Oscars Watch 2017: The Less-Depressing Campaign: Best Animated Feature Film

With today’s release of this trailer:

I figure there’s no more appropriate day to discuss the category that the original Beauty and the Beast kicked off (albeit, not right away), Best Animated Feature Film.

A little history. Best Animated Feature Film is the youngest category at the Oscars, having been first awarded in the 2002 ceremony. While there’s never necessarily been any rules against Animated films qualifying for awards, the perception of animated films as “kid’s stuff” kept them from getting any real attention.

That is until 1991 when Disney’s Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film nominated in the Best Picture category. While it didn’t win (that was Silence of the Lambs’ banner year, another film that broke out of the perception of being of a lesser genre), it opened up the idea of rewarding animated features. The Academy had been resistant for years and remained resistant though, preferring as they did to only occasionally reward particularly exceptional examples (almost always from Disney).

But with the rise of DreamWorks and other competitors, the Academy finally relented and created an award, contingent upon at least 8 submitted films. This year will actually be the most competitive in some time with 27 submissions. Let’s take a look at who might be in play.

SURE THINGS:

Finding Dory
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
Zootopia

Despite being created almost solely because Disney had competition, this has still pretty much been Disney’s award in any given year. Disney (and Disney subsidiaries, thanks Pixar!) wins by a 2:1 ratio here and they’ve only had one year without a major competitive nomination since the first time this was awarded in 2002 (2005, probably their worst year on record). Since the 2007 ceremony, they’ve only lost one (!) year.

All of this is to say that don’t be surprised when Disney competes here and when they own the category. It often comes down to which Disney wins. It’s usually been Pixar, but Disney’s own animation studio has made a really strong comeback the last few years, producing films with a great deal more thematic weight and impressive style, loaded with talent out the wazz.

This year, Disney Animation put out two (making up for having none last year) and both look to be fierce competitors.

Moana is the latest in the Frozen mode with a new princess, the charisma of Dwayne Johnson, and the hot property Lin-Manuel Miranda writing the songs. This one is gonna get attention for potentially giving Miranda his EGOT anyway, but the gorgeous animation and the wide appeal could be the kicker.

Zootopia was however a surprise hit, a surprisingly relevant little allegory and a potent bit of animated noir. This one has had a lot of attention and a lot of really positive feedback, and hell, this thing is still on a lot of lips after a March release. I think advocation of kid’s filmmaking to have a little more brains and relevance could really prop this one up, minus the whole country falling head over heels for Moana like they did for Frozen.

Of course, all that doesn’t mean Pixar isn’t gonna compete. Look, I’ve grown slightly more lukewarm on Finding Dory over time, especially given its lack of after-the-fact resonance. But there’s still an undeniably strong bit of narrative and animation work there and the Pixar name alone carries a lot of cache.

And as far as Kubo and the Two Strings, Laika hasn’t missed a nomination since Coraline. That plus this thing’s almost universally rapturous reception and mature take means that I see no doubt for it as a lock.

MAYBE THINGS:

Miss Hokusai
Sausage Party
The Little Prince
The Red Turtle
Sing

So, this is the small group of films competing for the last spot. None of them have any particularly better chance than the other at this stage, but they represent the other categories we see.

Miss Hokusai and The Red Turtle are our Japanese animation representatives, the latter having the Studio Ghibli pedigree. Both are receiving powerful reviews (with The Red Turtle‘s being slightly more enthused) and it’s certainly common for complex anime to get nominated here. I’d bet The Red Turtle thanks to the Ghibli name, but that’s just me.

Sing is the occasional encroachment from actual standard children’s fare in this category, usually just due to being a crowd pleaser. Sing looks like a major crowd pleaser and it may get some votes off name recognition.

The Little Prince is one of those that’s only standing a chance if Netflix throws the money behind it to try to make themselves a legitimate competitor in the Oscar race. They’ve announced themselves at the Emmys, this is their best chance this year to break into prestige awards for fiction films (because nothing else seems to be working).

Then, Sausage Party. This is one of my controversial picks for the year because I think this thing has a better chance than anyone is giving it. Surprisingly well-reviewed, more to chew on than expected, and an announcement that Sony is actually gonna pursue an Oscar campaign. I think out of sheer name recognition and enough glad-handing, Sausage Party is gonna make it onto the nomination list and be an actual competitor.

NO-GOs:

Pretty much anything else. Nothing else has the broad-based support or the respect for it. Maybe Your Name if they’re aggressive enough (the thing was a major Japanese blockbuster), but since it won’t be out for the general public until March in America, I don’t expect any other competitors.

UPDATE:

CATEGORY CALLS:

I’m going to periodically make category predictions, where I make a full-blown run down of what I think will end up getting nominated based on what I’ve covered so far. These are very subject to change.

Also, note that all of these assume a fully-filled out category. Categories can have fewer than their allotted numbers if there aren’t enough films that beat the percentage threshold.

Best Picture:
Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Live by Night
Loving
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Silence

  • Arrival is definitely my lowest-confidence pick on this list. I think the “smart sci-fi” thing along with its generally popular reception and the increasing love for Villeneuve will all only help, but I wonder how the tangled plotting will go over.
  • Live by Night is gonna be a real spoiler. Never doubt Affleck’s ability to turn meat-and-potatoes thrillers into prestige pictures.

Best Actor:

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton, Loving
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Tom Hanks, Sully
Denzel Washington, Fences

  • I haven’t read the room on Andrew Garfield yet here, but I think the first half of Hacksaw Ridge might kill the second half for him. Still, if anyone surprises here, it’s gonna be him.
  • Hanks as Sully feels about right. I don’t think the lack of recognition for the movie as a whole will keep him away.

Best Actress:

Amy Adams, Arrival 
Annette Benning, 20th Century Women
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Emma Stone, La La Land

  • Regardless of Arrival‘s place in the Picture category, I think Adams lands here.

Best Director:

Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Jeff Nichols, Loving
Martin Scorsese, Silence

  • I think your potential spoiler for Nichols (who rides in here because I think Loving will be a favorite) is Affleck, who stands the chance of getting more than we expect for Live by Night. 

Best Animated Feature Film:

Finding Dory
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
Sausage Party
Zootopia

Next Week: The Supporting Categories

 

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