Last year's Animated Oscar race is going to be a tough act to follow. In what was arguably the most competitive race of all 12 years of Oscar's newest category, there was precious little agreement about who might win and even less about who deserved to; Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman and Wreck-It Ralph all had their loyal camps (Pirates! A Band of Misfits was the only "just happy to be nominated" contestant.) At the very last minute, buzz-wise, it appeared to boil down to Disney vs. Disney/Pixar. Big-fisted Ralph fought big-haired Merida and the Scottish lass won.
But what does 2013 have in store for us? It's looking like a much leaner year, and a least at first glance, a far less animated (heh) one. Monsters University might just be emblematic of what's going on. The prequel to the inaugural loser of this very category (Monsters Inc) is, like all the rest, part of a franchise or would-be-franchise and also a noisy colorful 3D CGI fest for very young children. That's about all there seems to be from The Croods on through Free Birds in which two turkeys (voiced by Owen Wilson & Woody Harrelson) travel back in time to stop the first Thanksgiving. There's less variety both in types of audiences sought and in types of animated styles.
For different styles and tones of animation we'll have to look to foreign films. Pray and pray hard that Hayao Miyazaki's latest The Wind Rises crosses the Ocean in time. I don't know if it's finished since news has been sparse but Ana Y Bruno is a Mexican film about a little girl who meets a goblin (or some such) in the psych ward of her mother's hospitable (?). But even with foreign films they're often just trying to be Hollywood blockbusters. I haven't seen more than a still from South Africa's Khumba! about a half-striped zebra but it looks very much like a Madagascar-spinoff. And one of it's characters is "Bradley, a self-obsessed, flamboyant ostrich." Uhoh. Should we alert GLAAD?
The film that I'm most excited about Song of the Sea, a follow up from the team who made the jaw-droppingly gorgeous The Secret of Kells, will not be ready for this year's race. Big sigh. Which is not to say that this year's race will be lacking in previous Oscar players. One interesting possible development, depending on which films achieve eligiblity is the presence of former Best Foreign Film nominees as directors of new animated features. The Argentinian director of Oscar winner The Secret in Their Eyes, Juan José Campanella, has made a toon called Metegol (aka Foosball) about a foosball team come to life and the Mexican director Carlos Carrera whose drama The Crime of Father Amaro was Oscar nominated is behind the aforementioned Ana.
We hope that GKids, the new off-the-beaten path animated distributor, brings us something interesting again but for now my crystal ball says it's Disney vs. Disney/Pixar again this year (Round Two). I'm predicting that the final battle will come down to Frozen (based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale 'The Snow Queen') vs. Monsters University. Only this time maybe Disney will beat Pixar... forcing Mike and Sulley to remain Oscarless. Oscar voters will continue to live with their greatest shame: preferring Shrek to Monsters, Inc.
In the absence of a Pixar original (I'll stop weeping that they've joined the rest of Hollywood in franchise laziness and just live with it though I reserve the right to spit at Toy Story 4 whenever that rolls around given that its existence would forever tarnish the finality . What other choice do I have?) the film I'm most eager to see is definitely Frozen. I loved Tangled (which went unnominated in a narrower field of three) and I'm hoping that their latest musical fairytale -- this one has Kristen Bell and Broadway musical alumni Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, and Jonathan Groff doing the voicework -- is a worthy follow up.
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