The Oscar race for animated feature is between Pixar’s Black-led “Soul” and Cartoon Saloon’s hand-drawn Irish folktale, “Wolfwalkers” (co-produced by Apple Original Films). Both led ASIFA-Hollywood’s prestigious Annie Awards, but the momentum is with “Soul.”
The other nominees include Pixar’s first fantasy, “Onward,” and two entries from Netflix: “Over the Moon,” the gorgeous musical fantasy about the Chinese Moon Goddess from Disney legend Glen Keane (Oscar winner for the “Dear Basketball” short), and Aardman’s “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.”
With director/chief creative officer Pete Docter at the helm, Pixar accomplished its most ambitious film yet by contrasting gritty New York City with the ethereal Great Before. That’s the pre-birth training center where aspiring jazz pianist Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) finds himself after eluding death in The Great Beyond. He teams up with risk averse new soul, 22 (Tina Fey), on a journey to discover the meaning of life.
Docter tapped Black screenwriter Kemp Powers (Oscar-nominated for “One Night in Miami”) for the rewrite, who was promoted to co-director. Additionally, Pixar formed the “internal culture test” with Black employees at Pixar along with revered consultants, including Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young (“The Arrival”), and jazz legend Herbie Hancock. The Oscar-nominated score is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who composed the experimental, synthetic music for The Great Before) and Jon Batiste (who composed the jazz music for the New York segments). And the Oscar-nominated sound is from supervising sound editor and re-recording sound mixer Ren Kylce.
“Wolfwalkers” represents the final installment in Tomm Moore’s trilogy (“The Secret of Kells” and “Song of the Sea”). The two-time Oscar nominee tapped art director Ross Stewart to be his co-director. “Wolfwalkers” concerns an 11-year-old female apprentice hunter who develops a spiritual connection with the wolves of 17th century Ireland. The 2D work juxtaposes a block-print style for Kilkenny with watercolors and ink splats for the forest and a charcoal look for the wolves. The animation industry adores Moore, considered the Irish Miyazaki, so the third time could be the charm.
“Onward,” directed by Dan Scanlon (“Monsters University”), is a very personal story inspired by the dad he never knew. It’s about teenage Elf brothers Ian and Barley (the MCU’s Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) on a road trip to resurrect their deceased dad using a 24-hour magic spell. It’s a vast world derived from fantasy fiction (also containing sprites, satyrs, cyclops, centaurs, gnomes, and trolls), which harnesses a unique visual language for the magic with special simulated effects in collaboration with the graphic pop of cinematographer Sharon Calahan.
In “Over the Moon” (co-produced by Shanghai-based Pearl Studio and animated by Sony Imageworks), 13-year-old Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) builds a rocket to Lunaria to meet the legendary goddess, Chang’e (Phillipa Soo of “Moana” and “Hamilton”). But her journey on the dazzling Lunaria (formed from the tears of Chang’e) forces an emotional discovery. Original songs were composed by Christopher Curtis (“Chaplin: The Musical”), Marjorie Duffield, and Helen Park (“KPOP”), and famed costume designer Guo Pei designed the lavish gowns for Chang’e, which required Imageworks to upgrade its cloth simulation.
With “Farmageddon,” the stop-motion sequel to the Oscar-nominated “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” four-time Oscar-winning Aardman couldn’t resist embracing sci-fi for the first time. And for rookie feature directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan, it was a rare opportunity to take a deep dive into the genre and pay homage to Steven Spielberg. When a cute yet free-spirited alien child, LU-LA, crash-lands near Mossy Bottom farm, Shaun, normally the troublemaker, becomes a responsible buddy on a quest to find Lu-LA’s lost spaceship and return home, fighting off a secret government agency bent on capturing the alien.
“Wolfwalkers” (Cartoon Saloon/Apple Original Films/GKids)
“Over the Moon” (Netflix)
“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (Netflix/Aardman)