2023 is looking like a very good year for feature animation.
With new releases from dependable heavy-hitters like Illumination, Disney and Pixar, plus exciting new features from smaller studios like Aardman and Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, 2023 is offering something for everything. We’re getting a ton of original features and some equally cool-sounding sequels, for an absolutely thrilling medley of animation styles, moods and formats (including stop-motion and traditional hand-drawn).
Here are 11 new animated movies you should be jazzed about in 2023:
“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (Illumination, April 7)
Yes, Chris Pratt’s “Italian” accent is deeply questionable. And we’re worried they’re cramming too much Mario Bros. lore into a single movie (especially since we all know this will be the beginning of a very lucrative franchise), with nods to everything from “Super Mario Galaxy” to “Luigi’s Mansion,” but otherwise “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” looks excellent and so, so fun. Directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, two of the mad geniuses behind the great “Teen Titans GO! To the Movies” and featuring a starry cast that also includes Jack Black, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key and Fred Armisen, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” could be very special indeed – a corporately engineered, synergized product (keep in mind the theme park land is opening at Universal Studios Hollywood around the same time) that also succeeds as a movie in its own right. Ready to take the warp pipe.
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures Animation, June 2)
Miles Morales returns! How pumped are you? The sequel to Sony’s Oscar-winning 2018 masterpiece is finally near. And this time Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) are joined by even more Spider-folk, including the is-he-a-bad-guy Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), Spider-Woman (Issa Rae) and Spider-Punk (Daniel Kaluuya), among many, many others. This time around the movie’s big bad is The Spot (Jason Schwartzman), a villain whose body is made up of wormholes to other dimensions. Sounds cool! Original writers/producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller return, this time joined by an all-new filmmaking team in Kemp Powers (co-director of “Soul”), Joaquim Dos Santos and Justin K. Thompson. And remember this is not the end – “Beyond the Spider-Verse” opens on March 29, 2024.
“Elemental” (Pixar, June 23)
Pixar is in the midst of a mini-renaissance and “Elemental” looks like it’ll be another knockout. Directed by longtime Pixar mainstay Pete Sohn and based on his experience growing up in 1970s New York with immigrant parents, “Elemental” takes place in a technologically advanced city where the elements are personified and where two opposites – a fire-lady named Ember (Leah Lewis) and a water man named Wade (Mamoudou Athie) fall in love. (If this isn’t the Pixar-iest sounding Pixar movie ever, we don’t know what is.) After a charming presentation at last year’s D23 Expo where Sohn talked about how his personal experience informed the movie and an even-more-charming first teaser trailer, we are very much looking forward to this unconventional love story.
“How Do You Live” (Studio Ghibli, July 14 in Japan)
Hayao Miyazaki un-retires one last time! The 81-year-old Japanese animation master, the closest thing that country has to Walt Disney, returns after his last supposedly-final film, 2013’s brilliant “The Wind Rises.” “How Do You Live” is ostensibly an adaptation of a beloved 1937 novel by Yoshino Genzaburo, but word is that Miyazaki’s adaptation will also include allusions to characters’ relationship to the original book. The only materials released so far are elliptical posters that don’t say much of anything. All you really need to know is that it’s a new Hayao Miyazaki movie. What else is there? (Also this is the Japanese release date, but we’re certain that a domestic distributor will come along soon.)
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” (Paramount, August 4)
We know very little about “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” the first theatrically released animated Ninja Turtles movie since 2007’s iffy “TMNT.” For instance, we have no idea who is voicing the Turtles themselves or what villains they will be facing off against (we imagine there will be several) or even who is composing the music. But we do know this: the film will be directed by Jeff Rowe, the co-director of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” and a writer on “Gravity Falls” and “Disenchantment,” and it is produced by Seth Rogen and his partner Evan Goldberg (their frequent collaborator Brendan O’Brien is credited with the script). And so it’s assumed that this movie will have a fresh look and the mixture of exuberance and heart that made “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” so special. Cowabunga!
“Trolls 3” (DreamWorks Animation, November 17)
The thing about DreamWorks’ “Trolls” movies is that they are actually very, very good. Jukebox musicals that employ an inventive, arts-and-crafts animation style, these movies are much better than they have any right to be, especially for a franchise based around those freaky fuzzy-haired, jewel-bellied toys. Details for the new movie (reportedly called “Trolls Band Together”) are scarce, but “Trolls World Tour” was a total blast and if they can build off of that, we’ll be very happy. Expect Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick and more familiar voices to return.
“Wish” (Walt Disney Animation Studios, November 22)
For the 100th year of Disney, Walt Disney Animation Studios wanted to do something special. That’s why they’re releasing “Wish,” a classical fairy tale, this year. Centered around the origins of the wishing star (which we have seen countless Disney protagonists gaze upon in earlier animated movies) and employing a painterly animation style that still is very much 3D, “Wish” looks to be the next Disney animated classic. Directed by Chris Buck (the “Frozen” films) and Fawn Veerasunthorn, the movie stars recent Oscar winner Ariana DeBose as our hero Asha and Alan Tudyk as the voice of an adorable goat (the wishing star is actually anthropomorphized but doesn’t speak), with songs by Julia Michaels and a script co-written by “Frozen” filmmaker and WDAS chief creative officer Jennifer Lee. We can already feel the tears welling up now.
“Migration” (Illumination, December 22)
Illumination is about to have a very good 2023. First “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” And then “Migration.” The story of a family of ducks from New England who decide to have a wild vacation on their way down to the Bahamas for the winter, there is some major firepower behind this new animated feature – it is directed by Benjamin Renner, the French filmmaker behind the modern classic “Ernest and Celestine,” and is written by Mike White, who just wrote and directed the second season of “The White Lotus” (and has many, many other credits to his name including “School of Rock” and “Pitch Perfect 3”). That’s about all we know about the movie and that’s all we need to know. Ready to make the move.
“Nimona” (Netflix, TBD)
One of the biggest disappointments of the Fox/Disney merger was the cancelation of Blue Sky Studios’ “Nimona,” an adaptation of the graphic novel by ND Stevenson. The movie was supposedly mostly done but in their shuttering of Blue Sky Studios, the project went with it. But against all odds, “Nimona” returned, thanks to Annapurna Animation and Netflix. While original filmmaker Patrick Osborne is no longer with the project (he was replaced by fellow Blue Sky director Nick Bruno and Troy Quane) and British visual effects and animation company DNEG is now handling the animation, this is pretty much the same film that Fox was ready to release. Chloë Grace Moretz and Riz Ahmed are still leading the voice cast and we’re assuming some of the thornier story issues that made Disney nervous, including gender nonbinary characters and an inherently queer narrative, will remain. You couldn’t ask for a happier ending.
“Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget” (Aardman/Netflix, TBD)
More than 20 years later, we’re finally getting a sequel to “Chicken Run,” the charming, hilarious, inventively animated Aardman Animation gem from 2000. Sam Fell, a veteran of Aardman’s computer-animated “Flushed Away” and stop-motion masterpiece “ParaNorman,” takes over directing duties, with a mostly new cast (Zachary Levi, Thandiwe Newton, Romesh Ranganathan, David Bradley and Daniel Mays are replacing original voice actors as legacy characters while Nick Mohammed and Josie Sedgwick-Davies will voice new characters). It’s a dicey gamble but one that we are sure will pay off.
“Spellbound” (Skydance Animation, TBD)
No, the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock movie isn’t getting an animated remake (although that would be pretty cool). “Spellbound” is actually the latest feature from Skydance Animation under the stewardship of former Pixar bigwig John Lasseter. And “Spellbound” has an impressive animation pedigree – it was directed by Vicky Jensen, one of the directors of “Shrek” (and one of the first directors to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature), co-written by “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King” scribe Linda Woolverton, with music by Alan Menken (every classic Disney musical you love) and songs by Menken and Glenn Slater (“Tangled”). And the voice cast isn’t too shabby either! Rachel Zegler plays a princess who tries to unite her kingdom after it is split by a magical spell; Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, John Lithgow, Jenifer Lewis and Nathan Lane also star. While Skydance Animation got off to an iffy start with last year’s “Luck,” “Spellbound” sounds like it could make them a major player.