Last year saw what many assume to be the closest race in the twelve year history of this category, as Brave edged out Wreck-It Ralph. Even with two great movies like those in play, I still thought at the time that it had been a thin year for animation in 2012. Boy, was I unprepared for the sorry state affairs this year, which claims arguably the weakest list of animated releases to date. Accordingly, the resulting Oscar lineup contains two films that shouldn't be in the awards conversation at all, two films that should be in the conversation but would not have made it in a stronger year, and one film which is still widely unseen!
The aforementioned ghost nominee of which I speak is anime master Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, an animated biopic of Japanese poet and aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the deadly zeros of WWII. I can't comment too liberally on its Oscar chances because I still haven't seen it, but in a way, that says all there is to be said about it's Oscar chances right there: The film has not been widely seen outside the festival circuit. It doesn't even go into limited release until the weekend before the awards ceremony! You'd think that Disney, who is handling the North American distribution, might have wanted to take advantage of its Oscar nod by getting it out there as soon as its nomination was announced, no? But then again, maybe I just answered my own question. It makes sense that Disney would want to quell the buzz on this prestigious foreign property until it was too late, because they have their own awards hopeful to plug...
And that brings me to the eventual winner, Frozen. This is the nominee that has everything going for it: a heart-warming story that goes down easy, catchy music, technical proficiency, broad critical approval, and killer box office figures (it's Disney's biggest animated hit since The Lion King). To a lesser extent, it also has a small story going about how despite being the cornerstone of the animation industry, no film from Walt Disney Animation has won the Best Animated Feature Oscar, as the category wasn't inaugurated until just after the studio's 1990s hot streak came to an end. I'm sure veteran Disney helmer Chris Buck (Tarzan) and newer face Jennifer Lee (co-writer of Wreck-It Ralph) are counting their lucky stars that the film was released when it was. In a typical year, it may have struggled to even be nominated (that Tangled snub from 2011 still smarts), and it would certainly not have been the frontrunner. But given how thin the competition is, it's hard to imagine any other title being called on Oscar night.
What I will begrudge is the nomination for The Croods, which is the single worst motion picture I saw in 2013. I expected a nomination for the film based on block voting within the branch, but this was sight unseen. Having now viewed it since nomination day, I am gobsmacked that a filmmaker like Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon) could have produced something as God-awful as this. Him and co-director Kirk De Micco should consider themselves lucky that the field was five-wide this year, or they would not have been nominated at all. The film's abrasive in-your-face design elements and excruciating slapstick humour (I'd call it 'crood' humour, but this film doesn't deserve even my worst puns) are worthy of the March dumping ground in which it was released, but for us to be repeating its title nearly a year later as an Oscar nominee feels like a mistake.
Will win: Frozen
Runner-up: The Wind Rises
Should win: Ernest & Celestine
Should've been nominated: Epic