Wednesday, February 15, 2017

One Category at a Time: Best Animated Feature

The Academy's animation branch saw a record number of submissions this year for Best Animated Feature consideration, which makes it a tad surprising that the final five were so easy to predict, and that the race for the win has been such a non-contest for so many months.
Ever since it opened just after last year's Oscars, Disney's Zootopia seemed like a natural winner in this category. It's a smart, funny, topical piece of exceptionally crafted populist entertainment, playing well to critics and audiences alike. The fact that it coincidentally taps into the zeitgeist of our current political climate (remember that it was in development many years before the current state of things) only helps its cause by making it feel like the most relevant choice on the ballot. Congrats to Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) and Byron Howard (Tangled). Can't say they aren't worthy of it.

But if it were critics (or yours truly) voting on the Oscars, it may be a closer contest. Kubo and the Two Strings has been there every step of the way, matching Zootopia in regional critics prizes. Of course critics don't vote on Oscars, so that's all moot, but it's been a nice season of recognition for Laika's finest feature yet, culminating in a well-earned BAFTA win last Sunday. If the year comes along when Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks all put out weak contenders, Travis Knight and company might just eventually win it. For now, they'll have to keep waiting.

I had held out hope for a long while that Zootopia's studio stablemate Moana might turn out to be something really special, and that it would take the world by storm like Frozen before it, and bring long overdue Oscars to Disney legends John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules). But as pleasant -- and visually stunning -- as the Pacific-set musical adventure is, it just can't beat the wit and gentle satire of Zootopia. It's received plenty of mentions this season, but very few wins of any kind.
As we've come to expect from the increasingly globalized animation branch, a couple of spots most years end up going to lesser-seen foreign toons. This year they are Michael Dudok de Wit's The Red Turtle (a co-production of Japan's Studio Ghibli and France's Wild Bunch) and Claude Barras' My Life as a Zucchini (which made the Best Foreign Language shortlist on behalf of Switzerland). The former is a beautifully drawn, wordless odyssey about a man stranded on an island and what happens when he encounters a magical sea turtle. The latter is stop-motion examination of orphanage life as experienced by neglected children. While they represent credible options for more artistically inclined voters, neither will convert enough mainstream Academy members to challenge for an upset.

Will win: Zootopia
Could win: Kubo and the Two Strings

Should win: Kubo and the Two Strings
Should be nominated: (Abstain)

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