This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories.
The Best Animated Feature category — as you know — celebrates the best of the year’s animated fare. It is also the Academy Awards’ youngest category, first taking root in 2001. It was created ten years after Disney’s Beauty and the Beast became the only animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture. This year, almost 20 years after Beauty and the Beast and almost ten years after Shrek won the first Best Animated Feature award, we find ourselves once again with a first. This year, Pixar’s Up became the first film to be nominated for both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature. With that in mind, you’d think that this year’s Best Animated Feature category would be an easy one to predict — Up should be the runaway winner, right?
Not so fast, my friends. The competition for this year’s Best Animated award is fierce, with no clear winner emerging when you really break it down film-by-film. Which is what I’m about to do for your below.
With Coraline, director Henry Selick continues to amaze audiences with dark, beautiful stop-motion animation. In his very Tim Burton-esque (but decidedly more creative, if you can believe it) way, Selick tells us the very dark story of Coraline, as was envisioned by the story’s creator, Neil Gaiman. He also did it in stunning, immersive 3D. Like no other movie we saw this year — Avatar included — Coraline used 3D for depth better than anything we’ve seen. Selick, once again, created a distant world that felt right around the corner.
Why It Might Win: Coraline is perhaps the most imaginative and artful film in this category, aside from Kells. It has a solid story that is perhaps a little more adult than we expected, but it’s a truly beautiful film.
Why It Might Not Win: Because it’s not a Pixar movie? Alright, not really. But in all seriousness, Coraline is the least fresh release. It’s been hanging around since early in the year and has very little momentum. That, and many Academy voters probably saw it via screener, in 2D — and there’s some of this film that’s lost in 2D.
Wes Anderson seems to have stunned the world by making this stop-motion masterpiece. It is fun, energetic and as I discovered, has a very high re-watchability factor. The characters are all very charming and the story is filled with all the best parts of the Wes Anderson-quirk. Oh, and not to mention the incredibly smooth, detailed animation. Few movies released in 2009 were this much fun, and so full of life.
Why It Might Win: Because it is perhaps the most enjoyable film on this list. Anderson has created an insanely likable property that is memorable, and fun. It sticks with you, and it may just stick with voters, as well.
Why It Might Not Win: Because there’s another film on this list that tells a much better story — a great human story. If it doesn’t pick up the surprise win, it will not be because Fantastic Mr. Fox wasn’t worthy, but because it was simply released in the wrong year.
On one front, Walt Disney has Pixar pushing CG-animation into the next generation. On another, it is going back to the beautiful hand-drawn animation that made it so great in the first place. The Princess and the Frog is a wonderful and loving call-back to the days when Disney was being nominated for Best Picture with Beauty and the Beast. The animation is rich and full of vibrant color and detail and the musical numbers serve the story perfectly. It is also a story that takes a classic tale and gives it a fun twist.
Why It Might Win: Because there’s something stunning about a Disney hand-drawn animation movie. Something very classic and wonderful. Something that reminds everyone of why they love animated feature films in the first place.
Why It Might Not Win: The story isn’t quite as good as some of the other movies on this list. With a category that is so tightly contested, it isn’t enough anymore to just have a beautiful movie with great music. It’s not a bad story, it just doesn’t grab its audience quite like the others on this list.
This movie may be the great unknown on this list, but it certainly didn’t come out of nowhere. With stunning, complex animated sequences that remind us of the best of the best of Miyazaki combined with the best classic western European animation, while also maintaining a high level of accessibility for American audiences. Kells is also a stunning film that delivers a very moving story. Steeped in folklore and filled with color and life, it’s easy to see why this film has cleaned up Audience Awards at several international film festivals.
Why It Might Win: It’s a very emotionally moving story, but one that is also quite complex and mature. The animation is colorful, fluid and imaginative — but it’s really the story (and the seamless voice acting) that make this one special. It is perhaps the most thought-provoking, well-crafted story on this list.
Why It Might Not Win: There is a certain lack of recognition, not just because it is a late-contender or it’s not a Pixar movie. Mostly, it is because Kells is such a departure from the Dreamworks/Pixar/Disney movies that American audiences (and American Academy members) are accustomed to. It’s a unique movie, and one that deserves to be where it is, but it may not connect in a way that would allow it to defeat the giants of American animation.
If the alphabetical ordering of these nominees serves as any omen, we’ve saved the best for last. Of the eight Best Animated Feature awards given out in history, four of them belong to Pixar. And of all those great Pixar stories, none have ever sat at the big table with Best Picture nominees. It is more than fitting that Up — their most beautiful human and most ambitious, world-traveling adventure story — would break new ground in such an emphatic way. It has all of the things that make Pixar great — the gorgeous animation, the incredibly well-researched story and the laughs — but it has one thing that sets it apart, an unrelenting human emotional experience, brought on by the perfect storm of script, visuals and an Oscar-nominated score.
Why It Might Win: Because it is hands down the most lovely and touching film of the year — animated or not. It is also one of the best adventure movies of the year — animated or not. In fact, it’s one of the best all-around films of the year — animated or not. There’s a reason why this film is the front-runner to win this award. It is quite simply, the best film from a studio that has been making the best animated films for years.
Why It Might Not Win: There’s upset potential with Fantastic Mr. Fox, but it would truly be a crime if Up didn’t win this award. Heck, I don’t foresee any anger from anyone should it win Best Picture as well.
What Should Win: Up absolutely should win, despite my adoration for every other film on this list, and my unstoppable need to rewatch Fantastic Mr. Fox until my DVD screener burns out.
What Will Win: Up is the Goliath of this category, just like its parent studio. This is their best film, and it will be recognized accordingly.