The Covid continued to sabotage the theatrical experience in 2021: this is true of all cinema, and in particular animation. Sony sent three of its animated films to Netflix and the fourth to Amazon Prime. Other big studios have also redirected their bigger movies to streaming services in the we, with or without simultaneous theatrical release. Luca and Raya and the Last Dragon went to Disney +, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run and PAW Patrol: The Movie to Paramount +, and the action-animation hybrids Tom and Jerry and Space Jam: A New Legacy to HBO Max. Only a few second-rate studio films, like MGM‘s The Addams Family 2, has been given any kind of theatrical window (although at the time of writing, Disney’s Encanto and Illumination’s Sing 2 are set to join them before the end of the year).

These films were made with children and teenagers in mind, as Hollywood is used to with animation. Some have seen their theatrical releases compromised by the introduction of vaccination warrants in major American cities, at a time when few children had been loaded. On the other hand, films were now also appearing as valuable assets for fledgling studio streaming platforms: parents of young children are loyal and reputable subscribers.

Luca (2021)

These parents are particularly well served by these platforms, which allow them to replay their children’s favorite shows endlessly and save them the considerable cost of a family trip to the movies. Which begs the question: what’s the future of family movies on the big screen? When they aren’t making the next Minions or Toy Story, will animation studios now focus on low-budget streaming productions? Even Pixar, the master of event animation film, is thriving in long series.

Of course, animation isn’t just for kids, as some of the year’s best films have shown. In the documentary Flee, we see director Jonas Poher Rasmussen sensitively interviewing his friend “Amin” about his experiences as an Afghan refugee in Denmark. The intimacy between them allows Amin’s personality – whose anonymity is protected by the use of animation – to emerge in all its complexity, and Flee thus bypasses the tendency of refugee films to sentimentalize their feelings. topics.

War and refugees have become common subjects in European animated feature films. This year saw the premiere of Where Is Anne Frank, by Waltz starring Bashir director Ari Folman, which links the story of the Holocaust victim to the plight of today’s refugees. Florence Miailhe’s The Crossing follows two children fleeing ethnic cleansing in a fictional country in Eastern Europe. The technique of painting on glass is striking – and extremely laborious – but the animation of the characters on stilts undermines the most dramatic parts of the story.

Cryptozoo (2021)

Streaming services aren’t just good at picking up stranded Hollywood movies: they also release independent animated titles that might never have reached our shores in previous eras. Netflix has acquired The Summit of the Gods, a mountaineering drama based on the manga of the same name which is loosely linked to climber legend George Mallory. The film is very well crafted and reaches a level of psychological intensity rarely found in animation. In the UK, Mubi released Cryptozoo, Dash Shaw’s freewheeling tribute to ’60s counterculture and cryptid folklore.

Even so, many of the best and most daring independent films never make it to the UK. I wonder if these highlights of the 2021 festival circuit will one day be broadcast here: Archipelago, the bewitching film essay by Félix Dufour-Laperrière on the history and landscapes of Quebec; Bob Spit: We don’t like people, the inventive, quasi-documentary portrait of Cesar Cabral by Brazilian cartoonist Angeli; and Dozens of Norths, the first experimental feature film by Yamamura Kōji, dean of the independent Japanese animation scene.

I see two major trends developing in the years to come. China now produces a large number of animated feature films, many of which are based on local mythology; some of them will be among the top grossing animated films in the world each year, and a growing number will be exported. Meanwhile, Netflix’s meteoric charge in author-directed animation will begin to pay off over the next couple of years, when we have to get features from Guillermo del Toro, Henry Selick, Nora Twomey, Richard Linklater and d ‘others. It’s a race like the industry has never seen. How many studios will follow suit and break the CG family comedy mold? Will Netflix itself keep up with this pace?

One last note: the film that excites me the most in 2022 is Perlimps, a radiant fantasy in the rainforest by Brazilian director Alê Abreu.