The Best Animated Feature category has always been a blessing and a curse for the Academy Awards. On one hand it ensures that animated features are shown the artistic love they deserve. The other side of the coin is that, much like the Best Foreign Film…er…the newly renamed Best International Feature Film, the category has become the default award for animated works that are worthy of Best Picture consideration.
This is not to say that a film cannot be nominated in other categories as well. Films like Up and Toy Story 3 received Best Picture nominations, Kubo and the Two Strings got a Best Visual Effects nomination, etc. However, the odds are usually stacked against them as some voters just assume that the Animated Feature award will suffice.
With the added expectation placed on the category, it is usually a safe bet to pick one of the big three animation studios (Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks Animation) when filling out one’s Oscar pool.
In the 17 years of the category’s existence, the big three have racked up 36 nominations and 13 wins. It should be noted that 12 of those wins have fallen under the house that the mouse built. Pixar (9 wins) and Disney (3 wins) are the perennial frontrunners even when it is not always warranted. A perfect example of this can be found when looking at this year’s batch of nominated films:
Toy Story 4
Many believe this is the film to beat, especially with Frozen 2 being “snubbed.” The fact that Toy Story 4 and Frozen 2 were even in the conversation is somewhat laughable. No shade to either film as the animation is great in both, but an argument can be made that neither film is as strong as the predecessors in their respective franchises. The addition of Forky and the re-emergence of Bo Peep, hands down the best aspect of Toy Story 4, were simply not enough to mask the fact that most of the characters have little to do in the film. While the film has done well on the critic’s award circuit, the fact that it walked away empty handed at both the Golden Globes and the Annie Awards is reason to believe it is not the Oscar lock some claim it is.
Why it Could Win: To quote Desus & Mero “the brand is strong.” The Pixar name has earned its clout with Academy voters.
Why it Might Not Win: Toy Story 3, a far superior film, already won the award in 2010.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
You can call it destiny. You can call it a rematch. You can call it déjà Vu. Whatever you call it there is a certain intrigue in seeing the How to Train Your Dragon and Toy Story franchise squaring off once again in this category. Despite each film in the series getting nominated, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise has become the perpetual bridesmaids after losing to Toy Story 3 and Big Hero 6 respectively. The Hidden World’s tale of growth and letting go, coupled with the series consistently high standard of animation, might be recipe to finally break the slump. However, as we have seen with the Kung Fu Panda and Wreck-it-Ralph series, sometimes just being nominated is the prize. Outside of a win at the National Board of Review, the film has not capitalized on its numerous nominations on the awards circuit.
Why it Could Win: Much like The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, the Academy could feel that the third time is the charm for this deserving franchise.
Why it Might Not Win: DreamWorks Animation only has one win in this category and that was Shrek in 2002.
The fact that Laika Studios does not have an Academy Award yet is perplexing. This is the studio that gave us stop-motion gems like Coraline, ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings! Will their sixth nomination, the buddy adventure Missing Link, bring home the goods? Many have called the film’s Golden Globes win an “upset”, but the film had been gaining some momentum up to that point with wins from the Toronto and Los Vegas Critics Associations. What might hurt Missing Link is that it is not as strong a film as other Laika titles. There is also the fact that there were several Yeti films in 2019, including Abominable, that walked a similar path.
Why it Could Win: Laika has been consistently raising the bar for stop-motion animation so it is about time they are recognized for their work.
Why it Might Not Win: Only one stop-motion animated film, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, has won this award. If Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox could not win then what hope does this film have?
I Lost My Body
Easily the most original, creative and emotionally charged film of the bunch, Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body would be the frontrunner in a perfect world. Unfortunately, for this moving French film, there are several things stacked against it. The most notable being that no foreign language animated film outside of Spirited Away, which partly benefited from Disney handling the North American distribution, has won this award. There is also the fact that this tale of memory and romance, told from the perspective of a severed hand trying to get back to its body, is geared towards adults. A point that might not bode well for voters who still see animated films as a family friendly medium. Also, has Netflix done enough to keep this film in the Academy voter’s mind? We will soon find out.
Why it Could Win: An original film whose themes really resonate with adult audiences.
Why it Might Not Win: Netflix has two films competing in this category which might divide voters.
Speaking of Netflix releases, Sergio Pablos’ delightful Klaus is the company’s second release nominated in this category. Unlike I Lost My Body, Klaus benefits from having star power in its casting and the fact that it is accessible for all audiences. Offering a new take on the Santa Claus mythology, Klaus is destined to become a holiday classic. The fact that it swept the Annie Awards, pushing aside titans like Pixar and DreamWorks, is a huge boost for the film going into the Oscars. However, much like I Lost My Body, how much love is the Academy willing to give Netflix this year? With Netflix releases The Irishman, Marriage Story and American Factory sucking up all the oxygen, will voters opt to give Pixar or Laika their love instead?
Why it Could Win: Annie Awards domination and the fact it is a feel-good non-franchise film will sit well with voters.
Why it Might Not Win: Holiday films get appreciated over time and rarely get Oscar love in the year they are released.
What’s your pick to win the Best Animated Feature category this year? Let us know in the comments or sound off on social media!