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Team AFA's Top Animation Releases Of 2019


We may be heading further into 2020, but Team AFA is looking back. It's time once again for our annual group article where our writers pick their favourite new films and series of the last year. 2019 was another fascinating year for our favourite medium, with the creators of both feature and TV animation around the world bringing us some unforgettable moments.

What were your favourites last year? Let us know in the comments or via our social media channels!




CHRIS PERKINS

White Snake 

Light Chaser Animation's CGI fantasy feature really showcases the potential of Chinese animation. As someone who has had a life-long love affair with Far Eastern culture, this mythically inspired fable was like Catnip for me. The set-pieces channel Chinese Wuxia movies with jaw-dropping visuals that rival the best CG coming out of Hollywood, but with more mature storytelling than we normally see in mainstream US animation.


Undone

Amazon Prime's first foray into adult animation is a real game-changer. Not only in the beautiful visual style that uses rotoscoping more effectively than I have ever seen before, but also in the storytelling. Undone challenges the conventions that adult animation has to be comedic with unappealing visuals. The series is still brilliantly funny and witty but is equally adept at drama and trippy, mind-bending timey-wimey sci-fi to make possibly the best adult animation of the decade.

Honourable Mentions

War-time drama Funan is a powerful and deeply personal film that illuminates a tragic chapter in recent history ★ Jeremy Clapin's award-winning I Lost My Body is a unique and beguiling film that is like nothing you've ever seen before ★ The Witness  (Netflix's Love and Robots, Episode 3) is an exhilarating and eye-popping thrill-ride. ★ The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is a stellar musical sequel that is so good it even retroactively makes the first movie better.★ Klaus is an instant Christmas classic, and a new benchmark for 2D animation.

Rachael Ward

Promare

There is something to be said for subtly, how you can make a story impactful and keep your audience guessing on your true message. There is also something to be said about keeping your passion on your sleeve and make something that is so over the top that it has to be seen to be believed. Promare is one of those movies. A film that is as fun to watch as it is beautiful. Studio Trigger has made a name for breaking stereotypes of how anime "should" look or "should" move by creating a style all their own but still keeping it rooted in tradition. 

Both Galo and Leo make lovable deuteragonists in their own way, and the rest of the supporting cast of this action flick is solid. Even when the plot rockets off into the stratosphere, the characters are able to keep the audience grounded enough to care about what is happening.

If this is Studio Trigger's first attempt at a feature film, I can't wait to see what they make next.





Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

If you had told me in 2018 that someone could make a live-action Pokemon movie, featuring Ryan Reynolds as a talking Pikachu and have it be a success, I would have said you were out of your mind. My skeptisim about this film's release was astronomical, given its source material and the fact that most video game adaptations have been box office poison.

And yet, in spite of everything, everything about this movie works. Arguably even better than any other film that has the Pokemon name attached to it. I have come to adore this movie for how it brings the Pokemon world to life. Showing interactions with these amazing monsters in an everyday setting to help pull both long time fans and newcomers into the story. Even Reynolds, the casting choice I was the most concerned about, ended up being one of the best aspects of the movie.

If you are like me and was at all concerned about the way the film makers approached this project, leave your worries at the door and enjoy the ride.


Christophe Harvey

Rilakkuma & Kaoru

2019 was a year in which Netflix seemed to ramp up its animation output and its standout for me was its stop-motion Rilakkuma and Kaoru. Kaoru works in an office and comes home to her apartment to her unique flat-mates Rilakkuma (a sleepy and lazy brown bear), Korilakkuma (a smaller white bear) and Kiiroitori (a yellow chick who loves cleaning). Set over the course of a year we follow the adventures and exploits of our cast as they overcome events that life throws at them. I loved the design and look of the characters (who are very cute), how they moved and how from a series of noises I knew what was being said by Rilakkuma and company. It never failed to make me smile and in a world where everything runs at such a pace this was the complete opposite where you could just sit back, relax, escape and enjoy.


Undone

Nothing in 2019 looked or felt like Undone (from Amazon Prime Video). It is a show that defies description but blends family, comedy, drama, science-fiction, spirituality and mental-health into a compelling story which is matched by the visuals. The rotoscoping provides a dreamy-trippy quality to the story and is blended with stunning backgrounds. It also combines silences and muted noises to create something that stimulates the senses and your brain. It's one of the few shows that I have talked about with friends who do not normally watch animation where we have all taken different things from it ... and we can all see why.


Honourable Mentions

The high-school coming of age rom-com-cum-drama Silver Spoon was a real surprise delivering a story that anyone can relate to with some neat visuals ★ Gundam Thunderbolt: Bandit Flower delivered a fantastic second installment in the series. A change of pace from the first it focuses more on the impact of conflict on a more personal ★ Aardman deliver once again for the family with Farmageddon where Shaun and his flock take on the science fiction world in a film filled with marvellous stop-motion animation, perfect comic timing and heart.

Ali Harris

Klaus

Some of my favorite artists are people who have worked with 2D animation. Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Duncan Marjoribanks, Bruce W. Smith, Kathy Zielinski, and Randy Haycock certainly sit at the top of my list. Alongside this talented bunch is Sergio Pablos, who directed the masterpiece Klaus, and his directorial debut does…not…disappoint. He has proven that we can take 2D artwork to the next level in big ways. 

Released in November 2019, Klaus is another one of Netflix’s aces in the hole, as it proves that 2D animation is not lost but can thrive beautifully. The entire film is a storybook brought to life, each character and setting so incredibly crafted. Seeing classic Disney-esque animation again just brought so much joy to my heart. And the cast of characters (led by Jason Schwartzman as a snarky postman and J.K. Simmons as the title role) are delightfully colorful. I love the parallels to the Rankin Bass classic Santa Claus is Coming to Town (not sure if that was intentional) and a nod to Pablos’ Disney characters. (Am I the only one who thought Jesper, the mailman, was a human version of Dr. Doppler from Treasure Planet?) Overall, it’s safe to say that Klaus is a new Christmas classic, right up there with Arthur Christmas. 




Abominable

Whether it’s a boy and a giant robot or a boy and an alien creature, the story of the child and the beast is always a touching one. We then have to watch the climax where a government agency or a team of evil scientists (or both) try to capture the creature for their benefit. Why does this story keep appearing? Because of one important element: heart. 

Abominable is a combination of E.T. the Extraterrestrial, The Iron Giant, and Bumblebee, and (much like the film featuring our favorite Transformer) this movie is also about an adorable creature and his human female caretaker. In the story, a young girl stumbles across an unbelievably cute baby Yeti and tries to take him back home. The race is on to save the creature Everest (a clever name) before a greedy millionaire abducts him. While the story is familiar, the writing is clever and funny and wonderfully distinct. I love how music plays a huge role in this movie (I won’t reveal why) and how the magic of the Yetis works. And the color! Where do I start with all the colors and the happiness in this little bubble of magic? If you want a nice, happy, uplifting movie for you and your little ones to share, I definitely recommend Abominable.  


Denhery Olguin

Victor and Valentino

This was a tough pick since there had been many good original series but I'm gonna go with Victor and Valentino here. Cartoon Network's Victor and Valentino was my most anticipated series since the pilot was released on YouTube. The show centers two half brother staying with their grandma for the summer. They encounter a lot of mysterious mythical creatures and legends based on mesoamerican folklore. It is one of the many things that drew me in, because it's not often you get a cartoon based on your culture and it is entertaining. 

Honorable mentions: Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart, The Casagrandes, DC Super Hero Girls, and Amphibia



How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

It's always hard to say goodbye and How To Train Your Dragon: Hidden World perfectly captures that message. Change is hard but necessary. This movie franchise has been a huge part of my life since the beginning and it couldn't end on a better note such as this final film. Hiccup and Toothless having their final adventure that leads them on different paths. 

Honorable mentions: Missing Link, Klaus


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