Animated Anarchy creates the definitive list ranking just about every animated film in the United States from 2015!
Yes, I understand this is incredibly late and the Oscars have already passed, but that doesn’t mean the quality of these films will remain hidden forever. So before you click on that Netflix tab or find these films in a bargain bin, keep this article in mind for the animated movies of last year!
2015 was a real oddball year for animated movies. Most of the big boys were absent or under-performed while many of the second-string studios came into their own by delivering movies that surpassed our expectations. Compared to 2015, 2016 is going to be one incredibly stacked year. We’ll have 2 Releases from Disney; Illumination will jump to center stage, Ghibli will be outsourcing to a Dutch director, video game adaptations, and the most surprising movie ever has transcended to the big screen.
There isn’t a lot of debate between what’s the best or most award-deserving this year, unless you were able to catch some of underground, foreign releases. As friend of blog Maciek Kur noted, there was pretty heavy competition available internationally, but the selection for nominations is strangely narrowed.
Movies up in the running the 2015 Best Animated Feature go back as far as 2013 with the Brazilian near-silent movie, The Boy and the World. At the same time, movies that already released in festivals or are already translated into English like Long Way North or La Petit Prince have been likely pushed to 2016.
Now I haven’t seen every single animated movie released this year, because a few movies had incredibly small release windows or have not been subtitled into English. I’d love to catch award-contenders from TIFF like Mamoru Hosada’s The Boy and The Beast or Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Some movies I could only find on Redbox, let alone instant streaming.
So as we’ve wrapped up the perimeters, let’s start off the list by going from Worst to Best! My order will surprise some people because of the amount of entertainment that came from each individual film, but I hope they inspire you to search the movies out!
Hell & Back
This incredibly limited released claymation movie was a real misnomer, gone after a week in theaters and the popping up on iTunes for the same price of an actual theater ticket. The only review I had for this movie is when a friend of mine told me that this is the film that broke him; as the first movie he walked out on half-way through so he could get a refund. And wow…he’s the lucky one.
I didn’t think Strange Magic could be beaten for the worst animated movie this year, but Hell & Back vomited, groped, and bled every step of the way to get there. Hell & Back is repugnant in every sense of the word; vile it’s attempt to tell risqué jokes and pitifully sad making the lamest, most unintimidating version of Hell possible. Hell & Back is a bloated, pile-filled corpse on the verge of bursting with badly timed, offensive jokes that somehow manage to be beyond the slothful, hateful efforts than late seasons of Family Guy and Robot Chicken.
And this isn’t even including the specifics, including the core plot occurring because of a breath mint, the wasted voice acting talents, the infuriating boredom from making Hell as a series of inconveniences. Bizarre, quirky one-liners intended to shock you and make you laugh like “I remember my cat licking my balls when I was once 14 and enjoying it.” For all the movies with mind-numbing songs or bad morals told down to children…at least there was never tree rape. Twenty straight minutes of Tree Rape used as a climax, series of awkward jokes, and fucking character arcs. This could stand as one of the worst animated movies ever, if not all time.
If you thought George Lucas’s biggest flub from 2015 would be calling Disney “white supremacists,” you have not witnessed may be the worst movie targeted to kids this whole year. I already destroyed it a year ago in my in-depth review, but you cannot fathom how ungodly annoying and insufferable it is to watch CGI fairies butcher the works of both Shakespeare and Classic Rock Musicians.
The more I think about Strange Magic, the more I get furious, especially because I can’t seem to find anyone else who saw the movie. From everything to the crowbarred messages about love triumphs over stupidity and the intentional butchering of love songs, the movie is straight up deplorable trash. It even manages to be somewhat offensive with bizarre subtext about magical races and Jar Jar-esque amongst the half-assed CGI. Too much of the cast involved is talented or came from better animated movies, but under the vision of Lucasfilm, it manages to be one of the most insufferable jukebox musicals since Rock of Ages.
Huevos: Little Rooster’s Egg-cellent Adventure
Initially, reviews for the original Mexican production of Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos were pretty positive, saying that is a fun, cheeky movie for kids and adults playing off the legitimacy of cockfighting as a way to save the family farm. Especially since this movie is actually the third in a trilogy from a web-series, The studio distributing this had some real balls to go for a gutsy move like that. However, that cannot be said for whoever handled the translation, because this is one of the most atrocious movie dubs I’ve ever heard in a long time.
I would rate this on the level of a 4Kids dub, played for the lowest common denominator going from super hammy to super punny nonstop. There are several references to Rocky, The Godfather, and other pop culture references, but the editor must have been working with boxing gloves to give none of the gags subtext and drop subplots without mercy. Most of the dub doesn’t match with the mouth flap, which is super noticeable when you use cheap CGI. And the American voice cast adds nothing to the possibly well-composed cultural gags, aside from “I’m-way-too-good-for-this” Keith David. If you could tell me the original was good, I’d believe you, but there is no way I’d give this another shot until I was given the original subtitled version on a silver platter.
Oh Dreamworks. You were doing so well climbing up as a perennial joy until you dropped off your second worst film in your entire catalog. It would take effort to get to ham-fistedly terrible Shark Tale levels, but Home is more like that kind of awful when your Big Mac doesn’t have any meat or special sauce on it.. Home is that movie that confuses people between Dreamworks from Blue Sky Studios and other less caliber productions, because it’s only made to be colorful, obnoxious, and irritating. So much of the movie spends time doing nothing until the plot comes along, but it makes for one of the worst comedy duos with Jim Parsons (although trying really hard) and Rihanna.
Rihanna delivers one of the most awkward, stilted performances for a children’s movie and that’s compounded harder by the fact that the movie is 85-minute advertisement all for her. After all, the soundtrack is all just her and J-Lo. Everything else is eye roll inducing or derivative of other works, down to the Big Hero 6 inspired silent pet. The movie was just a flat out waste of Dreamworks time and I hope they are cognizant enough to not give it a Netflix spinoff. No substance, no emotion, and not even a shred of character comedy. If you thought I railed on it hard, just see the Unusual Suspects coverage of it.
Equestria Girls: Friendship Games
Friendship Games is not good, in fact it barely passes as tolerable, but that makes it so much better than the two movies before it. The songs were catchier, the plot wasn’t as insipid, and most of the cringeworthy moments of high school dramas were kept in check. It was actually pleasant how the evil was contained to more of a personal conflict with the human version of Twilight Sparkle rather than the lazy, mustache-twirling villains introduced in the previous movies. Not that I would call the evil principal someone in the vein of Dean Hardscrabble from Monsters University, but her devious nature was kept pretty well in check which is rare for My Little Pony.
But even with my mildest of compliments, that isn’t a recommendation of the movie. It doesn’t even compare with the controversial quality of the fourth and fifth seasons. I give credit to DHX Studios for improving on something so hollow, but I don’t think this is entertaining for the most fairweather fans of the show. Those odd, bullcrap, magical girl powers are still there and never explored or discussed. The animation quality is still sticking to the same flash style as before. I can only hope the 2017 film adaptation for MLP stakes off. But at least they did more with Spike than anything the show has done lately.
Hotel Transylvania 2
Another in the list of movies I tackled instead of The Unusual Suspects, Hotel Transylvania is one of the few reasons we can still like Adam Sandler, as often as he tests our patience. Most of that is thanks to Genndy Tartakofsky for being so talented by turning a contractual obligation movie into decent flick. Although Happy Madison tries hard to turn it into the supernatural version of Grown Ups, there’s a cool climax where Tartakofsky could channel his Popeye choreography before moving onto new projects.
You get thirty minutes of sweetness thanks to Mel Brooks as Vlad and Asher Blinkoff as Drac’s grandson Dennis. But there’s still an hour of nothing happening padded by random skits that give a minimal amount of material for the animations. There’s better facial animation and the lovely detailed work on the original character designs, but it still doesn’t improve on the original’s mediocre qualities. I don’t have much hope with whoever is slatted to handle Hotel Transylvania 3.
When Marnie Was There
Boring isn’t a strike against Ghibli most of the time, but When Marnie Was There is easily their flattest effort due to Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s translation of the source material. You get the lovely, picturesque landscapes you expect from the studio, but it lacks that agency and important character drama that draws you into most features. Marnie isn’t the main character, making the film rather tedious until the back-ended, but somewhat satisfying conclusion as I mentioned before.
The biggest problem is that we have to follow Anna, who is single-handedly the dullest protagonist Ghibli has ever had who is crippled by the most insignificant of mental complexes despite the overly kind supporting characters. Some people are calling this a contender, but I don’t think it has a ghost of a chance from the dreary pacing. It’s only for completionists or those who really like teenage young adult fiction as I’ve already covered. The ending single handedly saves the film’s fate from being lower on this list.
If When Marnie Was There was the seafaring tale for girls, Pirate’s Passage is the lowkey, swashbuckling history lesson for boys. Based on the 2006 book of the same name, this Canadian straight-for-TV passion project by Donald Sutherland is the tale of a mysterious old sea captain who serves as a mentor for a young boy without a father or the confidence to deal with local bullies. This was the last movie I watched in 2015, caught out of the blue on Netflix and the one word I can summarize the film with is…comforting.
It might have the worst animation out of all the movies on the list, with dreadfully stiff faces and overly restrained motions. But there’s a cool, slice-of-life charm thanks to Donald Sutherland’s gumption to help out this young kid and struggling family against evil misers. I wish it aimed higher than playing out as a straight-to-TV movie because it hits so many of those beats, but it’s elevated thanks to these really cool flashbacks and strong morals. If you are intrigued by the idea of Donald Sutherland as a time-hopping sailor who can tell stories about pirate history after drinking a glass of rum, this might be for you.
Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F
There’s no greater example of surpassed expectations than Resurrection: F. As much as I genuinely despised Battle of Gods for being unfunny and boring, I thought Resurrection: F was a much better rendition of reviving interest in the franchise. The script has that punch up comedy like Team Four Star’s abridged version of the series, making fun of DBZ’s tendencies to use worthless minions and bringing tertiary fighters back into the fray again. The fights were fun and had that classic sense of pow-bing-zam you want.
I was reminded me why I liked the growing cast of characters in Dragon Ball Z and why saving the universe was important. I just wish the animation still wasn’t so wonky, especially with the ghastly CGI and/or unfinished backgrounds. And I’m starting to wonder how much Toriyama wants to rewrite his original canon due to the inclusion Jaco, Beerus, and Whis. I can’t argue with anyone who calls this movie blatant fanservice, because it’s still that to the core, but I had a fun time watching this in the actual theater once again.
The Good Dinosaur
Unquestionably the weaker of the two Pixar movies of 2015, The Good Dinosaur is moderately good but…bare bones. So painfully bare bones compared to every other Pixar movies, that I feel like it’s only super satisfying for kids. The animation is jaw-droppingly gorgeous thanks to the photorealistic backgrounds and inspired environments, but the writing is begging for so much more. I wouldn’t call it as slipshod as Brave’s production history, but I could feel there was a lot on the cutting room floor.
Arlo just doesn’t have a lot of personality or character other than the most basic essentials of a protagonist. The film was beat-by-beat just like the trailer and none of the humor brought out a single chuckle. The opening scene of the meteor missing the dinosaurs can really be ignored considering what the movie wants focus on. I sadly have to say, I called it with my trailer reaction of the movie. You could have explored so much of the world or the actual morality of being “good” if we followed Sam Elliot’s family of T-Rexes instead of Arlo, who is following the path of the Hero’s Journey to a T.
I can still be positive over the movie thanks to the sheer emotional resonance with Spot. The two heavy scenes focused on his verbal communication do tug at your heartstrings in a way you want from Pixar. The Good Dinosaur is moderately good in the grand scheme of things, but ultimately low tier for Pixar. Seriously, when the movie follows the plot of Finding Nemo, with most of the creative force behind Finding Nemo, with only a fraction of the success? I was left merely content, but unimpressed.
I know I’ll get some hell for ranking this higher than other accomplished studios, but Minions was a fun, lighthearted, comedic romp of a movie. Despite the overwhelming exposure of the Despicable Me franchise, I still enjoy the Minions for what they are as an eccentric, goofy hive mind, ignoring the canon that Gru invented the minions in the first movie. Minions starts as road-trip movie that then folds into a silly 60s heist movie/throwback.
The star-studded cast really sells the movie, because everyone from Sandra Bullock to Michael Keaton do a stellar job at their roles. The creators of the series actually found a neat way to add depth and a world to this relatively simple universe by giving the villainy a universal appear, similar to that of The Venture Brothers. This is the perfect follow-up for the franchise thanks to the consistent humor throughout the nonstop pacing. Minions proves that Illumination Entertainment still has some chops to make fun, physical comedy especially using these babbling, determined chicken nuggets as the centerpiece.
Spongebob Squarepants: Sponge Out Of Water
I’m shocked that this is on the better half of the 2015 animation list, but its another case of surpassed expectations. As I mentioned before in my article covered for The Usual Suspects, I never really liked Spongebob nor saw the first movie, but I genuinely had fun laughing with the crowd and catching the fun amount of callbacks I mildly knew. And this was double surprising considering how many O.G. Spongebob fans will tell you that the show is terrible now.
Spongebob: Sponge Out of Water doubles down on the absurdity, the psychedelic influences, and the better animation quality for a TV-to-Film adaptation. It pulls off the rare trick of pulling animation-to-live action WELL and not overstaying it’s welcome. And personally, I loved how the whole plot revolved around a pirate themed food truck, driving all of the characters insane and bringing out the best from Antonio Banderas and the Epic Rap Battles Duo. Plus, Matt Berry as the Magical Space Dolphin.
Recently covered on Digital Noise and the only movie I could see from Annecy Animation Week, Extraordinary Tales is a wonderful anthology. All five great tales by Edgar Allen Poe were strikingly distinct in their craftsmanship, visuals, and narration. They did a marvelous job correlating each individual narrator but “The Facts in the Case of M. Vadelar” featuring Julian Sands particularly blew me away. Guierrmo Del Toro gives a stellar flair to “The Pit and the Pendulum” and Christopher Lee give a magnificent swan song performance for “Fall of the House of Usher.”
The worst I can say as my friend Maciek pointed out, is that the way the stories are transitioned are kind of weak and very simple considering the gravitas of Poe’s writing. It was unique how they used archival footage from Bela Legosi for “The Tell-Tale Heart,” yet the animation felt a bit too barren for what was done. Still, this a breezy, yet chilling anthology and would be the perfect type of background movie to play during a Halloween party.
There’s been some hot debate over this movie on the website, but I really have go with the minority here and say that Anomalisa is an animation marvel. Charlie Kaufman’s script works so beautifully well as a storytelling and thematic device in the medium of stop motion. I’m not surprised the talents at Starburns Industries handled a subject that is so bleak and unbearably real.
David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tom Noonan alone make this movie truly visceral and one-of-a-kind through Hawkeye-focused levels of direction. If I were to break down what might be my favorite scene in all of the animation this year, it would be the middle of the film that centers between Michael and Lisa’s awkward bonding. That might be one of the weirdest sex scenes you’ll ever find, but I was incredibly moved by how I could see these two neurotic people could come together. Leigh deserves praise of The Hateful Eight, but I’m more astounded by what she does through voice acting alone.
It’s one of the best depictions of depression, loneliness, and someone suffering through a mid-life crisis out there. (Not the depiction of “White Guy Problems” as some have said) But what keeps it only at #4 is due to the bookends. You have to wait a while before the plot actually starts in the beginning and the ending made me question how he was able to be so successful in the first place. I think that bit of irony Kaufman was going for making Michael a public speaker was a bit on the nose, but it still works. Anomalisa deserves all the praise it’s getting and should be embraced by the way it’s evolving film.
The Peanuts Movie
A movie that I bafflingly covered instead of The Unusual Suspects, The Peanuts Movie is the best way to bring nostalgia to old fans while entertaining a new audience at the same time. Blue Sky Studios in the first time in over a decade brought genuine sincerity to a project, complete to the use of archival audio clips to using a children-only voice cast. Aside from a single modern pop song that doesn’t really intrude the story, it proves that Schulz’s creation will remain timeless of the story of the ever down-on-his-luck Charlie Brown.
The other thing I was not expecting Blue Sky Studios to do was to create this new visual art style, mixed somewhere between CGI and hand-cut pictures. That’s the key that makes everything feel earnest from the simple, contemplative moments, to each character’s individual quirks, and the sweeping flair of Snoopy’s Red Baron scenes. I’m a tad bit surprised The Peanuts Movie didn’t receive a nomination versus relatively unknown foreign hits, but it still won the hearts with fans and critics alike by staying true to the heart.
Shaun The Sheep: The Movie
Shaun The Sheep: The Movie is brilliant simplicity at it’s finest. An 84-minute, nearly-silent feature about sheeps who take a break from their simple farm lives to interact with the big city motivated by the search for their amnesiac farmer. Aardman Animation does not have a single bad film in their catalog, but Shaun The Sheep could possibly stand as their best for the sheer perfection in stop-motion animation techniques.
The structure plays as slow-burn Warner Bros. classic filled with antics and subtle character beats to make the numerous farm animals fascinating every step of the way. They never wavered from the structure of their shorts, but the same style fits a movie-running time quite swimmingly. Some of the beats are familiar to any animation officiando, but they are so clever and surprisingly original with the beats they hit. I especially love what they did with the farmer and how he progressed everything forward in the climax.
Shaun The Sheep: The Movie does not have a single flaw to distract you from its charm. It’s uproariously funny in classic silent film ways, but lovingly aware and quite endearing to the medium. You’ll also get some fantastic special features and behind-the-scenes features on the DVD as well, so this is worth keeping for anyone who loves the craftsmanship of stop-motion. I’m glad Shaun The Sheep will become a new constant for all fans of animation.
Yup, I’m with the Academy and the rest of the crowd who says this is the best…but this is everything that we love Pixar for. Because Pixar just doesn’t great movies, it creates engaging, emotional memories molded out of love and layered story structure. Inside Out deserves an S-Ran of Pixar Quality from the revolutionary lighting and fuzzy effects for the characters to the nuance of discussing mental stability in such a clever fashion.
I would debate this is actually the most mature and frightening of all the Pixar movies because Riley’s central conflict of losing control of your mind is one of the scariest things you can ever watch happen in real life. This is a concept we’re all familiar with through anthropomorphizing emotions, but the depth and use of color/language to explain this to children is nothing short of extraordinary. It details why negative emotions like sadness and anger have to exist and so many children’s cartoons will shy away from those feelings.
And although some of the movies here have had stellar voice acting, Inside Out has perhaps the finest casting and ensemble of the bunch. Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling and Bill Hader are absolutely pitch perfect as their relative emotion. There is such great fluidity between every scene from Joy’s manic stretching to Sadness’s slow trudging; a double whammy of emotional and visual splendor. You could argue the science isn’t 100% sound or the idea isn’t 100% original, but this Inside Out is how we get inspired to love animation and pass it on to children. Buy the artbook, buy the 4k Blu-Ray, and pray Finding Dory will be as good.
I have not written an article that long since my Legend of Korra write-up last year. It took so long that we already have some of the foreign movies screening across the country and Kung Fu Panda 3 has already released. But anyway, in the midst of all my writing, I’m still staying around One Of Us as your animated anarchist. If you’d like me to cover some new movies or talk about new shows, trends, or anything that fascinates you, leave me a comment below! Keep the animation going!