In a summer film season filled with duds and needless sequels, the best exception by far has to be Kubo and the Two Strings. This stop-motion animated standout was expertly produced by Laika Studios, released through Focus Features, a subsidiary of Universal, and is currently still in theaters—which is good for you. Kubo could put a nice finish on a lackluster season’s doldrums.

One of the most anticipated movies this summer is Universal Pictures’ The Secret Life of Pets, a 3-D animated feature that’s about, well, exactly what it sounds like. A product of Illumination Entertainment (the ones who brought us Despicable Me and Groo’s adorable Minions), the film provides a solid helping of animation goodness that, while not the tastiest dish on this year’s menu, provides some comfort food for the cinematic soul. Moviegoers are lapping it up.

A lot’s being written right now about Zootopia, the latest Walt Disney Studios 3-D animated movie: The story leaves most critics enchanted (a word Disney loves, by the way), and many attribute the acclaim to the film’s underlying sociopolitical message about overcoming racial and ethnic—or, in this case, speciesprejudice and stereotyping. There’s also a rather sophisticated (for Disney), multilayered mystery behind this coming-of-age tale, which many have likened to such classics as Chinatown and The Big Sleep. I’d like to explore this film, however, from a 3-D animator’s standpoint, to provide some insight to “civilians” who don’t need me to re-spin what has already been spun. 

Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese animator, storyteller, manga artist and director extraordinaire, turns 75 today, after devoting 53 of those years to his artistic career (thus far). To understand his importance to animation fans worldwide, as well as his stature as a filmmaker in his home country, imagine a combination of Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick—that’ll get you close to his impact on Japanese pop culture and box office. 

If you woke up early as a kid on Saturday mornings for the sole purpose of watching cartoons, then you know, or at least knew then, that animation is some serious stuff. Fortunately, we of this disposition are not alone, as the exhibit What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones is proving right now at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Anyone who ever laughed at Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck will get a kick out of seeing rare drawings and designs from Jones’s 70-year career as an animator and director. But most important, people who never had the time for something as “frivolous” as watching cartoons will gain insight into this artist’s immense talent and creativity, as well as the tremendous amount of work and expertise that went into making his films.