Sunday, February 21, 2010

Shearing the Oscars: Animated Feature

This is a big year for the Animated Feature Oscar. For the first year since it originated in 2001, there were enough films released in the Academy calendar year to warrant expanding the number of nominees from the usual three to the maximum five. With Pixar's UP leading the category as the frontrunner, the expansion might not lead to an unexpected winner but it has already brought about one of the year's biggest surprise nominations, the very little known, THE SECRET OF KELLS. The unexpected inclusion meant big studio hopeful CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and past winner, Hayao Miyazaki's PONYO were shut out. Let's take a look now at what did make the cut.


There is no denying the artistry of, CORALINE, Henry Selick's miniature epic. Not only is the stop-motion animation technique used so brilliantly, in both a creative and technical fashion, but the tale itself, based on the Neil Gaiman story, is genuinely original. While the film clearly connected with art enthusiasts and young girls, it may have been inherently too cold to remain fresh in voters' minds a year later. It has been honoured as one of the American Film Institute's Top 10 films of the year but this will not be Selick's year for Oscar as well


Wes Anderson's magical masterpiece, FANTASTIC MR. FOX, is the next biggest threat in this category. It is the only other nominee aside from UP to find its screenplay, co-written by Anderson and indie filmmaker, Noah Baumbach, honoured by critics' associations. The film's score, composed by Alexandre Desplat is also nominated for an Oscar. The National Board of Review even awarded Wes Anderson a special acheivement award for creating such a brave, new approach to animated film. All of these factors could push FOX past Pixar but it will have to dig a lot deeper still to get up as high as Pixar is.


Disney was pushing two films for this category aside from UP, the aforementioned PONYO and their first 2D animation in years, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Between the two, the latter is certainly the easier choice. Unfortunately, in my opinion, while I do feel Disney was able to get back to its roots with their fresh take on this classic tale, they did not do anything past presenting their first African-American princess to modernize their tested formula. They even brought Randy Newman back to compose a few diddies and, nothing against the perfectly acceptable songs, the Academy honoured him as well. This is a safe entry but no actual threat.


GKIDS, the U.S. distributor for THE SECRET OF KELLS, opened their mostly hand-drawn fable in one Los Angeles theatre for one little week last year so that their film could be eligible for Academy consideration. Once they passed that hurdle, they held Academy screenings and shipped out screeners but did nothing really more to push their film. As it somehow managed to score a nod alongside these other films with distributors with deep wallets, the film must be pretty good. I cannot say, personally, as I'm one of the millions who hasn't seen it. Although I doubt it can pull off the impossible and take the win here, it's planned spring release will definitely be much more fruitful than I'm sure GKIDS ever imagined.


It is so easy to say great things about Pixar. I could not believe they pulled this one off, to be honest. And when I realized after seeing it that they had, I could not really believe I ever doubted them. Pixar hasn't always won over the hearts of the Academy though. MONSTERS INC lost the inaugural Animated Feature award to SHREK and CARS lost to HAPPY FEET in 2006. Those two weren't also nominated for Best Picture though. Besides, they have won four out of the last eight years so it isn't that a big a stretch to see them taking it a fifth time. It's no bigger stretch than a rickety old man and a boy scout flying high above the world in house attached to hundreds of helium balloons anyway.



Next up in Black Sheep's Academy Awards spotlight, it's time to get down to the written word and look at this year's nominees in the writing categories. That's next weekend. In the meantime, Black Sheep reposts full reviews for some of the nominated animated features all week.

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