Best Animated Films Released Thus Far in 2023

Best Animated Films Released in 2023

Even though we are only halfway through the year, the year 2023 already has the best release calendar for blockbuster feature animation since at least 2009, which saw the debuts of Up, Coraline, Secret of Kells, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Fantastic Mr. Fox in theaters.

As jam-packed as the last one was, this one has already delivered a new Spider-Man film that positively throbs with life and the return of an anime master who is not Hayao Miyazaki. It will release Miyazaki’s latest (last?) picture, a new TMNT, the victorious end to The Venture Bros., and another Chicken Run. For now, however, it is sufficient to admire the six features listed below that have impressed us for one reason or another.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse

The effort that went into the Spider-Verse sequel’s hyperkinetic, ultrastylized animation is evident from the film’s opening sequence, which features flashes of color and line work precisely timed to Gwen Stacy’s aggressive drumming. As a resident of Earth-65, she navigates a world of mood-ring watercolors, one of several distinctly illustrated universes utilized by the film to demonstrate its artistic prowess and inventiveness.

Miles Morales appears more youthful than ever, zipping, flipping, and thwiping through the frame, and his character arc in this film is just as compelling as it was in his first — a journey that deftly allows his attachments to his family and civilian future to parallel his attachment to his Spider-brethren and superhero destiny.

Across the Spider-Verse concludes on a brutal cliffhanger, but, unlike other recent two-part films, the majority of its primary thematic strands are resolved. It is not half of a film. In fact, the film is more comprehensive than the majority of superhero fiction produced today. And stylistically, it is undeniably one of the decade’s most visually complex and inspired films.

Suzume

Makoto Shinkai, one of the greatest anime feature film directors of the past two decades, may have released his best film to date. Suzume, the protagonist of his most recent work, is tasked with preventing a mythologically enormous worm from crashing into Japan’s cities and landscapes by locking inter-dimensional entrances that have gone haywire.

Shinkai balances his apocalyptic terrors with humor along the road. Suzume is a fantastical road movie that, among other pleasures, features a mischievous talking cat, a cranky three-legged chair that can also talk (and hobble, run, and get into trouble), and a number of obvious and not-so-obvious winks at previous popular anime.

Its director is well-known for involving himself in every aspect of his productions, from screenwriting to constructing backgrounds to storyboarding, and he has stated that he created this film to address Japan’s recent tragic history of ecological disaster while also making audiences laugh. Suzume aced the exam.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

The biggest, dumbest IP grab of the year is also the hottest at the picture office, grossing $1.339 billion globally and surpassing every other 2023 release to date. The film starring Chris Pratt has grossed approximately 36 times as much as the infamous live-action Super Mario Bros. failure did thirty years ago. It is also decent for what it is: a 92-minute color wheel of Nintendo fan service that is exceedingly watchable.

Its journeys through Mario game staples such as the Mushroom Kingdom, the Jungle Kingdom, and Rainbow Road are all enjoyable. The Super Mario Bros. Movie takes virtually no narrative risks, but it’s also not as annoying as a film with more winks would have been. Directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic give Mario a character trajectory similar to that of his video games, mine elements from those games liberally, and cram as many of Illumination’s thrillingly artistic sequences as the running time will allow.

Nimona

Nimona

Nimona was reportedly killed off along with Blue Sky Studios in 2021 after Disney executives complained about a same-sex kiss in the film. The film had been in development for years at Blue Sky Studios (the animation shop behind Ice Age). Two and a half years later, the film is eventually released, thanks to the efforts of Annapurna Pictures, DNEG Animation, and Netflix, and it exceeds all expectations.

Based on the comic book by ND Stevenson, Nimona is a queer allegory about a shape-shifter who refuses to conform to society’s expectations for what she should appear like and how she should present herself. When she encounters a knight, Ballister Boldheart, who is falsely accused of murdering the queen, she and he form an alliance and take a stand against the oppressive order that formerly employed him.

The action of Nimona is performed in a stylised synthesis of 2-D and 3-D animation, building to a kaiju-size conclusion. Beautiful, however, is how the film emphasizes the friendship between the ever-changing Nimona and her gay best friend Boldheart, voiced by Chlo Grace Moretz and Riz Ahmed, respectively.

Elemental

Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios collaborated on the computer-animated comedy-drama Elemental. The film is directed by Peter Sohn and is set in a contemporary city where the elements of fire, water, earth, and air coexist. Ember, a fiery young woman, and Wade, a go-with-the-flow guy, are the primary characters.

As they embark on a journey to save their city, the two meet and form an improbable friendship. Leah Lewis voices Ember, Mamoudou Athie voices Wade, Ronnie del Carmen voices Ember’s father, and Catherine O’Hara voices Wade’s mother. The film Elemental was released on June 16, 2023.

The film has received acclaim for its uplifting plot, vibrant animation, and diverse voice cast. Critics have also pointed out the similarities between this film and Pixar’s previous film, Turning Red, which also features a young female protagonist who must learn to accept her peculiarities. Nevertheless, Elemental is said to have a more universal message about the significance of tolerance and comprehension.

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken

Inexplicably, this is the finest mermaid film of the summer. Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is a fun little sea-monster mash-up about a young kraken whose powers activate just as she attempts to summon the courage to ask her crush to the prom. As she becomes embroiled in a multigenerational conflict between her race and the mermaids, she must utilize her powers and surmount her social awkwardness at school.

The voice ensemble, led by Lana Condor, Toni Collette, and Jane Fonda, is superb. The animation and character designs are rubbery and squishy in a good way. Ruby Gillman is not perfect: The plot resembles Turning Red a little too closely (though not as earnestly), and you may be left pondering who approved the illogical joke that everyone believes the blue, writhing-armed sea creatures living among humans are “from Canada!” However, it makes up for it with gorgeous underwater sequences and a mermaid-kraken confrontation set to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Burning.”

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