At a long-lead press event on Monday, Netflix revealed its upcoming feature-length animation slate for 2023 and 2024, showcasing nine different movies currently in the words at the studio. For all the ups and downs of the streaming business model, it’s clear the company still wants to go toe-to-toe with Disney, Universal, and the other major players in the animation space.
From a new Adam Sandler project to a new Ultraman movie to the Chicken Run sequel to the canceled, then rescued adaptation of ND Stevenson’s beloved graphic novel Nimona, here’s what the next two years look like for Netflix’s original animated movies.
Nimona (summer 2023)
Netflix synopsis: When a knight in a futuristic medieval world is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, the only one who can help him prove his innocence is Nimona — a mischievous teen who happens to be a shapeshifting creature he’s sworn to destroy.
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, Lorraine Toussaint, Beck Bennett, RuPaul Charles, Indya Moore, Julio Torres, Sarah Sherman
Why to watch: ND Stevenson’s original webcomic-turned-graphic novel Nimona is a tremendous emotional experience full of surprises. This adaptation, from Spies in Disguise directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, almost didn’t happen — it was canceled when Disney acquired and shuttered Blue Sky Studios, the home of the Ice Age movies. But Netflix managed to acquire and revive it.
The Monkey King (summer 2023)
Netflix synopsis: The Monkey King is an action-packed family comedy that follows a charismatic Monkey and his magical fighting Stick on an epic quest for victory over 100 demons, an eccentric Dragon King, and Monkey’s greatest foe of all — his own ego! Along the way, a young village girl challenges his self-centered attitude and shows him that even the smallest pebble can have a big effect on the world.
Cast: Jimmy O. Yang, Bowen Yang, Jolie Hoang-Rappaport, Jo Koy, Ron Yuan, Hoon Lee, Stephanie Hsu, Andrew Pang, Andrew Kishino, Jodi Long, James Sie and BD Wong
Why to watch: Director Anthony Stacchi previously helmed Laika’s deeply weird and enjoyable adventure The Boxtrolls. The Monkey King, a longtime staple of Asian storytelling, from historical epics to modern animated movies, is one of the liveliest characters in Chinese legend, and he usually makes for a fun time on screen.
Leo (fall 2023)
Netflix synopsis: Actor and comedian Adam Sandler (Hotel Transylvania, The Wedding Singer) delivers signature laughs in this coming-of-age animated musical comedy about the last year of elementary school — as seen through the eyes of a class pet. Jaded 74-year-old lizard Leo (Sandler) has been stuck in the same Florida classroom for decades with his terrarium-mate turtle (Bill Burr). When he learns he only has one year left to live, he plans to escape to experience life on the outside but instead gets caught up in the problems of his anxious students — including an impossibly mean substitute teacher. It ends up being the strangest but most rewarding bucket list ever…
Cast: Adam Sandler, Bill Burr, Cecily Strong, Jason Alexander, Rob Schneider, Sadie Sandler, Sunny Sandler, Jackie Sandler, Heidi Gardner, Nick Swardson, Nicholas Turturro, Robert Smigel, Jo Koy, Stephanie Hsu
Why to watch: Directors Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel, and David Wachtenheim are all veterans of Saturday Night Live’s “TV Funhouse” segments (the Ambiguously Gay Duo shorts, The X-Presidents, etc.). The clip shown at Netflix’s animation preview showcased a lively musical number with some of the slapstick humor and animal/kid bonding of Netflix’s Vivo.
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget (fall 2023)
Netflix synopsis: From the multi Academy and BAFTA award-winning Aardman (Creature Comforts, Wallace & Gromit, and Shaun the Sheep), and Academy Award and BAFTA-nominated director Sam Fell (ParaNorman and Flushed Away), comes Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, the eagerly anticipated sequel to the beloved and highest-grossing stop-motion animated film of all time, Chicken Run. Having pulled off a death-defying escape from Tweedy’s farm, Ginger has finally found her dream — a peaceful island sanctuary for the whole flock, far from the dangers of the human world. When she and Rocky hatch a little girl called Molly, Ginger’s happy ending seems complete. But back on the mainland the whole of chicken-kind faces a new and terrible threat. For Ginger and her team, even if it means putting their own hard-won freedom at risk — this time, they’re breaking in!
Cast: Thandiwe Newton, Zachary Levi, Bella Ramsey, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Ferguson, David Bradley, Jane Horrocks, Romesh Ranganathan, Daniel Mays, Josie Sedgwick-Davies, and Nick Mohammed
Why to watch: Advance footage of the Chicken Run sequel looks and sounds astonishingly similar to the original film, as if this movie had been made in 2001 and unearthed last week. Most of the original cast is back (apart from Mel Gibson, and with Westworld’s Thandiwe Newton stepping into the lead role), which makes this all seem even more familiar. Chicken Run fans are bound to be curious about how this movie continues the story.
In Your Dreams (2024)
Netflix synopsis: A perfect family? Siblings who get along? Yeah… in your dreams. This is a comedy adventure about Stevie and her brother Elliot who magically travel into the world of dreams with the mission of finding The Sandman who will grant them their ultimate wish — saving their parents’ marriage. The kids are total opposites, making them an unlikely duo to navigate the absurdity of their own subconscious. Along their journey, they discover that as long as they have each other, they can face anything, even their worst nightmare.
Cast: Not listed.
Why to watch: A rare completely original movie from Netflix — not an adaptation, spinoff, or IP extension — In Your Dreams is certainly the dark horse on this list, particularly considering that director Alex Woo only has a few past credits, all on animation for very young kids. But the initial visuals of this film are haunting and lovely, and they promise a unique fantasy setting and a story that steps outside the usual kid-adventure model.
Saving Bikini Bottom: The Sandy Cheeks Movie (2024)
Netflix synopsis: When Bikini Bottom and all its denizens are suddenly scooped out of the ocean, Sandy Cheeks and SpongeBob SquarePants journey to Texas to save the town from a villainous plot.
Cast: Carolyn Lawrence, Tom Kenny, Wanda Sykes, Clancy Brown, Bill Fagerbakke, Mr. Lawrence, Rodger Bumpass, Johnny Knoxville, Craig Robinson, Grey DeLisle, Ilia Isorelýs Paulino, Matty Cardarople
Why to watch: By this time, you know whether you’re a SpongeBob fan or not. This latest SpongeBob feature, which once again features CG animated characters running around in real, live-action settings, seems to be taking him out of his underwater comfort zone and focusing on the land. While that isn’t a first for the character, the central focus on Sandy is a new spin.
That Christmas (2024)
Image: Locksmith Animation
Netflix synopsis: Based on the successful series of children’s books by BAFTA winner and Academy Award nominee Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral; Love Actually; Yesterday), Locksmith Animation’s heartwarming film marks the feature film directorial debut of renowned character animation and story artist veteran Simon Otto (Love, Death & Robots, the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy). That Christmas follows a series of entwined tales about love and loneliness, family and friends, and Santa Claus making a big mistake, not to mention an enormous number of turkeys! Nicole P. Hearon (Moana, Frozen) and Adam Tandy (The Thick of It, Detectorists) are producers.
Cast: Not listed.
Why to watch: It’ll be hard for this one to live up to the liveliness of Netflix’s first-ever original animated movie, Klaus — but that film was a huge hit for the streaming service, and it suggests the service will be keeping an eye on how to make Christmas movies aimed at the whole family. Curtis’ Love Actually is a giant mixed bag of a movie, but it’s also beloved and hate-beloved in equal measure, so signs suggest this could be a meaningful addition to his Christmas canon.
Thelma the Unicorn (2024)
Netflix synopsis: Thelma is a small-time pony who dreams of becoming a glamourous music star. In a pink and glitter-filled moment of fate, Thelma is transformed into a unicorn and instantly rises to global stardom. But this new life of fame comes at a cost. Thelma the Unicorn is a hilarious, quirky and heartfelt ride from directors Lynn Wang (Unikitty!) and Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite).
Cast: Not listed.
Why to watch: In the initial previews, everything about this movie looks appealingly weird and wonderful — and absolutely in every respect like a meeting of the minds between the person behind the manic, cute Lego Movie comedy spinoff Unikitty! and the oddball behind Napoleon Dynamite.
Netflix synopsis: Based on the beloved Japanese character, Netflix’s Ultraman follows baseball superstar Ken Sato as he returns to his home country of Japan to pick up the mantle of Earth-defending superhero Ultraman. He soon finds more than he bargained for when he’s forced to raise the offspring of his greatest foe. Ken must go on a heroic journey, balancing parenthood, his estranged father, and the relentless Kaiju Defense Force to rise beyond his ego and discover what it truly means to be Ultraman.
Cast: Not listed.
Why to watch: Lost Ollie director Shannon Tindle and co-director John Aoshima (Duck Tales, Gravity Falls) bring a pretty radical vision to this Ultraman story — the long-lead preview shows a variety of CG animation styles, from the now more traditional 3D look to flashes of intense stylized 2D imagery like the PR still above. (Think Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and how it jumps around visually, especially during action sequences.) An imaginative new take on the hero is going to be compelling for existing Ultraman fans, but this one looks like it might just end up being a style showcase for fans of experimental and boundary-pushing animation in general.