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6 International and Independent 2D-Animated Features in the Oscar Race

6 International and Independent 2D-Animated Features in the Oscar Race

A total of 16 films were submitted for consideration in the
Best Animated Feature category at the 88th Oscars.  After being absent from the race last
year, powerhouse Pixar returns with two films, “Inside Out”  and “The Good Dinosaur,” of which the former is the
clear front-runner. Stop-motion animation is represented by two contenders, Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s critical hit “Anomalisa” and the equally celebrated,
though less contemplative, “Shaun the Sheep Movie” from Oscar-winning Aardman.  Of the other major studios the only
serious film in competition is Blue Sky’s “The Peanuts Movie.” CG animated films such as “Minions,”
Home,” “Hotel Transylvania 2,” “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” performed well at the box-office but will likely
fail to break in.

Thankfully the Academy has been very good at noticing,
while not yet awarding, the work of independent artists working in the animation
medium. Since 2010, when GKIDS garnered its first nomination for Tomm Moore’s
gorgeous “The Secret of Kells,” the New York-based distributor‘s films have
been present among the five nominees every year. Last year two masterworks from
their impeccable repertoire were included, Moore’s “Song of the Sea” and Isao Takahata’s “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” leaving out Warner’s “The Lego
Movie,” which was considered a lock for most of the season. This year GKIDS has
three films vying for recognition, all of which received Annie nominations in
the Best Independent Animated Feature category, but there also a few other
internationally produced, independently made, traditionally animated works on
the list that deserve the attention.

There is no doubt that some of the most unconventional and stunning
animated films come from outside the mechanized mainstream, and we hope this
year, once again, some of them make it to the Dolby Theater so that such
exposure helps them reach a larger global audience.

Note: The only 2D-animated feature not included here is “Regular
Show: The Movie
,” which,  despite
having a limited release as most independent films, is an American production
by a major studio

The Boy and the Beast

Dir.Mamoru Hosoda

Having worked in some of the most beloved anime series of
all time before transitioning into greater artistic heights with singular
animated features such as  “The
Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” “Summer Wars,” and “Wolf Children,” Mamoru Hosoda is one
of the most important figures in Japanese animation today and his work has a
loyal following around the world. “The Boy and the Beast,” his most recent film,
is a martial arts saga ruled by its very own mythology, yet grounded on universal
thematic elements. Following his mother’s death, Ren runs away from home and
accidentally finds his way into Jutengai, an alternate reality inhabited by
beasts. Reluctantly, young Ren is taken in by Kumatetsu, a bear-like brute
desperate to train a disciple in order to be selected as the realm’s new leader.
Despite countless arguments and numerous rough patches, a profound bond that
transcends the divide between their worlds forms between the two lonely
fighters. Fantastical creatures, epic battles, and amusing banter, spice up an
endearing story that analyzes parent-children relationship from a highly
inventive vantage point.

Boy and the World

Dir. Alê Abreu

READ MORE:Review: Why Alê Abreu’s Sublime ‘Boy and the World’ is the Best Animated Film of the Year

The most awarded animated feature to open in U.S. theaters
this year is a Brazilian wonder that ditches dialogue entirely for a
storytelling approach that’s purely visual, whimsical, and even heartbreaking.
Through the eyes of a playful young boy searching for his father, Alê Abreu’s musical odyssey conveys
sophisticated notions about social justice, the voracious appetite of capitalism,
and the yoke of oppression. Color pencils, pastels, watercolors, cut outs, and
multiple other techniques are blended with an eclectic soundtrack molding a
fascinating and gorgeous cinematic experience. Abreu’s animated masterpiece
should certainly become the first Latin American animated feature to be
nominated in the category (while “Chico and Rita” is set in Cuba, it’s actually
a European production helmed by Spanish filmmakers), as it would be an
unforgivable mistake if the Academy fails to acknowledge dazzlingly
craftsmanship on display.

READ MORE: How “Boy and the World” Director Alê Abreu Handcrafted His Heartfelt & Dazzling Animated Masterpiece

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

Dir. Roger Allers

READ MORE: Why ‘Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet’ is a Cinematic Out-Of-Body Experience Brimming with Animated Wisdom

Realizing her long-awaited passion project, Mexican-born
star Salma Hayek produced this mesmerizing reimagining of Lebanese poet Kahil
Gibran’s timeless classic with the help of some of the most important names
currently working in the medium. Hayek, who also voices one of the lead
characters, recruited Roger Allers, the man behind Disney’s “The Lion King,” to
craft a linear canvas upon which eight artists could weave in their visual
interpretations of Gibran’s poems on specific subjects. Acclaimed animators
such as Tomm Moore, Bill Plympton, Nina Paley, and Joan C. Gratz , had complete
freedom, both regarding technique and storytelling, to create these
breathtaking and distinct segments. Aller’s frame narrative follows Mustafa
(voiced by Liam Neeson ), a wise poet, as he is being escorted out of town by
the repressive Ottoman authorities that consider his writings and paintings as
subversive materials that threaten their tyrannical grip. While each individual
vignette offers a lyrical rendition of Gibran’s universal lessons, Moore’s “On
Love” is an awe-inspiring standout. “Hypnosis,” the tune written and performed
by Damien Rice, is also in contention for the Best Original Song Academy Award.

READ MORE: Salma Hayek on ‘Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet’: ‘His Poetry Talks About the Simple Things in Life That Unite Us All’

The Laws of the Universe – Part 0

Dir. Isamu Imakake

Eleven Arts, a small distributor dedicated to bringing Asian
cinema stateside, has entered the Best Animated Feature race with an
action-packed contender that will appeal to anime fans fond of intricate plots.
Directed by Isamu Imakake, this Japanese sci-fi film centers
on five high school friends who are forced to become heroes when they discover
an alien conspiracy that  endangers
the Earth and life as we know it. Teen drama collides with intergalactic
standoffs in an exciting and large-scale adventure. It’s luminously stylized
character design and the epically orchestrated action sequences elevate the
film beyond the conventions and aesthetics associated with anime series
produced for TV. Imakake’s previous efforts, “The Mystical Laws” and “The Laws
of Eternity,” also dealt with adult-oriented and otherworldly duels between
powerful evildoers and courageous youths.

Moomins on the Riviera

Dir. Xavier Picard

READ MORE: Review: In ‘Moomins on the Riviera’ the Beloved Finnish Icons Remain Timeless and Wise

Created in the 1940s by author and illustrator Tove Jansson,
these Finnish superstars have an incredibly devout following across Europe and
Asia, and though they are still not household names this side of the Atlantic,
their humble wisdom cuts across geographical boundaries with ease once one
gives in to their charm. In their first big screen appearance in over a decade,
the Moomins decide to leave the comfort of rural life in the valley for the
extravagant pleasure of the Côte d’Azur. Soon after their arrival, the roundish and
unpretentious family realizes that opulence and material wealth are far from
what they consider happiness. Elegantly drawn to resemble a nostalgic storybook
and drenched in pastel hues, Xavier Picards take on the beloved characters is
sure to add new fans to the Moomin legion and to satisfy those that throughout
the decades have been enchanted by their innocent humor and surprisingly philosophical
observations on the things that really matters.

When Marnie Was There

Dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi

READ MORE: Review: Wondrous ‘When Marnie Was There’ is One of Ghibli’s Most Profoundly Moving Works

Following Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” and Takahata’s “The
Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” another Ghibli gem (and as of now their final one) of
much more intimate qualities was released to eager U.S. audiences this spring. Hiromasa Yonebayashi‘s adaption of Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 switches
England for a Hokkaido but preserves the moving bond between the protagonist
and what seems to be a vision from another time intact. Introvert Anna (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld in the English-language dub) is a young girl that struggles to connect
with her foster mother, thus feels alienated. When Anna meets Marnie, a
gracious blond girl, while exploring the marshes that surround the town, a
secret friendship quickly develops. As their individual histories are slowly
revealed through expertly paced twists, it becomes apparent that their initial
encounter was not merely serendipitous. Magical realism, instead of more fantastic
elements as in most of Ghibli’s films, dictates the narrative, while the
artistry that is expected from the legendary studio is as captivating as usual
and never disappoints. The way Yonebayashi channels the original
material to create a delicate coming-of-age story that accepts its characters
flaws and troubling emotional journeys without simplifying them is truly remarkable.
Ahn’s heartbreaking ballad “Fine on the Outside” is also in the running for the
Best Original Song Oscar.

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