Animated Features 2023 Preview: From ‘Across the Spider-Verse’ to Miyazaki’s ‘How Do You Live?’ Farewell

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The good news for animation is that “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” from Illumination/Universal topped $1 billion worldwide and $490 million domestically in its fourth weekend. That puts it in the company of “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Black Panther,” and proves that there is a hungry audience once again clamoring for animated movies in theaters.

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Like “Maverick” and “The Way of Water,” however, “Super Mario Bros.” had a very special nostalgic appeal revolving around the beloved Nintendo video game. Which is why it was thrilling for young kids especially to see hapless plumbers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) teaming up with Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) to defeat evil Koopa Bowser (Jack Black). While the storytelling left a lot to be desired, there is at least momentum for greater animation to come.

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The year will be marked by three high-profile sequels — Sony’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” Aardman’s “Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget,” and DreamWorks’ “Trolls Band Together” — Pixar’s first rom-com, the effects-driven “Elemental,” Disney’s latest animated musical, “Wish,” from the Oscar-winning “Frozen” team, and the final film from Studio Ghibli’s anime legend Hayao Miyazaki, “How Do You Live?”

In terms of next year’s Oscars race, “Across the Spider-Verse,” “How Do We Live?,” “Elemental,” “Wish,” and “Dawn of the Nugget” have to be considered early favorites, but there are still plenty of possible contenders to emerge, especially among indie faves such as the disaster fantasy, “Suzume” (Crunchyroll), from acclaimed anime master Makoto Shinkai (“Weathering with You,” “Your Name”), and “Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” the GKids the sequel to the Oscar-nominated film about the mismatched titular bear and mouse.

Below is a rundown of 2023 releases with updates to come. Note: This article was first published March 28, 2023, and was last updated May 1, 2023.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (Illumination/Universal, April 5)
Deleted: “Teen Titans Go!” creators Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic direct the video game adaption about struggling Brooklyn plumbers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) having their first adventure in the Mushroom Kingdom. But, in a twist, it’s Luigi who needs rescuing, not badass Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who helps Mario find his brother after he gets kidnapped by the fire-breaking, egotistical Koopa Bowser (Jack Black) bent on world domination. The voice cast also includes Seth Rogen as the underachieving Donkey Kong. Illumination adapts the iconic Nintendo world building and character designs with eye-popping animation and game-like action. And the directors lend over-the-top humor and emotion.

“Suzume” (Crunchyroll, April 14)

Shinkai has made his most beautiful and ambitious fantasy romance yet, in which a small-town teen anxiously travels throughout Japan with a mysterious companion trapped inside a magical chair to save her country from a cataclysmic disaster. Both are drawn to closing doors that connect them to the past, present, and future. The director was inspired by the Great East Japan Earthquake and expertly makes use of both hand-drawn and more expressive and complex CG animation for character and effects. Musically, he re-teams with the rock band Radwimps, who provide a lot of songs on the radio during the road trip, as well as the lovely main theme song. Composer Kazuma Jinnouchi brings more musical expression to his score.

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony, June 2)

Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller follow-up their Oscar-winning, game-changing “Into the Spider-Verse” with the even more ambitious “Across the Spider-Verse.” Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos (“The Legend of Korra”), Kemp Powers (“Soul” co-director), and Justin K. Thompson (“Into the Spider-Verse” production designer), the sequel finds Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) and Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) hurled into five different universes to battle The Spot (Jason Schwartzman).

These include the watercolor world of Gwen’s Earth-65, the India-influenced Mumbattan, Nueva York (defended by Oscar Isaac’s Spider-Man 2099), the underground world of New London (home to Daniel Kaluuya’s Spider-Punk), and some secret universe. The Sony Imageworks animation team invented a slew of new tools for translating hand-drawn techniques into 3D, including a watercolor simulation tool for Spider-Gwen, and 17 tools for The Spot, who evolves throughout the film, going from a rough drawing to a fully formed character, with each ink drop in his body looking and behaving differently.

“Elemental” (Pixar/Disney, June 16) 

Pixar’s first animated rom-com from director Peter Sohn (“The Good Dinosaur”) is set in Element City, where people made of the four elements — earth, air, water, and fire — coexist in a community rife with division. Tough, sharp-witted, fiery Ember (Leah Lewis) develops a friendship with her polar opposite, the laid-back, sentimental, and watery Wade (Mamoudou Athie). Inspired by the love story of Sohn’s parents, who immigrated to New York from Korea in the ’70s and ran a grocery store in the Bronx, it’s about the immigrant experience and getting to know your parents as people who fell in love, raised a family, and made sacrifices that kids take for granted. Pixar created new tech for the effects-heavy film to make fire and water look and behave convincingly as CG characters and how they overlap.

“Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” (DreamWorks/Universal, June 30)

On the surface, the latest film from director Kirk De Micco (“Vivo,” “The Croods”) looks like a cross between “Luca” and “Turning Red.” Ruby (Lana Condor) is a shy high school student who desperately wants to fit in, but her overprotective mom (Toni Collette) won’t let her go near the water when she wants to hang out with the popular kids at the beach. However, when she breaks the rule, Ruby discovers that she’s a direct descendant of the Kraken queens, who protect the oceans from the power-hungry mermaids, and that her grandma (Jane Fonda) is the Warrior Queen of the Seven Seas.

“Nimona” (Netflix, summer)

The animated adaptation of ND Stevenson’s best-selling LGBTQ graphic novel about acceptance set in a futuristic medieval world was started at Blue Sky, but picked up Annapurna Pictures and Netflix  after Disney shuttered the animation studio following the Fox acquisition. Directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane (“Spies in Disguise”), it’s about a knight, Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed), framed for a murder he didn’t commit, and the only person who can help prove his innocence is Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a shape-shifting teen who might also be a monster he’s sworn to kill. The story features a bold same-sex love story between Boldheart and rival Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang) in its quest to conquer xenophobia. DNEG handled the animation after production resumed.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” (Nickelodeon/Paramount, August 4)

Directed by Jeff Rowe (co-director of “The Mitchells vs. The Machines”), the film explores the Turtle brothers — Leonardo (Nicolas Cantu), Michelangelo (Shamon Brown Jr.), Donatello (Micah Abbey), and Raphael (Brady Noon) — wanting to be accepted as normal teenagers after years of being sheltered from the human world. However, they wind up taking on a mysterious crime syndicate and an army of mutants with the help of human ally April O’Neil (Ayo Edebiri). The ensemble voice cast includes Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, John Cena, Hannibal Buress, Rose Byrne, Ice Cube, Post Malone, Paul Rudd, Maya Rudolph, Natasia Demetriou, and Giancarlo Esposito.

“Trolls Band Together” (DreamWorks/Universal, November 17)

As Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake) are now officially a couple in the third installment of the psychedelic jukebox musical, his secret past comes back to haunt him. He was once part of her favorite boy band, BroZone, with his four brothers: Floyd (Troye Sivan), John Dory (Eric André), Spruce (Daveed Diggs), and Clay (Kid Cudi). Poppy tries to reunite them, but Floyd gets kidnapped by a pair of pop-star villains — Velvet (Amy Schumer) and Veneer (Andrew Rannells) — hurling the couple on a new mission. New franchise stars include Camila Cabello, Zosia Mamet, and RuPaul Charles. Director Walt Dohrn (“Trolls World Tour”) and franchise producer Gina Shay return, and the glittery, hand-crafted animation looks even bolder from the DreamWorks team.

“Wish” (Disney, November 22)

Coinciding with Disney’s 100th anniversary comes the origin story of the wishing star, introduced in “Pinocchio” and later seen in “Peter Pan,” “Lady and the Tramp,” and “The Princess and the Frog.” From the team behind the “Frozen” franchise — screenwriter and chief creative officer Jennifer Lee, director Chris Buck, and producer Peter Del Vecho — it’s set in the magical kingdom of Rosas (ruled by King Magnifico, who’s voiced by Chris Pine). When eternal optimist Asha (Ariana DeBose) turns to the sky in a moment of need and makes a wish, her plea is answered by a cosmic force — a little ball of boundless energy called Star, sporting a 2D look. Alan Tudyk voices her sidekick, a pajama-wearing goat.

Production designer Michael Giaimo (“Frozen” and “Frozen 2”) provided the retro-looking watercolor style inspired by early Disney artists such as Gustaf Tenngren and Kay Nielsen, with CG artists creating the new look. Fawn Veerasunthorn (“Raya and the Last Dragon”) serves as co-director, and Grammy-nominated Julia Michaels is the songwriter.

“Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget” (Netflix, November)

The sequel to the most commercially successful stop-motion film in history picks up a few years later, where the happy-ever-after for Rocky (Zachary Levi, replacing Mel Gibson), Ginger (Thandiwe Newton, taking over from Julia Sawalha), and daughter Molly (Bella Ramsey) gets interrupted, and they’re forced to break back into the farm to save their chicken pals. Sam Fell (“ParaNorman”) directs from a script by Karey Kirkpatrick, John O’Farrell, and Rachel Tunnard, with Steve Pegram (“Arthur Christmas”) and Leyla Hobart producing.

“Ernest & Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia” (GKids, fall)

The hand-drawn sequel to “Ernest & Celestine,” adapted from the Belgian children’s book series, reunites the grouchy, musical bear Ernest (Lambert Wilson) and the sweet, young mouse Celestine (Pauline Brunner). In the sequel, the mouse accidentally breaks her pal’s violin, and they travel to his home city to find the only artist who can repair it. Directed by Jean-Christophe Roger and Julien Chheng and produced again by Didier and Damien Brunner and Stephan Roelants.

“Lonely Castle in the Mirror” (GKids, fall)

From acclaimed director Keiichi Hara (“Colorful,” “Miss Hokusai”), this anime concerns outcast Kokoro who discovers a portal in her bedroom mirror, where she finds an enchanting castle and is joined by six other students.

“The First Slam Dunk” (GKids, fall)

The Chinese blockbuster marks the directorial debut of manga writer Takehiko Inoue, who wrote this big screen original. The film follows speedster point guard, Ryota Miyagi, who leads his Shohokuh High School basketball team to the Inter-High School National Championship against the reigning champs.

“How Do You Live?” (Studio Ghibli, fall)

Miyazaki came out of retirement to make one last hand-drawn film about mortality and how to live as better people. It’s a loose adaptation of one of his favorite novels growing up, by Genzaburo Yoshino, and took nearly a decade to complete. It’s a large-scale fantasy intended as a goodbye gesture to his grandson. The novel is the story of a 15-year-old boy who, after his father’s death, embarks on a journey of spiritual growth with the help of his uncle’s journal. “How Do You Live?” will premiere in Japan on July 14 through Toho. GKids is speculated to be the North American distributor, with a fall release planned, but confirmation is forthcoming.

“Leo” (Netflix, fall)

The animated musical comedy written by and starring Sandler is about a 74-year-old Florida school pet who escapes with his turtle friend (Bill Burr) when he finds out he only has one year left to live. But instead of exploring the outside world, he gets caught up trying to help anxious students solve their problems. It’s directed by frequent Sandler collaborators and “SNL” writers Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel, and David Wachtenheim. The voice cast includes “Everything Everywhere All at Once” Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu, Cecily Strong, and Jason Alexander. The animation is from Animal Logic (“The Magician’s Elephant”), acquired by Netflix last year.

“The Monkey King” (Netflix, fall)

Directed by Anthony Stacchi (“The Boxtrolls”), the adventure comedy from Pearl Studio (“Over the Moon”) is an adaptation of the classic Chinese tale “Journey to the West” and animated by Reel FX Animation Studios and Tangent Animation. It follows a monkey and his magical fighting Stick as they team up on an epic quest, where they battle gods, demons, dragons, and his ego. The voice cast includes Jimmy O. Yang as Monkey King and Stephanie Hsu.

“Nimona” (Netflix, fall)

The animated version of ND Stevenson’s best-selling graphic novel, set in a techno-medieval world, started at Blue Sky but was picked up by Annapurna Pictures and Netflix  after Disney shuttered the animation studio following the Fox acquisition. Directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane (“Spies in Disguise”), it’s about a knight (Riz Ahmed) framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and the only person who can help prove his innocence is Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a shape-shifting teen who might also be a monster he’s sworn to kill. DNEG handled the animation after production resumed.

“Migration” (Illumination/Universal, December 22)

The modern-day comedy follows a family of ducks who convince their overprotective dad to go on a dream vacation as they attempt to migrate from New England to the Bahamas. Oscar nominee Benjamin Renner (“Ernest & Celestine”) directs from an original script by Mike White (“The White Lotus,” “School of Rock”). Illumination CEO Chris Meledandri is the producer.

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