This year has seen a bumper crop of top-notch animated films, making the competition for the Best Animated Feature Oscar particularly interesting.
The award, recognizing a genre that was long ignored by the Academy is a relative newcomer, having been instituted only in 2001.
“It was certainly a pretty exceptional year for animation,” said Antran Manoogian, president of the International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood. “Often, as you get closer to the end of the year a number of films will suddenly appear in order to get considered for Oscars, and that suddenly broadens the field, but this year there was a steady stream of great animated films throughout the year.”
ASIFA-Hollywood will be hosting the 37th annual Annie Awards, Feb. 6, at UCLA’s Royce Hall, in Los Angeles.
The Annie Awards are a bellwether for which films might be honored by the Academy as a whole.
“Since the creation of the Oscar for the Best Animated Feature, only twice has the animated feature that got the Annie not gone on to win the Oscar,” said Manoogian.
In 2006, the Annie went to Cars, while the Academy choose Happy Feet, and last year, the Annie went to Kung Fu Panda, while the Academy gave the Oscar to WALL-E.
Since instituting the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2001, only twice has the Academy even been able to come up with five nominees. (Since 2003, there have only been 3 nominations competing for the coveted statue). Under the rules for the category, a maximum of 5 features can be nominated in a year in which the field of eligible entries numbers at least 16. But with an unprecedented 20 eligible films this year, it’s almost a given that we’ll see the category expand to a full five nominees.
“Our selection committee had a very hard a time coming up with their nominations for the Annies,” said Manoogian. “In fact, it was such a difficult choice this year that they appealed to the Board of Directors requesting that they be allowed to give out a sixth nomination, and that’s pretty unprecedented.”
“The fact that there are 20 films in the running, I think there are enough for the Academy to consider five nominations, and I think that considering that our selection committee had such a hard time narrowing it down to six, I think there’s a pretty good chance we’ll see five Academy nominations this year.”
The six in the running for the Annie’s Best Animated Feature Award are: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells, and Up.
The list of films eligible for the Oscar, includes all of the above, plus, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Astro Boy, Battle for Terra, Disney’s A Christmas Carol, The Dolphin: Story of a Dreamer, Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Mary and Max, The Missing Lynx, Monsters vs. Aliens, 9, Planet 51, Ponyo, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure and A Town Called Panic.
Manoogian noted that “It’s interesting how many stop-motion animation films there are this year. It’s quite a few compared to years past—Fantastic Mr. Fox, Mary and Max, and Coraline—you don’t usually see that many stop-motion films.”
Only once in its history has the Academy nominated an animated film for Best Picture, Beauty and The Beast in 1991. With new rules, which allow for 10 nominations for Best Picture, industry pundits are wondering if this might open the door for an animated film to contend for the top honor.
“As for Best Picture, it is certainly possible this year. We’ve all heard some titles thrown around as possibilities. It would be wonderful if they did that,” said Manoogian. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
One film in particular has emerged as the front-runner for the award and possible nomination for Best Picture is Pixar’s Up. In fact, when the Academy announced the list of 20 eligible films, the headline in New York Entertainment magazine proclaimed: “Academy Announces Names of the Nineteen Movies That Will Lose to Up for Best Animated Feature.”
But what should voters look for when it comes to excellence in animation?
“I think one has to look at a production as an overall thing and an animated feature is no different from a live-action feature,” said Manoogian. “It’s about story. It’s about character, music, motion and direction. Presumably, if an animated film is done well, you’re going to forget that you’re looking at an animated film. So it comes down to the visceral response. With a good performance, you don’t think about it. So it’s kind of like asking, ‘what makes good music?’”