Editor’s note: This is part of a 32-part series dissecting the 85th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read the other posts regarding this event, please click here. Thank you, and enjoy!
By Todd of Forgotten Films
Watching the Academy Awards ceremony has been an annual tradition for me since I was a teenager. I never miss it! But a few years ago, I was forced to. Oddly enough, I was closer to the ceremony geographically than I had ever been, but I could not watch. I was attending a convention in San Diego and my duties meant I would be busy during the Oscars. As soon as the convention ended for the night, I scurried across the conference grounds and up several flights of stairs to my hotel room. I turned the TV on as quickly as I could. The picture came on just in time for me to hear Jack Nicholson say, “And the Oscar goes to…The Departed.” That was it…best picture. I’d missed everything else.
So, the only thing I could do was head back across the convention center to a gathering of other attendees. As I walked, slowly this time, I got on the horn to my wife to find out the other winners. I knew she would’ve been keeping score for me. She ran through the list…Helen Mirren for Best Actress, yep picked it…Forrest Whitaker, Best Actor…nailed it again. When she got to Best Animated Feature I said, “well that was Cars.” “No,” she replied, “it was Happy Feet.” That’s when I lost it!
Now I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t like “Cars,” but “Happy Feet,” really? I had seen that in the theater a few weeks prior with my family and never have I wanted to go to the box office and demand my money back more than I did that day. I hated “Happy Feet!” And I think many other parents did too, as evidenced by the catastrophic box office performance of “Happy Feet Too” last year. You can have your “Crash” vs “Brokeback Mountain” controversy, but in my book, “Happy Feet” winning an Oscar is the biggest disaster in the history of the Academy. Needless to say, I take the Animated Feature category pretty seriously.
This award is still pretty young, having been first presented in 2001. The majority of the time, there are 3 nominees. However, if there are more than 16 eligible films that year, the list is expanded to 5. This year marks only the 4th time that there have been 5 nominated films. Eligible films need to be at least 40 minutes long, have a significant number of animated characters, and at least 75% of the film’s running time needs to contain animation. This last requirement means that films like “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “Yogi Bear,” and “The Smurfs” are all eligible in this category, though none have ever made the cut.
This year presents a truly unique batch of films. While computer animation has dominated the field since the award was created, this year sees three stop-motion efforts on the list. It is also interesting to note that three of this year’s nominees come from Disney. This year’s nominees are:
– The Pirates! Band of Misfits
– Wreck-it Ralph
So…who has the best chance? In all honesty, I haven’t seen any of the nominated films yet…but there’s more to trying to pick the winner than just seeing the movies.
“Brave” is, of course from Pixar, and you can never rule them out in this category. Every Pixar film since 2001 has received a nomination in this category. That is, until last year when “Cars 2,” the studio’s first critical flop, didn’t make the cut. Only “Monsters Inc” and the aforementioned “Cars” failed to take home the statue. Bottom line is, Pixar films always have a strong chance of winning, but some voters may still be feeling some residual anger over “Cars 2.” (Watch the trailer for Brave)
“Frankenweenie” is the first of the stop-motion efforts, and the second nomination for Tim Burton in this category, after “Corpse Bride.” It’s only the 2nd time a black and white film has been nominated in this category, the other being the primarily B&W “Persepolis.” This film is a strong contender. The critics loved it, but it was a flop at the box-office. Also working against “Frankenweenie” is the next film on the list… (Watch the trailer for Frankenweenie)
“ParaNorman,” another stop motion flick, was released in August and it was the first of three Halloween themed animated films this year (along with “Frankenweenie” and “Hotel Transylvania” which wasn’t nominated). I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the flood of commercials for all three caused them to start blurring together in my brain. That could be a problem if Academy voters experienced the same thing. But “ParaNorman” was very well received and stands out in this group for having a lot of humor that appeals to the adults in the audience. This approach worked well for previous winners like “Shrek” and last year’s winner “Rango.” There’s a lot of good buzz that certainly makes “ParaNorman” a strong contender. (Watch the trailer for ParaNorman)
Next up is “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” the final stop motion effort. This comes to us courtesy of Aardman Animation, who previously took home the gold for “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.” It appears to be a fun film, but some of its early ads did offend some folks over a joke involving leprosy. And on the subject of ads, back in January and February of last year, it felt like I saw a commercial for this every time I turned on the TV. If Academy voters grew as tired of that as I did, it may not bode well for The Pirates. All that aside, this is still the definite underdog of the bunch. (Watch the trailer for The Pirates! Band Of Misfits)
Last up is “Wreck-it Ralph,” a film that has been a big hit with both audiences and critics. It’s a computer-animated film from Disney, but not from Pixar. There have been several other of these CG Disney films, but only “Bolt” has managed a nomination previously (though “Tangled” deserved one, if you ask me). “Wreck-it Ralph” is another strong contender, but has the challenge of trying to not be overshadowed by his Pixar cousins. (Watch the trailer for Wreck-it Ralph)
As always, there are several notable films that didn’t make the cut. Most intriguing is that neither of Dreamworks’ two animated films, “Rise of the Guardians” and “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” made the cut. That’s gotta sting a little considering chief rival Disney managed 3 nods. For me, the biggest snub is “The Lorax,” a film which I actually have seen and quite enjoyed. But many critics weren’t as impressed, and its early March opening didn’t help with the short memory span of most Academy voters.
So, what’s the bottom line? I think right now (writing this just a few hours after the nominees were announced) the ones to watch out for are “ParaNorman” and “Frankenweenie,” with Norman having a slight edge, basically because it was a hit and weenie wasn’t. I could just as well see “Brave” or Ralph slide in there, but my gut tells me it’s the battle of the creepy cartoons this year. Of course, things change as the month progresses and I may be way off base by the time they roll out the red carpet. Just so long as no dancing penguins win, I’ll be ok.