Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos Courtesy of Studios
If 2021’s best animated movies and TV series were characterized largely by creator-driven spectacle and screwball manipulations of the art form itself, the most exciting titles of 2022 seem to us like crowd-pleasers. In the mainstay IP category, we’re looking at the long-awaited film from the Bob’s Burgers team, a revival of The Boondocks, and the comeback of Miles Morales in the sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. On the list of new endeavors, we expect Pixar’s latest coming-of-age story and Hayao Miyazaki’s newest film to break the box office, assuming no more COVID lockdowns are in our future. We also know from experience that whatever this list looks like now, our end-of-year picks will probably take a much different shape — full of out-of-nowhere hits no one could have anticipated. That’s probably the most exciting takeaway of all.
Hilda is one of the crown jewels in Netflix’s animation program: beautifully animated, terrifically acted, and refreshingly pure of heart. It is also perfect for winter, which makes it especially thrilling that a feature-length film — following up on the cliffhanger with which Luke Pearson, showrunner and original cartoonist behind the Hilda comics, ended the show’s second season — is on Netflix … now! Technically, this dropped in the waning moments of 2021, but look, we had already picked our favorite animated offerings of last year by then, and Hilda deserves better than to disappear into the dead zone of postholiday programming. We’re counting it as a 2022 release. Now go watch it! —J.H.M.
Netflix is gunning to be king of animation in pretty much all its forms, so why not stop-motion, too? The House is a cinematic triptych billed as a showcase for indie animators, featuring one strange house and the fates of those who dare to make it their home: mice, cats, and humans alike. It marks Helena Bonham Carter’s return to stop-motion voice acting after 2005’s Corpse Bride, and Britpop fans will note the presence of famously uncommon person Jarvis Cocker. —J.H.M.
Indie animator Jonni Phillips’s feature-film debut expands upon her ten-episode animated web series Secrets and Lies in a Town of Sinners. It follows the exploits of Barber, an aspiring astronomer who uses their passion as a distraction from their personal problems; they get an internship with NASA only to find out on their first day “that space is fake and NASA is a sham.” The trailer shows a more honed take on the series’ visuals, employing a style seemingly synthesizing those of Jim Davis’s Garfield, Joe Murray’s Rocko’s Modern Life, and Jhonen Vasquez’s Invader Zim. The film was released last year exclusively on Phillips’s Patreon but is anticipated to hit YouTube sometime in January. —J.H.M.
This fantasy epic brings together two veteran Japanese animators: Masashi Ando, in his directorial debut, and Masayuki Miyaji, back in the director’s seat for his first film since 2012’s Fuse Teppō Musume no Torimonochō. Both are Studio Ghibli veterans, each having worked on Isao Takahata’s My Neighbors the Yamadas and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, but Ando’s CV is particularly impressive. His mentor, the late Yoshifumi Kondō, was once tapped as Takahata’s successor, and the younger animator has more than ably carried on Kondō’s legacy; Ando has been a key animator, character designer, and/or animation director for practically every great anime director of our time, from Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon to Hideaki Anno and Makoto Shinkai. This film, which GKIDS will distribute in the U.S. later this year, has real Princess Mononoke vibes (Ando, avec Kondō, did the character design for that movie and was chief animation director). We can’t wait. —J.H.M.
The Disney Channel’s original Proud Family thrived on its bop of an opening theme (by Solange and Destiny’s Child!!!) and the ever-loving, laugh-out-loud dysfunctional family dynamic of the Prouds themselves. The revival will see the return of creator and producer Bruce W. Smith and most of the original cast members, plus a fleet of guests including Lizzo, Lil Nas X, Chance the Rapper, Normani, and Leslie Odom Jr. Keke Palmer also joins, playing a young activist. —E.V.B.
The winner of this year’s Contrechamp Award at the Annecy festival, Bob Spit: We Do Not Like People was picked up for North American distribution by Outsider Pictures in December in hopes of making it an Oscar qualifier. Directed by Brazil’s Cesar Cabral, the stop-motion film is billed as a genre-bending take on comedy, documentary, and road movie centered on its eponymous protagonist. Bob Spit is an aging punk who lives in the mind of Angeli — one of Brazil’s most beloved cartoonists in our own world, not just the film’s — and attempts to escape his creator’s head to confront him over a decision to kill him off. —J.H.M.
Pixar’s best films visually externalize the emotions its characters internalize. Inside Out is probably the Ur-example of this, but it’s also true of favorites like Soul and Ratatouille (the images of blue souls and gloriously lively dishes match Joe’s and Remy’s moods, respectively). Director Domee Shi’s Turning Red will take another protagonist to literal, primary-colored extremes with a young heroine who “poofs” into a giant fluffy red panda whenever she gets too stressed out. We’re here for the metaphor for adolescence and more adorably animated renditions of endangered species. —E.V.B.
After 226 episodes, Bob’s Burgers remains as charmingly light on its feet as ever. Now that it’s newly rescheduled after two years of COVID-related delays, we can expect this feature on Memorial Day weekend, the ideal time for burger flipping and snorting at the rude jokes your little sister makes. No word yet on any plot particulars, but given that the show is renewed through 2023, the movie looks like a stand-alone Belcher family outing. The series cast members are all back in their respective roles, while creator Loren Bouchard will direct and has vowed that the movie will run in theaters. He also said this in the long buildup to the release: “It has to fill every inch of the screen with the colors and the sounds and the ever so slightly greasy texture of the world of Bob’s.” Be sure to get nachos before it starts. —E.V.B.
Masaaki Yuasa, arguably the most visually inventive anime director of the 21st century, returns to the silver screen for the first time since 2019’s Ride Your Wave with Inu-Oh, a tale of disfigurement, disability, creativity, and camaraderie. Yuasa’s first musical, based on a book by Hideo Furukawa, has a ring of Samurai Champloo to it, swapping the Edo period for the early Muromachi period (14th century) and hip-hop for glam rock. The film hit the festival circuit last fall but will be distributed in the U.S. by GKIDS this year. —J.H.M.
Yes, Disney is remaking one of the most historically significant works of animation of all time, but who’s surprised? What’s more surprising is that there are two new Pinocchio films this year, and the one helmed by Who Framed Roger Rabbit director Robert Zemeckis (to be streamed on Disney+) isn’t the fully animated one. That would be Netflix’s take on Carlo Collodi’s classic tale, a stop-motion endeavor by Guillermo del Toro. Both films have absurd casts, but del Toro’s has the advantage of (1) being animated (and therefore intrinsically superior), (2) the involvement of the Jim Henson Company, and (3) Over the Garden Wall creator Patrick McHale’s hand in writing the script. —J.H.M.
Following up one of the most exciting animated films in recent memory isn’t something we would wish on any creative team, but the folks behind the sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse are gonna try. At the directing helm this time around are a trio of animation veterans of varying expertise: Joaquim Dos Santos (director of action cartoons like Justice League Unlimited and Avatar: The Last Airbender), Kemp Powers (co-director of Soul), and Justin K. Thompson (production designer of Into the Spider-Verse). The hype’s already through the roof after a first look featuring Spider-Man 2099 dropped in fall 2021. —E.V.B.
This four-episode adaptation of Junji Ito’s lauded horror manga looks fittingly hypnotizing based on the clips released so far. Directed by Hiroshi Nagahama (his anime Mushi-Shi remains a master class in mythic storytelling), it’s an unusual co-production by Japanese animation house Production I.G and Adult Swim, and it promises to be the first of several major upcoming international collaborations as Adult Swim strengthens its ties with anime studios. Kicking that off with an animated rendering of a series this eerie and surreal is a flex. —E.V.B.
With sweeping Andean mountainscapes of the Inca Trail and a cuy — an adorable Peruvian guinea pig — featured in the trailer, Kayara already promises to be a visually stunning 3-D CGI coming-of-age story. At its center is a teenage Incan girl training to become the first woman chasqui, one of the ridge-running messengers of the Incan Empire. In the film, directed by César Zelada, Kayara will encounter Spanish conquistadors, fight for her people’s survival, and attempt at least one gender swap as she tries to prove her mettle to the haters. It’ll be produced by Tunche Films, maker of Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon, which also starred a plucky heroine trying to protect her home: the rainforest. —E.V.B.
Fans of the French animated series Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir have reason to rejoice, as the saga of the magical Parisian teen super-duo will continue. Directed by series producer and composer Jeremy Zag, Ladybug & Cat Noir Awakening is billed as a romantic musical comedy, and Zag has described it as an origin story for the universe the heroes inhabit as well as “the end of the fifth season.” A couple of things to note: Miraculous has yet to wrap up its fourth season, so it may be a while before we actually see this movie, and series creator Thomas Astruc apparently isn’t involved in the production — which may strike some fans as odd for an origin story. Still, we’re eager to see what Zag puts out. —E.V.B.
There are knights on dinosaurs. Elliot Page and David Tennant are in it. So are Vin Diesel, Jeffrey Wright, Michelle Yeoh, and Malcolm McDowell. It’s no Dinotopia, but you can’t have everything. We’re sold. —J.H.M.
The fourth season of The Boondocks, the Adult Swim adaptation of Aaron McGruder’s comic strip of the same name, was widely considered a disaster, in no small part because McGruder had nothing to do with it. That makes an announced “reimagining” with him at the helm the rare hope-inspiring reboot — even though the absences of the late, legendary John Witherspoon and Charlie Murphy will be keenly felt. Look for it on HBO Max (where the original is currently streaming) sometime this year. —J.H.M.
Video-game adaptations have traditionally been terrible (apologies to Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but even Idris Elba’s sexy Knuckles voice can’t get you on this list), but Netflix is doing as good a job as any at twisting gaming IP into its most natural next form: animated series. And obviously, the step after the likes of Castlevania and Arcane was Cuphead, a video game about people with cups for heads beating up a bunch of giant frogs and angry carrots in a desperate attempt not to go to hell. It’s a game big on boss fights and slim on story, which seemingly makes it an odd choice for an animated adaptation. Except, like the game it’s adapting, The Cuphead Show! will be hand-drawn and pay homage to the rubber-hose-style early animation of Fleischer Studios and the Walt Disney Company — an exciting development for pretty much any fan of animation history. —J.H.M.
Hayao Miyazaki will once again end his retirement for one final film. Will it be this year? Who knows! What we do know is this: It will adapt the Studio Ghibli master director’s favorite childhood novel, Genzaburō Yoshino’s How Do You Live?, a book for young readers translated into English for the first time last year (with a foreword by Neil Gaiman, who wrote the English-language dub for Miyazaki’s 1997 classic Princess Mononoke). It will also, undoubtedly, be perfect, whenever we get to see it. —J.H.M.
Boldly conceived by artists who at one point, per the BBC, intended to “kick Disney’s arse,” this Afrofuturistic animated series is a collab between Walt Disney Animation Studios and Kugali Media, a Pan-African entertainment company. Set in a stunning sci-fi version of Lagos, Nigeria, the series from writer-director Ziki Nelson, production designer Hamid Ibrahim, and other collaborators will blend Disney production values with art styles from across the continent and Kugali’s comic-book-y aesthetic. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em — and show ’em, in Nelson’s words, your “inspiration, or aspiration and desire, to try and engineer society for living in a more positive way.” —E.V.B.
There’s not much to know yet about this Hail Mary of geek IP, which will transmute the pioneering Wizards of the Coast collectible card game into an animated Netflix series starring cinematic Superman and Arrowverse Atom Brandon Routh. But it will surely prompt at least one good tweet from Mountain Goats front man John Darnielle, which is reason enough to include it on this list. —J.H.M.