There’s a wider range of indie movies joining the usual studio suspects in this year’s animation race. Disney/Pixar returns with “Incredibles 2,” Brad Bird’s superb advance on the original Oscar-winning 2004 superhero feature, while Disney Animation offers its own sequel to an Oscar-nominated original, “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2” (November 21), and Universal/Illumination will try to make its return to awards contention with another Dr. Seuss adaptation, “The Grinch” (November 9).
Longer shots include Aardman’s stop-motion “Early Man” (Lionsgate) and two Sony Animation entries, sequel “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” from director Genndy Tartakovsky, and the Phil Lord & Chris Miller-produced “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (December 14), a likely holiday hit with a wild stylistic look directed by animators-turned-directors Bob Persichetti and Rodney Rothman and Peter Ramsey (“Rise of the Guardians”). Are Lord and Miller now considered worthy of Oscar contention, with experienced animators in the directors’ chairs? We shall see.
On the indie side are Wes Anderson’s acclaimed Japanese-accented smash “Isle of Dogs” (Fox Searchlight), his stop-motion follow-up to Oscar-nominated “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and three Japanese GKids imports, Masaaki Yuasa’s “Lu Over the Wall (May 11), a fantasy about merfolk; Mamoru Hosoda’s time-traveling fantasy “Mirai,” which debuted in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight; and Yuasa’s young-adult romantic comedy “Night is Short, Walk on Girl.” At the 2018 Oscars, Nora Twomey’s “The Breadwinner” became the tenth GKids film to earn an Oscar nomination.
Also in the running is a Chinese mystical fantasy from Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun, “Big Fish & Begonia” (April 6, Shout! Studios). Netflix could enter this category for the first time with Sundance entry “White Fang” (July 6), a 2D Jack London adaptation directed by Oscar-winner Alexandre Espigares (the “Mr. Hublot” short), with a voice cast that includes Nick Offerman, Rashida Jones, and Paul Giamatti. Also coming on Netflix is Chinese robot actioner “Next Gen,” a Cannes entry directed by Kevin R. Adams and Joe Ksander, with the voice cast Charlyne Yi, Jason Sudeikis, David Cross, Michael Pena, and Constance Wu.
Last year, new Academy voting rules enlarged 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 some 8200 Academy voters will be able to vote — as long as they opt in and see enough of the movies (that’s still a small group). And nominations in this category, like Best Picture, are now preferential instead of based on a numerical scoring system.
The results will come down to the usual bottom line — what voters are actually motivated to watch.
No film will be deemed a frontrunner unless I have seen it. Additional reporting by Bill Desowitz.
“Incredibles 2” (Disney/Pixar)
“Isle of Dogs” (Fox Searchlight)
“Lu Over the Wall” (GKids)
“Night is Short, Walk on Girl” (GKids)
“Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2” (Disney)
“Early Man” (Lionsgate)
“Big Fish & Begonia” (Shout! Studios)
“The Grinch” (Universal/Illumination)
“Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” (Sony)
“Next Gen” (Netflix)
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Sony)
“White Fang” (Netflix)