From Disney to GKIDS, this year's animated feature race is already looking stacked (UPDATED)

Posted by · 12:34 pm · June 4th, 2012

UPDATE (6/6): Well, GKIDS just announced another acquisition, this one with an expressly intended Oscar qualification release noted: “From Up on Poppy Hill.” Add that one to the fire.

EARLIER: I’m asked daily at this point so I guess I’ll just say, yes, predictions are coming. By the end of the month.

One of the things I start doing around this time of year, in preparation for that package, is suss out the animated feature category as best I can. Things change often with this field as we’re always focused on the magic number of qualifying contenders necessary for five nominees (16), and even that can offer surprises as this film or that fails to submit paperwork, or this or that pops up as a sudden fringe possibility.

Last year there were three such possibilities, all of them from scrappy indie GKIDS. The distributor landed its first (surprise) nomination in the field back in 2009 for “The Secret of Kells” and muscled in with two showings last year for “A Cat in Paris” and “Chico & Rita.” This year, once again, GKIDS has a few options.

Via press release this morning, the company has announced the US acquisition of “The Rabbi’s Cat” (thought to potentially show up last season) and “Zarafa,” both of them set to screen at the upcoming Annecy Animation Festival. The former actually won the festival’s top honor last year. Also set to play the fest are 2011’s “Arrugas (Wrinkles),” as well as “The Secret of Kells.”

However, the company has two other films primed for the fest, “Le Tableau,” which premiered at Berlinale earlier this year (alongside “Zarafa”), and “A Letter to Momo,” which bowed at the Toronto Film Festival last year.

So to break all that down, GKIDS has four films in the mix for 2012’s animated feature category so far: “A Letter to Momo,” “The Rabbi’s Cat,” “Le Tableau” and “Zarafa.” Add that to the other films presumably in play and I’m already looking at a list of 18 titles.

We all know Pixar will be back in a big way with “Brave” via Disney, and the Mouse House will also be pitching Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” and the arcade-styled “Wreck-It Ralph.”

DreamWorks will be looking to capitalize on a solid showing last year with two more productions, “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” and likelier bet “Rise of the Guardians.” Sony, meanwhile, didn’t get far with “Arthur Christmas” last season, but they’re right back at it with “Hotel Transylvania” and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” this time around.

Elsewhere, Fox will be bringing another “Ice Age” film into contention, “Ice Age: Continental Drift.” Focus will have another Laika production in “Coraline” follow-up “ParaNorman” and Universal will have “The Lorax” to play with.

That’s 14, but I also have my eye on four currently distributor-less titles that could find a home and push things into the five-nominee realm: “Dorothy of Oz,” “Ernest and Celestine,” “Pablo” and “Zambezia.” And who knows what other wild cards are out there?

Remember, according to the new rules installed last season, there could be anywhere from two to five nominees, depending on the number of eligible contenders. Per last year’s rules and eligibility language, “In any year in which 8 to 12 animated features are released in Los Angeles County, either 2 or 3 motion pictures may be nominated. In any year in which 13 to 15 films are released, a maximum of 4 motion pictures may be nominated. In any year in which 16 or more animated features are released, a maximum of 5 motion pictures may be nominated.”

Last year we had 18 eligible animated feature films. This year it looks like we’re well on the way to that number if not more.

So there’s a little taste of the year to come. Again, we’ll be setting early predictions (many of which will be wrong anyway) in the next few weeks. So bear with us as we finally get those hammered out and slowly wade into the upcoming Oscar season.

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