Of all the Oscars awarded each year, this is the one that has been around for the shortest period of time. There was a time when there were very few animated features each year. Now, you cannot turn without bumping into one or ten. Partially inspired by the increasing number of animated films each year and partially by the 1991 nomination of Beauty and the Beast for Best Picture, the Best Animated Feature award was born for the 2001 ceremony. That first year saw three films nominated and Shrek walk away with the prize.
Since that year, we have seen a number of good films come and go through this category, both winners and losers. Most years seem to have gotten it right, although in retrospect there were occasions a different winner should have been chosen. Most notably in 2006 Happy Feet won, the winner should have been Monster House. Happy Feet just has not held up well in subsequent years, while Monster House is endlessly entertaining.
In any case, this is 2010, and we have a crop of five films vying for the prize. Looking at nominees I love the quality represented in them. At the same time the winner is pretty easy to predict. Here's a hint: it is also nominated for Best Picture. That hint represents something special as we did not know if the existence of the Animated Feature prize would preclude a worthy film from also being considered for Best Picture. Granted, this year's decision was likely aided by the expansion in the number of nominated films for Best Picture from five to 10.
Here are this year's nominees in alphabetical order: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells, and Up. This is the first year to have five nominees since 2002 when Spirited Away took the award.
Now, let's try to order them in a logical fashion to determine this year's winner, despite everyone already knowing. Of course, this is all conjecture on my part and partially the way I would like it to play out.
The Secret of Kells:
The reason I have this coming last is the fact that it was an unlikely nominee. Frankly, I had never even heard of it until it got the nomination. Perhaps this is my fault, but I have to believe it is the dark horse nominee that does not really stand a chance. The trailer looks gorgeous, and I can understand the nomination based on that. It is also clearly not a Hollywood production; there is no way a big studio would shepherd a project that looks like this. I mean, it is much too different; how would they market it to a mass audience? Oh well, someday perhaps. In any case I am very interested in seeing it. It is the new film from those behind The Triplets of Belleville, which was also a stunning work and an Oscar nominee in 2003 (losing to Finding Nemo).
The Princess and the Frog:
Disney's grand return to traditional cell animation arrived in December to mixed word, most leaning towards the good. I saw it and very much enjoyed it, although I cannot say I was enamored with it. The fact that Disney has brought back its hand animation department in news in and of itself. The first product of the rebuilt department is solid. It features good, if not terribly catchy, songs, some great animation, and a classically styled story. It is also the first Disney Princess film to feature a black princess. I do not expect it to win, as while it is good, it is not Disney at the top of their game. Still, it is a film well worth checking out.
Fantastic Mr. Fox:
This film proved to be a surprise as it is director Wes Anderson's first foray into the world of animation. Previously he had done a little animation with The Life Aquatic, but never a full feature. This movie proved to be quite charming in style and execution. It is an adaptation of a Roald Dahl story (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, James and the Giant Peach). It is a stop-motion animated film telling the story of a fox who tries to leave his life of fowl thievery behind as he starts a family. However, his past catches up to him and puts him and his family and friends at odds with a trio of farmers. It has a very distinctive look and the story is also rather involving and not your typical animated fare. I would not be disappointed by a win, although I would be surprised.
One of two animated features to crack my top ten list for 2009. This is a film made directed by the current master of stop-motion animation, Henry Selick. Selick was actually slated to co-direct Fantastic Mr. Fox before this opportunity came up. Now look, both films are Oscar-nominated. I am very glad that Selick took this opportunity. Adapted from a story by Neil Gaiman (Stardust, Neverwhere) it is a film that transcends what might traditionally be called a kids' film. It offers a dark fantasy nightmare for children that tempers its threat with an empowering heroine. It is a story that anyone who was ever a child can identify with and is dealt with using an intelligence that does not pander to children nor does it talk down to them. Simply put, it is a great story that is also gorgeously animated. Again, I would not be disappointed to see it win; I just really do not expect it to.
Hats off to your winner for Best Animated Feature. Oh, too soon? Seriously, if this does not win it will be a massive upset. Pixar has been on quite the roll over the past few years. Ever since the disappointment (to me, although it still is a good film) Cars, they have given us Ratatouille and Wall-E. Now with Up they have outdone themselves again. It is not the most visually gorgeous film they have produced. Still, the animation is far and away better than what anyone else is generating with their computers. On top of that, this is a movie that hits on all manner of emotional levels. The opening montage has me near tears every time I see it. It also makes me smile, laugh, tense, excited, relieved, all in the span of 90-minutes. There must be something in the water of their studios; they just keep making amazing films. Up speaks to all age groups, all demographics, all while never talking down or pandering to its audience. Great film.