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2019 Oscars: How the Best Animated Feature Race is Shaping Up [Part ONE: The Studio Contenders]

It may be too early to come up with a definitive list of Best Animated Feature Oscar contenders for next year’s race, but 2017 showed us a number of indications on which we can build our early predictions for this fluid category:

Oscar voters are not fond of sequels

Despite strong precursors, films such as DESPICABLE ME 3 and THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (the first being a direct sequel and the second being a new installment in the Lego franchise despite not being a direct sequel) failed to earn Oscar nominations. This shows that Oscar voters would rather vote for an original animated film (see: THE BOSS BABY) rather than vote for a sequel. The fact that BOSS BABY had worse reviews than both of these films shows AMPAS’ aversion to sequels. This also can be confirmed by FINDING DORY’s miss 2 years ago despite becoming the highest grossing animated feature film of all time (domestically), surpassing SHREK 2.

The new rule change impacted indie films

Two indie films, THE BREADWINNER and LOVING VINCENT, eventually made the cut last year but that’s after they both had considerable buzz and strong campaigns all season. In a typical year, films such as FERDINAND and THE BOSS BABY would have never made the cut, and more indie far such as THE BIG BAD FOX AND OTHER TALES and bleak stuff like THE GIRL WITHOUT HANDS would have definitely made it in instead. But with the entire Academy now voting on the nominees, accessible and commercial fare is increasingly becoming evident in this category.

GKIDS remains a powerful player in this category

Despite the rule change, GKIDS got THE BREADWINNER in the final 5 this year, breaking a very important record: they are now – along with Disney/ Pixar – the most represented distributor in this category. In fact, very few other indie distributors managed to get more than 1 nomination in this category (see Good Deed’s LOVING VINCENT as the rare non-GKIDS film to make it). Whatever GKIDS is handling in 2018, we expect one or more of them to be among the eventual nominees.

Buzz for indie films matter even more

This brings us to an interesting point. Now more than ever, an indie animated film needs loud buzz to capture attention especially that studio fare will now stand a much better chance and higher visibility among voters. LOVING VINCENT is a perfect example of how a small distributor – Good Deed – managed to pull off a rare non-GKIDS nomination (the film is also Poland’s first ever nomination in the category) thanks to loud buzz and a killer catch: the world’s first fully-painted animated feature film. Riding on such buzz and stellar box office (more than $6 million in domestic box office receipts, also a rare feat for an animated indie film), it pulled off what remains to be incredibly hard for similar small animated films.

In our first Animated Feature Oscar race previews of the year, we’ll look at the potential studio contenders that can make the cut. A second piece will follow covering the indie films that could be in the race.

  1. ISLE OF DOGS

Pros: This is almost a lock in this category, despite some recent controversy in North America in terms of how the film handles the Japanese culture. Reviews are overall very solid with an 80+ on Metacritic and 90+ on Rotten Tomatoes. With the new voting rules, the Academy’s love for Wes Anderson, the good enough reviews and the fact this is an innovative stop-motion (and not CGI) animated film, it’s in.

Cons: Could the cultural appropriation controversy hurt it? It’s too early to tell but nothing is impossible.

  1. THE INCREDIBLES 2

Pros: It’s hugely anticipated, will probably make loads of money and be the most successful – and visible – animated film of the year.

Cons: Finding Dory. The film made a billion dollars, was a direct sequel to an Oscar-winning film (Nemo), got great reviews and yet missed even a nomination (which enraged some circles and was a factor in the rule change). If this film misses, it’s not going to be a shock.

  1. THE GRINCH

Pros: It’s going to be seen as a semi-original animated feature in a year full of sequels. Despite the fact it’s adapted from a popular source material, it’s going to be a stand-alone film at a time when most other studio contenders will be sequels. That’s a plus that helped FERDINAND and THE BOSS BABY.

Cons: Illumination’s films do wonders in the box office but their track record in terms of awards isn’t as successful.

  1. RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK IT RALPH 2

Pros: Solid early buzz and a potentially well received animated feature.

Cons: Sequel aversion within AMPAS. Plus, it may be too ‘game-y’ for them to care that much.

  1. SMALLFOOT

Pros: Warner Animation has a good track record critically but not commercially (with the exception of the first LEGO movie). This may be well received critically but will it do well box-office wise? Granted, that did not stop FERDINAND which did ok at the box office but its numbers were nothing to write home about.

Cons: The September 28 release doesn’t inspire much confidence.

  1. EARLY MAN

Pros: It’s Aardman. It’s stop motion. It will appeal to the British voting block within AMPAS. Aardman’s track record here is stellar, and this could be another PIRATES for them – a film no one expected to make it but eventually did despite the low visibility and box office.

Cons: Box office has been very low and reviews have been a bit less enthusiastic than previous Aardman efforts – the film currently sits at 68 MC – but given the new voting rule and the potential visibility the film may have in terms of an Oscar campaign, as well as Aardman’s track record and how stop motion is catnip for voters, it may not be wise to write this off.

Mina Takla

Mina Takla is a foreign correspondent for AwardsWatch and the co-founder of The Syndicate, an online news agency that offers original content services to several film brands including Empire Magazine’s Middle East edition and the Dubai Film Festival. Takla has attended, covered and written from over 10 film festivals online including the Dubai International Film Festival, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Cannes, Venice and Annecy Film Festivals. He has been following the Oscar race since 2000 with accurate, office-pool winning predictions year after year. He writes monthly in Empire Arabia, the Arabic version of the world’s top cinema magazine and conducts press junkets with Hollywood stars in the UK and the US. He holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Marketing from Australia’s Wollongong University and is currently based in Dubai, UAE.

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