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Top 5 animation movies that take the longest time to make

Script rewrites, post-production issues, and schedule conflicts; there are many reasons why some films’ production time is lengthened, and the movie releases are delayed several times. In this article, we will take a look at animated movies that took forever to make.

Top 1: The Overcoat - 40 years

The Overcoat’s synopsis

Based on Gogol's story, The Overcoat revolves around Akikiy Akakievitch, a clerk despised by his coworkers who spends much of the story trying to find a new overcoat. He succeeds, but he is then attacked, and his new coat is stolen after a night out with his coworkers. He becomes unwell with a high fever. After his departure, a phantom haunts the city, forcing rich and poor alike to give him their overcoats.

animated movies - overcoat
The Overcoat - the unfinished animation movie (Source: Alchetron)

4 decades of toll behind an unfinished movie

The animated movie The Overcoat was record-breaking for its 4-decade production time. In fact, an interview in 2004 with Norstein revealed that only around 25 minutes of the animated film were completed. Starting in 1981, the director-animator Yuri Norstein has yet to finish the film due to his unique animation approach as well as the film’s financial history.

The 'Overcoat' film began at the most unfortunate time of perestroika: just before the Soviet Union's disintegration, when money for artists was running out. Thus, funding was sporadic and only came from Norstein’s approved sources like the Savings Bank of Russia and TNK oil company. This has slowed down the film’s progress significantly but the animator said: "I always had difficulty with [...] the removal of fees. But I never gave up on the film."

animated movies - process of making The overcoat
Behind The Overcoat’s laborious process (Source: Alchetron)

Furthermore, Yuri Norstein famously disdains the use of computer animation. Instead, he employs an old-school animation technique, which involves using multiple glass panels to give a three-dimensional look to the animated movies. The laborious and time-consuming process has earned Norstein the nickname "The Golden Snail".

Top 2: The thief and the cobbler (1995) - 29 years

Movie synopsis of ‘The thief and the cobbler’

The thief and the cobbler (1993) tells the story of a shy cobbler named Tack, who falls in love with the beautiful Princess Yum Yum. Together, they have to save their kingdom from destruction and death. Then, 3 golden balls need to be retrieved after a thief's failed attempt at stealing and falling into the hands of Zig Zag, the grand vizier of King Nod, who aims to win princess Yum Yum and become the city ruler.

animated movies - The thief and the cobbler
The thief and the cobbler (Source: Pinterest)

The infamous 29-year production process

Firstly, the film’s development process was rocky due to the 1974 recession. This greatly slowed down the animation movie’s production, leaving it to be worked on as a side project. At that time, the studio had no money to acquire a full team to make the film, and gaining financial backings was difficult.

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Richard Williams with a scene from The thief and the cobbler (Source: Just Make Animation)

Another factor contributing to this 29 years was the time-consuming animation process. Warner Bros. imposed a strict and stressful work schedule, expecting the artists to work 60 hours a week with no breaks.

Despite the long hours, the animated movie production remained slow. Williams’s perfectionism was so extreme that he worked on a single scene of the Zig Zag playing cards for three months. This scene was later discarded, following a color change.

animated movies - behind the scene of The thief and the cobbler
The thief and the cobbler - behind the scene (Source: Pinterest)

Moreover, the changing plots also took a toll on the movie’s production time. The movie has reportedly gone through at least two extensive plot and tone changes, which further lengthened the production time.

Top 3: Blood Tea and Red String (2006) - 13 years

Movie Synopsis of ‘Blood Tea and Red String’

The story of Blood Tea and Red String revolves around a fight between the aristocratic White Mice and the rustic Creatures Who Dwell Under the Oak for the doll of their dreams. The Mice commissioned the Oak Dwellers to make them a lovely doll. However, the Creatures fall in love with her after she's finished and refuses to give her up.

animated movies - blood tea and red string
Blood Tea and Red String (Source: Letterboxd)

A decade of production with a unique animation approach

Behind the 13-year production of Blood Tea and Red String is the labor of its animator, Christiane Cegavske. The film was completely handmade, and Cegavske worked on most of the aspects of the movie herself.

animated movies
Making Blood Tea and Red String (Source: Skwigly)

Thus, the animated film took about 4 years to animate, progressing at the rate of 10 seconds/day. The other few years were dedicated to final editing and sound because Cegavske had to involve other people in this process.

Top 4: The Simpsons movie (2007): 9 years

Movie Synopsis of ‘The Simpson movie’

When Lisa Simpson informs Springfield of the town's pollution problem, the city responds by prohibiting all pollutants into the water. This does not deter Homer from throwing a pig waste silo into the water.

When the residents of the town figure out who is to blame for the crisis, they head directly to the Simpsons' house. The Simpsons decide to establish a new life in Alaska after escaping the dome, while the rest of the town vanishes.

animated movies
The Simpsons movie (Source: Pinterest)

What went on in a decade of producing the Simpsons movie?

This classic animation movie took forever to complete for several reasons. First, the script rewrites took around two years to finalize. The writers had to change the script 160 times because the majority of the movie's plots were reused for TV episodes. The script rewrites took so long that the producers were on the verge of abandoning the project altogether.

Moreover, the voice actors’ participation also played a role in the prolonged production time. When the movie was in its initial stages, not all of the voice actors were interested in participating in the project. It was not until 2001 that all of the voice actors decided to join the film.

animated movies - the simpsons movie's voice actors
The Simpsons movie’s voice actors (Source: TFE Times)

In addition, the crew spent several years completing the animation work because they were filming the TV episodes all year round.

After all, the 9-year wait was worth it. The Simpsons Movie received both critical and commercial success, earning $527 million globally. Not only was the film considered as one of the best animated movies of the 2000s but it also quickly became the highest-grossing film that is based on a cartoon TV series.

Top 5: The LEGO movie (2014) - 7 years

Movie Synopsis of ‘The LEGO movie’

The LEGO Movie is a 3D animated film about Emmet, a seemingly ordinary LEGO mini-figure who is discovered to be the most "exceptional person" and the key to saving the LEGO universe. As a result, Emmet and his pals embark on a perilous expedition to stop Lord Business, the evil ruler.

animated movies - the lego movie
The LEGO movie (Source: Cinemablend)

Why was the LEGO movie production time unusually lengthy?

The first reason for The LEGO Movie’s lengthy production is that it has a rather unusual workflow. The animated movie was filmed partly on a soundstage, with the participation of real actors. The animators have purposefully done this to build models for the characters.

Beyond that, the script received extensive script rewrites, as the majority of the original film The Piece of Resistance was later scrapped and reworked.

Overall, The LEGO Movie sat in the development stages for several years before being released. The delays were well worth it, as the animated film was a huge box office hit.


Above are the 5 animated movies with the longest production time. Whether they were worth it, the several-year-long production is one of the key points that set these movies out, making viewers intrigued even before laying eyes on them.

Although DeeDee Animation Studio has never made movies with such time-consuming production, however, our works are also the fruits of dedication, hard work, and the immense love for animation as a whole. To find out more about DeeDee Animation Studio’s projects, please read at Work.


Academy of Animated Art, Development Hell: Animated Films that Took Forever to Make

Glocal Buzz, 6 Movies Which Were In Development Hell For The Longest


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