Although he wrote them in 1859, Charles Dickens might have been thinking of animation in 2013 when he penned the celebrated lines, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..."
Looking over a year that seemed to seesaw between Light and Darkness, I'd like to present some awards for the best and worst of 2013, prizes I’m naming after the ultimate animation APM, Mikiko "Kuromi" Oguro.
AGE OF WISDOM DEPARTMENT
But Can He Storyboard?
President Obama's visit to DreamWorks - a first for an animation studio, although animators have visited the White House. Congratulations to Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dean DeBlois and the rest of the artists.
And All That Jazz:
Kids on the Slope, the new jazz-themed series by Shinichiro Watanabe, the creator of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo: It was a rare treat to wish a series ran longer, instead of dreading another unnecessary sequel.
"I'm Still Here" (1)
Disney's delightful short Get a Horse: Nobody's had so much fun with Mickey Mouse in decades.
"I'm Still Here" (2)
Jim Blinn at CTN in a friendly discussion with Tad Gielow: An all-too-rare encounter with one of the giants of CG.
Profile in Courage:
Ed Catmull for asserting that making a quality film is more important than meeting a studio schedule.
Hands Across the Sea:
Wolf Children, Colorful, Ernest and Celestine and Letter to Momo offered welcome proof that animation can be truly individual in its storytelling and subject matter.
You're Not Getting Older, You're Getting Better (1):
The Tyrus Wong exhibit at the Walt Disney Family Museum, highlighting the work of an artist who's as modest as he is talented.
You're Not Getting Older, You're Getting Better (2):
Richard Williams wowing animators and fans alike in two appearances at the Motion Picture Academy.
Kudos to Olive Films for the first two discs of their Essential Betty Boop collection - cartoons animation fans have been awaiting for years on DVD. Now if only someone would do a comparable collection of the silent Felix the Cat shorts...
Less Really Is More:
Simon Tofield of Simon's Cat for reminding us that animation doesn't need elaborate rendering or 3D to be effective. His films are minimal, but beautifully timed and observed - and hilarious.
Hayao Miyazaki's rapturously beautiful The Wind Rises showed why he’s the most admired and influential figure working in animation today.
WINTER OF DESPAIR DEPARTMENT
All the Way to the Bank:
The four top animated features films (Despicable Me 2, The Croods, Monsters University and Frozen) earned over $1 billion at the domestic box office -- more than 10% of the year’s total. Why doesn’t that success translate into more respect from the Academy and other groups in their major award categories?
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated The Wind Rises for Best Foreign Language Film. But their nominees for Animated Feature were, not coincidentally, the three biggest box office successes of the year: Despicable Me 2, The Croods and Frozen, suggesting money is the only criterion for respect.
Deja vu all over again (1):
In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, meteorologist Anna Faris befriends a cheeseburger-monster by reaching out to touch its muzzle, just as Hiccup did to Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon. By placing the camera behind Anna (and the audience) directors Cody Camron and Kris Pearn kept the viewer from experiencing the key moment of contact—and the magic.
Deja vu all over again (2):
In Despicable Me 2, Gru remembered his childhood rejection by a little girl - exactly the way Anton Ego recalled being comforted by his mother’s cooking in Ratatouille, but without the emotional punch.
Deja vu all over again (3):
Poomba and Timon, a warthog and a meerkat, found the exhausted Simba lying on the cracked mud of a dry lakebed in The Lion King; Mama V and Bradley, a wildebeest and an ostrich, found Khumba lying on the cracked mud of a dry lakebed in Khumba. So much of Khumba was lifted from Lion King and the Madagascar films, I’m surprised there weren’t lawsuits.
Interchangeable Parts Department:
Although different in physical appearance, the heroes of Turbo, Planes, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Free Birds and Walking with Dinosaurs are essentially the same character. Do we need another smart misfit who seems to lose, then comes from behind to win the day and the girl? Someone who Doesn't Let Others Define Him? Or another spunky, slightly klutzy heroine, for that matter?
Say It Ain't So!
Hayao Miyazaki's decision to retire. Animators and fans the world over are praying he changes his mind.
Cart Before the Horse Department:
The makers of Free Birds and The Legend of Serila for trying too hard to start a franchise - instead of making a film good enough to warrant a sequel.
The Animation as Gimmick Award:
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy, Michael Gondry’s worshipful tribute to Noam Chomsky, was a disjointed, semi-coherent paean with animation that looked like a poor student work. With all the resources at his disposal, why not make a coherent documentary?
Despicable Me's Frito Bandito-style Mexican villain - It's 2013, not 1953.
Singin' the Blue:
It's not easy to erase Neil Patrick Harris' charisma or Paris' appeal, but the makers of Smurfs 2 managed.
Gone Too Soon:
The energetic and resolute Diane Disney Miller, who died on November 19. Although she leaves a legacy that includes the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Walt Disney Family Museum, her friends expected to enjoy her company for at least another decade.
Finally, to this writer for being curmudgeonly above and beyond the call of duty at times.