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After theater closures following the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the worst box office returns since 1980, Hollywood has an uncertain year ahead. But one thing’s for sure. In 2021, every major studio is betting big on family animation.

There’s lots of sense to this. Family-friendly animated films form a genre that, alongside superhero movies, is all but “guaranteed” to get people into theaters.

With more than 30 cartoon movies slated for release this year, count on several to bomb hard. The jury is very much out whether audiences will respond to big-screen reboots of nostalgia franchises like “Tom and Jerry” and “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” or prequels on top of sequels like “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda, the hitmaker behind “Hamilton” and “Moana,” has two animated musicals set to release. There’s even a WWE-backed “monster wrestling” movie coming.

All this considered, maybe a glut of worthwhile entries will cause families to seek quality storytelling among the duds. At least, fans and critics who love the animation medium can be heartened that top talent in the field has ample work. Positioning cartoon feature films as a kiddie cash-grab, however, mar the future of an art form pioneered by American filmmakers.

When talented directors marry a sharp script with expressive voice actors and eye-popping visuals — representing the work of hundreds of artists over years — it’s hard to deny the power of animated films. Consider when animation studios have put their best efforts of world-building and character development into writing and directing the hardest genre to pull off: comedy. Yet, years later, these ten flicks are still good for plenty of laughs.

10. ‘Horton Hears A Who’ (Blue Sky Studios, 2008)

A quick-witted adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s timeless, hand-drawn book, “Horton Hears A Who” keeps the gags coming as it carries vital themes about valuing every life. With apologies to “Ice Age” flicks, it represents the best work of Blue Sky, a studio recently acquired by the Magic Kingdom. As such, families can access this one on Disney Plus.

9. ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ (Sony Pictures Animation, 2018)

“Spider-Verse” moves so fast, one can hardly catch all the sly humor. This visual stunner can’t be called a comedy per se, but deserves to land on almost every “best-of” list. While some prefer Sony’s “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs,” the filmmakers behind that one tackled similar themes in “The Lego Movie” (see below) to even greater effect.

8. ‘Tangled’ (Disney, 2010)

Since 2000, a dozen fractured fairy tales — including little-recalled “Hoodwinked,” which almost made this list — have lit up the big screen, although none as funny or charming as “Tangled” from veteran animator Glen Keane. With Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi voicing the sparring leads, this take on Rapunzel has soaring songs that don’t overpower the comic story.

7. ‘Kung Fu Panda’ (DreamWorks, 2008)

DreamWorks Animation has leaned into comedy as its brand, with mixed results — from the first feature “Antz” to “Madagascar” and beyond. Sometimes their story process fires laughs on all cylinders, as in this wacky mash-up of martial arts parody, the hero’s journey, and ad-libbed lines from Jack Black among other top comedians. As with all entries here, skip the TV spin-offs to enjoy this franchise’s best material.

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6. ‘Finding Nemo’ (Pixar, 2003)

Because Pixar films expertly balance emotional drama with well-timed comedic moments, it’d be easy to pack a best-of list with “Toy Story” and other franchises. Rising above the rest, this fish-out-of-water tale deserves recognition for its artistry, strong themes of fatherhood, and director Andrew Stanton’s choice of top comic actors to voice this ensemble dramedy.

5. ‘Chicken Run’ (Aardman, 2000)

Small but inventive British animation studio Aardman got its big break at the turn of the millennium with “Chicken Run,” a prison-break parody featuring Mel Gibson as a cocky rooster. Their later “Wallace and Grommit” film, also produced in that signature stop-motion style rarely seen today, offered an equal helping of zaniness.

4. ‘The Lego Movie’ (Warner Bros., 2014)

Considering Warner Bros. hadn’t made an animated feature for 13 years, this one came out of nowhere. Geared pointedly to Generation Z with its hyper-fast, tongue-in-cheek style, co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller rose to fame with this hilarious twist of a “Toy Story” concept, complete with an excellent third-act surprise that got parents teary-eyed.

3. ‘Megamind’ (DreamWorks, 2010)

Ten years ago, somehow two cartoon films about supervillains who learn to become heroes were released a few months apart. Upstart studio Illumination took the world by storm with “Despicable Me,” a Steve Carell vehicle that keeps chugging with its fifth franchise entry coming in 2021. Many people missed Will Ferrell’s take on a similar role in this endlessly quotable flick.

2. ‘Monsters, Inc.’ (Pixar, 2001)

Opening a fantastical alternate reality, this snappy, colorful movie skewers cookie-cutter corporatism as it engages viewers in a madcap comedy of errors. With nary a second wasted, it’s easy to miss how gags and one-liners from veteran performers like Billy Crystal are used as plot exposition. Packed with laughs and heart, “Monsters, Inc.” tells a multi-dimensional story that could only be realized in animation.

1. ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’ (Disney, 2000)

Coming out of its Renaissance Era, Disney Animation took an experimental approach to stories in the early 2000s. While “Lilo & Stitch” along with “Bolt” are fun rides, the famously chaotic production of “Emperor” found a cult following. Pitch-perfect delivery from comedy greats Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, and David Spade merged with frenetic pacing and Looney Tunes styling for a film that achieves more than the sum of its parts.

Josh Shepherd covers culture, faith, and public policy for several media outlets including The Stream. His articles have appeared in The Daily Signal, The Christian Post, Boundless, Providence Magazine, and Christian Headlines. A graduate of the University of Colorado, he previously worked on staff at The Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family. Josh and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area.



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Convicted fundraiser who tried to work his way into Biden’s inner circle sentenced to prison

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Amajor Democratic bundler, who raised large sums for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and consorted with Joe Biden, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for what prosecutors said was a “mercenary” political influence scheme.

Imaad Zuberi, a Californian businessman was sentenced Thursday for schemes to funnel foreign money into U.S. political campaigns, then take millions of dollars for himself.

The Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. Assistant Attorney Daniel J. O’Brien said Zuberi was “purely a mercenary, funneling money to whomever he believed would do his bidding.”

Among the many unsealed court records, Zuberi was seen photographed with Joe Biden and Barack Obama when they were Vice President and President. He was also pictured with former President Bill Clinton and former presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. He took pictures with former Republican Rep. Paul Ryan when he was speaker of the House as well as the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Also included in the Times report was a hacked email chain released on WikiLeaks. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook messaged colleagues saying, “I’m OK taking the money and dealing with any attacks.” Jennifer Palmieri responded saying, “Take the money!”

He also attended Hillary Clinton’s election night party in New York City in 2016 as well as serving as a co-chair of The Trump Presidential Inauguration Committee.

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Zuberi made more than $950,000 in unlawful donations to the political committees of Obama, Clinton, McCain and others. Zuberi’s activities extended as far as a recent attempt to work his way into the Biden circle, according to Politico.  

In addition to the money he made, Zuberi also raised $270,000 for Hillary Clinton and $1.3 million for President Obama.

Zuberi, 50, pleaded guilty to a “three-count information charging with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)” for making false statements on a FARA filing as well as tax evasion and illegal contributions to political campaigns. He also pleaded guilty in a separate case earlier in June 2020 to a count of obstruction of justice.

“Zuberi turned acting as an unregistered foreign agent into a business enterprise,” Assistant Attorney General for National Secretary John C. Demers said in a Department of Justice news release.

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Cruz responds to pictures of him on Mexico flight, with Texas struggling from deadly winter storm

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Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz confirmed Thursday that he flew earlier this week to Mexico with family members, following the emergence of pictures appearing to show him in an airplane cabin and at a check-in counter, as fellow residents to recover from a deadly winter storm.

Cruz said in a statement that he accompanied his daughters on a flight Wednesday night to Mexico because they had the week off with school canceled.

“Wanting to be a good dad,” said Cruz, who also stated he is returning to Texas on Thursday afternoon.

The storms has been connected to at least seven deaths in Texas and knocked out power to as many as 2.5 million residents. The number of residents without electricity as of Thursday morning was down to less than 1 million, officials said.  

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“My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas,” Cruz also said. “We want our power back, our water on, and our homes warm.”

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South Carolina House passes bill that would prohibit most abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected

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The South Carolina House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 79-35 to pass legislation that would prohibit most abortions. 

The bill must pass through a procedural vote in the House on Thursday prior to heading to GOP Gov. Henry McMaster who has indicated that he will sign it, according to the Associated Press. Two Republicans voted against the legislation while two Democrats voted for it. The state Senate passed the measure last month. 

The bill requires doctors to carry out an ultrasound to check for a fetal heartbeat and if a heartbeat is identified an abortion can only be performed in certain circumstances.

The legislation would not penalize a woman for obtaining an unlawful abortion, though the individual responsible for performing the abortion could face consequences.

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The outlet reported that other states have approved similar or even more stringent abortion prohibitions which could be implemented if the Supreme Court throws out the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. All of the other states’ abortion bans are currently entangled by court challenges and if the South Carolina bill is approved it will likely face litigation that prevents it from going into effect, according to the AP.

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