Disney Animation's "Frankenweenie," which opens Oct.… (Disney )
When voters on the Academy's Animated Feature Film Award Screening Committee shunned "Cars 2" last year, it marked the first time a movie from Pixar Animation had been shut out since the category was created in 2001. For a studio accustomed to not just being nominated, but dominating (Pixar had taken the feature animation Oscar four years running before January's ceremony), it was a humbling moment. (Then again, maybe $559 million in worldwide box office, on top of merchandising, cushioned the blow.)
Pixar figures to return to the nominees circle this year with the beautifully animated "Brave," and it should have plenty of company from its Disney brethren. The studio could well sport three nominees for the animated feature Oscar, including Tim Burton's superb stop-motion "Frankenweenie" (due Oct. 5) and the CG-animated "Wreck It Ralph," which arrives in theaters Nov. 2.
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The animation hat trick would match the studio's record 2002 year, which saw nominations for "Treasure Planet," "Lilo & Stitch" and the eventual winner, Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away," which Disney distributed worldwide outside of the filmmaker's native Japan.
Competition from other name-brand animation studios appears less solid. Oscar voters didn't nominate either of the first two "Madagascar" movies, making recognition for the third entry in DreamWorks' franchise problematic, despite generally positive reviews. Aardman Animation's "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," distributed here by Sony Pictures Animation, had its charms, but fell a bit short of the studio's "Wallace & Gromit" peak. Laika's stop-motion comic-thriller "ParaNorman" (which Focus Features handled domestically) won solid reviews, but, likewise, didn't make people forget the studio's superior "Coraline."
As for the critically eviscerated "The Lorax" and "Ice Age: Continental Drift," their makers will have to take solace in their movies' commercial success.
One or two of these movies might still be nominated. They're all superior to many of the previous efforts the Academy has recognized. ("Shark Tale," anyone?) And there's still a couple of titles to come. Sony Animation's "Hotel Transylvania," opening Friday, has been receiving middling reviews and probably skews too young for the Academy. Prospects are brighter for DreamWorks' "Rise of the Guardians," which, with its teaming of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, seems like a kiddie version of "The Avengers." It opens Nov. 21.
But the other animated feature slots may well go to titles from GKIDS (Guerrilla Kids International Distribution Syndicate), the distributor behind such recent nominees as "A Cat in Paris," "Chico & Rita" and "The Secret of Kells." These hand-drawn movies sport an adult sensibility and appeal to animation committee members' penchant for honoring traditional examples of the form. In other words, they're not designed to pander to kids -- just Academy voters. (The three movies combined to earn $1.3 million in domestic box office or roughly what a Pixar movie grosses with its opening-day matinees.)
GKIDS has four typically eclectic titles coming this year: the French-language "Zarafa," about a boy and an orphaned giraffe; the French-language abstract art parable "Le Tableau"; the French-language (are you sensing a pattern here?) "The Rabbi's Cat" (about a cat belonging to ... well ... you're probably already ahead of us here); and "From Up on Poppy Hill," written and supervised by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his son, Goro.
Expect at least one of these to join the Disney trio come nominations morning, prompting a rush of search engine queries and head-scratching among 99.9% of the planet's moviegoers.
[For the record. 1:20 p.m., Sept. 26: An earlier version of this post reported that GKIDS would release “A Letter to Momo” in 2012. That film will be released next year. In addition to “Zarafa,” “Le Tableu” and “The Rabbi’s Cat,” the distributor is submitting “From Up on Poppy Hill” this year.]
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