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It was a great year for animated films. There was a stylish animal heist movie (The Bad Guys), a surprisingly deep sequel to a Shrek spin-off (Puss in Boots: The Last Wish), Guillermo del Toro's masterful stop-motion take on a classic story (Pinocchio), and Krypto the Superdog and friends (DC League of Super-Pets). If you missed any of the year's best animated movies, the long New Year's weekend or the usually cold and festivity-free January is the perfect time to catch up.
This year's lineup of animated pictures goes far beyond kid stuff, weaving in themes of childhood trauma, puberty, family conflicts, and other adult-like issues. These films do a great job of packing it all in at a level kids can understand and identify with, and they do a heck of a job entertaining as well.
The Bad Guys
What's not to love about an all-star cast voicing a pack of anthropomorphic animal thieves looking to pull off a heist? Think Ocean's Eleven, but for a younger audience. Based on Aaron Blabey children's book series of the same name, The Bad Guys finished the year as the second-highest-grossing animated flick of 2022. It doesn't hurt that Sam Rockwell voices Mr. Wolf, the leader of The Bad Guys gang, who eventually has second thoughts about his criminal ways and looks to get the group on the right path. Awkwafina, Anthony Ramos, Alex Borstein, and Lilly Singh also round out the voice cast.
Minions: The Rise of Gru
Minions may be small in stature, but they've got a big box office draw. The latest flick in the Despicable Me franchise, Minions: The Rise of Gru, opened in July and went on to become the biggest money-making animated movie of the year, and the fifth-top-grossing flick overall of 2022. This installment centers on a preteen Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, who dreams of becoming a supervillain. Find out for yourself what happens next and enjoy Hollywood's finest bringing characters to life, including Alan Arkin as Wild Knuckles, Taraji P. Henson as Belle Bottom, Michelle Yeoh as Master Chow, Julie Andrews as Marlena Gru, Russell Brand as Dr. Nefario, Jean-Claude Van Damme as Jean-Clawed and more.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
It may have been released late in the year, but Puss in Boots: The Last Wish opened to rave reviews earlier this month. This sequel has also been noted for its darker tones than its 2011 predecessor (Puss in Boots.) Antonio Banderas is back as cat fugitive Puss in Boots, and Salma Hayek returns as his love interest, Kitty Softpaws. The adventure sees Puss down to just one life, after his eight previous deaths, and eventually setting out on a mission to try to restore his lost lives. Also listen up for the voices of Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, and John Mulaney in the film.
The success of the Toy Story franchise has gone to infinity and beyond in the decades since the original film was released way back in 1995. This year brought us the spinoff Lightyear, placing Buzz Lightyear in the spotlight and making him human in this installment, rather than a toy. Chris Evans voices the title space ranger, who's trying to make it home from a hostile planet. While the screenplay took a hit from critics, the flick was praised for its animation and voice acting which also includes the likes of Keke Palmer, James Brolin, Uzo Aduba, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi and Dale Soules.
DC League of Super-Pets
Pets can be superheroes too. This film follows the adventures of Superman's pet pooch Krypto (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and a shelter dog named Ace (Kevin Hart) as they work together with their other animal pals to free the Justice League superheroes from Lex Luthor and Lulu. Expect warm vibes and lessons about adopting shelter animals as part of the fun. And see if you can tell which animals, superheroes and humans are being voiced by Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Keanu Reeves, Olivia Wilde, Lena Headey and Busy Philipps.
Turning Red tackled some big topics for an animated adventure like puberty, crushes, school bullies and mother-daughter relationships, and the outcome was applauded by critics. It's also the first Pixar film directed entirely by a woman (Domee Shi). The plot centers on Meilin "Mei" Lee (Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old Chinese-Candian girl who, thanks to a family curse, turns into a red panda when she's having a strong emotion. Sandra Oh voices Mei's strict mom, Ming Lee, who clashes with her daughter. Ming humiliates her daughter after finding out she has a crush on a store clerk and forbids Mei from seeing a concert she wants to go to. Tensions flare up and things get worse until the family eventually learns how to compromise.
Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio
Everyone knows the story of this wooden puppet who becomes a real boy, but Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio offers a fresh take. It's loosely based on the 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio, but also reimagines this tale about the puppet carved by Geppetto. The film opened to critical acclaim in the fall and features Gregory Mann as the voice of Pinocchio, Ewan McGregor as the narrating cricket, and David Bradley as the Italian woodcarver Geppetto. Ron Perlman, John Turturro, Finn Wolfhard, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton also bring characters to life.
Wendell & Wild
This animated horror-comedy that landed on Netflix in October is a fun treat for animation fans who also appreciate all things spooky. Wendell & Wild stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as Wendell and Wild, respectively, a pair of demon brothers. The plot kicks off when Kat Elliot (voiced by Serelle Strickland as a younger version, and then Lyric Ross), gets scared by a worm in her candy apple during a stormy family drive, which causes her dad to lose control of their car and go off a bridge, killing everyone but Kat. She ends up blaming herself for the tragedy.