Perhaps more than any other genre, the animated offerings coming out of Hollywood vary in quality to an unpredictable degree. For every Finding Nemo, there’s a Shark Tale. Add to this the inconsistency of the marketing around these films, and telling at face value what will be worth your and your little one’s time is a difficult prospect.
Some of these bad animated films have good marketing, a solid voice cast, or another factor in attracting audiences’ interest. However, when it came down to it, it turned out that instead of a winner, you’re caught in the theater with a dud, feeling like you’ve been had.
‘Shark Tale’ (2004)
On paper, this film looked like it had a lot going for it. With a stacked voice cast including Will Smith, Renee Zellweger, Jack Black, Robert DeNiro, and even Martin Scorsese, it seemed as though Shark Tale was poised to capitalize on the momentum of the previous year’s successful Pixar hit, Finding Nemo.
Comparing these two films, however, is chalk and cheese. While Nemo was another instant classic from the best animation studio in the game, Shark Tale was a confused, half-baked mix of Italian-American stereotyping and a character with adult problems, like debts with loan sharks (oof) and a complicated love triangle. This mystified critics at the time, as these problems were not relatable to what was ostensibly the target audience. This disparate tone makes Shark Tale a weird and unsatisfying watch.
‘Sausage Party’ (2016)
Usually, the comedic team of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, et al. are pretty consistent and reliably funny. Producing a string of hits in the late noughties and early 2010s, the ensemble made films like Pineapple Express, and This is the End together. Combining this trope with an adult-focused animated film seemed like a home run.
That is, of course, until people saw it. Giving writing duties (that he usually shares with frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg) to Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir, the result is kind of like a weird cover version of the humor that this group is usually known for. It gets the broad strokes right but is also pretty lazy, and relies heavily on lazy racial stereotyping. Add to that some rather unsavory stories regarding the treatment of animators on the project, this sausage doesn’t sit well in our stomachs.
‘Cars 2’ (2011)
Plenty of studios have streaks of successful films, but 15 years when output is both critically lauded and financially successful? Many would consider that impossible, but it’s exactly what Pixar managed to do between 1995 and 2010. Given this level of consistency, expectations were high for the release of the studio’s second sequel, Cars 2.
Unfortunately, this film broke the streak. A baffling decision to shift focus from a racing movie to a spy story, simultaneously sidelining the first film’s main character in proceedings, formed the one-two punch to this film that it couldn’t seem to get up from. Add to that a distinct lack of humor, and it’s little surprise this is the studio’s first critical flop (although it still did quite well financially).
‘Ice Age: Collision Course’ (2016)
The surprisingly consistent Ice Age franchise is one of the tent poles of the Dreamworks animation house. While it’s never been a critical darling, it’s hit consistently at the box office and is a fan favorite, particularly for younger audiences. This fifth entry saw the reunion of the principal cast of Manny (Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary), and Sid (John Leguizamo).
Very few films have the distinction of being franchise killers, but Ice Age: Collision Course holds that inglorious distinction. Rating a mere 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, critics highlight this dud’s unoriginal, unfunny aspects. While it was technically profitable, the drubbing it received put the franchise out of commission.
‘The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part’ (2019)
The first installment of this franchise was an unexpected runaway hit. After all, capturing the magic and immersion of playing with Lego seemed to be impossible to translate effectively into a cinematic context. The film smartly focuses on the relationship between a young boy and his fastidious father and uses their contentious relationship as the basis for the “game” the boy is playing in his imagination — which leads to a big revelation on the father’s part.
Despite the end of that film setting up proceedings with the intriguing premise of incorporating his little sister into the game, this sequel is lackluster at best. At times, it attempts to recreate the magic of the first film, and at others, it goes down the “darker sequel” route: what results is a lack of tonal consistency. The first film felt effortless, but the second feels like it tries way too hard.
‘Arctic Dogs’ (2019)
A talented voice cast including Jeremy Renner, Alec Baldwin, Heidi Klum, John Cleese, and Anjelica Houston, combined with a bright animation style and a topical message about environmental protection, Arctic Dogs had all the makings of a summer hit to take the kids to.
Unfortunately, it’s let down by subpar writing, animation lacking texture and depth, and an overwrought score. Add to this scattershot plotting and uninspired character design, and the overall result is best avoided. This is evidenced by its current 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
‘Yu-Gi-Oh! The Movie: Pyramid of Light’ (2004)
After the success enjoyed by the cinematic adaptations of series like Digimon and Pokemon, a big-screen adaptation of the Yu-Gi-Oh! the universe felt like an inevitability. Although not quite as successful as those two properties, Yu-Gi-Oh has a dedicated fanbase who were looking forward to seeing the property in cinemas.
Coming out six years after the anime had first premiered, this delay is seen as one of the contributing factors for its failure. But mainly, the lack of broad appeal to the source material combined with what was essentially an extended episode of the TV show meant this missed with mainstream audiences. Even die-hard fans of the property found it challenging to defend.
‘Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil’ (2011)
Although it didn’t look like it had much going for it, the first Hoodwinked became a surprise cult hit when it was released in 2005. A clever update/mashup of some famous fairytales, combined with wit and a certain low-budget charm, made the first film into a bit of a sleeper hit with audiences and critics alike.
Unfortunately, the sequel was unable to capitalize on this unexpected goodwill. Despite a bigger budget and the addition of 3D (this film was made at the height of the 3D craze that gripped Hollywood post-Avatar), it failed to carry over the more critical aspects of the original, mainly its wit and charm, and as a result, feels humorless and bland compared to its predecessor.
Proving that even Disney can fumble the ball when it comes to animation, Planes looked like it was going to be a hit — the trailer was engaging and well-animated, and given Pixar (who lent Jon Lasseter to DisneyToon Studios to co-write) had already found success with Cars, the line of thinking here is pretty straightforward.
However, the result is more of a tailspin rather than a triumphant flight. It has very little in the way of substance as the plot rehashes Cars nearly beat-for-beat. Add to that Dane Cook’s performance not even holding a candle to Owen Wilson’s effortless charisma. The entire project feels like an inferior copy of a better film in almost every respect except for the mode of transportation.
‘The Nut Job’ (2014)
Will Arnett lending his considerable vocal talents to play a well-intentioned but clumsy squirrel? A plot involving accidentally destroying his home’s winter food supply, leading to his exile, and hatching a plan involving raiding a nut store that’s run by the mob? Sounds like a no-brainer.
But unfortunately, the film itself is one of the worst examples of lazy, by-the-numbers filmmaking for kids. Poorly rendered CGI, humor that is trying so hard but falls so very flat, and a plot that plays out more like a fetch-quest than anything meaningful or insightful, The Nut Job is a poor excuse for an animated film, despite its promise.
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