Moana

Moana

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker

2016

Moana is a computer-animated musical about the eponymous daughter of a Polynesian chief and Maui, the Polynesian mythological figure. Everything about Moana – the music, the plot, the animation – is slick and polished, but while the song lyrics, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina, are sometimes clever, the story is rote and the animation sports a sheen of dead-eyed flawlessness. The movie is depressingly watchable.

Would not see.

Your Name

Your Name

Directed by Makoto Shinkai

2016

Your Name is a Japanese-language animated film about a boy and a girl who swap bodies. The stakes of the movie are too uneven, and the plot becomes increasingly disconnected from the theme as the film drags on. Your Name is often entertaining but ultimately frustrating and easily forgotten.

Would see.

The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle

Directed by Michaël Dudok de Wit

2016

The Red Turtle is an animated fantasy film. The film uses a blend of hand-drawn and computer animation and has no dialogue. The visuals are stunningly lavish, and the story is an enigmatic fairytale. The film, though, somehow, always appears on the verge of achieving something more than it does.

Would see.

Anomalisa

Anomalisa

Directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson

2015

Anomalisa follows a deeply unhappy self-help author and a woman he meets in Cincinnati. The film is original, quirky, sincere, sometimes funny, and almost always bleak, obsessed with loneliness, self-pity, and the stubborn distance that can’t be bridged by conversation.

Would see.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Directed by Isao Takahata

2013

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is an animated film based on the folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The film is stunningly animated, even by the high standards of Studio Ghibli. Unlike some Ghibli films, it is better seen subtitled than dubbed into English due to lackluster English voice acting. The Tale of Princess Kaguya’s lyrical images, well-crafted score, close attention to emotional detail, and strong thematic voice allow the film to effortlessly transcend its expectations.

Must see.

Only Yesterday

Only Yesterday

Directed by Isao Takahata

1991

Only Yesterday is an animated film that follows its protagonist, Taeko, both as a 27-year-old traveling from Tokyo to the countryside in the present and as a child in 1966 through her memories. The film didn’t receive an English dub until 2016, but given the quality of the English voice acting, it would be better off without one. Only Yesterday meanders and, at times, drags and wanders, but in a charming way, and with an uncommon sincerity.

Would see.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Directed by Wes Anderson

2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox is Wes Anderson’s distinctly personal adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel about a clever fox who outwits three mean farmers. Fantastic Mr. Fox has meticulously animation, an unobtrusively sincerity, and a feeling of effortlessness that greatly belies the rarity of the film’s accomplishment.

Would see.

The Lion King

The Lion King

Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

1994

The Lion King is an animated musical that loosely retells Shakespeare’s Hamlet with animals in Africa. The animation and music are impressive, but the dialogue is merely serviceable. The Lion King seems to have the ambition to be a slightly above average animated children’s movie, and, in that, it succeeds.

Would see.

The King and the Mockingbird

The King and the Mockingbird

Directed by Paul Grimault

1980

The King and the Mockingbird is a French language animated film, loosely based on “The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep,” that follows a king, a chimneysweep, and a shepherdess, who walk out of their paintings and take life, and a bird who tries to save the chimneysweep and shepherdess from the malicious king. The film has been cited by Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki as an influence, and it often shows. The animation is somewhat simplistic, but The King and the Mockingbird is a whimsical, funny, and delightful, if slight, film before its weightily philosophical, and wholly unexpected, ending.

Would see.

Mulan


Mulan

Directed by Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft

1998

(Guest reviewer)

Mulan is set during an invasion of Han China by the Huns. Mulan serves in the army in place of her father and saves the kingdom. The level of humor is consistent with other Disney films of the 1990s (think Aladdin or The Lion King), but quick pacing and musical interludes give Mulan an innate charm.

Would see.