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The Best Animation of 2016: Animation Mentor Staff Picks

by | Jan 11, 2017

For all the trials and tribulations that 2016 brought us (RIP Princess Leia) it’s important to think back on all the good moments we had as well. There were so many inspiring and groundbreaking animated moments over this past year that we had a seriously hard time choosing our favorites—but we ultimately decided we were up to the task!

So start the year off right and get inspired by these incredible animated works. Here are our favorite films, games, shorts, and characters of 2016.

-The Animation Mentor Crew

Best Animated Feature Film

Directors: Byron Howard, Riche Moore, Jared Bush
Studios: Walt Disney Animation Studios

This was a tough one, since so many amazing animated films came out this year. Quite frankly, it was even hard to narrow it down to our favorite all-animal animated film of the year (Hello, Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets!). But Zootopia ultimately won us over with its combination of stellar character/creature animation, gorgeous sets, and its unexpected and powerful message about social stereotyping.

Fun Fact: Shoutout to Kira Lehtomaki, one of our alumni who appears in this Zootopia behind-the-scenes clip!

Kubo and the Two Strings – Laika Entertainment
Moana – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Best Animation in a Live Action Film

The Jungle Book
Director: Jon Favreau
Studios: Fairview Entertainment, Moving Picture Company, Walt Disney Pictures

We’re suckers for great creature animation, and The Jungle Book has herds of it (see what we did there?). Creating ultra-believable interactions between animated creatures and a child actor is no easy feat—for either the actor or the animators—so kudos to the animation department and to the talented Neel Sethi who played Mowgli.

Fun Fact: Roughly 20% of the animation team for The Jungle Book is comprised of our alumni and mentors! So basically going to work was like going to a big Animation Mentor multi-year class reunion. We couldn’t be prouder.

Want to see your name in the credits someday? Creature animation is a whole different animal. Learn from Game of Thrones and Guardians of the Galaxy pros in our Creature Animation Workshops!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Heyday Films, Warner Bros.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Lucasfilm

Best Animated Short Film

Director: Alan Barillaro
Studios: Pixar Animation Studios

Pixar’s Piper seems more like the work of wizards using magic than animators using rigs. It looks so realistic, we had to blink to make sure it was really animated. The quick and sprightly movements of the pipers are spot on, and we love the comedic timing of piper jr. and his little hermit crab friend. Simply gorgeous.

Borrowed Time – Quorum Films
The Path Title Sequence – Acme Filmworks

Best Animated Character in a Feature Film – Hero

Judy Hopps
Zootopia – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Judy has it all. She’s got guts, she’s got heart, and she’s not interested in just doing what she’s “supposed” to do by any means. When we were watching Zootopia, I think we were inspired not just by her drive and her courage, but also by her ability to recognize and apologize for her mistakes—something that doesn’t always come easily. A great role model and dynamic character, Judy won our hearts this year.

Moana – Moana
Kubo – Kubo and the Two Strings
Gidget – The Secret Life of Pets

Best Animated Character in a Feature Film – Villain

Sisters Karasu and Yukami
Kubo and the Two Strings – Laika Entertainment

There’s just something about murderous familial villains that chill you to the bone—and the Sisters Karasu and Yukami from Kubo and the Two Strings are as straight-up terrifying as they are beautifully animated. Their fearsome quality is often in their absence of movement, but when they crouch down to strike, their faces still emotionless, you’ll feel like your heart just might stop.

Sisters Karasu and Yukami


Stop motion animation is just a whole different animal, and when we’re watching a film as incredible as this one, it’s hard not to think about the unique kind of hard work and patience that goes into each and every second of it.

Snowball – The Secret Life of Pets
Dawn Bellwether – Zootopia
Kai – Kung Fu Panda 3

Best Animated TV Series

Gravity Falls
Disney Television Animation

Kind of a fun Scooby-Doo-inspired mystery-solving team, Dipper Pines and his sister Mabel made their way into our hearts back in 2012. For the past four years, we’ve had fun being a part of their extended summer vacation, going along on their adventures finding ghosts, zombies, and…a gobblewonker?


See. It’s a thing.

But in 2016, Gravity Falls has come to an end. It can’t really be over, can it? While we’re sad to the gang go this year, we were glad that they were still going strong up until the end!


Bob’s Burgers
 – Twentieth Century Fox Studios
BoJack Horseman – Tornante Company, ShadowMachine

Best Animated TV Commercial

Lily & the Snowman
Client: Cineplex Entertainment
Directors: Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson
Studio: Hornet

Oh man. If you haven’t watched Lily & the Snowman yet, you’d better just do it now. We’ll wait.

I’m not crying. YOU’RE CRYING.

This touching story of remembering what’s truly important gets us right in the feels, and the gorgeous animation—that somehow keeps the story feeling warm, even in the snow—brings a whole extra level of emotional impact to the short story.

Who else wants a snowman who can do shadow puppets?!

Loteria ‘Night Shift’ – Passion Pictures Ltd
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Plastic Wax

Best Video Game Animation

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
CD Projekt RED

The thing that first struck us most about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is how seamless and believable the character animation is—and the surrounding animation supports that, leaving you feeling totally immersed in the world you’re exploring. It’s exaggerated but also so well grounded that you can really feel the weight of the weapons you’re wielding and the exertion necessary for Geralt’s actions. It just makes it all the more satisfying when you’re taking down epic monsters.

The Witcher 3


From the swamps of Velen to the Royal Palace in Vizima, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt immerses you in a beautiful and believable world—with no shortage of horrifying creatures to conquer.

Want to break into the exciting video game world? Check out our Game Animation Workshops, taught by mentors who’ve worked on League of Legends, Infamous: Second Son, and more!

Titanfall 2 – Respawn Entertainment
Uncharted 4 – Naughty Dog

And those are a few of our favorite things of 2016! Don’t be shy—let us know what your top picks were this year in the comments below.

Be sure to check out our favorites from previous years too!
The Best of Animation 2015: Animation Mentor Staff Picks
The Best of Animation 2014: Animation Mentor Staff Picks

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