You know names like Pixar and Dreamworks, as you should, but you may not be familiar with some other studios who are making waves in the animated film category this year and for the second year in a row Pixar may not walk home with the “Best Animated Movie” Oscar in February.
Pixar just released their once a year title with Brave, a film about a teenage girl – Merida – who wants nothing else than to be her own person but her mother is struggling with the fact that Merida isn’t growing up to be the dainty princess she once imagined. It’s a heartfelt film full of beautiful scenery, vivid wildlife, lifelike graphics, and fun storytelling…but let’s face it, it’s no Up!. You could argue that the short film before Brave, La Luna, was a better bit of story-telling than the actual feature film.
Last year Pixar released Cars 2 in which it was their first critical flop and didn’t make a terrible amount of money. It was a rare miss (their first one, really) from the studio who is best known for bringing us tear-jerking moments amidst cartoonish fun while also pushing the boundaries of animated films. Cars 2 was none of that. It was more of a Disney film than it was a Pixar film. Cars 2 being as bad as it was allowed Gore Verbinski’s Rango (starring Johnny Depp as the chameleon stuck in the wild west) to take home the “Best Animated Movie” Oscar. Rango was not a bad film at all, but I can’t help but think that if Pixar was on their game Rango would be holding that second place trophy.
Last year should have been a wake up call for Pixar, who pride themselves on being the best, and made the fine folks over at the studio realize that they’re not going to be handed Academy Awards every year. This year will be no different. Brave was a good film but it’s not in the top 5 of Pixar films and it’s led me to believe that they are not a lock whatsoever for the Academy Award this year either.
Let’s examine the other animated films releasing this year and their chances at taking home an Oscar in 2013.
The Secret World of Arrietty
Plot: Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler), a tiny, but tenacious 14-year-old, lives with her parents (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) in the recesses of a suburban garden home, unbeknownst to the homeowner and her housekeeper (Carol Burnett). Like all little people, Arrietty (AIR-ee-ett-ee) remains hidden from view, except during occasional covert ventures beyond the floorboards to “borrow” scrap supplies like sugar cubes from her human hosts. But when 12-year-old Shawn (David Henrie), a human boy who comes to stay in the home, discovers his mysterious housemate one evening, a secret friendship blossoms. If discovered, their relationship could drive Arrietty’s family from the home and straight into danger. — (C) Disney
What I Think: It’s a Disney backed film and the artwork is stunning so it always has a chance however, the same people that did this film also did Ponyo (another anime-ish styled Disney backed feature) and that didn’t get too much publicity for a Oscar nomination.
Chances: 20% – I think it has a chance to be nominated for an Academy Award but it has virtually no chance at winning.
Dr. Suess’ The Lorax
Plot: The 3D-CGI feature Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is an adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic tale of a forest creature who shares the enduring power of hope. The animated adventure follows the journey of a boy as he searches for the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of the girl of his dreams. To find it he must discover the story of the Lorax, the grumpy yet charming creature who fights to protect his world. — (C) Universal
What I Think: While it was visually very good, the story and voice acting just wasn’t there. I really think it was Universal’s way of preaching to tomorrow’s generation about “going green” and that’s just a cop out. It made a ton of money but it really doesn’t have any place at the Academy Awards.
Chances: 0% – These types of films are aimed at silly antics and babysitting children for an hour and a half.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Plot: In The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Hugh Grant stars in his first animated role as the luxuriantly bearded Pirate Captain – a boundlessly enthusiastic, if somewhat less-than-successful, terror of the High Seas. With a rag-tag crew at his side (Martin Freeman, Brendan Gleeson, Russell Tovey, and Ashley Jensen), and seemingly blind to the impossible odds stacked against him, the Captain has one dream: to beat his bitter rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) to the much coveted Pirate Of The Year Award. It’s a quest that takes our heroes from the shores of exotic Blood Island to the foggy streets of Victorian London. Along the way they battle a diabolical queen (Imelda Staunton) and team up with a haplessly smitten young scientist (David Tennant), but never lose sight of what a pirate loves best: adventure! — (C) Sony
What I Think: The animation style of unique stop-motion clay has always been a go to move for Aardman Animations (the guys who brought you Wallace & Gromit) but the fact that The Pirates! was a box office bomb (made only $29M after costing nearly $60M) makes me think that no one really cares for stop-motion animation anymore. The movie got fantastic reviews and has a great voice acting roster but there is just something about it that screams “FORGETTABLE!”
Chances: 30% – Wallace & Gromit this isn’t, but the critical success of the film could carry it to an Oscar nomination, however I don’t think it would have a chance of winning even if nominated.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Plot: Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo, and Melman the Giraffe are still fighting to get home to their beloved Big Apple and of course, King Julien, Maurice and the Penguins are all along for the comedic adventure. Their journey takes them through Europe where they find the perfect cover: a traveling circus, which they reinvent – Madagascar style. — (C) Dreamworks
What I Think: I’ve always been a fan of the Madagascar franchise and thought it was a down to earth way of leaving the Shrek franchise in the past. The first two films were critical and financial successes, making nearly $374M combined, this third film will eclipse both of the previous ones. It’s been getting rave reviews so there’s always a possibility.
Chances: 50% – Being that it is a Dreamworks film it will get nominated (the Academy loves to rub elbows with the money makers) however I cringe at the thought of a “kids” movie winning mainly because the Madagascar franchise is aimed at the younger kids (Pixar usually aims at a more medium crowd). That being said, it has a strong chance of being nominated and winning.
Plot: Merida is a skilled archer and impetuous daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane). Merida’s actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom, and when she turns to an eccentric old Witch (Julie Walters) for help, she is granted an ill-fated wish. The ensuing peril forces Merida to discover the meaning of true bravery in order to undo a beastly curse before it’s too late. — (C) Disney
What I Think: Brave is the annual Pixar workhorse. It’s a fun filled drama adventure film about growing up and the impact your parents have on you during that time. It takes the age old notion of wanting to change how your parents treat you and puts a unique twist on it. The voice acting is superb, the graphics are the best we’ve ever seen in an animated film, and story-telling is in-depth.
Chances: 80% – The leader in the clubhouse. Pixar has a stellar reputation within the Academy and the folks who hand out nominations and awards know that. Pixar is that show horse that turns heads everytime they enter the room. They’re the rule, not the exception. My money is on Pixar.
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Plot: Scrat’s nutty pursuit of the cursed acorn, which he’s been after since the dawn of time, has world-changing consequences – a continental cataclysm that triggers the greatest adventure of all for Manny, Diego and Sid. In the wake of these upheavals, Sid reunites with his cantankerous Granny, and the herd encounters a ragtag menagerie of seafaring pirates determined to stop them from returning home. — (C) Official Site
What I Think: Ice Age has always been “meh” to me, nothing personal against the franchise or anything I just haven’t gotten behind them. Blue Sky Studios have been hard at work since way back when, developing gems like Robots and Horton Hears A Who and have always put an emphasis on visuals (have you seen Rio?). They’re just not Oscar worthy in my opinion.
Chances: 10% – Arrietty has a better chance.
Plot: Samurai Jack’s Genndy Tartakovsky directs this animated tale concerning a hotel where monsters such as Dracula (Adam Sandler), the Invisible Man (David Spade), Frankenstein (Kevin James), and his bride (Fran Drescher), along with a host of others, head to relax from a world full of humans. When a young man (Andy Samberg) stumbles onto the resort and falls for Drac’s teenage daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), comedy hijinks ensue. Cee Lo Green, Steve Buscemi, and Molly Shannon co-star. ~ Jeremy Wheeler, Rovi
What I Think:It boasts an eventful voice cast (Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi) and Sony Pictures Animation is an up and coming studio that has gotten better and better with every film. I just don’t know about the premise. It seems too safe. It’s centered around a cartoon romance voiced by Selena Gomez and Andy Samberg…um? It’s certainly a dark horse contender.
Chances: 30% – If it turns out anything like Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs then I think the Academy will nominate it. If it’s not as good then I think there’s no chance.
Plot: The new 3D stop-motion comedy thriller from animation company LAIKA, reteaming the company with Focus Features after the groundbreaking Academy Award-nominated Coraline. ParaNorman is, following Coraline, the company’s second stop-motion animated feature to be made in 3D. In ParaNorman, a small town comes under siege by zombies. Who can it call? Only misunderstood local boy Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is able to speak with the dead. In addition to the zombies, he’ll have to take on ghosts, witches and, worst, of all, grown-ups, to save his town from a centuries-old curse. But this young ghoul whisperer may find his paranormal activities pushed to their otherworldly limits. — (C) Focus
What I Think: It’s another stop-motion affair from Laika Entertainment (Corpse Bride & Coraline) and it actually looks pretty good. It has a unique voice cast with no real stand out celebrities but ones that are good actors in their own right. This studio needs a few more hits before the Academy really starts to take notice.
Chances: 5% – While it looks good I just see it flying so far under the radar that no one will go see it.
Plot: From creative genius Tim Burton comes Frankenweenie, a heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog. After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life-with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers and the entire town all learn that getting a new “leash on life” can be monstrous. A stop-motion animated film, Frankenweenie will be filmed in black and white and rendered in 3D, which will elevate the classic style to a whole new experience. — (C) Disney
What I Think: Another Disney animated film, which will give them four on the year, sees Tim Burton trying to catch that elusive glory of stop-motion that he once saw with A Nightmare Before Christmas. Frankenweenie looks good but I’m always skeptical of Tim Burton nowadays. He always manages to fuck up a very good premise.
Chances: 35% – Disney has their dogs in the Academy Awards race already so a nomination for anything other than Brave would be gravy.
Plot: Ralph (John C. Reilly) is tired of being overshadowed by Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer), the “good guy” star of their game who always gets to save the day. But after decades doing the same thing and seeing all the glory go to Felix, Ralph decides he’s tired of playing the role of a bad guy. He takes matters into his own massive hands and sets off on a game-hopping journey across the arcade through every generation of video games to prove he’s got what it takes to be a hero. On his quest, he meets the tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) from the first-person action game Hero’s Duty. But it’s the feisty misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) from the candy-coated cart racing game, Sugar Rush, whose world is threatened when Ralph accidentally unleashes a deadly enemy that threatens the entire arcade. Will Ralph realize his dream and save the day before it’s too late? — (C) Disney
What I Think: It will make tons of money, no doubt – it’s geared towards gamers after all, and it boasts a very nice voice cast highlighted by John C. Reilly. It’s Disney’s one true in-house developed title a year (last year was Tangled) and they will go all out to make sure the Academy recognizes this as a full Disney effort (not a Disney/Pixar one).
Chances: 50% – Disney knows how to manipulate and woo the Academy to get nominated and who knows, this could wind up being their first Oscar win for a Disney-developed animated feature (they first started handing out the award in 2001).
Rise of the Guardians
Plot: A group of mythical fairy-tale characters team up to save the world in this DreamWorks Animation production. Based on William Joyce’s series of children’s books, the pic features the voice-acting talents of Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, and Isla Fisher. Peter Ramsey co-directs with Joyce. ~ Jeremy Wheeler, Rovi
What I Think: The trailer may be a bit misleading but I can certainly get behind an animated feature that is more on the dramatic side of things while keeping it’s plot lighthearted. I mean a fight to the death between Santa, The Easter Bunny, Sandman, and the Tooth Fairy against an evil force is something I’m definitely interested in seeing.
Chances: 50% – It’s Dreamworks, so they always have a pretty good chance.
My predictions on nominations –
Brave – Pixar/Disney
The Secret World 0f Arrietty – Studio Ghibli/Disney
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – Dreamworks
Rise of the Guardians – Dreamworks
Wreck-It Ralph – Disney