In 2023, the movie landscape shines bright with exceptional animation offerings. With a diverse range of genres and styles, the animation industry reaches new heights. From eagerly awaited sequels to innovation passion projects, feature-length animations enter a golden age of artistic exploration and celebration of contemporary talents.
This year’s lineup showcases the full spectrum of creativity, promising groundbreaking new ventures alongside beloved franchise updates.
10. Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine
Detective Conan, the renowned mystery anime series, treats fans to a new anime movie since its TV debut in 1996. At the Interpol marine facility, “Pacific Buoy,” engineers worldwide gather for the launch of a groundbreaking system linking law enforcement cameras globally through facial recognition. Amidst the excitement, the Black Organization kidnaps a female engineer with crucial data
Detective Conan: Black Iron Submarine, as a spy-action film, impresses with its tech-savvy, punchy script, offering enjoyable mysteries and villains despite the detective elements taking a back seat. The energetic and skilled vocal actors deliver commendable performances. This film is a good watch for adventure-loving audiences of all ages, even if it may not be groundbreaking.
9. The Venture Bros: Radiant is the Blood of a Baboon Heart
After two decades, saying goodbye is a challenging task, one that The Venture Bros. embraces with its concluding movie-length finale. The story centers on Hank Venture, caught in a nationwide manhunt that reveals hidden dangers. Meanwhile, The Monarch relentlessly pursues Dr. Venture’s blood, and a menacing evil from the past resurfaces, causing chaos for the Ventures. Allies and foes must unite to restore the balance to the Venture universe, or witness its downfall.
This final installment serves as a heartfelt farewell to devoted fans, with Hammer and Publick seemingly cathartic and engaging their fandom while delivering an entertaining action spectacle. The grandiose finish makes every minute count, never feeling excessive or overindulgent, leaving audiences satisfied and fulfilled.
8. Rally Road Racers
This furry, lighthearted movie follows Zhi, portrayed as a slow loris, guided by Gnash, a humorous and wise goat mechanic with Yiddish flair. Zhi’s destiny unfolds as he faces his comical nemesis, Archie Vainglorious, an unabashed frog, who employs a femme fatale, Shelby, to divert his focus. However instead of battling mythical creatures in Ancient Greece, Zhi’s challenge lies in winning a four-day rally along China’s historic Silk Road, a seemingly impossible task due to his slow nature.
The film brims with obstacles for Zhi to overcome, as he races to save his village from the destruction caused by Archie’s wrecking balls. Rally Road Racers captures delightful moments, appealing not only to young audiences but also to older viewers seeking a relaxed and gentle experience free of excessive nods and winks.
7. How Do You Live? (The Boy and the Heron)
Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, How Do You Live? surprised the audiences with minimal pre-release information – no trailer or story details, just two images. Loosely based on Genzaburo Yoshino’s 1937 novel, it follows young Mahito as he moves to the countryside with his father during World War II after his mother’s tragic death. The film, with its fantastical elements, revolves around his journey to accept what he still has and protect it from further loss.
Echoing Miyazaki’s previous works, How Do You Live? is his personal creation. It focuses on a profound message rather than mass appeal, carrying relevance for an unknown future and the younger generation. Despite exceptional production, it embodies the essence of an indie film, making it an emotionally charged and thought-provoking experience.
6. Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken stands out as the summer’s finest mermaid film, even though the competition is lacking. This movie is an enjoyable sea-monster mash, centered on a young Kraken named Ruby. Her powers awaken as she tries to gather the courage to ask her crush to prom. Along the way, she must harness her abilities and confront her social awkwardness at school. All the while being entangled in a long-standing conflict between her Kraken race and the mermaids.
The animation and character designs have a charming, flexible quality, complemented by stellar performances from Lana Condor, Toni Collette, and Jana Fonda. Although not flawless, the film compensates with captivating underwater scenes and an electrifying mermaid-Kraken showdown.
In 2021, during Nimona's development at Blue Sky Studios, tragic news struck as Blue Sky was being shut down, leaving the film in limbo. However, two and a half years later, the movie found new life with Annapurna Pictures, DNEG Animation, and Netflix. Nimona, based on ND Stevenson’s comic, emerges as a powerful queer tale about a shape-shifter challenging societal norms.
When Nimona teams up with the falsely accused knight Ballister Boldheart to defy a repressive order, their friendship takes center stage. The film beautifully blends 2D and 3D animation, culminating in a captivating kaiju-size climax, with Chloe Grace and Riz Ahmed lending their voices to Nimona and Boldheart, respectively.
Pixar’s Elemental ventures into a world where elements like fire, water, plants, air, and rocks possess emotions. Set in Elemental City, the film follows an improbable romance between the fiery Ember and watery Wade. This concept allows for allegorical exploration of issues like racial diversity and society’s contradiction.
However, what truly sets it apart is Pixar’s ambitious animation, showcasing its mastery in rendering realistic elemental effects like water and fire. Creating an entire universe revolving around these effects exemplifies how Pixar’s stories drive advancements in animation technology and vice versa. Hence, making it one of their most daring films yet.
3. Black Clover: Sword of the Wizard King
It’s the first anime movie of the fantasy adventure manga and anime, produced by Pierro, the same studio behind the anime series. Set in a world where magic is paramount, the story follows Asta, a boy devoid of magic, who aspires to become the “Wizard King.” He wants to uphold his oath to his friends despite facing adversity.
The movie masterfully captures Black Clover’s essence, focusing on Asta’s growth through challenging trials on his path to becoming the Wizard King. Studio Pierrot delivers a visually stunning experience with epic battle scenes, seamless blending of CGI and 2D animations. The captivating action sequences keep the fans enthralled till the very end.
2. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
The Spider-Verse sequel captivates with its labor-intensive, hyperkinetic, and ultra-stylized animation right from the opening scene, featuring Gwen Stacy’s drumming and bursts of vibrant colors. The film showcases distinct and creatively illustrated universes, displaying its artistic brilliance. Miles Morales impresses as he swings, and flips through the frame, and his character arc remains engaging.
The movie clearly intertwines his family and civilian life with his superhero destiny and connection with other Spider-beings. Although it ends with a brutal cliffhanger, Across the Spider-Verse concludes many thematic threads, making it a truly complete superhero film.
1. The Super Mario Bros. Movie
The year’s biggest and most comical IP grab has become a scorching success at the box office, outperforming all other 2023 releases. Led by Chris Pratt, the movie is a delightful 92-minute tribute to Nintendo fans. It immerses them in a colorful world of references from Mario games like The Mushroom Kingdom and Rainbow Road.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie doesn’t take narrative risks, but it avoids being overly self-aware, making it enjoyable. Directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic keep Mario’s character arc simple, cleverly incorporating elements from the games into Illumination’s thrilling artistic sequences.
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