With a limited number of eligible entries being submitted each year, it's usually no hard task predicting the winner of Best Animated Feature. Last year's contest may have been a nebulous one due to the vacuum created by the shocking omission of The LEGO Movie, but strange circumstances of that ilk are the exception to the rule.
This year we're back to the status quo with a bona fide lock that's entirely deserving of that designation. But first, let's briefly peruse the other nominees, which represent a diverse cross-section of styles and stories. For these four, the true value is the nomination, which will hopefully draw new audiences that might otherwise have passed them by.
Ale Abreu's Boy and the World, for instance, is exactly the sort of foreign art house project that the animation branch (and distributor GKIDS) have done a terrific job of promoting for the last half decade. You might not think a message movie with such themes on its mind as the evils of deforestation, industrialization and urbanization would take the form of an abstract, wordless, Crayola-coloured odyssey, but that's what makes this Brazilian animation such a marvel; Politically charged without stewing in overt anger, conveyed through astonishing kaleidoscopic visuals and charmingly simple pantomime.
A more low-key, but no less artful import comes from the renowned Japanese Studio Ghibli, also released by GKIDS this year. When Marnie Was There fits nicely into Ghibli's canon of troubled young female protagonists, blending in subtle otherworldly elements without losing sight of the piece's more down-to-earth drama. Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) tells this story with a delicate touch and sumptuous, painterly visuals.
British stop-motion facotry Aardman can often be relied upon for a nomination, given the meticulous labour that goes into their process. Shaun the Sheep may not equal the heights set by Wallace & Grommit or Chicken Run, but its charming dialogue-free hijinx and visual humour are of a piece with everything the studio does best. Kudos to Mark Burton and Richard Starzak.
Also coming from the realm of stop-motion animation -- albeit with a completely different tone than Aardman's innocuous silliness -- is Charlie Kauffman and Duke Johnson's Anomolisa, one of the most critically acclaimed efforts of the year. It even managed to swipe some critics prizes from the unmovable frontrunner in this category, but its tiny end-of-year distribution probably means enough eyeballs haven't landed on it to make a race of it.
Indeed, for many, the contest was over and done before the halfway point of the year. Pixar's Inside Out deserves to be up for more than this ghetto award. It's citation in Best Original Screenplay indicates that support was strong enough to keep it in the Best Picture conversation, but its fans will have to settle for this. I'm sure Pixar doesn't mind. Producer Jonas Rivera will be rewarded alongside director Pete Docter anyways, so it's all good.
Will win: Inside Out
Should win: Inside Out
Should be nominated: The Peanuts Movie