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7 Best Animated Movies of 2019
Animated movies aren’t just for kids anymore. Even if they seem to have the technical trappings of kid-friendly entertainment, we’re living in a golden age of films that straddle the line, thanks to layers of subtext and pithy asides. Never again will anyone’s parents will have to bring a deck of playing cards and a flashlight to survive the latest animated blockbuster. Here are our favorites of the year thus far, from your standard talking animals to colonial stop-motion puppets. And you can see Esquire’s list of best movies of 2019 so far here.
Toy Story 4
The Toy Story franchise goes meta in its fourth installment, which sees new character Forky, a plastic spork with googly eyes and pipecleaner arms, undergo an existential crisis—am I a toy, or am I trash? Heartwarming, tear-jerking, and riotously funny, the toys go to a bleak place the series has never gone before, and come back all the richer for it.
The Secret Life of Pets 2
The Secret Life of Pets, a goofy caper about the misadventures our pets get up to when we leave the house for the day, was an unexpected hit. In the sequel, Patton Oswalt takes over from Louis C.K. as Max, a neurotic dog adjusting to a new baby in his human household. Meanwhile, Kevin Hart returns as a deranged rabbit with dreams of superhero grandeur. Colorful, quirky, and energetic, it’s a romp with a big heart.
Ce Magnifique Gateau!
In this singular international stop-motion film, Ghent directors Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels revisit an ugly period of Belgian history: 1885, when Leopold II acquired what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo and killed millions of exploited Congolese workers in pursuit of natural resources like rubber and ivory. In spare, linked vignettes, the directors tell small-scale stories of cruelty and abuse, making for a deeply felt film about colonialism and its human consequences.
On paper, the premise of Detective Pikachu seems demented. When a young man sets out to investigate the disappearance of his detective father, his father’s partner, a wise-cracking Pikachu sporting a grubby baseball cap, joins the mission. What follows is a weird, wonderful buddy cop story that uses noir conventions to both send up and celebrate the Pokemon universe.
The LEGO Movie: The Second Part
After two spin-offs, the Lego franchise returns to Bricksburg, but the town isn’t as we left it—now it’s Apocalypseburg, a grim city besieged by Duplo invaders. When Lucy, Batman, and the gang are kidnapped by a shape-shifting alien, Emmett, the hero of the first film, embarks on a journey to save them, which quickly becomes a comedy of errors. Stuffed with candy-colored visuals and meta jokes, the film lacks some of the spark that made its predecessor so unusual, but it’s still a damn good time full of self-referential send-ups.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
The How to Train Your Dragon franchise is an undersung animated gem, a series of ambitious, risk-taking, visually splendid films about loyalty, selfhood, and friendship. In the third and final (so they say) installment of the series, Hiccup and Toothless visit a magical hidden world where dragons can live in peace beyond the interference of humans. The Hidden World puts a bow on the series with elegance and emotional resonance.
Don’t count out direct to video movies. The DC Universe line of Animated Original Movies quietly churns out excellent comic book adaptations, including Batman: Hush, based on a popular arc of Batman’s story. As Batman is attacked on all sides by enemies, his relationship with Catwoman grows serious, and he struggles to be emotionally vulnerable with her. Made with care by storytellers and animators who know and love Batman well, the film sees personal growth for Bruce Wayne in addition to Batman’s usual crime-fighting.
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.