Since the creation of the Animated Feature Oscar in 2001, Pixar films have won 10 times out of 13 nominations in those 20 years. Ironically, their first loss was the first year of the award, when Dreamworks’ Shrek beat out Monsters, Inc with their first foray into animation. The only other two occurrences have been Cars losing to Happy Feet in 2006 (still one of the oddest wins) and most recently, Incredibles 2 bested by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in 2018.
Last year it seemed like there was a chance for a Pixar loss; Missing Link won the Golden Globe, Klaus won BAFTA and the Annie (where TS4 lost all of its nominations). But where Toy Story 4 prevailed was with critics, winning 24 critics’ awards, including Critics’ Choice, it became something of a default choice and the first time a sequel to a previously nominated or winning film won (Toy Story 3 won, the first two films came out before the category’s inception). The Disney dominance in this category (which also includes Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia as well as the Disney-distributed Spirited Away) speaks to a larger issue of visibility and reach. The Mouse House, which on top of Pixar now also owns Star Wars and Marvel, simply has a monopoly that other studios do not. As heralded as Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was, critically and in the industry, it was probably a bit lucky to go up against a Pixar sequel.
This year Pixar has not one but two films nominated for the first time ever, Onward and the frontrunner Soul. An original film and their first with a Black lead (despite some problematic issues within), Soul quickly became the critics’ favorite then absolutely swept through the season, winning the Golden Globe, BAFTA, PGA, Annie and Visual Effects guild as well as . While co-director Kemp Powers, who is Black, is an Oscar in Adapted Screenplay for One Night in Miami, he is not a nominee here and therefore can’t win. The Oscar rules prohibit co-directors aka people brought on after a project has started, to earn that nomination. It’s unfortunate, because Powers’ inclusion completely revised the film from its origins but as it is, both of the nominees for Soul, Pixar’s first Black-led film – director Pete Docter and producer Dana Murray – are white.
But what about Wolfwalkers from Apple and Cartoon Saloon? While this is the fourth nomination for Cartoon Saloon, this is Apple’s first foray into the Oscars this year. Like Disney, they’re also a massive, multi-billion dollar company that could presumably toss plenty of cash at a nonstop campaign barrage of ads and high-profile placements of the film’s directors and voice talent to do battle with the wolves of Disney. They have, a bit, but the Oscar race for animated feature isn’t the same as say, an acting race with face-forward representation of who you’re voting for and why.
Is it name brand recognition above all? Is Disney simply the Meryl Streep of this category and Cartoon Saloon the Glenn Close? I digress a bit, this isn’t an editorial piece (you can read Carlos Aguilar’s FYC for Wolfwalkers above), it’s a prediction piece. But, it can’t go without saying that when one group or studio or person has such a stranglehold on a single category that it’s not worth investigating. But that falls directly at the feet of voters. Films don’t magically win on their own, they’re voted on by the full Academy.
Wolfwalkers beating Soul would be the upset of the night, but not everyone would be, well, upset.
The 93rd Oscars will be held on April 25 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and the Union Station in Los Angeles.
Here are my ranked final Oscar predictions for Animated Feature.
1. Soul (Disney/Pixar) – Annie, BAFTA, BFCA, GG, PGA, VES
Pete Docter and Dana Murray
2. Wolfwalkers (Apple TV+/Cartoon Saloon) – Annie, BAFTA, BFCA, GG, PGA
Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart, Paul Young and Stéphan Roelants
3. Onward (Pixar) – Annie, BAFTA, BFCA, GG, PGA, VES
Dan Scanlon and Kori Rae
4. Over the Moon (Netflix) – BFCA, GG, PGA, VES
Glen Keane, Gennie Rim and Peilin Chou
5. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Netflix) – Annie, BFCA
Richard Phelan, Will Becher and Paul Kewley