Lacking a tentpole streaming release, June was the first month in a while to see no major animated features or animated/live-action hybrids come out in the U.S. Theaters are still mostly shut and economic chaos looms. But while normality remains some way off, this was also the first month since February in which news unrelated to the virus was able to dominate the animation headlines for significant stretches of time.
A few big-league virtual events, Annecy chief among them, provided the backdrop to a flurry of industry announcements — a comforting reminder that things are still being greenlit and acquired. Meanwhile, the economic and health crisis of the virus was partly displaced by the social crisis triggered by the killing of George Floyd. Never has there been such concerted debate about what racial justice means in animation.
Racial inequality in the industry came under renewed scrutiny. White actors stepped down from voicing non-white characters on Big Mouth, Central Park, and Family Guy. The Simpsons will follow suit, and the creator of Bojack Horseman apologized for committing the same “racist error.” Black figures in animation — both artists and executives — spoke about their experiences of the industry and the current movement. The producer of Pixar’s forthcoming Soul discussed the film’s representation of black characters. Artists shared their incomes online, revealing pay disparities between white and black people.
So did sexual harassment. Three prominent teachers were called out for misconduct and abuse of female students and colleagues, and lost work as a result. They are Daniel Krall, a now-fired professor of illustration at the Maryland Institute College of Art; Don Poynter, a now-fired animation teacher at the School of Visual Arts; and Noah Bradley, who remains the owner of his online art school Art Camp, but has lost work from multiple clients, including the card game Magic: The Gathering.
The coronavirus continued to wreak havoc. The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run will no longer come out on August 7 in theaters. ViacomCBS will launch it online next year instead. Even as cinemas reopen in some territories, there’s no guarantee they’ll do good business — our poll revealed that nearly 80% of our readers don’t plan to visit one this summer. The Oscars have been shifted from February 28 to April 25, 2021 to accommodate all the delays. But Sony Pictures Animation president Kristine Belson sees an upside to the pandemic: she predicted that it will lead to more animated features for older audiences.
Annecy showcased the cutting edge of animation. In its first-ever virtual edition, the industry’s biggest festival screened a full competition lineup, and hosted an array of events. We reported on some of the most interesting ones, including work-in-progress presentations of upcoming features Wolfwalkers and The Summit of the Gods, pitches of films and tv projects in development, a storyboarding masterclass by Cartoon Network artists, and a conversation with Disney’s famed directing duo Ron Clements and John Musker. There were updates about some of the most anticipated animated films on the radar: the Chicken Run sequel, Glen Keane’s Over the Moon, and Masaaki Yuasa’s Inu-Oh. You can read our interviews with the directors behind some of Annecy’s finest films: Andreas Hykade (Altötting), Kenji Iwaisawa (On-Gaku: Our Sound), and Mariusz Wilczyński (Kill It and Leave This Town).
Prizes and honors were handed out. There was Annecy’s own award ceremony, where Remi Chayé’s Calamity, a Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary and Theodore Ushev’s The Physics of Sorrow were among the winners. The Quirino Awards recognized the most impressive Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American animation of the past year — including Sergio Pablos’s Klaus — after their own online convention. Cannes canceled its physical event and handed out laurels to 56 features, four of which are animated.
Kelly Asbury passed away. The director of Dreamworks Animation’s Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Shrek 2, among other films, died from cancer aged 60. For Cartoon Brew, he had written a couple of commentaries about his work in the animation industry, including a candid and insightful piece about how he had dealt emotionally with the box office failure of his last two features.
(Image at top, left to right: “Wolfwalkers,” “Big Mouth,” and “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run.”)