Here we are again, with a preview of the coming year’s major animated features. Release plans can always change, but that’s especially true in the pandemic. Readers with long memories may notice that four of the films below also featured in our 2021 list this time last year. (Two were even on our list for 2020.)
Even with Omicron looming, studios will hope that the worst of the disruption is behind them. The first Hollywood feature due for theaters in 2022 is Pixar’s Turning Red, which is currently set to come out on March 11. No matter how unsettled things are then, it’s hard to imagine a delay: a switch to a hybrid or streaming-only release seems more likely. With luck, none of the films below will be kicked back into 2023 — at least not because of Covid.
One slate that’s relatively shielded from the virus is Netflix’s. This year will see the company’s animation division come into its own, releasing at least five self-produced, auteur-led projects from major filmmakers like Henry Selick and Guillermo del Toro. It must be said: the industry’s never seen anything quite like it.
At the same time, the SVOD market will become more diverse in 2022. For the first time, our annual feature preview contains an Amazon release. Apple TV+ is due to release Skydance’s Luck, only its second animated feature. Many Dreamworks and Illumination films will start becoming exclusive to Peacock as early as 45 days after their theatrical and PVOD release. And now Disney+ is getting exclusive features that were intended for it in the first place, not rerouted due to Covid.
When it comes to stories, franchises will continue to dominate. By our count, half the films in our list — 11 in all — are based on existing animation or entertainment properties. Another four are adaptations of existing books or films. That leaves seven original stories. Pixar will release its fourth in a row with Turning Red, although that run will end with Lightyear, an origin story for Buzz Lightyear of Toy Story.
A side note: we’re omitting animation/live-action hybrids this year, as there are simply too many. Animation is more central to Hollywood storytelling than ever before.
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania
Directors: Jennifer Kluska, Derek Drymon Production company: Sony Pictures Animation U.S. distributor: Amazon Studios Release date: January 14
A malfunctioning invention turns the Hotel’s monsters into humans, while human Johnny becomes a monster. The final installment in SPA’s ghoulish film series was removed from the theatrical release calendar — and its natural pre-Halloween slot — as Covid continued to cause havoc. It has ended up on streaming, just like the studio’s three previous features, although this one has gone to Amazon (not Netflix). It’s rare for the company to make such a high-profile animation acquisition.
The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild
Directors: John C. Donkin, Marshall Fels Elliott Production company: 20th Century Animation U.S. distributor: Disney+ Release date: January 28
Disney may have shut down Blue Sky, but it still has the studio’s IP, including the most lucrative of all: the Ice Age franchise. Expect the company to milk it for a good while, starting with this Disney+ feature. It is centered on the Simon Pegg-voiced weasel Buck, who first appeared in the franchise’s third film, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. The animation was outsourced to Vancouver’s Bardel Entertainment (Rick & Morty).
Director: Peggy Holmes Production company: Skydance Animation U.S. distributor: Apple TV+ Release date: February 18
The first feature release from young studio Skydance Animation is described as a comedy “about a very unlucky girl who discovers the world of good and bad luck.” Luck will be the first animated feature in a while to bear the imprimatur of John Lasseter, who moved to Skydance after leaving Pixar/Disney amid allegations of sexual harassment. The release date is tentative: it was announced when Luck was still bound for a theatrical release, and Apple, which acquired the film in February, has yet to confirm that it is sticking to it.
Director: Domee Shi Production company: Pixar U.S. distributor: Disney Release date: March 11
Pixar returns with its fourth straight original feature, and its first to be helmed solely by a woman. She is Domee Shi, director of the Oscar-winning short Bao, a biting satire about parenthood and dumplings. That film’s offbeat humor seems also to run through Turning Red, a Toronto-set tale of a teenage girl who turns into a big red panda when excited. There are shades of Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro — is it a coincidence the girl is called Mei?
The Bad Guys
Director: Pierre Perifel Production company: Dreamworks U.S. distributor: Universal Release date: April 22
The first of Dreamworks’ two 2022 releases is another refugee from the Covid release chaos of 2021. Based on Aaron Blabey’s popular children’s books, The Bad Guys wants to do for heist movies what Shrek did for fairytales. The story follows five crooks as they taken on “their most challenging job yet: going good.” Dreamworks stalwart Perifel co-directed the studio’s short film Bilby; his credits as an animator include the Kung Fu Panda films and Shrek Forever After.
DC League of Super-Pets
Directors: Jared Stern, Sam Levine Production company: Warner Animation Group U.S. distributor: Warner Bros. Release date: May 20
The Justice League are replaced by their pets in this all-woofing, all-meowing DC film, which is based on the Legion of Super-Pets comics. The cast is led by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Krypto the Superdog (no prizes for guessing whose pet that is). Warner Animation Group is in full-on IP exploitation mode at the moment, and this, its sole 2022 release, is no exception.
The Bob’s Burgers Movie
Director: Loren Bouchard Production company: 20th Century Animation U.S. distributor: 20th Century Studios (Disney) Release date: May 27
After bouncing around the Covid-era calendar — and briefly being pulled entirely — the Bob’s Burgers spin-off finally has what looks like a firm release date, two years after it was initially meant to come out. Disney inherited the movie from Fox, and by this quirk of fate, it will become the House of Mouse’s first hand-drawn feature since 2011’s Winnie the Pooh. The plot, for now, is under wraps.
Director: Angus MacLane Production company: Pixar U.S. distributor: Disney Release date: June 17
Above, we mentioned Pixar’s run of original features. Well, this will end it. Lightyear isn’t a sequel but a spin-off: an origin story about the astronaut who inspired the Buzz figure of Toy Story fame. Finding Dory co-director MacLane is in the director’s chair. This the last feature to have been greenlit before Pete Docter took over Pixar’s creative reins, so wait for the studio’s 2023 slate and beyond for a sense of his vision.
Minions: The Rise of Gru
Director: Kyle Balda Production company: Illumination U.S. distributor: Universal Release date: July 1
Hard-hit by the pandemic, The Rise of Gru has been delayed by two whole years. The prequel-meets-sequel belongs to the highest-grossing animation franchise of all time, and Universal was loath to condemn it to streaming. Narrative chronology places the film between 2015’s Minions and the Despicable Me trilogy (2010, 2013, 2017); if Minions revealed where the gibbering yellow henchmen came from, this film provides an origin story for the villain who becomes their commander.
Under the Boardwalk
Director: David Soren Production company: Paramount Animation U.S. distributor: Paramount Pictures Release date: July 22
Paramount’s animation division is still looking for a hit original feature. Could this musical comedy about hermit crabs who live on the Jersey Shore be it? The premise has notes of Romeo and Juliet: tensions between the land crab townies and sea crab tourists rise after members of the two clans fall in love. Soren (Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie) directs and animation is provided by DNEG’s young feature animation unit, whose maiden release was Ron’s Gone Wrong in 2021.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
Director: Joel Crawford Production company: Dreamworks U.S. distributor: Universal Release date: September 23
The time has come for the very-long-gestating sequel to 2011’s Oscar-nominated Puss in Boots, itself a spin-off from Shrek. Antonio Banderas returns to voice the swashbuckling moggie, who learns at the outset that he has only one of his nine lives left. This is the first Shrek/Puss film in more than a decade; it remains to be seen how much life the franchise has left in it.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One)
Directors: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson Production company: Sony Pictures Animation U.S. distributor: Sony Pictures Releasing Release date: October 7
The sequel to one of the most lauded animated features of recent years will be one of the most hyped of 2022. Producer Amy Pascal disclosed back in 2018 that it would focus on a romance between Miles and Gwen, the original film’s teen Spider-People stars. The first teaser backs this up, while the official synopsis promises that the pair will team up with other Spider-People “to face off with a villain more powerful than anything they have ever encountered.” The movie has an all-new directorial team: Powers (co-director and co-writer, Soul), Thompson (production designer, original Spider-Verse), and Dos Santos (director, Avatar: The Last Airbender). Oh, and that “Part One” in the title tells us there’ll be more.
Director: Don Hall Production company: Walt Disney Animation Studios U.S. distributor: Disney Release date: November 23
Having pumped out two features in 2021 — Raya and the Last Dragon and Encanto — Walt Disney Animation Studios is set to release just the one in 2022. Strange World returns to a genre the studio doesn’t attempt very often: the action-adventure story. It follows the Clades, a legendary family of explorers, and unfolds in an “uncharted and treacherous land” populated by fantastical creatures. Raya director Hall is onboard, as is Raya co-writer Qui Nguyen (who writes and co-directs here).
Untitled Super Mario film
Directors: Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic Production company: Illumination U.S. distributor: Universal Release date: December 21
Nintendo has been chary of converting its IP to films and series — it may have been burnt by the reactions to the last Mario film, the 1993 live-action oddity. Yet here we are: it is working with Minions studio Illumination to produce a fully animated franchise movie. Little is known, other than the cast, which features Chris Pratt as Mario, Anya Taylor-Joy as Peach, Jack Black as Bowser, and Keegan-Michael Key as squeaky fungus Toad.
Directors: Mark Koetsier, Rob Minkoff Production company: Aniventure U.S. distributor: TBA Release date: 2022
A dog with dreams of becoming a samurai ends up as the sheriff in a town of cats. This spin on Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles is the second release from Aniventure, a U.K. production company dedicated to developing “a new economic model” for animated features, following 2021’s Riverdance: The Animated Adventure. There’s big Disney talent onboard: the film is helmed by Minkoff, a director on 1994’s The Lion King, and Koetsier, a veteran animator and story artist.
Untitled Night at the Museum movie
Director: TBC Production company: 21 Laps U.S. distributor: Disney Release date: 2022
Buried in the deluge of announcements on Disney’s 2020 Investor Day was this, an animated installment in the supernatural comedy franchise. Shawn Levy, director of the original trilogy, is producing, and the film is coming to Disney+ in 2022. Little else has been confirmed.
Wendell and Wild
Director: Henry Selick Production company: Netflix Animation U.S. distributor: Netflix Release date: 2022
This has been a long time coming: stop-mo supremo Selick hasn’t released a film since 2009’s Coraline, and has been working on this one for more than half a decade. The story follows the demon brothers of the title, voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, as they escape the underworld and encounter demon-duster Kat; Peele (Get Out) wrote the script with Selick. The film is part of the bumper crop of home-grown animated films Netflix is set to release in 2022: see below.
Keep an eye out for Kat, the teen protagonist in WENDELL & WILD—Henry Selick’s new animated film, co-written by Selick and Jordan Peele.
Director: Chris Williams Production company: Netflix Animation U.S. distributor: Netflix Release date: 2022
Here’s another animation filmmaker’s passion project bankrolled by Netflix. Williams, a director of Disney’s Big Hero 6, writes and directs this tale of adventure on the high seas, which pits hunters against monsters (inspired by the whimsical beasts depicted on ancient nautical maps). Note that the film was previously known as Jacob and the Sea Beast.
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood
Director: Richard Linklater Production company: Netflix Animation U.S. distributor: Netflix Release date: 2022
Linklater is one of the rare directors to have made their names in live action, but then repeatedly turned to animation and used the medium in thoughtful ways. This story of the moon landing, told from the perspectives of both NASA and a child watching the event on tv, is his third animated feature. The film incorporated a live-action shoot, and “will be partially animated using techniques similar to rotoscoping,” The New Yorkerreports. Sounds a lot like the technique used on Linklater’s previous animated films, Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
Director: Guillermo del Toro Production company: Netflix Animation U.S. distributor: Netflix Release date: 2022
Del Toro is another live-action filmmaker who has shown great interest in animation — he’s behind Netflix’s Tales of Arcadia trilogy — but this is the first animated feature he’s directing. First announced in 2008, his adaptation of the classic fable has been through various incarnations, ending up as a stop-motion musical at Netflix. The director recently said the film would be released in the last quarter of 2022. Don’t confuse it with the other Pinocchio movie coming out in 2022: a live-action take from Robert Zemeckis.
My Father’s Dragon
Director: Nora Twomey Production companies: Netflix Animation, Cartoon Saloon U.S. distributor: Netflix Release date: 2022
A boy goes in search of a captive dragon in this adaptation of Ruth Stiles Gannett’s children’s novel series of the same name. Twomey, a co-founder of Cartoon Saloon, previously directed Afghanistan-set drama The Breadwinner; this film finds the acclaimed Irish studio back in more familiar territory, namely folkloric fantasy. The screenplay is by Pixar scribe Meg LeFauve (Inside Out).
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
Directors: Ant Ward, Andy Suriano Production companies: Nickelodeon Animation U.S. distributor: Netflix Release date: 2022
The turtles fight to repel a Krang invasion in this spin-off from the Nickelodeon series, which launched in 2018 with a revamped 2d look for the famous franchise. Ward and Suriano, who developed the series, are directing the film.
Images at top, left to right: “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One),” “The Bad Guys,” “Turning Red”