OSCAR GUIDE: Best Animated Feature Film

Posted by · 9:19 am · February 8th, 2010

The Secret of KellsThis year’s Best Animated Feature Film race featured five nominees for just the second time in the category’s existence.  It was the result of a robust slate of qualifying contenders that reached the magic number of 16, and yet there was still quality work left lying in the also-rans pile.

There was a wide open fifth slot throughout most of the season as a generally agreed-upon four slowly coagulated.  Come nomination morning, the field therefore offered one of the many exciting surprises as a foreign independent project from a first-time filmmaker one-upped films both critically (“Ponyo”) and commercially (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) successful.

The nominees are:

“Coraline” (Henry Selick)
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” (Wes Anderson)
“The Princess and the Frog” (John Musker and Ron Clements)
“The Secret of Kells” (Tomm Moore)
“Up” (Pete Docter)

There is a nice cross-section of media included in this year’s slate.  Stop-motion, traditional hand-drawn and CG animation are all represented, while the slate of nominees is an interesting mixture of animation vets, first timer dabblers and fresh faces of the future of the medium.

Henry Selick’s “Coraline,” adapted from the novel by Neil Gaiman, is probably the most imaginative of the year’s animated feature contenders.  After a domestic release nearly a year ago, the film maintained an even keel throughout 2009 and the awards season, culminating most recently with a trio of awards from the International Animated Film Society.  Pundits have been quick to suggest that the category’s frontrunner might not be in the easy chair after all, but they’ve failed to suggest Selick’s film might be as neck-and-neck with the threatening competition as anything else, but I do find myself wondering if the Academy at large would find the fantasy of the film at all challenging, especially when there are a number of more conventional, simpler narratives to chew on.

Wes Anderson also dipped his toes into stop-motion waters this year and is the only nominee to be trying his hand at the animated medium for the first time ever with “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The film managed to one-up (no pun intended) the field’s perceived frontrunner in the critics awards this year and it managed a secondary nomination, for Best Original Score, which indicates some support outside of the branch.  It was also one of only two animated features to stir Best Picture buzz during the season.  And, of course, an all-star cast never hurt anyone.  The film is a lively adaptation of Roald Dahl’s fiction and has a unique sense of humor that goes a long way toward establishing an identity separate from the other contenders.  Some would say if there is a film coming up on the outside in the category, this could well be it.

Disney brought back a strong legacy this year with the traditional, hand-drawn “The Princess and the Frog” from directors Ron Clements and John Musker.  A unique spin on the classic storybook tale, the film went to New Orleans to find eye-popping design and foot-tapping rhythm, Randy Newman lending his skills to a flavorful soundtrack as always.  I’m of the mind that a win for the film would be a gracious gesture of encouragement to what could easily be a dying medium.  Animated films rendered by hand are becoming as rare as celluloid, and they deserve better.  Dare I say this one could have more support than many imagine.  The film is one of two nominees represented by the Mouse House (and would have been three if the studio hadn’t passed on domestic rights to the category’s surprise nominee).

Speak of the devil, Tomm Moore’s “The Secret of Kells” was the big surprise of the category, though following some indicating respect paid by the International Animated Film Society, perhaps it should have been taken a bit more seriously.  Having only played the festival circuit and a one-week qualifying run in Los Angeles, however, it was an elusive title for most.  Visually, the film is a beautiful ode to classic Irish lore, told with vibrant and unique flourishes of shape and color.  Director Moore was inspired by films like Disney’s “Mulan,” which used indigenous animation to tell a culturally-specific story.  The result is a stylized tip of the hat to Hiberno-Saxon art featured in the ancient Irish Book of Kells (featured in the narrative), but also an unconventional story that is at times quite sluggish.

Pixar’s “Up,” from director Pete Docter, was again another triumph for the studio, the second-highest grossing film in real dollars from an esteemed stable and yet another critical favorite.  The film is perhaps one of Pixar’s funniest to date yet it packs one of the studio’s most emotional punches with its story of love, friendship and life’s surprises.  Docter has called it a “coming of old age” story, which represents both the fun frivolity of the narrative and yet the potential of maturity therein.  The odds-on favorite to win the Oscar, it might nevertheless be said that this is more of a race than you might expect, if there might be such a thing as Pixar fatigue, that is.  Then again, the film was good enough to be welcomed by the Academy as only the second animated feature nominated for Best Picture.

Will win: “Up”
Could win: “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
Should win: “Up”

Should have been here: “Mary and Max”


What do you think deserves to win this year’s Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film ?  Have your say in the sidebar poll!

→ 36 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

36 responses so far

  • 1 2-08-2010 at 9:47 am

    Theoriginal.andrew said...

    I would love to see Fantastic Mr Fox winning this.

  • 2 2-08-2010 at 9:57 am

    Perry said...

    I really think “Ponyo” should have been in there rather than “Princess and the Frog” or “Coraline”, but hey, I don’t get a vote in these matters. Though it would make things very interesting if “Fantastic Mr. Fox” won come Oscar night, a movie I enjoyed just as much as “Up”.

  • 3 2-08-2010 at 9:59 am

    billybil said...

    There is a harsh streak in me that would like to see all the super popular animated films that resort to tonally inconsistent humorous slapstick sequences (like WALL-E and UP) NOT get awards for that very reason. I mean, the beginning sequence of UP did not come from the same movie as the silly, slapstick fight sequences later in the film. I hate this! I mean, I know they want to make hundreds of millions of dollars (duh!) but couldn’t they work hard to make the entire movie work stylistically (like FINDING NEMO and THE INCREDIBLES did!)? This Pixar formula is really beginning to truly bother me (hell – if they didn’t make their romantic, emotionally resonant sequences so wonderful, I probably wouldn’t care so much!). (I do admit, WALL-E was a much more egregious example than UP – there is NO WAY those incredible sequences with WALL-E alone on earth belonged in the same movie with those awful, fat people sequences in space!!) I wonder if non-animated films would be as embraced if they switched tones so wildly? (I bet there are a bunch of you out there who could give me examples!)

  • 4 2-08-2010 at 10:05 am

    James D. said...

    A Wes Anderson win would be most pleasing, but the other two that I have seen (Up, Coraline) both are worthy. Should be rather inconsequential, given that Up’s Best Picture status already qualifies it as the best of the bunch.

  • 5 2-08-2010 at 10:09 am

    Rob said...

    “The Secret of Kells” is glorious to look at, but not so hot in the story/character department.

    Y’know, sort of like “Avatar.”

    “Up” deserves to win this, but I’d be nearly as happy with “Mr. Fox” or “Coraline.”

  • 6 2-08-2010 at 10:42 am

    Srsly said...

    It would be somewhat contradictory if, say, Fantastic Mr. Fox won, and Up was the only one of the bunch to be nominated for Best Picture, wouldn’t it?

    Although if that did happen, perhaps it would encourage the Academy to reconsider having the category in the first place, which I (like many others) believe only encourages the false notion that animated films are a genre, not a medium.

  • 7 2-08-2010 at 11:03 am

    Joel said...

    “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is my pick.

  • 8 2-08-2010 at 11:06 am

    vivi ferreira said...

    Should win Fantastic Mr Fox or Coraline the animations most sweet of the year!

  • 9 2-08-2010 at 11:16 am

    Lucas said...

    I think I’m the only one who thinks The Princess and the Frog should win, but I obviously know it won’t. I’m such a huge Pixar fan, but Up really didn’t do it for me – sure, the first ten minutes were incredibly moving, but the rest of the movie seemed juvenile… I couldn’t wrap my head around the talking dog and cardboard cutout villain.

    That being said, you might wonder how I like Princess and the Frog mroe than the other films. Maybe it’s because I grew up during the Disney Renaissance, but going into it, I knew I was going to be exposed to many Disneyisms, unlike went I went into Up, I was expecting that magical adult childishness Pixar is so masterful in doing. I also found Frog actually much funnier than Up or the other movies… Anyways, just my thoughts.

  • 10 2-08-2010 at 11:35 am

    Ben said...

    I’d love to see Coraline win, but it won’t happen. I enjoyed Up, but I thought it threw too much into the mix. Coraline was focused and didn’t feel the need to so relentlessly pull on the heartstrings.

  • 11 2-08-2010 at 12:20 pm

    Michael said...

    I just watched Mary and Max. That should definitely be here.

    I hope and also think that Up will win, which I think was one of the finest movies of last year. Fantastic Mr Fox was hilarious though it was more of a fun ride than emotionally challenging. I didn’t really like Coraline, which I should probably give a second chance. The Princess and the Frog in my opinion lives from nostalgia but wasn’t even close to the other contenders in this category. Except maybe The Secret of the Kells, because I haven’t seen that one, so I can’t say anything about that.

    Will and should win: Up – agree
    Should have been here: Mary and Max – agree even more

  • 12 2-08-2010 at 12:22 pm

    Jonathan said...

    I don’t think this is as close a race as some pundits are saying. UP wins this one. Fox, Frog, and Coraline were all great though.

    Nevertheless, Wall-E is better than all of them.

  • 13 2-08-2010 at 12:23 pm

    daniel said...

    Mary and Max is what should have been on the list and should have won the animated film category this year. That along with Coraline are the biggest step forward this year in the possibilities of what animation can do aside from the brilliant first 10 minutes of UP which may be the real reason the film is as loved as it is.

  • 14 2-08-2010 at 12:38 pm

    stylewriter said...

    I’m one of the few people in the universe who not only thinks Fantastic Mr. Fox is overrated, but thinks it’s a flat-out bad movie. I didn’t like the main point — a tribute to Hepburn-Tracy movies wrapped in a kid’s story — and because of that the movie fell hugely flat for me. For those for whom it worked, I envy you because I REALLY wanted to like this movie and was incredibly disappointed when I didn’t.

    That said, I have to go with Up. PatF was a nice return to traditional animation, but wasn’t a great movie. Coraline was beautiful to look at, but a little too creepy for my tastes. Kells has a nice look, but zero story. The person who made the Avatar comparison is close, but at least Avatar’s visuals were incredible where Kells’ were just impressive.

  • 15 2-08-2010 at 12:43 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    God, mary and Max needs wider release, namely it must come to Seattle. :(
    But 2009 was a landmark for animation. Of what I’ve seen, Up, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Ponyo, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and A Town Called Panic. And I’ve heard good things about The Princess and the Frog, Mary and Max, and The Secret of Kells. If all of those turn out to be good, that would be NINE great animated films. Amazing.

  • 16 2-08-2010 at 12:56 pm

    Michael said...

    I actually did not like Mary and Max at all. I primarily watched this movie upon the praise from both Kris and Guy and I was disappointed. I usually tend to agree with most of the reviews by both Kris and Guy (although more often Guy, no offense Kris) but this film just did not do anything for me. I appreciated the animation quite a lot, but I really felt like the filmmakers tried to hard to tell a story about unlikeable people leading unhappy lives that leads up to an unfulfilling (to me) conclusion. There are films that have tried something similar to this (I am thinking of Happiness by Solondz but there are others) but they were done more successfully. It was an interesting idea, and as I mentioned the design and animation style was unique, but it definitely did not stand out to me as much as Coraline or Fantastic Mr. Fox did in terms of stop-motion style animation. I actually would not recommend Mary and Max to anyone unless that person happened to be a person that would get off on this level of unhappiness in this film. I am personally glad it was overlooked and I can understand why. But that is just my opinion, I am glad a film like this is made and can find its champions, no matter how small.

  • 17 2-08-2010 at 1:41 pm

    Estefan said...

    Lucas – You’re not alone in The Princess and the Frog love. I know Up will take it, but I would be really pleased if won for Best Animated Feature as well as pulling off a song win.

    It really was a return-to-form for Disney after a rather bumpy last number of years and I can not think of anything in the film I disliked.

    And I agree that Mary and Max deserved a nod, as well as Ponyo. I think I’m one of those rare people who wasn’t wowed by Fantastic Mr Fox (though I did like it, I was just disappointed since I’m such a big fan of Anderson and Dahl).

  • 18 2-08-2010 at 1:59 pm

    Mike_M said...

    I am rooting for Coraline, my fav animated film of the year.

  • 19 2-08-2010 at 4:51 pm

    SJG said...

    I’m kind of in the Coraline camp myself. When Up wins, I’ll be very happy for it, and on the whole I might even say it’s a better overall movie.

    But I feel like this category should reward not simply the best movie that also happens to be animated, but the movie which is best served by being animated… if that makes sense.

    Obviously both movies are very well animated and neither of them would work quite as well as an effects-heavy live-action film, but I felt like the animation itself was both more integral to the story and more aesthetically pleasing in Coraline than it was in Up.

  • 20 2-08-2010 at 5:05 pm

    Scott said...

    Another vote for Coraline from me. Though I loved Fox too. It’s not that I don’t think Up’s an impressive work. But I think this is a really strong year, and Up isn’t to me the best out of a strong set of films.

  • 21 2-08-2010 at 5:41 pm

    Amir said...

    all i have to say is
    that movies came third in my list of bet films of the year and i think no animation came anywhere near that.

  • 22 2-08-2010 at 7:01 pm

    Leighton said...

    A great year for animation. Coraline is so inventive and colorful and might actually be my choice over Up. But then again, Up is so beautifully rendered story-wise. Nice to see another Disney, Princess & the Frog, recognized.

    I don’t get the West Anderson love and I have to lump Fantastic Mr. Fox in there – it’s nicely ironic, but in no way a great film. (Am I the only one who feels this way?)

    Love Miyazaki and wish Ponyo could’ve been here, but it just isn’t as strong as his previous works.

  • 23 2-08-2010 at 9:28 pm

    Finwë said...

    If anything beats Up I’ll be happy, though more than happy if it’s not Frog that does it. It’s not even in the top 5 animated movie of the year (Ponyo, Coraline, Fox, Max, and Kells are all better).

  • 24 2-08-2010 at 11:28 pm

    Rob said...

    Seriously, there are people out there who think “Princess and the Frog” is on par with Disney’s output in the early-to-mid-’90s?

    Sure, it gave off a whiff reminiscent of those films, but it’s not even close — I think just the mention of comparison is wishful thinking, and borderline-offensive.

  • 25 2-09-2010 at 12:27 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Why on earth would it ever be “offensive?” Hyperbole much?

  • 26 2-09-2010 at 5:20 am

    Michael said...

    I watched The Secret of Kells yesterday and I was really disappointed. It was well painted and there were some nice ideas but I felt like it was a movie for no audience at all. There were some children elements that made it seem like a child movie. But at the same time I think it was too frightening and complicated for kids to follow it. For adults it was not interesting enough I think. So unfortunately I have to say it was the worst of the nominated movies or maybe on place 4 just in front of princess and the frog which like mentioned before in my opinion only lives from the nostalgia behind it.

    Still I hope there will be some classic animated movies in the future but these movies shouldnt rely on being classic. As well as movies like Up, Coraline, Fox or Mary and Max didnt rely on their animation style.

  • 27 2-09-2010 at 5:22 am

    revoir said...

    I really hope “Coraline” win this just like my hope for “happy Feet” way back 2007 against “cars”…

  • 28 2-09-2010 at 6:37 pm

    Janus said...

    UP wins this one…easily. I don’t think it’s as close a contest as some people are saying. It’s nominated in screenplay, sound, and best picture, which pretty much portends widespread support across other branches. I still think Wall-E is Pixar’s best film overall and was robbed last year, but UP is a strong outing in it’s own right. UP and Coraline right behind it are the best of this years animated lot.

  • 29 2-14-2010 at 8:38 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    How can this race even be a contest? Up is nominated for best picture. Game over.

  • 30 2-15-2010 at 4:42 am

    Mike_M said...

    Not that we would ever know but I think it may be a closer contest than we may think since I wouldn’t put it past voters to have Up high in their top 10 (or maybe #1) but hen rank something else #1 in animated to give another movie a shot.

  • 31 2-17-2010 at 2:09 pm

    movieman said...

    Will win: “Up”
    Could win: “The Princess and the Frog” or “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
    Should win: “Coraline”
    Should have been here: “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “Ponyo”

    Note: I have not seen “The Secret of Kells,” so I can neither comment nor replace.

  • 32 2-18-2010 at 5:42 am

    (~_~) said...

    Will win: “Up”. People started talking about how awesome it is the moment they see Pixar’s name on the poster. The Best Picture nomination is pretty much giving the other nominees a middle finger. Plus IMO it’s Pixar’s second best after WALL-E.

    Could win: “The Princess and the Frog” or “Fantastic Mr. Fox”. Both are totally awesome.

    Should win: “Coraline”. Yes, I’m going to be lynched for this, but I think that it’s the Best. Movie. Ever. I gave the likes of Star Wars, LOTR, The Dark Knight and Pixar/Studio Ghibli movies 10 stars at IMDb, but if all the top 250 movies have their stars combined, the result would still be dwarfed by the rating that I’d give Coraline. If any kind of justice exists in the world, it would’ve been nominated for (and eventually win) everything and absolutely everything.

    I found it surprising that the obscure “The Secret of Kells” was nominated instead of “Mary and Max”, which was critically acclaimed on many film festivals. Then again, I haven’t seen the former, and it looks really good. Also, Ponyo is actually a 2008 film. It’s released in 2009 in the US, but considering Hayao Miyazaki’s track record, it’s absurd to think that the Oscars judges would be unaware of this fact. So go complaint to whoever nominated Kung Fu Panda instead of Ponyo last year.

  • 33 2-18-2010 at 6:25 am

    Mike_M said...

    For the Oscars movies have to be released in 2009, regardless when it was released in its home country. Except of course for Best Foreign Language films, but even those need to be released in their home country by a certain date (around Sept of that year) and have a 1 week run in the LA or NYC, or both – I forget, before the year is up.

    So it doesn’t really matter when Ponyo was released at home, unless it was submitted as a Foreign Lang pic, but when it was released in the US it was dubbed in English, so a moot pointI guess.

  • 34 2-21-2010 at 12:05 am

    Mest said...

    Neil Gaiman is a Scientologist and his 2009 contributions to the CULT of Scientology are listed in Cornerstone Newsletter (circa November 2009)

    CORNERSTONE CLUB MEMBERS [1315] [$35,000.00]

    You’ll find:

    Mary & Neil Gaiman

    And as the ex Scientologists state: “Also, this list does not include donations made by people who have since left the Church and been declared SP’s or “ethics bait”. The Church deletes those people’s names from the lists.”

  • 35 2-22-2010 at 2:27 pm

    (~_~) said...

    Mike_M: Thx, I just remembered that Spirited Away won a year after its Japanese release. BTW what’s up with people claiming that Neil Gaiman is a Scientologist?

  • 36 3-07-2010 at 4:51 pm

    Dan said...

    Here’s the thing. I think UP is going to win, but I really think that Coraline should. It is just a better movie. UP was good, but Coraline was great. UP certainly has the hype and awards (golden globe, critics choice, annie), and I think it is unfair that Coraline’s name is barely mentioned when talking about oscars. I would even doubt that everyone in this category has even seen all of these movies. UP was no where near as good as Wall-E and does seem juvenille and obvious (but still okay). Coraline was more thoughtfully done with great scenes and leaves you with something to think about rather than just feel, which is what I personally like about movies in general. Although it is unlikely, I do hope Coraline wins the oscar.