A Look Back at Animation in 2016: From ‘Gravity Falls’ to ‘Moana’

The assignment: list my decisions for noteworthy animation for 2016. Honestly, it sent me into a panic. Despite loving cartoons, I tend to overlook a lot of the animated movies. When compared to the trailer, the movie is usually a disappointment.

That isn’t the case this year. With the exception of one highly hyped movie, most of these animated films will eventually be classics.

Here are the ones I believe to be most noteworthy. The only rule: I actually had to see it; no going off of critics’ opinions. Hence why Kubo and the Two Strings is missing.



Animation1Disney and Pixar know how to make terrific sequels. Just look at Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3. But Finding Dory is a disappointment.

Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) deserves her own movie; just not this one. Part of what makes Dory a great character is her partnership with Marlin (Albert Brooks). He’s the straight guy to her crazy person. Here, Marlin is barely a supporting character. Instead, Dory teams up with a cavalcade of new, quirky characters. Among these new creations, Hank the Septopus (Ed O’Neill) is the only one worth mentioning. Even so, he’s essentially Marlin with seven legs.

The memory jolts Dory experiences are a clunky, awkward device. Where were they in the first movie? They’re just thrown in so there’s something to build the story around.

Despite these hindrances, the voice actors are tremendous! It’s a real treat to have DeGeneres back. The best gag comes in the form of Sigourney Weaver as the voice of the aquarium tour. She constantly refers to herself, which provides fodder for Dory. For that, it’s worth a look-see.




The trailer was hysterical! A head-banging poodle?! Yes, please! It looked like Toy Story with pets.

But it wasn’t.

Instead of seeing the machinations of dog odd couple Max (Louie CK) and Duke (Eric Stonestreet) forced to co-habitate in the same apartment, we’re given a “journey home” story.

At this point, the only really interesting character is Snowball, a psychotic rabbit who leads a gang of discarded animals known as “The Flushed Pets”. As Snowball, Kevin Hart is a tour de force or homicidal rage, delusion, and grandiosity.

A sequel is in the works. Hopefully it will be contained to the apartment building. There were so many missed opportunities.




Animation4If Law & Order producer Dick Wolf ever tried his hand at animation, this would be the result. Zootopia is a well-plotted procedural that speaks about accepting those who are different.

Judy Hopps (Gennifer Goodwin) is the first female cop on the Zootopia police force. Eager to prove herself, Judy stumbles upon a missing animal case and teams up with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a con-fox armed with slyness and snark. Their investigation uncovers a much more sinister plot: a conspiracy to rid Zootopia of all predatory animals.

Themes of race and bigotry permeate this movie. It’s the perfect allegory for our current heated, distrustful times.




Animation6Probably the best cartoon on TV since The Fairly Oddparents and Animaniacs. If only every TV cartoon were this good. Then again, if they were, we wouldn’t appreciate them.

Gravity Falls is a Disney XD cartoon created by Alex Hirsch. It centers around Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel Pines (Kristen Schaal) spending the summer with their Grunkle Stan (Hirsch) in Oregon. Stan owns The Mystery Shack, a tourist trap/museum to the town’s paranormal and supernatural occurrences.

What sets this series apart from others is that Hirsch planned it as a finite event:

“I always designed Gravity Falls to be a finite series about one epic summer – a series with a beginning, middle and end.”

It premiered on June 15, 2012. The series finale, “Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back the Falls” aired on February 15, 2016. This episode encapsulates everything that defines the series: humor, story, and memorable characters.

Of course Dipper and Mabel save the day, but it’s more than good triumphing over evil. It’s a coming-of-age story. An animated memory of how magical summers were when we were kids. When Dipper and Mabel leave for home, they take these memories with them.

And so do we.




Animation8Disney is in its second Golden Age of animated movies, which began with Frozen. In Moana, a new Disney Princess joins the crowded court featuring Snow White, Belle, Jasmine, Anna, and Elsa.

Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) must return Te Fiti’s heart (an emerald stone), which was stolen thousands of years ago by the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), in order to save her island village when resources grow scarce. She ventures forth to find Maui and his magical fish hook. After some shenanigans, they do return the stone, despite the lava monster Te Ká’s attempts stop them. Te Ká is actually Te Fiti without her heart. Once the stone is returned, Te Fiti rests again, Maui is free, and Moana returns to her village to lead them in search of new islands.

Ron Clements and John Musker direct this new classic. You might be familiar with them; they directed The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. It’s great having these two Disney legends at the helm again.

The music is outstanding! Especially the songs written by the genius Lin-Manuel Miranda. He brings the same pop/hip-hop aesthetic he applied in the musical Hamilton to Moana.
In a computer-generated movie, the spotlight is stolen by tradition 2-D animation in the form of Maui’s tattoos. The man responsible is Eric Goldberg, another Disney veteran. He was the lead animator for the character of Genie in Aladdin. Without uttering one word, Goldberg’s tattoos are their own storytelling device. Sad one minute, hilarious the next. It’s nice to see that traditional animation still has a place in film.



There you have it, folks! My decisions for 2016’s best in animation. What are some other cartoons you would include?

Looks like 2017 is going to have to step up if it wants to be anywhere near some of these animated films.

Ryan Malik
Ryan Malik
Ryan is a screenwriter with a BFA in Film from The School of Visual Arts in New York City. He's a connoisseur of Batman, Ghostbusters, Hitchcock, Scorsese, Stephen King, and Pop-Tarts. Tweet me @Theaterfilms1