Watching the Oscars is fun, sure. But what’s even more fun are the plethora of predictions, industry news and gossip that comes with them.
The Academy Award for Best Animated Feature was introduced in 2001, but it’s a notoriously difficult-to-define category; While live action films of all genres are lumped into the Best Picture nominations sometimes animated films have earned a nod in this category too, such as Beauty and the Beast (1991), Up (2009), and Toy Story 3 (2010).
Then there’s the fact that the brilliant Waltz with Bashir was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 2008, but didn’t get a mention in the Best Animated Feature category.
While no snub is more obvious this year than Amy Adams failing to be nominated for her roles in Arrival or Nocturnal Animals in the Best Actress category, it’s this difficult-to-define-ness of the Animated Feature category that some critics and commentators have used to explain why the hugely successful (not to mention beautifully animated) Your Name was left off this year's list. That, and the fact that the U.S. release for Your Name isn’t scheduled until April.
As I’ve written previously, in the history of Japanese animation only five films have ever been nominated in the Best Animated Feature category – and only one film has actually won.
The nominations this year are interesting because it’s not as much of a Pixar love-fest as seen in previous years. Since 2004, Pixar has won the category eight times with Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, Toy Story 3, Brave and Inside Out. This year, Pixar’s Finding Dory didn’t score a nomination, while Disney Animation’s (distinct from Pixar, which is a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company) Moana and Zootopia were both nominated.
Along with Moana and Zootopia, the stop-motion flick Kubo and the Two Strings was nominated, along with French-Japanese title from Studio Ghibli/Sony Pictures, The Red Turtle, and French-Swiss production My Life as a Zucchini.
If you haven’t even heard of some of these nominees, never fear. Here’s the lowdown.
"Kubo and the Two Strings"
Directed by Travis Knight, Kubo and the Two Strings is an action-adventure set in a fantastical Japan. It follows the clever clogs Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), whose quiet existence is destroyed when he accidentally summons a spirit from his past who is determined to enforce an age-old vendetta. Kubo must locate a magical suit of armour worn by his late father, a legendary Samurai warrior, in order to defeat the vengeful spirit, and along the way the audience is treated to gods, monsters and some stunning stop-motion animation.
The film also includes vocal talents from Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, George Takei, Rooney Mara and Matthew McConaughey. Phew.
Moana is the much-hyped ‘Polynesian Princess’ film that seems to be a part of Disney’s attempt to create a more diverse range of protagonists. This lushly animated family-friendly flick – directed by Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams AND Don Hall – follows Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho), an impetuous Chieftain's daughter, who sets out on a daring mission to save her people.
Joined on her journey by the mighty demigod, Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), the story is Disney’s take on the oceanic myths of the Pacific Islands. Not to mention the mandatory catchy tunes and beautiful visuals.
"My Life as a Zucchini"
Oh goddd, just the Trailer is enough to make me tear up a little. It's a directorial debut from Claude Barras, and is a stop-motion tale that follows a young boy – who prefers to be called Zucchini – who is sent to a home filled with orphans after his mother’s sudden death. At first he struggles to find his place, but with the friendship of his fellow orphans, the guidance of a kindly police officer named Raymond, and a love interest, he starts to create a new family.
With the voices of Gaspard Schlatter, Sixtine Murat, and Michel Vuillermoz, the English language version will feature the voices of Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page and Amy Sedaris.
"The Red Turtle"
Told entirely without dialogue, this 80-minute feature tells the story of a shipwrecked man who finds a family and new life on an island that appears uninhabited. Uninhabited, that is, except for the birds, crabs and turtles – and perhaps spirits. The Red Turtle is Studio Ghibli’s first international co-production, and born out of a creative partnership with Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit.
Michaël Dudok de Wit won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short back in 2001 with Father and Daughter, and Studio Ghibli was behind the only Japanese anime to ever win the Best Animated Feature category, Spirited Away – so the Red Turtle has the credentials it needs to take the award home this year.
On paper, Zootopia sounds vaguely ridiculous. But like many animated features, sometimes the vaguely ridiculous synopses make the best films. In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) and a cynical con artist fox (voiced by Jason Bateman) must work together to uncover a conspiracy. Something is turning tie wearing, gainfully employed ‘predators’ in the peaceful city of Zootopia into wild beasts – but what?
With a fresh feeling and lots of visual humour – not to mention the gravelly voiced Idris Elba as Chief Bogo – there’s something for children and adults alike in this gem of a film. Worth it for ‘the sloth scene’ alone.
What films would you like to see win the Best Animated Feature category?