Greetings everybody, and welcome to Animated Anarchy’s List for the Best and Worst of Animation in 2014!
This year was very peculiar for animation, filled with incredibly high highs and disastrously low-lows. There was tons of experimentation on the big and silver screens making for a very fulfilling, but exhausting marathon to see what would be worth for this article. For this year specifically, I think there are tons of obvious standout favorites in terms of movies, but there were lots of bizarre oddities that crept from the Hollywood’s dumpsters. (Tons of “Oh yeah, that piece of crap was 2014…”)
Before we get to my list of Best/Worst, I do want to lay down some very important notes. I have not seen every animated feature possible; the biggest omissions being many of the foreign animated movies that were only available at festivals or are slated for 2015. And that’s killing me, because I really want to see critically acclaimed gems like The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea, but I don’t live in large city. The same can be said of the “Worst Of” which I tried to watch as much as I could, but a decent amount couldn’t even be found on Netflix.
My other concern is I don’t want to be repetitive with this blog, so I’m also not including shows I’ve already reviewed on Animated Anarchy. So no Legend of Korra, South Park Season 18, or Rainbow Rocks. Korra would have been an honorable mention, South Park would have tied with Best #3, and Rainbow Rocks would have tied as 2nd Worst. I want to mostly center this list around new series/films that were aired this year. Once I start to get my blog count into the dozens, then we can start to do some revisions.
So here we go, let’s start with the vinegar before the sugar and talk with the #5 Worst Animated Property of 2014:
#5 Worst: The Nut Job
The Nut Job was the first animated film of 2014 and immediately decried as one of the worst for good reasons. It’s a lazy, dull version of a Looney Tunes plot stretched over 75 minutes with a look and design ripped straight from Over The Hedge. The film even feels 6 years old as the CGI didn’t quite render all the way, making the characters look quite wonky. And this is a movie that only has 20 characters in the movie total. The only time the animation looks halfway decent is when the character dance to Gangnam Style over the credits (complete with a CGI-Psy).
The plot is insipid, the gags don’t work, and there’s barely anything of real quality all throughout the movie. At best, I can say that the backgrounds were well-done and Maya Rudolph as the pug added a touch of spice to make it somewhat bearable. Sadly, the movie is just filled with pointless, one-note characters and drops us into a time period and scenario we hardly know anything about. With all of the listless effort put into this film, it stands as the poster child of the January Dump Month.
#5 Best (TIE): Feast/Mike Tyson Mysteries
You couldn’t have more separate entries to tie at my #5 slot, but I couldn’t forget them for how greatly entertaining they were. Mike Tyson Mysteries is only 5-episodes young, but every time I watched the show I would laugh for days over its really clever humor. Mike Tyson is perfect for delivering non-sequiters and random gags about magicians and bird sex, playing off co-stars Jim Rash and Norm McDonald particularly well. Plus, I have a real soft spot for the return to Hanna-Barbera designs akin to Harvey Birdman, which really work well to the plots contained in every episode. Every episode is surprisingly well told under 15 minutes and keeps me guessing to what comical lengths the show will go. I will be happy to keep watching this as it comes back in January.
Now Feast on the other hand is another beautiful short in the same vein as Paperman created by Disney. The combination of hand-drawn and computer animation is simple gorgeous and really makes me hope that Disney will finally do a full-length animated film in it’s style. The plot is relatively simple told from the eyes of a dog and his obsession with food, but it’s incredibly relatable with its themes of love, change, and motivation. Feast is only 6 minutes long, but I have no doubt it’s gonna win the Oscar for Best Animated Short.
To its credit, this isn’t to count out Big Hero 6’s quality. It was also an amazing film, but Feast was far more original and able to deliver such stunning work in a smaller amount of time. It’s rare, but sometimes the opening act outshines the headliner.
#4 Worst: Breadwinners
Dear god, I don’t think there was a more aggressively obnoxious children’s show to come out this year than The Breadwinners. The show uses the mixed-media art style of The Amazing World of Gumball, but only to emphasize on the poorly executed zaniness of the program. It’s about ducks (pointlessly named ShayShay and Buhduece) getting into wacky hijinks as they deliver bread with the annoy-o-meter cranked up past 12. This is the type of crappy animation representative that makes people think that children’s shows are nothing but hyperactive screaming.
What’s terrible about The Breadwinners is how it surpasses other shows in being bad. It has more puns than something like Planes: Fire and Rescue and has more ADD-fueled randomness than something like Uncle Grandpa. It might look colorful, but every time it wants to nudge me in the shoulder to make me laugh, it just pokes me in the eyes. Nickelodeon is going to enter another dark period if this is the show to represent them from now on.
#4 Best: Book of Life
One of the better surprises this year in the animation department was The Book of Life that wore its influence, heart, and talent on its sleeve. The movie is framed exceptionally well, with a decorative marionette style that works as the perfect backdrop to this familiar, but classic story about love, rivalries, and duty. I love how the film teaches children about real Mexican culture with death and the afterlife being another part of the one’s existence. It’s even used as a great plot point as we move from the wooden design of the living versus the skeletal versions of the dead.
I really wish I watched this movie in 3D, because there is such gorgeous design to what made the film work visually and story-wise. It was tightly paced, I loved the characters, and every set piece was simply mesmerizing. Credit especially goes to Diego Luna, who voiced the main character of Manolo and performed great flamenco covers to various songs that worked as wonderful scene transitions. This is one movie that I’ll be happy to pop in every Day of the Dead.
#3 Worst: Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return
Nobody said being the animation guy meant covering the straight-to-video schlock but I had to prepare with this film’s limited release and near-immediate notoriety. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is pointless, plain and simple. I’m astonished at how such a much-loved brand was given to first time animation company “Summertime Entertainment” with a real lack of care. You can tell you are in for a bumpy ride when your movie starts with an overly long credits sequence of all the celebrities roped in to the project and each song writers individually noted.
It is one awkwardly made movie, where Dorothy has to save Oz once again from an evil Jester who was a forgotten brother to the Wicked Witch of the West. I don’t know if the Oz books mention anything about a land of candy or talking trees, but every beat of this movie is simply passé story wise and scene wise. They made a big deal of Lea Michele being the voice of Dorothy, only to highlight on poorly written, unmemorable songs to pad out the time. And in nearly every single one of these bad scenes, they will zoom in on a reaction shot by Toto.
What makes the film insufferable is that there’s a secondary plot in the real world where a mysterious appraiser wishes to take everyone in Kansas’s homes for failing insurance regulations. And despite having no license or proof, this plan WORKS without anyone questioning it. Thank god 80% of the film is spent in Oz with a few neatly peppered action scenes that explore the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion after they received their gifts from the original movie. If you are going to aim for Redbox fodder, why even use the name of big property in the first place?
#3 Best: Over The Garden Wall
Over The Garden Wall was easily Cartoon Network’s smash hit of 2014. Created by another Adventure Time alumnus, Patrick McHale, the mini-series follows the tales of brothers Greg and Wirt who must wander the strange forest of the Unknown to find their way back home. It has a beautiful dark fantasy backdrop with heavy vibes from Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Maurice Sendak, but stands as it’s own incredibly creation.
This has some of the best atmosphere I have seen in a cartoon in a long while, with an eerie, but surprisingly immersive fantasy world. Every new character brings a sense of depth and mystery to this strange environment with you constantly guessing who is going to be a threat and what’s going to become a future plot point. This show is oozes with great, thematic storytelling that is balanced so well between the conversations between the ever-cheerful Greg and the pessimistic Wirt, combined with the passively prickly Beatrice. Plus there are some really memorable minor characters voiced by Christopher Lloyd, Tim Curry, and John Cleese.
Although it is incredible all the way though, I’m not so much a fan of the ending as many people are, mostly because it uses a storytelling device I’m not a fan of. Yet, I was constantly amazed at its ambitious sense of direction and mood, even if it came off a bit twee. I stand that this mini-series will be a classic for animation buffs for years to come. Cartoon Network is really taking the chances we love and makes me hope they can pull off more brilliant, risky ideas.
#2 Worst: Chozen
We always hope that when a new adult cartoon comes out that it’s innovative or at the bare-minimum funny, but Chozen is neither. Quite appropriate as I covered the best new animated show of 2014; this is undoubtedly the worst new program by FX. I always find it strange when a celebrity wants to use as animated show as their launching pad, but Bobby Moynihan crashed and burned with this new show about a gay rapper who wanted to rise back up to the top.
Not a single time watching this show voiced by several talented comedians did I ever laugh. The character of Chozen is just a miscreant, acting like an overly gangsta manchild who wrecks everything he touches but is somehow admired because of his rapping skills. None of his rapping is memorable or even tongue-in-cheek smart, as there’s so many ways you could make jokes about the rap industry or how he breaks the mold from his hard persona. His homosexuality doesn’t even define his character other than the fact he screws random people in a public restrooms.
It has the bare minimum of plot and character development to make a season-long story, but it’s all bland and stale. I’m genuinely surprised the writers of this show wanted to make such a toothless, lame story about a rapper on a network with such a raunchy, cult icon like Archer. I would take five seasons of the unstimulating Unsupervised over Chozen any day of the weak. Thankfully it was cancelled before that hypothetical could come to light.
#2 Best: How To Train Your Dragon 2
How To Train Your Dragon 2 is hands down the best Dreamworks movie. I was really impressed when the studio was able to pull off a great sequel in Kung Fu Panda 2, but this film even exceeds that with jaw-dropping animation, intense action, grand world-building, and heart wrenching moments. The reveals and the risks of HTTYD2 made me proud to be an animation fan, leaving me devastated with tears of sadness and joy by the end.
Not only was it a continuation but a first movie, but picked up so much of the development from the Riders of Berk cartoon series. You become more comfortable with the world as everyone has grown up and developed as dragons became a fixture to Viking society. But the tension really ratchets up as Hiccup encounters his long lost mother while trying to unify with other dragonriders in the world. It’s a perfect follow up to everything we loved when we first saw Toothless five years ago.
I was so thrilled with this; I purchased the art book after seeing the film and immediately told everyone to go pour money into the franchise. Although many people’s issue with the film was the lack of development of the new villain Drago Bloodfist; I’d still argue he is an incredibly effective force that really shakes up the story. (Very Ronan The Accuser, if you will) Just as the first film left us floored with the ending, I was so unbelievably happy that this could stay as ballsy as the first and deliver beyond my expectations. There’s no doubt in my mind that Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois will stay as some of our finest animation directors.
#1 Worst: Boondocks Season 4
This inclusion might seem off to everything I have already put on the list, but the final season of The Boondocks does something beyond offensive than any other property that came out in 2014. It poisons the legacy of an astonishing, thought-provoking, and brilliant show I loved from the very beginning. Boondocks Season 4 is bastardizing garbage that single-handedly destroyed nearly all the evocative discourse created by Aaron MacGruder. And as my fellow OneOfUs writer Thomas Mariani did a great job lambasting the new series, I had to take off my own belt for a much needed whooping.
Yes, we learned that he allowed Season 4 to be created without his involvement in to launch his new project on Adult Swim, Black Jesus. And Black Jesus is a “good” show, but nothing with the gravitas and hysterical commentary on society as The Boondocks Season 1 and 2. To me, it felt like MacGruder sold his first-born’s college fund just so his younger child had a chance to perform on American Idol.
Season 4 is this utter definition of character flanderization, as Huey was pushed to the background in order for Grandpa and Riley to constantly flail and act moronic for 10 straight episodes. There’s no clever commentary here, and the satire is so ear-piercingly deaf that it just comes off as nasty and hackneyed. Every episode throughout the whole season is just a retread of another Boondocks episode, or even lifted straight up from a Chappelle’s Show sketch.
Every single aspect of this show trying to make a comeback fell straight on it’s ass, shattering the bone. Nothing was funny. None of the characters who I loved or laughed at were doing anything remotely intelligent. It was clichéd, painful, and directly insulted my intelligence for asking for something better. And how does it end? The Freemans are broke, stuck in the idiotic city of Woodcrest constantly hazed by Uncle Ruckus and a randomly revived Stinkmeaner. This is a failure and whoever worked on the show past MacGruder’s departure should feel ashamed for doing such a piss-poor job.
So, with all of that hate and fail not cleansed from our bodies…it’s time to announce the greatest piece of animation from 2014. Some won’t see it as a major surprise, but we all truly felt that way when we entered the theater. As incredible as How To Train Your Dragon 2 was, comparing the two is like apples and oranges. And I believe this will be a new, generation-defining movie for the children as The Goonies or E.T. did before it.
#1 Best: The Lego Movie
The Lego Movie is sensational and the best film to ever be based on children’s toys. Chris Miller and Phil Lord have a gifted understanding of depth from their early days making Clone High, to expanding the work of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and skewering Hollywood comedy in the Jump Street reboots. What they did creating The Lego Movie that not only parodies our stories about familiar heroes, but has so many ingenious levels of depth brick-by-brick.
The Lego Movie isn’t just an incredible treat, but that magical, rare moment when you order a sandwich from a restaurant for the first time and it blows your mind. It is absolutely perfect for all ages being colorful and funny, but has an astounding level of craftsmanship and story development that will leave adults tearing up as well. What they were able to encapsulate by making the CGI look like a large-scale stop-motion short is nothing short of brilliant and makes every single scene of the film memorable. And that’s only from the visual standards.
Emmet. Wyldstyle. Batman. Lord Business. Unikitty. Benny. We love all of these characters and each of them had a unique layer of dimension to their personality. The voice acting was top notch using Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, and Elizabeth Banks, with the distinct style of each celebrity matching well with the design of their character.
Critics are even exploring all the different themes that the Lego World represents from Extremism to Conformity, Corporate Influence, Maturity, and Political Compromise. Hell, Everything is Awesome works as a catchy song and a definition for the movie’s underlying message; understanding the importance of playing your part and flexing your creativity at the right moment for the world. This film hits the perfect balance: witty, touching, poignant, and visually masterful making the 3D worth the price of admission. The Lego Movie deserves the title of the greatest animated product of 2014 as a loving tribute to our franchise-filled childhoods.
So there we are, the Best and Worst of last year. Odd for me that the best thing I saw this year came out in February with nothing else being able to top it. Some of you might be asking why I didn’t name some certain other properties that came out in 2014. When will I get to them?
Well, tune into the next Animated Anarchy coming soon! Thanks for reading. Do you share my sentiments? Did anything else deserve much needed praise or a much needed keyboard lashing? Leave a comment below!
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