Puppets, chiseled gladiators, smart aleck rodents and a canine genius are just some of the animated characters coming to theatres this Winter.
2014 has only just arrived, but it’s already bringing with it a bunch of controversial, pot-stirring films for our viewing pleasure. So if you’re looking for something to rail against, you’ll get your chance, with re-imagined superheroes, World War II-era animations and bible stories all vying for your attention through till the spring.
The Legend of Hercules – January 10th
Finnish Director Renny Harlin (1999’s Deep Blue Sea) casts Kellan Lutz (Emmett Cullen in the Twilight films) as Hercules in this latest interpretation of the popular Greek myth. This time out, however, Herc seems able to channel Zeus’ lightening powers with his sword, He-Man style, thanks to some assistance from Prime Focus, Basilic Fly Studio, Factory VFX, Ghost VFX, Worldwide FX and Hydraulx VFX. Whether that’s insanely cool or completely ludicrous is entirely up to you.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – January 17th
Kenneth Branagh tries out a Russian accent as the villain of this new Jack Ryan adventure, which he also directs. In a departure from the previous four films in the franchise, Recruit features an original story that isn’t based on one of the late Tom Clancy’s best-selling books. With Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightley and VFX support from Cinesite, Baseblack and Blind Ltd London, though, will it really matter? Not as long as the spy action keeps audiences on the edge of their seats.
The Nut Job – January 17th
A bunch of furry park residents turn to crime to make sure they’ve got enough food to survive the winter in this CGI animated heist film from ToonBox Entertainment, RedRover and Gulfstream Pictures. Based on the 2005 short Surly Squirrel. Job’s voice cast includes comedy vets like Will Arnett and Brendan Fraser, but rumor has it PSY and his over-exposed “Gangnam Style” song will figure into the film’s end credits, so who knows how well the humor will play. Given that this marks director Peter Lepeniotis’ first foray into the world of feature films after having contributed to classics like Toy Story 2 and Fantasia 2000, we’re rooting for him to have found a good balance.
The LEGO Movie – February 7th
It may not be a rom-com, but for kids at heart, this may just be the best bet come Valentine’s Day. Phil Lord and Chris Miller – of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Clone High fame – are back to direct the very first feature all about those little blocks that interlock. The plot features a plethora of characters from the LEGO universe, but immediately loses points including Batman and failing to bring Kevin Conroy back to voice him. Oh well. It still looks enjoyable, with some inventive animation from Australia’s Animal Logic bringing all the toys to life.
RoboCop – February 12th
Rebooting a beloved icon of the ‘80s is no easy task, never mind stepping in as director after Darren Aronofsky has left the building. José Padilha has our respect for tackling both those daunting tasks, but questions remain about the redesigned costume, which has left fans of RoboCop seriously irked for months. Maybe Framestore, Mr. X Inc, Peanut FX, Method Studios, Modus FX, Perception NYC, Soho VFX and Cinesite will err on the side of caution and make a point of obscuring it with explosions for 90 minutes.
The Wind Rises – February 21st
Hayao Miyazaki’s latest (and quite possibly, last) animated oeuvre opened to rave reviews overseas last summer, and now, thanks to Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, North American audiences can finally take it in. This historical drama follows the life of Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi and his creation, the A6M Zero, which went on to be used in the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the subject matter has raised a couple of eyebrows, most are calling Rises everything from “breathtaking” and “haunting” to “a bittersweet swan song”. Pay homage to a Giant of animation by checking it out for yourself.
I, Frankenstein – February 24th
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra writer Stuart Beattie puts a new spin on the graphic novel which put a new spin on the classic movie monster Frankenstein. Sound confusing? Well, let’s break it down. Aaron Eckhart plays Adam Frankenstein, who was in fact sewed together by the good Doctor, but ended up living a lot longer than intended. He finds himself caught in a battle between demons and gargoyles and luckily has enough martial arts moves to be a formidable player. Director Beattie is equally fortunate to have Iloura, Cutting Edge, Luma Pictures, Prime Focus, Rising Sun Pictures, Method Studios and The Aaron Sims Company to help him handle all the angry beasties in this film, because there appear to be an awful lot of them.
300: Rise of an Empire – March 7th
After having its release date pushed back seven months, this Noam Murro-directed action flick is finally hitting theatres, and in IMAX 3D no less. Scripted by Zach Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, Empire jumps around in time to before, during and after the events of the original 300, with Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro and David Wenham returning as their respective characters. Noticeably absent, however, is Gerard Butler as King Leonidas. Even without his mighty abs and beard to lead the charge, Rhythm & Hues, MPC, The Third Floor, Cinesite, Scanline VFX, Gentle Giant Studios and The Aaron Sims Company are certain to pull out all the stops to make sure those warriors still look imposing as they fight in slow motion.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman – March 7th
Two fondly remembered characters from the ‘60s animated classic The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show finally (hopefully) get their due in this CGI feature from DreamWorks Animation. Taking over for the super-intelligent pooch’s original voice actor, Bill Scott, is Modern Family’s Ty Burrell, with The Neighbours’ Max Charles as Peabody’s “adopted human” companion, Sherman. Look to see them traverse history with the aid of their WABAC time machine, and interact with such bigwigs as Leonardo Da Vinci and King Tut. With The Lion King director Rob Minkoff handling this one and Stephen Colbert also lending his pipes to the project, it should be a heck of a fun ride.
Muppets Most Wanted – March 21st
It’s a safe bet we don’t need to say anything about this one to get people excited to see it, but here are some details to ponder. This time around, the Muppets will share the screen with the likes of Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Lady Gaga, Stanley Tucci, Celine Dion and Salma Hayek during a lively musical caper set in Europe. The Senate VFX, Double Negative, Factory VFX and Nvizible are dividing the visual effects duties while James Bobin plays the dual role of writer/director.
Divergent – March 21st
Gentle Giant Studios, The Third Floor, Method Studios, Lidar VFX, Scanline VFX and Soho VFX help director Neil Burger craft a compelling vision of a futuristic dystopian Chicago in this adaptation of Veronica Roth’s popular novel. Divergent examines a society where people fit into one of five categories depending on their personalities, at least until one girl’s nature defies those labels. Shailene Woodley stars at Beatrice “Tris” Prior, with support from Theo James and Kate Winslet. With two more of Roth’s books waiting in the wings for big screen treatment, this could potentially be the start of another Hunger Games franchise, provided it meets fans’ expectations while simultaneously standing apart.
Noah – March 28th
A cast of A-listers like Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Watson join Russell Crowe in this retelling of the biblical story of the man who made animals march two by two. Of course, this version of events is based on director Darren Aronofsky’s ambitious graphic novel, which brings a savage flavor to the source material. In addition to adding a massive army trying to bring down the ark, the film will explore Noah’s “survivor’s guilt” and is also said to feature some of the most complex digital animals ever rendered by ILM. An easy sell to audiences this one ain’t, but it’ll probably be a perfect showcase for the talents of ILM, Look Effects and Buffalo Digital (formerly Blind Squirrel Digital).
James Gartler is a Canadian writer with a serious passion for animation in all its forms. His work has appeared in the pages of Sci Fi Magazine, and at the websites EW.com and Newsarama.com.