Let’s get this out of the way right away. Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse is not on this list. Despite what was initially planned, the sequel to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse will not be coming to theaters in March, or any time in the upcoming year.
However, the loss of one exciting film does not mean 2024 will be short of great animated movies. In its place will be cartoons to meet the needs of every type of moviegoer, from franchise continuations to adaptations of beloved works to new entries. Given the complex nature of animated films, many of these don’t yet have firm release dates.
Still, animations enthusiasts have a lot to look forward to this next year. Here are the big movies you need to watch out for…
Orion and The Dark (February 2)
If you’re just looking at the promotional material for Orion and the Dark, you’d be forgiven for dismissing it as just another cynical space filler on Netflix’s servers. It’s a DreamWorks piece going straight to Netflix, with celebrity voices such as Jacob Tremblay as the titular Orion and Paul Walter Hauser as the titular Dark. Director Sean Charmatz, a veteran of SpongeBob Squarepants and Troll World Tour, doesn’t seem to be matching the wonderful illustrations from Emma Yarlett’s original book.
So why should anyone care about Orion and the Dark? Because it’s written by Charlie Kauffman, the mad genius behind Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.
Kung Fu Panda 4 (March 8)
After nearly a decade, Po is back in action with Kung Fu Panda 4. The latest entry in the surprisingly great DreamWorks franchise brings back Jack Black as Po, James Hong as his father Ping, and Dustin Hoffman as his mentor Master Shifu. However, director Mike Mitchell, the man who helmed Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo but also the underrated The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, will give Po a new mission, away from his old allies. The mission calls for new voices, coming from Akwafina, Viola Davis, and Ke Huy Quan.
The Garfield Movie (May 24)
Depending on your feelings about The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the prospect of The Garfield Movie fills you with either hope or dread. Sony’s Illumination Animation hopes to repeat the surprise success of their video game adaptation by bringing another beloved corporate entity to the big screen. They’ve brought back Chris Pratt to voice the lazy Tabby, along with Nicholas Hoult as Jon Arbuckle, Harvey Guillén as Odie, and Samuel L. Jackson as Garfield’s long-lost father. No word yet if Jack Black will spend two minutes riffing on a song that becomes a cultural sensation.
Inside Out 2 (June 14)
The wonderful 2015 Pixar movie Inside Out didn’t necessarily need a sequel. However, it does stand to reason that protagonist Riley would continue learning how to make sense of her feelings as she becomes a teenager. Longtime Pixar creative and first time director Kelsey Mann steps in for the departing Pete Docter, while Meg LeFauve returns from the first film to write the sequel. Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, and Lewis Black will also be returning to voice Joy, Sadness, and Anger, joining Maya Hawke as new emotion Anxiety.
Despicable Me 4 (July 3)
Believe it or not, the Minions aren’t just things your relatives use to make memes on Facebook. They actually come from an animated movie franchise called Despicable Me, the story of a would-be mad scientist called Groo (voiced by Steve Carrell) who softens his stance after adopting a trio of orphan girls. The returning cast, including Kristen Wiig and Miranda Cosgrove, as well as first-time director (but longtime BlueSky and Illumination alum) Chris Renaud seems to promise more of the same from the franchise. But Despicable Me 4 also features a script from Mike White, the idiosyncratic writer behind the movie School of Rock and the hit HBO series The White Lotus. That script will either horrify Facebook users or quadruple their love of the minions.
Transformers One (September 13)
Despite a chain of blockbuster live-action movies, the Transformers come from the world of animation (well, animation based on toys, but still) and this September, to animation they will return with Transformers One. Writers Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari and director Josh Cooley make good use of the animated possibilities to make a prequel set on the robot planet Cybertron. Because the film follows younger versions of Optimus Prime and Megatron, Chris Hemsworth and Bryan Tyree Henry will be voicing the characters made famous by Peter Cullen and Frank Welker.
Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim (December 13)
Say what you want about the Peter Jackson trilogy, some people still say the definitive Lord of the Rings movie comes from animator Ralph Bakshi, with his surreal, partially rotoscoped movie from 1978. The franchise gets an equally idiosyncratic filmmaker to direct its next animated feature, Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim. Kenji Kamiyama, who made several Ghost in the Shell series as well as Blade Runner: Lotus helms this prequel, set 261 years before Lord of the Rings. At this point, we still don’t know if screenwriters Phoebe Gittins and Arty Papageorgiou will find a way to put Tom Bombadil into the story.
Even almost 40 years later, the 12-part maxi-series Watchmen still wields heavy influence, inspiring adaptations terrible and amazing. For its latest take on the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons classic, DC is turning to their successful line of direct-to-video animated films. At this point, we don’t know who will be involved or when the movie will actually release in 2024. But as long as it’s not another motion comic, it won’t be the worst version of the book.
The Day the Earth Blew Up: A Looney Tunes Movie (TBA)
If you’re reading this, you may have read about the Looney Tunes movie written by James Gunn, which initially went the way of Batgirl and was canceled by Warner Bros head David Zaslav after it was completed. The Day the Earth Blew Up is not that movie. Rather, this direct-to-video release stars Eric Bauza as Porky Pig and Daffy Duck, who discover an alien invasion. The movie comes from writer Kevin Costello and directed by Peter Browngardt, creator of Uncle Grandpa and of the most recent Loony Tunes shorts for HBO Max.
Ultraman: Rising (TBA)
With the MonsterVerse and Godzilla Minus One bringing kaiju back into the mainstream, the time is right for the return of the greatest kaiju fighter, Ultraman. The latest take on the long-running Japanese superhero comes from directors Shannon Tindle, who worked on Kubo and the Two Strings and Foster’s Home for Imaginary People, and John Aoshima. Christopher Sean voices Ultraman and his alter-ego Ken Sato, whose life turns upside down after he adopts a baby kaiju. Written by Tindle and Marc Haimes, Ultraman: Rising comes to Netflix later this year.
Once titled Split, the upcoming Skydance Animation film changed the name of their upcoming film to Spellbound after M. Night Shyamalan scooped them on that name. Director Vicky Jenson, who helmed Shrek alongside Andre Adamson, kept the story written by Linda Woolverton, Lauren Hynek, and Elizabeth Martin. Rachel Zegler voices Princess Ellian, who must stop the magical curse separating her kingdom into two halves. The movie features new songs from Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, the duo who earned a Tony nomination for Sister Act: The Musical and won a Grammy for their work on Tangled.
Many impressive names have already filled this list, but real animation nerds take pause when they see Genndy Tartakovsky. The genius behind Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and the Star Wars: Clone Wars shorts returns with Fixed, applying his dynamic visual style to a raunchy story about a dog (voiced by Adam Devine) enjoying one last night intact before getting neutered the next day. Tartakovsky wrote the screenplay with The Simpson‘s veteran Jon Vitti, an R-rated tale that stars Idris Elba, Kathryn Hahn, and Fred Armisen.
The Wild Robot (TBA)
Although DreamWorks Animation established its reputation with winking, too-clever movies like Shrek and Shark Tale, it demonstrated that it can do genuine heart with the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, directed by Chris Sanders. The studio hopes for similar success by enlisting Sanders to direct The Wild Robot, an adaption of the popular middle-grade book by Peter Brown. Casting and official release date have yet to be determined, but getting Sanders on board is a great start for DreamWorks.
Wallace & Gromit (TBA)
Several of the movies on this list continue well-established franchises, but a new Wallace & Gromit movie is something special. The kind, if oblivious, English inventor Wallace and his watchful, long-suffering dog Gromit made Aardman Animations a beloved studio and won an Oscar for the short “The Wrong Trousers.” While spin-off series Shaun the Sheep has been in regular rotation, the upcoming — and as of yet still untitled movie — will be the first new Wallace & Gromit material since 2008.
Thelma the Unicorn (TBA)
As demonstrated by his hit debut movie Napoleon Dynamite, Jared Hess has never had much interest in realism. So it isn’t too much of a surprise that he would make his way to animation with Thelma the Unicorn, which he’ll co-direct with Lynn Wang. Thelma the Unicorn adapts the successful children’s novel of the same name, written by Aussie author Aaron Blabey, whose book The Bad Guys was turned into a hit movie in 2022.
Winnie the Pooh Prequel (TBA)
With the 1926 book Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard entering the public domain last year, we’ve already seen creators experiment with the characters outside of Disney‘s demands. Baboon Animation and IQI Media, Inc. will continue that process with a prequel that looks back at the early days of Pooh Bear and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. The film will be directed by DreamWorks veteran Mike de Seve and co-written with John Reynolds.
Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths – Parts Two and Three (TBA)
The first Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book spun out of DC Comics‘s need to streamline its universe and make their characters easier to follow. But the success of that story has made the Crisis a regular event, with the story coming to television on The CW just a few years ago. So it’s no surprise that Crisis would also come to DC’s direct-to-video movies. Where Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths – Part One, released on Jan. 9, and saw the Flash and John Constantine take first steps to end the Crisis before it destroys all alternate Earths, there work is not yet done. Two more sequels, from director Jeff Wamester and writer James Krieg, will finish the story when they release to video later this year.