The Nominees Are:
- “Big Hero 6”
- “The Boxtrolls”
- “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
- “Song of the Sea”
- “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
I know, I know. It’s hard to really be enthusiastic about this category since The Lego Movie is not among this lackluster lineup. A film that truly bridged the cultural gap for animation between adults and children of all ages, The Lego Movie is one in a million and perhaps is too good for the elitist, narrow taste of the Academy and its animated branch. Animation is beautiful to look at, and its technical accomplishments are numerous and ever-evolving, but that matters little when the artist cannot uphold such beauty with a strong narrative foundation. Alas, only one film truly hits the mark in this regard and hopefully will be the one celebrating a major victory in a little more than a week. Get the groans out of your system, because it’s now time to dive into this visually eclectic group of nominees! Let’s take the plunge…
Just Happy to be Nominated:
Song of the Sea:
This cutesy film about a young boy caught up in his own Irish folktale gets by more on its vibrant animation design than its intriguing yet often overly complicated storyline. The nomination clearly comes from the branch’s respect of director Tomm Moore’s work, as is evident by his prior surprise nomination back in 2009 for the little-seen The Secret of Kells. Song of the Sea offers gorgeous imagery, enhanced even more so by the harsh yet picturesque backgrounds that highlight the Scottish and Irish countryside. And yet, the story often feels so weighed down by plot and character exposition that simply enjoying the film on its own visual merits won’t be enough for some voters. It’s a quaint, sweet, beautiful splice of fantasy lore, but there’s no explainable reason why The Lego Movie was passed over for this. As a result, I fully expect the majority of voters to scoff at the animation branch when watching the forgettable Song of the Sea. Again, Tomm Moore just happens to be part of the “cool kids” club and reaps the benefit of membership: a pat-on-the-back nomination. Don’t expect an upset win here.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya:
Studio Ghibli films are a favorite of sorts considering their ties to multi-nominated animation legend and director, Hayao Miyazaki, who co-founded this beloved Japanese animation studio. Just last year, the studio released the critically acclaimed The Wind Rises, Miyazaki’s “retirement” film that closed an illustrious fifty-year career. While this latest Studio Ghibli offering was not directed by Miyazaki, it is significant for being the last release following the devastating decision to bring all production to a halt. Clearly the animation branch wanted to extend the love to this cherished studio for as long as possible, hence the nomination. I personally have not watched this film but the reviews have been nothing but glowing – the highest of any of this year’s contenders on Metacritic.com – citing the film’s austere and professional look that still manages to pulsate incredible mood and feeling. Basically, folks, The Tale of Princess Kaguya behaves as a painting come to life. As far as Studio Ghibli efforts are concerned, I am surprised how under-the-radar this film has been, especially considering its universal praise and legacy of capping off what could be the end of the esteemed studio. I can’t help but feel that its lack of buzz all but eliminates it from having a strong chance at Oscar gold. However, I’m sure director Isao Takahata feels mighty proud of releasing such a widely embraced film post-Mayizaki. This nomination is Christmas morning to him, and hopefully more people will seek it out now that it’s received the greatest of cinema notices.
Despite being the lowest rated contender on aggregate review sites among the lineup, The Boxtrolls inclusion in this race was as predictable from the outset as a Meryl Streep invitation to the Golden Globes. After all, this is the same animation team and director (Graham Annabelle) that brought audiences Coraline and ParaNorman, all of which were also recognized with an Academy Award nomination in this category. In the case of The Boxtrolls, simply having a past connection can overcome any script woes many critics took to task, and not without good reason. Charming and inventive animation can take you to a nomination but you’ll need a bit of goodwill consensus to take you all the way, which unfortunately The Boxtrolls does not wield.
Big Hero 6:
One year after Frozen took the world by snowstorm, Big Hero 6 profited massively from its legacy, debatably more than it deserved to. Being a pseudo adaptation of past Marvel property both helps and hinders its cause. On the one hand, there’s nothing quite as prolific as having your title attached to the hottest brand at the moment in film; on the other, voters likely won’t take the film as seriously as some of the other contenders this year. There’s quite a lot to enjoy in Big Hero 6, but — sorry fanboys — it lacks the originality and narrative brilliance of past Walt Disney Animation Studios efforts. In fact, almost beat for beat it acts as yummy Guardians of the Galaxy leftovers, especially with an ending that plays out almost exactly the same as the aforementioned Marvel behemoth. The Disney affiliation actually helps Big Hero 6 out more than its Marvel one, specifically because the studio is still the most beloved of any animation studio and it’s not competing against hard-to-beat Pixar property. This futuristic coming-of-age story may entertain the socks off its viewers, but the film lacks the depth and gravitas many past winners have in spades. That being said, it is better than former Oscar-winner Brave, but that’s not much of a compliment, now is it?
How to Train Your Dragon 2:
There’s been widespread debate whether this sequel is superior to its breathtaking first entry, but no matter what side of the debate you’re on (FYI: I’m #TeamSequel) one thing is absolutely clear: this is a gorgeously realized film that deserved every ounce of praise it received. Yes, The Lego Movie had that extra special “something” that comes along once in a blue moon, but How to Train Your Dragon 2 capitalized on 3D technology in ways no single animated film has done to date. The color palette, the exquisitely executed aerial sequences (thanks in part to visual consultant and legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins), and the stunning depth of field on display incorporating an assortment of dragons of all designs and sizes truly left an impression no one is soon to forget. Perhaps the largest jolt the film offered was in the story department, featuring a twist so dark and unexpected that only a studio as bold as Dreamworks could pull off…and they did with emotional maturity comparable to any heavy adult drama in existence. Being the only sequel of the group and the winner of the Golden Globe this year for “Best Animated Feature,” I simply cannot envision a scenario where How to Train Your Dragon 2 doesn’t walk away with the gold.
Oscar Prediction: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Potential Upset: Big Hero 6
Oscar Snubs: The Lego Movie, duh!