Tim here. In his official Oscar predictions today, Nathaniel left out Best Animated Feature, but no matter. By this point, you'd have to hunt a while to find anybody predicting a winner other than How to Train Your Dragon 2, with a few Big Hero 6 holdouts just trying to pretend that things will be interesting. (Me, I'm thinking that we're about to see an unexpected explosion of write-in votes to make sure that Mr. Peabody & Sherman can finally get its due).
That level of predictability almost always ends up settling into this particular race (last year was an exception), which can make it hard, sometimes, to recall that the category has had a purpose beyond annually recognizing that yep, Pixar sure does make some pretty fine movies. So instead of prepping for Oscar weekend by celebrating winners, I want to pay tribute to some losers. The beautiful likes of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea are (probably) about the join the 36 films to have so far been nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar and lost out, and that's some fine company to be in. Here are some of my personal favorites.
The Triplets of Belleville (2003; lost to Finding Nemo)
Even after 11 years, the jazzy "Bellville Rendez-vous" remains one of the most memorable original songs in 21st Century filmmaking (it also lost a competitive Oscar). It's a brilliant component of a movie that I'm generally inclined to regard with fetishistic adoration, and will start recommending to people on even the slightest pretext. Like this one, for example. It's one of the most essential animated features of the last 15 years, easily, combining warped slapstick humor with an elegiac sense of melancholy, expressed in a scratchy graphic style that turns everyone into a grotesque caricature while given all of them full, vibrant personalities. Not bad for a film with less than a dozen spoken words in its entire running time.
Persepolis (2007; lost to Ratatouille)
Marjane Satrapi's adaptation of her own graphic novel memoir is a little redundant, perhaps. But taken on its own terms, this story of life during the Iranian Revolution, told in soft lines and crisp black-and-white, is terrific animated cinema both aesthetically and politically. Overtly feminist stories and animation for an appreciative adult audience are both rare, combining them is rarer, and using it all in the service of putting a human face to life in Iran that doesn't pander or beg for special pleading makes this one as bold as any animated film I can ever name. And yet it's so sardonic and brisk that it never feels capital-I Important in a boring way. A total success that deserves infinitely more attention than it's ever received in the U.S.
Kung Fu Panda (2008; lost to WALL·E)
When the first How to Train Your Dragon came out in 2010, it was greeted with critical hosannas as the movie that finally proved that DreamWorks Animation could make a movie that as every bit as good as its best competition. But then, the studio had already proven that with this brightly-colored, poppy tribute to Asian landscape paintings and schlocky '70s kung-fu movies. It's silly as hell, and the jokes have all the smirking anachronism of DreamWorks at its worst. But it's also funny and disarmingly sweet, and the company's fixation on all-celebrity voice casting never worked out as well as it did here, with Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, and Ian McShane among the many familiar faces we don't see.
The Princess and the Frog (2009; lost to Up)
The financial success of the following year's Tangled immediately swallowed up the small splash made by Disney's first-ever animated feature centered on an African-American protagonist. And then the behemoth of 2013's Frozen left it almost totally forgotten as the first attempt in a generation to make a classic Disney Princess musical. Neither of which is at all a fair fate for an earnest attempt at correcting the company's long history of representational yuckiness with a warm suite of Randy Newman songs, top-notch voice acting, and beautifully old-school 2-D animation. It's a sop to the studio's fans, sure, but as a fan, I am greatly pleased to have it in my life even now, far more than either of its bigger successors.
What are your favorite nominees to have missed on on the Best Animated Feature Oscar?