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‘The Sea Beast’ Enters the Animated Feature Race, but ‘Pinocchio’ Remains the Frontrunner

"Turning Red,” “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” and “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" were also nominated for Best Animated Feature.

The Sea Beast, Netflix

“The Sea Beast”


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

See our initial thoughts on what to expect at the 95th Academy Awards here.

The State of the Race

Nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar on Tuesday were frontrunner “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” from Netflix, Pixar’s “Turning Red,” DreamWorks’ “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” A24’s “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,” and Netflix’s “The Sea Beast.” That breaks down into three CG (“Turning Red,” “Puss in Boots,” “The Sea Beast”) and two stop-motion (“Pinocchio” and the “Marcel and Shell”) films.

The lone surprise entry was “The Sea Beast,” the retro seafaring adventure directed by former Disney vet Chris Williams (the Oscar-winning “Big Hero 6”). It’s a charming adventure about an orphaned stowaway (Zaris-Angel Hator), a sea monster hunter (Karl Urban), and a misunderstood Red Leviathan. Williams’ passion project (animated by Sony Pictures Imageworks) was Netflix’s most viewed original animated feature to date in the third quarter of 2022, a popularity reflected in the preferences of Academy branch voters, who nominated “The Sea Beast” over two other movies from the streamer with Oscar-worthy pedigrees: Henry Selick’s stop-motion team-up with Jordan Peele, “Wendell & Wild,” and the latest feature from Cartoon Saloon and previously nominated director Nora Twomey, “My Father’s Dragon” (the studio’s first to get overlooked by the Academy).

“Wendell & Wild” and “The Sea Beast” were among the Best Animated Feature nominees for ASIFA-Hollywood’s 50th annual Annie Awards (to be held February 25 at UCLA’s Royce Hall). They joined “Pinocchio,” “Turning Red,” and “Puss in Boots.”

The Best Indie Feature category nominations went to “Marcel the Shell,” “My Father’s Dragon,” GKids’ “Inu-Oh,” the Canadian-French-Belgian biopic “Charlotte,” and “Little Nicholas,” the Animation Is Film winner from France.

In terms of the Oscar race, “Pinocchio” remains the strong favorite, benefiting from del Toro’s prestige as an auteur. He would become the first Best Director (“The Shape of Water”) winner to also grab Best Animated Feature. This poignant father-son musical drama and anti-fascist fable pushes stop-motion (from the Portland arm of “BoJack Horseman” studio ShadowMachine) in more of a live-action direction with lighting, camera work, and performances.

Meanwhile, the acclaimed “Marcel the Shell” (the NYFCC Animation Award winner) made Oscar history as the first stop-motion/live action nominee after qualifying as a unique hybrid. The feature debut from director Dean Fleischer Camp (adapted from his series of shorts with Jenny Slate), follows the 1-inch anthropomorphic shell (voiced by Slate) on a journey to find his family, becoming a viral sensation along the way, thanks to a doc filmmaker (played mostly off-screen by Camp) and an appearance on ’60 Minutes.’ The film has been embraced for its charm, wit, the unusually small scale of its stop-motion (overseen by animation director Kirsten Lepore), and adorable breakout star.

Significantly, “Turning Red” and “Puss in Boots” are both CG standouts for pushing 2D aesthetics in very different directions. Director Domee Shi paved the way as a female visionary at Pixar with “Turning Red,” her feature debut following “Bao,” her whimsical, Oscar-winning animated short. The film turned Pixar upside down with a quirky, anime-inspired aesthetic that matched her personal coming-of-age comedy-fantasy about a giant red panda as a metaphor for puberty.

The experimental “Into the Spider-Verse” look greatly impacted the painterly fairy book style of “Puss in Boots,” which finds the fearless feline from the “Shrek” franchise (Antonio Banderas) battling mortality after burning through the first eight of his nine lives. Director Joel Crawford benefited from an expanded DreamWorks toolbox and some psychedelic 2D looks for the fights between Puss and The Wolf (Wagner Moura).

Below are the nominees ranked in order of likelihood to win:
“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” (ShadowMachine/Netflix)
“Turning Red” (Pixar/Disney)
“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” (DreamWorks/Universal)
“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (A24)
“The Sea Beast” (Netflix)

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