Updated for March 15: The race has tightened with “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” winning best feature at the 49th annual Annie Awards on March 12. In fact, “The Mitchells” dominated with eight prizes, while “Encanto” earned three for character animation, music (score by Oscar nominee Germaine Franco, song by Lin-Manuel Miranda), and storyboarding. However, despite the impressive outpouring of support for “The Mitchells” by the animation community, “Encanto” has garnered too much adulation and buzz to be denied the Oscar this late in the season.
Updated for February 8: The Oscar nominations are out and Disney dominated with “Encanto” and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” and Pixar’s “Luca.” This marks the first time that Disney has had two in contention since 2016 and the first time it’s had three since 2012. The other two slots were taken by “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” (Netflix/Sony), and the acclaimed documentary “Flee” (Neon/Participant), which also scored historic noms in the doc and international categories.
Golden Globe-winning “Encanto” certainly has the momentum, also scoring Oscar nominations for original score by Germaine Franco (a female first for animated features at Disney) and original song (“Dos Oruguitas”) by the very hot Lin-Manuel Miranda. That marks the first time since “Toy Story 3” that an animated feature has earned three or more noms. Led by Oscar-winning “Zootopia” co-directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush, and co-director Charise Castro Smith (“The Haunting of Hill House”), the musical fantasy about a Colombian family with special powers leans exquisitely on magical realism. Most important, it contains the theme of overcoming inter-generational family conflicts with pride, imagination, and resourcefulness.
With “The Mitchells” (which nabbed animated feature honors from the New York Film Critics Circle), Oscar-winning producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) shepherded newbie director Mike Rianda’s wild 2D-inspired vision about a wacky family fighting the robot apocalypse. At the same time, Sony Pictures Imageworks upped its innovative tech to make a moving illustrated book, divided between the organic imperfections of the human world and the slick, sharpness of the robot world. Nerdy teenage filmmaker Katie (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) and nature-loving dad, Rick (voiced by Danny McBride), are constantly at odds but must unite with their family to combat an AI uprising led by menacing, Siri-like PAL (voiced by Olivia Colman). The most creative inspiration: Katie’s flourishes as filmmaker conveyed through her various animated techniques (appropriately called “Katie-Vision”).
With “Luca,” Pixar embraced its most graphic 2D aesthetic to date in CG, courtesy of first-time feature director Enrico Casarosa (“La Luna” short). He pushed a unique storybook look for his Italian sea monster bromance between the titular 13-year-old (voiced by “Wonder” star Jacob Tremblay) and best friend Alberto (voiced by “Shazam’s” Jack Dylan Grazer), who turn human above water. They share an enchanting summer riding Vespa scooters, and soaking up the beauty of the watercolor seaside town, while hiding their secret identities. Inspired by early Hayao Miyazki, Aardman, and “Looney Tunes,” Casarosa translated the drawings and concept art directly into the animation, adding painterly textures to the pliable characters, illustrative backgrounds, and caricatured water.
With “Raya” (which topped the Annie Awards with 10 nominations), Disney turned the titular Southeast Asian princess (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) into a badass warrior, veering further into Marvel territory as an Avengers-like action-adventure. More epic than “Moana,” “Raya” incorporated several Southeast Asian cultures through the fantasy world of Kumandra and its divided kingdoms (a very timely theme of unity amid a viral-like form of destruction). But the core was the buddy story between Raya and the magical water dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina). Don Hall (the Oscar-winning “Big Hero 6”) shared directing duties with Carlos López Estrada (“Blindspotting”). They were joined by screenwriter Qui Nguyen, who hailed from the Marvel writers program and was experienced at creating superhero origin stories.
“Flee” (winner of the LA Film Critics Award for animated feature), from Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, documents the true story of a Danish academic (who goes by the fictitious Amin Nawabi) as he grapples with his secret past as an Afghan refugee. Rasmussen interviews his childhood friend, who opens up about his dark journey. The director not only uses animation to shield the identity of his friend, but also to convey the trauma of the story with graphic imagination.
Below are the nominees ranked in order of likelihood to win:
“The Mitchells vs. The Machines” (Netflix/Sony)
“Raya and the Last Dragon” (Disney)