is Film, an annual animation festival in Los Angeles. The first edition ran Oct. 20-22 at the TCL Chinese 6 Theater in Hollywood. The Breadwinner won the grand prize; The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales earned a special jury prize for its “celebration of the joys of traditional cartoon animation.” Festival jury chair Peter DeBruge, said “The Breadwinner is not just an incredibly important film, but one that reminds us of the power of animation to communicate serious issues in the world.”

I Heart Animation
Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina knocked it out of the park with Coco, as did Nora Twomey with The Breadwinner. In A Heartbeat by Beth David and Esteban Bravo charmed audiences—and won the Student Oscar. Dear Basketball showcased Glen Keane’s dazzling draftsmanship. All four films reminded professionals and fans why they love animation.

The Library of Congress’ National Film Registry added Dumbo and The Sinking of the Lusitania.

More Than Cartoons
Following up their move to achieve gender equity, The National Film Board of Canada announced a three-year plan based on recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to expand the number of films by Indigenous creators. First Nations, Métis and Inuit directors have made more 280 films there since 1968. The plan is to achieve representational parity in its workforce by 2025.

The Princess Grace Foundation-USA introduced the Stephen Hillenburg Animation Scholarship to support emerging animators. Marine biologist turned SpongeBob SquarePants creator Hillenburg received the Princess Grace Award in 1991. Karen and Stephen Hillenburg endowed the Foundation to support the new scholarship.

In keeping with animation’s liberal traditions, over 200 animation professionals joined together to form Our Next Four Years to create PSA’s “countering the current administration’s regressive agenda.”

The Breadwinner director Nora Twomey: “Our job as adults is not to protect children from things that might scare them. Our job is to help children deal with things that will scare them, to deal with their own fears. Because if they grow up not knowing about any of these things, all they are going to do is ignore them, or oversimplify them, or listen to sound bites and not be able to deal with them.”


Here Come De Flack!
As part of its spare-no-expense Oscar campaign, Netflix had a float of The Little Prince built for the Rose Parade, then took out a full-page ad in the LA Times the next day about it. No Oscar nomination resulted.

Everyone’s favorite flapper appeared in A Betty Boop Cartoon: “Betty Goes A-Posen” the first in a trilogy of shorts linked to a new dress collection from Zac Posen supposedly inspired by the cartoon character. Next: An animated Heidi Klum?

from A Betty Boop Cartoon: “Betty Goes A-Posen

Another Reason to Stay Home Department

The short-lived Broadway musical partially based on Don Bluth’s Anastasia.

Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds will voice Pikachu in the live action/CG Detective Pikachu, with Justice Smith as his human partner Tim Goodman, and Kathryn Newton as a “sassy” journalist.

The live action-CG Woody Woodpecker movie.

Vote Early and Vote Often
The Motion Picture Academy changed its rules: “Invitations to join the [animated feature] nominating committee will be sent to all active Academy members, rather than a select craft-based group.” Many artists expressed concern that it might result in more nominations for big studio American productions and fewer for smaller, independent and/or foreign films.

Political Cartoons
In an interview in March, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested that parents send their kids to see Warner Bros.’ animated feature The Lego Batman Movie—which he produced. As federal law prohibits government officials from using their office to promote private interests, Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) of the Senate Finance Committee complained Mnuchin’s comment showed a “blatant disregard and disrespect to the office he serves.” Mnuchin wrote to the Office of Government Ethics saying that “it was not my intention to promote any product” but acknowledging that he should not have made the comments.

The web site for the Annecy Festival reported “We must remove one of the feature films selected in competition at Annecy 2017, Liu Jian’s Have a Nice Day, from our programme following a decision that has been imposed upon us.” That decision was reportedly imposed by the Chinese government, which disapproved of the film’s critical depiction of China’s increasingly money-oriented culture

Disorder in the Court
Jayme Gordon, who sued DreamWorks claiming the idea for Kung Fu Panda was stolen from him and asking for a $12 million settlement, was sentenced in May to two years in federal prison and ordered to repay DreamWorks more than $3 million it spent defending the case. As evidence, Gordon had offered artwork back dated to 1992 that he had traced from a Lion King coloring book printed in 1996. He was convicted of wire fraud and perjury in November, 2016.

A federal court dismissed screenwriter Gary Goldman’s suit that Disney had stolen the idea for Zootopia from him.

Disaster Films

The live action remake of Mamoru Oshii’s landmark Ghost in the Shell opened to a disappointing $19 million. One critic noted, “I didn’t object to Scarlet Johansson—until the movie started.”

The Emoji Movie opened to a 6% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes—and 0% for Top Critics. The reviews were so vitriolic, several media commentators took note. It went on to score the lowest opening for a movie booked into 4,000-plus theaters: $24.5 million. But that distinction proved short-lived. Nut Job 2 did even worse with an estimated weekend launch of $8.9 million—despite distributor Open Road buying more than $20 million in TV ads.

In April, Spark: A Space Tail opened in 365 theaters, earning a disastrous $112, 352 for the weekend.

Never the Twain
Apparently having learned nothing from the flops of Ghost in the Shell, Astro Boy, Speed Racer and Dragon Ball, Tomorrow Studios announced plans for a live action One Piece TV series. As the cast includes a character whose body is infinitely stretchy rubber, another who grows extras hands as needed, a living skeleton- musician and a reindeer-physician who can assume a bear-like form, One Piece would seem to require animation. In August, Netflix brought out an excruciating live-action adaptation of the hit manga and anime series Death Note. J.J. Abrams announced plans for a live action version of Your Name.

Did Anyone Read the Script Department

Laurent Zeitoun said he and Leap! co-producers Nicholas Duval-Adassovsky and Yann Zenouof would be “pleased as punch” if through the chase sequence over the disassembled Statue, “young children learn that the Statue of Liberty was built in France as a gift to America.” The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886 in America. Much of the film takes place on the uncompleted Eiffel Tower, whichbuilts between 1887 and 1889. Félicie tries to win the role of Clara in The Nutcracker ballet—which didn’t premiere until 1892.

Curioser and curioser
Nearly a year after DreamWorks Animation’s new owner NBC Universal axed plans for a sequel to The Croods, Universal Pictures announced that The Croods 2 is back on the schedule and will be released in September, 2020, but without Chris Sanders directing.

An episode of the children’s series Maya the Bee was pulled from Netflix when a parent noticed something resembling a drawing of a penis scratched into the inside a hollow log in a background.

#Animation Too
In October, 217 women and non-gender conforming individuals sent a letter to more than a dozen studios demanding changes and an end to sexual harassment and sexism in the animation industry.

In November, Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment “terminated their relationship” with comedian Louis C.K., after he admitted to sexually harassing at least five women. A new actor will take over the role of Max the terrier in The Secret Life of Pets sequel scheduled for 2019, although Max was largely created for the comedian. TBS suspended production on another Louis C.K. project the TV series “The Cops.”

In November, John Lasseter, the Chief Creative Officer at Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, announced he was taking a six-month leave of absence after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

And finally… to this writer, for being curmudgeonly above and beyond the call of duty at times.

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen,The Making of Peanuts Animation, and Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Disney Beauty and the Beast .
Charles Solomon
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