The Animated Feature Oscar race is officially on. Yesterday AMPAS released the list of 26 eligible animated features in the category and while there were no notable indie omissions, Lionsgate’s My Little Pony: The Movie and TWC’s Leap! were notably absent. In our fourth analysis piece on this year’s indie contenders, we take a look at two low-profile indie animated contenders that appeared yesterday on the list. One of them was pretty much expected to be there – after all it’s from GKIDS – but the other sort of came out of nowhere after a bow at the Venice Film Festival.
Let’s take a look.
1) The Story: A high school is in danger of sinking into the sea due to an earthquake. Inside, students try to cope with the eminent danger.
(2) Quick Review: This is one of the most bizarre films in the race. It’s sort of quirky, goofy, sometimes funny and sometimes prolonged. In a way, the film manages to bring in good dozes of comedy and a lot of punchlines – plus a stellar voice cast – but its structure makes it overstay its welcome. It’s a fresh and welcome addition to this year’s barren animated films crop but it could have used a lot of trimming to come into better focus. The film also suffers somehow from an overly simplistic animation style that looks a bit lacking in several scenes. While other films in the race, such as The Girl without Hands, had a somewhat similar minimalistic style, it doesn’t leave a bit to be desired as it does here. That may not be an important factor for mainstream voters but it brings down the film’s overall appeal a bit.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? We doubt it. The film comes from GKIDS, the best campaigner for indie animated fare but it’s not their first, second or even third priority at the moment. Due to that, the film will probably struggle in visibility and few members will see it. But for those who do end up seeing it, the film may alienate older voters who may feel this is trying too hard to be hip and cool – and its comedic tones may not go well with more traditional voters. The film tries to be both a deep look into high school life as well as a funny situational comedy – but it doesn’t do both tasks as well as it could. It is certainly an admirable effort and will have its champions, but it probably won’t be in AMPAS’ wheelhouse.
(4) Historic precedents/stats GKIDS has amassed 9 Animated Feature Oscar nominations. And they have 5 ponies in the race this year. One or more of their films is probably going to get a nom this year – even with the new voting rule – but for that to happen, these films have to have strong visibility to break through the clutter.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. We will give this a 20% chance. There are many variables in the Oscar race, let alone a more complex situation due to the change in the voting system, but it’s more than just the quality of a film that can get it to the finishing line. The film may be fresh, funny and unconventional but the odds are against it for reasons related to visibility and campaign. GKIDS is prioritizing The Breadwinner, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales and Birdboy over this one – and at the Animation Is Film Festival, a festival that GKIDS helped launch to expand indie animated film visibility among voters in LA, this film wasn’t even on the screening schedule.
One of the biggest surprises in yesterday’s eligible Animated Feature list, Cinderella the Cat was on no one’s radar before the list came out. Even when we were at the Venice Film Festival, where we were among the first audience to see this film (it played at the New Horizons section, dedicated to new talents in the filmmaking world), we didn’t enter the film with any expectations. The early stills promised a darker film but it’s made on a relatively low budget and it didn’t have much visibility on the Lido.
1) The Story: Without spoiling too much, we’ll say that this is a dark film that makes several political statements on corruption in Italy through a story of drugs, murder and abuse.
(2) Quick Review: We love it when we enter an animated film and find out how mature and risk-taking it is. From the first few scenes, you’ll realize that, just like Birdboy (another contender in this category), this is an adult animation that’s surely not for kids. What starts as a murder that disturbs the life balance of several characters ends up more of a reflection on corruption and despair in Italy. Naples, where the film is set, is used as a symbol for Italy where dreams of prosperity and better quality of life, were at times crushed or not fulfilled. The film never panders to its audience or gives them sweet endings or cute moments – and it puts its characters in tough settings related to drug addition, family abuse and murder. Some viewers may find the misery in the film perhaps a bit much, but the film has several things it wants to say – and it does that in a powerful fashion.
(3) Will it appeal to AMPAS voters? It will probably appeal to animation branch voters who typically tend to appreciate films like these which take risks. But the film will be too divisive, off-putting and disturbing for voters from other branches who might not want to continue playing it on a screener. Unfortunately, there’s a stigma against animated films aren’t cute, fun, funny and delightful – and this film isn’t any of those things.
(4) Historic precedents/stats Italian animated films haven’t been able to register in this category – but so have many other animated films from other European countries. It’s probably due to weak distribution and lack of faith by North American distributors who won’t mount campaigns for films with low box office potential.
(5) Overall chance for a nomination. We’ll give this a 15% chance which, like many indie animated films this year, could have benefited from the scoring system used previously when the animation branch was solely responsible for selecting the nominees.
Next week: we analyze two interesting animated films we saw at Annecy this year and appeared on the AMPAS list yesterday. Stay tuned.