Last year the Academy Awards disappointed many animation fans when it was revealed that only 15 movies qualified for consideration for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Under the rules of that category, 16 or more films need to be deemed eligible in order for the Academy to nominate five films. With one too few potential nominees, 2010’s list wasn’t really a list: “Toy Story 3,” “How to Train Your Dragon” and “The Illusionist.”
That won’t be the case in 2011, as the Academy has ruled 18 different films eligible to compete for Best Animated Feature at the upcoming Oscars. Many of these films have already been released, such as “Rango,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Puss in Boots,” “Rio,” “Cars 2,” “Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil,” “The Smurfs,” “Mars Needs Moms,” “Winnie the Pooh” and “Gnomeo & Juliet.” Others are still slated to come out this year, including “The Adventures of Tintin,” “Arthur Christmas,” “Happy Feet Two” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked.” There are also a few lesser-known foreign films, including the Czech movie “AloisNebel,” the French film “A Cat in Paris,” the Spanish film “Wrinkles” and the Spanish/English movie “Chico & Rita.”
One may note that some live action/animated hybrids like “The Smurfs” were included while others like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” were not. The Academy’s rules specify that firstly, animation must play a part in 75 percent of a movie’s running time, and secondly, the animation must be a frame-by-frame technique, which excludes motion capture films. The eligible films must also be released theatrically in Los Angeles County by the end of 2011 in order to qualify.
This leaves Oscar watchers to speculate about which of these films will ultimately be nominated by the Academy. Unlike in years past, there are no clear frontrunners that will make the field easier to predict.
Normally, one can rely on a Pixar film to be nominated from this category, but “Cars 2” underperformed both critically (being the first Pixar movie to get a “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer) and domestically (grossing less in the U.S. than any Pixar film since “A Bug’s Life”). With so many potential nominees out there, “Cars 2” may possibly lose out on a nomination to the same franchise (“Happy Feet”) that beat “Cars” for the Oscar back in 2007.
Aside from “Cars 2” and “Happy Feet Two,” there are a slew of other sequels in the running this year, and one would have to think they can’t be all nominated. “Kung Fu Panda 2” scored a really strong reception from critics, and likely has enough good will behind it to be nominated in this category. Less likely to benefit from the word of critics is “Puss in Boots.” The “Shrek” franchise hasn’t been nominated for Best Animated Feature since “Shrek 2,” and although “Puss in Boots” scored just as high on Rotten Tomatoes as “Kung Fu Panda 2,” the favorable reactions weren’t quite as passionate about “Puss.”
Also in the sequel game are the little-seen and poorly rated “Hoodwinked Too!” as well as “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked.”
Of the other animated movies that have already been released, there are two clear favorites and three that are likely to be forgotten. Disney releases “Gnomeo & Juliet” and “Mars Needs Moms” were both financial disappointments (particularly “Moms,” which essentially closed the production company that made the film) and didn’t fare well with critics. Likewise, “Rio” was only a mild hit, and in a field as crowded as this year’s, it would seem unlikely that it would be ultimately awarded.
On the other side, both “Rango” and “Winnie the Pooh” were strongly received by critics (88 percent and 91 percent on RT’s Tomatometer, respectively) despite not setting the box office on fire.
Yet-to-be-released films like “Arthur Christmas,” “The Adventures of Tintin” and “Happy Feet Two” all have a genuine shot as well. While “Arthur” and “Happy Feet” look charming (remember that the original “Happy Feet” won this category), “Tintin” comes from director Steven Spielberg. His clout alone may usher this film into the top five despite its lack of buzz at the moment.
Of the foreign films that are eligible, it’s a little more difficult to determine what will ultimately capture the attention of the Academy. Without reviews from the majority of U.S. critics, it won’t become clear which, if any, of these films will play a part in this year’s Oscars, but from the looks of their trailers, “AloisNebel” and “Chico & Rita” are both innovative films that stand a chance.
What should you expect to see at the Academy Awards this year? Well, the nominations won’t be announced until Jan. 24, but at this point in the race, don’t be surprised to see a field that consists of “The Adventures of Tintin,” “Chico & Rita,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Rango” and “Winnie the Pooh.” Although in a year like this one, it’s going to be hard to call.