Founded in 2013 as the successor to Warner Bros Feature Animation, the production house that made Space Jam (1996) and The Iron Giant (1999), and folded in 2003, the Warner Animation Group is the primary feature animation studio under the Warner Bros banner; the production house that has brought the Lego Movie Universe to life and has thus far made $1.75billion at the box office over the course of 9 movie releases.
Known primarily for its work in conjunction with Lego, the Warner Animation Group has developed a reputation for producing animated movies with strong focuses on referential comedy and has often assembled talented comedic voice casts to pull off its desired unique selling point.
After bursting into the animation game in 2014 with the “should have been Oscar nominated” The Lego Movie, Warner Animation Group has found financial and critical success tough over the course of their 8 other releases despite mining the wider Warner library of IPs for sellable characters. But, with more animated production houses than ever being owned by the Disney brand following its purchase of Fox in 2019, it seems like now more than ever the animated feature field could benefit from strong competition.
In this edition of Ranked, we’re looking at the films of Warner Animation Group, one of Disney’s biggest rivals in the animated feature market, and ranking each of the studio’s 9 animated feature releases from worst to best in terms of artistic merit, critical reception and public perception.
9. The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017)
Worldwide Box Office: $123.1million
Starring: Jackie Chan, Dave Franco, Kumail Nanjiani, Justin Theroux, Fred Armison, Zach Woods, Abbi Jacobson, Michael Peña, Olivia Munn, Ali Wong, Charlyne Yi, Constance Wu, Randall Park, Retta
In an attempt to capitalise on the overwhelming success of The Lego Movie in 2014, Warner Animation Group released two new Lego movies in 2017, The Lego Ninjago Movie joining The Lego Batman Movie on the calendar. This marked the only year WAG would release 2 films in the same 12 month period until 2021 (which only occurred as a result of release delays caused by the closures of cinemas), Ninjago becoming an experiment that ultimately didn’t pay off.
The film suffered primarily because of its IP, the more child-centred Ninjago failing to attract the young adult audiences that The Lego Movie and the Batman-centred Lego Batman Movie were able to bring. With one Lego film already in the bank just 8 months before Ninjago’s release, the film didn’t even feel the boost of being a brand new movie from the beloved Lego franchise, leaving everything to fall on the shoulders of the Ninjago brand, which proved it wasn’t a sellable film commodity in this instance, The Lego Ninjago Movie being the studio’s least successful release to date and reportedly its most major financial failure pre-pandemic.
With a more child focused approach, despite a relatively interesting Ninja-inspired take for an animated film (which worked for Dreamworks with the martial arts focused Kung Fu Panda), Ninjago felt out of balance with the rest of WAG’s releases, the noticeable dialling down of animation details between the first Lego movie and this release only compounding issues with the script, the IP and the waning interest of Lego movie fans, making it the worst release the studio has put to screen thus far.
8. Tom & Jerry (2021)
Worldwide Box Office: $131.9million
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Pallavi Sharda, Colin Jost, Ken Jeong, Rob Delaney
Tom & Jerry (2021) was a film that had no idea who it was aiming at. The whacky animation style of the titular Tom (the cat) and Jerry (the mouse) was of course brought to the big screen to reignite child and family interest in the classic cartoon characters, yet the narrative was one centred on an aspirational twenty-something doing everything in her power to impress in a new job. It was like corporate America’s sixty-something-year-olds wanted to lecture the youth of the day on what it takes to lift yourself off the poverty line in the 21st century… in a kids film about a perpetually battling cat and mouse.
This Tom & Jerry film had the stench of a production put together from a script that had been sitting in the Warner vault for years and was eventually repurposed, the very fundamentals of the ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoon lost amongst the nonsense of a story that had little to do with the very characters it was apparently trying to revive.
Even so, Tom & Jerry wasn’t completely absent of hijinks, and it even had memorable moments of levity. The choice to make Tom and Jerry (among others) 2D renders also helped to create a unique look – especially in the wake of Warner Animation Group substituting the 2D renders of the Looney Tunes for 3D models in Space Jam: A New Legacy – but ultimately Tom & Jerry lacked the inspiration of even the most middling of Warner Animation Group’s releases to date and didn’t even have the all-star cast to make up for it.
7. Scoob! (2020)
Worldwide Box Office (Including Premium VoD): $35.5million
Starring: Frank Welker, Zac Efron, Will Forte, Amanda Seyfried, Gina Rodriguez, Mark Wahlberg, Tracy Morgan, Jason Isaacs, Ken Jeong, Kiersey Clemons, Simon Cowell
Warner Animation Group’s reinvention of the Scooby Doo IP was given a tough route to its audience and was used as a market-tester for the burgeoning (and necessary, in terms of the date of this release at least) Premium VoD market, making for the lowest return on investment in the studio’s history. The film was hardly a blow-away critical success either…
Starring a plethora of marketable and talented names, headlined by Frank Welker and Will Forte as Scooby Dooby Doo and Shaggy respectively, and a wide range of popular Hanna-Barbera characters, stories and jokes to delve into, Scoob! had so much more potential than the finished product eventually offered, the biggest points of contention being how the film was seemingly at odds with itself regarding its target audience and how the animation was very poor (at least by the studio’s usual high standards).
In Scoob!, character models seemed devoid of texture and side characters seemed to be barely finished replicas with little by the way of differing animations, meanwhile jokes about Dick Dastardly’s name and Fred’s sexuality, as well as points made about politics, were simply impossible to land in a film that for the most part played to a very young audience. There were some genuinely touching moments – the morals of the story were as pure and as positive as you would expect from a Scooby Doo film – but this release lacked the inspiration of WAG’s better productions, and didn’t take enough advantage of Warner Bros’ wide-range of related IPs to become a true hit. Things could have been worse, sure, but they could have been much better too.