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‘Pinocchio’ Emerges as a Frontrunner in the Best Animated Feature Race

Guillermo del Toro's stop-motion adaptation is ahead by a long nose.

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio - (L-R) Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann) and Count Volpe (voiced by Christoph Waltz). Cr: Netflix © 2022

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”

Netflix

Animation.

This article contains IndieWire’s preliminary Best Animated Features predictions for the 2023 Oscars. We regularly update our predictions throughout awards season, and republish previous versions (like this one) for readers to track how the Oscar race has changed. For the latest update on the frontrunners for the 95th Academy Awards, see our 2023 Oscars predictions hub.

Nominations voting is from January 12-17, 2023, with official Oscar nominations announced January 24, 2023. Final voting is March 2-7, 2023. And finally, the 95th Oscars telecast will be broadcast on Sunday, March 12 and air live on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET/ 5:00 p.m. PT. We update predictions through awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all our 2023 Oscar picks.

Guillermo del Toro’s long-awaited stop-motion reimagining of “Pinocchio” (Netflix) has emerged as the one to beat in the Best Animated Feature Oscar race, following rave reviews from the London Film Festival premiere. The director’s first animated movie is a stunning achievement, with a handmade technique that Carlo Collodi’s enduring fable practically cries out for.

Del Toro turns “Pinocchio” on its head, setting the poignant father-son story about rebellion and anti-authoritarianism in 1930s Italy, when the country was in the grips of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Working with the Portland outpost of ShadowMachine, the director utilizes all of stop-motion’s tactile beauty and sense of wonder to create a bucolic, wooden aesthetic in the puppetry and world building. At the same time, he adds a live-action sensibility to the lighting, camera work, and performances that make “Pinocchio” believably naturalistic and emotionally powerful.

Netflix also remains in the hunt with two other frontrunners that picked up some heat at October’s Animation Is Film Festival (for which the author of this piece was a juror): Nora Twomey’s whimsical 2D adaptation of Ruth Stiles Gannett’s classic children’s book “My Father’s Dragon” and stop-motion legend Henry Selick’s afro-punk infused “Wendell & Wild.”  Cartoon Saloon goes for its fifth nomination (and Twomey’s second following “The Breadwinner”) with the former, a more mainstream story about the power of imagination and children’s autonomy with a polished animated look that earned the Special Jury prize at Animation Is Film. Despite mixed reviews, “Wendell & Wild” shouldn’t be counted out just yet — Selick’s previous film, “Coraline,” received a Best Animated Feature nod in 2010, and this one, with its wacky design and innovative 2D vibe for stop-motion, was co-written and produced by Best Original Screenplay winner Jordan Peele (“Get Out”). Netflix has fared less well with Richard Linklater’s semi-autobiographical sci-fi adventure “Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood.” The film was ruled ineligible by the executive committee of the Short Films & Feature Animation branch for its minor use of rotoscoping motion-captured characters, but, as first reported by IndieWire, Linklater has appealed the ruling, citing the abundance of 2D animation that gives the film its handmade look.

Speaking of eligibility, “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” the acclaimed stop-motion/live-action mockumentary from director Dean Fleischer Camp, has been submitted by A24 and awaits the branch’s ruling. According to Academy rules: “In an animated film, animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time.” A24 and the director maintain that the stop-motion involving the titular one-inch anthropomorphic shell (voiced by co-writer Jenny Slate) meets the threshold. However, the rule also states that an eligible film “must have a significant number of the major characters animated,” and though Marcel and his grandmother Connie (voiced by Isabella Rossellini) are the film’s main characters, Fleischer Camp appears briefly onscreen, as does Lesley Stahl and her “60 Minutes” crew.

Two other frontrunners explore very different 2D aesthetics. The Pixar house style gets an anime makeover from “Turning Red,” a bold exploration of family and puberty directed by Best Animated Short winner Domee Shi (“Bao”). With “The Bad Guys,” the animal heist comedy from first-time director Pierre Perifel, DreamWorks built a series of line work and dry brush techniques across every department to remove rich detail in an effort to generate flatter, more abstract details from the real world.

WE’VE GOT YOUR (FLUFFY) BACK – In Disney and Pixar’s all-new original feature film “Turning Red,” everything is going great for 13-year-old Mei—until she begins to “poof” into a giant panda when she gets too excited. Fortunately, her tightknit group of friends have her fantastically fluffy red panda back. Featuring the voices of Rosalie Chiang, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Hyein Park as Mei, Miriam, Priya and Abby, “Turning Red” will debut exclusively on Disney+ (where Disney+ is available) on March 11, 2022. © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

“Turning Red”

Pixar

Still to come are Disney’s sci-fi adventure “Strange World” and DreamWorks’ “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.” Disney’s latest might not have the cultural gravitas of last year’s Oscar winner, “Encanto,” but its theme of legacy and scene-stealing Splat creature have a lot going for them. And while “The Bad Guys” has originality on its side, DreamWorks previously scored an Oscar nomination with the first “Puss in Boots.”

Oscar winner Don Hall (“Big Hero 6”) infuses “Strange World” with a graphic look culled from mid-century pulp magazines. The film’s racially mixed family of explorers venturing into uncharted territory recalls the studio’s classical ’50s designs from the likes of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” while the world building leverages Disney’s cutting edge tech with weird landscapes and vegetation, and an assortment of faceless creatures reminiscent of dinosaurs and marine animals.

With “The Last Wish” from director Joel Crawford, DreamWorks also experiments with a 2D look for the titular cat (Antonio Banderas) confronting his mortality for the first time. Here a painterly design style was applied to the fairy tale world, while still maintaining the dynamics and immersion of CG.

Pixar also has “Lightyear” in contention, despite its lukewarm critical reception and box office gross. Applying a “Star Wars” vibe to the original story of Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced here by Chris Evans) was a clever conceit from director Angus MacLane, and although the sci-fi action premise was new to Pixar, it embraced every visual and sound detail with a sense a spectacle (including the first use of IMAX). With that in mind, there’s still a chance that “Lightyear” could pull an “Onward” and grab a surprise nomination.

Frontrunners
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” (ShadowMachine/Netflix)
“Turning Red” (Pixar/Disney)
“My Father’s Dragon” (Cartoon Saloon/Netflix)
“The Bad Guys” (DreamWorks/Universal)
“Wendell & Wild” (Netflix)
Note: Only films that the author has seen will be named frontrunners at this time

Potential Frontrunners
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” (DreamWorks/Universal)
“Strange World” (Disney)

Contenders
“Charlotte” (Good Deed)
“DC League of Super-Pets” (Warner Bros.)
“Drifting Home” (Netflix)
“Goodbye Don Glees!” (GKids)
“Inu-Oh” (GKids)
“Lightyear” (Pixar/Disney)
“Luck” (Skydance Animation/Apple Original Films)
“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (A24)
“Minions: The Rise of Gru” (Illumination/Universal)
“Paws Of Fury: The Legend Of Hank” (Paramount)
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” (DreamWorks/Universal)
“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” (20th Century/Disney)
“The Deer King” (GKids)
“The Sea Beast” (Netflix)

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