Studio features, Sequels and Foreign Language Films Populate the 2018 Animated Feature Oscar Race
This year’s Animated Feature Oscar race is an interesting one – and one of the most unpredictable and open races in years. No, that’s not due to the presence of so many worthy contenders such as last year’s race which was stacked with quality studio and indie fare. It’s exactly the opposite: there are 5 slots but not much for AMPAS voters to pick from.
In a year where animated films have typically underperformed domestically – both critically and in terms of box office – it’s evident that the status of the animation industry isn’t as creatively vibrant as previous years. In our first of a series of articles on the Animated Feature Oscar race, let’s look at why this year’s race is going to be very unpredictable right until Oscar morning.
- Lack of consensus among critics
In previous years, critics typically rallied behind certain films, pushing them to the front of the contenders pack and making them a top-of-the-screeners-pile choice for the AMPAS animation branch. Films like Shaun the Sheep, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Tale of Princess Kaguya or even The Lego Movie were examples of films beloved by critics and featured heavily in critics’ top-ten lists by the end of the year. Granted, a movie beloved by critics does not guarantee a nom (also see: The Lego Movie or even Finding Dory, both at 90+% on Rotten Tomatoes). However, this year there isn’t even more than 3 or 4 animated films that crossed the 80% mark on Rotten Tomatoes – much less than other years (and each of these had vocal detractors). This means critics’ awards will be all over the place this year for animated films.
- Weak studio fare
In a year in which animated studios had the chance to offer creative animated choices, sequels and spinoffs dominated the scene – to middling box office returns and mixed critic responses. Disney released Cars 3, Universal released Despicable Me 3, Fox released Captain Underpants, WB released The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie (Lionsgate is releasing My Little Pony: The Movie next month), none of these films represented original stories. Only The Boss Baby (which had mixed reviews at best) can be considered original. And almost these sequels, spinoffs and adaptations were not warmly received. Universally praised sequels – such as Toy Story 3 – are nowhere to be found this year.
- New Oscar rule
This factor complicates things greatly because, to many animation fans’ rage, AMPAS has now opened up nominations for Animated Feature to ALL its membership. Which means that if you are a sound designer and think that Cars 3 is better than Mary and the Witch’s Flower, you get to vote. This means that this year’s nominees could be more populist, commercial fare than previous years. Or so we expect but hope not. Films like My Life As A Zucchini or The Boy And The World might not have stood a chance under this new rule.
- No clear frontrunner so far
In previous years, we knew early on that there will be certain juggernauts in the race. Toy Story 3, Frozen, or Inside Out were slam-duck winners even before the nominees were announced. This year? No one is even sure what will end up being nominated. Simply any film can be snubbed and no one will be shocked or dismayed, much less than the online rage when The Lego Movie was snubbed a few years ago.
- Contradictory Box office and Quality Results
We all know box office is never an indication of quality. But in some years, we’ve had massive box office successes that validated some sort of ‘perfect storm’ contenders that achieved audience appeal and earned the approval of critics. This year, the only impressive box office performer among animated films is Despicable Me 3 which became the second non-Disney/Pixar animated film in history to cross $1 billion worldwide (after the franchise’s previous film Minions). But critics were mixed-to positive on it (61% on RT) and it won’t be the sure-fire $1 billion contender that Toy Story 3 was (Finding Dory was snubbed last year after earning $1 billion as well). The other solid box office performer is The Boss Baby ($499 million worldwide) but that even had a worse reception than DM3.
- Lack of Festival breakouts
A breakout success for an animated film in Cannes, Annecy or TIFF is vital for its Oscar campaign especially if it’s an indie, low-budget film that won’t have a huge campaign around it. My Life As A Zucchini was last year’s breakout hit at TIFF and Cannes, and The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Ernest and Celestine are other examples of festival hits that maintained momentum throughout. This year, there just isn’t a film that wowed the festival circuit in a big, impressive way. Loving Vincent, The Big Bad Fox and The Breadwinner have their supporters but they’re not slam dunks.
This is how the Gold Rush Gang ranks the current Animated Feature contenders:
2. The Breadwinner
3. The Lego Batman Movie
4. The Boss Baby
5. Mary and the Witch’s Flower
7. My Little Pony: The Movie
8. The Lego Ninjago Movie
9. In This Corner of the World
The Big Bad Fox
Despicable Me 3
The Emoji Movie
The Girl Without Hands
Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature
Smurfs: The Lost Village
The Son of Bigfoot
A Stork’s Journey
In our next piece, we’ll look closely at this year’s indie contenders. And stay tuned for our contender articles from the BFI London Film Festival where we’ll be posting reviews and Oscar analysis pieces on several animated contenders.