From early sketches of Steamboat Willie to the gorgeous visual style of Japanese auteur Hayao Miyazaki, animated movies continue to move steadily into the mainstream. While the usual slew of animated movies targeting younger audiences dominated the box offices this year, these eight cinematic gems were commercial hits with broad appeal. The following selection is recommended for kids of absolutely all ages and for anyone young at heart.
The Lego Movie
The Lego Movie tells the story of average Joe Lego-man Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt) who is prophesied to save the Lego world. Turning a beloved toy franchise into a successful movie is easier said than done (case in point, the rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, which flopped big time earlier this year), but the writers of the The Lego Movie managed to craft a compelling story about friendship and the power of imagination (helped along by Mark Mothersbaugh’s excellent soundtrack).
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Based on the popular characters Mr. Peabody & Sherman from the 1960’s television show The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, this animated feature explains the origins of Peabody (voiced by Ty Burell), the world’s smartest anthropomorphic dog and Sherman (voiced by Max Charles), his young orphan ward, and their explorations through time and space. We were especially fond of funnyman Stephen Colbert who voices Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s initial foil, the smug and overly self-confident Paul Peterson.
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Highly anticipated after the release of the first movie in 2010, this sequel matches its predecessor in both animation and voice casting. Five years after the first movie, protagonist Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless continue to fight for peace between humans and dragons while trying to prevent a madman conqueror (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) from taking over the world.
From the creators of the stop-motion flick Coraline, the newest animated offering from Focus Features explores the world of the Boxtrolls, a friendly group of trolls who live in boxes and invent useful gadgets from all the trash humans throw out (social commentary on consumer society aside, these guys come up with some pretty cool stuff). Raised by the Boxtrolls, the young boy Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright) must protect his adoptive family from the evil pest exterminator Archibald Snatcher (expertly voiced by Ben Kingsley).
Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart
Though it premiered in the Arras Film Festival in November 2013, it officially debuted in France in the beginning of 2014, with multiple dubbed versions worldwide—one of which came from LA based distributor Shout! Factory. This French feature follows the story of a young boy named Jack, who goes on a romantic quest through Europe to find the girl who opened up his frozen cuckoo-clock heart. Entirely based on both the concept album from the French rock band Dionysos and the illustrated novel by the band’s lead singer, this classic love story transcends time.
The Book of Life
The artistic vision, vibrant design, and the narrative twist on a traditional story from Mexican folklore all help bring this movie to life. Told by a museum curator to placate a group of troubled children, the tale begins with a competition between two deities, La Muerte (voiced by Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (voiced by Ron Perlman), over which of their charges will win the hand of the beautiful maiden Maria. Cultural myths, folklore, and the Mexican spiritual underworld are explored with virtuosity.
Song of the Sea
This British animated feature, which premiered at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, directed by Academy Award nominated filmmaker Tomm Moore (who co-directed 2009’s The Secret of the Kells ), reinvents the Celtic myth of the selkie, a mythological creature with seal-like skin that becomes human on land. This magical tale follows two young children, Ben and Saoirse, who discover their lost mother’s true selkie background and seek to carry out a mission she meant to do long ago.
Big Hero 6
Perhaps the most popular animated movie of the year is this Marvel based animated feature, about an unconventional team of superheroes. Not only an amazing epic for the younger viewers, Big Hero 6 is also a dark and intelligent movie that will captivate older audiences. Big Hero 6 follows protagonist Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter), a fourteen-year-old robotics prodigy who builds a superhero team to battle a masked villain who takes Hiro’s creation to wreak havoc and destruction on the world.