Animation Studios You Should Know
Disney gets all the glory as a family-friendly source for animated entertainment, but they are not the only show in town. With every animation studio comes a unique flavor, and you owe it to yourself to check them out individually. Whether it’s watching their back catalog of films or anticipating their next release, here’s a list of the best animation out there today.
Cartoon Saloon (Irish)
Relatively new to the feature game, Cartoon Saloon has produced two breathtaking movies thus far: The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. These fantasy-filled adventures draw heavily from Irish folklore, and they are well worth a watch for any family. We anxiously await their next installment, The Breadwinner, coming out this September. Even if foreign films aren’t usually your thing, we strongly suggest checking out this studio’s work.
You may have seen that Laika’s latest film, Kubo and the Two Strings, was nominated for an Oscar. That was no mistake; it’s a phenomenal piece of filmmaking. Laika champions the stop-motion art style, pushing boundaries in the world of animation. Laika began in 2009 with an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel, Coraline, which just might be the creepiest children’s movie this century. Their work tends towards the paranormal, and we love it.
Warner Brothers Studios has been around for a long time, but they have made surprisingly few animated features. Their Looney Tunes live-action hybrid, Space Jam, was sadly the only financial success of their first five films, leading Warner Bros Feature Animation had to shut down prematurely in 2003. This is a shame, since they made some real gems in that time, including Brad Bird’s magnum opus, The Iron Giant. Warner Bros returned to the feature animation world in 2014 with The Lego Movie, helmed by the creative team of Christopher Lord and Phil Miller. That smash success put Warner on the map again. We look forward to their future endeavors, lego or otherwise.
Aardman Studios (British)
You probably recognize their claymation style from the short films of Wallace and Gromit. The studio has released 6 features to date, all certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. All their works are worth a view, from their no-dialog masterpiece (Shaun the Sheep), to the witty tale of chickens trying to fly the coop (Chicken Run), to the surprisingly grounded rehashing of the “man who saved Christmas” story (Arthur Christmas). Adorable, family-friendly fun abounds. We look forward to their next movie, which will feature a prehistoric society. We expect it will be hilarious.
Studio Ghibli (Japanese)
Creator Hayao Miyazaki defined a generation with his imaginative worlds. His trademark seems to be a young female lead who holds the key to making a great change in a mystical world (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo). Miyazaki announced his retirement after the 2013 release of The Wind Rises, but rumor has it that he is back at the helm of a new feature. In the meantime, fulfill your Ghibli needs with the recently Oscar nominated film, The Red Turtle.
Yes, Disney owns Pixar, but they are not the same. Pixar has a long history of pairing innovative storytelling with top-of-the-line CGI. You have your favorites and I have mine, including WALL-E, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles. Their upcoming film about the Day of the Dead should not disappoint.
Sony Pictures Animation
Sony has had a string of cult classics as of late. I could talk for ages about Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs; it’s one of my absolute favorites. And who knew how much a monster movie could tug at the heartstrings until the Hotel Transylvania films? Sony Pictures Animation is really making a name for themselves by taking seemingly strange concepts and pumping out quality entertainment. We hope for the best from their upcoming Emoji Movie, coming to theaters July 28th.
Beyond Ice Age, their juggernaut franchise, Blue Sky has made some pretty great family entertainment. Rio is an upbeat jungle adventure, as is Horton Hears a Who. The Peanuts Movie is probably their most critically acclaimed work. Owned by 20th Century Fox, this studio seems to have a bright future.
Any list of non-Disney animation studios would be incomplete without including Dreamworks. Disney and Dreamworks have been at each other’s throats since before the dawn of sliced bread. Known for taking thematic risks, Dreamworks has a lengthy back-catalogue of films, and everyone has their favorites. Shrek and Kung Fu Panda are their highest grossing franchises. Our favorites are Megamind and The Prince of Egypt. The studio’s movie output has slowed since they were bought by NBCUniversal in 2016, but they remain one of the most well-recognized players on the field.
These movies make a lot of money. Like, a LOT of money. The Minions movie became the second highest-grossing animated movie of all time, making upwards of $1.1 billion. Secret Life of Pets and Sing were not far behind. Critical review of their films may be tepid, but audiences put their money where their mouth is.
Walt Disney Animation Studios
The whole point of this list is to reach beyond Disney. You know what Disney is up to; they won’t let you forget. However, some of their greatest works are often overlooked. Here’s just a brief list of some of our favorites.
The Rescuers Down Under
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Meet the Robinsons
The Princess and the Frog
Which studio is your favorite? Did we miss any? Let us know!