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Countdown to Oscars

Friday, December 13, 2013
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Walt Disney Animation Studios vs. DreamWorks Animation: An Animated Rivalry

There are to be many story lines written this awards season such as American Hustle vs. The Wolf of Wall Street (or what movie is more like a Scorcese film than the other), 12 Years a Slave vs. the field, etc. However one of the more fun storylines can be derived from the animated race, where two heavyweight titans duking it out in the Animated Oscar race. Walt Disney Animation Studios and Dreamworks Animation have been engaging in a competative rivalry since they first squared off in the Animated Feature race in 2001. With two big box office hits in Frozen and The Croods, could we be in for another big battle?

To understand why this has been such a fun, yet at times petty, rivalry you’d need to realize that these two companies are headed by men with shard history. Jeffrey Katzenberg was the man responsible for the big turnaround Disney made in the late 80s, early 90s, delivering so many classic films, before a fallout with Will Eisner caused him to leave and found Dreamworks. Just before the time of his leaving, he helped sign deals that would bring Pixar (and John Lasseter, who replaced him) and Mirimax (and a crushing defeat for Saving Private Ryan at the hands of Shakespeare in Love) under the Disney umbrella. Needless to say, while the parties may be civil there’s a lot of intrigue regarding any time these studios are up for big awards. Add in the fact that Dreamworks can lay claim to the first Animated Feature Oscar (beating a classic Pixar film to boot) and you can see why this year’s race could provide another chapter in the saga.

Since the creation of the Animated Feature Oscar, Dreamworks holds the edge in nominations (9) and wins (2, Shrek and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) over Walt Disney Animation Studios (6 and 0, respectively). Now if you throw in Pixar with Disney, it tells a different story, but still, this is a big drought for the studio who, before expansion, landed a Best Picture nomination with an animated film (Beauty and the Beast).

For Disney, this year presents a unique opportunity in that Pixar doesn’t have an original film that’s competing for the win (Cars 2 is the only Pixar film to miss out on a nomination). It’s also seemed like eons since Disney had a princess film in serious competition for an animated Oscar. With these conditions, and Frozen‘s great reception and massive box office, Disney is sure not to let this opportunity pass it by. It’d be seredipitous to have Walt Disney Animation Studios win an award for a musical with princesses. After all, that’s what built the company along with a little mouse named Mickey.

However, possibly raring up for another upset is Dreamworks with The Croods. Looking at the landscape of the Oscar campaigns, it can be argued that no studio is pushing a film as hard as Dreamworks is pushing this one. Sending candy to BFCA voters, hosting big screenings, and extolling the virtues of the themes of the film is definitely a way to keep it in conversation. Well that and a $600 million worldwide box office haul, which puts it in the range of recent winners.

What’s interesting about this race, and rivalry, is that with critics going gaga for The Wind Rises, there will only be three places these two heavyweights will go head to head at: the Golden Globes, the Annies, and, if they get nominated, the Oscars. All really big awards shows and the first two especially crucial to getting an Oscar win. It remains to be seen just how this race will shake out but you can bet these two companies will factor in heavily.

Photo courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter

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