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Wednesday, February 13, 2013
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What Are Oscar’s Likes And Dislikes In The Best Animated Feature Category?

By Joey Magidson
Film Contributor

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It’s common belief that the Academy Awards are steeped in tradition, but that distinction doesn’t apply to all Oscars categories. There are some exceptions, the most notable of which is in regard to animation. The Best Animated Feature category is among the newest at the Oscars, having been added just at the 74th Academy Awards ceremony.

With this being only the 12th year in which a Best Animated Feature is being crowned, I thought it was about time to see if there’s a formula that Oscar hopefuls should follow in order to maximize their chances of being nominated. Over the years a blueprint has emerged, even if it’s not an altogether clear one at this point. There are storylines, themes and trends that successful nominees take heed of when campaigning for a citation by the Academy, and the devil in the details is just being able to recognize them.

In the category’s short history, Oscar voters have chosen to reward certain types of animated features far more than others. They often look at either the film that captured the zeitgeist more than any other, or simply the most popular one. These animated flicks that have taken home the Oscar so far: Shrek, Spirited Away, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Happy Feet, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3 and Rango. A few of them stand out as outliers, but by and large these winners share a few things in common.

A seemingly safe way to get nominated is to tackle things in a way that has an appeal to both children and adults. If you can make a movie that kids and their parents or grandparents can “get,” even on different levels, then you have an almost surefire nominee on your hands. The Pixar films such as Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Toy Story 3, Up and WALL-E all knew this and soared to victory by uniting audiences of all ages in a shared experience.

Of course, being a Pixar-produced cartoon is pretty much a guarantee for a nod. In their history, only one of their eligible films was snubbed for a nomination (Cars 2), and the ones that were ineligible due to coming out before the category existed were probably safe bets for a nom, if not a win (Toy Story and Toy Story 2, for example). Pixar has had nine different Best Animated Feature nominees so far to date, and on six occasions they’ve taken home the prize, with this year representing the possibility for a seventh win.

One of the genres Academy voters seem decidedly uninterested in is holiday-themed movies. Snubbed films like Arthur Christmas, A Christmas Carol, The Polar Express and Rise of the Guardians all wound up on the outside looking in. I’m really not sure why this is, but it’s a noticeable trend in Oscar politics.

Another way to set yourself up for disappointment as an animated nominee is to make use of performance capture. The aforementioned A Christmas Carol and The Polar Express are examples of this, as well as other works like The Adventures of Tintin and Beowulf. The Academy recently amended the rules in regard to these types of animation, in fact. Though their goal is to keep live action films like Avatar out of the running, they may very well prevent any movie with motion capture from ever getting a nomination.

This year, the Best Animated Feature category is filled with the usual suspects: BraveFrankenweenieParaNormanThe Pirates! Band of Misfits and Wreck-It-Ralph. They’re high-profile flicks without the small-budgeted indie productions that sometimes sneak in and every so often win the whole thing. The slate is dominated by Disney works (Frankenweenie and Wreck-It-Ralph come straight from the Mouse, while Brave is from Pixar, which is under the Walt Disney umbrella), and it looks to be a race between those flicks for the win.

One interesting note is that this is the rare year when Pixar doesn’t have the frontrunner. Brave has a solid shot at a win, but it’s probably behind Wreck-It-Ralph at this late point in the race.

The latest winner will likely fit right in with previous winners, as each represents a distinct attempt at wooing children and adults at the same time. They all also work to some degree off of nostalgia, which is a plus for older voters. The youngsters who love them may not get that vibe like the previous generation does, but the former aren’t the ones who vote.

Whether Pixar’s throwback to Disney princess movies or Disney’s homage to old school video games (not to mention their other nominee that honors the tradition of classic monster movies) wins, the animated feature about to win the Oscar will join a growing tradition of animation honored by the Academy. In another decade or two we’ll see if a different sort of winner becomes the status quo, but for now, we more or less have an idea of what wins the Best Animated Feature Oscar. If nothing else, we know the recipe for a nomination.

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