This year for the first time new Academy voting rules are enlarging the voter pool for animated features, which used to be voted on by as few as 200 members of the shorts and animation branch. Now 7000 Academy voters will be able to vote — as long as they opt in and see enough of the movies. And nominations in this category, like Best Picture, will now be preferential instead of based on a numerical scoring system.
The question is whether this will have the effect of mainstreaming the results. Judging from the way the Academy trends highbrow with the rest of their voting, and assuming that animation lovers will vote, it will come down to the usual bottomline — what they’re actually motivated to watch.
The usual suspects will be vying for a likely five nominations this year (given the large number of slated 2017 animated releases). There’s Disney/Pixar, Fox’s DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky, and respected indie distributor Gkids, which usually supplies a nominated foreign import or two — they’ve racked up 9 nominations since 2009, second only to Pixar.
Less likely competitors include Sony Pictures Animation, which would like to follow up on Oscar nominations for Imageworks’ “Monster House” and SPA’s “Surf’s Up,” and Universal’s Illumination Entertainment, which has been hugely successful at the box office but is hoping to follow up “Despicable Me 2″‘s two Oscar nominations.
Among the frontrunners, Lee Unkrich directs Pixar’s CG Day of the Dead feature “Coco” (November 22, 2017), which is focused on a 12-year-old Mexican boy named Miguel, with voices by Gael Garcia Bernal and others. (Guillermo del Toro’s colorful 2014 Day of the Dead-themed production “The Book of Life” landed just a Golden Globe nomination.) This seems a more likely nomination for Pixar than sequel “Cars 3,” which may follow its predecessor to recognition at the Annies and Golden Globes. The 2006 original did land two Oscar nominations.
Gkids released Nora Twomey’s Irish-Canadian co-production “The Breadwinner,” about an Afghan girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to provide for her family, which is executive-produced by Angelina Jolie and won Best Feature at the first Animation Is Film Festival. Twomey co-directed their Oscar-nominated “The Secret of Kells.”
GKids is also releasing “Birdboy: The Forgotten Children,” the Goya-winning debut feature of directors Vazquez and Pedro Rivero, which is based on Vazquez’s post-apocalyptic graphic novel and 2011 short film focused on a shy teen bird, “Birdboy,” as well as late entry “Mary and the Witch’s Flower.”
Fox’s Dreamworks Animation entry is Tom McGrath’s timely zeitgeist comedy “The Boss Baby,” starring Alec Baldwin as a temperamental infant not unlike President Donald Trump, which scored at the box office but earned middling reviews. Fox is also releasing Blue Sky’s “Ferdinand,” based on the children’s classic about a non-violent bull who doesn’t want to fight in the ring. Blue Sky would like to earn its second feature nomination after the original 2002 “Ice Age.”
More likely to factor with this branch is artful and painterly “Loving Vincent,” which was a surprising hit at the box office.
While Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s “The Lego Movie” was controversially overlooked by the Academy last time around, it’s possible there could be more love for Chris McKay’s equally popular sequel “The Lego Batman Movie.” Or not. The original directors were penalized in part for being live-action outsiders to the animation community. This may be one movie where the new rules could tip the balance in their favor. And there’s another Lord-Miller Brickburg production, fall release “The Lego Ninjago Movie.”
Here are the likely Oscar contenders, in alphabetical order; none will be deemed a frontrunner until I have seen it.
“The Lego Batman Movie”
“Mary & the Witch’s Flower”
“Birdboy: The Forgotten Children”
“The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales”
“The Boss Baby”
“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie”
“Despicable Me 3”
“The Emoji Movie”
“The Lego Ninjago Movie”
“The Nut Job 2”
“Smurfs: The Lost Village”