This year’s animated feature nominees include Pixar’s “Toy Story 4,” DreamWorks’ “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” Laika’s stop-motion “Missing Link,” and two Neflix entries: “Klaus” and “I Lost My Body.”
“Toy Story 4” is certainly the one to beat. It exceeded expectations while breaking the franchise box office record. Pixar proved there was definitely one more story to tell about Woody’s (Tom Hanks) existential journey. It’s about change and growth, with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and Forky (Tony Hale) as the catalysts. Pixar upped its animation (from the porcelain shepherdess to the complex antique shop), and delivered a surprising, bittersweet climax.
DreamWorks’ prestigious “Hidden World” concluded the beloved “Dragon” franchise on a high note, with director Dean DeBlois confronting the politics of hate, as grownup Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) secures the safety of his pal, Toothless, new companion Light Fury, and the rest of the dragon clan. Change, growth, and happiness envelope this finale as well. The animation is stunning, thanks to tech advancements at DreamWorks that allowed such an aesthetically opulent depiction of the Hidden World along with more detailed and tactile surfacing for every facet of the animation.
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Stop-motion innovator, Laika, chases its fifth Oscar nomination with the charming Victorian-era comedy/adventure, “Missing Link” (from Annapurna). Narcissistic explorer Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) and a Sasquatch named Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) embark on a globetrotting quest in search of the legendary Shangri-La, home of Link’s ancestry. Laika offered full-color, one-off 3D-printed face replacement for the first time and Nelson Lowry’s sets and Deborah Cook’s costumes are exquisitely crafted.
“Despicable Me” creator Sergio Pablos struggled to make a 2D Santa origin story, “Klaus,” for nearly a decade at his animation studio in Madrid. And the animation community has cheered him on for trying to reinvigorate the hand-drawn technique with a modern, digital veneer. But, after being turned down by Hollywood studios, Netflix came to the rescue to produce Pablos’ pet project about the spirit of altruism becoming contagious. But the selling point is the retro look that’s enhanced by stunning lighting and texturing, courtesy of new tracking software from Pablo’s studio, which takes 2D into the 21st century with some digital flourishes.
With “I Lost My Body,” the existential French mystery about a severed hand, director Jérémy Clapin offered the season’s boldest animated feature (winning most of the critics’ awards). It’s a thrilling mixture of action and romance, animated by Xilam Animation in CG, but overlaid with a striking hand-drawn aesthetic. The result is a provocative exploration of destiny and free will, in which touch and sound figure prominently.
The final five contenders are listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
“I Lost My Body”
“Toy Story 4”