Being a lifelong animation fan is interesting, because you find yourself either eternally optimistic that each new animated project could be great or eternally depressed at how many of them are wretched craven hollow propositions.  It sort of blows me away how hard it is to make an animated movie, and how many of the studio animated films of the last 20 years are awful, and how I can't even imagine who in the process believes that the project is a good idea.

That's why I celebrate when I see something that really works.  That's why Pixar seems like a non-stop miracle.  That's why I cherish "The Iron Giant."  That's why so many animation fans turn to overseas film culture to find animation that they can enjoy.  And those moments of greatness are enough to keep me looking whenever anyone's opening something new.

Having two kids under five, I'm also pretty much guaranteed to see every animated film that's PG or G for the next decade, so I've made my peace with that, and I'm just in the mode where I root for people to make these films better than they have to be.

So of course, I'm curious when two major new animated films for 2010 release both release trailers in the same week, and both of them look like interesting attempts at playing new twists on old conventions.

First, there's the Dreamworks film, "How To Train Your Dragon," which features the voice of Jay Baruchel as a young man who comes from a town where dragons are a constant threat, and it's understood that they are to be destroyed on sight.  When he ends up with a dragon of his own, he starts to suspect that all of his perceptions of what a dragon is might be wrong.

Baruchel's going to have an interesting year in 2010, with both this and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" putting him to the test as a leading man.  I like his work, but I think these two films will test his ability to connect with an audience more than anything so far.

Take a look:

 

 

I definitely think this fantasy world is more interesting than the world of "Shrek," at least visually, and I'm hoping this is closer to the "Kung Fu Panda" end of things.  I mean, Chris "Lilo & Stitch" Sanders is one of the directors of the film, so that's got to count for something.  The voice cast also includes Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Chris Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, and Jonah Hill.

Ms. Wiig's been busy, though, because in July, she's also contributing a voice to "Despicable Me," a Universal release which looks like a "Spy Vs. Spy" style riff on the world of supervillains, at least based on the evidence of the new trailer which just went live over at Apple.com.

The film is directed by Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, and Sergio Pablos, and in this new trailer, you see both Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and Vector (voiced by Jason Segel).  The film also features Will Arnett, Ken Jeong, Russell Brand, Danny McBride, Julie Freakin' Andrews, Jemaine Clement, Mindy Kaling, Jack McBrayer, and yes, Kristen Wiig.  It looks to me like an overt farce, and I'll admit... this new trailer looks like something I'd really dig.  The animation itself is particularly sharp.  I like the detail work, the way the humans are designed and performed.  It's those sorts of things I look for in an animated film, after all... the technical end as well as what the movie's content is.  So far, "Despicable Me" doesn't look like anything else out there, and that's a good thing.

"How To Train Your Dragon" is in theaters in March, and "Despicable Me" will arrive in July.

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